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Low Turnout Invalidates Hungary Refugee Referendum; Columbians Reject Peace in Referendum; Behind the Scenes on Syria. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired October 3, 2016 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:10] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, as Aleppo is bombed into rubble, the U.S. cuts off talks with Russia. That news ahead.
Also, another blow for peace in a shocked result. Colombians saying no in a referendum, the one ending their 52 year war with FARC rebels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have heard those who said no, and I have heard those who said yes. Everybody, everybody without exception wants peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Santos says the ceasefire will remain in effect. But what happens now?
And rejecting migrant quotas in Hungary. That message despite a low turn out that invalidates the referendum. I speak live to the government
spokesman and to the former U.S. ambassador to Hungary.
Welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Lots to get to in this show as we know, but first, journalists today are marking unity day, that historic moment 26 years ago when East and West
Germany forged a united future after the divisions of the cold war. But it's more a bitter than a sweet celebration as Europe seems to be
struggling to keep unity and its values alive.
Over the weekend, voters in Hungary overwhelmingly rejected a German-backed plan to divide refugees among EU nations. More than 90 percent of those
who cast their ballots supported the government's no position. But turnout was below the 50 percent threshold needed to make Sunday's referendum
The country's hard line prime minister says that Hungarian voters have sent a clear message to Brussels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VIKTOR ORBAN, HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Brussels will have to make an important decision. Now it is their time to make an
The EU is a Democratic community. Today, in one of the member state, 92 percent of those taking part in the referendum have stated that they did
not agree with the intention of Brussels.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So what does that mean indeed?
Let us discuss this with the Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs and also joining us, Eleni Kounalakis, the former U.S. ambassador to
AMANPOUR: Welcome both of you to the show.
Can I go straight to you first, Mr. Kovacs, because just in the last few moments, your country's official entity has invalidated this referendum
because of the low turnout. So what does happen next?
ZOLTAN KOVACS, HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: You're right. Legally, according to the new rules we've introduced a couple of years ago, it is
not compulsory for Hungarian parliament to make a decision on what the Hungarian people have decided about yesterday.
But keep in mind, that that insurance was put into our legal system to ensure that if someone goes against a parliament or majority, or against
the government, it would still be perfectly possible or rather mandatory for the parliament to make a ruling on the decision. But this time, it was
the Hungarian government who make the decision to go for a referendum. And very obviously, 3.3 million people who went for the "no" vote, that is a 98
percent majority cannot be disregarded, and we believe it not only politically, but also legally it's binding for the government.
AMANPOUR: But what does that mean? I mean, you say politically it can't be ignored. What does that mean? Are you still going to refuse the
migrants quotas, which is what all this was all about?
KOVACS: The vote was about the possibility that European institutions go around the Hungarian parliament and make decisions about who shall we live
together in this country. We dare to ask.
And we deny that. We believe that that kind of element of sovereignty, those competencies have never been handed over to any European institution.
Keep in mind that back in 2014, these questions, illegal migration, mass migration on an intercontinental level was not at all on the agenda. So we
needed reinforcement if you like a new mandate to reinforce mandate.
Also keep in mind that the government started to run this country again in 2014. The second consecutive term with 2.2 million votes behind. And this
time, 3.3 million votes go for particular issue, giving a reinforce mandate for the Hungarian government to represent it not only domestically but also
now on the European -- on the European institutional level.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me turn to the Ambassador Kounalakis, because you know, obviously the United States and many in Western Europe look at
Hungary and see a nation that was very liberally Democratic is now in the words of Mr. Orban, an illiberal democracy. And you had a front row seat
in what you call the sort of disintegration of the kind of democracy that you like to see there.
What in your view, ambassador, is going on. What is Mr. Orban after?
[14:05:25] ELENI KOUNALAKIS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO HUNGARY: Well, I think you have to start, Christiane, by looking at the fact that this was a
98 percent to one vote.
Votes like that do not happen in pluralistic societies. This was a very controversial issue. And to see a result like that, and for the government
to declare victory, there's an absurdity here. Even Quito back in 1945 didn't get more than 90 percent of the vote
So what's going on? And what's going on is that's those who were opposed to the government's position encouraged people to reject and boycott the
referendum by not voting. And 60 percent of people either cast invalid ballots by defacing them, or didn't show up at all. So we really have to
look at what actually happened yesterday, which is that the majority of Hungarians either didn't vote, or defaced their ballots, and this was a
clear rejection of the government's position.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you've just heard that Mr. Kovacs. I will come to you in a second. But I still want to ask you, ambassador, because this is the
accusation that is being thrown of the Orban government. That they want to, quote, unquote "take back control," bring power back to the national
government, saying no to Brussels on most issues and this is obviously a step in that direction. Is that right?
