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Year-end interview: Gergely Gulyás on Orbán and the soul of the people, losing Budapest, and the future of the European People’s Party

This interview will give you deep insight into the state of Hungarian politics

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: ATV
via:

There is no culture war, nor no winner, in the conflict surrounding the institutions called “harassing theaters” by the government; and Budapest’s new mayor, Gergely Karácsony, is principled for the time being but “spends his precious time slandering our shared country.”

All of this was touched upon by Gergely Gulyás, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, in the extensive interview he granted to atv.hu. We also asked him about Árpád Habony, Minister of Human Capacities Miklós Kásler and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Was there an act of public penance on the evening of October 13 on Lendvay Street [at Fidesz Party Headquarters]?

No, there wasn’t. Should there have been?

What did you perceive in the prime minister’s eyes when it became clear that Fidesz had lost Budapest?

I am not one of those who wishes to divine answers by examining the prime minister’s eyes, especially since everyone, including him, has said what he thinks of the result.

A new era has begun, as the decade-long dream of centralized power is over.

Everyone was realistic about the results. On the evening of October 13, we saw that the government’s support was strong nationally, with 52-53 percent of the vote, in that the majority of voters participating in the elections voted for the currently governing parties. In the 2006 municipal elections, we achieved a hauntingly similar result, which everyone described as a Fidesz landslide. On that occasion, we just barely won Budapest, and now we’ve lost it. Looking at the result, it’s the same, but what a difference nonetheless! However, a loss is not the same as a defeat.

Is this the “Mike Tyson factor”?

Yes, the prime minister’s example is apt: For anyone used to winning by knockout, winning on points is a step backwards.

The journalists from [cable news channel] HírTV’s “Sajtóklub” (“Press Club”) program, such as Zsolt Bayer, are not speaking in a victorious mood, and György Dörner’s associates on “Civil Kör” (“Civilian Circle”) say “there are lots of problems” and have begun to worry about 2022. [Fidesz MP and Gulyás’s predecessor as Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office] János Lázár stated that Fidesz had lost the municipal elections, and that “there was no point in explaining this either this way or that.”

The debate is pointless. If we look at the results regardless of space and time – forgetting the parties’ names for a moment – and consider where party “A” and party “B” won, then everyone in the world would say “A” was the winner. Because nationally most mayors come from our party, we received an absolute majority in 19 of the 19 county councils and won the mayoral races 13-10 among the cities with county rights, while the opposition took the majority in the capital’s city council and the Budapest mayoralty. It is a fact that we’ve lost important positions. I do not wish to discourage anyone on the other side from interpreting this result as a victory, but then again, according to the opposition’s standards at present, a narrow defeat is to be considered a victory.

There’s Fidesz and “non-Fidesz”

Was Budapest lost due to the opposition coalition or [former Mayor of Győr] Zsolt Borkai’s Adriatic sex tape?

This and that. Both contributed significantly to the results, in the capital in particular.

But was there anything else?

In order to answer this question, we must assess the results realistically. Among the settlements where we lost, there were only a few where confidence in the governing parties dwindled, and there were not many where support for the opposition significantly increased.

Whether we look at the results of the parliamentary elections in Budapest, or the European parliamentary elections that were closest to the municipal elections in terms of voter participation, we could say that in Budapest the governing parties could receive 40-42 percent of the vote. We knew this precisely even before October 13. We expected victory because we thought that the achievements and popularity of Mayor István Tarlós, similarly for the overwhelming majority of our incumbent district mayors, would be sufficient to add to this 40-42 percent support for Fidesz and push it over 50 percent. And while our district mayors and the Budapest mayor received more than 40-42 percent, in many districts it was not enough to exceed 50 percent, i.e., more than half of the votes cast.

Structurally, the union of the opposition meant what János Lázár aptly described: There is Fidesz and “non-Fidesz.” The Borkai case mobilized opposition voters in the last 10 days of the election campaign, and it mainly affected those who would not have voted for the governing parties per se, but who were nonetheless satisfied with the work of governing party mayors.

“Harassing theaters”? There’s no culture war

Former Prime Minister Péter Boross wrote in [broadsheet daily] Magyar Nemzet that Budapest had always been prone to left-wing attitudes and that the air of the capital, he said, was “long ago poisoned from a spiritual point of view.” And if, for the third time, the governing parties were able to win a two-thirds majority in the elections, then the ruling parties could not be shy but would have to take the scholarly and cultural positions away from the “value-denying, unnational,” extreme left-wing/liberal currents. This would be the validation of the legitimate democratic public will, he wrote. Is that what’s going on right now, the occupation of the theaters? The culture war?

