Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s oration at the funeral of György Fekete, President of the Hungarian Academy of Arts
23 June 2020, Budapest
There are many ways of running towards the goal set for us. Some people first look back, so that they can then look forward calmly, with certain knowledge. György Fekete was one such person. He was one of those who know that “the Hungarian past has a sustaining power, and this power can both endure the present and withstand the future.” I first of all looked ahead. I was young, fed up with decades of marking time. I wanted to get going, we wanted to get going, to blaze a trail forward: the future had begun. And when in the great rush my view of the horizon became uncertain, I looked back to see where we were coming from, and in what direction we should go next. And when he turned to look forward, while I was looking back, his gaze met mine. This did not immediately result in alliance or friendship. But time can be a great aid – if we don’t see it simply as grains of sand slipping through the hourglass, but see it as an opportunity for action that will never be repeated. The two of us met on the road leading towards the realisation of a great work. I received a commandfrom Imre Makovecz, and György Fekete became the executor of Imre Makovecz’s will. They both knew with complete certainty that Hungarian culture cannot unleash its exceptional power without reliably functioning, large scale institutions which provide a secure spiritual home for the Hungarian artistic community. The command and the will called for the Hungarian Academy of Arts to be a public body; and, as we had won a two-thirds majority, we included this in the Hungarians’ Fundamental Law.
Many members of György Fekete’s generation have conspired with murderous intent to completely erase the past. Every Hungarian generation contains such people. But in his generation he was one of those who tirelessly collected and preserved the treasures of Hungarian national culture passed down through one thousand years. To his mind this would create the ability to survive, and this is the only position worthy of us Hungarians – even when, encountering the cultures of other nations, we adapt to the world. Fate’s curious act of justice was that, in the end, the task of founding new institutions fell to those who, as he said, “in underground Hungary lived within socialism while remaining outside socialism.” It seems that the Hungarians deserved God’s support. This is why great spirits, geniuses and talented people are always born among us, forming and shaping the spaces around us, and thus enriching the Hungarian world. But the creations, the intellectual and the spiritual energy of great figures, also need structures and frameworks that outlive them, the natural order of things and institutions from which there will be customs and practice inlife. The Benedictines of Pannonhalma, the 16th-century reformers, the Széchenyis and the Kuno Klebelsbergs founded schools, museums, academies, institutions, journals, salons and associations, all designed to represent the continuity and continuity of creators and creations – in opposition to destruction, transience and oblivion. In this collective act of construction we met György Fekete, and we became colleagues and brothers in arms. He received the opportunity to create from the widest variety of materials: wood, metal, stone, glass. And into them he breathed soul and spirit: to once more be what they had been; and eventually to be what they hadn’t been, but could have been – and had to be. For us, soldiers in public life, our tool is governance – a tool with which we create opportunities and frameworks for the embodiment of intellectual and spiritual energies. This was the foundation of our alliance.
Construction always starts from the inside. This was his philosophy. There, inside, must be born what will strive to find itself, and take shape. This is the message of the seemingly technical term “interior designer”. And this vocation was part of the essence of György Fekete. How many times did he come to me with the ever more bitter complaint that interior design should finally be an independent university subject? He was excited, electrified, by what lies under the surface: the inner structure that gives solidity; that which is built from the inside outward, like the skin of an apple or the shell of a snail. “I am within, and I design around myself”, he would say. This is the way of thinking of someone who can carry the essence of national culture only within their being, for decades. It is the way of thinking of someone who, in 1956 at the age of 23, during the siege of the radio headquarters, wrote his farewell letter to the world and hid it among the books in the Italian Cultural Institute, so that decades later someone would find it after Hungary had won its freedom. This is someone who collects fifteen thousand images of the Holy Crown of Hungary. Someone for whom there is consonance between national culture and protection of the nation state’s positions. This is the way of thinking of someone who is not deceived by the distinction between the instruments used by artists and politicians – because he knows that in essence they are related professions. At least they certainly are here in Hungary. This is also why he briefly ventured to immerse himself in the world of party politics.
It is customary to say that culture is a battlefield. Today, when we look west, we see this and react with horror. But here in Hungary, and especially for György Fekete, this struggle means something different. It is a struggle we never fight against others, but always for ourselves. We Hungarians want an alliance between national commitment and autonomous artistic aspirations – as he expressed it in the credo of the Hungarian Academy of Arts. György Fekete understood that in our culture in this part of the world, truth, beauty and goodness have formed an alliance in opposition to the forces of evil and massive disruption. Blessed is the country which has had such sons, which has them, and which will have them. It is our task to raise thought, will, work and works to their fitting place. Indeed it is our task to do even more: to carry them forward in institutions in a worthy form and order, so that the cultural achievements of the Hungarians can be built ever higher – up towards the sky. The life of György Fekete reminds us that Hungarian culture is the creative and sustaining force without which it is impossible not only to survive, but even to live. And perhaps it would not even be worth living. But if we root ourselves in it, if we take nourishment from it, if we draw inspiration from it, if we allow it to unfold, we will not only survive, but we will regain – and even enrich – everything that those before us have left us.
György Fekete also bequeathed a serious lesson in life to those of us entering the last third of our lives. “You don’t need to care about what’s said about what you do, who likes it, who doesn’t, what criticism there is of it, and how it’s communicated. The important thing is that you did it. If you have received a sign from the Creator indicating what you are suited for, you must do that. You must fulfil what is within you, you must give all of yourself; and you must go to the afterlife, to death, as empty as you were when you were born. There is no harm in planning life, but what one must plan most of all is old age. I shall not be a burden on anyone, but may what is still within me be turned into works.” I would just add that I am glad to see that in this you succeeded. You departed from us in contentment.
György Fekete, Professor, Honorary President, Dear Friend,
May you rest in peace in the hope of blessed resurrection!