Good morning to you all: Minister, Government Commissioner and Director; Dear Hikers, Cross-country and Long-distance Runners, Swimmers and Rowers, Skaters and Skiers; Dear Active Hungary, and Dear Award Winners.
In addition to formally opening today’s meeting, I would like to share a few thoughts with you. When I was first invited, I refused, and the reason was that I was told – and this was exactly what they said – that this conference would be opening a new era. I said that it sounded like an opposition slogan, and asked why I would want to attend. It had to be a mistake. But then I understood that it was not. So the organisers do not want to open a new era after the current government cycles, but – if I have translated the conversation with Máriusz into my own language correctly – in two other senses. The first is that a new era awaits us all after the pandemic. And indeed, the pandemic that we have been through has had an impact not only on our health, but also on our thinking – and perhaps on our perception of life. And perhaps it will open up more space for the kind of activity that you will be discussing here today. On the other hand, it is not entirely unjustified to interpret this title – this conference title – in political terms. Because we have done a lot in the last twelve years, and in particular in the last two years – since the Office of Government Commissioner was set up, and during its operation. This can also be seen as a trial period. At least I see it like that. So in terms of the new cycles that are about to begin, in terms of political cycles, we can have what nowadays is called a pilot project, to see what has worked and what has not worked. These three years have been enough to enable us to experiment... Máriusz says it was five, but when you set up a state secretariat, a government commissioner’s office, a foundation, the first two years are all about getting it to work at all, because of Hungarian bureaucratic over-regulation. So if in five years there have been two or three years of substantive work, then we can say that is a good ratio in Hungarian bureaucratic conditions. Although I have not been invited here today to talk about government reforms, one of the main tasks of this government commissioner’s office will be to highlight those points at which – probably for historical reasons, and sometimes perhaps because people feared losing their jobs – bureaucratic rules and obstacles have been built in, and no one can say why on earth they are needed. They are just there somehow, and it is the way we do things – it is what we are used to, and so on. And all this consumes time and energy. So, although Máriusz says five years, I see only two, two and a half years of actual work here, let us say, in the productive phase. This is a good time to identify the points where we definitely need to make changes.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Congratulations in advance to the winners, of course; but before that, I would like to say a few words about the future. This whole active side of life has been neglected territory in the history of Hungarian politics – in the post-1945 era, let us say. For a long time politics was not about that; it was about big issues. We think about the bridge, but less about the road to the bridge. Because of its budget-oriented approach, politics has a heavy-handed character that leads it to always look for the big issues, and neglect the small things that make life truly liveable. If there are civil society organisations – and we are very fortunate that you exist in this area – then such demands come, such views are presented to political decision-makers. And if there is a channel through which they can be reached, a vessel through which they can pass, a place where these proposals are summarised, then it may even be easy to turn these proposals into government decisions. We have had such a period in the last two and a half or three years. The Office of the Government Commissioner has been important in this respect.
I saw the situation as quite hopeless, because I know the particular over-regulation in this area. Since it does not have its own set of rules, it is on the periphery of the rules for all the other areas. They all merge into one another, and the burden, the bureaucratic burden on your area, is two or three times greater than the area to be regulated, the true target area for regulation. So I did not have high hopes for the functioning of the state, of the Office of the Government Commissioner. We thought for a long time about how to do it, and I realised that the success of this would depend on our being able to find a man with the courage to defy death. If we found such a person, then something would come of it; if not, then no one with the usual skills would be able to crash through the bureaucratic labyrinths that the state unfortunately places in front of – or in the path of – people whose lives feature active leisure activities. So we have reached an agreement with Máriusz – who, as you all know, is a man of death-defying courage, with all the accompanying good and bad consequences. I have worked with him for thirty years and I was confident that he would get this right.
Obviously reporting the results is always about praising your own horse, and somehow it always looks nicer than your neighbour’s horse. But nevertheless, however much romantic and literary hyperbole may have been mixed in with what has been said here, on the whole there is little doubt that – taking account of the obstacles that had to be overcome – very significant results have been achieved. I would therefore like to congratulate everyone who has been involved in this work, whether they are a government commissioner, or the leader of – or a worker in – a public benefit company. I would also like to congratulate the civil society organisations that have been partners in this – and even initiators at times. Thank you to the mayors and the members of county assemblies who have also served their constituents well by being partners in such difficult work.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I also know that I was not invited here to say all this, but to somehow give you an answer on whether there will be money. Let us not beat around the bush: that is why I was invited! I have other fine thoughts, and I will share them with you; but after acquiring the experience I have, the focus of interest is easy to see. I look at you and I see the situation. I can say the following things about money. The first is that this territory is no longer neglected. Money cannot be spent for any purpose if there are no clear lines of responsibility. The territory is no longer neglected, we have an institutional system, and I would be happy to see proposals on how we can develop this for the future. But the point is that this territory is now under supervision, so the first condition for the rational spending of money has been met. When spending money, the second most important thing is that we can see where it is going. This is an area in which at the end of the day you can see that there will be a lookout tower or a cycle path: these things are concrete. And if there are concrete plans, then this area’s bargaining position is strong.
I would like to make it clear, however, that in order to have money for any area, what is needed first of all – and secondly – is not a government intention: it is first of all money itself. Someone has to produce it, it has to be produced, it has to be created. So, in order to talk about development and programmes here, we need a bustling economy: one that does not swallow money, but generates it; money which we can then use for such meaningful, noble, lofty and important goals. I can report that the economy is indeed bustling. So the reply to the question of whether there will be money is that there will be money, because the economy is bustling.
