Viktor Orbán and Tibor Navracsics in Brussels and in Budapest: Two interviews

Interview with Viktor Orbán, Eger TV

The first interview took place in Eger, the town where the Fidesz parliamentary delegation held a three-day pow wow before the start of the new parliamentary session. It was originally aired on the local community station, but Hír TV used part of the footage for its evening news. In this particular interview I couldn’t hear the questions, only some of Viktor Orbán’s answers. I hope that Hír TV chose the most significant parts of the conversation, ones that MTI also emphasized. According to Orbán, “That tone used in the European Parliament makes only enemies” and “one cannot tell from Brussels what is good for the Hungarians.”

Although Hungarian politicians in Brussels try to give the impression of being willing to cooperate with the European Commission, at home they talk differently. In this particular interview Orbán complained about pressure being exerted on Hungary and the Hungarians: “They want to tell us how to live our lives, but we reject such pressure because the ten million Hungarians will make that decision.” Foreigners want to tell the Hungarians what kind of constitution to adopt, how to defend their own economic interests, and whether they should demand that banks pay their fair share during these difficult times.

According to Orbán many Hungarians are great supporters of the Union, but Hungary’s experiences of late with the European Union are turning Hungarians away from Brussels. “The kind of behavior, treatment, flippancy, the offensive, insolent, insulting tone in which they talk to us and about us doesn’t make us friends but rather enemies of the Union.” He added that what one needs are calm negotiations in which “we expect them to respect the will of the Hungarian people.”


We didn’t let them wipe up the floor with us. Just the opposite!

End of interview. I might add here that Orbán today in parliament returned to the subject of the hearings in the European Parliament on February 9th. He remarked that those Hungarians who watched the proceedings will perhaps have a higher regard for their own parliament where serious discussions are taking place.

Interview with Tibor Navracsics, Hír TV, Péntek8

Hír TV’s Péntek8 is a one-hour political program led by two right-wing journalists, Péter Csermely and Ottó Gajdics. Both also work for Magyar Nemzet. On February 10, Tibor Navracsics was their guest for the first half hour.

Csermely began by calling the EU hearing of the previous day a “flea circus.” (Anyone who’s not quite familiar with the term can read the story of the flea circus here.) The whole hearing was pointless, and the Dutch commissioner went beyond the realm of the acceptable when she tried to force Navracsics to accept her terms without any discussion. This is open meddling in another country’s internal affairs.

At this point Gajdics took over. He called Neelie Kroes “an arrogant, insolent harpy” who tried to refute Navracsics and who already has the verdict in her pocket.

At this point Navracsics chimed in. First he denied that he had said one thing in private to Kroes and something else at the hearing. He added that Kroes wasn’t correct because she took sides instead of simply listening to the proceedings. “This is also Europe,” he sighed.

The discussion itself was totally useless because the positions were determined by party affiliation. However, Navracsics added, the final verdict will be negative from the Hungarian point of view, which I find interesting considering that the largest parliamentary delegation is that of the Christian Democratic People’s Party to which Fidesz itself belongs. “There is a war launched against us. The European Parliament is trying to prove that they are important.” However, there is a serious lack of knowledge of Hungary and what little knowledge they possess is shallow.

At this point Csermely took over. He couldn’t understand why Europe is bothering with such trifles. “The Hungarian case is a laughably small matter.” What are they talking about? “Why is Europe preoccupied with such stupidities?”

Navracsics had the answer. The European Union has two reasons to probe into Hungary’s affairs. One is that they are afraid that the European Union will go bankrupt. So, these proceedings are “a public counter production.” The other reason is a certain worry about institutional changes in general. In addition, they look upon the Eastern European countries with a certain suspicion. If there is any change, they think that an anti-democratic regime will be introduced. They keep talking about the spirit instead of the actual wording of the laws.

