An interview with Viktor Orbán appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde on Saturday. The Prime Minister stressed that ideologies are no longer important: it is values that matter, and values have not changed since 1989.
The Prime Minister said that national sovereignty is very important but, in the world of interdependent countries in which we live, he sees the exercise of sovereignty as a complex issue. He also said that he sees commitment as an important principle to adhere to. ‘I do not like elitist and aristocratic forms of political debate. I prefer the plebeian approach,’ he said.
Politically, the Prime Minister defined himself as firmly rooted in the traditions of the European People's Party, which he sees as involving commitment to Christian Democracy, and to the principles of freedom, individual responsibility and national sovereignty. He regards this as a typically centre-right stance, deeply rooted in values; these include both traditional ones – such as Christianity, the family and freedom – and other more ‘progressive’ ones, such as participation and social mobility.
‘I am a right-wing plebeian,’ said the Prime Minister. He said that this might surprise readers of Le Monde.
When asked whether he felt himself to be a populist, he replied: ‘If by populist you mean that I tell people that I want to make their lives better, then I am. If that means favouring government by the people and for the people – as Abraham Lincoln did – then once again yes, I am.’
He said that we love democracy for its values, but in Europe there are ever increasing problems in this regard. Highly indebted companies, poor demographics, unsuccessful social integration and the rise of extremism are all factors that weaken democracy. He believes that we will soon be challenged by countries which are more successful, but not democratically organized – such as China – and by Asian companies. In his view, intellectuals and politicians in Europe should be encouraged ‘to think more freely about the future of democracy.’
In relation to the concerns expressed by the EU, he stressed that neighbouring countries are solidly behind Hungary, and so there is no question of disagreement with the whole of Europe. He said that the basic difference in Western Europe is that it did not experience communism and post-communism, and so it is understandable that ‘there are fair concerns which are not politically-motivated, since the Western historical and social context is not the same as ours.’
The Prime Minister said that the 365 new laws and comprehensive reforms passed over the last one and a half years were necessary because in 2010 Hungary found itself on the edge of a precipice. In addition to a seven per cent budget deficit and government debt over 80 per cent of GDP, an especially serious problem was the fact that, of a population of 10 million, only 2.6 million people were paying tax. He said there had been no time to waste, and that all democratic means had to be used to rectify the situation as quickly as possible: means referred to by Le Monde as a ’bulldozer‘. ‘But our bulldozer has always kept to the Highway Code. Even if at times I have tried to amend the Highway Code, I have always taken care to abide by the law,’ said the Prime Minister. He stressed that as a lawyer he was aware of how important it is to ‘play by the rules of the game’ in a state under the rule of law.
He pointed out that today there are 3.8 million taxpayers in Hungary. In connection with government debt, he said that the country is getting closer to a solution, since there is a plan in place to reduce it to 70% by 2014. As for household debt, he mentioned that about one million people had taken out foreign currency-denominated loans, but that now 200,000 fewer are suffering under this burden, thanks to the early repayment scheme initiated by the Government. ‘I am not Spartacus, I did not ask for the annulment of all debt,’ he said. He said that his negotiations with banks had been the toughest fight of his political career, and in the course of this he had found himself opposed by the entire international banking community. He said that being poor in Hungary is not the same as being poor in France: Communism meant that Hungarians never had the same goods as were common in the West. He stated that his government’s policies are aimed at strengthening the middle class, many of whom live in a precarious situation. He believes, on the other hand, that the time of danger has passed, and that the country must now enter an era of consolidation and consensus.
When he was asked how he envisages national sovereignty within the EU, he replied that Hungary has no basic problems with the EU. Difficulties arise when Hungary receives hostile reactions to its defence of such shared values as Christianity, family or the nation. He said that the acceptance of European Union institutions is undermined when Hungary is compared to North Korea in the European Parliament.
As far as the independence of the National Bank of Hungary is concerned, Mr Orbán said that when he became prime minister he promised not to remove the Governor of the Bank. At the same time, it is difficult to reconcile the economic policies of the Government with those of the central bank – but this problem exists in other European countries as well. He said that non-voting representatives from the Ministry of Finance have been attending Monetary Council sessions for twenty years with no objections from the European Commission, but since this has now been questioned the Hungarian government is willing to change the practice.
In connection with Klubrádió, the Prime Minister said that in the West the award of the franchise to another operator is being made to look as if it is an attack on freedom of expression. With regard to the situation of the media, he underlined that 90% of the media is in private hands, and two-thirds is owned by non-Hungarians. So far, none of the leaders of these media organisations have indicated that they have any problems with the Media Acts. He also mentioned that it was the first time in his political career that a minister of a leading power (in this case U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) had urged him to ‘break the law’ by intervening in the tender involving Klubrádió: the award of frequencies is governed by strict regulations. ‘If Americans or others wish to support Klubrádió, they should give it money, so that it can strengthen its financial undertakings,’ he added.
Finally, in connection with the appointment of György Dörner as the director of the ‘New Theatre’ in Budapest, he said that this matter is outside his remit, and that he shall not be attending the premiere of Dörner’s first play.
(Ministry of Public Administration and Justice)