Mária Schmidt: No weapon exists that can neutralize an idea

“The Bold Truth About Hungary” podcast has aired its second episode today featuring author, historian, and Director-General of the House of Terror Museum Mária Schmidt.

The second sitting of the podcast was recorded in the iconic House of Terror Museum, a day after the 66th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, featuring a distinguished guest, Mária Schmidt, historian and director-general of the museum.

During our 30-minute conversation with Schmidt, we discussed the legacy of Hungary’s communist past and the museum’s role in commemorating the lives lost to the terror of the communist regime. We also discussed how that historical experience has shaped Hungarian contemporary political thought and the perspective on the country’s national interest up to this very day.

It’s safe to say, now with more than two decades of perspective since the museum opened its doors, that the establishment of the House of Terror Museum was one of the most successful and most substantive steps by the Hungarian government to reframe the way Hungarians see their 45 years of communist oppression.

In  Schmidt’s words, “in the 1990s, after the fall of the communist regime, we started to revisit history and the past, as for 45 years we had only been allowed to have one way of looking at history, and that was the way the communist party looked at it and interpreted it.”

The discussion continued with detailing the environment affecting this interpretation of events, as, after the fall of the communist regime, “[Hungarians] were not used to freedom, not used to the clash of opinions, or having to argue for and debate the views they held.” However, according to her, through their dedication and work, “we have won all these battles of interpretation.”

This process unquestionably illustrates the Hungarian journey from country to nation, as Mária Schmidt explained that Hungarian people did not go to the streets just “to improve their living conditions, not to protest high mandatory factory quotas or to improve the bread supply. No. This was the only resistance that rejected communism itself; we wanted freedom, we wanted national self-determination and democracy. And one of the most important reasons for this was that our national survival was at stake.”

Hungary’s firm anti-communist foundations, she added, are currently at odds with the rise of neo-Marxist ideologies from the West, where ”yet again we are almost living in a new era of show trials and procedures from the United States to Western Europe, because those who are not of the same opinion are stigmatized.”

But, as Schmidt rightly pointed out, this stigmatization is more about power than ideology, as “Brussels or Washington or Berlin will not tolerate anyone contradicting them.” According to her, these Western power centers “are determined, that like a knife in butter, their intentions, their ambitions will be carried through, and they want us to do what is expected of us, namely that with a grateful heart, we thank them for even talking to us at all.”

While she admits that Hungarians had shared sentiments of gratitude to the West, this ended when our eyes were opened during the 2015 migration crisis.

The situation is that the world has changed, “freedom has become as natural to us as the air,” Schmidt said, adding that, contrary to what the mainstream, liberal press corps would have you believe, in Hungary, “we have freedom of the press, we have freedom of speech, no one thinks that they can be disadvantaged in any way because of their opinion.”

While this is true in the case of Hungary, she said, “we see that in America there is a witch hunt, that the US president is calling the opposition the same names that the communists used to call those who disagreed with them in their time, that in Germany there is simply a palpable fear among the people, that they dare not speak out, that they dare not meet certain people, that they dare not speak their minds.” In her view, this is nothing short of terrifying, as it resembles the worst days of communist oppression.

To prevent Hungary from becoming a place where the liberal thought police suppress those that dare to think differently, Mária Schmidt proposed that new avenues be opened in the discussion about the world we live in. She cited Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as an example, saying that “if Viktor Orbán and this government didn't say no, and didn't express an alternate opinion, then it would be a completely one-sided argument, and it would seem as if there is nothing else that can be imagined in a conflict, for example in the Ukrainian-Russian war, except that it should escalate further.”

In her view “Viktor Orbán is freedom and courage itself. He is terribly brave. And if there is no courage, there is nothing.”

Approaching the last chapter of the conversation, Schmidt voiced her fears that Germany and Europe are increasingly in an extremely desperate situation. “Because courage has died in Germany and freedom has died because of it. And that is the case throughout Europe. Nobody dares to speak out,” she explained.

In her closing remarks,  Schmidt identified the most important weapon at our disposal to fend off liberal, neo-Marxist ideologists by saying that she believes “in the power of words and the power of thoughts because there is no cannon, drone, precision instrument or bomb that can kill or neutralize an idea.”