With the permission of The Budapest Beacon I’m republishing their English translation of an important interview with János Lázár, the “COO (chief operating officer)” of Hungary, that originally appeared in yesterday’s Magyar Hírlap, a far-right, pro-Fidesz daily. The interview contains perhaps the most vituperative anti-American statements from a Fidesz politician to date. The language of this interview can be compared only to articles that appeared in party organs during the Rákosi and early Kádár periods.
Among other things, the United States is accused of raising a new Iron Curtain between Russia and Europe and of meddling in Hungarian domestic affairs. Fidesz politicians seem to be convinced that it is the United States that is behind the demonstrations. In fact, the country is accused of taking over the role of the opposition.
Yesterday the Hungarian government decided to begin diplomatic efforts to get the U.S. government to lift the American chargé d’affaire’s diplomatic immunity. The belief is spreading in Budapest that the Orbán government is planning to declare Goodfriend persona non grata. I do hope that someone can explain to Viktor Orbán the grave consequences of such a decision. The Orbán government is playing with fire.
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JÁNOS LÁZÁR: WE WANT TO REMAIN HUNGARIANS!
Translation of interview with Hungarian Chancellor János Lázár appearing in the 22 December 2014 issue of pro-government Magyar Hírlap under the title “Lázár János: Dolgozni kell, nem szabad elbizonytalanodni”. (“János Lázár: One must work, not entertain doubts”).
How do you assess the work of the Information Authority (IH), more commonly known as the Hungarian foreign intelligence?
The Prime Minister stated in 2010 that Hungarian intelligence is the most important task in protecting our national independence. A condition of the country’s sovereignty is decreasing our financial and energy independence as soon as possible. The task of every Hungarian secret service is strengthening the country, and towards this goal increasing our self-determination. The Prime Minister brought the collection of intelligence under the Office of the Prime Minister two years ago. IH operations can work even more efficiently now that European matters have been transferred to us from the foreign ministry.
There are economic interest groups— the bank, tobacco, energy and multinational company lobbies—which, for example, are trying to use the European Commission to advance their economic interests. Naturally, Hungary does not spy on its allies but it is better to be afraid than to be frightened. The task of intelligence was changed at the time of the financial crisis so that it helps the government’s work, not only with collecting information but with financial and money market analysis as well. We expect precise information rather than conspiracy theories from our intelligence agents.
In a country with a high ratio of state and household foreign exchange debt, we are more vulnerable to, and dependent on, foreign interests. It is no surprise that in the past few years we have faced these kinds of attacks intended to undermine the government. My job is to direct the attention of the intelligence service colleagues to the performance of these tasks. For this the government provides the necessary material and human resources. I hope the world view of those in service has also changed, thereby significantly decreasing Russian or western innervation (sic), and finally increases the commitment to our country’s independence.
Unfortunately, the American wire tapping and spying scandals of the past few years have made it clear that our allies do not respect our partners, and that there are no inhibitions or limits. The WikiLeaks documents indicate that America also collects information about the personal lives of leading politicians in our country as well.
What stands behind the attempt to exert influence over Hungary?
America’s interests are not the same as Hungary’s. The United States does not take into consideration the traditions of the region, the country’s traditions. Unfortunately, they don’t want to understand Central European history and national characteristics. Naturally, there exist influential United States interest groups as well with which we do not agree on matters of fundamental questions of values. This world violently, and with money, spreads its convictions such as disregard for the fact that, irrespective of their political proclivities, two-thirds of Hungarians understand a family to refer to the relationship between a man and a woman, and give them the right to raise children.
What is the stronger viewpoint for the Americans, exercising pressure for political or economic interests?
Both. In the future America will change from being an importer to being an exporter of gas thanks to the mining of shale gas, for which it must create a market. We can discuss this, but I am certain that the use of power politics is not a suitable method for securing markets. Our point of view is unequivocal: Hungary is not for sale. Neither for the Russians nor for the Americans. We will purchase energy from whoever sells it cheaply and guarantees that it arrives to use as well.
However, we are a small market. It is not sure that this is the only reason we became an important terrain to the United States.
