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Viktor Orbán’s address at the inauguration of the National Museum Restoration and Storage Centre (OMRRK)

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bravo! Congratulations! I’m happy to be here with you. The context for every such opening ceremony is not only the cultural environment we happen to be in, but also the current political situation. Obviously here we have people who love culture, but we cannot ignore the fact that I’ve just come back from a meeting with the President of the United States, and this is what the press are most interested in now. We’re also on the threshold of elections to the European Parliament, and to avoid accusations of hypocrisy I should also say something about those – using culture as the starting point, of course. Regarding my visit to the United States, all I’d like to tell the press is that we’ve returned home in one piece – as you can see. Bearing in mind Hungary’s history of adversity, this is not to be dismissed too lightly. Indeed we managed to strengthen the strategic alliance between the United States and Hungary in every respect. As for other aspects of the talks which can’t be detailed here, I can tell you that it’s clear that we correctly assessed the situation some time around the beginning of this decade. The talks clearly showed that the world is facing major changes, and we’ll soon feel the wind generated by those changes.

As regards the European elections, all I’d like to say now is that every expression of political intent at a European level is about much more than how many representatives are sent to Europe by the Left or the Right. Every election In Europe is also about culture, and for us Hungarians the stakes are the survival and preservation of our culture. Today we can all see that Europe is led by people who support cultural surrender. They do so while hoping for something more magnificent; we don’t quite understand what they mean by this, but under no circumstances will it be what we’ve known up to now, and it won’t be a continuation of what went before. If you find this comment too harsh, then I could say that today Europe is led by people who aren’t concerned about the cultural surrender of our continent. Quite simply, they lack the intellectual dimension needed to equip Europe for the defence of its cultural identity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

