We report below, in English translation, long excerpts of the annual State of the Nation Address that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivered on February 12 before the Parliament in Budapest. On this occasion he spoke about the management of the pandemic, the critical situation in Bosnia and Ukraine, internal tensions within the EU, the "green" agenda of Brussels and much more. (Editor's note)
Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It has been a long time since we last saw each other, and it is a good feeling to finally be together again. This time last year our usual meeting was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. We are tempted to surrender ourselves to the joy of seeing one another again, but today we have serious matters to discuss – after all, the election is now just fifty days away. [...]
A pandemic that comes out of nowhere like this is also a kind of “stress test”. It puts us all under pressure: it pressure tests countries’ political systems and economies. As you have seen, the Hungarian state has withstood the test. Parliament has continued its work throughout all this, giving the Government the room for manoeuvre and the means to mount a successful defence operation, while monitoring the situation. The disease control authorities, the hospitals and the often unjustly maligned and underrated Hungarian health service have performed outstandingly well, and we have seen coordinated, swift and disciplined work from state administration, the police and the military. The Government has remained united and calm, and the country’s ability to act has never been in jeopardy. In other words, the new constitutional system of governance introduced in 2011 has passed the test.
In Europe, one coalition after another has fallen apart, rule changes have been so frequent that they have been impossible to keep track of, and thousands of protesters have been subdued through force of arms. Slowly but surely, people’s trust has evaporated. Nothing like that has happened here. Here in Hungary we have managed to maintain – and even strengthen – public confidence, because the majority of people think that Hungary has defended itself well.
We also need to talk about this, because in truth Hungary has been attacked not only by the virus but also by the Left, in the hope of bringing down the Government. When tighter restrictions were needed, they demanded the lifting of restrictions; when restrictions needed to be lifted, they demanded that they be tightened. They shouted about dictatorship; they launched smear campaigns for foreign consumption; they spread fake videos, fake news and scare stories. This is gross irresponsibility – or even more than that. Let us not shy away from using strong words. In a deadly global pandemic, exploiting the fear of millions of families to bring down a government is indefensible in any court of justice. The time will come for two verdicts: one on 3 April [date of election, ed]; the other as decreed by the Good Lord above.
The economic situation
Since 2010 we have not only reorganised the state, but we have also built a new Hungarian economy. In 2010 we decided to give people jobs instead of welfare handouts: there is a job for whoever wants to work. Despite the pandemic, never since the fall of communism have so many people in Hungary been in work: more than one million more than under the Gyurcsány government. What is more, the standard of their work is high, because we need to competitively produce goods and services that can be sold on international markets. This is vital, because we have built an economy based on the sale of these products abroad: an economy based on exports. Last year we managed to break another awe-inspiring record: Hungary’s export performance rose to 119 billion euros. To put this in perspective, in terms of population we are 95th in the world, but our export performance is in 34th place. And in terms of exports per capita we are now 27th. Let us savour that.
In 2010 we decided to achieve majority Hungarian ownership in key sectors. So we have reduced foreign ownership to below 50 per cent in the banking system, in the media and in the energy sector. Let us remind everyone that in banking our starting point was 60 per cent, in the media 66 per cent, and in energy 71 per cent; but now in all these areas Hungarian ownership is in the majority. This is no small matter. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, we were able to keep what we had brought into Hungarian hands – and we even continued to take back key companies [...]. Perhaps you will recall that earlier we decided that the amount of profit taken out of Hungary by foreign companies operating here should be matched by the profit brought home by Hungarian companies operating abroad. This is the way – and the only way – to keep the Hungarian economy in balance. This is still a long way off, but during the pandemic we did not turn back: we went forward, not back. [...] These are no small achievements, but I think that in the crisis the Hungarian economy’s greatest feat was ensuring that during the pandemic families did not need to make drastic cutbacks. On the contrary, tax exemption for the under-25s has come into effect, families can now receive their income tax refunds, and the thirteenth month’s pension has just been delivered.
