Immigration and the Preservation of European Culture
(Dr. László Szabó, May 9, 2018)
Transcript available below
Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán stated at the end of last year: “we can say that for as long as the national government leads the country, we shall work intelligently, calmly but uncompromisingly to ensure that our homeland remains a Christian culture and a Hungarian country. And we shall do our utmost to ensure that Europe remains European.” Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party won a sweeping victory in parliamentary elections on April 8th, guaranteeing him another term in office.
About the speaker
Dr. László Szabó, physician, businessman, politician and diplomat, has served as the Ambassador of Hungary to the United States since July 2017. Prior to coming to Washington, Ambassador Szabó served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade from 2014 until his appointment as Ambassador to the U.S. In 2014, the Government of Hungary decided to place trade and investment at the forefront of its foreign policy and looked for a seasoned business leader with widespread international expertise to steer the Foreign Ministry in a new direction. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó approached Dr. Szabó directly for this position.
Ambassador Szabó graduated from Debrecen Medical University in 1990 with a doctorate in medicine and practiced as a surgeon for several years. In the early 1990s, he shifted his career to the pharmaceutical industry. He spent more than 20 successful years in pharma and served in numerous international leadership positions, including Country Manager for New Zealand and the South Pacific, and Vice President of China Human Resources at Eli Lilly, the Indianapolis-based U.S. pharmaceutical giant. He also worked as CEO of Hungarian Operations at Teva, a major Israel-based pharmaceutical company.
Robert R. Reilly:
Well I’m very happy to say we have another renaissance man to speak to us tonight because Dr. László Szabó is not only an ambassador, he is a medical doctor, a physician, a businessman who worked in the drug industry and of course in the political life in Hungary and prior to coming here he served as the Deputy Foreign Minister in Trade.
He’s been here as ambassador since last year and I won’t go into the rest of his background which you received in the invitation. I am just going to ask him to come to the podium as he speaks to us tonight on the subject of “Immigration and the Preservation of European Culture: An Hungarian Perspective,” Ambassador.
Ambassador László Szabó:
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m humbled to be here and it’s great to be here also. Your wine is actually almost as good as a Hungarian wine. Thank you very much for this. My task is very, very difficult because I actually always give the same speech.
We are talking about the great inventions of Hungarians from bubbly water to the transformer, the electric engine, the Rubik’s cube, holography, the carburetor, the Ford T-Model, the first computer in the world, Hollywood, which was founded mostly by Hungarians – the only exception was Warner Bros. They were Czech.
So I can go on for days basically but we prepared this presentation especially for you, so this is the very first time I present these few slides and I’m not using PowerPoint because I hear that there are some IT people in the room, right? Anyway, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel were also designed by a Hungarian called Charles Simonyi but PowerPoint was not.
That’s why I’m using Prezi. Prezi is the name of the game. Prezi is one of the few Hungarian companies that made it global. They basically came here to the United States to do sales and marketing because we are not good at it but the developments they did in Hungary. That’s the good news. That’s a good business model. Everyone does what they are better at.
So what I’m going to show you tonight is a few slides of what we believe is quite important to understand and the rest of the world doesn’t seem to understand.
You probably know this joke that a gentleman wakes up early in the morning and he gets in his car, goes on the highway, turns on the radio and the radio says, “Oh, watch out, watch out, there’s a crazy man going against the traffic.” And he says, “One? It’s all of them!” So sometimes we feel like this in Europe when it comes to migration and that’s why I’m actually very pleased.
It’s a pleasant surprise that you are here, Sebastian, because I didn’t expect such an expert here. So whatever I tell you tonight he knows better, okay? I hope I can translate [to] you the thinking of the Hungarian government, the thinking of the Hungarian people also and maybe we can have a good discussion about this.
I was told by Director Reilly that I have approximately one hour so I will try to kind of try to not abuse your patience. I can talk forever on this theme because in my previous job I was the Deputy of the Foreign Minister of Hungary. Officially, it’s called the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The reason why I say that is I was the one who was responsible for the ‘and trade’ part. My job was to establish trade diplomacy in Hungary and to make sure that all the government resources that have to do with export promotion and investment promotion are under one roof so that was my job.
So I’m not a politician and I’m not a diplomat, okay? So if you came to see a politician or a diplomat, go home. What I brought here today is not a funny, and it’s not a jolly, theme and I would just like to show you the thought process, how the Hungarian people think. I can see a few Hungarian people here also who are disguised as American citizens but don’t be misled. 1.7 million people in the U.S. believe that they are either Hungarians or they are of Hungarian origin. So watch out. Watch your back. There might be Hungarians around you who will invent something for you.
This is a quote from our Constitution. Our Constitution says that we are a Christian country. It sounds like a simple thing but not many countries have this in their constitutions. In Europe we are the only one, actually. And this has actually raised quite a few eyebrows. How come you say that you are Christian? What about the Muslims? What about the Jews? What about everyone else? Well, Hungary is actually a very tolerant and very colorful country. We have lived with Muslims for more than seven hundred years together. We have lived with Jews also for a very, very long time.
Sometimes, I used to quarrel with my Israeli colleagues at Teva because I was the CEO of Teva in Hungary: who came first – because we believe Israel was established by a Hungarian also. His name is Theodore Herzl. He was born in Budapest by the way. So this is the Hungarian Constitution, a sentence from the Hungarian Constitution – two sentences actually. So we state that we are a Christian country and we want to stay a Christian country. And that’s a big deal these days. But this is not against anyone. This is about identifying ourselves and our values and our culture, so that is what it is. It’s not attacking anyone and it’s accepting everyone else. In Hungary there’s I believe 26 recognized religions and people every year when they submit their taxes they can decide which church they can donate 1% of their taxes. So even the Muslims are listed there and many other religions are named. So it’s not an exclusive statement. It’s a statement of our identity overall.
We believe that there’s big problems in the world right now. Practically, if you look at the whole world globally white Caucasians and Christians are a minority. That’s very clear. But European Judeo-Christian culture and American Judeo-Christian culture is basically rooted in Europe obviously and now we believe that this identity is being attacked quite fiercely by… not Islam because I wouldn’t like to generalize but certain members of the Islamic faith.