Finally, Csermely made some ugly references to Kinga Göncz, the spokeswoman of the socialist caucus, as being “the true daughter of Árpád Göncz” who was the first one to run abroad and complain about the first Orbán government’s antidemocratic practices.

Árpád Göncz was the first president of the Republic of Hungary (1990-2000), and his popularity was phenomenal. Csermely here is most likely referring to an interview he gave to an Italian newspaper in which he spoke critically about József Antall’s government. The jab at Göncz was especially nasty considering that Göncz celebrated his ninetieth birthday on practically the same day that this interview took place. You might be interested in a couple of “serenades” organized in his honor. In the first a small group sang the famous chorus from Verdi’s Nabucco with lyrics rewritten to express hope that the “Republic” will return to Hungary. In the second a larger crowd organized by some of Göncz’s old friends from SZDSZ and Ferenc Gyurcsány joined in singing János Bródy’s signature piece, “Ha én rózsa volnék.” It was a protest song against the Kádár regime which everybody seems to know by heart. Enjoy!


  1. Goncz was also a writer and a literary translator. He translated the Lord Of The RIngs and Updikes Rabbit series, among lots of other famous books. I’m just mentioning this for constrast to the “nations pen” our very own “doctor” Pal Schmitt.
    Happy 90th B-Day Papa Goncz!

  2. I truly admire Professor Balogh’s patience in sitting through these interviews …
    I find myself (perhaps unwisely) comparing such interviews with British broadcast journalism where you’d typically get a tough interviewer (say Jeremy Paxman or John Humphrys) holding these public servants to account with a cynical tone, with an opposition politician also present to balance the whole thing. But Eger TV and HirTV have their own particular approaches to political news, I dare say.
    But what I find most depressing is the assumption made by Orban and his underlings that the general public do not have the means or the interest to seek out information on the subject themselves. An assumption that you can throw a line like “There is a war launched against us” out into the waters, and the public will just swallow it.

  3. Sorry to hog the posts – I won’t go on – but just to point out that the above link refers to a discussion on the European Parliament, broadcast on Echo TV. This channel has a particularly right-wing reputation – more than HirTV. The discussion features Zsolt Bayer raging on in rather ugly terms. Bayer, of course, is a long-time friend of Orban.
    A little anecdote about Bayer, which may or may not be accurate (I wasn’t there): my wife once accepted a lift home from him after a wedding in Transylvania (it was a small village in the forest). They were acquainted, as my wife was a classmate of Bayer’s now ex-wife who is now a well-known HirTV news presenter. Anyway, during the car trip, Bayer was in full-rant mode, raging on about Jews. My wife was quite scared, especially after noticing a baseball bat on the back seat. She asked him to stop driving and let her out, preferring to walk home in the dark.

  4. “But what I find most depressing is the assumption made by Orban and his underlings that the general public do not have the means or the interest to seek out information on the subject themselves.”
    Even more depressing – they are right.
    And, on the same theme, your wife might have got out of the car, mine would have agreed with him and told me what a sensible man he is. I’m afraid my wife is far more typically Hungarian than yours.

  5. The interview Göncz Árpád gave to La Stampa was published in the November 20, 1993 issue. The prime minister at that time was Antall József (although very ill).

  6. To Janos Szeky, thank you, “before my times.” I mean it was only in March 1994 or so that I started really watching what was going on in Hungary as a result of a trip to Hungary in December 1993. It was during my time there that Antall was buried.

  7. I just would like to emphasize one thing here, in case someone from the EU happens to read the comments here.
    “Navracsics chimed in. First he denied that he had said one thing in private to Kroes and something else at the hearing. ” Let simplify this Navracsics called Ms Kroes a liar. Now, Ms Kroes can accept this “truth” from Navracsics to the Hungarian people or could say something. Who is the liar here?
    My only reason to ask this as this the exact problem Hungary faces. There are always two sides of every story coming out from the government, the truth or what Fidesz says is the truth.

