Katalin Nagy: I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Good morning.
Youve just arrived back from a NATO summit, and last weekend you attended a European Union summit. Do you perceive a change in opinion on the Russo-Ukrainian war?
There’s been really massive diplomatic activity over the last ten days. There have been all sorts of reasons for this: a deteriorating war situation in Ukraine, wartime inflation, a wartime economic crisis on our doorstep, and an immediate energy crisis. Nowadays this is more or less what’s been given to Europe’s political leaders to work with. The EU summit was so long ago that I don’t know whether it’s worth talking about. Perhaps it’s worth saying that we granted Ukraine candidate status. It’s a complicated process to go from being a country outside the European Union to becoming a Member State, with three or four major stages to go through. The first step is candidate status, but that doesn’t mean that negotiations will start, because before that some conditions need to be met. This affects us Hungarians because, if the Ukrainians want to negotiate, they must meet what we could call the European Union’s expectations related to the minorities living there – including our own Hungarian expectations related to the Hungarians living in Transcarpathia. We’re in a much better position to assert the rights of Hungarians living there than we’d be if Ukraine hadn’t applied for candidate status. The President called me. Something new also happened: he thanked us for the help…
Maybe it surprised them that Hungary’s also supporting them, don’t you think?
Perhaps it did. He thanked us for the help and support that we’ve given, because we’re providing help in the energy field, and because we’ve taken in or allowed into our country more than 800,000 Ukrainian refugees. And we have a programme, by the way, in which we give scholarships to Ukrainian students: we’re giving scholarships to hundreds of Ukrainian students in Hungary so that they can study in peaceful surroundings. In this respect the EU meeting was an important one. Of course, nothing is perfect, and the attempt we made – alongside some other countries, the Austrians and the Slovenes – to get Bosnia and Herzegovina on the list of candidate countries was all in vain. So among Western European leaders there’s still a lack of understanding or knowledge about how vital it is for all of us across Europe for the European Union to be enlarged to include the Balkans. And the migration pressures that are now increasing – indeed dramatically increasing – also provide direct evidence of the need to include these countries in the EU. So “yes” to the Ukrainians, but “no” to the Bosnians. Nevertheless we’ll continue to fight alongside the Austrians, Slovenians and Croats to make this happen. NATO was a more consequential event. At the European Union summit we only just got through, although we had to issue warnings, gentle warnings, that they shouldn’t try to introduce a new, seventh package of sanctions – especially if they also envisaged restrictions on gas supplies. This is because for Hungary that isn’t even a negotiable matter. We were still willing to negotiate on oil, and we were able to reach a compromise and get an exemption, with which we may have managed to save the Hungarian economy. But it would have been much more serious with gas – if Brussels also imposed sanctions on gas. Therefore we’re not even willing to negotiate on this. So at the outset we made it clear that we wouldn’t negotiate on any proposal to restrict gas coming into Hungary, anything which would make it more difficult for us to access Russian gas. So the situation wasn’t that we were looking for a compromise, but that we weren’t prepared to negotiate on that. That’s all I have to say about that friendly and light-hearted EU summit in Brussels. The NATO event was more difficult. One has to eventually face reality, even if one doesn’t like it. NATO isn’t yet at that point, but it’s getting closer to it. So everyone’s on the side of the Ukrainians, of course. This is because the general perception – which we share – is that sufficient justification for one country to attack another and embark on open warfare certainly isn’t provided by whatever disputes there are between Ukraine and Russia, by however much the Russians have prepared for this conflict in terms of highlighting their security needs – about which we’ve essentially refused to negotiate – and however much all of this may be true. This is despite the fact that the Russians don’t call it open warfare, but a special military operation. So everyone’s on the side of the Ukrainians, because of course one usually aligns oneself with the side that’s been attacked, and naturally roots for them. But since this is a war in which tens of thousands of people are dying, and this number could very easily reach the hundreds of thousands, one doesn’t want to get involved in it; because this isn’t Hungary’s war. We must stay out of it. This is a war between two neighbouring Slavic countries, and NATO is a defence alliance. There were hopes that it would be possible to fight a successful war against the Russians with the Ukrainians fighting and other countries supplying weapons – which we aren’t, because in our opinion that would be halfway towards being drawn into war. So it could be possible to win a war against the Russians with the Ukrainians fighting and some Western countries supplying large quantities of weapons from the rear. In war weapons are very important, but the most important thing is soldiers, and they’re running out. So we need to face the imminent reality that on one side there’s Russia with a population of 138 million, and on the other side there’s Ukraine, with something over 30 million people. The Americans and the British have armed the latter quite well, and many of their soldiers are also quite well trained. So Ukraine has a serious army, and they’re fighting heroically, because they’re defending their