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Jan 23, 2018

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the convention of current and former students of Christian Roma vocational colleges

20 January 2018, Budapest

Greetings to you. Good morning, everyone.

Honourable Madam Professor, Honourable Member of Parliament, Your Grace, Provincial Superior, My Lord Bishops, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Students and Alumni,

Before I begin what I have prepared to say at today’s convention, I would like to react to a few things said by those who have spoken before me. The first is that, like our Master of Ceremonies, I was also gladdened by the opportunity to listen to former students reporting on their own lives. My congratulations to them – this is a wonderful thing. They all said very different things, but all of their reports coincided on one point – or at least to me it seemed that they did: each and every one of them wants to achieve something. And believe me, for Roma and non-Roma people alike, this is the key: if we want something from life, we will eventually achieve success. The other thing I would like to say is that attending a vocational college is a wonderful thing, and I too spent my formative years in a vocational college. While listening to all of you, images of Hungary’s ministers and various other such leaders flashed into my mind. I drew up a mental list, and I can tell you that the President of the Republic, the Speaker of Parliament, the Economy Minister and the Minister for National Development all attended vocational colleges. I could not tell you anything more encouraging.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Madam Professor has already spoken in the following vein: “Do good things, talk about it, why don’t you poor Hungarians do the same – because if you did, then you’d have a better reputation in the world, and you wouldn’t be the subject of so much bad news”. This is something I would also like to remark on. We have been struggling with this problem for a long time. I must say, young Hungarians, that people like us have no talent for self-praise. I don’t know if this will change in the future, but for the time being I see no signs of this. In this respect Hungarians are a strange breed. In the Hungarian language, doing good and then talking about it is immediately seen as self-glorification and boasting, which are negative expressions. And if we accept that for some reason we would like to talk in front of others about the good things we have done, we also immediately accept the fact that their opinion is important to us; yet we believe that we are answerable to a higher power, and He will be the one who judges our actions. So in this we experience difficulties, because we philosophise instead of doing our jobs. I very much hope that eventually we will have a government that we can successfully persuade to not only do good things, but also to talk about it without such anthropological limitations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When we came to power eight years ago we set ourselves the goal of opening up to every Hungarian citizen the path towards a life of dignity, self-reliance and advancement. For this reason today’s convention is an important moment; and in fact I believe that this is also an important moment for Hungary itself. It may easily be the case that at some time in the future we will say and write that this was a decisive moment. Because for a long time in Hungary public opinion believed – and I think this was true of the majority – that the integration and inclusion of the Roma community was a lost cause. And the essence of today’s convention is that this is not the case: it is not a lost cause, and there is indeed hope; it is only a matter of putting in the effort.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Hungary too can eventually become a just country that also opens up opportunities for you. Our work, the task of managing and leading the country, includes searching for answers not only to questions concerning a just life, but also to questions concerning a fair society. Various intellectual and political schools of thought provide different answers to the question of what a fair society is and how it can be achieved. This isn’t the essence of what I would like to talk about today; I would just like to indicate that behind the decisions that affect your lives there are always intellectual battles, intellectual duels between various schools of thought, ways of thinking and philosophies. There is the Marxist, socialist, concept. According to this, to achieve a fair society we should act like an engineer, a kind of social engineer, organising and regulating how life should be: who should do what, how much they can earn, what they should be like, and so on. In the sphere of civic values – and we currently have a government of civic values – we do not believe in this kind of approach, because we believe that it lacks freedom, it lacks free initiative, it lacks hard work, and it lacks recognition for performance and the responsibility of decision-making. Instead we believe that our task is to provide an opportunity to those who are searching for opportunities. In our view, our world will become a fair one if some kind of opportunity is available to everyone. And the question of who achieves what with a given opportunity is not the business of politicians: the personal decision, opportunity and responsibility are yours.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is important that eight years ago we made it clear that – in contrast to Hungary’s previous approach –we do not see the Roma community as victims, but as a resource. This is why, when Hungary was acting President of the Council of the European Union in 2011, we placed the advancement of Europe’s Roma communities at the focal point of our efforts. From our perspective we should not be ashamed of our Roma compatriots: they are not a helpless minority, eking out an existence on taxpayers’ money – the money of other taxpayers. That is an attitude we reject. Instead we talk about Hungarian citizens for whom we can provide a liveable future and opportunity here in the land of their birth – in Hungary, our common homeland.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let’s be frank – we are, after all, among friends: for those in vocational colleges in Hungary today, there are two paths to advancement. There are only two paths to advancement: one is work, and the other is study. If the two are linked, that is especially advantageous. These are the two keys that open doors. In recent years our country’s economy has developed to a level at which we can now state that anyone in Hungary who is able and willing to work will find work. But reviving people’s will to work means showing them that work is worthwhile. This doesn’t just mean that work is financially more worthwhile than sitting at home waiting for benefit payments. It also means that work does indeed have a positive effect on people: it restores their self-respect, it offers them their place in the world, and it assures a useful and fulfilling life. We are pleased to see – and I personally am also pleased to see – that in recent years this philosophy related to work has become second nature for the majority – for instance for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been involved in the public work programme. People have felt – and have had the opportunity to feel – that others see them differently if they work, rather than wait in line for benefits. This is a fundamental truth, regardless of ethnic background. So we are on the right track, although we must also admit that we are still at the beginning of our journey. We must be patient in waiting for the day when this practice becomes the norm; but with due modesty we can state that the shift in approach, the change, has already begun.