  8. Some1: “There are always two sides of every story coming out from the government, the truth or what Fidesz says is the truth.”
    I think that by now the EU is aware of that and since there is a great mistrust of Orbán and his government.
    I just read in Népszabadság that Orbán is very satisfied with Navracsics’s performance in Brussels. Excellent work by Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary for communication abroad.

  9. Re Hankiss letter. I just wanted all of you to see a different point of view, something much needed here. Some1: you are being unfair to AH.

  10. Re Hankiss letter. I just wanted all of you to see a different point of view, something much needed here. Some1: you are being unfair to AH.

  11. What an incitement for any Government. A State President who has been accused of serious plagiarism. A Prime Minister, who told the Ambassador of a very friendly and generous nation, “Not to listen to anything he said during the election”.
    This Government has successfully alienated those who could and would help them. A government which has blatantly broken treaties solemnly entered into.
    A government, which now publically insults a ninety year old man who was a President of this land. This gentle man is one whose shadow none of the Fidesz hierarchy are worthy to stand anywhere near.
    These flatulent attack anyone who even questions their policies.
    I have written a piece (but cannot post it) about these cullies latest alliance. Oh Brother! Are they standing into danger.

  12. In today’s Galamus, András Hanák called attention to the similarity between Viktor Orbán’s reference to “alcohol that inspires great goals but prevents its achievement” and a line from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act II, Scene III). Macduff comes to visit the king early morning and asks the Porter: “What three things does drink especially provoke?” And the Porter answers: “Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.” Or in Lőrinc Szabó’s translation: “„csábítja és kábítja: felpiszkálja a vágyat, de cserbenhagy a végrehajtásnál”.
    Maybe, maybe not, but interesting anyway.

  13. @Joe “I just wanted all of you to see a different point of view”
    That is great! Next time summarize the article in a few lines for those who have less time and include the link preferably to an English translation. Comprende?
    Who the heck is AH?

  14. Some kind of a mad, Hungarian, genie has escaped from the bottle–namely, that 2/3 majority has not only allowed Fidesz to pass laws–be they democratic or not–but that the party can function ABOVE the Law. This extends to political behavior to the extent that Fidesz reps feels that they can say whatever they want, wherever they please. Hence Kroes effort to nail down Navrisics.
    Fideszers seem–morality and ethics aside–to be answerable only to Orban; and Orban only to the great kings of Hungary….

  15. @ Joseph Simon, Hankiss’ letter is yesterday’s news. If you think I am unfair to her, why don’t you ask those Jews who are at the receiving end on listening to the Jobbik’s chanting of “Dirty Jews!” and such. THis slogan has been recorded several times in the last year also at public gatherings. Orban is lying in Brussels about paramiiitary uniforms in Hungary. WHere does Hankiss’ lives? Is she blind and deaf? Hankiss did a big disfavour of all the Jews and she should be ashamed of it. Oh, and I forgot, It is the FIDESZ who’s Hungarian Ambassador in Vienna sent a “private” letter on government letterhead to attest two Hungarian journalist’s decoration with the Press Freedom Award. (i can just imagine the lobbying that is going in because of Eva’s nomination for the Pulitzer Prize…)
    One fraudster as a President, an ambassador who lobbies in the name of his government so two HUngarians would not receive International prizes, paramilitary group threats, a porn magazine publisher head of Media Authority, and the list goes on. Anything this government touches turns into disgrace, and Hankiss has the nerve to talk about anything? WHy does not she talk about Schmitt or Gyongyospata? She is a joke.

