31 March 2014

Péter Csermely: Our guest toady is Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Good evening!

Viktor Orbán: Good evening!

PCs: Do you ever dream about 2002?

OV: I don't dream, but I do think about it.

PCs: And what comes to mind when your imagination dwells on those days or hours?

OV: What comes to mind is that it isn't worth making mistakes if we don't learn from them. 2002 was an important and valuable experience for the Hungarian right.

PCs: To such an extent that that day lives on in the hearts and minds of every conservative Hungarian voter. It is impossible to talk in conservative circles without this topic coming up at some point. Is this also a realistic danger on this occasion? Because the situation may seem similar at first glance, but it is of course very different.

OV: Nothing is impossible. 2002 is a thorn in our side. It causes increased discomfort prior to the elections, and with good reason. It conjures up and reminds us of the mysterious, unpredictable and incomprehensible side of the elections. One can calculate all kinds of things, chances, polls, but only the result is certain. The result announced at the end of election night. And we have learned this, the right has learned this, the civil, Christian, national camp know this very well. From this perspective, it makes no difference whether the situation is different or not and whether we are in an even better position or not, the important thing is that we have experience and that we make use of it.

PCs: There is no poll, no mid-term election, no report and no experience that can make people believe that the right is going to lose these upcoming elections. Is the extent of the victory important though?

OV: As things stand, the question isn't whether the right is going to win or not, but whether the country will win. And to our camp, which is a national camp, this is an important question. So the right should win in a way that means the country wins too. This means that after the elections the right must be able to provide a government that is capable not only of representing the objectives we have set, but is capable of representing them successfully. And this needs votes, lots and lots and lots of votes and a high level of support. Our life after 2010 also serves as a good example, not just 2002. A new tax on the banks may require a 50 percent majority in Parliament, or new regulations on taxing multinationals may only require a 50 percent majority in Parliament, but the fact is that if we had a parliamentary majority of only 50 percent then we would not have been able to introduce either.

PCs: In 2010...

OV: Excuse me.

PCs: You campaigned, and we remember it well, with the words: small victory – small changes; great victory – great changes.

OV: The situation is the same now. Small victory – small success; great victory – great success, and not for Fidesz, but for the country. The stronger the next government and the more support there is behind it, the greater the majority it can rely on, the more daring and wonderful things we will be able to achieve. In the worst case scenario, if the next government is weak, but conservative, then perhaps even the things we have achieved so far will be difficult to protect. So the right must be aware of the fact that the issue now isn't whether we can be victorious over the left and to what extent, although of course that is the most important thing, because opponents are there to be beaten no matter how much we may respect them, but what is actually at stake here is the power and efficiency of the future government apparatus and administration. And this requires every single vote. And there is of course something else that it is important to note. This is a new electoral system. So when we consider the chances, the results and the consequences, then some of our knowledge is no longer valid, because we accumulated that within a different electoral system. The situation now is that the vote that we give someone, and let's be a little biased, say to a conservative candidate, if the candidate wins, and wins by a significant majority, then all of those many additional votes that were not needed for them to win all go on to the national list and increase the strength of the winner on that list. So it isn't enough for conservative candidates to simply beat the party who comes in second, but the more they beat them by, the more votes are transferred to the national party list and turn into seats there. So every vote counts. Perhaps to a greater extent than ever before.

PCs: In your speech yesterday to the Peace March and the Fidesz rally, you placed special emphasis on the fact that conservative voters should not split their vote. This was also the case in 2010 and you made a similar request then. Is this still a potential danger today?

OV: Yes, back in 2010 I also used the slogans "only vote for Fidesz", "strength lies in unity" and "one camp, one flag". You know, the reason this is a realistic danger is because we are Hungarian, and although this on the one hand makes our lives somewhat better, on the other hand our successes are also derived from the fact that we are always racking our brains. And the average Hungarian doesn't see anything strange in that, because this is how we are brought up; throughout our lives, even when we are resting, we are always racking our brains with regard to something. And we don't realise that not all peoples are like this. Lots of peoples aren't like this: when they sit, they are sitting, when the stand they are standing, when they think they are thinking. But Hungarians aren't like that and so, since everyone has two votes under the Hungarian system, meaning everyone can vote for one individual candidate and for a party, then people who are liable to rack their brains and who, let's say, immediately begin to speculate that then we could split our vote and we could have a bit of this and a bit of that and a bit of the other. I would like to ask the Hungarians not to do this. If they know what they want and if they know which future they want to stand by, then I ask that they stand by it with all of their weight. Give both your votes to the same party and don't be deceived into doubtful combinations that you will eventually regret, and believe me, I know my profession, you will regret it if you don't give both of your votes to the same party.

