Prime Minister Viktor Orbán - Photo: MTI

Orbán: No pardon for paedophile crimes

"There must be no pardon for paedophile crimes," Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in his state of the nation speech on Saturday, adding that President Katalin Novak's and former Justice Minister Judit Varga's resignations had been the "correct step" and would "strengthen us". The prime minister said the government would reinforce Hungary's child protection system. He also addressed the green transition and said parliament could ratify Sweden's NATO accession at the start of its spring season.

“Children must not be violated and any abuse should entail the strictest punishment,” Orbán said.

He said the resignations were “a bad start” for the year, adding that it was up to the government “to restore moral order and offer legal remedy for the current situation.”

“A political mistake is annoying, even if there is an explanation, but even more so when there is none,” he added.

According to the prime minister, an uproar in the wake of the president’s pardon in right-wing circles arose because it was not a decision made in a difficult situation but an “unforced error”. “For right wingers the rule is simple: there must be no pardon for paedophile crimes,” he added.

He said that the resignation should be “sufficient compensation and an example for the country, a chance for Hungary to come out stronger from a difficult situation . and we will do so,”.

He said the president’s resignation was “a great loss for Hungary” and thanked both Novak and Varga for their work. He added that the two had “more dignity in their little finger than in all of the leaders of the leftist parties put together.”

He praised Novak as a “greatly respected, appreciated president working, moreover, fighting for her homeland, the Hungarian people and their families . seen by all as a person fit for her presidential position.” He referred to Novak as an “embodiment of the good characteristics of Hungarians, a kind and prepared mother, who sought not to prove her abilities against men and according to men’s measures.” Novak “demonstrated in her natural way that women’s way of thinking and feeling are indispensable in all walks of life including politics,” he added.

Novak resigned because she had pardoned a man sentenced for covering up a crime against children, and “the vast majority of Hungarians rejected that pardon”, Orbán said. “The president’s pardon impacted national unity and she could no longer restore that unity,” he added.

“A toppled equilibrium can be restored, the high waves of indignation tamed, the nation reunited over issues around family and child protection only through the president’s resignation and electing a new president,” Orbán said.

Concerning the former justice minister, Orbán said Varga had countersigned the president’s pardon “following the constitutional custom and an unbroken practice of the past 25 years.” “Her departure is an unavoidable and, I think, unfair, consequence of the laws of the state,” he said.

“Sometimes good people, even the best, will make bad decisions, and . if they could fly back in time they would certainly correct the mistake. But it is not possible and now it is up to the government . to restore moral order and offer legal remedy for the situation,” Orbán said.

“Serving the nation also requires personal humility . you need to know that no matter how high you are you can never be clever enough by yourself and there are no protected positions, even in the highest office one can make a mistake,” he said.

“A political mistake is annoying, even if there is an explanation, but even more so when there is none,” he added.

Hungary’s child protection system must be strengthened, from the constitution to the level of ministerial decree, Orbán said.

“The tribulations of the victims compel us”, Orbán said, adding that the leadership and oversight of children’s protection institutions as well as regulations and restrictions for the staff who work there would be strengthened.

He said a new package of child protection legislation would be submitted to parliament.

Orbán said electing a new president was an “urgent task” and asked the parliamentary group of governing Fidesz-KDNP to start the process of electing a replacement for Katalin Novak on the day she left office.

Hungary has emerged from a very difficult 2023 “by the skin of our teeth” but “can’t be dissatisfied” with the results, Orbán said.

He said Hungarians had been living and working under “extreme pressure” for the fifth year in a row, trying to “protect that which we’ve achieved”. Workplaces have been successfully preserved, he said, noting that never before had so many people been in jobs in Hungary.

Hungary’s employment rates stands at 75 percent today, but the government “wants and will” raise that to 85 percent, he said.

He put the number of Hungarians who could be brought into the workforce at “at least 300,000” and added that more Hungarians were returning home each year than were leaving to work abroad.

He said the annual pensioners’ bonus, equivalent to a full month’s pension, which the “left wing had snatched from people”, had also been preserved.

He said Hungarians living beyond the borders had been “brought closer”, noting the construction of three new bridges over the River Ipoly, on the border between Hungary and Slovakia, ten daily trains between Szeged, in the southeast of the country, and Subotica (Szabadka) in neighbouring Serbia, and three flights a week connecting Budapest with Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvar) in Romania.

Inflation has been reduced from a record 25 percent to below 4 percent, the budget deficit has been kept on a downward path, and the minimum wage for unskilled labourers has been raised by 15 percent, he added.

Addressing the green transition, Orbán said the era of green energy had “not come knocking, but kicked the door in”. The future belongs to green energy and to those who can make the transition “quickly and sensibly”, he added.

He said the stability of Hungarian politics, the two-thirds majority in parliament of the governing alliance, was accommodating to “rapid adaptation”, adding that Hungary could make the green transition faster than anywhere in Europe.

