24.hu interview with President of Hungary Katalin Novák
Where has she contradicted Viktor Orbán? Is her conscience clear after she reprieved György Budaházy? Has she told the Pope that she is releasing the perpetrators of terrorist acts on his behalf? Is she really the good cop of the System of National Cooperation? Would she be on good terms with the Prime Minister even if her name was Klára Dobrev? Can one be independent of the person whose initials one formerly wore as earrings? What has Orbán taught her? Does she argue with him? And why does she need a piano worth nearly 70 million in her office? On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of her presidency, we sent a request for an interview to Katalin Novák, and Sándor Palace gave us an hour to talk to her.
Can we start with a quote from Katalin Novák?
In May, you were in New York at the UN General Assembly, where you gave an interview. You said that at the UN "leaders from all the countries of the world meet from time to time. It's good when we sit down to talk to each other with an open mind and try to understand each other's point of view, which may be different from our own. When we get to the point where the other is listening to us, we have the opportunity to explain why we stand for what we stand for, why we vote the way we vote on a particular issue. On a particular issue, why we say what we say. So Hungarian decisions will be better understood if we don't expect our partners to guess the reason, but try to explain it to them." Am I right in understanding that your role as Head of State is also to explain the Hungarian government's decisions and help them to be better understood by the world?
The Head of State is independent of the government. I do not explain the decisions of the government, but I try to represent the Hungarian people and Hungary. This is my responsibility, and it is laid down in the Fundamental Law. In my opinion, what is happening in Hungary, how we live here, what concerns the majority of the Hungarian people, these are things that are worth talking about. This is also because, in my experience of negotiating with my foreign partners, there is relatively little factual knowledge about all of this. This is because our partners do not necessarily derive their knowledge from factual information.
But is it not a spokesperson's or minister's role to explain the government's decisions?
It's not my job to explain government decisions. If you ask the question a second time, I will answer it the same way the second time. I do not explain the government's decisions. I said that when a decision is made in Hungary, for example when I make decisions, because I am also a representative of Hungary as Head of State, it is not reasonable to expect people to understand the background to a decision I make without me pointing it out.
In this quote, are you not talking about the decisions and votes of the government?
Would I have done that?
You use the plural: "decisions", "we represent", "we say", "we vote".
I spoke as President of Hungary. I make decisions myself, and I do not explain nor pass an opinion on the government’s decisions.
Since you have been in office, have you always agreed with the decisions, statements and vetoes of the Hungarian government?
When did you not agree?
For example, I would have been happy if the government majority had already agreed to ratify Sweden's accession to NATO. It is the sovereign right of the National Assembly to decide on this matter, but I personally think it is time.
Have you said so to the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister?
Do you have any information on what decision will be taken on Sweden's accession to NATO?
I have received a promise from the Prime Minister that Hungary will not be an obstacle to Sweden joining NATO.
In the case of Finland, we have seen that once Türkiye consented to the accession, the Hungarian party quickly became supportive. Will this be the case this time as well?
I cannot predict for you exactly what will happen, but to me the statement alone is important: Hungary will not prevent Sweden from joining NATO. Sweden's membership in NATO is not against our interests, and I therefore support it, just as we supported Finland's membership.
Let me approach it from a slightly different angle. A few weeks ago you represented Hungary at the Council of Europe. A photo was taken in Reykjavík of you sitting across from the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, in a hotel room, and you were apparently chatting informally. Does Meloni, who has a very Atlanticist position on the Russia-Ukraine war, not wonder that, while you have a similar position to her, the Hungarian government's is very different? And why is that?
Giorgia Meloni and I have a very good personal relationship, I would say a friendly relationship, which goes back a long time. The fact that she is currently the Italian Prime Minister and I am the Hungarian President has not changed this. It also follows that we do not hold each other to account for decisions or positions. If only because she can talk to the Hungarian Prime Minister in person at any time. So if she wants to know why the Hungarian government or the Prime Minister takes the position that he does on a particular issue, she can ask him directly. I have no mediating role between the two Prime Ministers. But we do talk about what a challenge it is for a country's leaders to take a position on the war in Ukraine that clearly condemns Russia's aggression, sides with the victims, but does not lead to an escalation of this war conflict. In my view, this is what is on the minds of Europe's leaders: how we can take wise decisions in this situation. And that is not easy.
