Viktor Orbán’s thoughts on the “Hungarian quality of existence” (I)

It was on February 17, 2010, that the speech Viktor Orbán delivered in September at a "civic picnic" in Kötcse, a small village near Lake Balaton, was published in its entirety. It appeared in a new literary weekly financed by Fidesz or Fidesz connected foundations. At the time I didn't go into all the details of the speech though I did call attention to the fact that, as opposed to the Hungarian media, I noticed already on September 8, 2009, that this speech was something out of the ordinary.

I'm now returning to the topic because in the last week or so commentators simply can't agree on what the speech was all about. They can't decide what the message was. What did Viktor Orbán actually want to say? How much of it is a reflection of what they can expect under an Orbán government politically and culturally? Or was it only the "delirious rantings of a guy in a small village," as András Gerő történész said on József Orosz's Kontra tonight, adding a semi-political joke that Hungary is "a free country where anybody can be stupid." Orosz rightly pointed out that these words were uttered by a man who most likely will be Hungary's next prime minister and not by a stupid lad from a small village. Orosz and his friends read something very sinister in this speech: a frightening picture of a future where the institutions of democracy are mere ornaments of a basically one-party system.

Actually I'm not surprised about these sharply divergent interpretations of this speech, now available on the internet. It is horribly muddled. Here and there it is outright incomprehensible. While reading it I had the distinct feeling that the speaker himself hadn't thought through the meaning of what he was saying. Almost as if the ideas gleaned from a variety of sources got garbled in his head. They were not thoroughly digested. Or, even worse, not quite understood.

The speech can be divided into two distinct parts. The first is about the interconnection of culture and government. The second dresses his political ideas in philosophical garb. Today I will deal only with the first half of it. I tried to pick out the sentences I consider important.

The title of the speech is: "To preserve the Hungarian quality of being." What does this title mean? We find the answer in the fourth paragraph. An ideal Hungarian government must realize that "the community of Hungarians, in general the Hungarian quality of existence among other things, originates from the fact that we possess a certain outlook that is characteristic of us alone. The way we describe, understand, perceive, express the world around us." So nationality shapes sensing, thinking, recounting. Presumably there is a Hungarian national Weltanschauung that informs every intellectual and creative endeavor.

The most sensitive question of the speech is the connection between culture and government. Orbán seems to be saying that the cultural elite must help advance the work of the government. "The politicians of the government in power are expecting from the representatives of high culture the impulses from which it becomes clear whether what they are working for still exists. In other words that Hungarian culture and quality still exist." This is horribly muddled, but there seems to be a very strong connection here between politics and culture, a connection that brings back bad memories of the Soviet-type dictatorship when literature and art had to serve political purposes.

In fact, I think this is exactly what Orbán is talking about although, as I repeat time and again, it is not easy to figure out exactly what he wants to say. According to him, "the elite, including the political elite, must give examples for living a life of quality and set examples of moral behavior."  And the government's duty is to pass all these examples on to the masses.

But Orbán goes further when he talks about public acceptance of the works of the elite. He seems to indicate that there should be only one set of values that serves the whole nation; "the real problem today in Hungary is that there are no set values that would guide the community in choosing the elite that could give them examples and models." The neo-liberal elite played a sorry role; when the long awaited political change comes it will need a different cultural elite that serves its purposes. The goverment and the cultural elite work hand in hand: if one is successful the other will be also.

The present elite has played itself out. Failed together with the government. "The poor showing of the government discredited the social-liberal cultural elite as well. Perhaps this sounds too harsh. Perhaps the people who are part of this elite don't find this opinion fair because they think that independently from all that they can still write good novels. The readers will decide that. But they still took part in forming public opinion that led the country to where we are today. It is bankrupt and they should take responsibility for this bankruptcy." Orbán doesn't go into detail about what awaits the members of this intellectual community. However, I can well imagine what will happen to those intellectuals who have been supporting Fidesz in the last eight hungry years. They are expecting to be paid; in return they will set the tone of this new Hungarian cultural life.

Tomorrow I will talk about the possible political ramifications of the change of government.

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Odin's lost eye
Guest
If I may I have picked a number of quotes you have reported as being in Orban Victor’s speech. Firstly you quote that the speaker said *** “the community of Hungarians, in general the Hungarian quality of existence among other things, originates from the fact that we possess a certain outlook that is characteristic of us alone. The way we describe, understand, perceive, express the world around us.” You then add ** “So nationality shapes sensing, thinking, recounting.” Does a Hungarian perceive the physically world differently to say a French man or a Spaniard. Do you as a Hungarian see the physical world differently to your next door neighbour? If you do not, is it because you have lived too long amongst the awful Anglo-Saxons and have been infected by some dreadful virus which warped your perception? I have noticed that Hungarians (who seem to know all about everything) meet with something (physical) they do not understand they ignore it. You then quote from the speech *** “The politicians of the government in power are expecting from the representatives of high culture the impulses from which it becomes clear whether what they are working for still exists. In other words… Read more »
Steve
Guest

What Orbán is saying, is merely that the elite has a responsibility, to keep a clear picture of what the country and the people (both physically and culturally) should strive for.
Trying to explain his speech as some kind of talk about “übermensch” or some kind of secret plans to silence the liberal media, is just a lie. All he said about liberal politics and media, is that they have failed on their own. It seem that the left cant miss any opportunity to fabricate some lie about Orbán. This speech was nothing like Gyurcsány’s Őszöd speech. Orbán’s Kötcse speech is completely consequent with what he told in public, while Gyurcsány’s speech was about telling lies publicly, and admitting those lies and failures in privacy of his party.
I know that its frustrating for some to not have a juicy Orbán speech which would discredit him, but have you thought about that its maybe because he tells the truth?
I hope the translation and commenting of the second part will be a bit more objective.

GDF
Guest

Steve:”What Orbán is saying, is merely that the elite has a responsibility, to keep a clear picture of what the country and the people (both physically and culturally) should strive for.”
If that is what Orban says, he is a moron. The elite have no responsibility whatsoever. In a democracy the people can decide for themselves and they do that through elections. Sometimes they elect morons and eventually they perform the necessary correction during some future election.
The word “physically” in your statement is puzzling. What does it mean? Let’s beat up the opponents?

John T
Guest

“Steve:”What Orbán is saying, is merely that the elite has a responsibility, to keep a clear picture of what the country and the people (both physically and culturally) should strive for.”
I think that the responsibility of the “elite” is to firstly to behave like adults rather than than sulky little children. They must also remember that they are servants of the people rather than the people being their servants. Linked to that is the undrstanding that the people means 10 million souls, not just a proportion of the country. They must also respect the rule of law, including international laws that the country has signed up to.
I suspect that just the basic points I’ve set out above will probably prove impossible for all of the present political “elite” of any shade to adhere to.

GDF
Guest

John T: “I think that the responsibility of the “elite” is to firstly to behave like adults rather than than sulky little children. They must also remember that they are servants of the people rather than the people being their servants. ”
My undesrtanding is that the discussion is about the cultural elite, not the political one. And the cultural elite are not anyone’s servants. They are writers, actors, journalists, professors and so on.

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