Katalin Nagy: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is in the Sunday News studio. Good morning.
You spent two days in Brussels this week, and before leaving for the NATO summit you said there were dangerous proposals on the NATO agenda. What was the reason that none of these proposals were adopted?
We spent two days and two nights in Brussels. The meeting of the prime ministers continued into the night. I can tell you frankly that this is a risky situation, because the stakes are high, and we were still wrestling fiercely with one another at two or three in the morning. But we came out of that meeting without any major problems. NATO was easier, because NATO copied the Hungarian position word for word. So there the Secretary General said that NATO won’t be sending soldiers to Ukraine, that NATO won’t be supplying weapons to Ukraine, and that NATO doesn’t want to be part of this conflict in any way. But it’s important to acknowledge that NATO is a security community which is organised in a special way. NATO doesn’t have its own army, but instead, in the event of the need for deployment, each member country offers contingents, that is to say military forces. So no “NATO army” is stationed anywhere. The Americans provide troops, the Hungarians provide troops, the Turks provide troops, and then together they’re under NATO control. But that isn’t the same as an independent army. In consequence this also means that NATO won’t assemble an army that seeks to enter Ukraine, or organise operations that result in weapons being sent into Ukraine – although it doesn’t prohibit any member country from doing so if that country wants to. So this means that it’s up to each nation state to decide whether or not to send troops and whether or not to send weapons. And here the positions are different, because some want to send weapons – and are sending them – and others, like us, do not want to be drawn into this conflict under any circumstances. And it’s these differences of opinion that lead to the debate that, as I’ve said, place dangerous proposals on the agenda. But, as a result of this debate, in the end we decided that everyone should do as they see fit, and NATO won’t engage in such operations on behalf of us all.
What’s wrong with the Polish peacekeeping mission – or the peacekeeping mission proposed by Poland?
Well, the problem is that there’s no peace. A peacekeeping force can only be sent somewhere where there’s at least a ceasefire. So if the parties aren’t shooting at each other, then there’s something to maintain. A ceasefire – a situation in which there’s no combat – can be maintained. But now the sides are shooting at each other, so the best that can be done is to send forces there to create peace. If you send a force somewhere to create peace, it means that you’re taking part in the fighting. No one wants that.
Is the question of a no-fly zone also clearly settled?
“No-fly zone” is an intelligent term. It gives the impression that air, or airspace, is like one’s bedroom: one turns the key and it’s locked. But that’s not the case, because airspace is where the opposing sides can deploy their weaponry. So they’re waging an air war against each other. If someone orders a no-fly zone, they’re committing themselves to grounding all aircraft launched by the warring parties. Usually this means that they’ll shoot them down. And if someone shoots down the air assets of one of the belligerents, from that moment on they’ve become a participant in the war. So what we’re really talking about is an air war. Therefore those who want to impose a no-fly zone are arguing for an air war within the Russian-Ukrainian war. I think that would be a tragic decision.
You’ve said that the negotiations were more difficult at the EU summit. In the end, what proportion voted against extending sanctions to the energy sector?
