I underestimated Viktor Orbán when I didn’t attach much significance to the change of the official name of the country from Hungarian Republic to Hungary in the new constitution. The immediate reaction in left-liberal circles was that this change showed Viktor Orbán’s intention to abandon the very institution of the republic. Ferenc Gyurcsány immediately began a campaign in defence of the republic. I, on the other hand, said that “these changes may not by themselves have great significance.” After all, a name is just a name. The important thing is the content. Oh, how wrong I was! It took me a few months to come to the conclusion that this “simple” name change has extraordinary consequences far beyond the abandonment of the idea of the republic.
To show how eager was Viktor Orbán to be the “prime minister of Hungary” instead of the Hungarian Republic Hírszerző (March 25, 2011) discovered that although the new constitution was not yet in force in December 2010 (as it is still not in force today) Orbán already called himself “prime minister of Hungary.” See the official seal he started using on documents at the end of last year.
On April 28, 2011 Endre Aczél wrote an opinion piece in Népszabadság entitled “Irredentism is emerging.” Aczél discovered many signs of emerging irredentism, starting with celebrating the signing of the new constitution with a two-hour documentary about Albert Wass, a mediocre writer with a checkered past. Wass’s syrupy book about the mountains of Transylvania is clearly an irredentist piece. On the very same day, Pál Schmitt talked about “the resurrection of Hungary,” another slogan of the irrredentist movement taken from the 1921 poem “Hungarian Creed” by Mrs. Elemér Váry-Papp. School children in the Horthy period had to recite some lines from this poem every day in school: “I believe in one God, I believe in one country, I believe in divine everlasting truth, I believe in the resurrection of Hungary.”
Aczél finished his place by saying that if Albert Wass were alive he would know why Viktor Orbán put Hungary instead of Hungarian Republic into the Easter Constitution. “My ladies and gentlemen, because of the borders. Every time we had a republican government de facto or de jure the current borders were valid. The republican state was smaller than the nation. If now ‘all Hungarians’ become part of the nation … then the Hungarian state (Hungary) can stretch as long as it finds Hungarians. First and foremost in the neighborhood. Thus under the veil of the constitution irredentism can become ‘official’ in a hidden form.'”
I must say that I thought Aczél was exaggerating. The notion that irredentism was hidden in the constitution just because the Hungarian Republic became Hungary seemed far-fetched to me.
Yes, this is what I thought until this morning when I read Péter Niedermüller’s article entitled “Quo vadis, MSZP–II” in today’s Galamus. Niedermüller gave a link to a speech Viktor Orbán made in Tusnádfürdő (Romania) on July 19, 2008. Here, the current prime minister made a clear distinction betwen Hungary (Magyarország) and the Hungarian Republic (Magyar Köztársaság). Let me quote the crucial passage: “Observe that when Hungary has a left-wing government how often one can see the words, ‘Hungarian Republic,’ on the cards in front of the Hungarian delegations. But Hungary and the Hungarian Republic are two different things. The Hungarian Republic is a technical terrain, Hungary, on the other hand, is the name of the nation. This is the difference that must guide us when we work out our national strategy.”‘
Well, now everything is clear. It is the above quotation that was the missing piece in Aczél’s article about irredentism. Now I understand why this not so innocent name change was introduced in the constitution. With his unique interpretation of the meaning of the two names, Orbán now claims to be the prime minister of all Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. When József Antall made the statement that in spirit he considered himself to be the prime minister of fifteen million Hungarians, the opposition, including Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz, was up in arms. Today, the same Viktor Orbán quite clearly views himself as the prime minister of all Hungarians in the region. And not just in spirit but in fact.
What Slovakia, Romania or even Serbia will think of all this I don’t know; I don’t even know whether the politicians of the neighboring countries will discover the ruse. The distinction may be too subtle or too artificial for foreign consumption. But one thing is sure: Viktor Orbán is on dangerous ground with his latest brainchild of Hungary versus Hungarian Republic.