homeland; but slowly the military realities are taking hold. We haven’t yet talked about what will happen if the Ukrainian front collapses – that form of words hasn’t yet been used. But we’ve been speaking in terms of the situation getting worse, of Ukraine losing between one hundred and one thousand soldiers every day, with some of them dying and some of them being rendered unfit to continue fighting because they’re injured or they’ve disappeared. So the situation is very serious. I made my way home with a red light continuously on in my head and an alarm bell sounding. So if you say the names of these cities where the front is now, this front seems to be very far away. So Luhansk and Donetsk aren’t embedded in everyday Hungarian culture. Somehow they seem like foreign, distant places. But if the military situation changes rapidly, and there’s every chance it will, then increasingly we’ll be hearing the names of cities that we’re familiar with. Because then the war zone will be approaching Hungary much more rapidly than I assume most radio listeners today would think. So I came home with the feeling that we urgently need to fire up the engines, crank everything up, and increase our military development programme two or three times, two or three times as fast. Our military capabilities, our defence capabilities, must be strengthened, we must shake our army out of this semi-peacetime, semi-emergency state and we must carry out very rapid capability development work. So the eight-hour workdays typical of peacetime are now a thing of the past. I don’t yet know exactly what form we’ll give this with the Secretary of Defence and the Chief of Staff, but we need to find a way to dramatically increase our defence capabilities through what seems to demand superhuman effort. NATO also senses trouble ahead. We’ve decided to strengthen the countries on NATO’s eastern flank, where we’re located: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. NATO needs to make substantial military reinforcements here, because if there’s trouble, a last-minute panic won’t help us. Defence preparations can only be measured in years – or in six-month periods at best. When trouble strikes, it’s no use trying to train more soldiers, it’s no use trying to modernise our weapons systems, it’s no use trying to improve the quality and capability of our army’s defence, if we haven’t done it ahead of time: this can’t be done in a few weeks when trouble is imminent. So if we want peace, we have to significantly increase our military capabilities now. This is how I was thinking when I came home. I shall ask for heightened activity over the coming months from the Minister, the Chiefs of Staff that we’re reestablishing, all officers and their subordinates.
The overall economic situation in Europe – and the global economy across the world, one might add – may not be a priority for NATO, but it should be a priority for the leaders of the European Union. So the fact is that there’s an economic crisis and wartime inflation which will destroy not only the Hungarian economy, but all economies – the economies of the West as well. Why isn’t this a consideration?
This is a consideration, but these are two mutually exclusive issues or considerations that are very difficult to reconcile. Because on the one hand we have this Ukrainian-Russian war, in which we want to help the Ukrainians; and although Hungary has never been in favour of a sanctions policy, for some reason most EU countries believe that sanctions can achieve results. Since we don’t want to disrupt European unity and we don’t want to veto some new sanctions measure every week, we’ve opted not to swim against the tide. I don’t like this kind of thing, and it’s not in the Hungarian character, but for Hungary it would be intolerable if one country, by constantly defending its own position, were to block every single one of these sanctions, while everyone else believed in the beneficial effect – in helping the Ukrainians – of one economic wartime measure or another. That’s unacceptable in a community based on cooperation, loyalty and mutual respect. So there are points on which we choose not to concede, because they’re a matter of life and death for the Hungarian economy. One of these is the question of energy. On the other points, we can only say that if some people approve of something, and everyone else agrees, then we don’t want to end up like the driver in the joke who drives against the flow of traffic. We all know that, so I’d like to spare Hungary from finding itself in that situation. It would only lead to us losing our allies and losing our points of support and the possibility of cooperation in Europe. So where the issue isn’t vital for Hungary we’ll give way; and where we need to dig in our heels, we won’t give way, and no decisions will be taken. If I may, here I’d like to make a comment: the word “veto” is often used, which is a misleading term, because Hungary doesn’t veto. In the EU we don’t have a situation in which a decision is taken somewhere, and either the Member States approve it or they don’t. By contrast, each decision is taken only when all Member States have agreed on it. So without us there’s no decision, and there’s nothing to veto. So it’s a process of collaborative decision making; and we’re not blocking anything, as if we’re not part of a decision, that decision can’t be taken. This logic is very different from what many people might think – not only in a legal sense, but also in a political sense. One of the problems we have is that a large part of the EU believes that sanctions can achieve results, but at the same time it’s obvious that without peace our economy will continue on its path into recession, into economic shrinkage. And these two things – what the EU leaders want to do about the war and what would be in the European Union’s economic interest – are in conflict with each other. What we need are not sanctions, but an immediate ceasefire and immediate peace negotiations.
