Prime minister Viktor Orbán – Photo: MTI

Bending the knee on the pitch under the name of fighting racism is "alien to Hungarian culture", Orbán says

PM details new government measures

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Thursday announced a slew of new government measures concerning the pandemic, including the vaccination of 12-16-year-olds, new rules on immunity certificates and a National Consultation public survey on Hungary's economic recovery. The prime minister said the 137,000 people who have failed to return for the second Covid vaccine dose will have their immunity certificate deleted from the official register, losing the privileges that come with it.

Meanwhile, Orbán said Hungary will transition from mass vaccinations to a “standby” vaccination programme from next week.

Orbán also announced that government has approved the vaccination of 12-16-year-olds. The government will not organise a vaccination drive for this age group, the prime minister said, adding that it will be up to parents to decide whether they want their children to be inoculated. Parents who want their children to get the shot will have to register as they would for their own vaccination, and the jabs will be administered at vaccination points, Orbán said.

Citing data from the interior ministry, Orbán said that once all shipments arrive, Hungary will have a total of 17 million doses of Western vaccines, including 6.1 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, 5 million AstraZeneca, 4 million Jansen and 1 million Moderna jabs.

Hungary also has plenty of Sinopharm jabs left, but only 40,000-50,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, he added.

Hungary is the only European Union member state that has more coronavirus jabs available than people registering to get inoculated, he said.

As long as there is a shortage of vaccines, it is the state’s responsibility to put an end to it, he said. However, if there are more jabs than applicants for inoculation, it is the responsibility of individuals to register for inoculation, Orbán added.

Hungary, he said, had was at the tail end of the epidemic’s third wave, with an accelerating rate of decline in the number of new infections and a low level of positive tests, he said.

Hungary is in second place in Europe when it comes to the number of first doses administered and in first place in terms of the full vaccination rate, Orbán said.

The prime minister also announced paid leave of ten days for workers who contributed to Hungary’s Covid-19 response efforts. “This is the least they deserve,” he said. The decree specifying the scope of recipients will be published later today, he added.

Gergely Gulyas, the PM’s chief of staff, said workers would not have the option of accepting overtime pay instead of taking time off, as the purpose of the measure was to give them a chance to rest.

Meanwhile, Orbán also announced the launch of a National Consultation public survey on Hungary’s economic recovery.

The aim of the survey is to find common ground on the most important matters concerning the creation of a stable economy, he said.

Orbán noted that the government had launched such surveys whenever it had to manage a crisis, referring to the National Consultations held after the financial crisis and during the migration crisis.

The government envisions a new kind of post-pandemic economy that draws on the lessons of the previous decades, and is preparing for a period of pandemics and mass migration, Orbán said. So Hungary is in need of an economy that provides balance, stability and security for its population not only in times of peace but amidst pandemics and migration, too, he added.

The public will be asked, for example, whether they think the increase of the minimum wage to 200,000 forints (EUR 575) alongside considerable tax cuts for SMEs should happen in multiple phases or in one go, he said. This, he added, required an agreement between the government and the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The government is also looking for backing from the public on a measure allowing parents who earn below the average income to reclaim their 2021 PIT in 2022, Orbán said.

The survey will also touch on the issue of the moratorium on loan repayments, he said, adding that the government and the banking association were debating the next steps concerning the measure.

The public will also be asked about a climate tax Brussels has proposed levying on Hungarian families’ flats and vehicles, Orbán said. If Hungary decides to oppose this, it will find itself in the middle of a fierce international dispute, he said, adding that the government therefore had to have strong backing from the people on the issue. Hungary’s government believes that the costs of the fight against climate change should be borne by the world’s biggest polluters, Orbán said.

The survey will also cover the issue of mandatory migration quotas, “which are back on the agenda, and which Hungary has always firmly opposed.” Orbán said the bloc should suspend its policy of taking in migrants for at least two years “until the pandemic is fully behind us”.

Referring to a recent Hungary-Ireland friendly in Budapest, Orbán said bending the knee on the pitch under the name of fighting racism was “alien to Hungarian culture”. “I don’t symphatise it at all.” There was “no room” for such gestures on sports fields, he said. “Sports is about something else.” In a Hungarian context, bending the knee “is allowed or expected in three cases only: before God, the homeland, or if you’re proposing to someone.” Football players “aren’t expected to kneel but to fight and win, and if they don’t succeed, die standing,” Orbán said, adding that such gestures had been invented by countries with a past of slavery. “The burdens of that past should be dealt with those nations themselves; peoples who had no slavery cannot help out with that,” the prime minister said.