PCs: I won't ask you if you would be happy to receive a two-thirds majority again, because you obviously would, but do you think it would be important for you to receive a two-thirds majority again?

OV: I repeat: great victory – great era; great victory – great acts and great opportunities. And accordingly I of course think it is important that we win by the greatest margin possible, perhaps even with a two-thirds majority, but the most important thing is that the Government can feel that it is truly the government of the people and that this should not end with these elections but is repeated at the European Parliament elections and then at the local government elections. And in fact I would like this support to be maintained in the way it was kept alive after 2010, because we have enjoyed continuous support since 2010 and, with perhaps a little fluctuation, there has always been a great unity and a determinative mass of people behind the Government, and they have always stood up for us.

PCs: When you say that over these four years the Government has introduced many measures that may be viewed as extraordinary, and not only does the opposition and Europe call them extraordinary, but so does the Government itself, then does it come to mind that another landslide election victory would also serve as an exceptional endorsement of these past four years?

OV: Yes, it would certainly serve as an exceptional endorsement, but I clearly remember the words with which I began my Prime Minister's speech on the election programme, and which are sill in force today, according to which the winner isn't right, it has a duty. It has a duty to perform, and so it isn't our business to go around asserting the fact that we are right. Politics sometimes takes a wrong turn and when people take a closer look they see that politicians are only trying to prove that they are right. They have long forgotten the question of what they should be doing and the only thing they can think of is still that they have been treated unjustly and they were right after all. The country will get nowhere with that kind of thinking. So if we are victorious we must courteously express our thanks, we must celebrate in a restrained but clearly audible manner, and then we must get back to work and the task at hand.

PCs: With regard to this work and the task at hand, don't you think you have been a little reserved? On the one hand you say that you want to continue what you have begun, and then in your speech yesterday you said that you are asking for four more years. But you aren't providing too many details on exactly what for.

OV: The snappy and perhaps overly plain reply we usually give to this question is that we would like to continue what we have begun or that our election manifesto can be summarised by saying that we will continue what we have been doing until now. And this is true, because we plan on doing nothing that isn't the direct result of what we have done until now. But that doesn't mean that we won't be doing everything that is a direct result of what we have been doing so far. And there are huge tasks to be performed in that respect, because if you look at the economy then we may have begun building an economy that is now resulting in falling unemployment and an in crease in the number of jobs, but we are still a long way from full employment. We have begun saving people who are in trouble because of foreign currency based debt and we have already saved 370 thousand families, but there are still many who need help, and the list goes on. Every area is like this. We have reorganised the school system. We have created the framework that will enable an excellent education system in Hungary, but have a look at the reports that the various international organisations have published. It doesn't look like we are leading the European rankings according to those reports, and in fact we are losing ground. So we still have a lot of work to do, but everything we want to do is the direct result of and is identical to what we have done so far.

PCs: The opposition disputes every single thing that the current government has achieved. There isn't a single figure that they say is acceptable, but of course they are. And now, as we approach election day, this same opposition says that the elections will be fixed. So there is no meeting-point, no basis upon which you can begin developing some kind of communication with them.