In addition to work, the other path to advancement is study. And since we believe in this, in 2011 we launched a programme to reduce disadvantages and create opportunities for young Roma: a programme that is unique in Europe. Turning such goals into reality also requires allies. In the Hanns Seidel Foundation and Hungary’s Christian churches we found not only allies, but true partners in work and service. Christian churches and Christian organisations such as the Hanns Seidel Foundation all base their work on the same common base, according to which teaching is not only about providing knowledge, but is adherence to a two thousand-year-old imperative: it is a mission, of caring and nurture. Related to the latter, I believe it was Sándor Karácsony who wrote somewhere that the original meaning of nurture is to achieve growth, the spiritual and physical growth of the young: growth in body, growth in knowledge, growth in faith and growth in social relations. It is the transmission of values that accompany us throughout our lives.

The Hungarian government not only acknowledges this approach and way of thinking, but identifies with it and supports it. We support it because we regard the Christian values as the foundations of our shared lives. And we support it because we believe that everyone has their place within Hungarian society. Our task is to help each other to successfully find their place. In March 2011, in a joint memorandum with Hungary’s Christian churches, we laid down that we would facilitate the cause of social inclusion through the establishment of Roma colleges. Here I must stop for a moment to talk about the cooperation between the state and the Church – because, after all, we are talking about Christian vocational colleges.

This is still not the main topic I would like to talk to you about today, but nevertheless I would like to draw people’s attention – especially the attention of legal experts – to the fact that in this regard the Hungarian Constitution is extremely precise. The Constitution states that the state and the Church operate separately. Another issue is the fact that use of the word “separation” has still not been successfully applied consistently throughout the Hungarian legal system – for instance, it is not included in the Church Act. This is another argument in favour of us continuing our work after April. But what I would like to say is that when something separates or is separated, it means that a single entity is split into two parts: it becomes two parts of the whole. When we talk about something operating separately, it means that everyone has their own autonomy to perform their own duties, but their unity and common goal continue. It is a major difference and it is important that our Hungarian Constitution rests on this unity’s separately operating but unified goals.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The fact that the churches, the state and a foundation are working together in this endeavour is an example to all of Europe, because this cooperation clearly shows that if it is based on pure intent and pure foundations – such as when it is established in the interests of Roma inclusion – then everything is possible. You yourselves are proof of this. The results are visible. In the 2011–12 academic year, Roma vocational colleges began operations with 57 students in four major cities: Debrecen, Budapest, Nyiregyhaza and Miskolc. And in this academic year 325 people are pursuing their studies – including 200 in church-maintained institutions. So far some 160 Roma students who have attended vocational college have received Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees, and over 90 per cent of those who have completed their studies are now in work. It is also evident that the level of education of the Roma population is continuously improving, the number of Roma students gaining entry into higher education and receiving diplomas is gradually increasing, and this is something to which the work of your vocational colleges has significantly contributed. In view of the programme’s success, the Hungarian government has decided to guarantee the programme and assure its continuation and sustained financing. Accordingly, in the 2018 budget we are providing an additional 140 million forints, and, beginning in 2019, 550 million forints is expected to be available every year. This means that each vocational college will receive 50 million forints every year. Our dear Bavarian friends can see that I have perhaps succeeded in taking a few steps forward in terms of self-praise – even since the beginning of this speech.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

