The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.
-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
May 25, 2017, Budapest, Hungary
On May 24-28 of this year, friends of the family from around the globe gathered in beautiful and historic Budapest, Hungary, for the Second Budapest Demographic Forum and World Congress of Families XI. The theme of the joint meeting was “Building Family-Friendly Nations: Making Families Strong Again,” and demography was a predominant theme. Hungary has been the home of some of the most innovative family-strengthening policies in contemporary Europe, including some truly admirable programs aimed at increasing the birthrate (see the essay by Katalin Novák, “The Spirit, Tools, and Results of Hungary’s Family Policy,” The Natural Family 31.1, 2017). It is fitting that in an issue devoted to demography, we here reproduce the opening speech, given by Hungary’s Prime Minster Viktor Orbán, with permission from the Prime Minister’s office.
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. May I just repeat what the State Secretary was so kind to say that we Hungarians welcome all of you wholeheartedly here in our capital and we hope you will enjoy your stay with us? One of the consequences of being Prime Minister is that you are forced to speak your native language. May I just help you to enjoy the wonderful tone of Hungarian in the forthcoming several minutes?
Allow me to welcome you, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.
I am pleased to have the honour to be here at the Budapest Demographic Forum, which is being held for the second time. Allow me to welcome you all on behalf of the Hungarian government.
But first allow me to address you as a European politician. In 2015, when we last met, Europe was under siege. Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants were wandering along the Balkans route towards the interior of the European Union: the territories of the richer countries. Now, after two years, the machinery which has kept this enormous flow of people moving appears to be grinding to a halt. Thanks to the courage and perseverance of a great many people—academics, experts, journalists, politicians, Christian, conservative civil society organisations—we have succeeded in closing the Balkans route to illegal immigration. I wish to thank everyone who has helped us in this work. And then, starting from Central Europe, we have managed to turn around the resettlement policies of Western European governments, which posed a threat to themselves. Whether acknowledged or not, whether openly or in embarrassed silence, a review of Willkommenskultur has finally begun. At present a political and intellectual U-turn is taking place: people in Europe have rebelled and brought about changes. This is good news. If, however, we consider that the migration dynamic is for people to move from places with higher pressure to places with lower pressure, we must also add that its full force has yet to be felt. Europe is old, rich and weak. The part of the world which in recent years has sent forth ever more masses of people is, however, young, poor and strong. The world’s population is rapidly growing, while the population of Europe is declining. The direction of movement is following an inexorable trend line. It is only a matter of time and political expedience before millions of people who are ready to set out are once again channelled in our direction. After some minor tinkering, the bizarre coalition of human rights activists and people smugglers is prepared to relaunch the conveyor belt at any time. I could also say, Dear Guests, that a besieged Europe has been given a little respite in order to assess the damage sustained, to fill the gaps and to reinforce the shaken walls. We have been given a little time to reorganise our policy in light of our freshly acquired experience, and to realign our positions.
This is now increasingly acknowledged in the capitals of Europe. But in Brussels this tune is not yet the latest hit. In Brussels, discourse about migration is still a prisoner of political correctness. They still regard only those who speak in the voice of human rights activists and the European liberal elite as being acceptable. In Europe today we can still see people being branded as extremist for failing to fall into line with European dictates on the opinions—described as mainstream—which one should hold, for daring to point out the connection between immigration and terrorism, or the continuing cultural conflicts between immigrants and the continent’s indigenous inhabitants. Today a great many people ask the following question, which they have every reason to ask: how many more incidents like those in Paris, Brussels, Berlin or Manchester must occur in Europe before we finally pull ourselves together and are prepared to defend ourselves? What more do we need for people everywhere in Europe to understand that we want to live in a continent where playgrounds echo with the happy cries of children, rather than with the sirens of police cars and ambulances?