“I don’t see a culture war in this. And it is very difficult to talk about occupation when all of the theater directors in office today – even those who have protested against us – received their mandates from the Fidesz-Christian Democrat majority in the city council. It is a pity that many believed the fake news from the left-liberal media about the government’s intentions on cultural changes so that by the time the real picture emerged, it would have been embarrassing to cancel the protest. With respect to the theaters, there is no culture war, only taking responsibility and a simple and clear issue regarding financing.

An issue of money?

In order to provide predictable long-term financing, if necessary, the municipal government should decide which theaters it intends to support itself, which ones it does not and which ones it desires to support jointly with the State. Arriving at such an agreement would achieve long-term, normal, high-quality and predictable operations.

What about the fact that now theater directors can only be appointed with the agreement of the government’s Minister of Human Capacities? Why did you take this step now?

Because up until now, we saw that the majority in the capital and the majority of the government shared the same beliefs on the most important issues, which is why we did not immediately establish clear responsibility relationships following the abolition of the cultural TAO [corporate income tax relief system]. After that, we found ourselves facing two worrying phenomena following the elections. One is that, while no one can dispute that appointments were made on a non-partisan basis during István Tarlós’s time in office and that individuals who could not be called right-leaning in the slightest could still head public institutions in Budapest, now that the mandate to lead the Szabad Tér (“Free Space”) Theater expired, it was already made clear by the new Budapest leadership that this cannot be extended. Moreover, there were also future threats in the case of the Újszinház (“New Theater”) by the Budapest Mayor. The other unacceptable case is what happened at the Katona József Theatre. It is incompatible with our belief in countering harassment that the capital’s leadership did not bring about consequences in response to the theater director hiding a case of harassment for over a year.

But you lost this battle.

Why would we have lost it?

At the Kormányinfó [government press conference], you said it was unacceptable for Gábor Máté to “not even have his hair ruffled” after covering up the Gothár sexual harassment case in his theater for over a year. However, Budapest Deputy Mayor Erzsébet Gy. Németh stated in [broadsheet daily] Népszava: “Gábor Máté will remain the director.”

Gábor Máté’s response was much more appropriate than the cultural political leadership in the capital, which was given to the group surrounding [former Prime Minister Ferenc] Gyurcsány by the new mayor, in that Máté at least admitted his own failings. This is why it is dangerous to let people who are linked to socialism in every way back into the cultural field, because they go above and beyond.

Erzsébet Gy. Nemeth?

It’s also true in general.

Can you win this fight?

There’s no victory here, only losers. The biggest loser is the capital because the new capital leadership has essentially declared of itself that it is willing to turn a blind eye if the heads of its own institutions hide a harassment case for over a year, and in fact, it seems that the mayor’s cultural deputy considers this to be an appropriate response.

Boomerang effect: According to Erzsébet Gy. Németh, in the case of the Újszinház, its director, György Dörner, did not formally investigate a case from 2015. The actor “concerned,” Victor Mihályi, has already resigned from his starring roles…

Today we know what happened at the Katona József Theatre, but we do not know if anything happened at the Újszinház. In fact, the investigation into it has come to the opposite conclusion.

Do you have the means to ensure that Gábor Máté no longer serves as a theater director?

The capital has the means; the capital must make its position clear. Erzsébet Gy. Németh considers the handling of this matter acceptable, but the mayor could issue a statement on it.

The mayor protested alongside the Katona József Theatre.

I think he’s new to his office, so let’s give him time to not show tolerance for harassment. I trust that if Gergely Karácsony has to choose between Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party and the fight against harassment, he will not side with the former.

Otherwise?

The voting public decided in October. Today, Gergely Karácsony is the mayor, responsible for his decisions and those of his deputies.

Nationally well-known actors are protesting against the government, using a poem by Sándor Weöres, and the actor Ervin Nagy used an unrestrained, unusually harsh tone with Máté Kocsis, the Fidesz parliamentary faction leader who posted regarding the “harassing theaters.” Will Fidesz gain or lose votes by using sexual harassment as a pretense for cultural warfare?

We cannot speak of warfare. As a matter of principle, we stand by what I think is the right position. This is not a majority or minority issue.

Have you read Harry Potter?

Harry Potter and Spiderman vs. Egri csillagok (“Eclipse of the Crescent Moon”) and Hetvenhét magyar népmese (“Seventy-Seven Hungarian Folk Tales”)? – Miklós Maróth’s interview with [website] Pesti Srácok caused a storm and “blew up the internet” because it turned out that he thought Hungarian identity was at risk because of Harry Potter. What do you think? Have you read Harry Potter?