  16. “there is a serious lack of knowledge of Hungary and what little knowledge they possess is shallow.”
    This is also a favourite of mine. Of course, if it is a central part of the national identity that the Hungarian language, soul, genius and in particular the sufferings (!!!) cannot be (by definition, as Hungarians are a solitary people) understood by other nations – it clearly follows that knowledge is always insufficient and Hungarians not adequately understood.
    Also: “They want to tell us how to live our lives, but we reject such pressure because the ten million Hungarians will make that decision.”
    If only they could. In Fidesz’ (= true Hungarian) logic, of course the actual act of deciding for instance in elections or in a referendum is not necessary anymore because since May 2010 there is true democracy. It is OV or the Holy Crown (most probably both) that know best how the “ten million” decide (as one! I am impressed that he included all people living within the borders of current Hungary, but of course a virtual community of true Hungarians within and outside the country could could be meant, too). And the fact that OV and the Holy Crown know best is “truth”, by the way. Neelie Kroes is just uninformed and has not yet fully understood that for what other nations need checks and balances, Hungary needs just OV and the Holy Crown. Wow.

  17. All this nonsense about ‘understanding’ the Hungarians.
    I don’t lay any claim to understanding the Libyans or Iraqis, but I was pretty certain Gaddafi and Saddam were not doing them too many favours.
    Ditto the Germans. I wasn’t around in the 30s, but I’m pretty sure there were lots of people then who knew Hitler was bad news for the Germans, without any claim to understanding the German people.
    I don’t claim to understand the Hungarians either – although, having lived amongst them off and on for over 10 years and having married into a Magyar family, I do have some idea of how they think – but you don’t need any special insight in the collective psyche of a nation to know that a PM who is an incompetent, megalomaniac, nationalist isn’t going to lead them to the Promised Land.

  18. Paul, I think FIDESZ and JOBBIK have really helped me “understand” Hungary much better.
    It certainly helps me understand why the Hungarians’ neighbors would have had incentive to emasculate the country at Triannon.
    In all seriousness, recent events and this blog, have led me to do more research into Hungarian history, particularly with regards to political developments WITHIN Hungary in the run up to the two World Wars.
    I am becoming more and more convinced that if you look at FIDESZ and the political atmosphere in the run-up to WW I and JOBBIK and WW II, we are simply seeing history repeat itself.
    In fact, if you turn to the new consitution, and read about how the Hungarians cannot be “held accountable” for their imperialist/ facist past, the concept of “people who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it”, takes on a whole new, concrete meaning.

  19. I am not sure whether history repeats itself. The circumstances are different, Hungary cannot claim that it were a ‘large country’ and it is not a constituent part of an ’empire’. I am not even sure that the prevalent ideas of the 19th were so distinctive, or not to be found also in other countries except perhaps for some aspects.
    But what Trianon has also made impossible is an evolution in the mindsets in particular of the conservatives. After Trianon it appears to have been forbidden to turn to other issues than Hungarian greatness, and that greatness was linked to the years between 1867 and 1914. Any political change must have been compared with the society of that period, found wanting (Great Hungary was not restored) and therefore no modernisation was possible.
    During the Communist period the society was modernised but it was not necessary to rethink a conservative programme and to “accept” Trianon from a nationalist point of view. For me OV and Fidesz certainly started with more modern ideas in 1989, but they inevitably had to confront this legacy of an unmodernised non-communist programme of Hungary. MSzP and the former dissidents were left-wing and liberals, Fidesz found it appealing to turn conservative – but that means that they had to write a new conservative programme, which they have not. They just recycled the ideas of the pre-Communist periods.
    And I also have the impression that the “conservative” legacy is both nationalist (which was revolutionary first and turned conservative only later) and aristocratic, and these two sets of ideas have been blended without being very coherent. That makes “understanding” Hungarians so difficult because it is not always clear whether the aristocratic or the language-based definition or some odd combination of the two is applied. It also appears that Hungarians are not very aware of this incoherence, instead it is we foreigners who simply do not “understand”. (Perhaps the incoherence is also considered “suffering”.)
    The best outcome of the current critical period would be that such modern conservative programme will be eventually written. I still do not doubt that this will happen because too many Hungarians do live in the 21st century and do know that it makes no sense to try to copy Albania 40 years back in allying with China.
    I wrote it here already earlier but a very interesting assessment of why Hungary developed the way it had is this text of Bibó:
    Eltorzult magyar alkat, zsákutcás magyar történelem. (Distorted Hungarian Character, Cul-de-sac Hungarian History).

