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Novák Katalin Bács-Kiskun Vármegyében

I saw the strength of families wherever I went - Interview with Katalin Novák in the newspaper Petőfi Népe (Petőfi’s people)

President of Hungary Katalin Novák spent nearly three days in our county last week. The Head of State visited several of Bács-Kiskun’s settlements and also travelled to the border region. We asked her about this.
-Your grandparents used to live in Ágasegyháza, and as a result, you spent a lot of time in Bács-Kiskun as a child. Can we say that you came home a little during your almost three-day visit here?
- Yes, I almost felt like I was back at home throughout this visit. Not just because my grandparents lived in Ágasegyháza, and my grandfather was a school principal there for decades, and my grandmother was a teacher. It is also because my mother was born in Kecskemét and my father in Baja. With the county leaders we also discussed how the connectivity between Kecskemét and Baja could be improved. Well, you could say, figuratively, that this has already happened in my case. I do indeed have many ties to the county, and we haven't even talked about summers spent in Ágasegyháza or my favourite cake shop in Soltvadkert. But that's not the only reason why I felt at home in Bács-Kiskun, it's also thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the people who live here. Unfortunately, I could not visit Ágas this time. The programme was very busy. I arrived from Prague directly at Kecskemét airport, enjoyed the new play by Vajk Szente in the Katona József theatre already the same night, the next day I visited the Town Hall, then the Univer factory, Katona József High School, the Kecskemét Film Studio, then Kiskunhalas, Tiszaalpár, the next day Kiskőrös, Baja, Bácsszentgyörgy, the visit to the border, to name but a few of the many events.

-This year in Rwanda, you visited the memorial marker of the rhinoceros specialist Krisztián Gyöngyi, who was born in Kiskunhalas. You were accompanied by his widow, Orsolya Bedő from Kiskunmajsa on the visit. We Hungarians tend to be under the belief that we have a much greater influence on the development of the world than can be expected from such a small country. What do you think about this?
-We Hungarians are present in almost every corner of the world. There is a Hungarian diaspora from Australia to Brazil and the United States. There are those who were driven away by coercion, the destruction of their country or the communist dictatorship, and others who were driven abroad by dreams or a calling. Our worldwide presence is a source of strength for Hungarians. As Head of State, I seek to meet people living in the diaspora, because our compatriots have done a lot for good causes in the world. Krisztián Gyöngyi was working to save the black rhinoceros, which is where he suffered a tragic accident. His memory is still cherished in Rwanda. Although we are not a large and populous country, this year the world has seen two new Hungarian Nobel laureates. When I meet the Heads of State of other countries, I proudly share this as well. Our whole nation can unite in this pride.

- In Bácsszentgyörgy, you also visited the border patrols. Hungary has been protecting the borders of the EU for years. How long can this situation be maintained, given the increasing pressure at the southern ends?
-If we look around us at what is happening in Europe, at the unrest, riots and attacks on the streets, we can truly appreciate that Hungary is an island of peace. Hungarian families can peacefully rest, and this is also thanks to those who protect the Hungarian border. The physical border protection system that Hungary has set up following the migration crisis sends a clear message: individuals trying to bypass the law are unwelcome here. This is especially understood here in Bács-Kiskun, as the longest section of the Hungarian-Serbian border belongs to the county. People living here have experienced the migration crisis first-hand, while many still doubt its existence. I also visited the border to thank those who serve to protect it for their continuous and courageous efforts in the face of many challenges to protect not only Hungary's but also Europe's security. In Kiskunhalas, I attended the swearing-in ceremony of 99 cadets, who are being educated in the programme of the National Defence Forces for defence, patriotism, honour, courage, moral compass and order. It is a good thing to see that more and more young people dedicate their life to the defence of their country. I am convinced that with time, we will be able to defend Hungary against the threats that are coming our way.