[...] as we have always done since 2010, during the crisis we have trodden our own path; in relaunching the economy we have used the Matolcsy/Varga [governor of central bank and finance minister, ed.] remedy, not the prescriptions from Brussels. We did not slam on the brakes and we did not make for the safety lane: we bravely overtook on the bend. We took risks. The degree of risk was not small – but you know that in truth it never is. In economic policy, sooner or later those in the “safety first” camp always end up at the back of the field. It is like riding a bike: if you stop pedalling, it falls over. Well, it did not fall over: in 2021 we grew by 7 per cent, and we have more than made up for the downturn of the pandemic. However dry it may be, Ladies and Gentlemen, in an annual review one has to speak the language of numbers. We have managed to keep state debt below 80 per cent, and by the end of the year we will have brought it down to 77 per cent. Meanwhile France’s state debt has risen to 115 per cent, Spain’s to 120 per cent and Italy’s to 154 per cent. And something has happened that few people thought possible – I certainly did not think so: Austria’s public debt has overtaken that of Hungary. Despite the pandemic, in 2022 the minimum wage will rise by 20 per cent and taxes on labour will fall by 4 per cent. [...]
Winds of war
Will there be war? Everyone is talking about this now. The situation is both grim and fragile.
You are familiar with the map of the region, and know that Hungary is surrounded by unstable regions: the Western Balkans and Ukraine. In the Balkans we can find the big boys: the United States, the European Union, Russia and the Turks. And all this on our borders. Let us not forget that Bosnia is 70 kilometres from Hungary’s southern border, and there are still 665 Hungarian soldiers stationed in the Balkans. The recipe for reconciliation and reassurance in the Balkans is simple: rapid EU membership, reconciliation with Serbia and an EU Marshall Plan. It is a pity that this is not happening.
Hungary has grown stronger in recent years. This is why I say to you that we shall not sit back and allow wrongheaded great power politics to cause damage in our neighbourhood. Neither Berlin nor Brussels will be able to pursue Balkan policies to the detriment of the Hungarians, and they will not even be able to pursue their policies without us. We shall not accept decisions from Brussels that run counter to Hungary’s interests. And since Hungary’s interests lie in peace, economic development and the integration of the region into the European Union, there shall be no room for sanctions, punitive measures, lectures or any other kind of arrogance from the great powers. We must not talk about the Balkans, but with the Balkans. And we must act together with them. The Balkans are infinitely complicated, as they have always been; but there is the possibility of a peaceful settlement that is acceptable to all.
More pressing, however, is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Here too, Hungary’s interests are clear: first and foremost, war must be avoided. [...] Hungary’s size and military and economic strength do not enable it to exert decisive – or even considerable – influence on relations between the European Union, the West and Russia. But this is no excuse for inaction.
Relations with Russia
We are playing with our cards face up on the table, never hiding our view of Brussels’ strategy as a failure, and the sanctions against Russia as a dead end. I am convinced that without economic cooperation with Russia, Europe will remain weak and anaemic. It would be a strategic mistake to turn our backs on cooperation and completely hand over huge economic opportunities to the Chinese. But in recent years I have also come to realise that we cannot change the European Union’s foreign policy direction. And so, instead of unnecessary arguments, we have developed and are operating a Hungarian model. We are members of NATO and the European Union, and at the same time we have balanced political and economic relations with Russia. The Hungarian example proves that this is possible.
East-West tensions, conflicts and war – whether hot or cold – have so far brought Central Europe and Hungary nothing but distress, suffering and heavy losses. [...] Of course we Hungarians have also learned that security is not a question of friendship, but of strength. From this two things follow. Firstly, there must always be an area of sufficient width and depth between Hungary and Russia. Today this is Ukraine, whose independence and viability are intrinsically in Hungary’s direct interest: intrinsically! Secondly, Europe’s military strength must be at least comparable to that of Russia’s; until it is, the security of the European peoples will be decided not by us Europeans, but by the Americans and the Russians. Therefore Hungary supports the development of European military capabilities and a joint defence force.
In this spirit, we have embarked on the construction of a modern Hungarian army and its associated military industry. Unfortunately, we have not yet achieved a breakthrough. The military industry still needs to be linked to the economy, and universities, research institutes and innovation parks need to be involved. And of course we need young people who are ready to serve – and, if necessary, defend – their country. The bonuses we have just paid to police and military personnel is a good expression of our appreciation and a serious recognition by society, but in itself it is not enough. We still have much work to do. We need our own strength, we need our own national army. No one – no ally of ours – will take the place of Hungarians in risking their necks for Hungary. Whether a NATO member or not, no ally in the world will take our place in defending our homeland. Alongside us, with us, they might; but certainly not instead of us. If we are not strong enough, Hungary cannot be safe. Clint Eastwood taught us this: if there is a gun nearby, it is best if we are holding it.
