Whether or not we admit it or realise it, we Europeans live in a culture ordered in line with the teachings of Christ. Here I can quote the well-known words of an earlier Hungarian prime minister, the late József Antall: “In Europe, even an atheist is Christian.” We Hungarians rightly regard ourselves as a Christian nation. Our mother tongue, through which we have grasped and shaped reality, is not related to that of any other European nation. This also has valuable consequences.
From Mihály Babits we know that the Hungarian spirit was born when our Eastern character met Western Christian culture. And we can add that this was the source of the Hungarian worldview and mentality. But this has also caused much difficulty, incomprehension, loneliness and, occasionally, a feeling of being strangers to those around us. Nevertheless, for a thousand years our Christian essence and our living faith have kept us in the heart of Europe. This is why, right down to the present, we remain true to the culture of our mother tongue, and we are proud of the contribution made to the rise of Europe by our nation’s achievements over the course of a millennium.
According to the Gospel of Saint Mark, Christ’s second commandment is “Love your neighbour as yourself”. There has been much talk of Christ’s commandment in Europe nowadays. It is used to rebuke us for declaring ourselves to be Christian, while at the same time declaring that we do not want millions of people from other continents settling in Europe – and that we even refuse to let them in.
But this commandment consists of two parts, and our accusers have forgotten the second part: we must love our neighbour, but we must also love ourselves. Loving ourselves also means accepting and protecting everything that embodies what we are and who we are. Loving ourselves means that we love our country, our nation, our family, Hungarian culture and European civilisation. Within these contexts, our freedom – Hungarian freedom – has unfolded, and can unfold, time after time.
For centuries our lives were shaped by the knowledge that Hungary’s freedom was also a guarantee of Europe’s freedom. It was with this sense of mission that we stood our ground during the period of Ottoman conquest, it was this which sharpened the blades of Petőfi and his fellow rebels, and it was this which emboldened the Lads of Pest. Our Fundamental Law says, “We are proud that our king Saint Stephen built the Hungarian state on solid ground and made our country a part of Christian Europe one thousand years ago”, and “We recognise the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood”.
When we draw the boundaries of our identity, we mark out Christian culture as the source of our pride and sustaining strength. Christianity is a culture and a civilisation. It is within this that we live. The essence is not how many people go to church, or how many pray with true devotion. Culture is the reality of everyday life: how we speak and behave towards one another; the distance we keep from one another and how we approach one another; how we enter this world, and how we leave it. For European people, Christian culture determines the morals of our daily lives. In borderline situations, this gives us a benchmark and a compass. Amidst the contradictions of life, Christian culture shows us the way. It determines our understanding of justice and injustice, the relationship between men and women, family, success, work and honour.
Our culture is the culture of life. Our starting-point – the alpha and omega of our philosophy of life – is the value of life, the dignity that every person has received from God. Without this we could not evaluate “human rights” and similar modern conceptions. This is why we doubt whether we can export this into the life of civilisations built on other foundations.
The fundamental elements of European life are now under attack. There is now a threat to the self-evident nature of European life: those things one should not need to think deeply about, but on which one only has to act. The essence of culture is that if it is not self-evident, we the people will lose our reference points: one will have no footholds, and one will have nothing against which to check one’s clock or one’s compass. Regardless of whether or not we attend church – or if so, which one we attend – we do not want to be forced to celebrate Christmas behind drawn curtains to avoid hurting the feelings of others.
We do not want our Christmas markets to be rebranded, and we definitely do not want to have to retreat behind concrete barriers. We do not want our children to be deprived of the joys of Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus and the Christmas angels. We do not want to be robbed of the Feast of the Resurrection. We do not want our religious festivals and ceremonies to be haunted by anxiety and fear. We do not want our women and daughters to be molested in crowds of New Year’s Eve revellers.
We Europeans are Christians. All this is ours, and this is how we live. Hitherto we have seen it as natural that Jesus was born, died on the cross for us and then rose from the dead. For us our religious festivals are self-evident, and we look to them to give meaning to our everyday lives. Culture is similar to the human body’s immune system: as long as it is working properly, we do not even notice it. It becomes noticeable and important to us when it is weakened. When crosses are airbrushed from photographs, when people seek to remove the cross from a statue of Pope John Paul II, when they try to change how we celebrate our festivals, then every right-thinking European citizen bristles with anger. This is also true of those for whom Christianity – as Gyula Juhász brilliantly put it – is “just paganism with holy water”. And it is even true of those like Oriana Fallaci, who feared for Europe as “an atheist Christian”.
Today the attack is targeting the foundations of our life and our world. Europe’s immune system is being deliberately weakened. They do not want us to be who we are. They want us to become something which we do not want to be. They want us to mix together with peoples from another world and, so that the process will be smooth, they want us to change. By the light of Christmas candles we can clearly see that when they attack Christian culture they are also attempting to eliminate Europe. They want to take our life from us, and exchange it for something that is not our life. In return for the life we have lived up to now they are promising one which is new and more enlightened. This, however, is a utopia: not the essence of real life, but distilled from abstract, theoretical sophistry. Utopias are dreams: potentially wonderful, and therefore alluring. But they are just as incoherent, impenetrable, obscure and meaningless as dreams are. One cannot live in them, or be guided by them.
We cannot claim that Christian culture is the peak of perfection. This is precisely the key to Christian culture: we are aware of imperfection, including our own imperfection; but we have learned to live with this, to draw inspiration from it and to derive impetus from it. This is why for centuries we Europeans we have been striving to improve the world. The gift borne by imperfection is that we are given the opportunity to improve. Those who promise a beautiful, new, mixed world now want to take this opportunity from us. Now they also want to destroy everything that we must preserve for future generations; our duty to do so is derived from the knowledge that, when called upon to do so, our ancestors shed blood to preserve it for us.
Although the fact was forgotten for a while, ever more frequently nowadays I hear that sixty years ago the European Union’s founding fathers marked out the route: Europe, as Robert Schuman said, will be Christian, or it will be nothing. The year 2017 has presented European countries with a historic task. A new task has been given to the free nations of Europe and the national governments elected by free citizens: we must protect Christian culture. We must do this not to oppose others, but to defend ourselves, our families, our nation, our countries and Europe, “the homeland of homelands”.
In 2017 we also saw that leaders of the European countries approach the task in different ways: there are those who say that this problem does not exist; others believe that this is progress itself; and still others have set out on the path of surrender. There are also some who sit on their hands and wait for someone else to solve this problem for them. Hungary’s one-thousand-year history proves that we are not like this. We tread a different path. Our starting-point has always been that we have the right to our own life. And we have defended this right whenever we have had the strength to do so. That is why for years we have been working to strengthen Hungary so that it can finally stand on its own feet again.
As far as 2018 is concerned, we can say that for as long as the national government leads the country, we shall work intelligently, calmly but uncompromisingly to ensure that our homeland remains a Christian culture and a Hungarian country. And we shall do our utmost to ensure that Europe remains European.
I wish everyone a Happy Christmas.