Viktor Orbán’s Speech on the Anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848
March 15, 2015 11:29 PM
15 March 2015, Budapest
“May there be peace, freedom and accord!”
Ladies and Gentlemen, Fellow Citizens, Compatriots, Hungarians around the world,
I greet you from the wellspring of a revolution which took place one hundred and sixty-seven years ago. We stand here now in the very place from which a magical energy emanated, electrifying the Hungarians and forming them into a great nation. If there is a sacred stairway in Hungarian history, this is surely it. It is also certain that if there was a sacred, a phoenix-like moment in the rebirth of the Hungarian spirit, that moment was 15 March 1848. Freedom and the nation’s independence: these are the twin guiding stars of Hungarian life, of Hungarian history. Lineage, a sense of purpose, meaning and a touchstone – the eternal touchstone with which every generation of Hungarians is evaluated. The history of the Hungarian people over one thousand one hundred years in the Carpathian Basin appears to be unfathomably intricate and complex. We need to survey it from a greater distance, however – from the celestial vantage point occupied by our great forebears King Saint Stephen, King Matthias, Bethlen, Rákóczi, Széchenyi, Kossuth and Tisza. From those starry heights, to which we humble descendants may only ascend by rope ladder, the centuries crystallise into a unity, allowing us to marvel at the infinitely simple and translucent fabric of the history of the Hungarian people. Turning to the West, we see the German-speaking world, an ever-orderly realm of emperors and iron chancellors, turning all to its advantage – even economic crises that shred other nations. To the East the empires of martial, Slavic peoples a hundred times larger than ours. To the South we may behold the People of the Crescent in their multitudes, the wasp nest’s unrelenting hum and ferment. Vienna, Berlin, Moscow and Istanbul – and here we stand between them, here in the Hungarian homeland: at one and the same time the geographical heart of Europe, the borderland of empires, and a meeting point of cultures.
We are people which has never longed for that which belongs to others. A people which has never desired and never could have desired anything other than to keep that which is its own. A people keenly aware that it must hold onto that which is its own, even when it finds itself in the grip of vast empires. If that is lost, it will have nothing left; it will become a servant and a vagrant in its own country. Therefore we ourselves must arrange our affairs according to our needs, designed to serve them as we see fit. We must live in the language which we alone understand, in the culture which we alone can give the world. Constitution, legal codes, national assembly, government, academies, national economy: all these serve but one end. We must Always bear in mind that the Hungarian people’s most valuable asset is that which sets it apart from all others. If we were the same as others, what purpose would we serve in the world, and on what grounds could we seek God’s assistance in the face of our opponents?
To remain independent among those who are larger than us. To defend our land, our home. To create our own free Hungarian world. This is the core commandment of Hungarian history; to appreciate this, you do not need to be a historian, nor a statesman. You do not even need to be highly educated. This ancestral knowledge is a deep instinct for every Hungarian. Hungarians know that they can only be free individually, if the entire nation is free. And the nation can only be free if it is brave enough to rise to the challenge. If you are smaller in size and population, be equal – be equal at least in mind, in spirit and in humanity. But can we achieve this feat? Can we be the equal of those who are larger than us? For us the lesson of 15 March 1848 is that we may indeed achieve this feat. Perhaps it is because we achieved victory on the very first day that after one hundred and sixty-seven years we are still in love with this revolution. Our later defeat altered nothing – we felt it was a victorious, as have always done ever since; this is because we knew – we always knew – that we were right. And at that time the whole world knew this also – even our oppressors knew it. This is why they paid us the honour of showing their fear from the very first moment. We paid a high price for it: the Prime Minister, the Martyrs of Arad, the greatest Hungarian poet, and some twenty-five thousand Hungarian soldiers gave their lives for freedom and their homeland. The Hungarians mourned their dead, but never for a moment felt that the sacrifice had been in vain. We were never in doubt; we knew it would be only a question of time before the Revolution bore fruit of and the country was liberated. We thought that even in the midst of disaster the Hungarian nation was lucky, because it was privileged to love both its homeland and justice at the same time.
