Speech by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the Hunyadi János Award ceremony

20 March 2024, Brussels

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, Honourable Prime Minister, Dear Beata, Distinguished Professor. 

I have been given permission to speak in Hungarian. So, if you allow me, I will speak Hungarian. A rare occasion for you to enjoy a wonderful language, which is rather a secret code than a language. Do not try to learn it! 

When I accepted the invitation here I had two options: one was to speak about János Hunyadi, and the other to speak about Professor Legutko. I found the latter to be more exciting. Therefore, if you will allow me, I will talk about what we owe to Professor Legutko. If you look at him closely, which he obviously does not take very kindly to, behind the title of professor you will find a very special man.   

In European civilisation there is a popular idea that a philosopher can never predict the course of history, but can only attempt to find meaning in it retrospectively. Indeed Hegel added that the only thing we have learned from history is that we have learned nothing from it. The reason I have chosen Professor Legutko rather than Hunyadi as the subject of today’s laudation is that he is living proof that Hegel was wrong. And that is no small thing. He is the philosopher professor who has not only learned from history, but has also used history to predict what will be. And, Ladies and Gentlemen, everything that he has predicted has come to pass. If we were to ask him whether this made him happy, I think he would say what the simple weatherman who forecast a destructive hailstorm would say: that he would be happier if he had been wrong. But, alas, he has not been wrong: the Professor has been right about essentially everything. It is as he predicted: the progressive liberals have indeed become like the communists and are now a real threat to our freedom, because they are trying to realise their own utopian fever dreams. As a former resistance fighter, he was well aware of the internal logic of the communist ideal, and had also experienced how all the promises of communism for world salvation had ended up as oppression and dictatorship. This much was not a great achievement: let us admit that we, too, noticed it. But, when he became acquainted with Western progressive liberalism, the Professor recognised the same signs that we had seen in communism. Unlike many of us, this did not surprise him; and unlike us, he was not surprised that after 1990 the old communists transformed into well-brought-up liberals in a matter of minutes. Likewise we have him to thank for the realisation that both communism and liberalism demand the same ideological discipline. When he studied the functioning of the European Union, he was also the first to say that he had discovered these signs: he had discovered the signs that are typical of the quest for political absolutism; he had discovered that normal language was being converted into Newspeak, and that, by blurring reality, EU policy does not talk about what exists, but describes a dream world. And, as a similar sign, he also identified the progressive liberals’ unrelenting hostility to all dissent. Perhaps he was able to recognise all this when we did not because, although he is a philosopher, he has never been a desk-bound scholar and has never been afraid to go out into the field. And those who fought against the communists, as he did in the 1980s, can translate their experiences into philosophical insights more easily than the desk-bound scholars who lack that dimension. 

In the 1980s, when I was still a university student, I spent some years studying the Polish resistance. I was trying to understand what the Poles were doing. The Poles stood out from the other Central European countries. This was because in 1956, for example, when we confronted the communists, or in 1968 when the Czechs tried to somehow push communism aside in a Czech way, both attempts were not only suppressed but eradicated. Not even a kernel of resistance was left, either in Hungary or in the Czech Republic. I was at university in the early 1980s, and what captured my attention in the period after Solidarity was that it was the first resistance movement in Central Europe which, although crushed by a military dictatorship, was not liquidated. And I wanted to find out what the secret of this was, why it could not be liquidated. And if it was not possible to eradicate it there, did this not mean that it would not be too long before communism collapsed and the Soviet Union disappeared from our lives? I looked into this Polish crystal ball, and from the example of the Poles I understood that the reason the Polish resistance could not be liquidated was that it was organised in a special and durable way. And the fact that I can stand here today as Prime Minister of Hungary, representing, in addition to my government, a political organisation and party which was founded in the late 1980s and fought – successfully – against the communists, is thanks to the fact that in an intellectual sense we have managed to understand the secret of the Poles: that we have managed to understand the logic of resistance, the logic of organisation, the unity of philosophy and action, of thought and action, which is most worthily symbolised for us all by Professor Legutko.