Isn’t anyone else talking about this?
No, I’m the only one. Sometimes it makes me feel a bit strange. Hungarians are, after all, a freedom-fighting people, and we’re used to standing up for our own interests – even if that means conflict. It’s rare for Hungary to find itself alone on the side of the doves, while everyone else is a hawk. We prefer conflict, outspokenness and a battling approach; but this isn’t about intellectual or political debate, it’s about war. Think about this: if it’s true that every day the Ukrainian army’s losing one hundred to one thousand soldiers, then – if, say, I take a mid-range number – that’s five thousand every ten days; and it’s fifty thousand in a hundred days. And that’s also the number of families, of fathers, mothers and children. So the human dimension of what’s happening there is terrible. It’s tragic. And here I think Hungary must be on the side of peace. Beyond the question of the loss of human life, I have to say that the only way to prevent wartime inflation – which is affecting everyone, the whole of Europe and now America too – is by us bringing the war to an end. So it’s simply impossible for us to succeed in curbing inflation while there’s war and wartime inflation. All we can do – as, almost alone in the whole of Europe, Hungary is doing – is to limit the price of certain products by means of official controls. In Hungary now inflation isn’t 15 per cent, but 10 or 11 per cent, while in Estonia and Lithuania it’s 18 or 20 per cent, and here it’s also lower than it is in Poland and Czechia. So the fact is that wartime inflation can be temporarily and partially contained; but the way to end it is to end the war. Therefore it would be in the interest of Hungary – and, I think, of all European countries – to end the war as soon as possible. And for that, we must not impose sanctions, but achieve a ceasefire. The usual order is that first there’s a ceasefire, and then the terms and framework for peace negotiations must be agreed. And then there are peace talks, and for the duration of the peace talks there’s no war, economies return to normal, and everyone benefits. With peace everyone would benefit, but – I repeat – for the time being we’re the only ones striking this note, and Europe and America continue to suffer. The other day I was in Parliament, where there was a debate, and I could see that not everyone understands how difficult the situation is. So I understand that everyone’s suddenly making demands, some of which are development demands, some of which are pay rises, and they’re talking about major rises of 20, 30, 40 or 100 per cent. I try to impress on them – both here and there – that this is a war situation and that we’re not on the offensive, but on the defensive. So now isn’t the time for us to be able to move forward one or two steps, say, on development or even on wages. Now is the time to defend what we’ve achieved. So today success or achievement is to avoid sliding backwards, to dig in our heels, maintain our foothold, and prevent the war pushing us backwards in terms of economic development and living standards. And this is why I made it clear when I was sworn in as Prime Minister that what we can undertake today, in good conscience and in all sincerity, is to defend what we have: full employment, family support, pensions and cuts in household utility bills. If we can defend these, then Hungary has already scored a very big achievement. Most countries now cannot do this and won’t be able to do it in the future.
Border protection units need to be set up because there’s incredible pressure on the southern border. Apparently NATO has noticed this, and we’ll be interested to see what it can do to defend itself and help those countries that are on the border, such as Hungary. What will the numbers be, and do we know anything about the border defence units?