I think that’s a misreading of Professor Maróth’s interview. It’s not a problem if someone reads Harry Potter – I only saw the movie – the problem is if you don’t read Egri csillagok.

Regarding Karácsony: “He spends his precious time slandering our shared country”

What kind of negotiating partner is Gergely Karácsony?

Only a short amount of time has passed since the election. After 2010, we sat very close to each other in parliament, and although from among the opposition benches I personally had the best relationship with András Schiffer, Gergely Karácsony was one of those with whom we were on speaking terms. My political relationship with the rebels from Lehet Más a Politika – LMP (“Politics Can Be Different”) became more nuanced after the LMP split, and then, with his departure from parliament and new role as Mayor of Zugló [Budapest’s District XIV], it almost ceased to exist. As for our personal relationship…

Is he principled?

He’s principled for the time being. But because two months is not enough time to draw comprehensive conclusions; what I can say now is that there is no personal obstacle to working together between the government and the capital in the interest of Budapest where necessary.

How did the contest between the national government and capital city go in 2019?

There’s no such contest.

Funding, public transport provisos, theaters/culture wars, The Liget Project in the City Park, the super hospital, the Zoo Biodome, the World Athletics Championships… and “the phantom menace” – as Gergely Karácsony put it.

I don’t see confrontation here. We’re not interested in having a confrontation with the capital. Of course, since the mayor arrived from a different political side as the government and governing parties, there will be political debates and serious ideological differences. When Gergely Karácsony spoke to [German weekly] Der Spiegel – a leader in falsifying news about our country – in regards to a führer cult in Hungary, or when he questions the impartiality of the independent courts recognized even by his extremist allies or speaks of a showcase democracy and the lack of real political competition, then I wonder if he was informed that he was elected mayor. Or has he become so accustomed to his existence in the opposition that instead of leading Budapest, he continues to spend his precious time slandering our shared country? These are truly phantom menaces… As far as developments are concerned, the vast majority of the developments in Budapest over the past nine years have not been ideologically tinted, but were based on the development and future of the capital, to serve the foundation of a 21st-century European global city. I think what has contributed to this is that there are more sporting events in Budapest, that the city has good public transportation and that there is a museum quarter such as the one we dreamed of together within the context of the Liget Project, part of which is the development of the Zoo, as well as the development of the Castle District. There is also the development of outpatient treatment in healthcare, which is where, as I understand it, we may be closest to agreement with the mayor.

The super hospital?

I hope that if we were able to resolve the freeze on constructing stadiums, that the mayor does not uphold the hospital construction freeze for a long time either. We continue to believe that this city needs a new public hospital built within the framework of a greenfield investment. This is supported at times by the capital and the current leadership of District XI, and at times opposed by them. Even when they’re supporting it, they still exhibit two kinds of behavior: They either says it’s good the way we planned it, or they look for alternative locations. At the first Council for Metropolitan Public Developments held since the municipal elections, we said they should tell us if they don’t want a hospital like this. Or if they would like one, they should designate a location to see if there’s an ideal site in the capital. Let’s take a look at what they could offer and then look at it together with representatives from the government and the capital.

What deadline did the government set for the capital?

That we should accomplish something by the end of January. It’s necessary to know precisely what the costs are of any possible changes, since the design competition has already been concluded, planning is underway and, if it is to be implemented elsewhere, then it could carry significant additional costs that could be borne by the capital. But let’s go through these opportunities. We’re open to anything that’s in Budapest’s interest.

Who asks for István Tarlós’s advice regarding Gergely Karácsony?

I regularly speak with former Mayor Tarlós, and issues facing Budapest are frequently discussed. With respect to current investments or those underway as he left, the former mayor is always ready to provide a comprehensive overview when necessary.

Will Habony be recalled from London?

According to Népszava’s sources, the prime minister needs Árpád Habony’s advice to shape government policy and communication again because there were a lot of “mistakes” during the campaign, which is why he will be recalled from London. Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky, the Ambassador in London, will also be part of this inner circle, and they will help with the victory in 2022, together with [Head of Cabinet of the Prime Minister] Antal Rogán.

I do not recommend that anyone learn of internal government matters from Népszava.

Árpád Habony will not provide advice?

As far as I know, there will be no change to the relationship with Árpád Habony, and if I’m correct, the government has no official relationship with Árpád Habony.

But this “knowledge transfer” exists between London and Budapest?

The prime minister counts on advice from many people. I have the highest personal opinion of Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky, the Hungarian Ambassador in London, who has achieved excellent results during his ambassadorial service, but in what context are we talking about him now?

