Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (l) - Photo: PMO

Orbán: ‘Worst of economic fallout from war behind us’

Hungary "collided with two meteors over a three-year period", the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and then the war in Ukraine in 2022, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in his keynote speech at the Balvanyos Summer University in Baile Tusnad, in Romania, on Saturday. Though the country was able to defend itself against Covid and quickly returned to the path it had carved for itself, the war in 2022 derailed it from that path, the prime minister said.

“Today, Hungary, the Hungarian people and the Hungarian government are struggling and fighting to make our way back from that derailed path to normalcy which will lead us to 2030,” he said. Orbán said Hungary could achieve this recovery by July 2024. By then, Orbán said he hoped economic growth would be robust, bank loans strong and the country’s development curve “well beyond the EU average.”

At the same time, “Hungary has left the worst behind,” and inflation is expected to fall into single digits by year-end, he said.

He said that hopefully, wages would not lose their value, and “sky-high interests on loans” could be curbed, he said.

Meanwhile, Orbán said the Hungarian economy’s output had tripled over the last 13 years, growing from 27,000 billion forints to 80,000 billion. He said Hungary was targeting a GDP of 160,000 billion forints (EUR 420.5bn) by 2030.

The economic system the government has been building for 13 years “has come together and has performed well”, Orbán said. Hungary is on schedule with its goals, he said, noting that in 2010, Hungary’s development level had been 66 percent of the European Union average, while last year it had been at 78 percent. He added that the goal was to reach the 85-90 percent range by 2030.

The plan is also to reduce Hungary’s dependence on energy imports from the current 28 percent, Orbán said. Hungary wants the Paks 2 nuclear power plant and its solar energy developments to reduce its electricity imports to zero by 2030, he added.

Meanwhile, the employment rate in Hungary was at 77 percent in 2023, up from 65 percent in 2010, and is expected to rise to 85 percent by 2030, he said.

While no Hungarian university was among the top 5 percent in the world in 2010, 11 have reached that level by now, he said.

Regarding the government’s achievements on family support, Orbán said the reproduction rate in Hungary was at 1.5, up from 1.2. The rate should be at 2.1 to stop natural population decline, he said.

“We are still in trouble, we’ll have to mobilise all our strength, energy and resources for family policy,” he said.

Meanwhile, defence is also “starting to come to its feet”, with Hungary one of the few NATO countries to be spending at least 2 percent of its GDP on defence, he said.

“We are not behind on the programme aiming to unite the nation by 2023; the government has raised the resources tenfold since 2010,” he said.

Referring to dozens of Romanian protesters at the entrance of the site, Orbán started his speech by saying “We had to cut through Romanian armies to come here — but we would prefer to see them as a reception committee … We weakened Latin Christians will need the support of Romanian Orthodoxy in the fight for Christianity.”

Orbán said he had received a document from the Romanian foreign ministry, with suggestions on the topics he should not talk about.

“This is an official state document,” he said.

The document proposes that he steer clear from topics that could offend Romanian sensitivities, he said.

“So I won’t talk about that, I would just like to welcome the friends arriving with Hungarian and Szekler flags.”

He said he wasn’t supposed to talk about collective rights of minorities.

“So I won’t speak of that either, apart from saying that such rights exist and Hungarians living here should possess them.”

The document suggested that he should avoid mentioning “territorial or administrative areas that are non-existent in Romania”, Orbán said.

“They might mean Transylvania and Szekler Land by that, although we never said they were Romanian territorial units.”

Further, the document said he could speak of Western values but “shouldn’t show them in a bad light”.

“Nowadays, Western values mean migration, LGBTQ and war, and I won’t need to show them in a bad light: they seem bad anyway,” he said.

Orbán said he was also asked to avoid “a revisionist approach and xenophobic nuances regarding migration … which feels like time travel to Communism.”

“We will not tell Romania’s president what to talk about” the next time he comes to Hungary, Orbán said.