Right now – and I have had arguments even with the ambassador of the European Union about this – in our view and based on Open Doors, which is a religious association providing data about persecuted religions in the world. They believe that out of five people who are harassed or persecuted for their religion, four [are] Christian. Four out of five are Christians, so this is something we have to take very seriously. Right now, 200 million are persecuted because of their Christian identity and only in 2016, in one year, 90,000 Christians were killed because of their religion, because they were brave to say that I’m a Christian.
In the Middle East a hundred years ago, one third of the population was Christian… one third in the Middle East. Now, it’s 5-7%. That’s what it is. And the majority of those people disappeared in the last five years mainly due to the activities of ISIS. Only in Europe, and this is something new, the rate of terrorist attacks doubled in the last three years. So since this migration crisis started the terrorist attack rate has doubled. And 28% of all those terrorist attacks were either performed by illegal migrants coming through the borders, the open borders in the past two or three years or [they were] first or second generation migrants whose families never integrated into the European and Christo-Judaic traditions or environment.
We believe that it’s not only us as human individuals but also our culture is under challenge. Quite clearly those- or most of those individuals who come in are Muslims. That’s very clear. And they don’t want to integrate. So even the Turks in Germany where they actually contribute to society because many of then have very good work. They actually do benefit German society. Even they will not give up their religion and they try to actually have more and more people to be turned into Muslims. But the second and third generation migrants are also- especially the ones who live in poverty or they have not integrated fully into society or don’t speak the local language- There are second or third generation people who don’t speak the language- They are the ones who actually revolt. And they go against Christians and Jews in the streets of Paris, Brussels, Stockholm, and many other places.
All of you have heard about Angela Merkel’s Wilkommen-School tour. She’s basically- You are welcome if you say you are a Syrian, you are welcome. I was there, and I’m sure Mr. Gorka was there, when this whole migration crisis really picked up. This migration has been going on for hundreds of years so what changed in 2015 was the rate. Basically, the rate of illegal migration has not only doubled but it went on an exponential curve, and in the year 2015, Europe realized that there was a problem at our hand. But not [the] whole of Europe realized that it was actually the southeastern border of Europe that realized that there’s a problem.
I was there in December 2014 in Brussels at the European Foreign Ministers meeting when I had the chance to say, ‘Guys, something is going on here. The year before we had only two thousand illegal migrants. This year we have had almost a hundred thousand.’ So something has to be done because this is becoming serious. And those people who come- 90% are young males. You can call it with a malignant note ‘military-aged men’ between 15 and 35. And they don’t want to give a fingerprint. They say their religion prohibits that. They don’t want to have a photo taken because their religion prohibits that. They only want to go meet Angela Merkel and have the subsidies in Germany and in Sweden. That’s all they want. And they don’t have papers. They don’t announce who they are. They lie to us most of the time. And they would like to just go through. And there’s quite a significant problem with that wish.
It’s not only migrants who come through the border. Of course there are asylum seekers and there are real refugees as well so I’m not disregarding the fact that there are serious problems in Syria and obviously in 2014, ’15, ’16 there was incredible massacre in Syria and those people do need humanitarian help so there’s no question about it. The challenge comes when these people reach the first safe place. Based on the Geneva Convention once you reach a safe place and you have been persecuted due to your religion, your identity, your beliefs, then you are eligible for humanitarian help. Once you leave that safe place and you go through safe countries, you are a migrant. And if you go for the best place possible because you want high subsidies or you want a good job for yourself or you just simply want to be better, you become a financial migrant, an economic migrant. That’s basically the Geneva Convention statement.
So we have had actually problems from the very beginning of this migration crisis that when in 2015 four hundred thousand people marched through Hungary, we didn’t have a border control opportunity even though we were obliged by the European Union to check everyone’s identity. And if they don’t have passports, they don’t have papers, they have to ask for asylum and there’s a process.
There’s an order to how to protect European external borders. It was actually mandated by the European Union to us that whichever country is on the outside border of the Schengen Zone, you have to protect the external borders of Europe. and the rules are basically including in the Schengen Treaty and the Dublin Regulations regulate those ones who ask for asylum.
You register them. You practically create a document of their identity so that you can follow on later on what happens with those individuals. They didn’t want to comply with that. So four hundred thousand people marched through Hungary and we were trying to do statistics: 6% of those four hundred thousand people were from Syria. 6%. Seventy thousand people came from Afghanistan. Not the best friends of the U.S. I’m afraid. Seventy thousand people.
And what we heard from Western Europe and what we heard even from America, from the United States that ‘Guys, guys, you have to be helping these people. You have to let them through. They don’t want to stay in Hungary. Let them through. Let them go through to Germany or Sweden where they want to go.’ We said, ‘Okay, fine, let’s go Chancellor Merkel.’ I was there are this teleconference and the Minister Lazar was the head of the cabinet of the Prime Minister called Angela Merkel. And we asked Angela Merkel, ‘So what do we do, Madam Chancellor? Should we let them go through or [do] we keep the rules?’ She said keep the rules. The Schengen Treaty and the Dublin Regulations are in place. You keep the rules. That’s your job. Five days later she was out in the press and she said, ‘Welcome, welcome. If you are Syrian, welcome.’ Obviously, this was due to internal politics of Germany at that time. And she couldn’t get out of that without losing face so that took quite a long time for Germany to realize what was going on.
I could show you photos, hundreds of thousand of photos where people of Germany have actual feeling of guilt from back then from the Second World War. They want to show the world that they are a welcoming people. And they want to make sure that everyone who is running for their lives or for their political beliefs they have to have a place in the civilized world, ao it’s a big mistake and a big misunderstanding of what was going on.
Once we started to set up the border control, once we tried to set up the filtering so we can maintain the rules and the regulations of the European Union, it turned out that practically all people are lying who reach our borders. They didn’t know how it comes that everyone is born on January 1st, 1970, everyone was named Muhammad, and everyone was born in Mosul. Everyone. Because they were told what to tell us. If they showed up in Belgrade in a certain bank, they said, ‘Hey, I just came with this boat from Turkey. Here I am. I have no papers, no identity.’ They were given a mobile phone and five thousand Euros. Not everyone of course but the ones who were informed in time and they followed someone else’s kind of rules of engagement. So very scary, very scary situation.
