Apr 20, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

PM Orbán and Chancellor Kohl, the ‘face of German-Hungarian friendship’

Accepting former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s invitation, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, visited the former chancellor yesterday at his home in Oggersheim, Germany.

Following the meeting, Prime Minister Orbán told the press that Chancellor Kohl should not be “dragged” into today’s political affairs. “Mr. Kohl is a treasure for all of Europe,” the prime minister said. “He stands far above us contemporary politicians.”

Concerning current affairs, PM Orbán surprised some by saying that “Hungary – and I as Prime Minister – stand by Berlin, and we support Angela Merkel in the struggle to overcome Europe’s current challenges with further initiatives, such as our action plan.” Late last week the prime minister presented a ten-point proposal to finally bring the uncontrolled migrant influx that’s threatening Europe under control and manage it effectively. With the goal of controlled and well-managed borders, and by putting this goal in the form of a concise, practical list, Hungary’s action plan aims to help Europe overcome the crisis.

We heard a lot of speculation from the press about the meeting over the past several weeks since Chancellor Kohl extended the invitation to Prime Minister Orbán. Most of them got it wrong, of course. Critics expected PM Orbán to exploit this visit for a political agenda, but they missed the historical perspective of this partnership – that Chancellor Kohl is a living role model to many, especially the Hungarian prime minister.

Chancellor Kohl is the only surviving member of a conservative quartet that stood up to communism and helped bring about its downfall in the 1980s. Together with Saint Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former Chancellor Kohl played a vital role in democracy’s victory over communism and the liberation of central and eastern Europe from Soviet oppression. It was in that period that Hungary organized the Pan-European Picnic, where Hungary cut the wire of the border fence and first opened the Iron Curtain. Later, Chancellor Kohl’s determined leadership ensured the unification of East and West Germany, eliminating another barrier to a Europe whole and free. Around the same time – to the surprise of many – an emboldened young politician by the name of Viktor Orbán called for Russian troops to leave Hungary once and for all. It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of the brave words and support coming from the quartet as a source of inspiration and encouragement for that young, Hungarian politician to raise his voice. That inspiration and support means Hungary’s close ties to Germany remain unaffected by the politics of the current day. Prime Minister Orbán, referring to that leadership that made such a difference then, said the visit with the former chancellor reminded him of his visit with Pope John Paul II.

Today’s challenges are different than 26 years ago, but they share some similarities. Then, leaders were fighting for countries under Soviet oppression to be able to live according to core European values of freedom. Today, this freedom is threatened.

PM Orbán, in an interview in the German daily Bild, emphasized that mass migration waves threaten core European values such as freedom of religion, the equality of women or even behavior rooted in mutual respect for one another, all of which must never be called into question. But this brings to the surface another challenge – to be able to refuse radicalization. “We must not allow the development of areas within our societies which are outside the boundaries of the law and which thereby promote radicalization,” PM Orbán added.

Tough times call not only for tough measures, but more importantly, for the wisdom of our elders. In Sparta, the Gerousia was the council of elders one could turn to in times of crisis. Chancellor Kohl certainly has this kind of gravitas.

In a poignant detail from the visit, PM Orbán – according to the Bild report – gave the former chancellor a copy of the Hungarian language edition of a book the Hungarian prime minister turns to in tough times. It is entitled Out of Concern for Europe, written by Helmut Kohl.