What’s perhaps important for all of us to bear in mind is that Hungary’s in a special situation – in a more difficult situation than any other country in the European Union. There are countries that are affected by the flood of Ukrainian refugees – Poland, for example. And there are others – such as Croatia, Slovenia or Romania – that are affected by the influx of migrants from the South. But only Hungary – and to some extent Romania, but really only Hungary – is affected by both of them to a huge extent. this year alone, so far we’ve been simultaneously hit by 800,000 refugees from Ukraine and more than 100,000 people illegally crossing the border from the South. So for these two burdens to weigh down a country at the same time is unprecedented. What I’m trying to say to the EU countries is that this isn’t just our problem, and this isn’t just a Hungarian issue. Because if illegal migrants enter Hungary, sooner or later they’ll appear at the Austrian-Hungarian border; and only some of the Ukrainian refugees will stay in Hungary, with most of them continuing their journeys westwards. So it isn’t only in Hungary’s interest for the Hungarian border guards to receive help from Brussels; it’s also in the interest of every nation and people living in Europe’s peaceful interior. Once again we’re absorbing the blows that the rest of Europe would otherwise be receiving. And we could do with financial assistance, support and encouragement; but instead of receiving financial assistance and support, we’re more used to receiving attacks – attacks on human rights pretexts. I’ve raised this issue, and I’ll continue to keep it on the agenda. It would be logical – or could be expected – for the EU to recognise Hungary’s special situation and provide the appropriate financial support. On how serious the situation is on the southern border, I can tell you that last year we arrested 400 people smugglers – not people illegally crossing the border, but those organising their illegal entry into Hungary. We caught 400 of them. So far this year we’ve already caught 750! So it’s not just that there are more migrants, but also that this business is increasing in size. Because, after all, we’re talking about money. Now that food supply problems are already being felt in Africa and Asia, the consequences of the war are being felt there, more and more people are leaving, and the smugglers can see bigger business in encouraging masses of people to leave for Europe. And as Ukraine accounts for more than 10 per cent of world wheat exports and more than 15 per cent of world maize exports, these amounts are now lacking in Asian and African markets in particular. In those regions famine is a looming threat. We’re facing the nightmare of a food crisis, which is causing migration, and some of these people are appearing as illegal migrants at Hungary’s borders. And since this is a huge business, the number of people smugglers will also increase. From the daily news you can see how we’re neutralising them; but this wave will grow, and as the situation worsens, so will the wave. We’ll be unable to stop the migrants with the organisational strength that we’ve so far been employing in order to stop them. So what have we been doing up to now? We’ve been deploying troops and police. Now that the war zone is approaching Hungary’s eastern borders, every minute not spent by our soldiers on preparing and strengthening their defence capabilities – training, let’s say – is a luxury, is unaffordable, and a waste of time. Soldiers must therefore be withdrawn from the border so that they can participate in the implementation of the Hungarian army’s accelerated development programme. And so more police officers are being deployed to the border. From wherever we’ve taken them, they’re being missed – not only by their families, but also in the maintenance of law and order and public safety. So they have to be down at the border, and therefore cannot participate in creating peaceful, calm and predictable civic conditions in, say, Szombathely or Veszprém. What’s more, the work is demanding, far from their families, and there, too, the mental and physical demands are draining. So this isn’t a solution either; it was good temporarily, it was all right for a year or two, but we can no longer build on it. The moment has come when we have to organise a new system, let’s call it a “border hunter system”: a border patrol consisting of border hunter squadrons. We’ve now entrusted this work to the Minister of the Interior, to whom we’ve given a short deadline. If he can cope with it, we’ll then build up this border-hunting capability within the Interior Ministry. We need to recruit new people – thousands of them. So we’re not talking about ten or a hundred people here: we need to recruit two to four thousand people just for border hunting and border defence duties. This is a big job, and they have to be trained, because they have to deal with people. So they don’t just need to be trained physically, but they also need to be trained in human rights, in the law, in what can and cannot be done. All of this is necessary in order to be able to defend our borders in a civilised manner. Warning shots are now being fired. So if you look at the situation in the South, you’ll see that people smugglers and illegal migrants are becoming increasingly violent; and you can’t defend yourself against violence with teddy bears and bouquets of flowers. So now we need a few thousand well-trained border hunters over the coming months. If the Minister of the Interior is able to manage this, it will stay within the Interior Ministry; if not, we’ll have to deal with it outside the Interior Ministry. I also have a plan on how we can build this without the Interior Ministry, but I’d be happier if we could keep the border hunters within the culture that’s characteristic of the police today, which everyone speaks so highly of. Over the past twelve years the police force has become a very consequential body, which is not only effective, but which also has a citizen-friendly culture. And if we can resolve something within that culture, it would also have a beneficial effect on the relationship between citizens and the police, and between migrants and the police. If that doesn’t work, then we need to build up our defence capabilities outside of that, in a slightly harsher form.
We haven’t been able to address every question, but maybe next time. Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.