Once we set up those stricter border controls, we realized that on the Serbian border and then later on the Croatian border every single day we had three tons of passports that were thrown away and they were not Syrian passports. But what we heard from those people [was that] 60 [to] 70% of them claimed that they are Syrians. So the numbers did not add up, obviously.
So what happened? The Hungarian government started to build a fence. It’s not the nice thing to build a fence unless you have a really lousy neighbor. We started to build this fence: first one line, later on two lines and we really wanted to make sure that we could keep the borders. We did not close down the borders ever. So anyone who came through the official border crossing stations could come through, legally.
What we tried to reach we closed down the border for those who want to march through the fields and want to sink through the rivers and who want to go through corn fields and wheat fields. Those are the ones we wanted to stop and make sure they go through legally as we are mandated by the European Union through the official border crossing stations. Of course, they didn’t like it.
There were some very unfortunate situations emerging from that. So when you read The Washington Post or when you read many of the German or French or British daily papers, these were the type of pictures you were shown, and journalists in Germany – we know this from journalists – were told not to use the word migrant. They had to use the word refugee. Photographers, the reporters, had to take photos of the few women and children who were trying to cross and not about the young men who were trying to break down barriers and just simply march through our countries.
This particular picture, we have the story of this picture. It was taken at the fence. So imagine there’s fifteen photographers in front of this lady. This is the fence. And the fence ends about here. So these are the types of things we were kind of trying to fight with.
Also, many of you might remember this terrible photo where there’s a policeman leaning down to a lady who’s holding her child and there’s a gentleman, an Arab gentleman, who is reaching for them as well and the subtitle of that picture was that the brutality of the Hungarian police is shown in this picture where the policeman throws the lady on the rails with her poor baby. It turned out that this was just a frame from a short video that was taken. In that video it’s clearly seen that this Arab man throws the mother and the child on the rail and the policeman is leaning down to help her up. Hungary won a trial against the Austrian paper that published that picture that went around the world. Have you heard about the result of that trial? And whenever a Hungarian official, a Hungarian government official, wants to go to The Washington Post and say, ‘Guys, this is not true. Can we tell our side of the story?’ They say, ‘I’m sorry. No.’ For nine years, a Hungarian politician could not give an interview to The Washington Post or The New York Times.
Okay, so these were the pictures we saw. This was shown by Hungarian TV and even though Hungary was criticized that we don’t have a freedom of press, we actually do. We actually have a wonderful Hungarian journalist here with us from a Hungarian – how do you say telegraph? – the Hungarian National Press Agency. So she knows exactly what I’m talking about quite clearly. Were you ever told which words to use and which words not to use? That was done in Germany not too long ago. So this is what we were facing with.
As soon as we started building a fence and we said, ‘Guys, you can come through but here’s the gate. And please don’t ruin the gate. Knock on the door and we will let you in as the rules are telling us.’ Obviously, this last story started in 2015 and this is- This lady- This is a real story. This lady is now 15 years old. She lives in Sweden in Stockholm and in Stockholm there’s no no-go zones, officially.
I was there in 2015. I was told that Hungarians are fascists, they are rebuilding the Iron Curtain, they don’t know what they are doing, and they are completely not human while in Stockholm, in certain districts of Stockholm, the ambulance could not go in to those districts without police escort. The metro, the subway, stopped after 6:00 PM because it was not safe for the drivers. In certain districts of the city where wealthier people live they stopped the public transport to go there. They’d rather [unintelligible] cars for the gardener and the maid so that nobody else will approach them in certain districts of Stockholm. This is how they live in Stockholm today. They let in 160,000 people in 2015. They decided that only 80,000 of them will get asylum in Stockholm and they informed the other 80,000 to go home. Do you think they know where they are now? Because the Swedes don’t. They disappeared.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán proposed some activities to the European Union because obviously the European Union had no idea what to do. Instead of managing the problem they were trying to manage the symptoms. There’s a joke and I note it might be inappropriate so I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings with this. But I have told this joke in Brussels, in Stockholm, in Munich quite a few times. Imagine that there’s water leakage. So two men are standing in a room and they say ‘hey the water is dripping here so let’s do something. Let’s find a pipe. Let’s close the pipe. Because this water will ruin this room.’ And the other person says, ‘No, no, no, no. We should decide how we will distribute this water in the other rooms.’ And this is what has been going on in the European Union for three years. Three years.
What we proposed is that why don’t we go and close the pipe? Why don’t we help those poor people who really run for their lives who need humanitarian help in Syria, in Lebanon, in Jordan? Let’s go there and let’s spend our money there. So that we first of all get rid of the war, we put things back in order, and we create a meaningful future for those people. Let’s build schools. Let’s build hospitals. Let’s create jobs for those people so that they have a meaningful life so that they will not have to leave their country. Let’s not import the problem with these people to Germany or Sweden. Now Sweden is planning how to increase taxes so that they can provide for those 80,000 people, officially, whom they want to maintain. Do you know how many people have jobs out of this 1.6 million who went to Germany? Five thousand. Five thousand.
Okay. We did not only have to deal with the problem of illegal migration but also we had to deal with politicians, with NGOs, and with the EU establishment, which is a Left Liberal-leaning leadership of the European Union. It was not easy because we had really this very strange, schizophrenic situation. Whenever I talked to those politicians officially, they were calling us fascists and inhuman. As soon as we left the room and had a glass of water together, they said, ‘you know I envy you for this, for what you say. You are doing the right thing.’
When I met with white politicians in Stockholm they said, ‘yeah, it’s unacceptable what you do.’ When I asked back, ‘so how come that before that Hungarians built that fence, you are criticizing us? Two years before us you built a fence from Swedish steel with Ericksson technology on the Turkish-Bulgarian border and that was financed by the European Union, so that was kosher. Our fence is not kosher. Can you explain this?’ Of course, red faces. As soon as I leave that room and I met with businessmen from Stockholm, they said, ‘can I ask for asylum in Hungary because life is unbearable here? And I know that my investment in Hungary is safe, so thank you [for] what you are doing.’ We heard the same.