And, Fellow Hungarians, were the soldiers of the Russian army that overran us really the sons of a more fortunate nation? Their campaign was not that of a nation happier than ours, but merely the military triumph of a nation more populous than ours. It was also a dark episode in their history, and will remain so; but for us Hungarians, the crushing of the freedom fight is seen as the cathartic birth pangs of a modern nation, an inexhaustible store of legends. A heroic reality, glittering star-like in the thoughts of a people with heads held high for as long as Hungarians live in this world. Our freedom fight brought the occupiers only shame, cholera and a sense of guilt. And to make matters worse, less than two generations later, those who united against us became enemies: Russians attacking Austrians, and Austrians attacking Russians. They finally brought down with them the old Europe, and the spirit, philosophy and character which once elevated the nations of our continent to the forefront of humanity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the last one hundred and sixty-seven years the world has changed a great deal. Today opponents no longer crush each other’s heads – instead they count them. Democracy has arrived, along with a raft of complicated national and international rules. However, the hub around which Hungarian life revolves – the essence and purpose of Hungarians’ fate – is utterly unchanged. Hungarians work hard for their survival, for security, and for recognition. They work hard for the advancement of their families and their children. They work hard to have a place which is their own, where they may belong. And in return for their hard work and perseverance, they expect the respect which is due to them. This is what we have always wanted – in 1848, when we sought to free ourselves from serfdom, and after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise, when we built a country and a capital that the whole world marvelled at. This is what we wanted after the annexations we endured from 1920 onwards, and this is the path we searched for in the grey fog of communism. When communism fell we made sacrifices for our advancement, security, recognition and respect; this is what we hoped for, and this is what we worked for. Once more we learnt that all the hard work, all the sacrifices and all the perseverance will be in vain if we do not unite, if we lack strong legislation and government, if we fail to regain our national consciousness individually as well as collectively, if we do not find our self-esteem, stand up for ourselves, and take control of our lives. If we fail to do these things, all our efforts will be in vain, because the fruits of our hard work will go to speculators, corporate conglomerates and financial empires; the fruits will be enjoyed in other countries, just as when we were the Habsburg Empire’s backyard. It has taken us twenty years to come to this realisation, but on this we finally reached an accord. We agreed that it is honourable to live from work, and this is something that one should take pride in. We agreed that we must openly stand up for ourselves, and that we must stand up for the interests of the country. We agreed that our families and children are the ultimate meaning of our labour, and that they therefore deserve protection. And we also agreed that we Hungarians, wherever we may live in the world, constitute a single nation, and that therefore every Hungarian has a responsibility towards every other Hungarian.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the past few years we have achieved far more than we might think. Today once more, deep down a strong Hungarian nation is being forged. Over the past twenty-five years every Hungarian has had the chance to see that we shall either be successful together or not at all. Either we all advance together, or we all sink into the mud. Either we broaden our country’s horizons together, or we all suffocate in the cramped confines of petty, narrow-minded jostling. Together, or not at all: this was also the lesson of the 1848 Revolution. On the morning of 15 March, six people set off from the Café Pilvax. By mid-morning they were marching together in their hundreds, by noon in their thousands, and by the afternoon in their tens of thousands. And all this without Facebook. The 1848 Revolution was a pan-Hungarian achievement: unprecedented voluntary action, a pan-national patriotism, which mysteriously united and galvanised serf, count, industrialist, churchman, student, actor and poet. The Hungarian cause also attracted Poles, Italians, Romanians, Serbs, Germans, and even Austrians; and the heat of its all-inspiring ideal and sentiment forged them into a single whole – regardless of language, culture, financial standing or social status,.
We know that one hundred and sixty-seven years ago Hungary’s relative weight was greater than it is today. In terms of population, however, it fell far short of the present-day Hungarian nation. Therefore, the epic events of 1848–49 were the pan-national achievement of a nation smaller in population than it is today. Our great-grandfathers’ collective intelligence, courage and sacrifice serve as proof that, in an historic perspective, standing our ground is not a question of numbers. We should not be ashamed to say out loud that Hungary was the flagship of freedom and democracy in the western world. In 1852, in the US state of Ohio, Lajos Kossuth gave a speech to an audience that included a future president of the United States, –one Abraham Lincoln. I quote from Kossuth’s speech: “All for the people, and all by the people. Nothing about the people without the people. That is democracy. And that is the ruling tendency of the spirit of our age.” Just over a decade later, in a speech defining the essential structure of western democracy, Lincoln would say “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Yes, Lajos Kossuth was acclaimed by enormous crowds in the United States – which was still at the time a country with slavery – and in England workers who sympathised with the Hungarians almost lynched General Haynau during the Austrian’s visit there. In 1910 former US president Theodore Roosevelt would said: “The whole civilized world is indebted to Magyarland, for its historic deeds.” And indeed, some eight hundred Hungarians – including generals and around fifty senior officers – had fought in the American Civil War, which put an end to slavery in America. Is it any wonder then, if the people of Kossuth and Petőfi merely smile when anyone wants to lecture them on freedom and democracy?
Lajos Kossuth told us that the past is the mirror of the future. If you want to know the future, acquaint yourself more thoroughly with the past. We Hungarians have thoroughly familiarised ourselves with the labyrinths of the past, and we therefore know that freedom means the inalienable right of every nation to pursue its own path. We have had our share of suffering. We were the ones who were not afraid to stand against the “holy alliance” of feudal kings in 1848. And we were also the ones who stood against the invincible Soviet Union in 1956. Everyone was cheering us on from the sidelines, but no one ran onto the pitch.
We are part of Europe, and together with the continent’s other nations we wish to shape its future. Today Europe is full of questions, and Hungary is full of answers. We know full well that the future will not be determined by how straight Europeans’ cucumbers are, but how straight their backbones are. We Hungarians stand tall in the family of the European peoples, with heads held high, and hearts uplifted. One hundred and sixty-seven years have flown past, but the essence has not changed. The struggle for Hungary’s sovereignty will never end, and in this cause we have only ourselves to rely on. We know because we have learnt that unity, faith in the truth and perseverance will lead us to victory. Only the strong survive. We Hungarians are on the threshold of a great era. The name of Hungary will be great again, worthy of its old, great honour. Honour to the brave!
Long live Hungarian freedom, long live our homeland!
(Prime Minister's Office)