OV: The fact is that an election is a good lesson for everyone. Thank God, and the voters, we hope that the lessons that can be drawn by the opposition as a result of the election will not concern us, and they haven't concerned us over the past four years either. But it would be worth the forces that lost by a two-thirds majority in 2010 thinking about what they have been up to during these past four years and where it has led. One lesson I am expecting from the elections is one that not only we, but the opposition may also learn from, and that following the elections it may perhaps become clear that the only result of their behaviour over the past four years can be failure, that this can only lead to people turning away from the opposition and that this is no way to conduct politics in the interests of the nation. I am usually at the receiving end of criticism for this, but it is the opposition who must understand what we said when we were in opposition: the homeland itself cannot be in opposition. The parties can be in opposition, the socialists, for example, can be in opposition, but the homeland is not in opposition. The homeland cannot be made fun of, the affairs of the homeland cannot be the object of ridicule, and one cannot act continuously to prevent it from succeeding, always throwing a pole between the spokes of the wheel and being glad when your homeland takes a tumble. One cannot behave like that. But this level of culture is not part of Hungarian political culture today, and is especially not part of the opposition's culture. But I very much hope that following the elections, everyone thinks over not only the results, but also what those results are a consequence of, and then perhaps even the opposition may take a change for the better.

PCs: They will not be able to change, based on the experiences of the past 25 years. As Lucifer said: "I can give you nought but my essence". This is their essence.

OV: I can be a little more lenient, though? I have of course primarily been dealing with the Government and its affairs, but from the corner of my eye I did try to follow what lessons, if any, the political forces that were rejected, horribile dictu: sent packing, by a majority of two-thirds may have learned from the will of the people. And what I have seen is that there has been some thinking on this issue. And what I have seen is that the leader of the socialists has in fact attempted to place what we call the left onto new foundations, or at least to renew it to some extent. And then things somehow took a wrong turn and they aren't where they perhaps should be in view of the renewing policies of the past three years, but this isn't my business. Let that be their business, which they have to come to terms with. I would simply like to indicate that we should not write off or view as absolutely hopeless the possibility that there could be changes on the left which finally do serve the good of the homeland and the interests of the people who live here.

PCs: Nevertheless, if we look at the relationship between the Fidesz-KDNP coalition, the Hungarian right and the current Hungarian Government with Western Europe and with Western European public sentiment and the Western European press, then what we see is that this relationship is rather strained. The Hungarian right and the activities of the current Government are presented in a one-sided manner and using double standards. If, following the elections, they receive an impulse according to which the legitimacy of the elections is in question, then that could cause difficult moments for the second or third Orbán government.

OV: Let's talk about the starting-point first, and then assess the possibilities. There is a problem that we call the communists which of course nobody understands as meaning that they sleep with Stalin's photo by their besides anymore, or that they shave using a sickle. So is doesn't mean…

PCs: With German and Austrian and Swiss bank accounts more like.

OV: Yes, but you're talking about the Hungarians now, not the Western Europeans. What I am talking about is that there was also a great left-wing intellectual revolution there, which became derailed and ended up with the provision of public support for dictatorships and communist systems that committed crimes against humanity, and of which it later transpired that they belong on the scrapheap of history. And now these people, and I'm talking about Western Europe, about university professors, journalists, the formers of public opinion, members of parliament and a good many European leaders; after a while they of course became less hard-line and became integrated into what we might call the traditional European left and social democratic politics that no longer wants revolution, but only to improve things and represent nice things that they sometimes even succeed in realising. But when these people write about Central Europe they remember everything that happened in their youth. And perhaps they don't like what our ex-communists are doing, or as we call them, post-communists, but they always view their actions with sympathy and keep making excuses for them. They do their best to help them in the hope that they will step onto the path of social democratic political adjustment, just as they have. But they hate us, who oppose them and who represent, let's say, civil, national and Christian values. We are now trying to provide our own arguments, and it is helping, because European political discourse is after all based on argument, meaning that reasoning does combat with reasoning. So it is worth entering this battle. But one always feels what you are also talking about, that there is some kind of gut rejection and a gut sympathy with the other side. We, civil, national and Christian political forces from Central Europe, should view this Western European situation as a potentiality. It is not worth cursing and shaking our fists, this is how things are. Of course, we shouldn’t do anyone the favour of pretending that we don't know that this is how things are either. So it is better to say it out loud, as I am doing now. We must present our side of the coin, our standpoint and our arguments, but neither I nor you should hope that they will ever become our friends. There isn't that much traffic in a left to right direction on that particular road to Damascus.

PCs: In other words the relationship between the Hungarian right and Western Europe, or rather with Western European forums of opinion, will remain roughly the same as it has been until now.

OV: For now.

PCs: The same as it has been over the past 25 years. The situation was the same during the time of the Antall government.

