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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good morning Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: Turkey has given orders to stop detaining Syrian refugees heading for Europe across its borders – both sea and land borders. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. What are your thoughts on this announcement? Is this the usual blackmail note from Turkey, or should we take it seriously?

Good morning to your listeners. At present the coronavirus is attracting all the attention, but the historic challenge we’re living with continues to be migration. The migrant flow up from the South to the North is a historical trend. And we lie on that route, and so our country is also an important section of the land route. We’ve already seen things like this in Hungarian history, and the question for the next ten to twenty years will be where we can stop the upward flow from the South. Will we succeed in stopping it at the Turkish-Greek border, in Greece, in Macedonia or in Serbia? Or, for that matter, will we have to stop it at the Hungarian border? I have always said that the invasion of migrant masses comes in waves. Sometimes it’s at the centre of public attention, with everybody talking about it, and then it recedes into the background. But this doesn’t mean that it can’t come back to the forefront again at any time. The news that you’re referring to shows that it’s back at the forefront again. We must anticipate migrant flows. We must anticipate regular mass attacks at the Hungarian border fence; and we will have to protect Hungary’s border and the people living there – and naturally also those who live further from the border. I want to make it clear that however big the migrant flow setting out, Hungary’s border security organisations – including the police and the defence forces – are able to convert the existing legal, technical and human resources into a secure border barrier. So there’s no need to worry about Hungary’s security as long as we’re united, and the Hungarian people and the Hungarian government act together against illegal immigration and migration. This has started, as we saw the initial signs a day or two ago, with the organisation of a summit of the V4 prime ministers and President Erdogan: at the end of March there will be a European Union summit, at which migration will be on the agenda; and before the Brussels summit there will be a meeting of the V4 prime ministers and President Erdogan. At this meeting the Turkish president will tell us in person about what we should prepare for in the years ahead.

This news about Turkey is all the more important because at the same time the Greek prime minister has said that three coronavirus cases had been confirmed in Greece within 24 hours. Greece is very concerned that, on top of the coronavirus epidemic, if masses of people set out from Turkey it could lead to a problem which they might be unable to deal with.

I have every respect and sympathy for Greece, but common sense enables us to easily answer the question of how migrants arrive at the Serbian-Hungarian border. They do so by walking through Greece. This means that Greece is unable and unwilling to protect its borders, and migrants can cross them. Greece is a member of the European Union, and indeed also a member of the common European border control system. Today, trampling through Greece, migrants are able to make their way towards the Balkans, and from there to reach Hungary. So I have every sympathy for the Greeks, but I have to say that Greece is unable to prevent migrants from passing through its territory. This causes us a lot of problems.

This is especially true in light of the fact that the coronavirus now appears to be spreading across the entire world. It has appeared in nineteen countries in Europe, although we have no reports of any cases in Hungary. Do you think the Hungarian government and the Hungarian disease control authorities have taken all the precautions needed to ensure that the virus causes the minimum amount of damage and disruption if it does appear in Hungary?