-You have recently met with the Ukrainian President twice. Do you see any hope of achieving reassuring results on the issues affecting Hungarians in Ukraine? What are your views on the possible further enlargement of the EU?
- I consider the issue of the Transcarpathian Hungarian community to be a matter close to my heart. Of all the Hungarian communities beyond the border, they are perhaps in the most difficult situation. They live in a country where war is raging and where the situation of the rights of national minorities has deteriorated significantly in recent years. I almost always raise the issue of the Hungarians of Transcarpathia during my international meetings. For many, this is the first time they hear about this issue. President Zelensky and I have spoken openly about the situation of the Hungarians in Transcarpathia. I am looking forward to the steps that will unravel as a result of our agreement. Now there is a faint glimmer of hope that such steps will indeed happen. The Venice Commission, which is of great importance in matters of constitutionality and human rights, has also clearly described that the Ukrainian leadership has certain tasks to perform in terms of improving minority rights, including the rights of Hungarians. As far as EU enlargement is concerned, we are lagging behind, especially with the Western Balkans. We need to accelerate there. Ukraine is at war, EU membership is a distant prospect, what it needs now is support. Hungary is providing very substantial humanitarian aid to Ukraine and to refugees from there. Every country that wants to join the EU must meet its conditions. The countries of the Western Balkans have made and are making progress in this process. It is not only unfair to hold back their accession, but it is in the interests of Hungary and Europe that the Western Balkans integrate as soon as possible, as well as ensuring stability in the region.

- "We need a demographic turnaround. We need to go from a nation with a declining population to a nation with a growing one," you said recently, noting that the population of Hungarian communities abroad is also declining alongside that of Hungary. Do you think the process of population decline can be reversed?
- Yes. Not only because Hungary, as a result of a decade of deliberate work, has achieved a pro-family turnaround in a way that is perhaps unique in the developed world, but also because of what I have experienced here in Bács-Kiskun County. I saw the strength of families wherever I went. Family farms, family businesses, strong communities. I visited a family of five children in Tiszaalpár to welcome the birth of their youngest child. They are proof that it is possible to give a lot despite scarcity. If responsible upbringing and encouragement to learn and work become the norm, there is a way out of difficult situations. But there is also the example of Bácsszentgyörgy, the smallest settlement in the county, where for ten years no child was born and today there are twelve children under the age of 18. The smallest village in your county is also an example: there is hope, there is hope that young people will dare to start a family again, a large family. This is an encouraging prospect. We must make it attractive for the next generation to start a family. We need to tell them that, while there are challenges in raising children, there is hardly a more beautiful gift in the world than a child. It is up to us to turn a demographic winter into a demographic spring.

- From time to time, you participate in community sporting events. You have been seen running and swimming by thousands of your fellow sportsmen and women, and thanks to the media, by the whole country. You could hardly be an athletic President without regular exercise. How can you fit exercise into your daily schedule?
- Exercise is an integral part of my daily life. I always try to make time for running and training. It also helps me to work and think. Horse-riding is my latest form of exercise that I love very much and the time I spend with the horses is invigorating. I like to try out new sports on my visits to the counties, which is also a great opportunity to learn more about the local sporting scene from coaches and athletes. Most recently, I tried ice hockey in Fejér county. Now we started the third day with basketball training in Kecskemét, led by the Ivkovics’s. It was a pleasure to see the discipline, attention, expertise and love with which they dealt with the youngsters. It is also up to them what kind of adults they will grow up to be.

-Gender roles are changing in the developed world, and barriers to women's social advancements are diminishing. Do you think your career can serve as an example to your fellow Hungarian women?
-The fact that Hungary has its first female president also sends out the message that the highest public office is open to women. This can encourage girls to pursue their professional and career dreams, and I encourage them to do so. But I would also add that the best time of my life was the six years I spent at home with our children. So I try to encourage young girls to build a career not against the family, but together with it. The three best decisions of my life were having three children. On the other hand, I would also like to see that in Hungary all the conditions are in place so that women do not have to choose between family and career. Real freedom of choice is when there are as few financial obstacles as possible to the possibility of choosing both family and career. Hungary has made a lot of progress on this, but there is still a lot to be done.