Unfortunately, there is no economic growth in the European Union, and for this reason the region of Central Europe has become more valuable. Our area has economic potential, from here it is possible to strengthen the western part of the continent as well. A warlike situation has developed between the United States and Russia, and the Americans want to create a new iron curtain on Russia’s border. We are starting from the basic thesis formulated by German chancellor Helmut Kohl and French president Francois Mitterrand: Europe needs the Russians. The war and Russia’s economic collapse has unforeseeable consequences for Europe and Hungary. We are going to pay a high price for it. In the midst of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis we should not forget either that more than 100,000 Hungarians are living in Karpátalja (Carpatho-Ukraine), a substantial number of which are Hungarian citizens as well. The most important thing for the government is to protect them as well.
Do you also believe that the Americans are behind the Autumn demonstrations?
The demonstrations are proof that the right to the freedom of expression exists in Hungary. The demonstrations are as though the American embassy had assumed the role of the Hungarian political opposition. It might appear to some as though they gave up on the opposition parties ever winning the confidence of the Hungarians, and for this reason they have risen to the task of leading the dissatisfied. They express opinions on matters not customary for diplomats. They want to tell us how to behave, what to think about the world. And they tell us how we should live. The credibility of the United States has been called into question by the fact that the American spokesman André Goodfriend is either unable or unwilling to tell public opinion why six Hungarian citizens were banned from entering the United States. Americans should respect Hungary’s thousand-year history, traditions, which cannot be changed through the use of outside force, pressure. Hungarians do not want to be Americans, Germans or Russians. We want to remain Hungarians!
But now once again we are forced into a swing policy. How can this be continued successfully?
The struggle to preserve our identity and independence has characterized our history. Once again we find ourselves facing such a situation. I am convinced that the Hungarian opposition parties will not betray our country and assist the Americans in their efforts. It is not by chance that the American embassy has taken politics to the street, and embolden the organizers and participants.
Goodfriend aside, didn’t the government err in a number of issues giving birth to social discontent?
After the local elections in October the period of governance started. We never claimed to be infallible, or that we never make mistakes. We received a two-thirds mandate from the voters to build an independent, strong Hungary, and not break ranks under the pressure of domestic or international interests.
Fidesz is living high off the hog (urizál), and some of the main criticism has concerned you.
It is obvious that young members of Fidesz living high off the hog is a well-constructed political campaign on the part of the opposition and the press. They want to create an image of us as the party of the rich and which only supports the rich. That’s a lie! We introduced the free meals at kindergarten. We were the ones who offered government subsidies to those buying used flats, who continuously raise the minimum wage, who drastically decreased household utility costs, who increased the wages of teachers, and executed an increase in salaries of health and law enforcement workers.
As a result of our economic policies, inflation has disappeared, which the left-wing politicians and intellectuals always said was a tax on the poor. In addition to all this, we are helping the most vulnerable social strata, those with FX loans: They will see the first half of 2015 that their monthly payments decrease 25 percent or 30 percent. And we’re the party of the rich? Our steps have created opportunities for social inclusion for the poorest.
But in spite of everything it seems that within your own party people are upset that you bought a flat for your young son, or that you have a watch costing many hundreds of thousands of forints.
I hope they don’t want to say that who saves for his children’s future is acting like a lord. I know there are many who are not able to do this, and that is why I am working, so that they get an opportunity for this. At the same time in my city the normal order of life is that people support their children to the best of their ability, and try to provide for their future. In a civil society this cannot be cause for shame but rather virtue. Let’s see things clearly. Today there is a political campaign afoot built on jealousy organized by the opposition that involves accusing everyone of corruption and living high off the hog, especially the younger politicians who are in power. They are doing that with me, those who for the past 25 years look down on Hungarian reality from the homes in the hills of Buda, while I had to struggle on two occasions to win the confidence of a poor provincial part of the country. How can anyone imagine that I could have won the confidence of those living in poverty and those in need of help if I considered myself exception or looked down on them? In politics there can only be one answer to this accusation, this campaign to discredit us, this character assassination: total unity within Fidesz.
What can you do against the fall in your popularity?