OV: Yes, but things…

PCs: Perhaps a little less forcefully, but it was basically the same.

OV: Yes, but the fact is that the situation in Western Europe isn't static; it is changing. There, generations come and go and ideologies rise and prove to be useful, or fail and are thrown out. This is a system that is in motion. So the Hungarian right should not assume a position of defiance, a continuously defensive, rigid and resistant position. But I repeat, we should not deceive ourselves either. We have our own just causes; we have our own views and our own fate; we have our own homeland and interests. These must be stated outright, they must be admitted, and we must fight the resulting battles. The important thing is that we always fight the resulting battles. A feeling of resentment is the worst possible thing in politics; it disarms you and you always hurt yourself with it, never your opponent. So the right must not feel offended and it must not take on a position of having a grievance with the current generation of Western opinion-formers.

PCs: It would seem that we are over the worst. There were some very dark days in this relationship between the Hungarian right and Brussels. But as the figures for the Hungarian economy began to emerge and the achievements of the Hungarian way were slowly confirmed, it may seem odd to them, but for some strange reason it seems to be working after all, and it is working better that the things that Western Europe has come up with to manage the crisis, their tone seems to have eased to some extent. The figures for the Hungarian economy – although of course these figures aren't producing too great an effect on the lives of ordinary people yet – but the numbers are excellent for the moment.

OV: Success is an important argument in politics, and Hungary is a success story. It isn't a resounding success story, but it is a growing one, like the proverbial anthropomorphic haggis; a success story that is becoming increasingly visible. Because the figures haven't only improved just recently, they have been improving for a while now; the tendency is clear and the Hungarian economy, its performance and the whole country, is continuously gaining in standing. The country is full of foreigners. We are an interesting place and they like coming here. Try telling someone who has already visited Pest that there is fascism in Hungary. There's no point telling someone who has already taken a walk around the city that people aren't free over here. They're all dying from laughter at such ridiculously false claims. So they are here, they come and visit us; tourism is flourishing, the economy is flourishing and the investors are here too, more than ever before. So all I want to say with this is that since we are part of this Western world, changing people's view of us and the acceptance of Hungary's success also comes more easily than if we tried to do so from outside. We are inside the system, but at the same time…

PCs: The opposition forewarns that this may be the case for now, but that all this is unsustainable. They are threatening and alarming the people by saying that there could even be austerity measures introduced immediately following the elections.

OV: Well, when it rains, it pours. And to top it all the opposition even got a slap from Brussels because while they were shouting all over the country that the reduction in public utility prices is unsustainable, that the economic growth is only temporary and that the reduction in the unemployment rate will turn around again and unemployment will begin to grow, Brussels issued its annual report on the member states, including on the state and prospects of Hungary. And the report says that 2013 was a successful year, that there are encouraging sings that 2014 will be even better, and that the forecast for 2015 is better still. And so the Hungarian opposition, who otherwise expected its friends in Brussels to give them a helping hand from outside, as they have usually done over the course of the past 20 years, succeeded in achieving exactly the opposite effect, because facts are facts after all.

PCs: They are right in one respect, although of course in politics it is easy to claim that the reduction in public utility prices cannot be continued, but after a certain point it cannot be continued. The question is: have we reached that point yet?

OV: The opposition isn't saying that it cannot be continued, but that it is unsustainable. But it is sustainable. Why couldn't it be?

PCs: Those measures that people call unorthodox– although who knows, they could soon become the norm throughout Europe – from the bank tax and various surtaxes to the reduction in utility prices; they of course all had strong principles behind them, but if we look at the opinion polls it would seem that they have also worked as a kind of magic weapon for the elections. This was of course not the reason they were introduced.

