Mrs. Antall, Honourable Prime Minister, Honourable President of the Republic, Fellow Commemorators,
I was asked to deliver a formal opening address, but I declined, preferring instead to contribute some opening thoughts to today’s conference. We have gathered together today at this commemorative conference in order to pay tribute to József Antall, Hungary’s first freely elected prime minister after the fall of communism. I’m in a difficult situation: I’m constrained by the conventions of public speaking, my time is limited, and I will be followed by outstanding speakers. Another trap facing me is that I’m haunted by nostalgia: when József Antall entered office in 1990 I was 27, and today I am 55, so I’ve lived half my life in the post-József Antall era; when I remember him I’m also looking back on my youthful self. Furthermore, as a successor to József Antall in the post of prime minister, I was compelled to take on the same fight that he had been forced to leave unfinished. He fought against post-communist forces. We had to fight for another seventeen years after his death to start building the civic, national and Christian Hungary which was also his mission and goal. This continuity – the arc of time extending from 1990 to 2010, and the years which together we lived through – disqualify me as an objective commentator. Although I will strive to be this, my chances of success are limited.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The first thought I would like to raise is that in 1990 we did not succeed in breaking with communism: we succeeded in forming a majority in opposition to it, but we did not succeed in breaking with it. In a political sense, breaking with it would have meant creating a new constitution to close the era of communism and lay the foundations for a new national era. Instead of this we were left with the transitional constitution, which symbolised the impossibility of starting anew. Incidentally, this is why I see the arguments put forward by some people in 2010 in favour of the old transitional constitution as tantamount to betrayal. For me this fact – the absence of a new constitution – was the defining aspect of József Antall’s political career. Today colleagues, admirers and friends will talk about all the things that József Antall achieved. When I think of him, however, I cannot help recalling all the many things he was unable to accomplish, despite his talent and experience, the fact that he was in the prime of his life, and that the times called for great deeds. This was not his personal misfortune alone, but also that of Hungary as a whole. Every former communist country with the exception of one had created a new constitution by the mid-1990s, or the end of that decade at the latest – some sooner, others later, but all bar one: Hungary. That was something we had to fight for up until 2010. We didn’t just have to wait for it, we had to fight for it: to fight for it against those who were determined to defend the ideological foundations of communism – even if only in a diluted “Coca-Cola Light” version; against those who envisaged democracy and the future of Hungary as being how it had been before 1990, naturally freed of its ideological excesses, and with a substitute backdrop for the one-party system. Without a new constitution, new ideological foundations and laws creating new power relations, Hungary was unable to find its way back to how it was before communism; it was unable to find its way back from internationalism to national pride, from atheism to Christianity, and from the envy of class struggle to civic justice. Indeed, without the new foundations made possible by the two-thirds majority won in 2010, today there would not be almost full employment, a work-based economy, a growth rate of around 5 per cent, and we would not be able to defend ourselves against migration. He did not have a two-thirds majority, but had he had such a majority we could have saved ourselves twenty years. Without a two-thirds majority József Antall did what he was able to do, and what he did was substantial; in fact under the circumstances what he was capable of achieving, and where he took Hungary up until the winter of 1993 was nothing short of miraculous. It was a miracle that he managed to keep his coalition government together; incidentally, I also led a coalition government, and trust me, it’s no picnic. It was a miracle that he initiated structural changes in the economy. It was a miracle that he managed to steer Hungary away from financial collapse. It was a miracle that he had the strength to reject George Soros’s offer to ransack the country – something which, no doubt, will be mentioned here later. And it was a miracle that he safely navigated in international waters, despite the uncertainty of domestic politics at that time. Although I’m struck by the want of a new constitution and the authority it would have provided, when I think of his legacy I feel no bitterness. I see his legacy not in terms of the limits to the changes he could effect, but in his refusal to give up. He never gave up. He never gave up, and even in the face of adverse circumstances he never abandoned his goal of leading Hungary back to what it was before communism. He was waiting for a new opportunity, and therefore never joined forces with the post-communists. He rejected this political option not only because he was guided by good taste, but also because doing so would have meant him surrendering his original intellectual, spiritual and historical goal, and his personal mission: the concept of a civic and Christian Hungary and the historic opportunity to create it. He knew that if inherently civic, national and Christian politicians enter into convenient, short-term, utilitarian compromises with the post-communists, then they will compromise their ideal and their mission for a long time to come. We who lived on after him also needed his steadfastness to help us persevere: to persevere up until 2010, and to do all the things that he would have done in 1990, had the Good Lord favoured him with more agreeable circumstances. We are grateful to him for his personal example. We are grateful to him for the personal sacrifice he made for the motherland. We are grateful to him for his compassion, his patience and the trust shown by him to members of Fidesz – and through us to the new political generation. May God help us to at least now be deserving of all that.
Thank you for your attention.