KOUNALAKIS: Well, I think that what's clear here is you don't hear the Hungarian government calling for a Huxit -- right, the leaving of the EU.
What they are looking to do is influence the direction of the EU on the immigration issue.
So I think that that's a significant point. And I think it's also based on the fact that most Hungarians don't want to leave the EU. Most Hungarians
really see Europe as their home. And in fact, if you look at the real immigration issue with Hungary is how many Hungarians have relocated
elsewhere within the EU since they had the ability through the open market, the common market to be able to live elsewhere.
So I think that is really the difference that you're looking at. It's that he is not saying we're going to leave the EU. He is saying he wants to
heavily influence a major issue that is -- that the EU is dealing with right now.
AMANPOUR: Can I go back to you then, Mr. Kovacs.
Look, you know, your government has been in trouble. I mean, the things that your prime minister has been saying has gotten many, many people
For instance Luxemburg's foreign minister recently said that Hungary should be expelled from the EU for treating asylum seekers, quote, "Worst than
And your prime minister has said that every migrant poses a public security and a terror risk.
How can he say that? When the facts clearly do not bear that out?
KOVACS: Well, with all due respect, Christiane, and with all due respect, Madam Ambassador, you have to be careful when using so heavy words you've
used before. I mean, just recently.
Those accusations on behalf of the Hungarian opposition or Western European leftist politicians have been with us. And as a matter of fact, I'm aware
of the sometimes political inclinations of CNN's coverage of what is happening on the ground.
I don't think that is a place for giving us lessons on democracy there, especially in the case of a referendum. The referendum is the most
Democratic form of reaching out to the Hungarians. We've asked about their opinion on a particular issue, and they said a clear no to measures that's
AMANPOUR: Yes, but the thing is it's invalidated --
KOVACS: ...by European institutions.
AMANPOUR: Honestly, we're just trying to ask you a question.
KOVACS: Yes, but --
AMANPOUR: I'm just trying to ask you a question. So my question to you is, how do you react to a fellow EU foreign minister saying that because of
the treatment of your government to these refugees, and Mr. Kovacs, we all watched the video over the summer, the Hungarian journalist tripping over,
you know, a refugee. I mean, look, you've got to admit it, it hasn't been good PR for your country, right?
And let me just play your own -- yes, go ahead. What?
KOVACS: I believe you would like to hear my opinion on this.
AMANPOUR: Yes, go ahead. I'm trying to get you to answer.
KOVACS: Let me tell you that we don't deal with disrespectful remarks on the country, because we've heard so many for the past six years. We've
been called Nazis and whatsoever.
We have also seen Arwa Damon reporting from here last year, including lots of lies about this country, which did much damage to this country that will
be very, very difficult to repair.
AMANPOUR: I'm so going to have to stop you there. I'm very sorry, but she doesn't lie and we are honest reporters.
[14:10:03] KOVACS: We reject -- we reject all these accusations. And what we would like to restore is law and order at the borders of the European
How can you expect a country in Europe behave that would be possible in the United States.
How it would be possible, actually, that illegal migrants in hundreds of thousands and millions enter the European Union. We are trying to fulfill
our duties, and you cannot point your finger on Hungary, because Hungary is fulfilling the treaties and is trying to pull international law.
AMANPOUR: Well, I would get back to you with something that your own prime minister recently said.
But let me actually ask you, Ambassador then, obviously the migrant crisis has destabilized lots of Europe, a lot of Europe, even Germany, which had
the initial open welcome mat.
Even Hungarian officials say and oppositions that the EU is very slow. The 2008 crash, the Euro crisis, the refugee crisis. People are feeling that
the EU is not doing enough and quickly enough and they're feeling that.
KOUNALAKIS: Sure. Well, let's be clear. This is the most significant immigration crisis since the Second World War. And so the question is, how
will the European Union, the partners in this great union, work together to address the problem.
It is not helpful for the leader of Hungary to run an initiative, the slogan is keep them out and say essentially that they're not even willing
to accept what would amount to about 1300 migrants, Syrian migrants coming in to Hungary because they are taking such a hard line.
What I think would be a much better approach for Hungary that is so invested in its membership in the EU from its cohesion funds to the open
market, to the ability for people to live any where within the EU, it is so beneficial to the Hungarians that their leadership should be right at the
table, not looking of how to take a hard line position, but looking at how it can play a role in working together to address what is a very, very
AMANPOUR: Indeed, it is.
Mr. Kovacs, lastly to you, I still need to understand where your government is taking this in the long run.
