Good morning Zalaegerszeg, good morning Hungarians.
This day is a glorious one, and this place is a worthy one: Zalaegerszeg, the capital of Zala County. The people of Zala suffered much under the rule of the communists, but one thing is certain: they endured for as long as anyone could. In October 1956 the people of Egerszeg [Zalaegerszeg] were among the first to take to the streets – without a moment’s delay; and that December they were among the last to lay down their arms. A month after the defeat of the fight for freedom, Soviet tanks were needed to disperse the strikers in Egerszeg. The people here have learned everything and forgotten nothing, and when the time came they took revenge at the first opportunity. Before the fall of communism – in September 1989 – the people of Zala were among the few to send opposition representatives to the communist parliament. Fate has a sense of humour: that victorious opposition candidate – who has since been awarded the freedom of the city of Zalaegerszeg – was called Dr. Gyula Marx. I remember having the privilege of campaigning alongside “Uncle Gyula” when I was a young man. Marxism was finally realised after all – because a Marx defeated the Marxists. God preserve Uncle Gyula – now 92 years old – in good health. In 1989 the people of Zala were among the first to pass judgement on the communist regime. And the whole country followed their example. It only took a few more months before the communists’ rule finally collapsed.
According to the Left, who treat us country folk with condescension, it is not appropriate to celebrate today in Zalaegerszeg – or, as they say, “only Zalaegerszeg”. They do not understand that Budapest is not equivalent to the country; they do not understand that 1956 was not a revolution of one city, but of the whole country – indeed the whole nation. Thank you Zalaegerszeg for enabling us to be here, thank you for the fact that we can be here together.
The wisdom, perseverance and insight of the people of Zala should come as no surprise to us. This region has given our country more than one wise Hungarian. There was Ferenc Deák, whose contemporaries already referred to as “The Sage of the Homeland”. He showed us how the cause of the nation can be advanced through decades of persistent hard work. He was there in the 1848 Revolution, the War of Independence and the resistance that followed. It was also he who, at the first opportunity, turned what had been passive resistance into an offensive, and laid the foundations of the most successful period of public law in modern Hungary. And this region provided our country with another wise man: Cardinal József Mindszenty, who served here in Zalaegerszeg, and who was one of the great Hungarian churchmen who championed the cause of the nation.
The greatest figures of the Hungarian ecclesiastical world are guiding lights for Hungarians – and not only in matters of faith. There was our first Archbishop of Kalocsa, Saint Astrik. He interceded with the Pope so that Hungary could acquire its crown, and without him the Hungarian state of Saint Stephen would probably never have come into being. There was Archbishop of Esztergom John Vitéz, who took up the cause of the Hunyadis. There was Pál Tomori, Archbishop of Kalocsa, who lived a valiant life and accepted a martyr’s death leading Hungarian troops. There was Archbishop Miklós Oláh, who mediated between the Habsburgs and the Hungarian orders in times of great peril. There was Vilmos Apor, who embraced a martyr’s fate, and there was the Catholic Bishop of Transylvania Áron Márton, who bore the heavy burden of the Hungarian nation. These great Hungarian Catholic church leaders were not only at the forefront of preaching the Gospel, but also served Hungary, the country of Mary, through their guidance and their actions – in their lives and in their deaths. The greatest Hungarian church leaders always led the Hungarian people as prophets; and they fulfilled the task of spiritually leading the country alongside political leaders, or, when necessary – and it often was – instead of political leaders.
József Mindszenty was such a leading churchman. While serving God, he always fulfilled his duty to his homeland. He was no ordinary leader. He led the way with the relentlessness of a pillar of fire, and it was thanks to him that Zalaegerszeg gained a Franciscan church and monastery, and later a teacher training college. The Cardinal showed us the way in ’56, and we Hungarians shall never forget this service. Even in the face of storm-force headwinds, he took up the cause of the Hungarians’ truth. He stood up for our country’s freedom even under attack from the Arrow Cross, and even when the communists arrested, tortured and imprisoned him. The Hungarians knew that we needed spiritual support in the midst of the Revolution, and this was why they freed Mindszenty from the communists’ prison. It was he who first called the child by its name: he spoke not of an uprising, but of a fight for freedom. The long years of imprisonment did not cloud his perception of essentials; on the contrary, they sharpened it. He saw events clearly. He understood what was at stake and knew what we had to do. As he said, “We Hungarians want to live and act as the standard-bearers of familial inner peace among the peoples of Europe.” He professed his conviction that we are not the enemies of anyone, but want one thing: “to live in friendship with all peoples and all countries.” Our real tragedy was that – with the help of Soviet Kalashnikovs – the communists returned. And instead of peace, they continued where they had left off on 23 October: class struggle, proletarian dictatorship, a one-party state, political prisons, executions. Glory to the victims! Respect for the resisters!