“Romania should consider carefully that Hungary is fully supportive of its greatest national ambition, the Schengen membership,” and that the Schengen Area’s expansion will be a priority of Hungary’s presidency in the second half of 2024, he said.

Romania has currently chosen a new prime minister, he noted.

“New prime minister, new chance — we may be able to get something mutually beneficial out of this.”

Orbán also said the world was now facing the consequences of a shift in the global balance of power.

He said the global balance of power that had existed for 80 years following the second world war had been “divided into two periods for Hungarians”.

“There were the first 45 years when the Anglo-Saxons turned us over to the Soviet communists … and the second period which has so far lasted 33 years when we have lived freely without military occupation, the Soviet Union and communists,” he said.

The world was in balance for 80 years because the Soviet Union had been “driven out of history without a war”, Orbán said. But now, China has shifted the world’s balance, he added.

The current global political trends, whether they be economic, technological development or military power, favour Asia and China, Orbán said.

“China stands before us in full superpower attire,” he said. It has a civilisational creed, seeing itself as “the centre of the universe”, it has a long-term plan to “make China great again”, as well as a medium-term programme to restore the dominance it had in Asia before the West got there, Orbán argued.

He said the biggest question was whether a confrontation between China and the United States was avoidable. He said that though a war was not inevitable, “the truth is that this is the business of the big boys. We weren’t dealt a hand in this.”

“All we can say is that it’s time to do something that’s never been done before: the big players should accept that there are two suns in the sky,” Orbán said.

“The opposing sides should recognise one another as equals regardless of the current balance of power.”

At the same time, Orbán warned that since it took an entire generation for a new balance of power to be established, it was this timeframe to which Hungarians’ plans needed to correspond.

As regards the state of the European Union, Orbán said the bloc “can give us the impression that it suffers from anxiety and feels surrounded”.

The prime minister said the EU saw itself for what it was: “a rich and weak union which sees a rebellious world around itself, confused noise, old grievances, many mouths to feed and massive consumption”.

Citing projected IMF country rankings for 2030, Orbán said Britain, Italy and France were projected to drop out of the top ten, while Germany was seen falling from its current fourth place to tenth.

“That’s the reality,” Orbán said, adding that fear and the feeling of being surrounded was steering the EU towards isolationism because it “got scared of competition”.

He compared the bloc to an aging boxing champion who showed off his championship belts but no longer wanted to get back into the ring. This, he said, led to the EU shutting itself into “an economic, political and cultural ghetto”.

He said the EU had used the sanctions against Russia to cut the country off from the European economy. But, he added that cutting Europe off Russian energy was ineffective, arguing that Russia could not be cut off from the rest of the world.

“There will be someone else to buy the Russian raw materials while we suffer from wartime inflation and lose our competitiveness,” he said.

Prior to the war, the EU paid 300 billion euros for its gas and oil imports, while last year it paid 653 billion, Orbán said. So Europe is trying to compete while paying double for energy, while the rest of the world pays what it had been paying before the war, Orbán said.

He said major European corporations did not want to cut ties with Russia. Altogether 8.5 percent of the 1,400 biggest Western companies have pulled out of Russia, Orbán said, noting that 88 percent of pharmaceutical companies, 79 percent of the European mining industry, 70 percent of energy companies and 77 percent of manufacturing businesses continued to do business with Russia, and had contributed 3.5 billion US dollars to the Russian state budget.

“From our perspective, the attack the Ukrainians have launched against poor little Hungarian OTP Bank is nothing but a manifestation of Hungarophobia, which we must reject,” the prime minister said.

Meanwhile, Orbán identified the struggle between “federalists and sovereignists” as the other major European trend in which the “sovereignist Visegrad Group” was left to face the “federalist Germans and French” on its own after Brexit.

He said the federalists had “openly admitted that they wanted to see a change in government in Hungary and used every means of political corruption to finance the Hungarian opposition”.