So let me play this sound bite from your own prime minister not too long ago, a couple of days ago, in fact, September 28th, about European values
and how Hungary is reacting to this situation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ORBAN (through translator): We lose our European values and identity the way frogs are cooked in slowly heating water. Quite simply, slowly there
will be more and more Muslims and we will no longer recognize Europe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: OK. So that's the bottom line. You don't want more Muslims in.
So what is the future going to be? What is your big picture, Mr. Kovacs?
KOVACS: Well, the Hungarian government was outspoken on that several times. First time year ago, back in September, we have made (INAUDIBLE)
proposal, or rather we have reenforced it to Schengen 2.0 proposal in the spring.
And as the sound bite was coming, (INAUDIBLE), the prime minister and those were before has made it clear what kind of Europe we believe in. And that
is a strong Europe through strong member states.
And also a strong Europe, which is maintaining, retaining its own, very own values on which it was based back by the founding fathers in the '50s and
Europe carries values which is based on Christianity and its general meaning that is under Greek, Roman and the Judeo-Christian values we all
What's happening in Europe today is endangering those fundamental foundations, and we believe we should step up against it.
AMANPOUR: Zoltan Kovacs, thank you very much.
And how would you address, Eleni, very, very briefly and very quickly the fear around a lot of Europe that fundamental European values are under
KOUNALAKIS: In a time of crisis, you don't need people taking extreme views, pointing fingers and in sighting fear. Europe has seen that story
before, and it did not turn out well.
What you need is through the context of this great organization, which is the European community -- European Union, for member states to come
together to address the issues together in a positive way that speaks to the best of the Hungarians and the best of the Europeans, and not the
lowest of them.
AMANPOUR: Well, we thank you both very, very much.
Ambassador Kounalakis and Zoltan Kovacs.
KOVACS: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much for being with us tonight.
AMANPOUR: And when we come back, another country, another referendum.
In Colombia, a hard one piece hangs in the balance after a fraction of the country voted it down. We ask what is next for the peace deal that could
have ended the hemisphere's longest war, 52 years, and now still counting.
[14:16:13] AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.
After half a century of conflicts, Colombia and the FARC guerrilla group were on the brink of peace. But the Colombian people said no in a shock
referendum result last night.
At least a fifth of them did in a record low turnout, 38 percent of Colombians narrowly rejected a peace deal negotiated by the president for
four long years.
Juan Manuel Santos says the cease-fire is still in effect and he vows to revive the deal, which was praised by the pope and all Colombia's
Though the plan called for a truth and reconciliation-style process of repentance, it also foresaw FARC leaving its war-making and entering the
political process, but opponents led by Santos' predecessor, thought FARC gorillas weren't being punished enough for their role in the conflict which
killed more than 200,000 people and displaced millions more and so they torpedoed it.
The FARC leader known as Timochenko said that peace would eventually triumph.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RODRIGO LONDONO AKA TIMOCHENKO, FARC COMMANDER (through translator): The FARC maintains its willingness for peace and reiterates its position to use
only words as weapons to work towards the future.
To the Colombian people, who dream of peace, you can count on us. Peace will win out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, Javier Ciurlizza, senior analyst with the Ford Foundation in Bogota explained to me what would likely happen now.
Javier Ciurlizza, welcome to the program.
JAVIER CIURLIZZA, SENIOR ANALYST, FORD FOUNDATION: Thank you very much. Very nice to be here.
AMANPOUR: You know, the pictures are really staggeringly sad. So many people with their hands in their face, weeping, wiping tears away, the
faces of shock after one of the really hopeful stories of recent months has been dashed.
So what now, Mr. Ciurlizza? What on earth happens now?
CIURLIZZA: This is indeed a very sad day for peace for Colombia. Out of 43 million Colombians that were able to vote, only 12 million turned out to
actually vote. And out of them, only 47,000 votes, the no option won. That's democracy. But now, I think the game is far from over.
President Santos still has authority to carry out the negotiations and to look for this approval that has been difficult to get, mostly because the
message didn't get all Colombians with the same force. And maybe because this country that has gone through 53 years of war, it will take some time
to convince many of Colombians that peace is a real option.
AMANPOUR: Well, listen, we all know that peace requires compromise and we'll get to that in a second.
But you say 12 million out of 43 million came out to vote. I mean, is that even valid? In a referendum, don't you have a certain percentage of a
CIURLIZZA: It is valid. The constitutional court has two requirements. First, the yes vote have more votes than the no vote. And it established a
threshold of 4.5 million votes for any of the options. And both options went beyond the threshold.
So actually, it is legally and constitutionally valid. This is more a political problem. The extension of Colombia has been historically very
big, and this has affected mainly the big cities, where in this case, the population maybe don't feel the war as priority, and therefore, setting the
peace is very difficult.