All the engines of Audi cars are manufactured in Hungary. Many of the Mercedes cars are manufactured in Hungary. And what the German investments leaders said, ‘danke’. Thank you very much. So we have had this really schizophrenic situation since then: lots of criticism and lots of praise. The praise was usually unofficial.
A poll was conducted by a Hungarian think tank. I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “I only believe in those statistics I fake myself.” So this was done by Hungarians of course, but even if you halve these numbers, I think they are quite meaningful. This says that– it was Századvég. This is just for Sebestyén. All the nations of the European Union were surveyed and 78% of EU citizens say that there is a problem with migration and border control should be really repaired of the European Union. More than 80% of them think there will be more terrorist attacks happening in Europe. Let’s not forget in the last three years, three hundred people died due to terrorist attacks.
Hungary is being criticized even today, earlier today by the State Department for being anti-Semitic. Can you imagine how Jew-friendly those people are who are now in Germany – over 70,000 Afghans or these I don’t even know how many millions of Muslim people? They are not really Jew-friendly. In Hungary, Jewish organizations measured 18 cases of anti-Semitic speech. And nobody talks about the lady who was killed, the Auschwitz survivor who was killed by her neighbor in Paris. Nobody talks about it. It was just one piece of news. And thank you very much. People are being killed for being Christian and Jews in Europe and we are spending time and energy and American taxpayers’ money on criticizing Hungary for being anti-Semitic.
Today at noon, I had lunch with the two leaders of the largest Hungarian Jewish association and I talked to them about this and they said, “Laszlo, in Hungary there is no anti-Semitism.” Okay? There are a few anti-Semitic people, yes. But since the Hungarian government has zero tolerance and it’s in the law, it’s in the Constitution that we have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism, it’s not there. It’s just simply not there. Anyone who says that Hungary is an anti-Semitic country is a liar or just simply didn’t read the news of the last twenty years. And this what we are dealing with: fake news. I’m not trying to bring quotes from President Trump but the news [outlets] are not fair and the news [reports] are distorted. Maybe on both sides. I don’t know… except for Fox News maybe. By the way 20th Century Fox was established by a Hungarian. William Fox, that was the name.
Okay, so basically, there’s a growing concern and it’s not a surprise that Macron was elected in France – out of nowhere. Nobody knew where he was. He arose basically as a non-partisan candidate and in three months he became the most popular politician of France. The recent elections of Poland, Austria, in Italy… I could go on… Czech… People are not stupid. You can tell nice things for them for a year or two maybe but sooner or later they will realize that their life is changing and the culture is changing and the religion is being stolen.
In 2015 until September every single day 80,000 people marched through Hungary and we had no idea who they were. When we tried to give them help, they didn’t accept it. When we told them that there’s hotspots where they can have accomodation, they can have food, they can have medical care, and the kids can have education, they said, ‘not interested’. We want to go to Germany.
Once we built that fence – it’s not a nice thing but we did build it because otherwise we couldn’t keep the rules and the regulations of the European Union – this 80,000 went down to 10,000 per day. And we actually captured them; even that ten are captured because we made sure that that legislation is following reality. Since 1956 no terrorist attack in Hungary [has] happened. No women have been harassed by migrants in Hungary and no pressure on our social system has happened since then. Those who came to Hungary left because they did not get subsidies you can get in Germany.
In Germany, I heard a story and this is about three weeks old story. Bigamy, to have multiple wives, is prohibited. They made an interview, the German television, made an interview with a gentleman who has two wives. One of the wives was thirteen when he married her. Underage marriage is also prohibited and legally persecuted in Germany otherwise. And they have six kids altogether so it’s a nice, happy family. They receive 30,000 Euros per month from the German government. So sooner or later they will have a problem.
Instead Hungary created the Hungary Helps program. I told you about managing the problem at the root cause. We are really trying to help where the help is needed. Instead of importing the problem we would like to provide the help where it’s needed. And let me share with you also a very nice example. I actually had a very deep discussion early 2016 with one of the main foreign affairs counsellors of Angela Merkel. He told me that it cost 20-30 times more to provide the same help for a person in Germany or Sweden then in Syria or Lebanon. Or you can turn it around. You can help 20-30 times more people if you provide the help where the problem is rather than bringing the problem to us.
We are the first country probably in the world that established a state securiat for persecuted Christians, for defending persecuted Christians. We are not talking about religions. We are talking about Christians because somehow Christians are forgotten in the Middle East. The birthplace of Christianity is left alone so unless someone helps them and the local governments will not help them. We don’t know what’s going to happen. They will just simply disappear. I told you about this 5-7% Christians who are left. After a hundred years they basically went down to less than one quarter of what they used to be.
We actually created quite significant initiatives of help. And we are trying to work together with USAID to focus our efforts. We are not a big country. We are the size of Indiana with ten million people. We have limited resources but from only $2.2 million we rebuilt a whole village called Telesqof near Mosul. More than a thousand families were able to return after ISIS disappeared from the region.
We also rebuilt three schools and we rebuilt one hospital and we made commitments in Syria to build another hospital from $5 million. Even a little money can go a long way in these countries. We also found out that if you give money for these huge international aid organizations… I’m not diminishing their influence on the world and the fantastic work what the UN or the Red Cross or the Red Crescent Moon is doing for people all around the world, but we just simply didn’t see the effect of the money we pay for those organizations.
So the idea was we help directly those communities who are left behind in the Middle East. And we found out that the only cohesion for these communities is the church. Quite simply it’s the church. Of course you have to trust them. You have to trust the priest and the heads of those churches in those countries. Without trust nothing is working but it turned out if you give only one million euros or two million euros for those communities, this can go a long, long way. They can rebuild dozens of homes. They can reinitiate the lives of thousands in those small communities.
We are not only focusing on the Middle East but also we have activities in northern Africa as well. This is a school that was rebuilt by Hungarians. And these are all local kids. And as you can probably see it’s not only Christians. It’s not only whites. We are open to everyone. So we rebuilt those schools for the local communities and we also rebuilt the hospitals for the local communities.
