Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has recently gained notoriety for his rhetoric and policies toward the ongoing refugee crisis. His country has erected a steel fence along Hungary’s southern border to keep out refugees — a policy that has now been adopted by other Balkan nations. The following interview was conducted by Kai Diekmann, the publisher of the German news publication BILD and a Business Insider contributing editor. Business Insider and BILD are co-publishing the interview.
Business Insider: Mr. Prime Minister, yesterday you were proposing a referendum request regarding the migration crisis. Do you want to divide Europe?
Viktor Orban: Indeed, I was initiating a referendum in Hungary for rejecting compulsory settlement quotas. We cannot decide disregarding the people in case of decisions that strongly change their life and also determinate upcoming generations.
Also, the quota is reframing the ethnic, cultural and religious profile of Hungary and Europe. I have not decided this way against Europe, but for protecting European democracy.
What is the basic principle of democracy? In the end, it is loyalty to the nation. We Central Europeans know from historical experience that sooner or later we will lose our freedom if we do not represent the interests of our citizens.
We do not want to divide Europe, but rather protect our citizens. This means that we do not want migrants to come to us. Why would we want to import the problems of Western states?
Business Insider: Are the national interests of Hungary more important for you than Europe?
Orban: I think that Europe is made of the totality of national interests. European politics must not turn on the interests of individual states. Something that is bad for Germans, Austrians, or Hungarians cannot be a good EU policy.
Business Insider: For Helmut Kohl, Europe is always a matter very close to his heart. Is Europe now — 25 years after the end of the Cold War — exploding around us?
Orban: I belong to Helmut Kohl’s political pupils.
And I am happy that the greatest pioneer of Europe is still among us. But I also know that Helmut Kohl would never have put national interests behind European interests.
As a chancellor, Kohl always knew a European plan can only be developed on the basis of national needs and interests.
At the moment, the danger of an explosion is rather due to the chaos in Brussels and the paralysis of the Union.
Business Insider: What are you most unhappy about?
Orban: The fact that Brussels tolerates and promotes a culture of breaching treaties. The Maastricht criteria, Schengen, Dublin — nothing applies any longer.
Germany, Austria and of course Hungary are referring to keeping common rules and treaties, but the heads of European institutions apparently work on the basis of sustainable breach of treaties. … If we no longer respect our treaties, Europe will disintegrate.
Business Insider: Your Slovakian colleague, Prime Minister Robert Fico, accuses the Germans of a “diktat” in the refugee question. Do you agree with him?
Orban: I would not call it a “diktat.” The same time, however, Germany is a major power in Europe, and any pressure from Berlin carries weight. In the presence of Helmut Kohl, this superiority could be felt almost physically, due to his build.
But Kohl never made us smaller countries feel this superiority. We have not only respected him, but also really liked him. And he also liked us. Today, the voices coming from Berlin are coarse, rough, and aggressive. In the current chaos of the migration crisis, this is a big problem.
The Germans and we Central Europeans maintain the basic values of Europe: the Christian-Jewish world-view, the guarantee that treaties will be respected.
We should be united instead of arguing with each other, especially since there are very different signals coming from Brussels: multi-culturalism, disorder and breach of treaties.
Business Insider: Is the German solo effort to be blamed for the refugee disaster in Europe?
Orban: No, the wave of migrants was caused by the chaos in the Middle East, in Syria and Iraq. The German Chancellor has merely reacted to that and has welcomed migrants.
I am sure she had the well-being of her people in mind when doing so. And I genuinely hope that Ms. Merkel will be successful in what she has started.
We Hungarians, however, vindicate not to take on such an experiment, because we think that is the interest of our people.
Business Insider: Experiments?
Orban: If somebody takes masses of non-registered immigrants from the Middle East into a country, this also means importing terrorism, criminalism anti-Semitism and homophobia. We Hungarians are a cultural melting pot. Europe’s largest synagogue is here in Budapest.
Only a stone’s throw away stands one of the continent’s largest Catholic cathedrals. Christians and Jews live together and not next to each other. There are no ghettos and no no-go-areas, no scenes like New Year’s Eve in Cologne. The images from Cologne have deeply moved us Hungarians.
I myself have four daughters. I do not want my children to grow up in a world where something like Cologne can happen.
Business Insider: Five months ago — when Germany opened its borders — you said in an interview with BILD: “Article 1 of the Hungarian constitution says that the German Chancellor is always right in what she is doing”. Is this still the case?
Orban: Yes, with one addition: at the same time, we do not have to imitate everything the Germans are doing! There is an alternative for German migration policy — but I can see no alternative for Chancellor Merkel.
Business Insider: Do you enjoy being the biggest opponent of the German chancellor?
Orban: For me it’s not a show or beauty contest. Politicians are not popular, because they are right. But the fact is: if Berlin and Brussels had listened to us Central Europeans last summer, we would now have, at most, several tens of thousands of genuine refugees in Europe and not over a million uncontrolled migrants.
From the start, we were demanding: halt migrants, register them and separate them — into actual emergency cases and economic migrants.
Business Insider: What are the mistakes that Angela Merkel has made and for which she is now isolated in Europe and let down by you?
Orban: Here, Article 2 of the Hungarian constitution applies: “Never give advice to the German chancellor!”
But seriously, I think the European political class has increasingly isolated itself in the migration question.
It is not only in Germany that politicians do not listen enough to their people.
If you want to decide the question of migration without asking your citizens against the will of the people, you are fighting a losing battle.
Business Insider: Let us ask the other way around, do you feel let down by Ms. Merkel since she became the refugee hero last summer and you became Europe’s bogeyman?
Orban: No, the chancellor has never betrayed us, and not even though we have different opinions, for instance concerning the distribution of migrants in Europe.
