Bereaved Family, Fellow Congregants,
Nomen est omen: we stand here like a flock that has lost its shepherd. With bowed heads and heavy hearts. Serbs and Hungarians, Hungarians in the motherland and Hungarians beyond the borders. Together we bid farewell to our friend and brother-in-arms – a brave man, a strong leader, but, above all, an excellent soldier: he lived as a soldier, he fought as a soldier, and he departed as a soldier. We now bid him farewell with the respect due to our comrade. Farewell to the warrior who knew not only how to live, but also how to die with his head held high. At the end of his life he endured pain and serious illness without complaint. He never burdened his colleagues and friends with his own worries. He just did his job until the moment he received an urgent celestial call-up order; and then he left. And we stand here with President Vučić, representing the Serbian and Hungarian peoples, crushed and distraught. We stand over the coffin of a Hungarian who united us and brought our peoples together in peace. We cannot be grateful enough for this. We feel the weight of the political legacy he has left us. We are Central Europeans, so we know exactly how easy it is for friends to become enemies, and how rare it is in these parts for former enemies to become friends. Let us not forget that ten or so years ago it would have been unthinkable for our countries, our peoples, to be able to count on each other for everything. Today it would be unthinkable for us not to share each other’s joys and pains. Our friend President István Pásztor was the first not only to hope and not only to believe that this could be so, but also to act to attain it. He showed us the path along which Serbs and Hungarians can move together, as the common destiny of the two peoples rationally justifies.
President István Pásztor was not only a great brother-in-arms, but also a true friend. Our friendship began in the long-gone past. I remember that in May 2010 he was my first official visitor after I was sworn in as Prime Minister. And that was no coincidence. I do not know if at that time he was the one who emboldened us, or if we emboldened him, but I remember the overwhelming weight of shared responsibility. István Pásztor bore this responsibility not only for his own, for the Hungarians of Vojvodina, but for the entire Hungarian nation. To feel responsibility for the whole nation is a mission that few people today understand. It is a heavy mantle, but it must be borne, because this is God’s will for the Hungarians. It is a particularly heavy mantle if one bears it as a member of the Hungarian minority. We ourselves know all too well that it is a real test of human strength to conjure unity and collective action from a Hungarian multitude that is diverse, multi-faceted and fervently independent. It is then that one understands the truth in our folk song: “He who wants to be a piper must go through hell to succeed.” I also recall that before István Pásztor’s presidency, and even at the beginning of his term in office, Hungarian policy on Hungarian communities beyond the borders was in a state of disarray and at its lowest point, with the dead bell already being rung over it. This was due to the treachery and sabotage of earlier governments in Budapest. It almost had to be brought back almost from the grave. But István succeeded in doing so.
Fellow Mourning Congregants,
István Pásztor had a difficult fate and a difficult life. I am grateful that, by observing him, I was able to learn how to bear troubles while maintaining one’s good humour. He was a wise man. He knew that a man who spoke in a complicated way was not clever, but a smart alec. He knew that wisdom lies in simplicity, and in being able to make the most complex political problem understandable to others. Coming from Budapest to Vojvodina, it was impressive to see the persuasive power that enabled him to galvanise into collective action a fragmented community divided by interests. He knew what charisma is. I remember that in Palics/Palić in 2010 he said that “The Hungarians of Vojvodina want to be not only a nation-building force, but also a nation-forming force; a community that can contribute to the rise of the whole nation through its own strength.” I would even add that this can contribute to two nations. And thus it came to pass! We saluted him for his ability, as the longest-serving President of the Assembly of Vojvodina, to create harmony between Serbs and Hungarians. It is hard to count the number of issues on which we have worked together over the past thirteen years. We could always be sure, I could always be sure, that István Pásztor would keep his word, and that his handshake would be stronger than any written contract. He never made promises: he made commitments; and what he committed to, he always kept to the letter. They knew this in Belgrade as well as in Budapest, and they knew it here in Subotica/Szabadka.
István was not an easy man. But which of us is? It is easy to be friends with a friend who is perfect. We must contritely admit that we are not faultless either. Those who set out on an arduous mission – and we are on such a mission – sometimes give wounds and sometimes receive them; and there is rarely the time and opportunity to bandage every wound and heal every injury.
Even though both of us had more years behind us than ahead of us, I thought that we would have another ten or twelve more years of fighting and working together. And once we had done that, we could say that our work had been done and the young wolves could follow us. But the Lord God decided otherwise. And against that there is no appeal and no reprieve: if you must go, you must go. We are still here, looking for the answer to what will happen now that the strongest supporting pillar has been removed from the building that Hungarians and Serbs have built together. What are we to do now, after the fall of the supporting pillar in Vojvodina of Hungarian policy on communities beyond the borders? We do not understand what the Almighty could have wanted in this. We will need a long time to come to terms with the fact that our friend is no longer with us. Today is a day of mourning. It is still early. Our hearts are filled with a black fog of grief. But even as we bow our heads under the weight of grief, let us raise our hearts up: up, My Friends! Just as István would do in our place. Here the words of Dezső Kosztolányi – another man from Subotica/Szabadka – resonate: “Yes indeed, to be, to be: to be first and foremost human and humane; to be a good European and a good Hungarian; to be a Westerner and an Easterner, duelling in two directions; to have the creative will to aim for the stars, and to be a humble worker. We must pass on to our successors, untainted, the spirit and the language that we have inherited for a brief time, burnished with a new spirit. This is our mission. ‘May fortune’s hand bless or beat’: this is our mission.” Yes, this was and remains our shared mission with István Pásztor. God above us all, Hungary before all else!
God be with you, István! God be with us, My Friends!