Most recently the future of Europe has come under attack. The victims were innocent young people and children who were unable to protect themselves. At the beginning of my speech I would like to make it clear that Hungary fully stands with Britain. We shall make every effort to restore the future of Europe. We shall enhance the protection of the southern borders of the European Union, and not let in anyone who provokes even the mildest suspicion of wanting to attack our families and our children. We in Hungary take the view that we can only protect our future if we protect our young ones. If we cannot raise them in safety, we jeopardise our future. Hungary will therefore protect its families at all costs, regardless of the opposition that may come from Brussels.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In Europe today we are witnessing the fiercest struggle between competing visions of the future. The starting point of this debate is that while there are more and more people surrounding us, in Europe our population is on the decline. The time for straight talking has come. Europe, our common homeland, is losing out in the population competition between great civilisations. Fewer and fewer marriages are producing fewer and fewer children, and the population is therefore ageing and declining. In Europe today there are two distinct views on this. One of these is held by those who want to address Europe’s demographic problems through immigration. And there is another view, held by Central Europe—and, within it, Hungary. Our view is that we must solve our demographic problems by relying on our own resources and mobilising our own reserves, and—let us acknowledge it—by renewing ourselves spiritually.
We may also ask the question like this: how are we going to find new sailors to sail our ship? We put in at Tortuga, and there we pick up whoever we find, thus running the risk that while we’ll have sailors, at some point they may steer us in a direction that we don’t like. Or, conversely, we have a family policy which encourages the birth of children, and we raise our own sailors and crew. At the first Budapest conference in 2015, one of our main speakers—the Honourable Professor who is also with us here today—convinced us that in the struggle for the future of Europe stopping illegal migration is imperative. This struggle—which is rationally justified—is only worthwhile if we are able to combine it with a family policy which restores natural reproduction on the continent. We are grateful to the Honourable Professor for this contribution.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The family is at the centre of the Hungarian government’s vision of the future. The motto of this conference is “Making Families Strong Again”. And this is right, because strong families will create a strong, competitive society and economy, a strong and competitive Hungary and Europe. When I was young—and it’s true that I grew up in a village—people used to ask how many children one had like this: “How many families do you have?” This question reflected the notion that in every child they saw the seed of a new family. Our goal, too, is to have as many children in Hungary as possible; because if there are children, there is a future.
I must tell you that our country, Hungary, also shares Europe’s problem of population decline. We, too, are doing poorly. We, too, must turn things around to reach the ideal state in which we are able to reproduce ourselves. Here I will quote a few figures for you. In 1980 10,709,000 people lived in Hungary. In 2017 that figure was 9,799,000—meaning that in less than 40 years we have lost almost a million people in Hungary. I can tell our guests from abroad that this is more than all the casualties we sustained in World War II. So for some time the figures have shown us that we need a decisive turnaround in Hungary—and across the whole of Europe.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When the captain of a vast ocean liner wants to turn it around, he may turn the wheel in vain: the ship will not turn immediately, but will only slowly adopt a new course. As Prime Minister, I believe that this is just how it is with a turnaround in population and family policy. The most important thing is to designate our destination and adjust the wheel accordingly. It is important to highlight that the restoration of natural reproduction is a national cause; and it is not just one national cause among many, but the national cause. And it is also a European cause: not just one European cause among many, but the European cause. The goal of the Government of Hungary is to raise our birth rate to 2.1 percent by 2030, which would be a replacement rate for our society. At present this figure stands at 1.5 percent.
In other words, Ladies and Gentlemen, in order to achieve a turnaround in population we first need to properly set the steering wheel on a fixed course. We must raise our birth rate to 2.1 percent by 2030. It is not enough to just set out on the right course, however: we must also keep to that course—in particular when it comes to family policy and demography. We must pursue the course for decades. We must pursue the course over several government terms. This is the first precondition for a turnaround in population.
The second precondition for the turnaround is a powerful engine. One of the experiences of my 30 years in politics is that a major political, social and intellectual turnaround always requires financial resources, and we need a competitive model that is full of energy. If these things are not behind our goals—no matter how well-defined and morally right those goals may be—in modern politics the people will not give us a chance to implement that turnaround. As far as we Hungarians are concerned, I can tell you that here economic growth is in a range between three and five percent. This is the magical GDP growth. Government debt is declining and unemployment is coming to an end. Because our economic policy has been successful, the next target of our general and economic policy is to promote the number of children being born. It is to this that we’ve adjusted our fiscal system, it is to this that we’ve adjusted our housing support system; and our work-based economic system—with which we shall soon reach full employment—also serves this purpose.