On this type of issue you need unanimity. One hears a lot about the European Union adopting lists of sanctions against Russia, and perhaps there have been four of them so far. But a sanctions list can only be adopted if everyone agrees on its content. So proposals are made, and if a Member State says that this sanction is too much for it or is not in its interests, then it’s omitted. This is what we do. There are proposals that are contrary to Hungary’s interests, and we strike them down. This was the case, for example, with gas and oil imports. But this doesn’t mean that we should always be the ones speaking out, because there are others in the same boat as us; the Germans or the Austrians, for example, are in almost exactly the same situation as us – or maybe a little more so. But their position is also one in which the German or Austrian economy will grind to a halt without Russian gas and Russian oil. So the situation isn’t the one described by the Ukrainians, who say that Hungary could accept a gas or oil price increase of 2 or 3 forints by importing from somewhere else other than Russia. That’s not the situation: either there’s gas or there isn’t, because it comes into Hungary through a pipeline – and even more goes to Germany and Austria. And gas and oil either flows through that pipeline or it doesn’t. So there’s no question of gas and oil still coming, but at a slightly higher cost. For Hungary the question is not whether it’s willing to help Ukraine by paying a little more for energy, because we’d be willing to do that; the question is whether the supplies come at all. In Hungary, for example, more than 60 per cent of all the oil we use can only come from Russia. Oil is important, because that’s the material from which we produce chemical products, and it’s processed into fuel. Hungary’s refineries are designed for this type of oil; and if we wanted to switch to some other kind of oil and were able to bring it in by some means that no one’s been able to specify, we’d still have to rebuild the refineries in Hungary. That work would take us several years to complete. So what the Ukrainians are asking us to do would result in the disappearance of 61 per cent of the oil used in Hungary. That would mean that there would be no fuel in Hungary. The same would be true for gas. So cutting off that source of gas supply would mean the disappearance of 85 per cent of all the gas used in Hungary – because that’s how much comes from Russia. So for us the question is not whether it’s a little more expensive, but whether the economy comes to a standstill. And if there’s no oil and no gas, the Hungarian economy will slow down and stop within a few days. That would result in factory closures. Then unemployment would start to rise – not a little, but a lot: there would be mass unemployment in Hungary. So what the Ukrainians are asking for is nothing less than a complete shutdown of the Hungarian economy, that we again lose years of development, and that Hungarian economic performance falls back to the level of eight, ten or however many years ago. So what they’re asking for isn’t a simple gesture, the payment of a small price, but in practice the complete shutdown of the Hungarian economy. And I’ll do everything I can to enable us to help the Ukrainians, because they’re under attack and in trouble. Let’s draw a veil over all the arguments about how they’ve treated members of our minority. In a crisis situation like this that’s secondary – we won’t forget it, but it’s secondary. We’ll do all we can, but they cannot ask us to ruin ourselves for them.
There was a strange incident at the EU summit. President Zelenskyy made an online appearance, as has become his practice, and addressed you personally, asking why we’re not giving and sending weapons.
The truth is that he addressed everyone. That’s what happened, but the Hungarian media understandably and correctly focus on Hungarian issues. But he addressed everyone who disagrees with him.
But by name?
Yes. Well, for example, he also spoke about the German chancellor and the historical position of the Germans in the various wars, in quite a scathing manner. So he attacked everyone who he thought wasn’t sufficiently committed to the Ukrainian cause.
Right. I watched the footage at the time, and having been in the business of communication for a long time, it was obvious that only a professional actor could look into the camera the way that Zelenskyy looked into it.
Well, that’s what he is.
Yes, that’s it. That’s why I’m just asking if you felt that he was sitting in a scene that had been directed for him.
Well, I get that feeling all the time. A lot of European politics is made up of staged scenes, and there’s nothing extraordinary about that. All the same, one has to take this sort of thing seriously. So, I’m a lawyer, that’s where I come from, and I use the knowledge that I’ve acquired in the world of law. And an actor uses and works with the knowledge he’s acquired as an actor. I don’t see anything extraordinary in that either. Nor do I see anything extraordinary in the President’s scathing tone. It may be unusual, but there’s nothing more unusual than war. So I don’t consider the President’s behaviour to be unjustified. And I also understand what he says, because his position is simple: “Ukraine is at war. We’ve applied to you to become a NATO member. We’ve applied to you to become a member of the European Union. Why aren’t you helping us now? Why aren’t you coming here? Why aren’t you fighting alongside us? Why isn’t there a single Hungarian soldier here, or a single American, or a single Pole? Why are you letting Russia use its obvious superiority to defeat us?” So it’s in Ukraine’s interest to involve as many countries as possible in this war. Now one can object to that, but at all events one has to understand it.
I see that, but didn’t Mr. Zelenskyy leave out one sentence? For example, about the half a million refugees we’ve taken in?