However, a picture of the success of Christian Roma vocational colleges which is more convincing than that which any data could ever give is provided by you: the young people who have attended these colleges. We have heard and I have seen the list of names, and I have seen the occupations listed against those names. Among you there are teachers, economists, training consultants, physiotherapists, police officers and sociologists. Any one of these would represent a promising career for any one of us. But I have seen the whole list, and it would be a good idea for you yourselves to also see it as a whole. Because what individually are very promising careers are, when combined, nothing less than future young Roma leaders, the Roma elite: a community of Roma citizens who are capable of high achievement. You will present Hungary’s Roma culture to Hungarians everywhere and to Europe. When I attended a vocational college, we were taught that this was the case – even if we didn’t like it. And this is also true for you, Ladies and Gentlemen. You will present Hungary’s Roma culture to Hungarians everywhere and to Europe. And, whether you like it or not – and someone here has already spoken about this in my presence here today – you are also all role models for the Hungarian Roma community. My wish is that you succeed in rising to this great task: that you make use of this opportunity – this far from everyday opportunity – for the good of Roma Hungarians and all of Hungary.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the old adage has it, “Fair words fill not the belly”. Over the past seven years we have also done much to reduce poverty in Hungary and to improve the situation of the disadvantaged. Among these measures and decisions, the closest to my heart is something which I am sure that you – like all decent, serious-minded people – also recognise as important: we have made attendance at nursery school compulsory from the age of three. I believe that this is a decisive measure, and a breakthrough. Everyone who has spoken before me here today has described the disadvantages with which they arrived in school. It is of course impossible to eradicate these disadvantages from the life of a society, but it is certainly possible to reduce them. And the best way of reducing them is to provide you and all Hungarian children – including Roma children – with the opportunity to become involved from as early an age as possible in an organised teaching programme: one that marginalises the differences between parents, reducing them as much as possible, and which as a result provides an equal – or nearly equal – opportunity for everyone to embark on his or her own career. This is why I believe it is decisive that Hungary is the only country – in Europe certainly, but perhaps in the whole world – in which children begin compulsory education from the age of three in nursery schools that the state has committed to run. In addition, just as in schools, all children – or certainly those whose parents would have difficulties providing for them – are provided with free meals. Once again I shall take up the Bavarian challenge: this is something that Hungary can be proud of, and that is unique in all Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the 2017–18 school year 454,000 children are receiving free school meals, and in 2018 Hungarian taxpayers are providing 97 billion forints for this. In addition, over one million schoolchildren from years one to nine are being given free textbooks. And this week the Cabinet came to an important decision: we will be concluding a strategic agreement with the Salesians of Don Bosco in order to help disadvantaged young Roma find places in the labour market. Thank you for the opportunity to enter into this cooperation.

Finally, young people, students and alumni, once again I would like to thank everyone for the work they have done so far. This work is important to all of Hungary. I am primarily thinking about students, alumni and their families. I would like to thank your parents. A little earlier I heard all of you mention your mothers or fathers: they inspired you to study, to make a living, to stand up for yourselves, and to take a book off the shelf and start reading. This clearly indicates that the role of parents is indispensable. And so now that we are all here together and I am looking at you all, please allow me to thank your parents in all your names.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would also like to thank our partners, who are working in this programme alongside the Ministry of Human Capacities. Thank you to the monastic orders, thank you to the Foundation for a Civic Hungary, and thank you also to our Bavarian friends, the Hanns Seidel Foundation. In addition to today’s conference, the Hanns Seidel Foundation also sponsored the alumni’s meeting and the Roma Social Policy Academy. Let us once again heed their advice, and state that between 2011 and 2017 this Bavarian foundation has provided these programmes with over 100 million forints. Once again, thank you to our Bavarian friends!

In parting, I would like to mention a well-known saying that has been attributed to many peoples and authors, and which crops up in many forms in world literature and in political thinking. The essence of this oft-quoted piece of wisdom is that the path to success always begins with the first few steps. It seems to me that we have taken those first steps; and the will to cooperate, the resulting strength, desire and determination, and the financial resources required for us to continue are all available. For my part, all I can say is that as long as we continue to enjoy the confidence of Hungarian citizens, we shall continue to move forward along this path.

Thank you for your kind attention. God bless you all!