Ferenc Kumin will become the new ambassador in London. According to Népszava, Kristóf Szalay-Bovrovniczky worked as Árpád Habony’s right-hand man in London. Previously, he himself has stated that he was a brother-in-arms with Habony and was part of the development of the center-right institutional system and an active participant in the exchange of the elite.

That’s a noble deed. However, the speculations in Népszava are only worth focusing on in depth as a part of the festivities on New Year’s Eve.

Is there a need for a change in the government’s communications?

Of course, in government communications, it’s best to be as clear as possible and especially as up-to-date as possible across the widest spectrum of the media. Personal decisions are also tied to this.

What does the appointment of Alexandra Szentkirályi as a government spokesperson symbolize, as well as the fact that she spoke to the audience using the informal in her first video shared on Facebook?

Firstly, the government has to be pleased that a young woman with considerable experience, as she was deputy mayor of Budapest for five years, is willing to serve in the government’s communication apparatus. And since we are talking about a person who is fully familiar with modern communications and has public experience, I hope that the effectiveness of government communications will improve with her arrival.

The use of the informal becoming commonplace gives me the shivers, but the government’s communication could hardly be effective if it were designed to meet my needs in everything.

The arrival of another young woman made even greater waves. Zsófia Rácz will be the Deputy State Secretary for Youth in the State Secretariat for Family and Youth Affairs, led by Katalin Novák, and it turns out that Rácz has yet to complete her university degree, so parliament amended the law. Wouldn’t it have been more effective if the law had been changed first, followed by the appointment?

That’s what happened. She had yet to be appointed by the prime minister when the amendment to the law was passed by Parliament.

I meant that the law should have been amended before her appointment was announced.

There is no doubt that the decision, which I fully supported, was met with serious disapproval. Nonetheless, I would also recommend some arguments for contemplation to those who consider the appointment to be mistaken or inappropriate. If the question is posed as to whether it is justifiable that among several dozen deputy secretaries of state in the government, that only the one who deals with youth policy should not require a completed degree, then this is a question at least worth debating. Zsófia Rácz is quite up to the task regardless. University students should also be given opportunities in youth politics, and if one really wants to make an impact, if they want to shape youth policy, then they can hardly do so effectively by simply giving their advice. Phrased differently: They have to be within the state administration.

Will this be the Zsófia Rácz Law? I mean, it doesn’t apply to the other deputy secretaries of state, that they can be appointed without a degree?

This is only possible in the case of the Deputy State Secretary for Youth, where there is a constitutionally appreciable reason for differentiation. And although Martin Schulz was President of the European Parliament for five years despite not even having a high school diploma, this cannot happen with the Deputy State Secretary for Youth.

Have you noticed that among the 17-20 age group, there is a cult of Gyurcsány?

I wouldn’t refer so insultingly to that age group.

According to Ferenc Gyurcsány, this is already a “cult of Feri.” In the streets, the teenagers call after him saying “Hello, Feri.”

If this is all the joy that Ferenc Gyurcsány still derives from Hungarian politics, I would not be the one to take that away from him.

The young “Feri-sympathizers” no longer know what the Balatonőszöd Speech was, but Ferenc Gyurcsány’s red sneakers represent a rebellion against the mainstream. He is a guest of teenage vloggers, with 100,000 views, and his own YouTube channel is also popular. In November, Parliamentary Speaker László Kövér called Ferenc Gyurcsány the “lowest” in Hungarian politics, but Gyurcsány’s party the Democratic Coalition sent four MEPs to Brussels in May as the most popular formation in the opposition.

I agree that since 1990 no one in Hungarian public life has committed such crimes against their own country as those perpetrated by Ferenc Gyurcsány. Obviously, you have a better chance of fooling those who, due to their age, did not consciously experience this period like those who suffered during it.

In the EP elections, were the four mandates won by Ferenc Gyurcsány and the Democratic Coalition or the two won by Momentum worse? Don’t you feel their success is a dangerous trend? By 2022, there will be 500,000 first-time voters in the country.

I don’t see Ferenc Gyurcsány’s popularity in young circles. It must be acknowledged that with the 14-15-16 percent that pollsters measure the Democratic Coalition as standing at, they are now the strongest opposition party. What says the most about today’s opposition first and foremost is that Ferenc Gyurcsány is their leader, but in this I see a minority of the older generation who still long for socialism or feel nostalgic towards it, not young people.

Momentum is different, since Momentum is basically comprised of young people between the ages of 25 and 35, so it’s no wonder that their support is higher in this age group than elsewhere.