OV: And of course things like this cannot be introduced without long preparation and planning. That is why we couldn't introduce the reduction in utility prices immediately in 2010. At the time I was happy that we succeeded in at least freezing them. The country was in a state of financial unsustainability in 2010. The IMF was the one who told us, or wanted to tell us, the direction in which the future of the Hungarian economy should move. The level of public debt held in foreign currencies was extremely high. There were I am sure serious doubts both at home and abroad with regard the repayment of annual instalments. But that was a different situation. Reducing utility prices then would have been impossible. The groundwork has to be prepared for measures of this nature. Politics often seems to be made up of verbal debate, but government politics isn't and neither are national politics. It is a system of steps that are built on top of each other, of steps that are developed and realised with Sisyphean toil. We have now succeeded in also finding a place within this system for the reduction in utility prices, and this is why I can tell you that it is sustainable. Why shouldn't it be sustainable? The service providers whose strength is otherwise derived from their monopoly positions are still making profits. It is undoubtedly true that the people in Brussels have never seen anything similar to what the Hungarians have come up with, and it isn't just that they have never seen measures of this kind, and I know that this programme doesn't deal with philosophy, but it is perhaps at least worth mentioning that European bureaucracy and most European national bureaucracy have a certain courtly character. Today's European elite show a certain kind of continuity with the past few centuries of the European elite. It differs in some respects, but there is also a significant level of continuity with regard to the fact that one does not speak about certain things in the 'royal' court, meaning that certain proposals are not put forward and certain things are left unspoken, and then here come these seemingly also Caucasian and European people who seem to be able to eat with a knife and fork, and who come knocking on our door telling us that we do this a little differently, and our opinion on that is totally different, and in fact perhaps we should all be doing something completely different together. This is not an everyday occurrence in Brussels, I think.

PCs: It may be a strange experience for them, and in certain cases they have reacted with shocking attacks. With regard to Hungary's new Constitution, for instance, which on paper is none of their business.

OV: That's how things work in an empire.

PCs: The country and the Fidesz-KDNP coalition are in a situation in which you have excellent data, figures, arguments and plans. You could tell us more about some of these. Why don't you sit down for a Prime Ministerial debate?

OV: We have sat down for more than enough debates. The past four years have been about nothing else than debates. I think everyone has had the opportunity so say what they want to and the people know all of our arguments. In addition to which both the left and the right have had a chance to govern. The people can compare the two. What if this happens, what if that happens. And the object of the campaign is also to enable people to find out what, what choices, they can decide between.

PCs: That's what they say too.

OV: I think the people know everything about this already. And in my view what the opposition is doing is not a debate at all. They aren't interested in having a debate; they want to attack and they want to deal out abuse. They don't need me for that; they can do that without me. Under such conditions I don't see the point in holding more debates in addition to the ones we have already had.

PCs: The thing you mentioned in your famous speech in Kötcse, that certainly central political force field; has it won? Is it making headway? Is it working?

OV: It is moving in that direction…

PCs: The opposition seems to be as afraid of this as a vampire is of garlic.

OV: Yes. Some of them perhaps do not understand it yet, and some of them do understand, but the result of both is the same: they are afraid. I maintain what I said and wrote then, and I make no secret of the fact that our work in government has also had a central principle. The left – and it is interesting why they view it from the perspective of power and culture, why this is determined in this way – the left is only capable of interpreting the central force field from the perspective of exercising power. I clearly stated that the central political force field is something that is intellectual in nature. It means that Hungary must reach a stage where there are a few topics that are important and decisive topics with regard to our homeland and which are placed at the centre of our thinking, and which form a force field around themselves, a force field that is capable of protecting them, so they are in this sense invulnerable. I do not use the word sacrosanct, because words like that are not used in modern politics, but to all intents and purposes invulnerable, meaning that no force can change these core principles no matter who is in government. In a democracy, while competition endures, there are certain topics that in the case of luckier countries can be touched by no one. I think we have taken a few steps forward in this direction. As far as the issue of the nation is concerned, Hungary is in a better position with regard to the central force field that it was in 2010. The left, or at least the part of the left that we call the MSZP [the Hungarian Socialist Party], has incorporated the politics of national solidarity.

PCs: Out of necessity.