AMANPOUR: Isn't that such a bitter irony that those people in the places directly affected by the war voted overwhelmingly yes to this peace
negotiation. And those people who are just fine and dandy in the urban centers, who as you say haven't been touch recently by the war voted no.
[14:20:12] People are saying -- I've definitely heard it said -- that, you know, that President Oribe, who led the no campaign, many of the people
like him and others, maybe just did it out of spite.
I mean, maybe they were just jealous that some other president of a different party managed to secure a peace that they couldn't secure.
And this is a really serious point, because people like Ingrid Betancourt who was held hostage by these people for years and thought that this was
the best deal that they could get in a decent deal, she is worried now that these great people who want even more concessions from the FARC would cost
them further over the line and make war maybe even more inevitable.
Don't they bear that responsibility now?
CIURLIZZA: You're absolutely right, Christiane. And one of the things that has been more damaging to the plebiscite has been this personal
This became a Santos versus Oribe competition and not peace versus war competition. And many people voted yesterday for and against political
leaders, and they didn't vote for and against peace. This has to be overcome.
How do you do that? Taking out the dilemma between peace and war out of the hands of these political leaders. We need more voices, more political
leaders, more people involved, because what has happened yesterday has tested that peace cannot be taken for granted in Colombia, and that is not
enough to have the government and the international community behind. There is an educational process pending to be done and pending to be
AMANPOUR: Yes. Just finally, I need to clarify on this. You say take it out of the hands of the politicians.
President Santos secured a peace that no other leader has been able to secure. Isn't the real issue why did they put it to a referendum?
Wasn't the president hired, elected to actually do national security for the country? And he spent years doing this? Isn't that the real question?
I mean, can you imagine the Good Friday agreement here between the UK and Northern Ireland? What if that are being put to a referendum? We've had
more than 20 years of peace thanks to the fact that it wasn't.
CIURLIZZA: That's not actually true. And, of course, Santos risked his capitol, his political capitol with the plebiscite. He didn't have the
obligation to go into a plebiscite. He wanted to do that. Now he still can legally talking approve the peace deal without the plebiscite. But the
politics is the problem.
The political alliance surrounding Santos is not precisely very strong. And the position is, of course, reinvigorated. So it's time that Santos
calls for more people to be there. It's time for same society to jump from the balcony into the negotiations.
AMANPOUR: I keep thinking of this terrible slogan, you know, "Don't let perfection be the enemy of the good." And it does seem that, frankly,
Colombia has done that and it's a very sad day. And we wish you well in your country.
Javier Ciurlizza, thank you so much, indeed.
CIURLIZZA: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: And after a break, we imagine a world of failure on the peace front. That failed talks for Syria as the U.S. suspends bilateral
negotiations with Russia.
We listen in on John Kerry, behind the scenes, describing their diplomatic debacle. That's next.
[14:25:44] AMANPOUR: And, finally, tonight, in the face of all those failed peace deals and referendums we've just talked about, imagine Syria,
where it seems that even a few hours of peace can't be bought for love, nor money, nor diplomacy.
As we've told you, today, the U.S. says it is suspending bilateral discussions on Syria with Russia.
Now imagine a world behind the scenes, with that humanitarian convoy bombed to smithereens and hospitals being destroyed in Aleppo, the U.S. secretary
of state John Kerry was recorded lamenting the situation in a meeting with Syrian opposition at the U.N. General Assembly last month.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I've argued for use of force. I stood up. I'm the guy who stood up and announced we're going to attack Assad because
of the weapons, and then you know things evolved into a different process. But the bottom line is that we -- Congress refused even to vote to allow
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have one question, then. One of the bottom line, how many? How many Syrians? What is the bottom line? Because chemical is
there, and it wasn't the bottom line? Hospitals -- you mean the red line. Yes, no, no, what is the end of it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You can hear the frustration, even the anger, as Kerry later tried to explain to the skeptical and desperate Syrian delegation why the
U.S. could not or would not do more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: Well, the problem is the Russians don't care about international law and we do. And we don't have a basis, our lawyers tell us, unless we
have a UN Security Council resolution, which the Russians can veto and the Chinese, or unless we are under attack from the folks there, or unless we
are invited in. Russia is invited in by the legitimate regime -- or illegitimate really, but by the regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: This revealing conversation also covered the controversial topic of Assad's future in Syria. And you can hear the despair of one Syrian
woman at the meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: So you think the only solution is for somebody to come in and get rid of Assad?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
KERRY: That's the only solution?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who is that going to be? Who is going to do that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three years ago, I would say you. But right now, I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Fascinating, troubling insight behind the closed doors of high stakes diplomacy.
And that's it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching, and goodbye from London.