Let us not forget that the situation can change rapidly within the opposition, because eight years ago this was true of the LMP, and especially after 2014 it was true of Jobbik and now it is true of Momentum, while most people in this age group remain sympathetic to the governing parties. I think Momentum, although it does not say much to young people, is indeed the Free Democrats reborn, with far less intellectual capacity and with even weaker links to their own country than those characteristic of the former Free Democrats. Therefore, I would also like to protect the youngest generation from the insult that anyone would identify them with Momentum. Momentum is a generational party at the moment, so it should come as no surprise that within this age group, they are more popular than the other opposition parties.

Is Viktor Orbán still the “attacking midfielder”?

István Stumpf told [weekly] 168 óra that Viktor Orbán was getting older, “as a football player he can no longer endure the attacking midfielder position.”

In a political sense, the prime minister counts as a middle-aged politician, regardless of the fact that he has been a major figure in Hungarian public life for more than three decades. The age of 56 is considered to be a young-middle age in politics if someone looks at European political history. I therefore think that this is a major advantage, that in contrast to those making irresponsible promises or those who have bankrupted the country, this government has achieved major accomplishments, which is much more than can be said of any of our predecessors.

But will the saber-rattling continue, or is consolidation necessary instead? László Kövér tells the opposition that “hatred is not the way,” but speaking on the inadequacy of degraded public life, he calls the young Párbeszéd (“Dialogue”) Party member Bence Tordai the “detritus of democracy” and refers to Ákos Hadházy using this tone as well.

The speaker’s moderation should be praised for not using vulgar terms, such as those employed by these provocateurs on a daily basis, which places them outside the framework of democratic political life.

According to István Stumpf, in a moral sense, the majority already wants a change of government, saying “there is an emotional rebellion.” In this interview, they speak primarily of the enrichment of [former Felcsút mayor and Viktor Orbán’s friend] Lőrinc Mészáros, after this man from the prime minister’s village became the richest entrepreneur in the country, as well as about oligarchs, public funds and corruption.

You quote a sentence from a long interview, but in the same interview, István Stumpf acknowledges the progress made by the government and concludes that, on the other hand, a credible opposition alternative is not visible today.

Certain accusations can always be leveled against those in office. Over the past few months, there has been an increase in the number of opposition mayors, and we are already seeing in the capital and districts so many new positions created that appear to be an easy way to pay out money to themselves as has never been seen before – certainly not while Fidesz oversaw the city.

If someone entered through the gate of one of the opposition municipal governments in November, there is a good chance that they exited as some form of deputy mayor. So, if the wasting of public funds was so often brought up by the opposition in the municipal councils against the government, they should first answer why the new posts they created in Budapest alone will cost more than a billion forints more per year than when Fidesz ran the city and district councils. Those who exercise public authority face such accusations. Some are well-founded, such as those aimed at the heads of the opposition, and there are unfounded ones that result from the decisions involving governance or municipal governance. It’s worth talking about individual cases. We can see that in individual cases, the Hungarian judiciary, the public prosecutor’s office and various Hungarian and European Union institutions produce reports that demonstrate the independence of the Hungarian legal system.

2022: Will Viktor Orbán be the prime ministerial candidate?

Many are arguing about this … In 2015, the philosopher András Lánczi, who is now the Rector of Corvinus University, said in an interview in [since-defunct daily] Népszabadság about Viktor Orbán, that “what we are no longer accustomed to is there being a leader. A leader is like this. Political opponents call this authoritarian.” He also added that the prime minister is a great strategist and knows what the soul of the people is. “He has a very important sense and a need to understand the soul of the people.” Is that still valid?

In Hungarian politics, no one knows the soul of the people better than the current governing parties, and within this the prime minister himself. This can be explained not only with the results of the last three elections, or, if you like, with the Fidesz results since 1990, but also, in the case of the prime minister himself, this can be explained through his own personal attachments. The prime minister still pays close attention to having channels where he can receive direct feedback on a government decision.

Will he be Fidesz’s nominee for prime minister in 2022?

No official decision has been made regarding this, but I do not think it realistic that it would be someone else.

There are many likely challengers on the opposition’s side. Gergely Karácsony has said that he does not see himself as a candidate for prime minister now, but you must weigh your chances of winning against [Democratic Coalition MEP and Ferenc Gyurcsány’s wife] Klára Dobrev, or [independent MPs formerly of the LMP] Bernadette Szél or Ákos Hadházy, or [independent Mayor of Hódmezővásárhely] Péter Márki-Zay.

Our chances of winning are not primarily determined by who the prime ministerial candidate is on the other side or who the challengers are. The election in 2022 can be won with good government achievements and understandable communication of the tangible results in everyday life.

But these municipal elections proved that presenting the results of good governance may not be enough to win.

My answer also makes clear that elections can be lost with “only” good governance…

That’s what happened in 2002.

