By Bogdan Sajovic
We talked with Hungarian Foreign Minister Pétro Szijjártó about the Central 5 initiative, the Visegrad Group, the cooperation between Hungary and Slovenia, and Hungary’s dispute with the Brussels bureaucracy, among other things.
Can you tell me what topics you will discuss at today’s meeting in Brdo?
The topic of today’s meeting in Brdo will be the fight against the covid virus pandemic. The Central 5 initiative, which consists of Slovenia, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, was created last year precisely because of the pandemic. Today, the foreign ministers of these five countries will exchange views on measures to suppress the pandemic. We need smart measures to suppress the pandemic on the one hand and to return as soon as possible, back to normal life on the other. We are neighbors and we are therefore strongly interdependent, so we need coordination to as soon as possible relaunch the economy, transport, movement of people and goods across the borders. In addition to coordinating measures between the five members, we must also take into consideration Germany, which is the largest economic partner of all five countries.
So the Central 5 project works well?
The Central 5 project works well and mainly because there is no institution, no bureaucratic apparatus. It is about cooperation at the level of foreign ministers, about cooperation in suppressing the covid pandemic, and restarting the economy and life in general. The cooperation under Central 5 so far has proved so successful that we intend to continue with it even after the pandemic will pass.
In which areas, both bilaterally and internationally, do Slovenia and Hungary still cooperate?
Cooperation between Slovenia and Hungary is currently very good, with the current Slovenian government. Our Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and your Prime Minister Janez Janša are bound by personal friendship and mutual respect. In such cases, when it comes to good personal relations between prime ministers, cooperation between countries is usually very successful and much easier.
We are cooperating well with Slovenia in the field of stopping illegal migration to Europe. The problem of migration is crucial for the future of both the European Union and Europe in general. We share the opinion with Slovenia that mass migration to Europe needs to be stopped. Otherwise, we are facing a big problem and severe consequences. Unfortunately, many countries in Western Europe do not share this view of migration, nor does the bureaucratic apparatus in Brussels.
Both Slovenia and Hungary are also in favor of the enlargement of the European Union, so we are cooperating in the rapprochement of Serbia and Montenegro with the European Union and we hope that they will soon join the Union. We are also participating in the process of speeding up the accession negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia for membership in the European Union.
Slovenia and Hungary also share a vision of a strong Europe of strong nations. A union of strong, sovereign nation-states working together for the common good, contrary to the visions of those who want a centralized Europe led by a strong bureaucratic apparatus from Brussels.
Is there any important question that Hungary would like to realize during the Slovenian Presidency of Europe in the second half of this year?
For us, the most important area is EU enlargement. This has come almost to a complete halt over the last few years and Europe is stagnating as a result. The reason for this halt in enlargement is the opposition of some countries in Western Europe, which may also be too far from the enlargement region and therefore see no reason to expand. We see this issue differently and we want the Union to expand to this region as well. Therefore, we hope that progress will be made in the field of enlargement during the Slovenian Presidency.
Hungary has been under frequent attacks by a bureaucratic mastodon in Brussels in recent years. Is Slovenia helping Hungary defend itself against these attacks?
The background to all these attacks on Hungary is our opposition to mass migration to Europe, encouraged by the Brussels bureaucracy. Brussels is not alone in this support for mass migration, there are also some countries in the western part of Europe, the big media and NGOs. As Hungary is a thorn in their side with its opposition to migration, they are systematically attacking us. In doing so, they invent accusations that are completely baseless and have nothing to do with reality. They accuse us, for example, of having a dictatorship in our country, which of course is not true. Democracy rules in our country and all democratic institutions function as in other countries. We reject such insulting and untrue accusations, and the Slovenian government supports us. Your government is also a victim of similar baseless attacks, and only because it also opposes left-liberal agendas.
Some governments and politicians in other European countries are joining these attacks on Hungary, hoping to score some bonus points from Brussels bureaucrats or the big media. The Slovenian government is not one of them.
As far as our government is concerned, we are not committed to the Brussels bureaucracy, but to the Hungarian electorate. We are doing what we think is best for Hungary and we will continue to do so as long as we have the support of the electorate.
Do you think that the people in this region, which has historically suffered centuries of Turkish invasions, are a little more committed to defending our traditions and culture?
Probably, the Hungarian government is definitely committed to defending our Christian heritage, our traditions, and culture. We are aware that mass migrations threaten these traditions and culture, our Christian heritage, on which Europe is founded. The more endangered they are, the weaker Europe is. We will resolutely protect our Christian heritage and will not allow it to disappear.
Hungary is a member of the Visegrad Group; are any political activities underway to expand it?
I think the Visegrad Group is the best functioning European regional organisation. Of course, we are very interested in broader integration. To be clear, the Visegrad Four will always remain the Visegrad Four. However, we want stronger integration in the region. That is why we have prepared the V4 + model.
Slovenia is certainly one of the countries that belong to this model of integration. In the summer, there will be a meeting between the foreign ministers of the Visegrad Group member states and the foreign ministers of Slovenia, Austria, and Croatia. These are the countries closest to us and we hope that the V4 + model will come to life.
Technology giants have censored the American president, arguably the most powerful man on the planet. I believe the Hungarian government is drafting legislation that will overcome such censorship in Hungary?
Within the Hungarian Ministry of Justice, there is a committee on digital freedom, whose task is to prevent digital companies from endangering the freedom of the individual. Digitization, on the one hand, increases freedom as it broadens horizons. On the other hand, we are witnessing the restriction of human freedom by censoring users and closing down websites. We observe discriminatory censorship of the expression of conservative, Christian, patriotic, right-wing views…
Given that the European Union was founded on Christian roots, it could be said that censorship of Christian views undermines the foundations of Europe…
An attack on Christian roots is certainly an attack on the foundations of Europe. Discrimination and censorship without the possibility of appeal are also contrary to the fundamental values of the European Union. We will not allow this to happen in Hungary, and that is why this spring the Minister of Justice will send in parliament a draft of the legislation, which will prevent such arbitrariness.
Péter Szijjártó was born on October 30, 1978 in Komárom. After graduating from the Benedictine Gymnasium in Győr, he studied at the University of Budapest and graduated in International Relations and Sports Management. In 1998, he was elected to the Győr City Assembly, where he was in charge of education, culture and sports. He was among the founders and the first president of the Győr branch of Fidelitas, which is the youth organization of the Fidesz party. In 2001, he became vice-president of Fidelitas, and between 2005 and 2009 he was its president.
In 2002, at the age of twenty-four, he was the youngest member of parliament to be elected to the state parliament and re-elected as a Member of Parliament in the 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018 elections.
When the Fidesz party took over the leadership of Hungary in 2010, Szijjártó was the personal spokesman for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. In 2012, he became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Economic Relations in the Office of the Prime Minister and at the same time chaired eight government economic committees.
In 2014, he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
He is married and a father of two sons.