Inflation and Green New Deal
[...] We could be running a victory lap [for economy, ed.] if the European economies had not been dented by inflation, by rising prices, which we know swallows up money. In the United States, inflation has reached a 40-year high of 7.5 per cent, and there are EU countries where inflation is already above 10 per cent. This would also be the case here if we were not continuously protecting families. This extraordinary situation has called for extraordinary decisions. So we have not stood idly by and watched prices rip, but have introduced a policy of four caps: a cap on utility prices, a cap on fuel prices, a cap on interest rates and a cap on food prices. Nothing like this has happened in Hungary for thirty years. Today we have the lowest electricity prices in the European Union and the third lowest gas prices. [...] According to a recent report just published by the EU, inflation in Hungary will be 5.4 per cent this year and 3.6 per cent next year, but these figures are – and will be – far exceeded by wage increases. So there will be money, because Hungary will continue to work. Family allowances will be maintained, and even extended. We will not give up on making the commitment to have children a financial positive rather than a financial negative. There will be children, there will be money, and we will protect families. This is what we mean by “going forward”!
But with inflation there is another snag, a speed bump. This is called Brussels. Gas and commodity markets have been liberalised, but no legislation has been developed or introduced in order to reduce wild price fluctuations. This means that they have left Europe at the mercy of financial speculators. This is a serious mistake, because energy prices are responsible for 50 per cent of inflation. We have fought a huge battle to get Brussels to finally declare nuclear energy and natural gas as sustainable sources. In the end we succeeded, but we lost a lot of time, and price formation has already slipped out of the hands of the Brussels bureaucrats. Their actions have been too little too late, and will not solve the crisis that has already emerged. This is why – according to our present state of knowledge – high energy prices will be with us for years to come.
Fortunately – or, more precisely, thanks to the resourcefulness and daring of [Foreign Minister, ed.] Péter Szijjártó – we have concluded timely and sound gas supply contracts with the Russians. But in Brussels, my friends, the problems are not receding, but growing. Instead of being given a lifejacket, we are now tethered to a millstone: their prospective introduction of a punitive tax on home and car owners across the whole of Europe. It is absurd that the Member States not only have to battle against high prices, but also against Brussels. The time has come for someone to say the following: Brussels’ plan to defend itself against climate destruction by raising energy prices has failed. It has failed because it is wrecking European businesses and European families. It is a dead end. We need a new plan!
[...] And finally, will there be another wave of migrants at our borders? Not only will there be one, but there already is. Every day hundreds of people are trying to enter Hungary by force. Last year there were 122,000, and in January this year there were more than 12,000. For a while we – and I – hoped that if we could rapidly secure our borders, migrants would accept that it was not worth trying to cross into Hungary. They did not accept that.
Whether or not we like it, or are even aware of it, the reason for this may be that – as has been true in the past – Hungary is in fact the border fortress for the interior of Europe, and mainly the territories of Germany. That is where the migrants are heading for. The life of border fortresses has never been easy. So far, we have spent more than 600 billion forints [about 1.7 billion euros, ed.] on border protection; 600 billion forints! Before the migrant crisis, we could have pumped this money into the economy, or given it to families. Today we have to spend it on defence. János Hunyadi stopped the Sultan’s troops at Belgrade [in 1456, ed.], and we have stopped George Soros’s troops at our southern borders. But the example of Nándorfehérvár also tells us that on its own a single victory solves nothing, and the road from Belgrad to Mohács [place of the homonymous battle of 1526 that saw Hungary defeated by the Turks, ed.] is an easy one. Border defence demands constant readiness, tenacity and perseverance. It is hard work, very hard work.