Here there are two developments that we must factor in: the first is that a European focus has developed in Northern Italy; the second is that the virus has also appeared in neighbouring countries. It’s impossible to completely isolate Hungary, so with due caution I have to say that there’s a high likelihood that the virus will also appear in Hungary. This is what we’re preparing for. Even though at the moment there have been no reports of infections, we must prepare to protect ourselves, because in these circumstances the virus is likely to appear in Hungary. A month ago we set up the Operational Group, to which assigned tasks. We had to develop appropriate measures. Until the virus appears in Hungary the emphasis will be on prevention, but when it does appear the emphasis will be on protection and management. This is a complicated series of tasks, because it also involves healthcare measures. This is why Minister Kásler is also a member of the Operational Group. But it also involves a number of policing and disaster management tasks, and so we’ve entrusted the Operational Group’s overall management to the Interior Minister. We’ve conducted reviews to determine whether we have the resources needed to manage such an epidemic. The Government has dealt with this issue several times. We also heard a report from the Chief Medical Officer. We concluded that we have the means necessary for identification of the epidemic, or the virus: first and foremost an internationally accredited and highly respected laboratory. We concluded that we have the appropriate expertise. Here I should inform your listeners that Hungary has internationally recognised disease control experts of the highest standard. We always criticise the level of organisation in Hungary, because the life of a country can always be better organised, but I have to say that we are among the world’s better-organised countries. Our regulatory system functions properly, there are clear rules and protocols, and we’ve checked the relevant procedures and chains of command. So we are prepared as well as we can be, and we’re operating a round-the-clock response system. We’ve installed screening mechanisms at border crossing stations and we’ve also introduced special monitoring procedures at Budapest Airport. And something which I think is at least as important as the organised and legally sound work of the authorities is the fact that we also need the people: we need the people’s cooperation. Because if we civilians aren’t sufficiently disciplined, the authorities won’t be able to do their work effectively. So when there’s a request like the one I’ve just heard on the news, with the Minister – perhaps more as a superintending authority – asking state schools to kindly not arrange trips to infected countries, then although this sounds like a request, I would like people to look on it as a strong request. So they shouldn’t go, because they could be endangering the children entrusted to them. And if we ask them not to travel to infected areas, of course if they still decide to go no one will arrest them at the border. But we ask them to take this seriously, because this is the eve of an emerging global pandemic. Naturally I also expect the Operational Group – and I have regular meetings, every two or three days, with the head of the Operational Group, the Minister – to do everything they can to ensure that every single suspected case is tested. Of course there’s a debate now about how serious this epidemic is. We could talk about that at length, but I would like to say that we must understand the position of the authorities. It may well be true that within such a period more people have died or usually die of influenza, say, than the coronavirus. But we know influenza, we know what it is, we’ve seen it, we’ve experienced it in our families, and we can protect ourselves against it. So this panic reaction among people is not entirely unjustified, as we’re faced with an unknown illness. Therefore I’ve also asked the authorities not to describe what this is in the tone and style of experts. We should not only take the virus seriously, but also take people seriously: for them this is an unknown virus or infection with unforeseeable consequences. We’re trying to somehow get through this difficult period by joining forces and cooperating with one another.

Yes, but it’s easy to create panic, and all sorts of anonymous “good advice” is appearing on social media. Then in the past few days we’ve seen images of people starting to bulk-buy non-perishable goods such as flour, sugar, vegetable oil and disinfectants. We know – as the head of the Hungarian Trade Association has said – that we shouldn’t panic, because in Hungary there will be no shortage of goods, as we produce most of our products here in Hungary.

And also we’re used to this, because it wasn’t so long ago: thirty years ago shops weren’t always full, the shelves in shops weren’t always full. I can tell people that I understand the psychological situation, that we’re facing an unknown threat. Additionally, unfounded news reports keep emerging from around the world. I can promise the people one thing: the Hungarian government is doing its job, we’re working around the clock, and if there’s any new information that’s important for people to enable them to adapt, we’ll release it immediately. I also want to tell them that Hungary’s team of healthcare experts – particularly those dealing with the treatment of infectious diseases – is outstanding, also by international standards. Let’s trust our doctors, let’s trust our police force, let’s trust regulatory officials, and please trust me: when any important information emerges, the Hungarian people will be informed immediately.

Speaking about the migration threat, you’ve said that we shouldn’t worry as long as we’re united, and as long as the Hungarian people and the Government want the same thing. In the national consultation about to be launched, there are a few important questions that you want to discuss with Hungarians. One of them is the issue of compensation awarded due to prison overcrowding, another is the Gyöngyöspata case, and there are some similar issues.

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to briefly speak about national consultations. With this method I’m trying to involve people in certain issues and encourage their participation in the adoption of decisions on them. In the past, before the election of this national government, the practice was to elect a government, which then governed as best it could. And then after four years the people would give their opinion on it. For ten years now I’ve tried – whenever possible and necessary – to involve as many people as possible in decisions, so that we can find out what their opinions are, and so that they themselves should somehow be involved in decisions, the consequences of which we’ll all have to live with. This is why we developed the mechanism that is the national consultation. Politicians perceive themselves in one of two ways, and this is perhaps not entirely irrelevant. There are some – I don’t want to name names again, but there are some – who believe that they’re elected in an election as prime minister or governing party because they are cleverer than the rest. As a result they believe that when they take decisions, the cleverest people in the country are taking the cleverest decisions, and the duty of those who are less clever is to accept this, to swallow it, to adapt to it, and so on. That’s not how I think about things. We – I personally, and our governing party – were not elected by the people because they believe that we’re the cleverest: we believe we’ve been elected because the people take the view that we can best represent their interests, we can best stand up for Hungarian interests, and we stand most firmly on their side. Now our governmental logic and the way we identify ourselves lead us to hold national consultations on a regular basis, and we’ve held perhaps seven or eight so far. When I choose the topics for a national consultation – naturally, after having heard a very large number of people’s opinions – I always seek to put forward topics which people see as important. They’re not necessarily the most important economically, say, but they are the ones which most deeply impact on people’s sense of justice. Or they may be topics which, as I see it, will also be at the centre of international debate. A national consultation can strengthen the Government in effectively representing the people’s interests in the international arena. And so I am – and we are – interested in people’s opinions, we are asking them for their support and secure backing, for stability and assistance in international struggles. At the moment I see two or three issues on which we ought to create understanding, to create a national consensus. One of them is the “prison business”; another is the problems of Roma segregation at the school in Gyöngyöspata; and there is also the implementation of court rulings in general, the issue of the early release of prisoners. We have lost human lives due to what I think is bad practice, and this is something which I would like to change. Clearly this will also be the subject of international debate, because the administration of justice doesn’t end at Hungary’s borders: we are also part of an international judicial system. Now we don’t need to discuss whether or not this is a good thing. This is the situation, and in this arena we will have to strongly represent Hungary’s interests. Therefore I ask everyone to read the consultation letters being delivered in mid-March. I respectfully ask everyone to complete and return the questionnaires, and thereby to assist Hungary.