Now obviously, people are not stupid, especially Hungarians. And we just had elections. I think it was one month ago. And the current Prime Minister and the governing party [were] reelected for the third time with [an] absolute majority. Actually the first two times we lost this absolute majority during the course of the political cycle. We have four-year cycles. But again the trust is obvious quite obvious. It’s obviously not a coincedence because the governing party was quite loud about their desire to defend the people of Hungary and defend the culture and the religion, which was not easily accepted by many other countries but this is the current case.
A new parliament [was] just sworn in yesterday and the new cabinet will be announced probably in the next few days. Quite clearly the people understood that security is one of the major issues and illegal migration has been probably the biggest problem since the Second World War in Europe.
A few numbers about what happened in Hungary in the last eight years. This is in 2010 the government was first elected. It was a quite challenging period because Hungary was just in a similar situation to Greece in 2010. Once we came out of the global economic crisis we had incredibly high inflation, huge debt in the country, and basically what happened is that the government first came up with sectoral taxes. I was sitting on the other side of the table at that time. I was head of [a] pharmaceutical company and I didn’t like that sectoral tax, trust me. It turned out we actually came out stronger from that challenge. What happened is we started paying those extra taxes as the industry and then we sat down at the negotiating table and we agreed with the government that if we invest in the country in research and development, we will be able to deduct those from our taxes. It turned out that we came out stronger from that negotiation than we were before, paying those special taxes.
Also Hungary raised the VAT, the Value Added Tax, the consumption tax to the highest level in Europe because the operation of the government had to be financed from somewhere, obviously. But in return the tax on labor went down. Now we have the lowest personal income tax in Europe, 15%, and the lowest corporate tax, 9%. And if you invest in the country for the first ten years, you get an 80% deduction even from that 9% corporate tax. So that’s quite a big deal.
So that’s why, probably that’s why we have 1,700 U.S. companies in Hungary who invested more than $18 billion U.S. dollars in the last eight years. They employ more than 100,000 people. Don’t tell Mr. President Trump, please. And they enjoy a very good profit. And based on the AmCham survey, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary, they said that 80% of all those companies want to reinvest in the country. They want to continuously invest in this country. Why? Because the workforce is educated. You have to speak a language to graduate in Hungary. If you don’t speak a second or third language, you don’t graduate. You won’t get a diploma. That’s very straightforward. And obviously we have these very low taxes for investment and all over average cost of labor is still very low in Hungary. We hope it’s not going to stay forever but this is still a competitive edge for us.
Now you see look at the numbers. [The] unemployment rate went down from 12% to 3.8%. The GDP growth was minus 8% in 2009. Right now it’s more than 4%. We actually outgrew the average of the European Union two-fold and outgrew the average of the Eurozone three-fold in the last five years. We also introduced some very strange new initiatives. If you make a promise to the government that you will deliver three kids in ten years, you will get subsidies: $70,000. That goes a long way in Hungary. You can buy a nice apartment [in] downtown Budapest or in the countryside you can buy a house from that money. But only half of that has to be repaid with a very preferential rate around 1% interest rate. So this is quite a nice initiative. Also if you have three kids and you have an average salary, you practically pay no taxes. So even this very low 15% will disappear if you have an average salary and if you have three kids. That’s nice. Of course if you don’t deliver your kids, then you have to repay some of that money.
Now what happened in the last eight years and we are talking about [a] very, very slow process. Obviously, the fertility does not grow from one day to the next. The number of marriages went up by 20% in the last eight years. The fertility rate went up 17% and I’m part of that. I have three daughters. The number of divorces went down by 20%. The number of abortions went down by 25%. I believe these are very strong numbers.
Just to finish up my presentation. We believe the fact that we have been a Christian country for more than a thousand years… It matters. This is our identity. We have to build on our history. We don’t live in the past but if you don’t have a past, you don’t have nothing to build on. So that’s why we believe that our identity, our culture, our religion is very important. And again we embrace Muslims, we embrace Jews, we embrace many other religions but you should not herd the other. You should not convert the other. So whoever the freedom of religion we believe is very, very important and we have to stick to that.
And we believe that we also need to provide help, coordinated, synchronized help to those who suffer for their religion. And those people are not sitting in this room or in Hungary. They are in the Middle East and in Africa so if you can do anything for the U.S. to join in to this initiative, it would be great. I know that Vice President Pence is on that route and based on this speech that he gave last November at the conference of In Defense of Christians. I think we are really alike in our initiative to go that way. Trust me if the U.S. joins in very simple things just build schools, hospitals, and meaningful lives for those people, they will not flood the U.S., they will not flood Europe. They will stay where they are because this is where they would like to live. But they have to have a meaningful future. So thank you very much for your time.
Do you have any either proof or suspicion as to what it is that’s behind this migration? Is it George Soros or somebody else?
Ambassador László Szabó:
Regarding George Soros we have proof. We have proof. You have proof also. Google this. Google him. I’m serious. Check out what he’s planning. But when we say, when you put in ‘migration’ and ‘George Soros’, his thoughts will come out. He believes that it would be helpful for Europe to take on one million migrants a year and he believes this is the way to go forward. He doesn’t specify how. He doesn’t specify why. But we also know that several so-called civil organizations are actually heavily financed by him and many of those civil organizations can be identified. They are the ones who provide the leaflets for these people in Arabic langauge about what to say to the border guard. How to lie to officials of Europe. How to get more subsidies out of authorities in Germany or in Sweden. So those are happening and we have proof of that.
And just to follow up what can be done about it?
Ambassador László Szabó:
Well, I didn’t want to go on a too much political level here because I told you I’m not really a politician. But the new parliament of Hungary that was just inaugurated yesterday, the very first law that they want to decide on is called “Stop Soros”.
Thank you very much for enlightening all of us. This is very interesting. What other countries of Europe support Hungary? You mentioned the animosity that some other countries have. Which other countries do support Hungary and want to work together?
