Hungary today is more prosperous and more optimistic than it was ten years ago, and has more confidence in its future – says former New York governor George Pataki, who thinks that Hungary could serve as a model for other countries. Interview.
You have travelled to Hungary to inspect the humanitarian work that is being carried out at the Ukrainian-Hungarian border. What is your experience?
Yes, it is a humanitarian visit to see what we, Americans can do to help with the Ukrainian refugee crisis. I have to say that the Hungarian side is doing an incredible job. Charities and civil organizations such as the Catholic Caritas Hungary, the Maltans, the Red Cross, and several other groups, are doing a tremendous job, with significant help from the government. It was reassuring the see the efficiency of the cooperation between the groups and the government. So I can tell you that I’m highly impressed by what the Orbán administration is doing for the Ukrainian refugees.
It’s interesting to hear that because the opposition says that the government does nothing at the border.
I was really impressed. What was disappointing is that there is no U.S. government support at all. What was heartening was that the Hungarian government coordinates the entire operation. The fact that it supports every single organization involved is enormously helpful. You can see that the whole process is running extremely smoothly. I have seen the news reports about the chaos at the Polish border. I know they deal with more refugees, but Hungary is also dealing with 4-5000 bordercrossers every day, plus the ones arriving from Romania. It is all very well done and refugees are getting excellent services.
What is your opinion of the performance of Viktor Orbán and his government?
Hungarians are now enthusiastic and have the attitude that Americans always had. And that can be attributed to the government
I’ve never seen a Hungary more open, more vibrant, more free than now. I remember when I first met the prime minister in 1993. One of the things that really struck me was how pessimistic everybody was. Today is a beautiful day – I said, and the reaction was like: yes, but maybe tomorrow it will be raining. As opposed to that, Hungarians are now enthusiastic and have the attitude that Americans always had. And that can be attributed to the government, which created such a strong economy, and created a sense that this is a country with a bright future. The fundamental attitude of people has changed. Take my son, one of those horrible millennials, and he says that among millennials, the place they want to go is Budapest. They do not want to go to Prague or Paris; everyone wants to come to Budapest. What has happened in this country over the last ten years, in a positive direction, is something other countries should learn from: maybe we should emulate the Hungarians in many ways. You should be proud of that!
The opposition says that people are depressed, economy is in a bad shape, everything is worse than before.
This is a different Hungary from the one I saw eight years ago. It is a better Hungary, it is a more prosperous, more optimistic Hungary, and has more confidence in its future. And the Hungarian government is able to rise to the occasion and takes on the challenges very successfully. Crisis management here is quicker than one would imagine. Hungary is on the right track, and hopefully will continue on that track.
We now have a child protection law in Hungary, which inspired Florida’s Parental Right in Education Act, and a referendum will also be held on the topic on election day. What are your views on the Hungarian law?
It certainly doesn’t make sense for a child to be told all those different things that many schools are teaching today. Let kids be kids! It should not be allowed to introduce adult attitudes and ideologies into the classrooms. Children should be allowed to children, and that human nature develops in them as it should! And this has nothing to do with the whole issue of gay rights, which I support, as the rights of consenting adults. I am all for freedom and limited government, and for letting people to choose their own way of living. But children are different.
What about Hungary’s image in America?
The image of Hungary in the United States is very different from reality. They say Hungary is not a real democracy. And yet there is a vibrant election coming, in which the prime minister may lose. And the idea that there is no democracy when the prime minister can lose against a coalition of parties is very strange. So the way I see it, Hungary is a vibrant and healthy democracy. And a very open country. A staffer of the prime minister has showed me The Shoes memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. And just this morning I met with Jewish leaders and they told me Hungary is one of the safest and best places to live. But all that is never mentioned overseas, and some forces are aggressively undermining Hungary’s reputation.
What are your thoughts on the war?
It is a demonstration of pure evil by Vladimir Putin. He not only attacked the Ukrainian government, but, with the bombing of cities, hospitals and schools, he is waging a war against the Ukrainian people. I have never seen Americans–Republicans, Democrats, the left and the right – more united than in their condemnation of Putin and in their support of the Ukrainian people.
What do you think about the management of the pandemic in New York State?
It was very poorly handled. Horrible decisions were made, like putting sick people with coronavirus into nursing homes, next to those in the most vulnerable age groups. 18,000 New Yorkers died in nursing homes. On the other hand, several of the restrictions imposed did not make medical sense and were completely unnecessary. I was terribly disappointed with those decisions of the New York governor.
How would you assess the political heritage of Bill de Blasio, Democratic ex-mayor of New York City?
He was a terrible mayor. And that is another thing Republicans and Democrats agree on. He hurt the city. His bad leadership, aggravated by the pandemic, hurt New York City a lot. New York City is a great city. But today it is no longer like it used to be five years ago. But five years from now, the city, with a good leadership, may shine again in its old glory.
What about the new mayor, Democrat Eric Adams?
I’m hopeful about Mayor Adams. He has a totally different attitude toward crime than de Blasio. De Blasio thinks criminals are victims, Adams thinks that criminals are bad. He stands behind the police. I think he has the right approaches.
Why are conservatives losing big cities all over the world, and how could that trend be reversed?
The left is destroying the public school system with programs that parent do not want
In America, there are significant minority populations living in those cities, and those populations are traditionally allied with the Democrats. But what Democrats have done to big cities is bad, they are failing. So there is an opportunity in the United States for Republicans to make the case that the real victims of these Democrat policies are the minorities. If you are rich, you can leave, but others cannot. The left is destroying the public school system with programs that parent do not want. The more affluent parents can send their kids to private schools. It will be the kids of the poor to fall victim to the policies of the Democrats. So I think with the right message and the right candidates, there is a real opportunity for Republicans to recapture those big cities. Traditionally, 90 per cent of minority voters have voted for Democrats. But it hurt them.
Is parents being denied their rights a real threat in American schools?
There has been an attitude on the left that they know best, they and their teacher union allies should dictate what schools teach, while what parents want does not matter. And that is the opposite of how America has always functioned, and the opposite of how American families have always functioned. Parents want to make sure their kids get the right education, and they want to be part of their children’s education, and they do not want political indoctrination. So I think the movement for parental rights is a legitimate and necessary movement, which can have positive consequences.
Could Republicans build a new campaign strategy on that?
We certainly saw it in Virginia that Democrats are willing to vote for Republican candidates if the latter has the right idea. And the idea is that parents should control the school, not special interests like the that of educational bureaucrats and teacher unions.
How do you see the future of the Republican Party?
I’m an optimist. Right now a battle is raging, because Trump is trying to win the primaries with the help of Trump loyalists. These people have loyalty toward him, but not toward the policies of the Republican Party. Maybe he can win the primaries, but he will have a hard time winning the election. The Biden administration is a failure, the open border policy is a catastrophe, and we have inflation going through the roof, not to mention a very weak foreign policy. So the perception is that it is a failed leadership, and republicans have a tremendous opportunity in November.
Do you have a favourite nominee for the presidency?
No, politics changes so quickly! But I think former governors are the best presidents, because they are executives, they have experience. Legislators like Biden or Obama never run anything. Being an executive is a very different level.
Interview by Gergely Szilvay published on mandiner.hu