OV: Let's leave the issue of whether we believe that they did so honestly or not in brackets for the moment. Whatever the case, let us make it clear that the MSZP voted in support of dual nationality. And in fact it crossed the border and tried to awaken sympathy and campaign among Hungarians living in cross-border territories, and to incorporate this into future Hungarian left-wing politics. We are a nation that must be kept in unity. So today, this is a topic that will not be affected, no matter what result the elections hold. And I am waiting for other topics to also become universal. In the West, in the history of the German social democrats, this is known as the Bad Godesberg u-turn. I am still waiting for that to happen here. The situation is similar with regard to Christian values, for instance. So I am waiting for the left to at some point stand up and say that they think that those people who feel that they must build not only this country, but also God's country, and who are willing to express this is their way of life, their way of thinking and their work, are valuable people and represent an object of value in their eyes. And for this reason they should not be ridiculed, should not be laughed at and should not be looked down on, but rather they should be given space to perform this beneficial work. This will happen eventually…

PCs: Will the left stand up and say so?

OV: Yes, it will happen.

PCs: You are very optimistic.

OV: And the same thing will happen with relation to full employment. Wait and see! The work-based economy will also be included among these universally accepted topics, and something from the field of education and training might also make its way there…

PCs: It is unbelievable in itself that the work-based economy and employment are not included among the values professed by the Hungarian left, and neither are public burdens.

OV: Because the Hungarian left took a dead end when they turned towards a, let's call it, hard core liberal, neoliberal economic way of thinking, but they will turn back. All I am trying to say is that in addition to ensuring that the country's affairs are going well, securing an election victory and firmly and resolutely representing the interests of Hungary both at home and abroad, our work also involves building this universal accord, or as we call it this national accord; the building in an intellectual sense of this central force field that is kept to by everyone, and expressing it in political or nation-building programmes. This work is ongoing. Four years have not been enough for it to come about, but why should we exclude the possibility that in light of the election results the left comes to the conclusion that the lesson that can be learned from this election result is that it is to an even greater extent in its interests to allow a few topics to be included in that central force field, or even to include some themselves?

PCs: An election campaign clearly also represents a review of the past four years, the government's term in office and the results it has achieved. If you could highlight just two moments from the past four years that have made you most proud, and what mistakes do you think you have made, if any?

OV: I'll leave the last part of that question to your guests from the opposition benches.

PCs: They are capable of reciting them all day.

OV: Well, then you have a reply to your question. But as far as the good side of things go, a lot has happened. If we had to simply list all of the things that have happened for the good of the country over the past four years and everything that was required for us to be able to say that Hungary is performing better – not well for the moment, but better – then the list would be very long. Perhaps the issues that are most interesting from the point of view of a conversation like this one are the ones that, like the drops of water that make up the ocean, include everything. The reduction of public utility charges is one such topic; like the drops that make up the ocean, it includes everything: we should after all not allow foreign-owned service providers to fleece us for extra profits again and again in our own homeland. The regaining of the Seuso treasure, like the drops that make up the ocean, also includes that fact that if we are strong enough, we can get back what is ours. Dual nationality and giving voting rights to Hungarians living outside the country's borders also includes, like the drops that make up the ocean, the fact that this is a community that can only survive if it sticks together. So I think we could mention a good many symbolic issues of this kind. But what I am perhaps not most proud of, but feel is the most promising thing, is the way in which the people of Hungary have behaved with relation to unemployment. I remember it well when a friend of mine asked me in 2006, after we had lost the elections: do you know why you lost? You lost because you promised people work, while the socialists promised them money. To which I replied that a country can't survive unless people work. That may be true, he said, but you can't win an election in Hungary with a promise of work. By distributing money, that's how you can win. And what I am now perhaps most proud of is that those people who have otherwise been living off benefits for the past ten to fifteen years in their hundreds of thousands, when the opportunity was made open to them and they had the chance of returning to the world of work, were happy to accept. They came, they stuck with it, and today they are standing in line for even more work. And I think that by doing so they are placing their confidence in the politics that we are practicing, in our economic and social policies. This is I think the most encouraging development of these past four years.

PCs: My first question was if you dream about 2002. If you do dream of such things, it is a bad dream. But there are also good dreams. Do you ever think of the possibility that if all of the Fidesz-KDNP supporters go out to vote and people do not split their votes, and everyone goes out to vote, then the left-wing collaboration – or whatever they call themselves these days – could perhaps even end up without a seat in Parliament?

OV: Everyone eventually gets what they deserve.

PCs:  Thank you for being here. And thank you to our viewers for their attention. See you all again in two weeks at the same time. Goodnight!

(Prime Minister’s Office)