Ambassador László Szabó:
This was very ambiguous in 2015. We were practically the only one for a few months to keep the rules and regulations. It was very strange that you are basically singled out and you become the blacksheep of the family while you are the only one to keep the rules. So that’s why I told you about this joke about the guy who goes against the traffic. So it really felt like that. We were embarassed of keeping the rules and being legal.
Quite quickly after that, the Visegrad Four countries, the other three joined in; Czech, Slovak and Poland. Actually, they believe that we are right. Of course they have borders along the Schengen Zone and they were concerned that if these people are coming from the east, we have to defend ourselves. I was there on September 2, 2015 when my minister and the Prime Minister of Slovenia and the Foreign Minister of Slovenia were having a discussion about migration and they said, “Oh, Hungary, why are you doing this whole fence thing? This is so inhuman. This is terrible what you do.” When we said, “Okay, but imagine we are completing this fence in two weeks with the Croatian-Hungarian border. In three weeks in Ljubljana at the train station you will have 50,000 people. What will you do then?” “Oh. That’s an interesting challenge.”
When Hungary started to build a fence in the summer of 2015, Chancellor Faymann of Austria said that this reminds him of the darkest days of the Second World War. He basically called us fascists. Two months later, when Chancellor Faymann started to build a fence, he called that, “Gates with long wings.” Forty mile-long wings with barbed wires on the top. That’s what they built not fences.
Now, if you look at the current chancellor two chancellors later, Sebastian Kurz – this name Sebastian comes back up the time – he believes exactly the same as the Hungarian government, that we have to keep order to make sure that if we have migration, it has to be controlled and any country should be able to decide who lives in that country. If I want more engineers, I want more blue-collar workers, then I send three charter flights to Syria and say okay guys, who wants to work in a pawnshop? Who wants to work in a factory? Who wants to treat German children? Come here, learn the language, and I give you a job. But this is not happening.
And as I just mentioned before, if you see when Italy was feeling sure, they just accept all of those North African migrants from the Mediterranean Sea. They send them off. They put them on buses and trains. Off they go to Germany. Everything was fine. They were criticizing us. As soon as the Austrians and the Germans said no, no, no, no, you cannot send them here anymore. Have you registered those people? We will send them back because of the Dublin Regulation to you, Italy. They suddenly started to support the Hungarian viewpoint. And they said, ‘oh, there are serious problems so Europe help us. We have to stop this migration.’
So this is a gradual process. Of course, the more north you are in Europe, the less of a problem you have. The more south you are… It’s there. If you look at the Moroccan-Spanish border, they have had a fence for I don’t know 25 years? More? Six meter-tall, barbed wire fence and I think there’s two or three layers pne after the other. This was actually supported by the European Union and no one has had a problem with that. And even the Moroccan government supports that fence. They don’t want their people just to leave the country. They want to create a better life for Moroccans in Morocco. And that’s what makes sense.
Mr. Ambassador have you been in direct conversations with church leaders in this country to awaken them to the persecution of Christians and to engage them in helping the persecuted Christians?
Ambassador László Szabó:
We have but we haven’t… We are a very, very small organization. I have two-dozen people here in Washington, DC and another 5,000 all across the U.S. So we don’t have the PR power. We meet on an individual level and our Baptist organization has been helping in Texas when there was the flood and in Florida we were trying to help refugees due to the natural disaster in the south last year. They are constantly in touch with local churches, obviously. And we also joined with the In Defense of Christians organization and initiative. We are organizing a conference with them in June. So I hope that there will be widespread media coverage of that. We are too small and too poor to make an impact here. And for some reason The Washington Post and The New York Times is not helping us. Thank you, thank you.
Mr Ambassador, thank you. Two things: one I can personally attest to the cultural openness of Hungary having been happily married to a Hungarian for twenty years. I have a Slovak last name and I’m half-Italian. My question for you is it seems you’ve been very successful in addressing this as a nation. What advice would you give to our politicians to engage in the average voter in America for something very similar happening here a different context bit a similar issue.
Ambassador László Szabó:
Thank you very much for your kind words. My wife just reminded me in a previous answer I should have told you that we actually had an exhibition at our embassy building about the persecuted Christians in the Middle East. So we were talking about the damage, what ISIS did with the Christian people and with the Christian sanctuaries in the Middle East and we originally only wanted to show this exhibition for one month. We actually took it over from the Hungarian National Gallery. And we were able to convince them to expand this exhibition for another two months. Unfortunately, they are gone now, but we are planning something similar in the autumn. More than a thousand people came to see that exhibition but with that PR muscle of course we could do a bigger impact on that.
And regarding your comment or question, I think we have won the battle but not the war. Quite simply, the problem is still there. The root causes have not been managed but I’m very hopeful with the current initiative of the U.S. government, more and more common sense will come to the picture. Right now, the European Union and the United Nations are trying to make migration a basic human right. We believe that this is absolutely stupid. Absolutely stupid.
So just imagine if I want to come to the U.S., the Ambassador of Hungary, I had to fill in a 15 page document. I had to give my fingerprints, iris scan, photo. They even checked my X-Ray and even an anal examination was part of the test. Would you let in anyone from Sudan or Afghanistan? Whoever wants to live in the U.S. because that’s a nicer place? It’s absolutely stupid so without control, without a mechanism to make this happen to make sure that there is a mutual benefit, this has to be done.
Also, another terrible example, I actually took two high-ranking politicians to the congressional library about six months ago. It was just before Halloween and the director we met expressed his concern that Hungary is handling migration in a very, very bad way because everyone knows that migration made America great. And I told him, ‘you might use the same word, but migration through cornfields and going for subsidies and not having to work and not integrating into society, this is the way we see migration. The way you see migration is basically a controlled, disciplined migration.
When all of these millions of people came from Europe in the ’20s through Ellis Island – I don’t know if you know what happened at Ellis Island – you were checked whether you are healthy. If you have diabetes, go back. If you have cancer, go back. If you are too short, go back. That’s what happened. And we have records of that, very good records, so don’t mix up the two things.
We have to make sure that there is a clear understanding. Who’s a refugee? They need help. Who’s a migrant? Let us decide if we want these people in our country or not. That’s the approach we would like to spread, and I believe there’s more and more politicians who will start to understand this and I am very hopeful that we will be able to find a common tone in the United Nations as well. If not, the United Nations will not have the support of the U.S. I believe there’s a quite major risk.