  20. “It certainly helps me understand why the Hungarians’ neighbors would have had incentive to emasculate the country at Triannon.”
    I used to speak/write in similar terms 8 or 9 years ago, in my early days of reading Hungarian history. But a few years, and much reading/discussing, down the line, I realised that Trianon was/is far more complex than this simple reading.
    I don’t have the time or energy to go into it in detail here, but two points should suffice to illustrate what I mean:
    1) You see Trianon very differently if you look at it from the ‘ethnic minority’ point of view, especially the Slovak one, but also the Romanian and Serb.
    2) Europe was going through a peculiar period of ‘rational’ politics/geography at the time – the establishment of the League of Nations, and the drawing of boundaries on perceived ethnic lines (not just Hungary, but the Baltic states, Yugoslavia, the ‘Polish Corridor, etc).
    The real crime of Trianon was not that it happened, or even that it happened how and when it did, but the fact that Hungary was too weak (and late) to protect its ‘border’ communities. So many towns and cities that should rightfully (i.e. on ethic grounds) have stayed in Hungary, were handed over to other countries more interested in expanding their borders or gaining mineral wealth.
    Had the new borders been drawn in a fairer way, it’s possible that Trianon would almost be a non-issue today. It certainly wouldn’t be one that can be so easily (mis)used to rouse people to stupid opinions and behaviour.

  21. @ Paul: You will also see Trianon differently if you speak to an ethnic Hungarian who was born in (for example) Transylvania. e.g. my wife and her contemporaries. She has a very different outlook to Hungarians who were born in ‘Hungary’ (i.e. current Hungary). You’d imagine someone like her would feel the ‘pain and suffering’ of the Magyars the most – but in fact she doesn’t.
    In fact, she can’t really empathise with Hungarians who have had no experience of living as an ethnic minority, or under a hostile dictatorship (or maybe who have never been to Transylvania) pining for the lost territories of nearly 100 years ago.
    Also, there is an attitude that (some, but not all) ‘Hungarian’ Hungarians have towards Transylvanian Hungarians – i.e that Transylvanians are somehow ‘different’ or strange. Many didn’t exactly have an easy time when they came to Hungary after 1989. The matter is rather complex, and begs lots of questions about how ‘Hungarian’ Hungarians are mythologising the situation.
    Far be it from me, as an outsider, to try and understand, though …

  22. Kirsten, “but that means that they had to write a new conservative programme, which they have not. They just recycled the ideas of the pre-Communist periods”.
    I CANNOT agree strongly enough. The MDF was the only serious attempt thus far to establish a “conservative” political movement in Hungary.
    I still don’t see how you cannot compare OV to the National Socialist rise before WWI and even more dratically in the run up to WWII. What is the difference between “history repeating itself ” and “recycling the ideas of the pre-Communist periods”.
    I venture to suggest that these recycled ideas will yield recycled outcomes.
    Paul, its interesting. You and I have been evolving in opposite directions. When I arrived in 1995, I took a much more nuanced view on Triannon.
    Personally, I believe Wilson was right- but for reasons he could not have realised at the time.
    The USA never ratified the Treaty, in part because of Wilson’s belief that the citizens within the regions to be “dismembered” should have been given the right, through referendum, to determine for themselves which countries they wished to belong to.
    Since in most cases, Hungarians were minorities in these regions, they would have (probably) opted to leave Hungary in any event.
    But I think, had this process been followed, the remainder of the Hungarian Nation- psychologically- would have been able to “accept” and move on with life.
    In any event- nowadays, I see a simliar “European Community” viewing Hungary in a simliar light- perhaps for different reasons- but perhaps not.
    It is sort of ironic that the EU itself is really not an overly “democratic” organisation itself- which is also comparable to the undemocratic imposition of Triannon.

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