“They’re now doing the same thing in Poland and remember how they wanted to thwart a victory by [Giorgia] Meloni-led right wing,” Orbán said, referring to recent general elections in Italy.

The prime minister said he was hopeful that next year’s European Parliament elections would yield “a balance of power in Europe that is more favourable for us”.

He said the “federalists” had “launched an attack against the Visegrad Group”.

“We can all see the result: the Czechs have essentially joined [the federalists], Slovakia is teetering, and only the Poles and the Hungarians are holding out,” he said. Orbán said there was a chance for the number of “sovereignist” countries to grow, noting that such a government had been formed in Italy.

“Something is also moving in Austria, and there’s an election tomorrow in Spain,” he added.

“The most important thing for Hungary is that we have to be aware of ourselves … and stick to the path we embarked on in 2010 after the 20 confusing years of the change of regime,” Orbán said.

“We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we have a new era which has both intellectual and economic foundations.”

Hungary’s new Fundamental Law is what distinguishes the country the most form the other European Union member states, Orbán said, arguing that whereas the other countries had “I-centred liberal constitutions”, Hungary had a “we-centred” constitution.

The Hungarian constitution is predicated on the idea that “there is a place that is ours, our home, a community that is our nation and a way of life that is our own, which is our culture and language”, Orbán said.

This means that the fundamental idea in the constitution is that “the most important things in life are those that can’t be attained alone,” Orbán said.

Peace, family, friendship, the law, the spirit of community and freedom are all things that cannot be attained alone because “someone who is alone isn’t free but lonely”, he said.

“All good things in life are based on cooperation with others, and if these are the most important things in our life than these are what need to be protected by society and the legal system,” the prime minister added.

Individuals experience those things as attachment, and so “Hungary’s constitution is a constitution of attachment, aiming to strengthen those bonds and is founded in reinforcement,” he said. Liberal constitutions, on the other hand, want to reject things in the name of individual freedom rather than strengthen them, he said.

Hungary’s constitution “strengthens the place our children are going to live in, our homeland, our identity as men and women, our concept of family, and our boundaries, by allowing us to determine who we want to live with”.

The “Hungarian national Christian constitution, which is unlike other European constitutions” created in 2011 was a good decision, Orbán said.

“Since then, we have a migration crisis on our hands, which is obviously not manageable with a liberal approach, and LGBTQ-gender warfare, which can only be vanquished in the community, in child protection.”

Liberal states expected new communities to flourish in the place of old ones, but “there is only a peculiar kind of alienation everywhere”, he added.

The leftist, internationalist and liberally minded intellectuals and political leaders of the Enlightenment expected that the rejection of religion would bring about an ideal, enlightened community based on a communal insight on the common good. By now, this has been proven an illusion, “and by rejecting Christianity, we become hedonistic pagans,” he said.

Orbán said the EU rejected its Christian heritage, was managing a replacement of the population through migration and was “leading a crusade against family-friendly European nations”. He said a political class had emerged in Europe which had no accountability, had no Christian or democratic convictions, which he said meant that “we have no choice; though we love Europe and though it’s ours, we still have to fight”.

The prime minister said “unaccountable governance” in Europe had led to the emergence of an “unaccountable empire”.

“We don’t wish for everyone to hold the same beliefs or to live the same kind of family life or attend the same celebrations, but we insist that we have a shared home, a common language, a common public space, a shared culture and this is the basis for Hungarians’ security, freedom and prosperity, which is why it must be protected at all cost,” he said.

Hungarians will not compromise or back down in Europe, Orbán said. They insist on their rights and will not give in to either political or financial blackmail, he said.

Though it may be possible to compromise when it comes to issues of “tactical or strategic time”, it is impossible on issues “of historical time”, he said.

Orbán said Hungarians had to be focused when it came to global issues, build connectivity in the global economy, fight in EU disputes, stand their ground in intellectual matters and remain persistent when it comes to the unification of the nation.

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