Bereaved Family, Fellow Mourners,
This winter has brought great losses for the Hungarian nation and for our civic community. Not long ago we bid our last farewell to the outstanding journalist János Csontos; then to the exceptionally talented gypsy musician Oszkár Ökrös; and a few days ago Zoltán Kallós, that buttress of Transylvania’s intellectual and cultural life, left us. Today we say farewell to another centrally important member of our family: Etelka Barsi-Pataky. We say farewell to our companion who worked tirelessly in many official capacities for a civic, national and Christian Hungary, and who devoted her whole life to this cause. These are irreplaceable losses, and we do not know how and with whom we can fill the void that they have created. Those who met Etelka in recent months, since she completed her duties as the President of the Hungarian Chamber of Engineers, can confirm that she was always talking about further plans and tasks. There were no signs of fatigue or a desire to undertake less. The fact that she left us so unexpectedly fills us with a sense of stunned devastation.
Dear Bereaved Family,
Those of us who knew her can attest to the fact that she was the embodiment of civic elegance. We always saw her dressed with impeccable good taste, and it was important to her to show respect to those around her through her appearance and demeanour. As unkempt youths new to politics we had much to learn from her. I am sure that many of you here know that, as well as always showing self-respect and care for her appearance, when it came to work she could be unrelentingly tough, tenacious and hardworking. No matter what task she was given, she performed it with the thoroughness and integrity that was so characteristic of her. Her Christian work ethic, determination, perseverance and patience won the respect of us all. In her autobiography, she wrote: “So far my life has been so rich that I have no feeling of having left anything out. When I decide to give up active life – or fate decides instead of me – I will do so without feeling any lack of fulfilment. But until that day arrives, as long as I have work to do I shall not stop; because I am happy to work and I enjoy my work”. And thus it was.
As a woman, she was able to hold her own in a world dominated by men: the engineering profession. And, as we saw, she became a central figure in that world. In 1989 she was one of those who initiated the foundation of the Hungarian Chamber of Engineers, of which she was also president for eight years, from 2009. She also held her own in the challenging and unfair world of local government and parliamentary politics: as a local government representative and a Member of Parliament, as a mayoral candidate, as Chief Commissioner for the planned 1996 World Expo, and later also as Government Commissioner for the Danube Strategy. She threw all her energy into reconstruction of a free Hungary. She also held her own on the international stage, where she first served in the diplomatic corps as Hungary’s Ambassador to Vienna, after which she fought for Hungary’s interests in Brussels as a Member of the European Parliament. She also played her part in the great cause of European reunification, Hungary’s accession to the European Union, and the difficult task of integration. The European satellite navigation system, the Galileo programme, was created thanks to Etelka, and at her initiative one of its satellites was named “Lisa” after a Hungarian child. Who knows, perhaps it is circling the Earth above us at this very moment, and joining us in bidding her farewell.
In our work we politicians do not immerse ourselves in the precise data and exact factualities of the engineering world, but rather in ideas, historical analogies and speculative thought. We attempt to understand the mercurial, complicated and chaotic world of society, and search for the best possible ways to serve the community and our homeland. Etelka was always a role model to us. She was faithful and loyal to her political community, and steadfastly stood by her nation and her faith – come rain, sun, sleet or snow. In the dawn hours of a free Hungary, she was one of the first to join the group of democrats who formed around József Antall, seeking to replace the communist system: people who were working towards the construction of a strong, independent Hungary, proud of its traditions and on the path to recovering its self-esteem. Etelka did not ask József Antall – Prime Minster and President of the MDF [the Hungarian Democratic Forum] – for a position, but for a task. Her armour against the brutal verbal attacks aimed at the community was the knowledge that she was serving her country. We know how, despite attacks, we are spiritually sustained and how meaning is given to our resolute work by the realisation that we are serving our homeland, and the conviction that without that service our homeland would weaken – perhaps fatally. When her original political community was ground down by the fierce battle, Etelka was one of the first among them to see where she could continue to represent Christian, national, civic and conservative ideals in the most credible manner – both from her own viewpoint and that of the country. She knew where she could fight the most effectively for a Hungary that is both committed to Europe and faithful to its national interests. Her example was an encouragement to many, and together and in solidarity the civic side did indeed achieve success. She stepped forward, and once again did not ask for a position, but for a task. She received those tasks, which she performed honourably and successfully. Hard work and assiduous effort is worthy of respect in itself, but for success in politics it not enough unless it is combined with commitment and a clear set of values. If we look around Hungary or Europe today, we can see that in our profession loyalty is particularly rare, and for this reason is a thing of value. There are, however, far too many opportunists who lack a moral compass.
Politics is a difficult trade. One can never know precisely what will bring success. But what I can say for certain is that success cannot be achieved without hard work, commitment and perseverance. Etelka Barsi-Pataky knew where she belonged with us in this alliance. She remained true and stayed with us even in the most difficult and hopeless times; neither the storm-force winds of defeat nor those of victory could sweep her away. Both victory and defeat are tests: for those who achieve victory, and for those who suffer defeat. When we are victorious, we must face the test of restraint and humility; and when we lose we must pass the test of loyalty. She withstood both of these tests. Without her example and perseverance, and that of similarly committed Hungarians, the national, Christian camp and the ideal of a civic Hungary would never have achieved victory in Hungary. When she was critical – and we knew her, and how she could be a severe critic in her elegant but direct manner – her criticism was constructive: she never sought to destroy – out of resentment or an obsession with status – what we had built together so painstakingly and with so much energy. I think she also knew that it is only together that the civic centre and the democratic right are strong enough to keep Hungary both European and Hungarian at the same time.
Etelka represented the westernised, European professional community of the Hungarian civic intelligentsia who see that they have an important line of historical predecessors; these understood the contradictions between homeland and progress, Hungary and Europe, faith and everyday deeds, which appear in our history more often than in that of other nations. She allied herself to the political tradition that has not shrunk from these deep contradictions, but has instead been prepared to make difficult decisions. She belonged to the historical school of thought that is able to find equilibrium and take action guided by values, but in a way that is adjusted to the obstinate nature of the world. The path of her life was one that was spent in the spirit of creation, devoted effort in the interests of the community, a deep sense of responsibility towards her nation and a firm commitment to civic values. Etelka lived the life of an accomplished, confident and proud Hungarian and European citizen, and she worked to ensure that as many Hungarians as possible would be able to live in a similar manner. She is an example for today’s politicians, and for those of the future.
Dear Bereaved Family, Dear Friends,
Etelka and her husband István were unable to have children, but her family was nevertheless extremely important to her. She cared for her mother through several years of illness, and following the death of her younger sister she helped her niece Kinga and her nephew Zsolt in a manner that was truly worthy of a mother. She helped them find their way on the always difficult paths of adult life. They are here with us today and are also saying a fond farewell to her.
If the host of Galileo satellites that were launched with the help of your political and engineering knowledge do not block out the view of our remaining Hungary, we ask you to look down upon us and help us in our difficult work – which you know so well – with your encouraging and forgiving gaze.
Dear Etelka, may God be with you.