Did you have to explain yourself because of government decisions during your foreign trips?
I didn't need to explain myself. When I had the relevant information and I could provide an answer, I answered the questions asked. But I also asked questions and got answers. I am on good terms with almost all Heads of State in Europe, and I have had the opportunity to meet a large number of Heads of Government as well. In these meetings, of course, we ask each other questions on issues that we may not fully understand. It is one of the beauties of diplomacy that so much of it takes place behind closed doors, and that is not by chance.
We are now past the first year of your term as Head of State, and perhaps your most striking feature is that you travel abroad a lot, and you are more active in this area than any Hungarian Head of State has been since the system change. Why?
Hungary needs to cultivate intensive and close relations with our allies, and one of the means of doing this is the Head of State. It is also my duty under our Fundamental Law to represent Hungary, and in this sense the Head of State can represent the country at the highest level in diplomacy. I see this to be in the Hungarian interest, which is why I have been focusing on it. On the other hand, we are living in a time when our lives are determined by a number of factors that are happening outside our borders, just think of the war. We are also members of several alliances, and the decisions made in these alliances also affect the lives of the Hungarian people, which means that we cannot be independent of what happens outside Hungary. But there are also Hungarian people living in the Carpathian Basin, in the diaspora, outside the borders of the country, and in this sense our responsibility towards them also dictates that we should maintain good relations with the leaders of the countries concerned. These are just three of the reasons why I see intensive presidential diplomacy as an important mission, but I could go on.
Was it your decision or the Prime Minister’s that you would engage in such intensive activity abroad as Head of State?
It is my decision first and foremost, but it is also not contrary to the Prime Minister's intentions.
Has it been discussed in detail with the Prime Minister - even before your inauguration - that you would have a prominent diplomatic role, a certain a room for manoeuvre for this purpose?
I share my ideas with the Prime Minister from time to time. I meet him regularly and he tells me what decisions he is planning to take. That is the nature of our relationship, or so it has been at least for the last year.
How much do you coordinate with him and with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning when and where you travel?
Since the Foreign Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade are responsible for Hungary's foreign policy, it is important and appropriate that they are consulted, and the same is true for consulting the Prime Minister. We keep each other informed about who is going where in the coming months, if only so that we don't end up in the same place on the same day.
Do you read media that is independent of the government and critical of it?
Of course I do.
Then what I'm saying will not surprise you. It is a recurring epithet used to describe you, not only by the press but also by analysts, that you are the good cop of the Orbán regime. In a team, the good cop is the one who uses softer, more sophisticated, more empathic means to achieve the common goals: these methods sometimes prove more successful than playing hardball. When you read or hear that you are cast in this role, what is your reaction?
It is amusing to read the arguments of someone who obviously lacks the relevant information trying to explain the background to my decisions. When I read these explanations, sometimes I am surprised myself to see the reasons that allegedly prompted me to make a particular decision.
From the outside, there seems to be a logic to this. You are the pro-Western, Atlanticist face of the Hungarian political elite, while the more confrontational Péter Szijjártó operates as foreign minister in the spirit of opening to the East. It is very useful for Viktor Orbán that his regime can speak with more than one voice, especially as the Hungarian government receives a lot of criticism from the West for not seeming to be committed enough in that direction. This seems to be a well-orchestrated dramaturgy with Viktor Orbán in the background.
It's all made up.
There was recently an extensive article on Direkt36 with unrefuted details of your first trip as Head of State. According to it, you went to Warsaw specifically to pacify the Hungarian-Polish relationship, which had been damaged by the war. In your meeting with the Polish President and Prime Minister, you were asked to explain why Hungary was so exposed to Russian energy. Can you confirm that this was indeed your intention when you visited the Polish capital?
