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Dec 19, 2016

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the memorial conference “Europa Centralis – history of the region throughout the ages”, held to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Wacław Felczak

December 9, 2016, Kraków

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Standing here before you in this elegant and imposing hall has made me wonder whether I made the right decision when, more than thirty years ago, I chose to enter politics rather than academia. Our meeting here today is taking place at a time when Europe – our wider homeland – is on the threshold of a new political, economic and technological era. We are European, and we are also Polish and Hungarian, and momentous changes such as these will always lead us to self-reflection. Therefore these changes also become the focus of a debate on values. What we have just heard – that the Hungarians have no talent for conspiracy – ties in with this. It is true that we are a nation of coffeehouse society – and the essence of a coffeehouse is not in the coffee it serves, but in the information one can obtain there. This is why in Hungarian politics we have introduced the following apparently paradoxical term: “open conspiracy”. And now, with Europe on the threshold of momentous changes, and as we in Europe seek to return to our Christian roots, among ourselves we see this as an open conspiracy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today it is my duty to pay tribute to Professor Felczak in a commemorative speech. I had better tell you straightforwardly that today, at this conference, I am biased. These days bias is seen as a fault, a sin, but in fact it springs from a virtue – which is none other than friendship. When we are with friends, we cannot remain impartial; and if we stiffly feign impartiality, the result is affectation, pretence or embarrassing awkwardness. For instance, during the Second World War we Hungarians were often accused by Berlin of extreme bias in favour of the Poles; and in the nineteen-fifties we were also accused by Moscow of the very same thing. But we have always seen this as a compliment, and have added that between Poles and Hungarians this attitude is mutual. So, as is customary in Hungary, I would like to express the respect and appreciation of Hungary and the Hungarian nation to Poland, the city of Kraków and the Jagiellonian University. It is enough to look around your city, where one can see that Polish and Hungarian history is not a series of mere coincidences, but a dense fabric of personal ties. This friendship forms part of Hungarian national identity. It forms part of the Hungarian people’s perception of patriotism and freedom. We Hungarians believe that we participate in a shared life, memory and fate with the Polish people, and we believe that this Polish-Hungarian friendship is something which is perhaps unparalleled in world history. Referring back to the speeches given here ahead of mine, perhaps nothing better testifies to the extent of this shared fate than the fact that in the Second World War we were on the losing and guilty side, while the Poles were on the side of the victors and victims. And yet, in the end, the reward received by the Poles was the same as the punishment received by us: Soviet occupation and communism. What is this, if not proof of our shared fate?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As further proof, I am now delivering my short, spontaneous commemorative speech in the assembly hall of a university which, in the second half of the 15th century, was turned into one of Europe’s most prestigious seats of learning by a Hungarian princess who became a Polish queen. And in the heyday of this university, every fifth student was from Hungary. I am, of course, biased, because we have Professor Koźmiński here among us today. I clearly remember how, towards the end of the eighties, he shot a hole through the moral armour of Hungarian communism when he gave us – the students at the hall of residence opposite his – the Polish-language text of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This was something which we could not get in Hungary. And of course I am also biased because here among us we also have Professor Kovács, who translated it overnight, so that we could publish it the next day in a semi-legal document. We thus provoked a great political sensation at the time. And there is one decisive reason why I am biased. This is none other than Wacław Felczak, the Jagiellonian University’s legendary lecturer, whom in those days my generation looked up to as a genuine hero.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Wacław Felczak occupies a place in our hearts because he wrote the history of Hungary in Polish. This is quite an achievement in itself, but he also has a place in our hearts because he managed to find the best time to steel the souls of those Hungarians who were not prepared to accept the apathy which overcame their compatriots after 1956. He steeled the souls of those who were not prepared to accept the soul-destroying regime which communism – commonly nicknamed “socialism” – created around itself. I can clearly remember when, towards the end of the eighties – perhaps it was in ’87 – I went round from our student residence to Eötvös College and asked him, the renowned guest lecturer of Budapest’s Eötvös College, to come over to us and deliver a lecture on the current situation in Poland and the Solidarity movement, which was still alive and fighting. We wanted to hear the truth from a credible figure, a hero of the Second World War, who had experienced the prisons of both the Nazis and the communists. And just as the gospel teaches us to travel with another not for one mile but for two, Professor Felczak gave not one lecture, but two. And he did even more than that: he mapped out a path for our political ideas. He advised us, and now I quote him: “Form a political party. They’ll probably lock you up for it, but all the signs are that you won’t have to stay locked up for long”. This is what a good friend is like. He also added that a little jail time cannot hurt a politician. Now that I am also a politician, however, I’m not so sure that he was right. Anyway, Ladies and Gentlemen, after a great many opposition movements, Fidesz was formed upon the advice of Professor Felczak, and it became the first political organisation in Hungary with a solid organisational framework. And we were not even locked up – or only for a few hours at most. This is why, in 1991, Professor Felczak became an honorary member of our party and political community – perhaps his Fidesz membership card can still be found somewhere in his estate. This is also how he became our intellectual and spiritual founding father.