The Hungarian president’s speech

Some people think that László Sólyom’s speech yesterday was incoherent and inconsequential. Others consider it an important speech demonstrating a certain willingness on his part to put pressure on the opposition to engage in political dialogue. I didn’t hear the speech on television and only read the text on the homepage of the president’s office. It was a short, badly written speech giving voice to disjointed, sometimes opaque thoughts.

The speech started off on an optimistic note: he urged everybody to celebrate "with us." This is certainly a step in the right direction because in the last few years joint celebrations have been nonexistent. The parties celebrate at different times and in different places. The Fidesz leaders refuse to show up at government sponsored meetings. This is not something new. Even when the Fidesz was in power, they barred the opposition from taking part in certain events. For example, although the negotiations concerning Hungary’s joining NATO were mostly conducted by the Horn government, the brand-new Fidesz government didn’t invite the former prime minister to the official ceremonies in Washington. On the other hand, the Medgyessy government did invite Orbán to Greece for celebrations on joining the European Union. Orbán accepted the invitation but refused to go on the same plane or at the same time. He went alone, left alone, and avoided all contacts with the official Hungarian delegation.

But to return to Sólyom’s speech. This "togetherness" was emphasized a few sentences later when he said that the "Day of St. Stephen is the day of unity." "Everybody’s interest is the independence, security, and well being of the country." This is what some politicians call "the national minimum."  The Fidesz has often been criticized for not lending a helping hand in the achievement of this national minimum. On the contrary, the Fidesz members of the European parliament, lobbying against Hungarian government programs, often wage a propaganda campaign against their own country.

So far there is nothing wrong with Sólyom’s speech. One could say that it is altogether positive. Although I’m sure that Viktor Orbán won’t change his attitude, it is still good that Sólyom said what he said.

I am, however, puzzled by the recurring theme of "defending the country’s independence" in his speech. What does he mean by that? Hungary is part of NATO, part of the European Union. Why should it be the Hungarian state’s duty to defend the country’s independence? Against whom? I hope not against the European Union’s encroaching internationalism. Is this a form of moral protectionism (directed both against the current government and globalization)?

His remarks on the role of the state and the market may support this hypothesis, though I don’t think his ideas are all that coherent. According to Sólyom, "nothing good will come of the state retiring and passing on its duties to the market or vice versa. A strong market and a strong state should complement each other. But a weak and corrupt state produces a plundering market. Only the state can survey the whole country and place the interests of different groups into a harmonious whole. The question is not the size of the state, but its quality. Today, in this globalized world, we need the centralized strength of the state."

He then turns to the European Union. First he says that "although for us the membership cost more than for some other countries," the union is a good thing. However, "the European Union will not solve the unity of the Hungarian nation, its unitary development independently of frontiers." Basically, Sólyom here seems to disagree with those who think that within the EU, when frontiers are not really frontiers anymore, the problem of the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries could be solved.

Sólyom finished his speech by talking about "trust" and "fear." According to him "distrust originates from fear. The great sin of politics, starting with the change of regime, is that it introduced fear of the opponent as a political weapon. If the political rivals consider each other the embodiment of absolute evil, [this] may help to hold together their own camps, but it destroys the bases which keep the whole together. " This, according to some, might have been addressed to the Fidesz, but, knowing Sólyom, I am sure that he thinks both camps share responsibility in equal measure.