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Mar 16, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

In the spirit of 1848, says PM Orbán, we have a chance to transform Europe

Hungary’s national day, March 15th, commemorates the day in 1848 when Hungarians started a revolution that would become a war of independence from the Habsburgs. In his address on Wednesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán spoke of the meaning that 1848 carries for Hungary and its significance to today’s Europe.

As a poignant testimony to the Hungarian people’s longing for freedom and independence in the face of adversity, March 15th remains a defining moment in the nation’s history. It gives the Hungarian nation, the prime minister said “undeniable proof that we were, we are and we will be.” March 15th, and all that it embodies for Hungarians, is “our triumph”. And that revolutionary spirit to fight for national freedom and independence, he continued, lives on today.

“The importance of 1848 is not that it happened,” said Prime Minister Orbán, “but that it is still happening.”

On March 15th, 1848, a mass demonstration in front of the newly built National Museum turned out to be one of the central events that would set the revolution in motion. There on the steps before the museum, the revolutionaries read out the 12 points (a list of demands to the Habsburg governor) co-authored by the poet Sándor Petöfi and his Nemzeti Dal, a revolutionary poem. Prime Minister Orbán, keeping with a long tradition observed by Hungary’s democratically elected governments, delivered his remarks yesterday from those same steps in front of the National Museum in downtown Budapest.

1848 has become for us a standard and moral compass, the prime minister said. “The standard and compass of ’48 tell us still to this day how much one is worth on the scales of the country. Who are the loyal ones, who are the patriots, the devoted, the brave,” he said. The compass of ’48 provides a standard by which to measure greatness. And by contrast it also helps us see pettiness, perfidy and the assassination of dreams. What it is to build a country and what it is to tear one down.

For Hungarians, March 15, 1848 is a touchstone, a central point in the life of the nation. Our Hungarian spring-welcoming holiday is surrounded by a kind of “cheery seriousness,” the prime minister said. “At these occasions the Hungarian nation takes a photo - or as our children would say, takes a selfie - of itself with its history in the background.”

The spirit of 1848, however, is not only about the past. It reverberates still to this day. “On this day 2061 years ago,” the prime minister observed, “an assassination shook ancient Rome, revolutions erupted in the spring of 1848. Today, once again, the nations of Europe are in the mood for revolution.”

With the winds of ’48 blowing once again, we have the possibility, of course keeping the liberating energies of the revolt within constitutional limits, he said, “to deeply transform in a peaceful and orderly way the European empire.”

That deep transformation, according to the prime minister’s vision, restores a strong Europe, a Europe of nations where national sovereignty is respected and the voice of the citizens heard. We have to remove, the prime minister said, the “masqueraders of self-righteousness” in favor of frank and open debate about the future. “The machinations concealed behind pretty principles must come to an end.” He continued:

“Perhaps the past of the Hungarian nation and its future do not matter to Brussels or to the international financiers. But it matters to us. Maybe the security of the European people does not matter to Brussels or to the international financiers. But it matters to us. Maybe it does not matter to Brussels or to the international financiers whether we remain as Hungarians. But it matters to us.”

There’s much at stake in the current European uprising, this effort to transform Europe. “We have to fight courageously the battle for our independence and national self-determination,” the prime minister said. “We must stop Brussels, we must defend our borders.”

We have to prevent mandatory migrant resettlement and make transparent the networks financed from abroad, he continued. We have to maintain the right to regulate for ourselves our taxes, wages and energy prices. In these matters, we can count only on ourselves, so we must retain the right to make these decisions and take responsibility for them.

The courage to take up the struggle, to resist international pressure and pursue what were once denounced as “unorthodox” policies has born much fruit for Hungary. As the prime minister said:

“We stand on our own two feet. We eat our own bread. We are not servants to fellow Hungarians nor to foreign powers. We gave work to hundreds of thousands of people. We strengthened families. We crossed the boundaries of class, origin, age, religion and political beliefs and we created a true national unity.”

What defines a nation is more than just common language and culture. A nation, according to the prime minister, is also formed by that collection of moments when the trials of history bring us together. In that vein, Hungary has lived through many such moments in recent years.

The fight we took up for a national and Christian constitution, the revolt against the slavery of debt and the struggle for economic independence. These trials forged our hearts together, and “that’s why we became once again a strong nation in the last few years.”

The prime minister closed with a call to Hungarians to defend these gains. There is no such unity that does not require daily effort to maintain. There is no result that defends itself.  It is up to us to create finally that unity and to build it up everyday, he said. The Hungarian nation is growing stronger and it will deserve the recognition it receives, based on its talent and industry, in the community of European nations.