Indeed, my first trip abroad was to Warsaw, and I can confirm that it was significant, because I consider Hungarian-Polish relations to be of outstanding importance. It is a fact that since the outbreak of the war, we have seen a more difficult period in Hungarian-Polish relations than in the years before. Since my election, I have tried to do my utmost to nurture a strong Hungarian-Polish friendship. That is why I went to Warsaw then and have visited there again. It was good to be able to meet the Prime Minister and my counterpart, the President of Poland. We talked about a lot of things, but as I said, it is the nature of these conversations that they are not public. That is why I would not consider it fair play on my part to share or leak any information about this meeting, just as the Polish side has not done so or would not, either. That is the basic rule of diplomacy, which we both know well.
Can you confirm that, as Head of State, you have received criticism of the Hungarian government in this discussion?
I can tell you that we discussed some tough issues as well at that meeting. Both sides were keen to understand the other country's position, on the war and on other issues. What I think is important is that we can talk to each other at any time to this day. I am meeting President Duda often, and Prime Minister Morawiecki himself requested a joint press statement during my recent visit to Warsaw. He took the initiative and stressed how important he considers it for Hungary and Poland to have good relations. Those who seek to foment tension are acting against the interests of Hungary and Poland.
Are Hungarian-Polish relations cold now?
Are they in better shape than a year ago?
They are no worse off.
Of the Heads of State after the change of regime, is there one who is particularly important to you, or perhaps a source of inspiration even?
I respect all my predecessors. From this chair, their work appears in a different light. I can feel the weight of their decisions more than before. I have had the opportunity to talk at length with my living predecessors in recent months. I have invited all three of them to a private, non-public meeting at Sándor Palace. I was delighted that all three of them accepted, and I had the opportunity to ask them questions, which they readily answered. I think I can learn from their experience.
Árpád Göncz and László Sólyom: did they represent an attitude, did they make a decision that is important to you?
I could mention such examples, but I would not like to analyse my predecessors. Not only the two of them, but any of them.
Should the Head of State be politicised, by criticising the government, for example?
I don't think it is a task for the Head of State to criticise the government. Nor is it their task to criticise the opposition.
Is there any point, can there be any internal political decision in the country when you would speak out loud enough to be heard?
The Head of State speaks at special moments. This can be a national holiday or a New Year's Eve speech, but it can also happen independently of a special occasion. These situations allow me to put the emphasis where I feel it is important. Anyone who pays attention to when I speak and what I say can see what I consider to be issues that need to be addressed.
Would such an occasion be if a government during your term of office called a referendum on leaving the European Union? Would you say that it is a bad decision or, on the contrary, that you support it?
That is a theoretical proposition. If the possibility of leaving the EU were to arise at any time, I would certainly formulate my own position.
Do you have a short answer as to what is the main task of the Head of State?
What the Fundamental Law defines for them, that is my short answer.
And the longer?
One of the most important, but perhaps also the most difficult, tasks of the Head of State under the Fundamental Law is to express the unity of the nation. To find the depth and height where the nation's self-evident cohesion lies, where the Hungarian people can feel that there is something that binds us all together, instead of focusing on what divides us. For we can drive wedges among ourselves along countless lines. But there are values and situations that bring the community together, rather than divide it. When I think about how my day started today, I feel something like that. This morning, I visited the Hungarian soldiers who were injured in Kosovo, and I am convinced that, regardless of fault lines or party sympathies, the Hungarian people feel for the Hungarian soldiers who were injured in Kosovo. As Head of State, I would like to convey their support and thanks for their brave stand and courage, and wish them strength and a speedy recovery. These are the common points I am looking for: when I feel I can represent the unity of the Hungarian people.
For many, the image of national unity may seem at odds with your former image wearing Viktor Orbán earrings. What is your message to them?
That I wore the symbol of a campaign at a party congress, as vice-president of that party.
The last such occasion was in November 2021, and a month later you were announced as the Prime Minister's choice for Head of State representing the unity of the nation. Do you see any contradiction in that?
Along these lines, it is possible to question the legitimacy of all my predecessors, but also of many other Heads of State.
Who of your predecessors wore earrings with the Prime Minister’s initials?