Answering a question about Hungarian fans hissing at the Irish players bending the knee, Orbán said “once you are a guest in a country, try and understand its culture and don’t provoke the locals.” The Hungarian fans reacted to the “provocation” as they usually react, “not always in the most elegant way”, Orbán added.

On another subject, Orbán said that Hungary was better off than countries in the euro zone in terms of reviving employment, with its 4.3 percent rate of unemployment as against 8 percent in other countries. There are over 4.5 million Hungarians with jobs, only 50,000 fewer than in the same period of 2019, he said, adding that before the end of the year the government would have an opportunity to create “twice as many jobs as the virus destroyed”.

Concerning plans to reimburse last year’s personal income tax to average earners raising children, Orbán said that the measure still needed fine-tuning, adding that details would be elaborated once the government had got the results of a National Consultation survey on the subject.

According to preliminary calculations, a total 530-580 billion forints could be reimbursed to about 1.1 million families if Hungary’s GDP growth reaches 5.5 percent this year, Orbán said, adding that this would be a one-off measure “necessitated by the coronavirus epidemic”.

Answering a question about a repayment moratorium on loans due to expire on Sept. 30, Orbán suggested that a new expiry date could be negotiated, but added that there were “big debates” under way with Hungary’s banks. “The banks want most people to resume paying off their debts as soon as possible, while the government wants a reasonable schedule.” At the same time, the idea of loans not being paid off at all was “unacceptable”.

“Hungary has just endured a crisis weighing on families, small businesses … Banks cannot be working to destroy people; they need to set a schedule which is good both for clients and for themselves,” Orbán added.

Commenting on the number of deaths in Hungary due to the epidemic, Orbán said the figure was high, though Hungary was in mid-field based on the list of excess deaths which the EU releases each week. He said the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and government health advisers would make a “post-Covid evaluation” and seek to answer why Hungary was affected differently from neighboring countries.

The people in charge of managing the crisis, he added, had acted to the best of their ability and everything possible had been done to save lives. The government, he said, was prepared for a fourth wave should it arrive.

Orbán said that for the innoculated, the epidemic was over, and he urged the non-vaccinated to take steps to get jabbed. Having investigated the possibility of making vaccination compulsory, the government had decided against doing so, he added.

He noted the government had not ordered any additional vaccines since a vaccine developed in Hungary would be available by the time any new jabs are needed. It is conceivable, he added, that vaccinations would become an annual recurrance.

Referred to the stockpiling of ventilators, masks, PPE, drugs and vaccines, the prime minister said that large stocks should be maintained even if it took years before they were used.

A National Consultation public survey may be launched regarding issues such as building up production and storage capacities required to ensure a stable economy and society, he said. It is also possible that the vaccine developed in Hungary could be commercialised, he added.

Asked why Hungary was no longer involved in EU vaccine procurement, Orbán said that amid much uncertainty about how effective and durable vaccines were, pharmaceutical companies were vying to sell as many doses as possible. Now, he said, it appeared the shelf life was around eight months, though this period varied depending on the vaccine.

Asked about immunity certificates, Orbán noted an EU system had yet to be established, and in the meantime Hungary had concluded bilateral agreements with 13-14 countries on the mutual acceptance of immunity certificates. An EU immunity passport isn’t expected before July, he added.

The simplest way forward would be to add information required by the EU to the relevant Hungarian documentation, with a digital interface containing all the information needed for movement across Europe, Orbán said.

Gergely Gulyas, the prime minister’s chief of staff, insisted that no other document was available anywhere else which guarantees as broad travel as Hungary’s immunity card, adding that most countries in Europe are travel options for protected Hungarians. All neighboring countries, bar Austria, have entered into agreements with Hungary on unimpeded travel for vaccinated citizens, he added.

Meanwhile, Orbán said that nothwithstanding invitations by the Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) to attend closed-door matches, he had refused them on the principle that he should not have privileges unavailable to ordinary Hungarians. Also, he provided PCR tests for every diplomatic trip abroad just as anyone else did, he added.

Asked whether some health-care staff or police officers faced the sack after the ban on dismissals lapsed on June 15, he said it was possible though unlikely. If dismissals did take place, however, steps would be taken to ensure that public safety and health care is ensured. Health-care reform is not on the current agenda, the prime minister added.