But for us nothing is more important than remaining what we have always been. This was also the essence of the creation of the Városliget [Budapest City Park], where we are now: a hundred years ago our forebears wanted nothing other than to show the essence of the Hungarian genius, and how it can be expressed and preserved for the future. We have always believed that whether or not this will still be the case in a hundred years’ time is solely dependent upon us. This is why we want to send representatives to the European Parliament whose task there will not be the representation of party interests – not the interests of one party family or another – but the interests of Hungary: Hungary’s national interests. And in this our culture will play a prominent role – a decisive one, even.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The National Centre for Museum Restoration and Storage: this is the official name of this institution. Hearing this name, most people will not feel that their souls have been stirred. These few words – “National Centre for Museum Restoration and Storage” – are unlikely to provoke mass excitement among our fellow Hungarians. But things start becoming far more interesting if we tell Hungarians that this name and the function it refers to can be found at this level of quality in only two other institutions in Europe. When we look at what is happening here and the facility we are inaugurating, things will fall into place if we then add that these two other institutions are linked to the British Museum in London and the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg – and that the French are also engaged in a similar project, with a development under way which is linked to the Louvre. Even Hungarians who are not particularly committed to culture can appreciate that this is something serious and important. If we view all this from a historical perspective, we could also add that ten years ago Hungary was a broken country, in which we were engaged in a daily struggle for survival, and in which we couldn’t even imagine aspiring to major cultural enterprises. That was the situation in 2010. But by 2011 our courage was restored, and we could see the success of our efforts in pulling a bankrupt country back from the edge of the precipice, and in standing back on our own two feet. We saw the promising signs, our Constitution based on Christian and national foundations was adopted, and we realised that a revived economy would be worth far less without great long-term cultural enterprises. In 2011 we were truly penniless and on our uppers, and long-term projects seemed more like dreams, but nonetheless we drew up a plan. For this we are grateful to László Baán, who agreed to lead what was then a highly uncertain enterprise: he developed a plan for how Hungary could dramatically advance towards its past greatness and glory in the cultural sphere, and how in the preservation of our cultural values we could progress from being laggards in Europe to front runners once more.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The relationship between Hungarians and greatness is always a complex matter, as we are a country which was once large but is now smaller: talk of greatness arouses associations which lead one slightly astray. It’s also not entirely clear how and why a country with a shrunken geographical area should speak about greatness. But, believe me, without greatness it is not worth living. Without greatness it is not worth building a country. Without a sense of greatness it is not worth getting up in the morning and starting work. That is truly worth doing if one feels that one is building something much more important than oneself – something much greater. While of course Hungary’s borders are fixed in space and time, for us greatness means that if we want to expand our world, then we must build upwards: towards the heavens. In that direction we see two things: faith and culture. So this must be the focus of our work. Many have dismissed this idea, of course, because there is truth in the lyrics of the old Hungarian hit song in which Hobo sings that “we’ve been down so long we don’t even remember what it’s like to be up”. It’s precisely such a people that we must galvanise, enthuse, and convince of the need for great enterprises: a people that’s been down so long it doesn’t even remember what itis like to be up. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised if those of us who belong to that generation are a little short of breath as we try to climb the stairs of greatness, the stairs of greatness of culture. But we are certain – at least I am – that for our children such atmospheric conditions will be normal and natural, and that they’ll continue the work where we leave off.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m convinced that we will again be able to rise to where we were before: one need only believe in it and work for it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This institution is the largest museological development that Hungary has seen for decades. Here more than one million cultural artefacts from our past will be stored and curated in the most technically advanced circumstances. But there will also be a visitors’ centre, an exhibition space and a 13,000-square-metre park for the enjoyment of the people of Budapest. Our thoughts about Budapest can be summed up in the saying that this city is the home of the people of Budapest and the capital of the nation. This project will both make Budapest more of a home and strengthen the role of this city – our city – as the capital of the nation. So today Budapest has gained yet another valuable institution: it has become even more beautiful, even more modern, and – as you can see – even greener. I would like to congratulate Mayor of Budapest István Tarlós on the development of the city, and thank him for his cooperation in the implementation of this project. This is a good sign for further possible cooperation between us in the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For an ordinary person one million cultural artefacts represents an almost inconceivable quantity. What is important, however, is what we see in these one million objects. We can see them as junk from times gone by. If we describe them from the point of view so widespread among the European intelligentsia, we could say that in them we see the dusty objects of a dead white culture. Such a left-wing, “progressive” approach creates such an interpretation. But if we look at them from a national point of view, we can see in them our living cultural heritage. From the point of view of our future, it is vitally important which view of them we take: a living cultural heritage, or junk from olden times. We believe that the identity of a nation and a civilisation is most clearly reflected and concentrated in the intellectual works which we refer to – for the sake of simplicity – as “culture”. To us the objects brought here represent intellectual works. The riches handed down to us by our ancestors and the lesson they teach us is that only a nation which values its heritage will be able to create a liveable future for itself. It was also in this spirit that they conceived the park and exhibition marking the Hungarian Millennium. They knew – as we do – that without the foundations of the past we will subside, and without an anchor we will be swept along by the storms of history. As they created our great public collections, we also learnt from them that recollection through collection inspires thought, and attention to the past lifts us just high enough above the present to give us a view of the future’s horizon. For us, therefore, museums and their support institutions are compasses of thought which both reveal the world to us and tell us our location within it. I felt a shock when László Baán said that part of his proposal for the Liget Project was a “warehouse” costing 20 billion forints. I started to wonder how, in a village somewhere in Tiszántúl [Eastern Hungary], we could explain that – just having survived the economic crisis and just having started to pull ourselves together – we would be glad to spend 20 billion forints on some warehouse. But then representatives of the profession presented the Government with convincing plans which showed us that in this field poverty is not only evident in the condition of our exhibition spaces: it’s also felt in the way support institutions and storage facilities are equipped, in the facilities for specialist museum work, and for the work of restorers, researchers and art historians. There’s no point in apparently first-class exhibition spaces if these elements aren’t in place: in reality the museological profession will be unable to progress. This convinced the Government that, for an undertaking of the scale of the Liget Project, the size of the necessary support institutions would inevitably result in such construction costs. Yielding to László Baán’s arguments, this is how the Government came to the decision that we needed a centre like this.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I’ve said, background institutions such as this both reveal the world to us and indicate our location in it. It is easy to describe our place in the world: Hungary, the Carpathian Basin and Europe. We are proud of Europe’s millennia-old Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian heritage. We are proud that the Hungarian people have enriched this heritage for a thousand years. We are also proud that in global terms Hungarian culture is at the forefront – something which we are also proving here today. Therefore when we sense that this culture is at risk a red light comes on in our heads, and we immediately take action. The continued existence of Hungarian culture in a hundred or a thousand years’ time is by no means natural or guaranteed. I’d like to remind all of us here today that Hungarians account for 0.2 per cent of the world’s population: 0.2 per cent! This means that we must live our lives in the knowledge that this is how many there are of us, and that unless we are careful we could easily disappear from the stage of history – especially if other peoples continuously grow in population and standard of living. This is why we Hungarians have alarm bells in our ears. At the same time, we are lucky in comparison with those countries whose indigenous populations cannot even imagine that, within a few decades, in their own major cities they may find themselves in a minority – not only ethnically, but also culturally.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This cannot happen to us, precisely because when we sense that our identity and survival are threatened by new challenges this light comes on and our alarm bells start ringing. Finally, let me say a few words about what you’ve already seen in images: about the fact that this project we are inaugurating now also expresses something of the essence of the Liget Project. The Government takes no credit for the project’s name: on that, too, we yielded to László Baán’s arguments – and this is why it’s called the Liget Project. But whichever way one looks at it, this is a museological development of European standing, within Europe’s largest cultural development project.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