My predecessors have also held party functions and engaged in political activity before their presidency. Some were party founders, party members, ministers. In Hungary, but also abroad, it is not uncommon, more than that, it is quite the general thing, for a head of state to play a political and public role on behalf of a party before being elected. Several foreign presidents have been prime ministers before.
What did you want to express when you put on the earrings with Orbán’s initials?
I wore it at the party’s congress electing new party officials, when I myself was the party’s vice president. The symbol was one of the campaign symbols used by the candidate to the party’s presidency. I have never seen much surprise when a man wears a tie decorated with the symbol or colours of a party. It's a common thing. Or a party symbol, the depiction of a candidate on a badge, for example. This is very common, it's done at every party congress. I remember, in Helsinki in 2018, at the European People's Party congress, everyone wore a Manfred Weber pin. I don't see any difference whether it's a tie, a pin or earrings, as the case may be.
Do you really not see the difference?
Not at all.
Do you still have these earrings?
I have a lot of earrings.
Is it conceivable that you will still wear them to public events?
I should think it almost impossible.
Because I am not the vice president of a party currently and I have no plans to go to a party congress.
By the way, is Viktor Orbán the person from whom you learned the most in politics?
I learned a lot from him.
Which of these is the most important?
Perhaps it is his ability to listen to and consider different points of view and not to make a decision based on the considerations of the moment. I have seen him in many of these situations, and it has been very instructive.
How much of the fact that you became President of Hungary is due to you, and how much to Viktor Orbán's decision, or is it a matter of luck?
I see it mostly as the grace of God.
Do you consult him often? Orbán, I mean.
We talk regularly.
Are these informal conversations or are they strict and formal?
These are almost always one-on-one discussions. There's rarely time for personal things, we have so many important issues to discuss. We share our impressions and thoughts. These usually make up our conversations.
How independent do you consider yourself from Viktor Orbán?
Exactly as independent as the President of Hungary should be from the Prime Minister.
Have you ever said no to him?
Share just one with us!
These are more personal things. He hasn't asked me, nor would he normally ask me something to which I would have to say no. We don't create such a situation. It's not the nature of our relationship. We don't give each other orders, we talk things through. We have already asked each other if the other could go somewhere on our behalf. It has happened that I couldn't go, and then I had to say no, for example. But I don't exactly understand what you are thinking of, what Viktor Orbán would be asking me to do.
For example, what we've already talked about: your first trip as Head of State, and say he had asked you to ease tensions between Hungary and Poland.
The trip to Warsaw was my decision, and then I informed him about it, and that was it. Of course, I often ask him for his opinion, because it would be foolish not to listen to the opinion of such an experienced leader when I have the opportunity. It is in the interests of the Hungarian people that the Prime Minister and the Head of State should talk to each other regularly.
If Hungary had a left-wing Head of Government, would you ask for their opinion equally often?
This obviously also depends on the two people at hand, but I would certainly strive to have regular contact between the two of us.
Even with Klara Dobrev?
I would not like to engage in fictions concerning specific persons.
Whoever is the Head of Government in Hungary, when I am the Head of State, I will endeavour to ensure that we can talk regularly.
Let's return to the war for a moment. You are very sharp and clear on this subject, and consistent in who you attack, you talk about Russian aggression, you condemn it from the first moment, you use the epithet 'mad' when you talk about the Russian war. The Hungarian Prime Minister, on the other hand, says that it is not known exactly who are fighting this war. More than that, in March, at the annual opening ceremony of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he also expressed the view that it is not even clear who started the war, who acted to make it erupt, what processes led to it, and what the goals of those acting actually are. On the eve of his victory in the 2022 elections, Orbán described Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as his political opponent. That is very different from what you represent on this issue. When you talk, to what extent do these two different approaches to the war come up, is there a dispute between you, for example, on this matter?
On the war in Ukraine, our goal is the same: Hungary should stay out of the war. That is why we want peace again as soon as possible. We also both consider the protection of Hungarians in Transcarpathia important to the same extent.
Otherwise, there are quite a few issues on which we have debates with the Prime Minister.
Is the war one of them?