Yes, of course. But in such crisis situations a lack of nuance is perhaps excusable. But the most important thing is that we make it clear to him that we don’t want to be involved in this war and that we’ll do everything we can, but our moral responsibility is not for Ukraine: our moral responsibility is for our own people. I’m not accountable before the Lord for the people of Ukraine, but for the people of Hungary. So I must look at what’s in the interest of the Hungarians, and what the Hungarians must do. And of course Hungarians always help people in trouble – especially if those people live in a neighbouring country. Here are the Ukrainians, for example. Expressed as a percentage of the population, most of the refugees from Ukraine have come to Hungary. In absolute terms, of course, most have gone to Poland, but as a proportion of the population, more than 5 per cent of Hungary’s population have come to Hungary as refugees. And we’re providing for everyone. Now, I understand that one doesn’t think of expressing thanks for that when one’s fighting for one’s life. I understand that. But the most important point is that this isn’t a dispute between us and the Ukrainian president, because in his situation he’s doing what is logical. The dispute in Hungary – and it’s between the Left and the Government – is about whose point of view should determine our action. Should we comply with the Ukrainians’ request, or should we look at how we can help the Ukrainians without destroying Hungarian interests? For example, helping the Ukrainians of course, but not getting involved in the war, not letting any Hungarians die in the war, and not destroying our economy. So the alternative to this, as I’ve heard here from Ferenc Gyurcsány or perhaps one of the other left-wing leaders, is that there are only two options: either we debase ourselves morally; or we sacrifice our interests on the altar of Ukrainian interests, and do what the President of Ukraine says we should do.
Yes – or one dies, as Ferenc Gyurcsány has put it.
Yes, but what kind of mentality is that? So we’re a mature people, with a history of more than one thousand years. We know who we are, we know who the Russians are, and who the Ukrainians are. We can define our place in the world on the basis of our own interests. We don’t need to compare our position with that of others. But if it’s a question of whose side we’re on, then for 1,100 years we’ve been on the side of the Hungarians, because we are one nation. So the mindset that seeks to morally devalue the Hungarian position is mistaken and damaging. The position of the Hungarians is morally sound. We’re giving the Ukrainians everything we can, perhaps even beyond our capacity. But we will not comply with any demands of theirs which would destroy our national community – either in a biological sense, with our sons dying in someone else’s war, or with the ruination of Hungary’s economy. We cannot accept that, and no one can ask us to do that. No one asked us and no one consulted us: we weren’t involved in the decision which resulted in a military conflict between the Ukrainian and Russian sides. Therefore our attitude towards this situation or this conflict is clear and unequivocal. I must also say that it’s not unique. Several other countries are taking a similar position here, so we’re not alone.
Not only President Zelenskyy, but other European Union leaders – even those with whom we usually stand united within the V4 – are saying that they don’t understand why cheap oil is more important to us than Ukrainian lives. They’re expressing themselves in such strident terms. And one wonders why Germany, France or Italy aren’t being held to account for supplying arms to Russia between 2015 and 2020, when such sales were banned by EU sanctions. Thousands of such arms licences were issued in those five years. Doesn’t that count as friendship with Putin? Or is it only regarded as friendship with Putin if Hungary doesn’t want to get involved in this war?
Well, I don’t not really dwell on other people’s affairs, but I could mention plenty of others. For example, some people have greatly benefited from the economic embargo imposed on the Russians after 2014, and others have lost. We, for example, have lost out; but others have gained from it. So I could give you many more examples; but that’s not important, because we have to make it clear that we’re Hungarians, and this is why we always pursue policies that are Hungarian-friendly. Of course our opponents try to get us to shift, to get us to abandon our national positions by negatively evaluating our standpoint. But Hungarian policy is neither Ukrainian-friendly nor Russian-friendly: it’s Hungarian-friendly. We stand on national foundations. The great powers have an interest in ensuring that the countries cooperating with them don’t stand on national foundations, but rather on imperial or supranational foundations, and that they surrender their own national interests and yield to pressure from those great powers. This isn’t such a complicated formula. We also know that it didn’t start today, as we look back on hundreds of years of history. We’ve seen this before, and we know how to represent Hungarian interests. The most important thing is calm. Because you can see that there are also situations featuring blackmail of a moral nature. The Ukrainian president is employing this – although once again I’d like to stress that I understand it. I’m simply keeping calm. I call this strategic calm. When a thunderstorm is raging, when everyone’s agitated and when the leaders of states in a very difficult situation speak with understandable passion, it’s very important to maintain our composure, our circumspection and our calm. We have entered an age of peril, we are living in dangerous times, and this is when the value of calm and composure rises.
