I mentioned earlier that Zsófia Mihancsik put together a fantastic collection of political utterances from St. Stephen's day, some of which I'll share, with commentary, today. If you recall from my brief history of the veneration of St. Stephen, in medieval times August 20th wasn't a holiday at all and even later it was only a religious feast. Nonetheless Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister in charge of national and church affairs, remarked in one of his speeches that "the Hungarian nation became richer in spirit, mind, and material goods when it was faithful to the heritage of St. Stephen." He added, "Let us here and now become St. Stephens!" How we can become St. Stephens I have no idea, but perhaps one should explain to Semjén that in fact Hungary's real flowering was precisely during those late medieval times when St. Stephen's cult was practically nonexistent.
Lajos Kósa, whose name will be forever associated with the international financial panic in June, also has a curious take on history. Acccording to him by granting citizenship to Hungarians living outside of the country's borders "we are able to tell our King Stephen that one of his political testaments seems to have materialized." I'm baffled. St. Stephen's testament? By granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in Romania, Slovakia and Serbia? What could Kósa possibly be thinking of?
Zoltán Balog, spiritual advisor to Viktor Orbán, considers practically everything the "message of the gospel," from the system of taxation to the choice of economic priorities. What is this message? "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
According to László Kövér, the new speaker of the house, in the last eight years the country was in a state of suspended animation because the leaders of the country, appealing to freedom, actually introduced the rule of lawlessness. Against this power an unparalleled national cooperation materialized: the new parliament received a mandate to start everything anew, meaning to return to the one-thousand-year-old road where "the interest of the nation and the Hungarian people is first and foremost." Really? In the last one thousand years? And only the last eight years were an exception?
Csaba Hende, minister of defense, announced at the graduation of the military academy that "now the Hungarian officer serves exclusively the Hungarian fatherland and the Hungarian national interest and not the interests of some kind of empire, ideology, or business group." A rather peculiar view of history again. In the last twenty years was a Hungarian officer serving the interests of an ideology or a business group? He ended his speech with, "For the fatherland to death." Hende claimed that this sentence was included in the oath the cadets took at the Ludovika Academy, the predecessor to the current military college, and that they were following the traditions of the Ludovika Academy. But when two officers were asked on MTV's "Ma Reggel" what these traditions were, they couldn't come up with anything. An embarrassing silence followed.
László Surján, minister of health in the Antall government and currently Fidesz member of the European parliament, gave a speech in Veszprém at the statue of St. Stephen and the Blessed Gisella. According to Surján, who is a Christian Democrat, the secret of a nation's rebirth is twofold. One is that the nation must find God and the other is the idea of cooperation. "Today economists teach that without morality not even the economy works."
According to Gábor Tamás Nagy, mayor of Budapest's first district, "the figure of St. Stephen is the foundation of every Hungarian's self-definition. It is through his person that we find each other." The poor mayor really got carried away when he continued: "There is no other nation whose first king would come to mind when it sees a loaf of bread. And there is no other nation on this earth that would couple the name of its first king with work…. Let's say it loud and clear that work is love made visible. Love gathers us together like a sheaf, thrashes us out, sifts us in order to get rid of all that is worthless, it mills us white and kneads us and finally throws us into the fire so we can become bread at the holy feast of God!" Where in the world did he get his religious education?
Most speeches on national holidays are painful, but these are were especially bothersome because of the total disregard of the Hungarian constitution's provisions concerning the separation of church and state. Zsolt Semjén during his meeting with Fouad Twal, the Roman Catholic archbishop and Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem who came to celebrations in Budapest, promised financial help to Hungarian pilgrims to the Holy Land. He would especially like to ensure that future priests will have the opportunity to make this pilgrimage. As far as the financing of such trips is concerned, he said: "It is naturally first and foremost the duty of the church but because financing of church affairs is the duty of the state, the two thus meet." Sure thing! It boils down to a claim that the state must shoulder all expenses, sacred and profane. I wonder how well this new religious zeal will go over. I have the feeling not too well.