In general, the war is very difficult to talk about because it has thousands of aspects. Since we are talking regularly, newer and newer topics always come up and we do not always see eye to eye. Sometimes we try to convince each other, sometimes we do not succeed in doing so. Sometimes we do. My position from the very first moment, as you said, is clear. And I trust that I have not deviated one inch from this line. This is because this is what follows from my fundamental beliefs, and I believe it is the right position. And I also think it is important for Hungary to take a clear stance on this issue.
But then there is a difference between your position and that of Viktor Orbán on this matter.
I would say that there is a difference in how nuanced our positions are.
And who has a more nuanced view of the war?
It could be him.
If not nuanced, what epithet would you use to describe your own position?
On the substance, we agree with the Prime Minister. My position is perhaps less nuanced than his, this much I can certainly say.
You say you agree on the substance. Isn't who started the war a substantive issue?
I can't remember a single instance when the Prime Minister failed to acknowledge that the aggressor is Russia. He has also strongly condemned Russian aggression. He - that is why I speak of a more nuanced language - is more courageous in his opinions about the background games that are driving this war, and I am more cautious about that because I do not have the political experience that he has.
I do not see the questions of the war as nuanced as he does.
Nor can I tell you who blew up the Nord Stream pipelines. But I find it quite puzzling that even in 2023, we do not have an answer to that question. There are theories about it, this and that and the other thing, but we do not have any precise knowledge, and that makes you wonder. It's scary in a way. I have less experience as a leader than the Prime Minister, who has been in the thick of politics for over thirty years. I am also cautious because I like to speak out on issues where I have the information and the confidence.
You just said that there were cases where you managed to convince him. Can you give an example?
Let it be my secret.
And in what did he convince you?
Let that be my secret too.
Let's turn to a topic which has intrigued many. Why did you reprieve György Budaházy?
It was one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make. In general, executive clemency is the most challenging power the Head of State has. There is no clemency decision that is not divisive, that is the nature of the thing.
People convicted of terrorism are rarely granted clemency.
In general, people are rarely granted clemency. Every clemency case that comes to my desk requires a thorough decision. It's a relatively lonely decision and you have to take responsibility, you have to weigh up the different aspects. We are talking here about staying the execution of the sentence, and moreover, for the longest period of time allowed by the legislation.
György Budaházy is not a hero.
Not innocent, nor a hero.
A person convicted of a crime. Just like everyone else who applies for a pardon.
Is it important that he was convicted of terrorism?
All the circumstances of this case are important. It's a terribly complicated case, I read hundreds of pages of documents before making my decision. The decision was taken at a moment of special grace, when the Holy Father was on an apostolic visit to Hungary. I decided on several petitions for clemency. Again, I have not acted in an exceptional way in this, it is an existing practice.
But why did you reprieve György Budaházy and his associates? Why not others, say wood thieves?
Just because someone has been granted executive clemency does not mean that others have not been granted the same. It was not a stand-alone decision. The Hunnia trial is a matter of great public interest, in which people have strong opinions on the basis of little information, but I think that is not unusual. The retrial first-instance verdict came after 13 years, an unjustifiably long time, throughout which Budaházy and his associates alternated between being in and out of prison. They were already punished during that period. And rightly so, because they committed a crime. Even after my decision, their criminal records remain, their loss of civic rights remains, because, although they asked for these to be lifted as well, I refused. I repeat, their sentences were suspended, that is to say, the Sword of Damocles is hanging over their head, if they commit any offence, the final judgement that had been imposed on them by the court will be revived.
What was the main reason why you granted them clemency?
Because it felt like the right thing to do.
It is the nature of executive clemency that they are not born with explanations or reasons. The genre is like that. And it is impossible to give an answer to your question in a single sentence, within the narrow confines of an interview of this kind, that would satisfy anyone's curiosity or interest. Believe me, it was a difficult decision. I am convinced, however, that it was the right decision to suspend the execution of their sentences.
Did you tell Pope Francis that you were reprieving people convicted of terrorism on the grounds of his visit?
Of course the Vatican had been informed of the decision.
Do you not feel any contradiction in linking the Pope's visit to reprieving people convicted of terrorism?
I do not feel any contradiction.