So can we attribute these barbed remarks to the campaign? Obviously everyone knows that there will be an election in Hungary in a week’s time, so they think it’s a good idea to take a jab at Hungary, or at the Hungarian government. Or it could be that everyone senses that we’re facing a geopolitical shift. Power interests are changing and the composition of groupings may change; and in this situation everyone’s trying to position themselves.
There’s a lot of truth in that. As Ferenc Deák said, sometimes you have to rebutton your waistcoat. And now we’re in a period of rebuttoning the European waistcoat. So the war has changed the security situation in Europe, and it’s changed the economic situation in Europe. Now everything has to be recalibrated. So, for example, at the EU summit, which we started talking about, the other big, important issue apart from the war was that of energy. Of course this is linked to the war, but even before the war the price of energy in Europe was sky high. So the question is whether Brussels and the Brussels bureaucrats are pursuing the right energy policy today, or whether some kind of correction needs to be made. Discussion of this took the twenty-seven prime ministers a whole day, because they tabled completely different proposals and completely different approaches. But returning to the Hungarian situation, this cannot be disconnected from the campaign. Everyone knows that there will be an election in Hungary. Hungary has a clear, characteristic voice in the international arena. There will not only be an election, but also a referendum. In the midst of this whole Western gender madness, Hungary is an island of calm. We won’t join this madness, but will continue to adopt the approach of the traditional family: a mother is a woman, a father is a man, and our children must be left alone. So everyone feels that here in Hungary there will be decisions with European consequences and European significance. At the same time, the war has cast a shadow over the whole Hungarian campaign. Now it’s not just a question of whether we should return to the failure of the past: of us keeping the thirteenth month’s pension and our opponents perhaps taking it away again; of us wanting to improve the family support system while they’d abolish it. They’d obviously do those things, as they didn’t vote for these policies in Parliament. So what’s at stake is whether we go forward, or go back to the Gyurcsány era. We say that Hungary must go forward, not back. But beyond that, the question of peace and security is now also part of what’s at stake in the election. And our message is clear: only Fidesz can create peace in Hungary, only we can guarantee the security of the Hungarian people. And so an international dimension has been added to our election campaign, heightening the tension. Some people are reacting badly to this. Some people think that a quieter campaign would be better. And some people think that this is an opportunity to finally talk seriously, honestly and deeply about very important issues. I’m a member of the latter group. So I don’t want to scale down the campaign; I’m trying to involve as many people as possible, to mobilise them, to talk to them, to reach out to them, to shake their hands, and to talk honestly and seriously about these difficult issues. Because next Sunday we’ll be deciding the fate of Hungary for at least the next four years.
Let’s return to the issue of high energy prices, which even the Belgian prime minister is now talking about as an enormous burden – an almost unbearable burden – on that country’s citizens. We’ve heard that in the Netherlands the price of gas has quadrupled. But have we considered the food shortages that may result from the war? There’s also just been a G7 summit, where it was said that it would be good if the export of Russian goods weren’t subject to sanctions, because that would again cause a great deal of trouble. It was even noted that the Hungarian government has said that grain shouldn’t be exported from Hungary, so that there will be enough here at home.