In addition, we have to keep watching out behind us, because we cannot feel secure with Brussels. Gathering there are the agents of George Soros, the Judases who would do anything for their thirty pieces of silver, the horde of pen pushers, experts and advisors who see nation states as the enemy – or at least as a historical remnant to be discarded. And of course alongside them are the wolves of global capital, which sniff out money in everything, including migration. They are all working to make us accept the invasion – the flooding of Europe – as a natural state of affairs, and as an inexorable historical necessity. In some places they have already succeeded. The Italian border is as leaky as a pasta strainer. The French are just managing to keep their heads above the water. And, with noble simplicity, the Germans have declared themselves to be a country of immigrants. Afghanistan has been abandoned, and Africa has a massive level of overpopulation – the waves of which could spill across the Mediterranean at any moment. Christian Europe is in deep trouble, because of its own internal weaknesses and external shocks. It seems – and this is also how I see it – that Western Christianity in Europe can no longer stand on its own feet. Without the Orthodox world, without an alliance with Eastern Christians, we will be unlikely to survive the coming decades. Ceterum censeo, Europe needs the peoples of the Balkans.
[...] Here it is also perhaps worth talking about why we are on a different wavelength from the Brussels and Western European intellectual caste, their experts, policymakers and opinion leaders. Because the fact that we are on two different wavelengths is beyond doubt: we think differently from each other about Europe’s precious legacy of tradition; we think differently about the future of nations and nation states; we think differently about globalisation; and now we think differently about the family – and have even come to think differently about the binary structure of society, based on women and men. And because this is so, and indeed it is so, we inevitably envisage and aspire to a different future for ourselves and our children. And I want to make it clear that on this we shall not yield. On 3 April we shall defend our children in a referendum [citizens will be asked if they support the law against gender propaganda in schools, ed.]: a father is a man, a mother is a woman, and hands off our children!
I am not looking for your sympathy, but the truth is that in my work I have been dealing with them for thirty years. My personal observation is that amidst the differences between us, deep down our experience of the end of the Cold War – and therefore our understanding of it – has been completely different from that of the Western countries that were not invaded by the Soviets. Those countries include America. This is fundamental. The point is that they did not live under dictatorships, and their freedom – as [Sándor] Márai put it – is inherited. We, however, lived under dictatorship. Freedom was not given to us: we fought for it. We do not downplay the West’s contribution, but to us it is as clear as day that the Cold War was won by the Poles, the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Germans, the Bulgarians, the Romanians, the Estonians, the Latvians and the Lithuanians: it was won by us. We all know that anti-communism and the concept of the nation won the Cold War by restoring nation states. Our stance is that the nation triumphed over class, that faith in God triumphed over atheism, and that private property triumphed over property owned by the socialist state. Their stance is completely different. They think that it was their liberal democracy that triumphed over communism. The focus of their thinking was not – and is not – nation states, but a globalised world controlled by global organisations, institutions and networks, and bound together by grids of global trade and technological communication. Therefore they sincerely view George Soros as their hero – and of course the pocket money to be picked up is not bad either.
This is one of the reasons for our inability to reach agreement on the questions of democracy and the rule of law. We all know that we live in a constitutional system under the rule of law, which is clearly laid down and protected by the Fundamental Law of Hungary. For them, the rule of law is a tool with which they can mould us in their image. Therefore they are not interested in the facts, nor in our arguments. They are now fighting a holy war: a rule-of-law jihad. And, my friends, words rarely help against jihad. Here we must show strength; so let the Reconquista begin!
The situation is the same with democracy: here they see the dismantling of democracy and “backsliding”; we, however, see it in our everyday lives, with elections, referendums, a thriving left-wing media sphere and heated political debate. They are like the woman in the Freudian joke, who flees from the terrifying shadow pursuing her. When the shadow catches up with her, she asks it, in the faint whisper of someone on the verge of death: “What do you want from me?” The shadow replies, “What do I want? It’s you that’s dreaming of me!”
So this is how we stand in relation to each other. The truth is that we do not want to become like them; and we can hardly believe that they would want to be like us now – which is how they once were themselves. There is no point in denying our differences. In the Western world this debate is unavoidable. It is of course an important debate, but it is not the most important question. The most important question is whether we want to stay together – especially here in Europe, because the European Union only has a future if we can stay together in spite of our growing cultural estrangement. For our part, we want to keep the European Union together, and this is why we have repeatedly offered Brussels and Berlin paths towards tolerance. We do not expect them to adopt and elevate to European level Hungary’s migrant policy, our family policy or our policy on foreign affairs and Hungarian minorities beyond our borders. Yet at the same time they cannot demand that we adopt their policies either. There is no other solution but tolerance. Only in this way can we find a common path [...]