The third thing that is required for a population turnaround, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that the ship’s hull be in good shape. You should not forget that in Europe today there are a number of high-performing countries with enviable living standards, but which, in spite of their outstanding economic figures, are struggling with severe demographic problems. In Hungary we spend 4.6 percent of GDP on family support. If as a unit of community the family does not occupy first place in the hearts of young people, however, economic strength and excellent national economy figures are in vain: we cannot achieve anything.
We who live here in Central Europe can still consider ourselves lucky. Marriage and family still constitute the core values in the lives of the majority of young people in Central Europe. If we ask them how they envisage their future, we find that they value marriage more than cohabitation, and would like to raise two or three children. Yet when it comes to the realisation of plans, we can see that for some reason some of the children once planned for are never born. On this basis, in Hungary we have come to the conclusion that we must pursue a policy which removes obstacles from the path of young people. The more we support our families, the more children will be born. With little support, only a few more children; with more support, many more children. We have arrived at this simple truth.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Hungarian government, the Government of the Christian Democrats and Fidesz, has therefore decided that 2018 will be the Year of Families. Our new action plan—which is so fresh that the ink is still not dry on it, as we adopted it at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting—is not the first of its kind, nor the last. I sincerely hope that it will have an impact not only on Hungary, but, as a good example, also on the entire region.
We’ve decided to further raise the rates of family tax allowances, and to place families with two children at the centre of this, as they represent the largest section in Hungary. And I’ve learnt that where there is room for two, there is also room for three—or even four. Braver families may even find room for five. For young women with two children and student loans, the Government will cancel fifty percent of their debt, and for those with three or more children one hundred percent of the student loan debt will be cancelled. For graduates we shall extend the term of maternity leave by a year, and for university students it is extended until the child reaches the age of two. Hungarians understand the meaning of this family policy measure. “My home is my castle”: this is how the Hungarians think, and this is another reason why it is difficult to adopt a good policy here. We have decided that families with mortgages can have one million forints written off their debt if they have three children, and one million forints will be written off for each further child, with the state bearing the burden. Finally, we shall embark on infant day care developments on an unprecedented scale. We are going to build infant day care centres everywhere families live, and we shall renovate existing infant day care centres wherever necessary. We are also opening up our family support system—although cautiously—to fellow Hungarians who live outside the borders. As a result, from next year they may also be eligible for maternity support after the birth of children, and baby bonds will be available across the entire Carpathian Basin.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the interest of our spiritual and intellectual competitiveness and good policy planning—summoning up the spirit of Mária Kopp—we aim to set up a research institute. I support this research institution becoming an international think tank to provide sufficient knowledge and intellectual munition to help and support families, laying the philosophical foundations for our family policy, and enabling accurate understanding of the situation in Europe and the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This, in essence, is our response in May 2017 to the greatest existential question for European civilisation. As far as I can see, we already have at our disposal the intellectual munition needed for a European—not just a Hungarian, but a European—population turnaround. If we combined all the knowledge present in this room now, I could state with confidence that we would have the intellectual foundations for a European population turnaround. Of course there can never be enough brave, good and new ideas, but this is not what we lack the most. In Europe today we tend to lack good examples, and good, brave government policies. Therefore Hungary would now like to contribute to Europe’s success by setting a good, brave example of governmental action.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We know that we are sailing into the wind. In Europe the political and media mainstream is driven more by liberal ideology, which relativises values and which traditional families find so offensive. But we Hungarians also know that it is possible to sail into the wind. What’s more, it is even possible to make headway against the wind—however surprising that may be. It is often said that no wind can help those who do not know their destination. This is also true the other way round: if we know the port we are aiming for, we can use any wind to reach our destination. It only takes perseverance, courage and the backing of likeminded allies. I am happy to be in such company today. I wish you all much courage, perseverance and mutual strength.
Thank you for your attention.