“Freedom Is Not the Property of the Liberals”
Hungary’s controversial prime minister Viktor Orbán gives his first interview to an American journalist.
You have given [central bank] Gov. Andras Simor a really hard time. He seems like a distinguished civil servant. What's wrong with him?
"Distinguished" depends on your taste, but he is a good servant. He stays. Nobody would like to push him out. It's impossible.
It sends quite a signal when you cut someone's salary by 75 percent.
Hungary is a poor country. We decided that regardless what kind of office you have if you are a public servant, you have a salary cap for everybody of 2 million forints, which is 6,000 euro [about $7,800] per month.
Didn't you want to put your own person in to run the central bank?
Unfortunately the Hungarian constitutional system is not able to accept who I admire.
You created a Monetary Council, which sets interest rates and is made up of five Fidesz members.
The Monetary Council members are elected by the parliament. I would be surprised if any of them were members of the Fidesz.
You nominated a personal friend to be the head of the National Judicial Office.
She graduated from the same university and was active in the same anti communist student movement that I was. She became a judge and I became a politician.
Are you interested in having a relationship with the United States? How do you think the relationship is going?
We are strategic allies. We belong to the same defense community. Hungarian people voted for NATO membership. We are active in the joint actions of NATO.
Such as Afghanistan and Libya?
As far as I know, American [officials] respect the Hungarian achievements. Delegations from the United States that visit me say they are happy for the cooperation in terms of security, so I think we have good relations. And you have American businessmen here in Hungary.
Why did you change the name of Roosevelt Square?
One corner is the academy, which was created by the person who the square is now named after. The two main buildings are (now) named after the person who is called the greatest Hungarian because of the building of the country. … We have just set up a Ronald Reagan statue in Freedom Square and a George Bush statue will be erected soon here in Budapest.
Why did you reduce the number of churches that could exist here from 300 to 32?
We haven't reduced the number of churches.
Yes you have. There is another Venice Commission report on churches.
If you would like to have a religious community in Hungary, you can do so—no limitation. The freedom is absolute. It's about who gets state money and who does not. If somebody would like to get a subsidy from the government, they must fulfill certain criteria. In Hungary, a high number of communities registered themselves as churches but they were not. They did so just for the money.
They can't all be illegitimate.
No, we said if you want to get taxpayers' money, just come and register yourself. But the number of churches here in Hungary is higher than in Austria or Slovakia.
How can you deregister over 200 churches?
Now 30 are registered.
Originally there were only 16 recognized.
More than 95 percent of the believers are represented by the registered churches.
With the redistricting and the creation of jobs for people who will be in office for nine-year terms—won't you stay in power for a long time?
There will be an election in Hungary in 2014. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose.
But the opposition isn't in strong shape and you plan to run again.
Is it my job to help them become stronger? When we established our party in 1988, it was established for national independence and freedom.
You were much more liberal then. When did you move so sharply to the right? Hungary is a secular country but in the constitution, doesn't it now say that this is a Christian country and that life begins at conception?
Life starts at conception and must be protected from the first moment. That was done by the constitutional court 15 years ago. What we have done is that the constitutional court decision is written now in the constitution.
What about homosexuals?
In Hungary, if homosexuals would like to live together, they can do so under the civil code. But what we call marriage is exclusively for one man and one woman. We are a Christian country. That's a historical fact.
Hungary was a fairly secular country. Is it becoming more Christian?
Hungary is a Christian country. Christianity is the tide. Hungarians are individualistic and pro-freedom. But freedom is not the property of the liberals.
What about the abuse of the Roma [the gypsies] in the countryside?
When I came into power, Hungary was in trouble because we had paramilitary organizations. I banned them.
They have postings on Facebook.
Facebook is an important point because the anti-gypsy and anti-Jewish platform is coming from America. I have asked for help from the U.S. government to shut down the servers, which in Hungary create a lot of trouble for the gypsies. They are Web pages—not Facebook. That is the only radical, organized platform for racist appeals.
Why did you put stress taxes on four sectors, which are mostly foreign owned: banking, telecom, retail, and energy?
Because we have a crisis. In 2010 Hungary was in worse shape than Greece. In order to get out of this crisis, we initiated crisis taxation because we need income.
Don't these taxes dry up foreign investment?
We are flourishing. Just two days ago I opened a Mercedes factory that will produce 1 percent of GDP next year.
Who is going to be the next president? Didn't you say it would be someone to the right of you?
Is there anybody to the right of me? I am always accused of being a bloody rightist person.
Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.