Let us talk about the price of food first and energy second – although the two are interlinked. The alarm bells have indeed been sounded. The French president took the lead in this, with the possibility of food shortages in many parts of the world – even in Europe – being spoken about in unusually sharp and harsh tones. Of course the biggest trouble is not yet in prospect here, but rather in African regions. Ukraine and Russia are both big grain exporters, accounting for a significant part of the world’s trade in grain, mostly supplying areas where grain isn’t grown – or not in sufficient quantities. This is the African region. And although it was a long time ago, your more seasoned radio listeners will remember that the Arab Spring didn’t start as a human rights movement. The Arab Spring was a food riot: there were food shortages, and political regimes there were toppled. Liberation and freedom-fighting movements grew out of this, and got where they were able to get to. That could be the subject of another discussion. But the point is that the lack of wheat, of grain, can not only destabilise countries, but also whole large regions – and even continents. And with the Russian-Ukrainian war causing – or potentially causing – supplies from those countries to fall by the wayside, there could be trouble in places from which millions of migrants tend to come to Europe. So the whole issue of food and possible food shortages is also linked to the problem of migration. The Arab Spring was one of the triggers of the great wave of migration that we’re all suffering from, and the reason for this was a shortage of grain. In addition, Europe – and even Hungary – could also find itself in this situation; and so we need to stay alert. We calculate that, at its current technological level, Hungary is capable of providing food for 17 million people. There are only 10 million of us within the country’s borders, so we have a surplus. If we perform better – and we want to perform better and better – we could supply 20 million. So we’d have enough food to offer others an amount which could feed about 10 million people. But if food prices cut loose and rise, then suddenly there will be buyers who can offer such high prices for Hungarian produce that they’ll simply siphon food supplies out of Hungary. In that event our country, which can produce a surplus, will be left without food. This is the reason for the introduction of the controversial decision – disliked by the EU – requiring anyone planning to take grain out of Hungary to declare it in advance. And if the country’s security of supply requires it, the Hungarian state will have the right of first refusal. So we’re not taking anything from anyone, we’re not communists, but we’re defending the national interest; and if a certain amount of grain in a contract is needed by Hungary, we’ll step in and buy it at that price. This is contrary to existing European Union rules – or at least this Hungarian provision is on the borderline, or falls outside these rules. This is why it’s the subject of debate. But I believe that sooner or later we’ll change the existing rules, because every country will need to guarantee the security of food supply for its own people, its own citizens. Now as far as energy is concerned, the price of energy started rising before the war. So we cannot say that the price of energy is going up because of the war – it’s simply made the problem worse. In reality, the price of energy in Europe is rising because the European Union is raising prices. So it’s not the market that’s raising it, but the EU itself. And this is a programme. So the European Commission says that the way to protect the climate is to force people to use as little energy as possible, and so they’re raising energy prices centrally every year, announcing the rises in advance. This is achieved by a complicated mechanism called a quota – which I won’t explain now, if you don’t mind. But the point is that they’re imposing a special tax on energy. This means that energy produced from coal, for example, or electricity produced from oil or gas, could be profitable in the market in business terms, enabling price reductions; but the special quota tax imposed by the EU will make it increasingly expensive and not worth producing. So those plants will be shut down, instead we’ll use green energy that’s not penalised by the EU, and a change will come about. In principle I question whether this is a well-planned process, but at least philosophically it can be said that we can move in this direction. But now that the war has added to the rises, I don’t think that this policy can be pursued now. So we must put an end to the policy of prices artificially increased by Brussels. And it has to be said that until the effects of the war have ended, we cannot expose our families to energy prices that are artificially increased threefold or fourfold. So let’s stop this process now, let’s suspend it. Brussels shouldn’t raise the price of energy, and then suddenly the price of energy will be affordable – or at least more tolerable. This is our proposal. Hearing this, Brussels is spitting fire. So for the time being I can only raise this issue very modestly, cautiously and quietly. But I’m convinced that in a month or two the European bureaucrats in Brussels will have no choice but to realise that they must stop their policy of artificial price increases. What’s more, inflation is now reaching increasingly unbearable proportions in Germany, which is the most worrying, and is already at 12, 13 or 14 per cent in the Baltic states. In Hungary we’re also fighting to bring it down, or at least to limit its rise. Energy price increases are at least 50 per cent of the reason for this price rise. So if the bureaucrats in Brussels stop artificially raising energy prices, we’ll find a way to curb the rate of inflation, the rate of price increases.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.