From what I remember, in the past only the richest and strongest European nations were capable of cultural developments on such a scale. I believe that in recent years we’ve strengthened so much – Hungary has strengthened so much – that in all modesty we can say that we haven’t been in such good shape for a hundred years. Furthermore, in contrast to several other European countries, we are also one of the safest countries: a country to which people are happy to come; you can see for yourselves how from week to week tourists are taking over the city. And we have an exceptional cultural heritage, which arouses the interest of enormous numbers of people from all around the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is absolutely no doubt that this project will make Budapest’s most important park more beautiful and enjoyable, and that it will also be financially profitable. In this respect allow me to add a sidebar. Not long ago I read a study analysing some of the German economy’s largest investments over the past two hundred years. The aim was to calculate which had proved to be the most cost-effective. True enough, the authors didn’t calculate return on investment as we normally do here and now, over a period of ten, twenty or however many years: they did so over a period of two hundred years. And the projects that have proved to be the most profitable investments over the past two hundred years of Germany’s history are the castles in Bavaria built by King Ludwig: projects which at the time were dismissed as lunacy, and which everyone attacked. Naturally we don’t want to wait two hundred years – we’d like the numbers to vindicate our decisions sooner than that. But I’d like to underline that we’re convinced that these investments not only make the city more beautiful and not only attract more tourists, but that eventually the numbers will also add up, and that on the whole they’ll generate a profit for the country and make us richer and stronger.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Supporting evidence for this is that, according to the numbers at our disposal, more than a quarter of a million people have visited the Romanesque Hall and the Museum of Fine Arts – which it is a part of – since the reopening of the museum last October after the completion of major renovation and upgrading work. This is strong supporting evidence for the argument I’ve just been making here.

And finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to thank some people. First of all László Baán, of course, whose name we’ve mentioned here several times today. I’d also like to thank everyone who took part in the construction and renovation of the buildings here. I wish the managers and staff members of the Liget Project much success in maintaining the excellent pace they’ve set so far. You can rely on the Hungarian government, and soon we’ll be meeting each other again at another inauguration ceremony.

Thank you for your attention.