So here, Professor, on behalf of the Hungarian freedom fighters, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you personally for, through your work, contributing to the freedom of the Hungarians. You produced samizdat publications. You created discussion groups. We copied these in Hungary. So, Professor, it is a personal honour for me to greet you today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

After the Professor recognised the patterns of communism in progressive liberalism, he did not keep this recognition to himself. So he is not only the man who first saw this connection, but also the man who first spoke about it. He spoke about it openly, which means that here today we not only welcome a great mind and an active man, but also a courageous man; because to speak about the authoritarian tendencies inherent in liberalism in the 1990s took great courage – and, I must say, still takes courage today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We did not understand this. In this laudation I must also admit that what the Professor saw in the early 1990s was not seen by us Hungarians – and, for example, by me personally, as a representative of the young, free generation of Hungarians. I did not understand what he was telling us at the time. We thought – and I thought – that of course there were all kinds of debates with the liberals, but this was actually in keeping with the free or freedom-loving tradition of the West. Of course we would argue with each other, but on the fundamental issues we were on the same footing and sharing the same ground as the liberals – on the issue of freedom, let’s say. Back in the 1990s it was Professor Legutko who told us that this was a serious mistake. This debate, he said, was not the kind that takes place between different freedom-loving ideologies within Western European culture: it was different, it was dangerous; in fact those with whom we were arguing were trying to eliminate us. The professor has experienced first-hand that there is only a very fine line between pioneering and heresy. All great founders of religions start out as heretics. Back then we saw the Professor not as a pioneer, but as a heretic. We said that he was talking about something we thought was only in his head, because the world was going in a completely different direction. I have to admit, however, that the Professor judged the situation and history correctly.

In 2004, when we joined the EU, we thought we had arrived, we had come home. We thought that the EU would be a guarantee both of prosperity and our national independence. We were in a euphoric mood, and the “Legutko-style doubts” – if I may put it like that – were laid to rest. We were only superficially aware of the dispute that already existed between the federalists and the sovereigntists. Therefore the truth is that it was not only our mood, the mood of EU accession, that made us reject the Professor’s insights, but also our lack of knowledge – because as a professor he had a much deeper knowledge of the debates within the European Union. He knew that the advocates of federalism were in fact aiming to eliminate nation states, abolish national powers as much as possible, and control them through community policy diktats. We only realised this later, when we had to agree that the Professor was right.

There is perhaps an excuse for our late arrival in Professor Legutko’s camp. Perhaps our excuse is that, if you look at the writings of the founding fathers, you will see that the debate between sovereigntists and federalists was not always what it is today. It was not always the case that the federalists wanted to eliminate political thought and political actors who defended the foundations of the nation state. In fact I suspect that the founders actually thought that this was a beneficial tension. So the debate between the federalists and the nationalists, the sovereigntists, was not a bad thing: it was a good thing, because it was a fruitful conflict, it was an intellectual and political debate generating ambition, generating inspiration. And in fact it is this debate that will continue to impose specific EU solutions, because neither side can want the other to disappear: if the sovereigntists defeat the federalists, then the cohesive force will cease; but if the federalists eliminate the sovereigntists, then what follows can only be the creation of another oppressive empire. This insight was already there, I believe, in the minds of the founding fathers. Monnet writes of these two tendencies: “Rather than clashing head on, they let themselves be influenced by each other. In this way they can discover, with the help of the other, what they did not know themselves. And, as a matter of course, they arrive at dialogue and then at joint action.” Why were we wrong? Why was Professor Legutko right – despite the fact that the founding fathers themselves wrote of the struggle between federalists and sovereigntists as a genuinely productive conflict? Why were we wrong to think that in the modern age, a few decades after the founding fathers, this was still the case, or could be the case? And why was the Professor right to think that it is no longer true? Simple things solve great mysteries.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the old federalists – Schumann, Monnet, De Gaspari – were good Catholics. There’s the rub! They recognised the idea of Catholic universalism that once made Europe great, and this Catholic universalism never included the abolition of nations, the building of utopias or the creation of a ruling empire. But these old federalists, Ladies and Gentlemen, are great old buffaloes who have moved on to the eternal hunting grounds. Today, these are not the people representing federalism in the European Union. They have been replaced by progressive liberals, who, as the Professor has pointed out many times in his writings, do not really care about the people of Europe. They are only interested in their own ideals, and their politics is also about wanting to implement them. If the price of implementing their ideals is the destruction of European industry and agriculture, then they will do it. If the price of their plans is the erasure of Europe’s culture and past through illegal migration, they will commit to that too, because erasing the past is as natural to them as it was to the communists, who believed that the past must be erased for all time.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the fact that the people who are advocating a federalist position today are different in character from the federalist founding fathers is only part of the problem. There is another major problem, and this is that the sovereigntist forces have been weakened. It is a big problem that the British – who always thought in terms of nation states – have departed, leaving the representation of sovereigntism to the Central Europeans. If you do some quick mental arithmetic, you will see that without the British, the Central Europeans have no blocking minority. But the problem is even bigger than this, because even this Central Europe cast adrift is not united: instead it shows itself to be divided in the sovereigntist-federalist debate; it is as if we cannot decide which leg to stand on. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have always agreed on the sovereignty of Poles and Hungarians. For many years we have been on the same page as the Professor. We knew what it meant when Báthory came; we knew what it meant when Sobieski arrived there, outside Vienna; we knew what it meant when “Papa” Bem appeared in our war of independence in 1848/49 and became the greatest Hungarian general. But now we are a little perplexed about Poland. I do not want to interfere in the affairs of Professor Legutko’s country, of which he is more familiar, but from here in Budapest it seems as if the Soros Empire has come to power in Poland. And that is the worst omen a Hungarian can imagine.