I think this migration group or collective discussion that was happening in the EU was left behind in the U.S. and it was actually also Hungary who was quite vocal about our opinion. Also there’s discussion between African and European countries and Middle East and European countries as well on how they will manage the out flux of the people from their countries. We believe the aid should really be addressed to the countries who make a commitment that they will either take back those people once they are safe or they will spend that aid of the West meaningfully and create a meaningful life for those people. I think there’s no other way. We are in minority so we have to do something meaningful that will keep those people in their countries and we invite only those nuclear physicists who we want or biotechnologists we want. Have I answered your question?
I have two questions Dr. Szabó. Thank you very much this was a fabulous talk and very informative. Can you hear me? I have a question about [how] divorce and abortion have decreased and I’m curious are you keeping metrics about mass attendance and growth in the Catholic parishes and secondly what about your national debt? You have a lot of subsidies. How is the national debt?
Ambassador László Szabó:
Let me go backwards. Our national debt was 85% in 2010. Now, it’s 72%, so we were able to grow the economy and address the debt burden also. A quite significant chunk of our current deficit, which is actually significantly below 3%, is to repay the debt that was accumulated in the last fifty years. If there was no debt, our current budget would be in surplus right now.
When it comes to Catholic parishes, we have the numbers, but they are not happy numbers. Quite clearly, the most Catholic country in Europe now is Poland. We are really number four or number five on that ranking list and the numbers don’t look good. Young people don’t necessarily go to church. We believe that the church has to rejuvenate itself and make it more relevant itself.
That’s why a lot of what’s happening in the U.S. congregations really provide a social networking as well, kind of a social belonging to each other. We used to live in Indianopolis. That was the place you meet with your neighbors and your colleagues and friends outside of work. So I think this type of cohesive forces have to be created still in Hungary. Approximately 30% of the population is – we call it “reformed” or Reformatik church. About 65% of the people are Catholics. And the biggest majority after that is I think the Jews, and Muslims we have like 3,000. And there are other churches even new churches that grew in the mean time. There’s attention but the numbers are not growing right now so I think we have to do something about that.
A little earlier in your talk you referred to how the State Department is actually funding some of the opposition to your government in Hungary. Are you disappointed that’s still going on under President Trump? And have you made a deal to basically stop it?
Ambassador László Szabó:
I’m very glad about the new leadership of the State Department. It was really a breath of fresh air when Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell got into his position in October. Wess Mitchell actually wrote his book, Unquiet Frontier, the allies of the U.S. who are on the fringes of the U.S. influence and what to do with the Russian threat, what to do with China, and he understands our area very well. And he believes – he actually used the words of Bismarck – he said, “Check out or watch out for Central Europe because they are the ones between East and West, North and South, and their geopolitical importance cannot be overestimated.” So I’m very glad that people like Wess Mitchell, like Brian Hook from the Strategic Department, and hopefully Secretary Pompeo who will understand this.
We still have refusals to high-level political meetings even though Prime Minister Orbán was the only politician who supported President Trump during the campaign. We have not had a meeting, an opportunity for a meeting with him yet. However, the invitation has happened. So I think it’s just a matter of timing when this can come together.
What’s more important that Hungarian soldiers are fighting with American soldiers shoulder to shoulder in Iraq, in Afghanistan, we are defending the Baltic airspace, we have troops in Kosovo, we have heavy airlifting capacities provided to NATO on Hungarian soil and we also have the commitment to raise our national spending for defense for 2% of the GDP. So it’s a plan. This is a plan. This is something we will do very soon. This is very important.
What we also would like to do is reach more synergies with defense in the U.S. We believe it should not be only a transactional thing, ‘buy American weapons. Buy German weapons’. That’s not good enough. I think we have to develop them together. Hungarians are very good at digital technologies. By the end of next year, all family households in Hungary will have high-speed Internet access. We are building the most modern autonomous car-testing track in the world right now. It will be ready also by the end of next year. We have more than 10,000 engineers working on autonomous cars. So I think if we develop defense together also drone technologies, drone deterrance technologies, weapons, we have a lot of knowledge not only in Hungary, in Czech, in Slovak, in Poland. I think if we build on each other, if we synergize, we will be much stronger together. Thank you.
I guess I’m just very impressed by what you showed [unintelligible], particularly the rise in marriage and the [unintelligible] in the abortion rate. As a Greek Orthodox Christian, and being fully aware of how so many Western European countries have reached zero, significant problems with maintaining their own population considering that many of these Muslim families come over with multiple wives. It’s just a question of time. It’s very concerning, anti-Semitism, but just to start with the disappearance of Western Europe. I’m curious. I see, I read constantly of these situations, of these horrors in Sweden, these I think something like 65 no-go zones, the grooming of the girls that was going on in England, of course it was never discussed in The Post, The Times, what have you.
Why do so many Western Europeans still seem to vote these open-borders-people back into power? We seem to see a bit of a switch now. I understand in Austria also there’s more of a pro-Austrian, closed borders government that has moved in. I lived in Vienna for many years. I’d love to see – is there some collaboration going on between Austria and Hungary to strengthen their borders? Also I wonder in Greece – you mentioned that as an area that’s being quite- and I’m very aware of that actually and I discuss that with Greece around here: ‘why do you keep electing these people who are destroying your country?’ So I’m wondering if you will see- Do you feel that in the future, are you optimistic that more and more parties will be elected who- politicians who indeed believe in… saving Europe?
Ambassador László Szabó:
Well, I’m very curious what will happen next year. European Parliamentary elections are happening in 2019. Yes, 2019. So I’m pretty sure there will be a landslide. This migration problem will not go away. Quite clearly, the current leadership of the European Union is Left Liberal. I don’t know if you heard but last week President Juncker went to celebrate the new statue of Karl Marx. Karl Marx. Completely disregarding that 100 million people died because of Communism. And he’s happily hugging George Soros because they are good, personal friends. And if you read the George Soros statement about what should be done in migration, you can read it in the new proposals of the European Union. That’s a three-year old document. The European proposal is two months old.