According to the final court decision, these people threw Molotov cocktails at politicians' houses, shot at property, and some of their victims were beaten up quite badly. If this group had wanted to liquidate right-wingers rather than left-wingers, would you have reprieved them?
We have to be very careful here, and I do not want to go into the details of this case. For I do not have all the information, nor do you, nor do the readers. I would therefore be careful about who did what, when, with what intentions. Now that you mentioned that someone was beaten up, I would, for example, correct myself on this point: those who have now been reprieved were not involved in any act in which a single person was injured. But I am trying to focus on the crux of your question: whether any political beliefs or party preferences play a role in the decision. They do not. And again, I condemn what happened. Nor do I consider György Budaházy and his associates to be heroes. That is not the point. It is a decision of clemency. It is not about declaring them innocent.
Do you doubt his guilt after you have reprieved him?
I made this decision in deference to the court's decision.
Which was not a political decision.
No, it was not.
No political bargaining behind it?
No political deal, by any means.
And the decision was one hundred percent yours.
One hundred percent.
Will you take responsibility if Budaházy commits any violent crime while on probation?
That is why I have decided to issue a reprieve, even though he has applied for a pardon. A pardon would have meant the termination of the criminal procedure itself. In that case, the court would not have found him guilty and the sentence would not have been revived if any crime had been committed later. This situation was deliberately avoided.
Did the extensive lobbying on his behalf play a role in the clemency decision? Did they come to you to lobby for Budaházy?
There is hardly a clemency case in which someone does not try to intervene on behalf of the applicant. This is not unusual. But I have not personally spoken to anyone who might have wanted to approach me with this intention. I was not influenced in any way in my decision.
Bertalan Andrásfalvy, one of your advisers, has also signed this petition. Has he perhaps contacted you with such a request?
I have never spoken to him about this matter.
In how many cases, apart from the Hunnia case, did you grant clemency during the visit of the Pope?
A total of 22 clemency decisions were made at this time.
Is your conscience clear on the Budaházy case?
I'd like to talk about public education for a few questions, because this is an issue of deep concern to many groups in Hungarian society. As a politician, you often emphasise that you are also a parent and that parenting is an important part of your life. From an interview given by your husband, we know that your children attend or have attended the Baar-Madas Reformed High School. You had and have an insight into the state and system of Hungarian public education. What problem areas have you identified?
Our two younger children are still in public education, only the oldest is at university. But I don't know if my personal experience is relevant.
Basically, my experience has been good. We have been lucky with most of the teachers, we really like the school our children attend. They have dedicated teachers who are very caring and considerate to the children. I can only be grateful for what our children have received at this school. Our experience has been very good.
In the last decade or so, have you never once thought that something needs to change in public education, that something is not working well in the system?
Personal experience can help, but I would be wrong to think that I should draw general conclusions from my personal experience, or that everyone has the same experience. When I make a decision or form an opinion about something, it is not primarily determined by my personal experience. If your question is whether there is something to be done in Hungarian public education, then my answer is yes, there is.
For example, the government says the wage issue is the main problem. Do you also think it is basically a wage issue, or is it more complex?
Teachers are the heart and soul of public education, so it is not just a question of pay, but rather a complex issue of how we can make sure that teachers are and remain committed and motivated, and that the teaching profession is and remains attractive. I have two grandparents who were teachers, so in that sense there is a personal connection. Since we entrust our children to teachers, who spend a lot of time with them and influence them for a lifetime, I believe that the most important issue is to ensure that these professionals can do their work with motivation and enthusiasm, enjoying the respect that they deserve .
On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the quality of Hungarian public education?
In the last year or so there have been several protests about the situation of teachers and the state of public education. There was one that ended here, a few steps away from Sándor Palace, at the cordons of the Carmelite Monastery. There was also one where police tear-gassed students. Is the latter a shocking incident for you or did you consider it a proportionate police action?
I would not put the two in opposition. Of course it is sad to see such a thing, but at the same time I hope that the police action was proportionate. If it was not, there would be consequences. I can say with the same confidence that I am certainly not happy when that happens. As for myself, I would not be too strict with students. I can be understanding with young people, I am parenting children in their late teens myself. As parents we also try to understand why they do what they do.