Dear People of Zala,
The Hungarian state owes a debt to the memory of József Mindszenty, just as we owe a debt to the often overlooked people of Zala – who were forced to the country’s margins first by the Trianon diktat and then, after World War II, by the Iron Curtain. In recent years Hungary’s national government has done much to enable Zalaegerszeg and Zala County to return to the main avenue of history and start developing once more. The city is ever more beautiful and the county is becoming a world-class industrial centre, with new factories springing up one after another. We want to prove ourselves worthy of Cardinal Mindszenty’s community-building legacy and of the death-defying courage of the heroes of ’56. We want to make the most of the opportunity that today we do not have to die for our country, but can live for it. This is why today we are inaugurating the Mindszentyneum – which honours the memory of Cardinal Mindszenty, and which we hope will also serve as a place of pilgrimage. Following the tradition of the institutions founded by the Archbishop, we trust that this place will be filled with life, and that every Hungarian will be able to benefit from the lessons, teachings and admonitions from the life of József Mindszenty.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today we remember not only our beloved Archbishop, but also the heroes of ’56: those Hungarians who, sixty-six years ago, showed the nature of a true freedom-loving nation. The heroes of the Revolution were very diverse, but their actions were driven by the same idea: they were all lovers of a free Hungary. They accepted every danger and risk, because they believed that they could succeed. Their hope and faith were not without foundation. In 1956 we had a real chance to win our independence. When the Hungarian people decided to end Soviet oppression and join the camp of independent peoples, all reasonable conditions were in place for a non-violent transition. In the year before ’56 Austria had won and guaranteed its neutrality. After Stalin’s death, détente between the two blocs was initiated, and there was good reason to believe that the new Soviet leadership wanted to open a new chapter in relations between East and West. We had good reason to believe that the Soviets had also realised that in the long term an empire could not be built through oppression paid for in bloodshed – something which Gorbachev would realise in 1990.
In the early days, the plan worked. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians took part in the Revolution, and the Soviets were in a state of confusion; and we could have succeeded if the West had not betrayed us – for the second time since 1945. When we received no support from the West, the Soviet leaders stopped halfway through and reconsidered: they turned back their tanks and reimposed military repression and a communist puppet government for another thirty-five years. Our cause had become hopeless, and a country awaited its fate in despair. The only member of the Government left in Parliament was István Bibó, who arranged for the issue of a proclamation to Hungarians and the whole world: “It would be irresponsible to rule on the fate of the precious blood of Hungarian youth. The people of Hungary have shed enough blood to show the world their devotion to freedom and justice.” Albert Camus wrote: “The blood of Hungary has re-emerged too precious to Europe and to freedom for us not to be jealous of it to the last drop.” We must indeed be jealous of it, because no one but us will treasure it. It was not treasured by the communists, when they initiated bloodbaths among us, when they attacked teenage students with tanks, and when they organised bloody reprisals after the Revolution. And the blood of the Hungarians was not treasured by the free world of the time, which encouraged us, but then failed to help us. Back then we were put on the cover of Time magazine, but then left for forty years in the grip of the Soviet-communist vice. They thought that in this way at least the Soviets would have one more problem to cope with.
The lesson is clear: only Hungarians can show the world the truth of Hungarians, and only Hungarians can defend their own truth against the dangers that threaten it. If the country is destroyed, our struggle for freedom will have been in vain. If all that remains are hollow ruins, we have gained nothing. If millions of people have to leave the country, the next generation will have no homeland. We have nowhere to run, because Hungary cannot be found anywhere else. We must preserve this, we must protect this; our prosperity must be sought here. In 1956 we showed what we had learned from the previous one thousand years. Our best shield is fortitude. The best weapon against tyranny is to steel oneself, while softening is the greatest gift we can give our enemies. But we remained tough and determined, and so we survived – and in 1990 we finally won. We regained a Hungary that was free and independent. From this the whole world can see that whoever tries to pin us to the ground is doomed to fail. We were here when the first conquering empire attacked us, and we will be here when the last one collapses. As Deák said, “What force and power take away, time and good fortune can bring back. But recovery of that which is renounced by a nation fearing suffering will always be difficult and always be in doubt.”
Celebrating people of Zalaegerszeg,
We endure when we must, and we fight back when we can. We draw the sword when we see a chance, and we resist when long years of oppression arrive. Devictus vincit [“the defeated are victorious”]. We win even when defeated, as we learned from Cardinal Mindszenty. If you are a Hungarian, you need the courage of the lion, the cunning of the snake and the gentleness of the dove. This will be especially true in the coming year. War in a neighbouring country, financial crisis and economic downturn in the European Union, a migration invasion from the south, war to the east and economic crisis to the west: all this is what we have to deal with. In all this misfortune the good fortune is that the Left is not in government. Imagine what would happen here. Fortunately, we have a national government that is strong, united and does not flinch when trouble rears its head. We are capable of defending Hungary’s interests both at home and abroad. In 1956 we learned that in difficult times only unity can help us. Let us not pay attention to those who shoot at Hungary from the shadows or from the high stand in Brussels. They will end up where their predecessors did. Ever since Hungary has been led by a national government, every crisis has seen us coming out of it stronger than when we went into it. Now we are prepared. We will maintain economic stability, everyone will have work, we will be able to protect the reductions in household utility bills, and families will not be left to fend for themselves. We have the strength for this and – most importantly – the experience.
God above us all, Hungary before all else! Go Hungary, go Hungarians!