Asked about relations between the United States and China, Orbán said Hungary was interested in a form of cooperation between the two countries that benefitted central Europe and led to increased trade and investments rather than a cold war. Asked for his thoughts on China expanding its political influence through economic agreements, Orbán said China’s Fudan University had a presence at five German universities and 24 Scandinavian ones, and also cooperated with Yale University in the US. He said that if these countries were all capable of protecting their national security interests, then Hungary would be too.

Orbán added that as long as his government was in power, it would protect the country from foreign influence.

He said it was wrong to assume that outside influence peddling was limited to certain ideologies. “This is a part of international politics.” “Hungary is also a participant in this, as well as a target, and if it’s a target it will defend itself, be it against Germans, Americans or the Chinese.”

In response to another question, Orbán said he did not believe that the left’s “anti-China rhetoric” could harm Hungary’s foreign policy or economy, arguing that Hungary-China relations were “very strong”.

Even in the communist era, Hungary refrained from weighing in on ideological disputes between Moscow and Beijing because Hungary always believed that its relations with China should be economic in nature, Orbán said.

He said there was also a race within the EU for member states to deepen their ties with China. Germany is leading that race, and Hungary shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to boost its ties with China, either, he said.

On the subject of the planned campus of China’s Fudan University in Budapest, Orbán said the issue really concerned higher education, but the leftist opposition had turned it into a political gambit. Therefore the only way to settle the matter, he said, was to hold a referendum on it once the plans for the campus are complete.

Orbán said the main question was how young people could be given a chance to “hold their own in the Eastern sphere” of the emerging new global economic order.

“We’re not afraid of the communists, since we already defeated them once,” he said, underlining the importance of “pursuing economic cooperation with them”.

Commenting on Germany’s proposal to end unanimous votes on EU policies, Orbán said the bloc’s founding treaty was clear on the areas that required unanimous votes and ones that did not. Changing the voting rules would require an amendment to the founding treaty, which requires unanimous support, he said. “We’ll tell them right now to not even bother getting started on it,” he said. Member states should take powers back from Brussels instead of giving up more in order for the bloc to function well, he added.

Asked about Pope Francis’s upcoming visit to Hungary, Orbán said it was important to remember that the pontiff was both a head of state and the head of a church, for which he deserved respect and an attitude of humility. Given that Pope Francis will be delivering mass at a global event, it will be up to him to decide whom he meets with, Orbán said. The prime minister added that it would be an honour if the pontiff met with him, adding that the government was ready to welcome the pope with humbly.

On the domestic political front, Orbán commented on reports about government members who holidayed on yachts, saying it was not the government’s businesses what kind of boat they could afford. Hungary has introduced rules against conflict of interest and these must be observed by everyone, he added. Asked about whether his son-in-law Istvan Tiborcz should be treated as a public figure, he said it was not his job to take a position on the matter and the court would do so.

In response to a question concerning Lorinc Meszaros, a businessman with close ties to Orbán who tops the list of the 100 richest Hungarians, he said the government had two expectations of people with an abundance of money: to abide by all regulations and pay all the taxes they owe. He said 80 percent of the top 100 richest Hungarians were left-wingers, adding that on the right wing, business and politics were generally not mixed together.

Asked what he would think if he was in opposition and the family of the next prime minister would make billions from European Union and state resources within a few years, he said: “I would advise him to pay all his taxes and stick to the regulations.”

Orbán the special legal order in connection with the epidemic would be scrapped as soon as it was viable to do so, adding that this would be likely after the European soccer championships, by which time it would be clear whether or not a new wave of the epidemic was under way.

Commenting on a recent event involving French President Emmanuel Macron getting slapped by a member of the public, he said the French expressed their emotions more intensely than Hungarians. He said he hoped next year’s general election would take place amid a calm and peaceful atmposphere in the absence of any physical showdowns.

Asked about the highly publicised issue of Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony’s English-language certificate, Orbán said he wanted to stay out of the dispute. Gergely Gulyas, head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said that it’s best if everyone takes a post that matches their level of training.

Orbán said he was not dealing with campaign issues before January, and declined to comment on an election campaign pact between the conservative Jobbik party and the leftists Democratic Coalition.

Asked whether he respected any current opposition MPs, he said there were certainly some he respected but he did not want to harm them by naming them.

Leave a Reply