Orbán said Hungary could “kill two birds with one stone” with the green transition: making the country more livable and freeing it from energy dependency by adding blocks at the Paks nuclear power plant, extending the lifespan of the existing blocks there and building up industrial and home solar power capacity. Hungary’s solar power capacity now stands over 5,600 MW, he said, adding that 255,000 homes were outfitted with solar panels and solar energy now accounted for 15 percent of energy consumption.

He said that capacity was needed to store green energy as well as to generate it, adding that it was a “matter of a few years” before battery storage devices would be ubiquitous, in cars, homes, workplaces and factories. He said Hungary’s government was spending “several hundred billion forints” toward that end.

Hungary has built interconnectors with the power grids and gas networks of neighbouring countries and it’s a “few years away” from becoming energy independent, he said.

Orbán said Hungary was at the forefront of a technological revolution that would allow it to “rescue” its vehicle manufacturers.

Hungary must avoid the fate of car plants in the West that are being shut down and moved elsewhere, Orbán said. “Imagine Gyor without Audi or Kecskemet without Mercedes!” he added.

Hungary’s automotive industry output exceeds 13,000 billion forints (EUR 33.4bn) and provides the livelihood for several hundred thousand families, he noted.

He said Hungary was “world class” in terms of pharmaceuticals, seed production, the food industry and ICT, in addition to vehicle manufacturing.

Hungary has become a “centre of gravity” in the Carpathian Basin in terms of politics, culture, and the economy, the prime minister said.

2024 will again be “a year of success”, Orbán said, adding that last year had been “a year of failure” for the European Union, while dragging Hungary down, too.

“Brussels has only brought trouble for us . Brussels’ Ukraine strategy has failed spectacularly, not only on the battlefield but in international politics, too,” Orbán said. Despite the conflict being “a war between two Slavic brothers” the EU “nearly threw itself” into the conflict, leaving Hungary alone with its “pro-peace position”. Hungary’s position will prove to be the right one, “but the tragedy is that hundreds of thousands of people will die till then,” he said.

The Hungarian position is unchanged: “we will not let ourselves be dragged into the war,” Orbán said, adding that the country would not deliver weapons to Ukraine even if that didn’t win the favour of some big powers.

Orbán said the EU’s “pressure on Hungary” was now so great that ambassadors would come to parliament to “check up on the behaviour of the dollar left” but added that “sooner or later everybody will realise they are better off if they leave us alone.”

The prime minister said it was “good news that our dispute with Sweden is nearing a conclusion”. Together with the Swedish prime minister they made important steps to rebuild trust, he said, adding that the Hungarian parliament could ratify Sweden’s NATO accession at the start of its spring session.

Orbán said the US was increasingly reluctant to provide financing to Ukraine, putting an increasing burden on Europe, which was struggling with an “ailing” economy. Joint EU credit is “a road Hungary won’t go down again”, he added..

“Brussels has abandoned Europeans . never has there been such a huge gap between Brussels’ policies and the interests and will of the European people,” he said. He pointed to the need for change in Brussels but said that change would “not happen by itself . Europe must recapture Brussels”.

Concerning the EU’s new agricultural regime and the opening of European markets to Ukraine, Orbán said they had created “an impossible situation” for European farmers. “Rather than healthy food produced domestically we are forced to accept cultivated meat and GMO junk,” Orbán said.

Farmers protesting all over Europe don’t want regulations to be decided by “climate fanatics” and “ivory tower experts”, he added.

On the subject of migration, Orbán said he had “bad news only”. He said migration posed a security risk and was a “hotbed for anti-Semitism”, while it would also “uproot European societies”.

“They lured the migrants, sitting in Brussels and in Berlin with cotton candy in the hot sun, and now are surprised to be surrounded by wasps,” he said.

“It is time to face reality: Europe’s competitiveness has been compromised by the war, the sanctions and emerging blocs with the upcoming, fatal consequences of an impoverished middle class, which will also mean the end of democracy,” Orbán said.

Touching on EU enlargement, Orbán said the process had become “a communications tool” serving Ukraine policy goals while Brussels had “abandoned the Balkans, because Ukraine needs the money”.

Orbán said 2024 could be “a turning point” with elections in the European Union, in the United States, in India and a dozen other places.

“The global political stage will look completely different at the end of the year…and if God helps us, Hungary’s room from manoeuvre will increase to an extent not seen for a long time,” he said.

Orbán said he would like to see Donald Trump return to the White House and make peace on the eastern side of Europe. “We cannot have a say in the elections of other countries, but we would very much like Donald Trump to return,” he added.

“Let there be a ‘Make America Great Again’ presidency in America,” he said.

“A revival of greatness in America and Europe. Connectivity, strengthening regional cooperation between Hungary and Slovakia, Austria and Serbia, and a sovereigntist turn in Brussels. That’s what we want under the Christmas tree this year,” he added.

He said that the “bureaucrats in Brussels” wouldn’t bring Europe out of the crisis and that a new European right wing, of which Hungarians were a part, could bring “real change”. The new right wing is “not an alternative to Europe, but a European alternative”, he added.

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