There are many reasons that the economy is so active, but that is not the subject of today’s meeting. I would just like to ask you for help with one thing: do not allow the dismantling of the functioning Hungarian economic system, which has been built up with great difficulty. At the heart of this economic system is the tax system. If Hungary did not have this tax system, the performance of the economy would be significantly lower, and therefore any resources that could be made available for such purposes would be reduced. So I would like to ask you, in all public debates both up until the election and beyond, to defend the tax system that has resulted in the availability of the resources that are needed for such developments in Hungary today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Regarding money, the second or third important thing I would like you to understand and accept from me is that there is no money for generalities, but there is for specifics. So appropriations and headings will not suffice – we cannot give money for any of that. But if you say that there is a development programme – or not one but ten, or a hundred – I can promise you that there will always be money for that. There has been so far. In this area that you are going to discuss today, the limit to development is not imposed by a lack of money: the problem is bureaucracy, and we must reduce it together, on the basis of your proposals. Two: the lack of concrete, meaningful plans. We could spend a lot more money if there were more concrete and well-developed plans. So I would encourage everyone to think and plan. Not a single minute spent on this, on thinking and planning, is wasted; because if in the end the idea is good, it will be implemented. Let me say this again: here are the civil society organisations who can formulate it, who can get it through Gergő [Gergely Gulyás] and his people into the channel where we can assess the conditions for implementation from the Government’s point of view, and define the preconditions; and when they go through Máriusz, every concrete programme can be included in central decision-making – as long as it is concrete. There is no money for generalities, but there is money for what is concrete. This is because the money that is for general purposes has a habit of disappearing. Although that can also happen to money that is for specific purposes, in that case it is a matter for the police, and belongs to another conference. But when we know specifically what the money is to be spent on, it does not usually disappear, but is converted into something that someone – civil society organisations, churches, settlements or counties – has initiated. So I would encourage everyone to plan: please put down on paper and get to us everything that you have in your head, that you have had in your mind over the last couple of decades that you would like to implement, but which you somehow felt the environment and the circumstances did not make possible.
This should be the part where I list everything that we have done; but Máriusz has done plenty of that, so if you will allow me I will not even talk about that. Perhaps I would rather say a few words about the fact that of course in many areas there is not enough money, and ask why in this area there are all the resources needed for every meaningful project. Our government is a national government, which means that we love our country. We want our children to realise how good it is for them to love their country, and we want our friends to love their country a little more: there would be less cynicism, less self-destructiveness and societal destruction, less damage – in other words, less of everything that we do to harm ourselves and our country. Since we have a national government, for us it is important how people think about their own country. So I was very pleased to see the charts that Máriusz presented on why it is economically beneficial to spend these amounts of money in this area. And this is very important, because there are also left-wingers in politics, and they can only be persuaded with money. It is pointless for me to tell them that we love our country and that this is important. Theirs is a different world, operating according to a different code: we need economic arguments, and we can make a good case that this is important. But it is different among ourselves, among people who love our country – and I think that the common denominator between us and the civil society organisations that deal with these issues is precisely that we have a shared love of Hungary itself. So for us there is something that is at least as important – or perhaps more important – than money and the undoubted economic benefits.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The fact is that the future will be determined by this. What I see happening in many places around the world is that the future of nations will be decided by which countries and which communities love their homeland more. Everyone talks about globalisation and great world processes – and they certainly exist. But in the race between nations in the coming decades I see emotional factors as being decisive. Where commitment to the homeland – the commitment to the community – is stronger, greater, more passionate, in those places more and far better things will happen than in countries where that commitment is weak, faltering, or even declining. The opposite is true in Hungary. And if we ask what the basis of patriotism is – putting aside questions of faith for the moment, because we obviously live in a community that in this respect is diverse – then there are two kinds of awareness: one is awareness of the country, and the other is awareness of the nation. National awareness is the dimension of patriotism in time: history, ancestors, traditions, role models, and the future, our children. This is national awareness. And then there is awareness of the country, which means physical knowledge of the country that is ours. Both of these strengthen patriotism, and the degree of patriotism will determine the extent to which Hungarians will be the winners in the race among nations over the next ten to twenty years. And so for us, for the national government – we sometimes call ourselves the government of national issues – this is why years spent in good health are important. The financial advantage is important – it cannot be otherwise; but the most important thing is patriotism, because that is what our future will depend on.
In case anyone thinks that the issues of environmental awareness and knowledge of the country are not so important in politics, I say the following to young people – because older people were there and they remember it. I tell young people that the fall of communism started with two such protests. I see a lot of uncertainty among you. The fall of communism started with two major protests, and both of them were about awareness of country, about the love of country, the kind of thing we are talking about here today. One was the protest against the destruction of Transylvanian villages. The other was in defence of the Danube: against the Bős-Nagymaros Dam. And only after these protests came the 15 March anniversary, and later the reburial of Imre Nagy. Together these four factors brought down the communist regime in its final phase, and the first two were things that you as professionals have some involvement in. In the case of the destruction of our Transylvanian villages, I would say that an instinct for life was aroused. And the Danube is our sacred river: we recognise its commercial potential, but we did not want to see that happen, because we believe that there are more important things than money.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
So let us not underestimate the importance of this way of thinking, of this area; because the great mass mobilisations in the overthrow of communism, the emotions that were necessary to overthrow communism, were largely triggered by the same kind of patriotism that I assume drives you when you deal with these issues.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In conclusion, I would like to say the following to you. Go, Hungarians!
I will quote Pál Rockenbauer. “No matter how long a nature documentary, how beautiful a picture, how wonderful a description, we cannot believe that it can replace personal experience. These places are easily accessible to anyone, and visiting and discovering them is for everyone simply a matter of deciding to do so.” We expect you to add everything else that goes beyond personal choice. Thank you very much for listening to me, thank you very much for having us. I hope that the alliance that has been forged between us in the past will be kept alive in the years ahead.
I wish strength and good health to you all!
Photo credit: MTI