When the Cold War ended, Europe remained under American occupation – Orbán

November 22. 2023. – 04:36 PM

When the Cold War ended, Europe remained under American occupation – Orbán
Viktor Orbán speaking at the event of Weltwoche on 22 November 2023 – Photo: Weltwoche / X


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"There should be a Helmut Kohl or a Konrad Adenauer standing here instead of me, but you will have to settle for me", Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán began his speech in Zürich on Wednesday morning, where he arrived at the invitation of the Swiss right-wing populist weekly Weltwoche.

As an introduction to his speech on the crisis he sees in European conservative politics, other than the two former German Christian Democrat chancellors, Orbán also listed several other politicians as his political role models, and said that today, European conservative politics is in crisis, as it is increasingly dominated by progressive liberal politics. In his opinion, this is largely due to the fact that, while, after the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989-90, the Soviet Union withdrew from the European states it occupied, the United States has maintained and even strengthened its position.

"It seems that today, the fate of Europe is chained to America – if they lose ground, we lose ground. We are no longer able to discuss major policy issues with one another, because no one is willing to embrace our values."

– Orbán said, and turning to the war in Ukraine, remarked that a change of policy in the US could leave Ukraine to fend for itself, and Europe would be left with the task of rebuilding the country.

According to the Prime Minister, "we must return to the European idea", the "strategic sovereignty" of the continent must be broadened, and although he considers the European Union problematic, membership in the EU is vital for Hungary. As is its membership in NATO, although, in his view, Hungarians are very envious of Swiss neutrality – Orbán said after his speech during a panel discussion with the editor-in-chief of the newspaper.

A shared problem: the European Union

Roger Köppel, who used to be involved in politics in the populist Swiss People's Party and is editor-in-chief of Weltwoche, which is celebrating the 90th anniversary of its founding, called Orbán "a great freedom fighter and a great European" before the speech. "He knows that just because "European Union" is written on something, it doesn't necessarily mean that it contains Europe." Köppel added that the Hungarian Prime Minister was accompanied on his trip to Zürich by EU Affairs Minister János Bóka, Minister for Economic Development Márton Nagy and Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó – but former Czech president and PM Václav Klaus was also present for Orbán's speech, as were several Swiss conservative politicians.

After the words of praise, Orbán began his speech by saying that in many parts of the continent, the progressive-liberal European mainstream now stigmatizes anyone who puts forward a conservative agenda. "It's exceptional that here in Switzerland one can speak so freely," he said, and then briefly reflected on the links between Switzerland and Hungary – bringing up the refugees of 1956 and the Hungarian playing cards depicting Swiss figures.

We are familiar with the Swiss legends, and we are also romantic souls – we know that the Swiss state, like the Hungarian, was created by a blood oath. To be more up-to-date: there are 900 Swiss companies employing 30,000 Hungarians today", Orbán said, and then moved on to the political part of his message.

“What I would like to talk about now is our common problem: the European Union. Although your country is not a member of the EU, you are Europeans, and the decisions made in Brussels have an effect on you too. (...) My thesis statement for this morning is: Europe has lost its capacity for self-determination.”

– Orbán said – "It cannot define what its goals are, it is not capable of achieving those goals, it is not able to act in a sovereign way." The Hungarian Prime Minister then launched into a lengthy exposition on history.

He says that before the First World War, Europe was still able to do this, which was one of the reasons why Western civilisation was able to gain a foothold on other continents. The two world wars, however, weakened the European powers irreversibly, and after 1945 the continent and the world became dominated by two non-European powers. "The western half ended up under American, the eastern half under Soviet occupation."

However, while the Soviet occupation only had negative consequences, the Americans helped restore the continent – but Europe's politicians did not copy the American model to a tee. “Cowboy capitalism was foreign to Europe, and they wanted to take a different path on democracy as well. This became known as the Christian Democratic way, the essence of which is: how to incorporate the concept of the common good into competition.”

What will happen if America leaves Ukraine behind?

According to Orbán, while the Soviet Union withdrew from the eastern half of Europe at the end of the Cold War, the "American occupation" essentially continued – and the Christian-right course set by Ronald Reagan was replaced by a progressive-liberal American domestic policy. This has also meant that the conservatives have lost their allies and, in time, 'there was no top politician left on the European conservative side to lead the way'.

“It seems that nowadays the fate of Europe is tied to America: if they lose ground, we lose ground. But the Americans are very clever at presenting an American value as a universal value. We are no longer able to discuss major policy issues with one another, because no one is willing to embrace our values.”

– the Prime Minister said. According to him, the United States is "spreading progressive-liberal values all over the world", even though in recent years, US foreign policy has also lost ground worldwide. And this presents a particular risk for Europe, Orbán said:

“Here’s the war between Russia and Ukraine. But what happens if there is a political change in the US? Then the Americans will switch to a new political path and we Europeans will be left with a ruined state that we would have to rebuild.”