So I think people are not stupid. And I hope that people with values like yourself will sooner or later realize what’s going on. Again, with Sweden, so that’s my most prime example. This hypocrisy shows people understand. If you close your door and you are with your friends, they think the same as Hungarians. Once they go out to public, they don’t use certain words. They don’t talk about certain things. It’s terrible, really terrible. Living in a lie in your public life. That cannot be maintained forever. So I’m very hopeful and quite optimistic about this.
What we should be spending time on is how to create social housing in Syria, in Lebanon, in Sudan, in Algeria, how to create whole homes for a family for a thousand dollars, how to provide safe drinking water for those people, how to sort out sewage water issues, how to provide food for all of these people in Africa. That’s a big deal. And that’s what we should be spending our time on rather than criticizing each other on the rule of law. Nobody knows what the rule of law is, okay? Nobody. And Poland and Hungary are now criticized for lack of the rule of law. So what does that mean? If the European Union finds us okay, how come certain politicians in the U.S. they don’t think that’s okay. So there’s so much hypocrisy and nonfactual allegations. We are spending time and money and energy on this. If you attack, we will defend ourselves rather than focusing on the real problems of real people. Sorry, I’m being too fierce with you.
So how is Hungary contributing to solving the root cause? You mentioned that you know the safe place that these refugees go to is a neutral state and in the case of Syria, it’s Jordan or Turkey.
Ambassador László Szabó:
Or Lebanon so how is Hungary contributing to keep them there? That way they don’t, you know, go to Europe.
Ambassador László Szabó:
Actually, we have found one level deeper opportunity for ourselves. The big organizations like the UN and the Red Cross are able to have those people in big hotspots. Once they leave the hotspots, they lose their rights to be helped and one particular issue that I haven’t told about is that in those refugee camps, the Christians are harassed by the Muslim refugees because 95% of them are Muslims and they don’t want the Christians around. So in most cases, we have seen many, many families who actually leave the camps and they go to the church or uninhabited places and they try to make a living there but they lost their rights for food and shelter from then on. That’s why we believe helping the churches directly is the best way to do.
I’m not saying, I’m not diminishing the fantastic work what the international organizations are doing. They do a lot. The European Union as a whole created a fund to help Turkey. They have more than three million refugees in their camps, and we are also directly helping Jordan, and Syria, and Lebanon as well but we are a small country, just a tiny bit, just a small drop in the ocean. The more countries join in, the better, obviously. But just simply proviidng help is not enough. We have to be able make them work. We have to be able to convince them to contribute and rebuild their own country.
Hi, Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much and it’s great to see you again!
Ambassador László Szabó:
Great to see you here!
Yes, I just wanted to follow up on the question before about the State Department. Can you give us the status of that funding grant that they have up for $700,000 of U.S. tax dollars to pay for so-called independent media in Hungary because they don’t like the media there? As you know, my colleague and I from the American federation met with representatives from the State Department and they’ve tried to defend it somehow, but I just don’t know what the status is and number two, my daughter married a Swede and we visited two years ago.
They’re in a very nice, upscale neighborhood but I talked to a few residents there about the Muslim and the culture. This is an anecdote but they told me the Muslim families do not want to have children learn about Christianity and Judaism in the school where the school teaches religion just as a subject matter. They will not let them be exposed to the other two major religions. But Sweden is not going to change. I would like to let you know that they are not realizing they let too many in.
Ambassador László Szabó:
Well, regarding this grant that was designed to improve the independence of Hungarian press. [It] has created quite a lot of waves in Hungary because we didn’t believe that we had to be told about democracy and freedom of the press. I had to explain quite a few people at the State Department and in other places in the U.S. government that we love this. Joseph Pulitzer was a Hungarian. He founded the Pulitzer Prize in 1917, a hundred years ago. So we know what independent journalism is.
Now, when it comes to the freedom of press, I also shared the news that if anyone on the other side of the table would have spent two minutes checking out where the largest Internet based news agency sites, pro-government or against-government, who owns and what type of news you can read or you can hear on the largest commercial TV in Hungary? 80% of the people watch that TV. Who has the largest coverage, hard copy media in their hands, pro or against government? It’s [the] opposition. And nobody has been sent to jail because of their opinion in Hungary.
I even was so nasty to say that Hungary is not the country where 31 journalists are in jail for not revealing their sources but I will not finger point about countries where this is happening. So all I ask from our esteemed colleagues on that side of the table is to be fair and objective. If they believe there is something is wrong, tell me the one journalist’s name who could not reveal his opinion or who did not get a page in any paper he wants to go to. There’s none because there is freedom of press in Hungary. It’s that simple.
Robert R. Reilly:
Ambassador. if I may take the privilege of asking the last question: in the United States, perhaps the most vocal critics of the current administration’s refugee and immigration policy are Christian leaders and particularly the Catholic Church. What’s the situation in Hungary regarding that? Are the Christian leaders there also criticizing the Hungarian administration’s refugee policy?
Ambassador László Szabó:
Well, I would go back to my previous comment about definitions. So when it comes to migration versus refugees there’s a strict definition and I believe this is what the church should be thinking about this also. So we believe that as a Christian you need to help the individual who needs help; the individual who needs help. I don’t think we have a mandate to help the political or economic wave of problems. And this is where I believe most or many, many priests of the Catholic Church are divided.
I have talked to priests on both sides. The ones who believe the same thing as the Pope says and some others who are kind of more leaning towards the Hungarian perspective. I’m not saying that the Pope and Hungary don’t agree. We all agree that people in need need to be helped. But it’s a misconception that those hundreds of – well, I should say tens of millions of people who are charging against Europe – those are not people in need of humanitarian help. If they are in a boat about to drown, of course they are individuals who need help. There’s no question about that. If someone is running for their lives because there are five people with guns between them or there are ISIS soldiers with torches who want to burn them, they need help. If someone wants to live in Germany because the subsidies are high there, they don’t need help. As soon as this distinction is basically clear for everyone, I believe we are exactly on the same page.
Robert R. Reilly:
Ambassador, thank you very much.