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a historian Wacław Felczak appreciated sources more than anything, and in today’s Europe, stricken as it is by immigration, I think his principle also holds true: ad fontes! Back to the sources: back to our Christian, national and European roots, which have always given strength to Central Europe. Professor Felczak knew that one must go back to pure sources – whether in the life of science, or in the science of life. As he said, and I quote: “When one wants to drink from a spring, one must kneel down, and one must also bow one’s head; and the more upright one wants to be in the world, the deeper one has to bow”.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Wacław Felczak was born one hundred years ago, amid events resembling birth pangs, as the long 19th century passed into the short 20th century. He came into this world on the cusp of history, as the son of a nation which at the time did not even have a country of its own, but which, by gathering all its strength, was ready to make yet another attempt to revive Poland. In Central Europe the old foundations were beginning to disintegrate, and a new world was about to be built on their ruins. Wacław Felczak became a child of this new Central Europe, but he was also thoroughly conversant with Central Europe’s earlier golden ages. He was therefore able to view our region from the vantage point of John Sobieski, who relieved Vienna, and of Lajos Kossuth, who dreamt about a republic on the banks of the Danube. To him, therefore, a border – and the border which he had to cross many times as a courier for the Home Army – meant a tract of land which connects the peoples of Central Europe, rather than divides them. Despite all his sadness, his years in prison and suppression, he was a genuine Central European citizen, who felt at home in the transitionary world built between the West and the East. He grew up in a family whose members saw sacrifice for the homeland as a duty; his great-grandfather was sent to Siberia after the 1831 uprising, while his grandfather suffered the same fate after the 1863 January Uprising, and he also lost four brothers in the Second World War. He first became interested in Hungarian history and started developing a passion for the Hungarian people in elementary school, and later in secondary school. This is how the Poznań student won a scholarship at Budapest’s Eötvös College, and became a courier between Warsaw and Budapest during the Second World War. He was a brave and level-headed man, who rejected all forms of compromise. Looking back from our modern vantage point, we can see that he was granted the greatest honour and privilege – something which amounts to a badge of honour: from 1947 he was wanted by the Soviet NKVD, who in searching for him used the same photo used by the Gestapo in their search for him before 1945.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The western and eastern dictatorships which wanted to cast their shadow over Central Europe always needed to reckon with the strong bond between the Hungarian and Polish peoples. Both eastern and western plans for oppression were always blocked by this bond, which, therefore, both easterners and the westerners did everything they could to destroy. This was also the line of thought taken by the communists in Hungary during my youth, when in the nineteen-eighties they tried to turn the Hungarian people against the Polish people and the Solidarity movement. The fact that the minefields which they laid were ineffective was, to a significant extent, thanks to Wacław Felczak. By then he had developed friendly relations with a great many members of the Hungarian intelligentsia of the time – from Sándor Csoóri to Árpád Göncz – who stood up for the Polish people and supported them in their writings. Under communism he ran the same courier service between Warsaw and Budapest as he had in the Second World War. This is how, four decades later, the Home Army’s courier became Solidarity’s ambassador to Hungary. This is how he became one of the many strong ties which have linked the Polish and Hungarian peoples from ancient times, through Stefan Batory and József Bem, all the way down to 1956 and to the present day.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Wacław Felczak, who wrote a history of the Hungarian people, eventually became not just a character in this story, but also one of its authors. He was a pure source, who even on the day he died made reference to our history. Today we bow our heads to his memory and lifework. This is all fine, fitting and gracious, but would we dare look him in the eye today? Judging by the current state of affairs – and those who have spoken before me have convinced me of this – the answer to this question is “yes”. Today Central Europe is close to how he wanted to see it. Earlier the Habsburgs, then the Germans, and later the Soviets wanted to administer our region, and if I compare these precedents with what is happening today, I must say that the current state of affairs is more favourable for us than any seen before, with the European Union uniting, embracing and protecting this region. The region’s current political role and strength within the EU, the fact that the Visegrád countries are standing up for each other and representing a common stance on the issues of European reform and immigration, and Central Europe’s economic advancement are all phenomena which display a better side of the region. I am certain that Wacław Felczak would be pleased with what he would see today. Today Central Europe is Europe’s most stable region, both economically and politically. Central Europe is undergoing a renaissance, and is growing and developing continuously and dynamically. We should not allow our critics to shroud accurate assessment of the situation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All this could be so because we Poles and Hungarians have come to understand that, at the end of the day, we must take control of our fate. History has given us a chance to strengthen and broaden our freedom. By uniting our efforts we have gained the opportunity to make Central Europe the most successful region in Europe and the world. This is what we, the Visegrád countries, are working on together; and there is no point in aiming for a lesser goal. So we are closer to Wacław Felczak’s Central Europe, but we have not yet arrived where he would like to have seen the region. I am therefore convinced that the Hungarian and Polish governments were right to give his name to a fund designed to support intellectual cooperation – a fund which the two countries are setting up and supporting with one million euros each annually.

Finally, I wish that – while preserving what we have achieved so far – we can all be as brave and determined as Wacław Felczak was. I wish that we can all remain on the path which he trod before us.

Thank you for your attention.