That’s right; it’s what happened in 2002. Good governance doesn’t guarantee victory, but it significantly improves the chances of winning.

What kind of communications turn is needed? Will the priority become reaching out to young people or climate protection?

There are no great secrets or miracles. We must directly communicate as widely as possible. It is customary to mock the national consultation letters, but it is a very important and good tradition that the people, if possible, should be involved in decisions and asked about them. All forms of this need to be sought out. Everything belongs to this area: If someone goes to the market and collects signatures there, that is also making direct contact with the electorate. So is a rally, even if, of course, it’s not representative because mostly sympathizers go there. After all, we won more than 90 of the 106 individual constituencies, so the parliamentary group itself has the ability to perceive and assess societal feedback. These need to be utilized.

“Miklós Kásler is in wonderful health”

Can you confirm – 24.hu reported on it on Christmas – that the prime minister’s response to the municipal elections defeat will be to replace 15-20 constituency heads?

I can’t confirm it. What is certain is that the prime minister will consult with all constituency heads individually, the vast majority of whom are MPs who were elected in individual constituencies.

But will some individuals be replaced?

Since we are talking about 106 individual constituencies, it has never occurred, and probably never will, that the same 106 people are candidates in two consecutive elections. Last time, there were candidate changes roughly to the extent that you mentioned. But there’s no decision on who will run in which constituency. Accordingly, there is no final decision on any potential candidate changes.

Does the prime minister believe changes are justified now?

No. Prior to the 2018 elections, we decided at half-time, in 2016, who would run in an individual constituency. Therefore, next year, in 2020, everyone should know who Fidesz and the Christian Democrats expect to represent the governing parties in the 2022 elections.

Did Viktor Orbán indeed say at a meeting of the Fidesz faction that in 2022, a day after the elections, he would be satisfied with 101 parliamentary mandates? That’s the news that we received.

The prime minister would have already been satisfied with 100 mandates as early as 2018. I, too, in all my statements from 2010, have said that a two-thirds majority is a one-off and exceptional. And it seems as if it is due to a miracle that it came together three times in a row. But let’s be honest, winning two-thirds of the mandates in the Hungarian electoral system is only possible if there is a huge difference between the first and second places, and if at least 90 of the 106 individual constituencies can be won by the same party alliance.

Do you see the same names that are currently in the government running in the 2022 election in the spirit of “no change,” or will there be changes as to who sits in the velvet ministerial chairs?

I can imagine that the prime minister will make changes and also that he will not. But I’m not preparing for any major changes.

Will Miklós Kásler last until 2022?

Thank God he’s in wonderful health… Those who watched the British election campaign could see that there are healthcare issues that create political debates everywhere in the world, to a different degree or alongside a different standard of care. In Hungary, major infrastructural improvements were undertaken in the countryside, while in the case of doctors, there have been significant wage improvements in the first two cycles, particularly between 2014 and 2018. There is no question that this should be continued according to the country’s ability. Professor Kásler took on the ministership as a professional who has known healthcare well for decades.

I’m sorry, why did you suddenly decide at the end of the year to give 500,000 forints to members of law enforcement? And irrespective of this, are they still going to see a wage increase?

With the armed loyalty bonus, the state recognizes the service of those who swear to protect the country and its citizens even at the cost of their lives. In addition to the 500,000 forints mentioned, police and soldiers can expect a general 10 percent wage increase and an additional allowance equivalent to six months of wages for every three years of service.

Will you stay on as Minster of the Prime Minister’s Office?

The prime minister decides on the members of the government as is the case in chancellor-type systems similar to the Hungarian one. I have no information that the prime minister wants any changes.

Will Viktor Orbán hold a press conference or Kormányinfó press conference in January? Because that’s what he promised.

If the Prime Minister promises something, he will keep that promise.

On the European People’s Party: Fidesz’s departure would be “the beginning of the end”

Fidesz and the European People’s Party: is there more that ties you together or more that separates you? Do you see a greater chance of full membership or expulsion?

Donald Tusk said just last week that he wanted to keep Fidesz in the ranks of the European People’s Party.

Are you referring to the interview with The New York Times in which Tusk said the prime minister was very smart and intelligent, but cynical; that Viktor Orbán’s approach to the migration issue was largely correct, but that he “despises” his rhetoric; and that on the migration issue, fundamentally he was right and not Merkel?

Yes. He quite clearly states that there is no member party of the European People’s Party that wants Fidesz to be excluded.

