It was a long and full day in Budapest. The reports began pouring in early morning, even before six o’clock, as Hungarian journalists waited for the arrival of the Polish visitors who came to support their favorite Hungarian politician, Viktor Orbán.
If the radical Poles occupied the news this morning, the afternoon was full of stories about 500 neo-Nazis who tried to disrupt the demonstration organized by Milla. Early reports indicate that their behavior bore a suspicious resemblance to the events of September-October 2006 except perhaps there was a more anti-Semitic flavor and a few pro-Hitler declarations at the event.
Both topics deserve a longer analysis, but here I would like to stick with Viktor Orbán’s speech delivered in front of the parliament building. Kossuth tér was filled with an adoring crowd that MTI estimated at 250,000. Others talk about 100,000. In any case, there were a lot of them, including the Poles who naturally didn’t understand a word of what was going on. Orbán did say one sentence in Polish, but I’ll bet not too many Poles understood it. Or at least this is my opinion based on studying Polish for one year decades ago.
My first reaction to Viktor Orbán’s speech echoed a sign at the Milla demonstration: “Viktor Orbán, have you seen a doctor lately?” How can a man who badly needs the European Union’s financial and political assistance deliver such a speech? What does he want to achieve? How can he assure the European Commission about his cooperation on all outstanding issues in a letter to José Manuel Barroso written only yesterday and today tell the European Union that the Hungarian government has no intention of respecting the independence of the Hungarian National Bank? Because this is exactly what he said.
The Poles arrive on Kossuth tér, Ákos Stiller, HVG
But let me summarize the speech from beginning to end. Let’s start with the anomaly that the demonstration organized by the government–because it was organized by the government on taxpayers’ money–is called “Peace Walk” while the keynote speaker, the Hungarian prime minister, talks about nothing else but “war.” From the beginning to the end of the speech the “war of independence” was the theme. According to Orbán, the Hungarians of today are descendants of the mid-nineteenth-century warriors of freedom. He called the square in front of the Hungarian parliament “the square of the freedom fighters” while forgetting that neither the parliament nor the square existed in 1848. On March 15, 1848, the crowd gathered in front of the National Museum. That’s why normally the official celebrations take place there. But because the huge crowd that was supposed to lend weight to Orbán’s speech wouldn’t have fit into the relatively small area around the Museum, the venue was changed. In front of the National Museum, István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest, gave a long and fairly tedious speech. Most of his audience was made up of the Polish visitors who could think their own thoughts because there was no simultaneous translator on hand.
According to Orbán, the program of 2012, just as the one in 1848, is that “we will not be a colony!” The prime minister gave an entirely false description of Hungarian society when he claimed that “we have never been so close to achieving freedom … as we are now because we have never been so united.” Of course, the reality is exactly the opposite of this claim. Hungarian society has never been so divided as it is now and that division is due mostly to Orbán’s assiduous efforts in the last ten years or so. Not only are Hungarians united–he continued–but also strong. “For long decades we have never had so many political, constitutional, and economic opportunities as we have now.” Another lie because we all know that Hungary is in a very precarious situation. Furthermore, claimed Orbán, Hungarians are strong enough to achieve “a free Hungarian life” and therefore they don’t need “unasked-for help by foreigners.” (Actually, Orbán used the Hungarian word “szamárvezető” that literally means a man who is leading a donkey.)
What kind of unasked-for foreign help did he have in mind? The assistance this time “comes from people in well-tailored suits and not from men in shoulder-strapped uniforms” which is just another way of comparing Brussels to the Moscow of the Soviet Union. And while he was at it he made it clear that Hungarians “don’t tolerate injustice.” One might like or dislike Hungarians but no one can deny that “our freedom fights always served progress.” Hungarians were right even if everybody doubted them. That was the case in 1848 and in 1956. “The bureaucrats of Europe are watching us with suspicion today because we insist that new avenues must be found…. because we claim that only strong nation states can make Europe great. But you will see, my dear friends, we will be right again!”
“Modern colonizers stalk their prey patiently. They lull their vital instincts and their resistance …. This is what happened to Hungary after 2002 when people didn’t even notice that they were being captured by comfortable loans. It was in the last minute that we managed to avert disaster.” (Actually, Orbán talks about being lulled into tepid water that was slowly being boiled and the frog being cooked. It was in the last minute that Hungarians managed to jump out of the pot of hot water.)
Orbán then moved on to thinly veiled threats against the opposition at home. He declared that “it is not enough to vote against the evil but evil must be conquered. And it is not enough to conquer it but one must create the good, so the evil couldn’t return.” One can’t help but remember Orbán’s plans for a regime in which he and his party will be in power for at least twenty years. Or, all those allusions that the socialists and the liberals must be destroyed for good so they will be unable to return to Hungarian political life.
As for the current political atmosphere in Europe Orbán lashed out with a few harsh words on that topic. Hungarians understand that “the European Union is not an alliance of saints but they cannot watch with folded arms while some political and intellectual trend forces an unholy alliance on Europe.” I assume he is talking about the “liberal pestilence” that according to his followers is taking hold of Europe.
Finally, I ought to mention his jab at any European attempt to safeguard the Hungarian National Bank’s independence. Orbán recalled that in 1848 the radical youth of Pest demanded an independent Hungarian bank. But a national bank mustn’t be independent from the nation but “independent of foreign interests.”
All in all, Viktor Orbán’s vision of Hungary is a country that “turns on its own axis.” I think it is high time for the people in well-tailored suits in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, and other western capitals to tell Viktor Orbán to choose. Either live by the rules of the European Union and receive the benefits of the membership of this club or get out and try to turn on your own axis. Let’s not waste each other’s time with diplomatic niceties.