If you think that I’m joking, no, I’m not. First, let me explain the title, “Heroes, kings, and saints.” The Orbán government ordered a special exhibition at the National Gallery. The employees of the gallery collected about 100 items, art works, books, and documents relevant to Hungarian history. According to Magyar Nemzet, “we are holding up our ancestors as a shield against cynicism.”
That last sentence might sound mysterious to non-Hungarians. The cynics are the non-patriotic left as opposed to the real representatives of Hungary who appreciate the historical greatness of the nation. Anyone who complains that too much attention is being paid to the past at the expense of the present and the future is non-patriotic (nemzetietlen).
I’m sure that most of you have been struck by the constant references to Hungarian historical figures when it comes to the economic and administrative plans of the government. The latest is a card that entitles the holder to free lunches or dinners. It is called “Erzsébet kártya.” I assume the reference here is to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) or, as she is known in Germany where she was sent to marry Ludwig IV of Thuringia, Heilige Elisabeth von Thüringen. An absolutely obvious choice for such a card. After all, the best-known legend about Elizabeth is that while she was taking bread to the poor in secret, her husband asked her what was in the pouch; Elizabeth opened it and the bread turned into roses.
The exhibition of Hungariana will be open until August 20, St. Stephen’s Day, and the celebrations of the new constitution will last until April 18, the anniversary of its birth.
It seems to me that the government is tone deaf when it comes to domestic and foreign reactions to its policies. Despite the approximately 100,000 people out on the streets demonstrating against the new constitution and sending Prime Minister Viktor Orbán straight to hell, the government is still planning a whole slew of celebratory events over the course of the next three months. Almost as if they were asking for punishment. Meanwhile anti-Orbán cartoons are appearing in the foreign press. Here’s one from Le Monde.
Despite the negative reactions to the new constitution, Orbán is parading as the second founder of the Hungarian state At the opening of the art exhibition in the National Gallery he said that the introduction of the new constitution is “the moment of the reestablishment” of the Hungarian state. This constitution, according to Orbán, “will renew the community we call the Hungarian nation.” Nothing like becoming a second St. Stephen! The new constitution will provide “a foundation with the strength of granite” to this new second national birth. Mind you, most people are certain that this constitution will not survive the fall of Viktor Orbán.
Orbán offered up other pearls of wisdom. For example, he said that Europe has given up on the spiritual depths of our civilization, among them “the spiritual energy of national cultures.” In the speech, he emphasized Hungary’s century-old striving for national sovereignty. Thus, it seems that Orbán is convinced that Europe’s problems stem from insufficient national sovereignty. Most people would claim exactly the opposite. In order for the European Union to function properly the rules of the game must be changed and member nations must relinquish some of their national sovereignty.
For the occasion a Fidesz faithful historian had to be found. The choice fell to Tamás Katona, once upon a time an MDF member of parliament. His speech centered around two themes. First, that Hungary ever since St. Stephen has been a constitutional state and, second, that with the introduction of the new constitution “the country has reconquered its own history.” The first claim is naturally wrong and the second simply frightening. I don’t want anyone to reconquer the past!
Later that day, while the celebration of the new constitution was taking place inside the Opera House, crowds gathered outside to stage a protest against the very document that is being heralded as the sign of the second foundation of the state.
It was peaceful with two minor incidents. Both involved members of the handful of far-right groups that showed up. Some of them discovered a few socialist politicians in the crowd and decided to spit on them. Here is a member of the Hungarian Guard who was in attendance. I found the picture very funny. I guess the photographer felt the same way.
The picture was taken by Ákos Stiller, Origo
To give you an idea of the massive precautionary measures, here is the police lineup in front of the Opera House.
Orbán, by the way, left the building through a back door. Celebrating under these circumstances couldn’t have been a great experience. According to a reporter of Index even “the hangers-on” lacked enthusiasm. See “Már Orbán sleppje sem ünnepel.” Gone are the days when as soon as Viktor Orbán appeared his faithful audience broke into extended applause accompanied by the chant “Viktor! Viktor!” Apparently, this time even the party faithful hardly clapped when Orbán stepped up to the microphone.
It is hard to celebrate under these circumstances but Orbán is trying to put a good face on the whole thing. Here he is celebrating the second founding of his state with President Pál Schmitt.
The prime minister and his faithful president understand each other well. For instance, Orbán banished the flag of European Union from his office. A year ago Schmitt made the mistake of still having the EU flag in sight when he delivered his New Year’s speech. But he got the message this year and followed the prime minister’s lead. So, it’s no wonder that the demonstrators sang the anthem of the European Union with great gusto outside the Opera House. They surely wanted to convey their desire to remain within the EU. We know that Orbán would be happier without those pesky EU politicians in Brussels, but the question is whether he is mad enough to step out on his own.