The Commission is an employee of the member states

This is why, according to Orbán, the European idea of "strategic sovereignty" needs to be brought back. "The French call it strategic autonomy, but we are essentially talking about the same thing," he added. But this would require strong political leadership – which is not present.

"We cannot expect change from a bureaucratic institution. Sure, institutions are needed for European cooperation – but it seems that today these are not solving the problems they are supposed to solve.

I noticed that the international press often writes that the European Commission is in charge of leading the EU, when they are just our employees who are supposed to implement our decisions."

– Orbán said.

In the panel discussion that followed his speech, the Prime Minister elaborated on how he believed that the breaking point within the EU was primarily brought on by Brexit: "Europe has two great traditions: the Roman imperial one and that of the nation-state. Until the departure of the British, there was a balance between these two traditions in the EU: the German-French axis wanted to centralize power to create an 'ever closer union' – while the British and the Visegrád Four were strong enough together to prevent this.

The rule of law, the conditionality mechanism, shared economic governance – these could have never been on the table when the British were around, because they certainly would not have been accepted.

But the British are gone and we have no ability for blocking. We are now at a point where, although Hungary's level of development is three-quarters of the EU average, we have become net contributors because we don't get EU funds."

However, Orbán argued that the common market makes it vital for Hungary to stay in the EU – and on top of that, beginning next July, Hungary will hold the rotating presidency of the EU Council, which will allow the government to influence the EU agenda. To be safe though, Orbán advised the Swiss: “If you want to join the EU, think twice.”

A false description of the war in Ukraine

During the discussion, Orbán was also asked why he had attended the One Belt, One Road forum in Beijing, where he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. “Let me make a point about hypocrisy: the Westerners were there too, only it wasn't prime ministers – but a former French president or a special German envoy. Meanwhile, the Americans have doubled their energy purchases from the Russians. And just take a look at how and why Kazakhstan's indicators of foreign trade have soared.”

According to Orbán, there are currently two schools of thought competing in the global economy: one is that the West needs to reshape its economic relations to intensify ties with similar democratic states – this is known as decoupling. The other advocates for more cooperation, just like Orbán: "If the separate blocs known from the communist era were to return, it would not be to our advantage." He said that he believes Hungary can be a good partner both to the East and to the West, as shown by the example of Debrecen, where several Chinese battery factories will be built near the BMW plant.

Orbán did not discuss his meeting with Putin, but he did talk about his views on the war in Ukraine: "We are talking about clear aggression, but we have to ask ourselves, as Europeans, how do we solve this problem? In the case of Crimea, we said: let us localize the problem. And that solved the issue for a while.

Now, during the conflict about Donetsk, they started globalizing the problem, and that has been bad for everyone."

– Orbán said.

This theory is wrong in that on 24 February last year Russia did not launch a war for the Donetsk region, but sought to occupy all of Ukraine, taking its troops as far as the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv.

The Prime Minister said that a Plan B on how to continue supporting Ukraine should be put together and that a ceasefire should be reached with the Russian side as soon as possible. “We see the suffering of the Ukrainians, my heart goes out to them, and there are Hungarians being conscripted in Transcarpathia too, our Hungarian sons are dying in this war. That is why we must stop this as soon as possible.”

He isn't thinking about when to retire

During the panel discussion, they also asked Orbán about his migration policy. He said: 'This should be stopped with force. We need police, the military, border guards, weapons, a fence. Crossing a border illegally is against the law. (...)

I am not trying to dismiss the humanitarian aspect – these are people in an extremely difficult situation. But Europeans need to provide the necessary support to where they are coming from, instead of letting them bring the problem here."

He said that he had been labeled the "black sheep" of European politics because of the policy he announced during the 2015 refugee crisis, when all he said was that it would be too big a risk to let so many people into Europe unchecked. “The influence of the Christian religion and philosophy has lost a great deal of its relevance in Europe – whereas it would be extremely valuable when it comes to integrating refugees. But now we think that a weak Christian culture is able to integrate a strong, confident Muslim culture with much stronger beliefs. But this only leads to parallel societies – which I think is too risky, not to mention the risk of crime and terrorism.”

There was also talk of the similarities Orbán sees between Switzerland and Hungary: “My house is my castle. I follow the laws, I pay my taxes, and expect to be left alone. But there is another, more emotional common ground: neutrality. Hungary is not neutral, we are part of NATO, but we like neutrality very much. Due to our geographical position we cannot afford it, but we are very envious of the neutrality of Swiss policy.”

To a question about what he thinks of politics as a profession, he said

"It's not about a career. It drives me crazy when I hear a politician talk about a career. You can talk about a career in the entertainment industry, or in business, but politics is a service – and this is why it would be strange to talk about retiring."

"I spent thirty years in football teams’ locker rooms, and there I learned: it's not about how you can be useful to yourself, it's about how you can be a useful part of the team. Surviving in Brussels is not easy, handshakes are not always sincere – but sport helps. And so does family. I've seen people far more talented than me fall apart without a solid background." In the end, Orbán remarked that keeping the family together at Christmas will be a challenge for him too.

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