Speech by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the inauguration of the House of Music, Hungary

22 January 2022, Budapest

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Mr. Speaker, Director-General, Director, Ladies and Gentlemen,

A baker can bake new bread every day; but if an architect’s clients don’t like the resulting building, he can only advise them to plant ivy. In other words, every new building is a risk – especially in today’s world, in which architects no longer want to speak in the formal language of old, tried and tested historical styles. So we feel apprehensive. We are constantly apprehensive. We are apprehensive about large-scale construction projects, only feeling reassured by our first sight of the finished building. In matters of taste it is difficult to find consensus, which only appears in rare moments. Today is one such moment. The consensus seems to be that Mr. Fujimoto has done an excellent job. On behalf of the Hungarian people, I would like to thank him for his work. And thanks are due not only to the designer, but also to the contractors, the main contractors and subcontractors, craftsmen, labourers and assistants – in other words, to everyone whose work has made it possible for us to stand here today. Thank you all very much!

On the way in, I was reminded of the fact that this building dedicated to music in Hungary was designed by a Japanese architect. Why is it that we Hungarians feel at home in a space created by a Japanese mind? Perhaps it is because the distance between these two peoples – the two spirits, the Japanese and the Hungarian genius – is not as great as geography would lead us to believe. We only need to think back to the 1930s, and the scientific efforts made then to research the kinship between our two peoples. But another possible explanation is that this building does not seek to impose itself on its surroundings, instead naturally blending in, deferring, harmonising and integrating organically. And to Hungarian eyes this is simply beautiful. This approach is characteristic not only of Japanese architecture, but also of the most distinguished Hungarian architectural traditions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Perhaps it was Churchill who said, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards they shape us.” So let us also talk a little about ourselves. These are difficult times for Europe. We face pandemics, waves of population movement, the European energy crisis and increasing ideological pressure from Brussels; meanwhile our continent’s political, military, economic and cultural weight in relation to the rest of the world is steadily shrinking. Elsewhere the pandemic had led to institutions such as this closing, deteriorating and retreating; here, on the other hand, we have this spellbinding new institution, with its powerful, glorious cultural radiance. Moreover, the House of Music is not a solitary project, but part of a huge cultural development. So, crisis or no crisis, one can say that we Hungarians are in a phase of cultural expansion. According to the most recently available figures for per capita cultural spending in the European Union, Hungary is in first place – albeit in equal first place. In 2010, we were in the middle of the pack, but then came the national constitutional turnaround, and within a decade we made these fine efforts in climbing back to the top. One cannot deny that an important part of Hungarians’ self-image is that we are a nation of culture.

But, Ladies and Gentlemen, let us not forget how our political opponents behaved in relation to the renewal of the City Park. It is by no means an accident that today the Mayor of Budapest is busy elsewhere. There is an enormous temptation to settle a score – after all, seeing this beautiful building, the long queues, the numerous international accolades, one thing is clear as day: we were right. The political journeymen of the Left defended what was run-down, dilapidated and unworthy, and opposed what was beautiful, world-class and uplifting. On this, the Day of Hungarian Culture, it is tempting – but perhaps inappropriate – to engage in political retaliation. I shall do no such thing. Nevertheless, the devil is provoking me to say that we should not forget about that retaliation, but postpone it, and – to use an apt analogy – pull their song from the concert in April.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Let us steer away from retaliation and into more serious waters. For Hungarian culture there are places of honour, and the City Park is one of them. But it has not always lived up to its great reputation. in 1877, for example, [the poet] János Arany wrote this of it: “The two of us match each other: a shabby man and a shabby park.” It seems that neither Arany nor the park was in very good condition at the time. And then the following were built: the Museum of Fine Arts, the Kunsthalle, Heroes’ Square, the Transport Museum, Vajdahunyad Castle and the House of the Hungarian Millennium. All at once, the shabby park became the Parnassus of Hungarian culture. But then came the world inferno, followed by more than four decades of communism, and Parnassus became a shabby park once more. When we returned to office in 2010, we wanted the park to regain its role as the citadel of Hungarian culture. This is how the Liget Project was born, if I can use such words on the Day of Hungarian Culture. Whatever we call it, it is the biggest cultural development in Europe: the new Museum of Ethnography building; the renovated Museum of Fine Arts; the House of the Hungarian Millennium and the Rose Garden; the nearby National Museum Conservation and Storage Centre. The Transport Museum will be housed in a new building, and there is a new exhibition space in the Csillag Fortress in Komárom.

It is fitting to thank not only those who carried out the work, but also István Tarlós, under whose mayoralty of Budapest these developments could be launched. Under his leadership, the capital and the Government created cooperation that functioned so well that its fruits will be enjoyed by the people of Budapest and the entire Hungarian nation for decades to come. Thank you, István!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Hungarian nation will never forget the names of nation-builders. Such nation-builders gave us the Chain Bridge, the Parliament and Margit Bridge. There have always been saboteurs, carpers, obstructionists and nation-wreckers, but no one remembers their names, because the Hungarian nation simply erases them from its memory. It is also worth mentioning, Dear Friends, that in its current form the Liget Project is a half-finished undertaking, an unfinished work, a torso. This is why we are eagerly looking forward to the Hungarian voters finally putting an end to this matter in April, so that we can bring this debate to a close.

To conclude, Ladies and Gentlemen, today’s European political debates are shining a new light on high culture in Europe – and, more specifically, on its mission. Globalisation versus Christian foundations, Brussels bureaucracy versus national pride, immigration versus support for families, gender policy or child protection: this is not a West-East conflict, but a new West-West conflict. And let’s openly state that as a consequence we are threatened by cultural alienation. We want to keep Europe together, however, so we must also act against cultural alienation. Therefore we must now turn to the classical values of high culture. High culture can mediate, it commands respect, and in this Babel-like uproar it demands attention. If there is a higher purpose that can be served by music, including Hungarian music, then this is it.

Thank you for the opportunity of being here with you. Thank you for your attention. As you have heard, