Budapest, Hungary – Yesterday, surrounded by his faithful ministers — Péter Szijjártó, Judit Varga, and Katalin Novák, Viktor Orbán attended a summit of the European Council held in the Portuguese city of Porto, where, together with his colleagues, he was supposed to discuss the European Pillar of Social Rights with “social partners and civil society representatives.” Details of this program, proposed in 2017, are available online. Discussions dealt with “work and employment, skills and innovation, and welfare state and social protection,” none of which is exactly the prime minister’s bailiwick.
Hungary’s Orbán grants interview to Slovak daily Postoj
According to Reuters, Poland and Hungary refused to sign the draft declaration unless the noxious phrase “gender equality” was removed. The original document said that the EU will “promote gender equality,” but, on the insistence of these two countries, the passage was changed to “we will step up efforts to fight discrimination and work actively to close gender gaps… and to promote equality.”
According to MTI, Orbán, even before the meeting of the prime ministers adjourned, announced that Hungary has its own work program which assures full employment, indicating that, although Hungary may sign the document, it will not share the goals of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Orbán also said that he “as a Christian has some basic problems with gender,” which is “an ideologically motivated expression whose exact meaning is not clear.” In his opinion, it is “something that stands somewhere between woman and man.”
Since I was spared listening to Orbán’s usual Friday morning faux-interview on Magyar Rádió, I immersed myself in a much more interesting, real interview that he gave to the Slovak Postoj: Konzervatívny denník. Orbán said that it was time to give an interview to a Slovak paper, since it was in 2009 when he last talked with journalists of .týždeň, which is a conservative weekly.
I began by checking the Slovak original, which was not a superfluous exercise because the Hungarian version—and subsequently the English translation —doesn’t include the fairly lengthy introduction to the circumstances of the meeting, including some rather sharp comments on Viktor Orbán’s attachment to the Castle district. At the start of the interview, the Slovak journalists called attention to the “over-sized globe,” which obviously fascinates Orbán because he took the trouble to point out some mistakes the creator of the globe had made.
The dream of uniting Hungary and Czechoslovakia
However, “with a smile he remarked that the borders of Hungary are quite accurate.” He shared the dream of his teenage years when “he believed that Czechoslovakia and Hungary would create a common state that would be a true Central European power with 25 million inhabitants.” But, alas, after the collapse of communism, Czechoslovakia fell apart and “he realized that his dream was an illusion.”
We also learned from this introduction that the Slovak journalists were originally granted an hour of the prime minister’s precious time, but their meeting turned out to be more than an hour and a half. An incredible number of subjects were covered, including the pandemic, migration, multi-multiculturalism, Angela Merkel’s place in history, EPP and Manfred Weber, liberal and illiberal democracy, the restrictions that exist in the Hungarian media, and the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.
Since it would be impossible to deal with all these subjects here, I decided to concentrate on three topics from this long interview. The first is Fidesz’s meddling in Hungarian party politics in Slovakia, with disastrous results. The second is the Visegrád 4 as Orbán would like to see it. And the third, Orbán’s views on the European Union. Given Postoj’s conservative and specifically Christian orientation, I was pleasantly surprised at the professionalism of these Slovak journalists. If Orbán thought he would have an easy time with them, he had to have been disappointed.
The thorny issue of Hungarian minorities in neighbouring states
Here are a couple of hard exchanges, for example, on Fidesz’s overwhelming influence on the Hungarian parties in Slovakia. (I am using my own translation.) The Slovak journalists called attention to the “very strong presence of Fidesz” in Southern Slovakia and accused Béla Bugár, co-chair of the Slovak-Hungarian party Most-Híd, of “betraying the Hungarian cause.” They quoted Bugár’s refusal “to become a Fidesz vassal.”
After a meaningless answer from Orbán, the Slovak journalists conducted the interview persisted, suggesting that “the story of Most-Híd shows that it is not in Fidesz’s interest to have only one Hungarian party in Slovakia.” Although Orbán insisted that Fidesz only wants many Hungarian babies in Slovakia and mothers who speak Hungarian with their children, without any ulterior motives, the Slovak journalists refused to leave the topic. They pointed out that there were periods when “your political projects caused great tension between Slovakia and Hungary,” for example, national identity cards and dual citizenship.
After that, Orbán obviously felt it was time to move to a safer subject. He said that the problems of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring states are of secondary importance to “the issue of the region as a whole.” If the countries of the region are not united, “they will come to grief.” The journalists were puzzled; they didn’t understand what Orbán was getting at. Orbán, who is currently faced with a crumbling Visegrád 4 alliance, was trying to sell the idea of a North-South axis between Poland and Hungary in which Slovakia has a vital role to play.
East / West or North / South axis?
I’m sure that the Slovak answer didn’t warm the cockles of Orbán’s heart. They said that “Slovaks see themselves more as a bridge between west and east than a bridge between north and south.” Moreover, the Poles are anti-Russian and Slovakia doesn’t share’s Hungary’s views on Russia. Even the Czech Republic is turning against Moscow after the Vrbětice case.
Orbán admitted that Poland’s geopolitical position makes the country vulnerable, but he is certain that the Polish demand for security can be coupled with Hungarian-Russian cooperation. This is vital for Polish security as well. The journalists remained baffled because “the guarantees of Poland today are provided by NATO,” so they inquired whether Orbán had some special V4 guarantee for Poland in mind.
The interviewers then moved on to another sensitive topic: “In the EU, you are seen as a politician who actually wants to weaken or destroy the institutions of the Union.” After describing his doubts about the survival of the West and his trust in the future of Central Europe, Orbán was asked “whether he actually wants to prepare Central Europe for life without the European Union.” He admitted that he is much more positive about the future of Central Europe than about the fate of Western Europe.
The future of Europe
Finally, the journalists reminded Orbán that István Stumpf, “the man who has shaped you intellectually,” recently said that the EU will either become a federation, a community of nations states by 2030 or it will cease to exist.” Orbán must have considered this question annoying because, with this statement, Stumpf contradicts everything Orbán stands for. He therefore refused to answer it.
Instead, he began talking about the importance of Slovakia as the only country in Central Europe which belongs to the Eurozone, and “we are still examining from the outside whether monetary integration is good for the nation or not.” Then, gathering his wits, he said that even by 2030 there won’t be a “European people” but that all national groups will remain Hungarians, Slovaks, Germans, French, etc. And he returned again to the cultural changes that have taken place in Western Europe, which may stand in the way of a stable Europe.
Among the interviews he has granted to foreigners, I found this one to be especially revealing, and, yes, frightening.
By the Hungarian Spectrum, an official partner of Kafkadesk.