Yes, but in order to end overcrowding in prisons won’t you have to implement measures that are then accepted by the European Union? A prison cannot operate with occupancy of 115 per cent – although it’s true that in 2015 this rate was more than 140 per cent. How can you build enough prisons to provide the required four square metres per inmate within such a short time?

Well, first of all I think we should review international practice. International conventions rightly declare that prisoners must not be tortured. I believe this is right. Criminals are usually unpopular in a country. It’s difficult to say who should suffer what consequences for what actions, but in every civilised country – and so also in Hungary – there’s general agreement that a criminal act, a crime, must incur some punishment. We also agree that prisons are there to implement that punishment; but this is no reason to torture people who are incarcerated there. In fact, we must use appropriate programmes to try to ensure that in addition to punishment, when their sentences come to an end these people can return to everyday life, as they will become part of our community. So the enforcement of prison sentences is a complicated and difficult matter, as is helping people to return to the sphere of law-abiding citizens. One thing is certain, however: prisons exist for people to serve out their punishment. It’s true that convicts cannot be tortured, but it’s not fair to expect that conditions in prisons should be the same as at home. The legal regulations, the international legal regulations which state that punishment must be imposed but prisoners must not be tortured, are good regulations. The problem is that the courts, the international courts, use an interpretation of the word “torture” which runs counter to people’s sense of justice. Is it torture for people who work during the day to sleep at night in an area of three and a half square metres, and not four square metres? Or how frequently should cells be aired? I’ve collected the most distressing cases: here we’re talking about violent criminals who’ve murdered entire families in Vojvodina, in Szabadka/Subotica, and then in Hungary; they robbed them and then murdered them. And we have to give these violent criminals millions of forints because they’re not given a large enough area at night and their cells are not adequately ventilated. And there are three or four cases that are well-known in Hungary – the Beast of Battonya, for instance. Everyone remembers these cases. We’re not talking about someone who’s caused a traffic accident and should be made more comfortable in his cell: we’re talking about true criminals, including violent criminals. And, of course, we’re also talking about the lawyers representing them, who keep some of the money awarded. We’re talking about twelve thousand cases! This isn’t a case every now and then, because such a thing could happen – I’d also say that in even the most civilised country it’s possible for something to happen to a prison inmate which shouldn’t happen, and for which he or she is entitled to some compensation. But in twelve thousand cases? This is a business enterprise! This must be stopped. This will result in an international debate, and I’d like Hungary to enter this debate with the broadest possible consensus.

I don’t want to dwell on this topic for too long, because we need to talk about many other things, but one can see that there’s an important common characteristic among the lawyers involved in Gyöngyöspata or in the prison business and the lawyers representing asylum-seekers. This link is the fact that they’re associated with non-governmental organisations, most of which are funded by George Soros.