Expulsion would be impossible because Viktor Orbán said in March that, if that were the case, Fidesz would leave the European People’s Party…

Despite repeating myself, a significant part of the Hungarian press will not believe me, but most people in the European People’s Party also believe that this is not about Fidesz’s membership. Fidesz’s staying or leaving is a question of direction for the European People’s Party. If the European People’s Party wants to be the Christian-Democratic, center-right conservative family of parties as it was established in the 1970s, then it will not work without us or those who currently have a friendly relationship with Fidesz in Europe. Therefore, the departure of Fidesz would be the beginning of the end for the European People’s Party.

And for Fidesz?

For Fidesz it would be the beginning of something new.

Where?

For the time being, we are looking at what we can do for the European People’s Party.

If Fidesz departs, would Fidesz MEPs remain in the EPP faction in Brussels?

We are still exploring if there is a possibility where we can help the European People’s Party and not let our departure be the beginning of the end for the European People’s Party. Therefore, we are not concerned with other possible future scenarios at this time.

Donald Tusk has indicated that the adoption of the basic values of liberal democracy is the red line.

If Donald Tusk tells us what liberal democracy really means beyond compliance with the mainstream media, then we may be able to arrive at an agreement.

Because it would turn out that it’s actually “illiberal democracy”?

The debate on semantics is, of course, very important, but despite coming up as a debate on values, it is not. Or if it is, then it is only useful for the member parties in the European People’s Party who have abandoned several fundamental Christian Democratic values and use the words liberal democracy as their fire screen to obscure those changes that are difficult in principle but which they have made over the previous decade to their political stance.

So, if the question is whether fundamental freedoms are important, then there is hardly another member of the European People’s Party for whom they are as important as Fidesz. What is also certain is that the European People’s Party does not have another member party that has done more to ensure fundamental freedoms than Fidesz has. After all, this party was formed to fight for freedom against the communist dictatorship.

That was a long time ago.

The Gyurcsány government was not so long ago. Attacks on peaceful protesters by horse-mounted police [in 2006], state violence against citizens exercising their fundamental constitutional rights, the violation of the right to assembly. A significant proportion of today’s Fidesz party leaders did not chat about European values in prosperity and freedom, but fought in a dictatorship for freedom, the rule of law and democracy. Very few people from the European People’s Party can say the same thing today, and those few who do stand by us.

What is that a legal basis for today?

To object when political debates and differences of opinion are presented as rule of law disputes, especially against those thirsting for revenge due to our consistent rejection of immigration. The European People’s Party must recognize that it will not succeed if it tries to use the playbook of the liberals and socialists, thirsting for their recognition instead of the members of their own community.

They are debating European values and the basic values of the European People’s Party, which you [the government] say are liberal values.

That’s not what we’re saying. What we are saying is that when it comes to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, democracy, then there is a complete consensus between us. At the time of system change, these were fought for in Hungary – together with outstanding figures from the era such as József Antall, György Szabad, Péter Tölgyessy or Imre Kónya – by Fidesz with today’s prime minister and speaker at the head of the party; and 20 years later, following Ferenc Gyurcsány’s dictatorship-evoking practices, we restored them. These are valuable parts of Europe’s shared constitutional traditions, and they will remain ours even if we stay in the European People’s Party or if we don’t. Our membership in a European family of parties cannot change this.

This is not the overall picture of Fidesz.

Since the Western European liberal press enjoys hegemony regarding the greater glory of diversity and freedom of the press, the overall picture may be favorable or not, but this is the reality. And this reality would be very sad for the European People’s Party if we didn’t stay there.

Why?

Because if several other parties left with us, then the liberal rump parties would define the direction of the European People’s Party, and then there will be no meaningful difference between them and the liberals and the socialists.

How much would Fidesz weaken without having the protective umbrella of membership in the European People’s Party?

The strongest and most successful party in the European People’s Party has long been Fidesz. I think it is a sham debate what the President of the European People’s Party and some of his representatives wish to pursue on liberal democracy because, if we consider the values of 19th-century classical liberalism, those are part of the Hungarian constitution and European constitutional tradition, which we also share. If liberalism means supporting immigration and persecuting Christian values, or if, at the very least, it does not wish for the primacy of Christian culture in Europe or forgets that people are born men and women, then we stand in opposition to this liberalism.

The difference is that these are not fundamental values from 19th-century liberalism, but are the demands of the liberal parties of the 21st century, and the European People’s Party today cannot clearly state which side it is on. The European People’s Party has to decide what it wants. Fidesz’s membership goes far beyond this.

It’s not about Fidesz, it’s not about the rule of law, it’s not about degrees of freedom. It’s about do we accept the limits on freedom, exclusion, intolerance and striving for exclusivity that is part and parcel of being a 21st-century liberal.

The three wise men’s report…

According to our information, it’s not ready yet.

When will there be an Orbán-Tusk summit?