Is the discontent of the protesting students justified?
It is certainly food for thought for policy makers when some people take to the streets because they are unhappy about something. It's good to try to understand why people exercise their right to protest. I think it is a healthy, good thing to be able to express disagreement. That you can voice it if you are not satisfied. Years ago, I spoke to a French journalist on the telephone, and this person was very critical of Hungary, had a negative opinion of the way the country was run, and missed democracy. He said that he had been here, that he had spoken to many people who were very dissatisfied with the government, and from that he deduced that they were right, that there really was no democracy here. His conclusion surprised me, because as long as there are people with different opinions and the satisfied and the dissatisfied can express their views, things are all right. I also think it is important that dissenting opinions are listened to and that decisions are taken in such a way that the views of both sides are weighed up.
How justified do you think it is for the government to link the pay rise of teachers to money expected from Brussels? This is a very important issue, by all means, but its solution is being made dependent on an external conditionality, even though Hungary is a sovereign state.
I consider it important to increase teachers' salaries regardless of the funds from Brussels.
What message do you send to those who feel that a 66 million HUF Steinway piano is a luxury expenditure and a show-off?
I don't want to send them a message.
What is the public interest in having such an expensive musical instrument at Sándor Palace? Why was a less expensive piano not enough?
The question can be formulated as to whether Sándor Palace needs a piano at all. Such a question can be asked about any piece of furniture here, or even about the ornate chandelier above us. I believe in the power of culture in general, including the power of high and quality culture. One of our greatest treasures is that we can also speak the language of culture. I try to make Sándor Palace and the Residence an open place, not an ivory tower where I sit and make decisions by myself. That's why I allow thousands of people to visit several times a year, and I'm delighted to see how many people come to the open days. But there are also regular cultural programmes. I think it is useful and many enjoy it.
But why do you need such an expensive piano for this?
This is the price of a quality piano.
So you cannot get a piano for under 66 million forints that would be suitable for Sándor Palace?
Either someone knows the price of Steinway pianos and knows that this is how much they cost, or they don't. I don't think this part of our discussion is forward-looking. This piano belongs to the Hungarian state. Expenditure at the level of a state is orders of magnitude away from the cost of everyday life, so it is not a good idea to compare the two. That is the nature of things. One could have brought a synthesizer here, available second-hand for 20,000 forints, but please don't expect me to say that it can produce the same quality as a Steinway piano. The office of the President also includes the requirement to meet a certain standard in many things, including appearance and elegance. This is not about my personal hobbies and interests, but about representing Hungary and the Hungarian people. This is in the interest of the Hungarian people.
The Hungarian people?
I see that you cannot let go of this question, but I see no point in discussing this matter – pardon me - in such a primitive way.
Who plays on this piano? You, for example?
I don't play the piano.
So the artists invited here?
That means delegations can listen to concerts here? We are talking about taxpayers’ money, excuse me, that's why I ask.
This competition piano is used for the performance of music by pianists in cultural programmes.
What is the most important problem facing Hungary today?
How to remain a strong, sovereign country in this draughty part of the world.
As a Head of State, what have you been able to do for it so far?
I try to advocate for the interests of the Hungarian people both at home and internationally as effectively as I can.
Looking back over the past year, was there anything you would have liked to have done but couldn't?
So far, there has not been any such thing.
And what is it that you would have liked and could achieve and that you also are proud of?
Firstly, I am confident that the active role I have played in international diplomacy, the many good relations I have managed to establish, are in Hungary's interests. Secondly, whether through my visits to the counties or the countless personal meetings I have had the opportunity to have over the past year, whether here at Sándor Palace or anywhere else in the country or in the Carpathian Basin, I feel I have been able to contribute to the sense of togetherness that I spoke about earlier in this interview. Thirdly, there is a matter close to my heart, which I was in charge of before and which I continue to regard as of the utmost importance, and that is the issue of families. I am confident that, as Head of State, I can do my part to ensure that more people in Hungary have the courage to say yes to life.