We do not want these illegal migrants. We do not want to import problems that appeared in Germany. And we do not accept anyone trying to force us to so.
Nobody in Hungary can even understand this pressure.
Business Insider: The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, says that history will prove Ms. Merkel right. Is Juncker right?
Orban: I think the course of history will not be bothered by Mr Juncker … Let us see how history one day will judge Chancellor Merkel without Mr Juncker’s help.
Chancellor Kohl, in a long discussion, once gave me this advice: regardless of what people want to tell you — if something seems wrong to you in private, it will not work in politics!
This means that no politician should make a decision against his or her conscience.
I do not doubt that Ms. Merkel has followed her conscience in the migrant question. I also did so, coming to a different conclusion.
Business Insider: Hungary was criticised after the Visegrad Meeting. The general gist was that somebody who receives solidarity should also return solidarity. After all, your country is one of the largest benefactors of EU supporting measures. Germany is the largest net contributor …
Orban: We owe nothing to Germany, and the Germans owe nothing to us. Germany has supported us in becoming a member of the EU. We are grateful for that. But then Hungary has opened its market for all EU states. Everybody has profited from that. So we are square.
In the midst of the financial crisis, at the beginning of our term in 2010 I said: we do not want to save us with German money. We paid back our debts to the International Monetary Fund ahead of time. This year, on our own, we will pay back our entire EU loans, up to the last cent. We Hungarians do not like living at somebody else’s expense. And of course we do not want others to live at ours.
Business Insider: But still, solidarity matters!
Orban: We are being solidary! Hungary protects the EU’s southern border — without any financial support from Brussels. We have paid 250 million euros for border security by ourselves. We also provide aid in the Balkans, without the EU reimbursing a single euro of our expenses.
Not to mention people leaving the Ukraine who are pouring into Poland and then into Hungary. There are one million of them in Poland and almost 100,000 in Hungary. Nobody is talking about that anymore in the EU. Instead, we are asked to open our doors to migrants from the Middle East.
Business Insider: The EU has decided — against the will of some of its members — to distribute 160,000 refugees. Will Hungary comply with this quota?
Orban: This decision is not legal. It contradicts EU law. We, like the Slovaks, are filing a suit against it. Plus, how many of those 160,000 have been distributed so far? Only a few hundred. This distribution key is nonsense, it does not work. But no one in Brussels wants to admit that.
Business Insider: Are you not afraid of EU sanctions if you damage the EU’s plans for distributing refugees?
Orban: That is nothing but an attempt of scaremongering. The next EU budget will be decided in 2020. Than, in several years, sanctions would require the votes of all member states. That will not happen.
Business Insider: What will become of Greece if hundreds of thousands of refugees are now stuck there? Don’t you care? Do you still have trust in Greece — or have you given up on the crisis country a long time ago?
Orban: We have spelt tears for Greece a long time ago. We have plead with Greece for long enough. We have offered all kinds of help: money, staff, technical support. Three hundred officers for border security would have been deployed. Everything was rejected. You can only help someone who wants to be helped. Now it is up to the Greeks to act.
Business Insider: Are you in favour of excluding Greece from the Schengen area?
Orban: The treaties are very clear in this respect. A country that does not fulfil its tasks in protecting the external borders has to cope with the consequences. I keep my fingers crossed for Greece, but they, too, have to respect the law.
Business Insider: An EU special summit with Turkey is scheduled for the 7th of March. For Angela Merkel, Turkey is already an important ally in the refugee crisis. Do you trust Ankara, do you trust Erdogan?
Orban: President Erdogan has been my personal friend for a long time. Our relationship to Turkey is close and trusting. Nevertheless, I am of the opinion, that the EU, is now approaching the Turks rather like a beggar.
We are humbly begging Mr. Erdogan for security, since we can no longer protect ourselves. In return, we give him money and promises. That is not a good policy because it makes Europe’s future and safety dependent on Turkey’s goodwill.
Business Insider: Recently, you spoke of a “secret pact” between Germany and Turkey. Do you feel blackmailed?
Orban: Brussels is now making promises to Turkey that we will not be able to keep — or will not want to keep. The plan to take up hundreds of thousands of migrants from Turkey into Europe and to distribute them is an illusion. No EU country can, nor wants to implement this plan. Symbolically speaking, here in Budapest people would lynch me if I agreed to that.
Business Insider: You maintain close relations with Vladimir Putin and President Erdogan. Lately, you have also developed ties to the controversial Polish government. Why do you always pick such difficult friends?
Orban: I am concerned with national interests, not with whom I like to drink a beer or to chat about football. Even though Mr Erdogan might be well-suited for the second point.
It is our historical experience, that Hungary can only live in wealth and safety if Berlin, Moscow, and Ankara are on our side and also interested in our success — even if we do not always agree on certain questions.
Concerning Poland, I can only say that the peoples of Central Europe and Hungary are a community in fate, to the death. Many of us would spill our blood for Poland any time. And vice versa: in an emergency, many Polish people would give his life to protect Hungarians. This has happened more than once over the course of history.
Business Insider: It will be impossible to solve the refugee crisis without peace in Syria. Now Russia is also massively bombing the country. This will drive more refugees westwards. What is Putin planning, you think?
Orban: We Europeans should learn to be humble. We will not be able to solve these conflicts in the near and Middle East on our own. We are criticising Russia while the USA is negotiating a ceasefire in Syria with the Russians.
The EU seems to be a mere spectator. We Europeans run the risk of looking ridiculous if we undermine this opportunity while we are not even able to agree on a joint migration policy.
Europe seems like an old woman who is shaking her head in shock after reading the threatening new in the papers — but at the same time she forgets to close the door of her house.