There is no specific date.

Viktor Orbán in Europe: Macron and “the force of reason”

Did Viktor Orbán represent Hungarian interests well in 2019?

Yes. It says a lot that we blocked European Commission presidential candidates after all and that the new president was elected with our indispensable votes. Even our opponents don’t dispute that, in fact, and they throw it back in our faces.

In an alliance with French President Macron?

Together with French President Macron, we blocked a commission president.

Manfred Weber and Frans Timmermans?

No. In Weber’s case, blocking is not an appropriate use of words. In his case, Weber got his wish. After all, according to him, he did not want to be president of the Commission with our support, without which he could not become president. We were able to block Timmermans in opposition to Macron and Merkel.

Macron supported Timmermans? That’s new…

Timmermans was supported by both the French president and German chancellor as the candidate for Commission President on the basis of a French-German pact concluded in Japan.

But Macron changed his mind later?

He didn’t change his mind; he just didn’t have a majority.

So, does Ursula von der Leyen owe Viktor Orbán, the V4 (Visegrád Four countries) and the Italians for her nomination to be President of the European Commission?

And the Austrians, Romanians and Irish. The European People’s Party was roused against the Timmermans nomination by a letter from the Hungarian Prime Minister to [then European People’s Party President Joseph] Daul, because the majority shared the view that, despite the defeat of Weber, the right to nominate the president should remain within the European People’s Party and should not be allowed to pass to the Socialists, who had received a historical drubbing. To be honest, in this particular case, Viktor Orbán’s influence was a force of reason within the European People’s Party. The Presidency of the European People’s Party took a stand against the German Chancellor – in accordance with the opinion of the Hungarian Prime Minister. So much for the significance of suspended membership. After the formation of a blocking minority against Timmermans in the European Council, Macron asked the Hungarian Prime Minister if Ursula von der Leyen’s nomination would be acceptable to the V4.

Do the prime minister and French President Macron like each other?

They are the ones to give you a genuine answer to that. As far as I can see, their personal relationship is good despite political differences. Moreover, their political differences have shrunk over the past year.

A decade of governance: successes, failures, pains?

You’ve been in government for ten years. What would you consider a failure from the previous decade?

I will keep my pains to myself.

Losing Budapest, for example?

Obviously, I was not pleased because the loss of Budapest hurts from the point of view that I fear that the explosive development of the city, which even those who disagree with us have not disputed over the previous decade, will cease, or at least slow down. But in itself, the opposition exercising public authority has, I think, more political advantages than disadvantages.

Can it be proven to the electorate that opposition forces are incapable of governing and chaos will follow?

I’m just saying that it’s easy to speak in the moment of victory or in opposition. Then, you have to prove yourself in practice, and we’ll see who is capable of what.

An advantage is that the keys to the cash register are in the government’s hands.

That is not the case because a budget of 300 billion forints in the capital provides considerable room for independent maneuvering.

What do you consider the greatest success from the decade behind us?

To this day, I consider the new Constitution, adopted in 2011, to be one of the most important things that we have accomplished.

You drew up the draft of the new Fundamental Law’s legislative text together with [Fidesz MEP] József Szájer and [former Fidesz MP and current Member of the Constitutional Court] László Salamon.

And the greatest achievement, I think, is that today Hungary’s economy, despite all of the difficulties – we took over governing one year after Gyurcsány’s State bankruptcy – is that there is a good chance that Hungary’s growth will be the highest this year in the EU-28.

Five percent growth, is that a “golden age”?

Overall, this was now the seventh year in a row that the economy expanded significantly. We can say that, together with all of our mistakes, the country’s best decade since system change is the period from 2010-2020.

Is this the Orbán era?

That will be judged by historians, but the duration may be sufficient in itself to justify this classification.

Any New Year’s resolutions?

I have never made any, and I’m too old to start now.

According to you, can Csaba Dézsi, the Fidesz-Christian Democrat candidate win the mayoral election in Győr? And with this, would the Borkai Effect be over once and for all?

Csaba András Dézsi is a respected physician in Győr. He has been elected as a member of the Győr City Council from an individual constituency on seven occasions. Dézsi has clear ideas for the city’s future. Hardly anyone could serve the people and city of Győr more effectively than he could. The Borkai Effect will not end, however. Even before the elections, I said that once a line was crossed in Hungarian public life and the media, then it would be possible to cross it again and again without consequences. It’s been less than two months, and now we’ve learned of the sick details of the personal life of a Democratic Coalition MP. And no matter how low my regard for Zsolt Gréczy may be, I find it equally regrettable, just as I do in the case of Zsolt Borkai, that public life has arrived at this point.