We have not come here to talk about this, but I would like to remind everyone that there is a key sentence that can be used to understand everything that is happening in Central Europe today – and therefore in Poland. This sentence was written in very clear language by the intellectual founder of the Soros Empire, Mr. Popper, and it is the shared intellectual foundation of our opponents today. I will try to give you a rough outline. The creed, let us say the Soros liberal creed, is, according to Popper: “Anyone who ascribes a special value and historical mission to his own nation is essentially an enemy of the open society, and – whether or not he knows it – is building a tyranny.” That is how we are seen today by the other side, and this is how we are treated. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Of course, we who stand firm believe that this battle will ultimately be won not by the Soros Empire or the Brussels federalists, but by the nations, and that the Popperian idea of the open society cannot be allowed to take root in Central Europe. We will send them exactly where they belong, to the ash heap of history – just as we sent the communists there. We have already defeated the communists once, we have already sent them packing, we know what this is about, we know how to do it. And we want to chase the progressive liberals away in the same way.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For the first time in decades, I feel that the sovereigntist Central Europeans are not alone. I see stirring and movement in Germany, in France, in Spain and in Portugal; and in the space of a few years national, conservative, sovereigntist forces have become determinative. And then there is the Netherlands. Europe is showing signs of life, defending itself and making its voice heard. It is a long time since I have seen such a good opportunity for national, conservative, sovereigntist and Christian-based forces to become dominant in the European Union. Unlike our opponents, we do not represent ideals but the people of Europe, and we are the nightmare of the Brusseleers who oppress the people of Europe. Our optimism is increased by this event today, because when the dark clouds were gathering over Europe, there were always a few people who defied this, who fought and struggled, and who turned the tide of history. Such a person was János Hunyadi, who is the eponym of this award. Such a person was Sobieski; but I could also mention El Cid, or Charles Martel.

And to this list I would add the name of Professor Legutko, whose erudition and worldview are worthy of a European scholar, and at a level that for us is unattainable. Yet – as a politician since 2000, and as a Member of the European Parliament since 2009 – he has taken on the difficult task of fighting for his ideals, for his people, for the people of Europe – in defiance of the hordes of progressive liberal federalists. There is only one thing we must do, Ladies and Gentlemen, and that is to line up alongside Professor Legutko. If Hunyadi were here with us today, he would say: “Get behind Professor Legutko, seize the opportunity and win the election ahead of us.” In other words, in political terms, “Take Brussels!”

God bless Professor Legutko! God save Europe! It has been an honour to have delivered this laudation for Professor Legutko.

Thank you very much for your time.