Decisions come with disputes and consequences. The current government won’t let up even though it has harmed the interest of a good many groups. The interest groups behind the press use journalists to mess with the people. That is what is happening at RTL Klub, whose owner, the German Bertelsmann group, suffered a serious financial loss as a result of the advertising tax. This group includes a number of oligarchs as well who are not able to access the state’s resources, and that is why they dictate magical questions to journalists who are dependent on them for their existence. Let’s not forget either that from American money Romanian investigative journalists are training the colleagues of certain internet newspapers, while I know, and this is just part of the legend, it is as though this, too, is happening within the framework of the American operation.
The only question is whether the loss in popularity becomes a tendency, a continuous fall, or whether we’re talking about a wave which happens to be standing at the bottom right now.
We musn’t become uncertain. We need to work! If Viktor Orbán had become uncertain in 2011-12-13, then we would not have won the election in 2014. Then there were moments when Fidesz was even less popular than it currently is. We didn’t wet ourselves and we didn’t hide. We waded into the fight, picked up the glove, and in the end we won. Winning back trust after losing popularity means even more work now than before. We had to struggle for three years for the country, which was threatened by financial collapse. Now, economically speaking we have risen ourselves up to be among the three best-performing countries in the EU. There is no western analysis that does not acknowledge our economic results, we, however, fall into the mistake of entertaining doubts. There is no reason for this. We are on a good path. We don’t have to be afraid. We have to work!
The decrease in household utility costs was the Fidesz panacea during the first cycle. What is it you want to win over voters with now?
We continue to step in the direction of decreasing the cost of utility to the economy and the state. We are decreasing court fees and we want to provide more services, all of this in a transparent manner. We will do everything so that economic actors, especially industry, can obtain cheap electricity. The government’s goal is for us to be the strongest country in the region. In the interest of improving economic competitiveness we are going to reform technical training, improve the educational system and modernize the country. European Union taxpayers are providing enormous material support for this. A strong state is needed. A decrease in bureaucracy on the other hand increases competitiveness. There will be more debates on this, but an efficient, cheap and well-functioning state is worth a political fight.
How many positions will be eliminated over the course of decreasing bureaucracy?
There are 198 prefectures (járás) in the country. By the end of 2015 we will create 260 government windows. The prefecture structure works well, it is close to the people. By contrast 925,000 people work in state administration, while at the same time four million pay taxes. Three million taxpayers maintain the current bureaucracy. Furthermore, this is a reverse pyramid: the higher we go, the more workers there are. There are two bosses for every worker who meets with citizens and customers. This is unacceptable. Today for example there are 3,500 directors for 26,000 government office employees. This cannot be called reasonable. For this reason there is no point in talking about how many should be dismissed, because there are areas that need to be downsized and there are ones where it is necessary to hire people. It is the job of the state to serve the people, which is why we need to deal with matters that interest the voters, and which improves the quality of their lives, like strengthening the system of local practitioners, or preventative medicine. Or whether for social security somebody who regularly goes for a screening test represents the same risk as someone who does not. How can the state motivate someone to deal with sickness through prevention and preliminary control? I could cite examples of public transportation as well for which we need to use our time, energy and trust.
When will the restructuring of public transportation start? What changes should travelers expect?
We want to organize state services on the level of prefectures, and in this way we are modifying the health education centers. Many governments have undertaken the reform of health, education and social systems, but no one has ever reconciled this with a transportation map of Hungary. We would like to achieve when talking about health reform that we also discuss how patients get to a given hospital. There are places where it is necessary to reorganize the trains and the bus services, but there are also parts of the country where it is not possible to use public transportation, where it is only possible to get to a treatment center by car. We have to change the practice by which Volán (the national bus company) has ignored the needs of the traveling public for years when preparing schedules. We need to organize a unified, country-public transportation system in which train and bus schedules are harmonized. It is outrageous that twenty-five years after the system change there are still unresolved issues.
It is as though you are not speaking as a minister but still as a mayor.
If you you see it like that, then that is a compliment. The Prime Minister expects me to deal with these matters. I do this with the enthusiasm and vehemence characteristic of me as a mayor. I look for solutions because I learned over the past 15 years that you can neither govern a society without people nor against people. My style is too fast or too determined for some people. I am convinced that it is only possible to serve the country’s interest with this kind of purposeful politics and a lot of work.