This is an old problem. Naturally I accord the opposition the respect they deserve, and I wouldn’t dream of insulting them or underestimating the role they play in Hungarian politics. But despite all that respect, in truth I have to say that our main political opponent is not the opposition: our main political opponent is George Soros and his world. Today George Soros’s network poses much more of a threat to Hungary – to the Government’s goals and work – than the opposition does. If we only had to argue with the opposition, we Hungarians would be fine, thank you very much. But here there is interference from abroad. And, as I’ve said more than once, they’re interfering for a reason. George Soros has launched three large-scale operations aiming to plunder Hungary. In the end it always comes down to money. Of course we’re talking about NGOs and human rights, but in the end it always comes down to how George Soros’s financial empire can gain control over government decisions, from which he then hopes to profit financially. They also do this in international organisations: they infiltrate them, and they have also infiltrated Hungary. It’s a regrettable fact that the Hungarian opposition has become intertwined with this Soros system. But if I pick apart this intertwined structure, I don’t see the opposition as the leading force, but George Soros and his team, and the media, journalists, activists, NGOs and so on financed by him. This is a well-organised network disguised in civilian clothing, but mobilised with a military logic; and clearly in response to central initiatives – I wouldn’t call them instructions – this network is battle-ready, highlights issues and attacks governments. I want to underline, however, that in the end it always comes down to money, and they want to plunder the country. I’ve been in politics for thirty years, and on three occasions I’ve seen with my own eyes George Soros and his troops seeking to plunder Hungary. Now, of course, it’s the prison business, and we can see how in Hungary they’re turning Roma against non-Roma. But deep down, beneath everything, they want to create conditions in Hungary, help people into power and infiltrate Hungary’s state administration in order to profit financially in the end. In the end this is always what it comes down to. In the end it’s always about this, and in the end it’s always about Hungary’s independence and sovereignty.

The Government has announced an eight-point climate protection action plan. The first reactions from the opposition are that this is not enough. For instance, Hungary’s green party, LMP, has said that first of all you should have declared a climate emergency, and then you should have set up a ministry for climate affairs. How do you see this?

First of all, there are players in Hungarian politics who have already been in government, and then they had the opportunity to truly prove their climate protection credentials. They failed to do so. Beck then the lion wasn’t roaring as loudly as it is now. Then there are local governments led by opposition politicians, including some who could be regarded as experts on climate protection, and I believe that they seriously mean what they say. Yet still they’re doing nothing. Now, about declaring a climate emergency… I’m a man of common sense, and so I think that when there’s a fire, firefighters don’t declare a fire emergency, but put out the fire. If this is indeed such an important matter – and I believe it is, although there are some unclear details and there are also debates… I believe that this is an important matter. In fact there is a general feeling – not only in Hungary, but also worldwide – that we must do something; in which case, instead of declaring a climate emergency we should get down to action. In the language of politics this means that we should implement our action plans. This is why we’ve created this eight-point action plan, our climate and environmental protection action plan; and we will implement it. I announced it, outlined the details and set deadlines. We will implement it step by step. Hungary is a country where if there’s a problem, instead of moaning, the people overcome it: they take action. Instead of moaning, I advise Hungary to take action. In the next two years I would like to take the lead by showing a good example.

Just very briefly, last weekend you had lengthy talks about the European Union’s budget, but no agreement was reached. Do you think the conflict between the newly-established “Budget for an Ambitious Europe” group and the “Frugal Four” can be resolved? Is there anyone among the Frugal Four – who are net contributors – that would be ready to yield on their firm position?

This is a complex and precarious issue, with a number of profound technical aspects which we have no time to discuss now – and perhaps there’s no need for that either. I’d like to draw the attention of you and your listeners to two facts. First of all, what is the debate about? Later on many other issues will be the subject of debate, but today the debate is about what percentage of their own national incomes – meaning their economic strength, their economic production – Member States should pay into the joint budget in the interest of joint European policy. Afterwards, there will be a debate about how to distribute it. At present the question is how much money we want to make available for the purposes of joint European policy. There’s a group which says that out of every hundred forints we should contribute one. And there are others who say that instead of one forint, we should contribute one point three forints. This is not so huge a difference that it should paralyse Europe. This is the first thing: to clearly identify the core of the debate. So it’s not about paying in some enormous amount, but either one forint or one point three forints. The second debate is about percentages, because there are not only contributions, but also all kinds of secondary channels. I won’t go into describing this complex system, but Member States can be reimbursed so that, on the whole, they pay in less than they appear to have paid on paper. The Hungarian people are not aware of this, so I’m grateful for your question. The situation today is that Hungary, for instance, which is not the European Union’s richest country, contributes more in terms of gross national product per capita – because this is a fair basis for calculation – than the Netherlands or Germany. So while we hear lectures about European solidarity and such things, I don’t want them to lead Hungarians onto a slippery slope, and I don’t want them to take Hungarians for fools. The truth is that the countries that most loudly demand European solidarity pay less as a percentage of their gross national product per capita into the common budget than countries which are much poorer than them. Before we start discussing the funding and development that Hungary is entitled to, in this debate I would like to ensure that we have a fair budget, and that those who are richer contribute more – or at any rate no less than their poorer counterparts. This debate is still at this primitive phase.

Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.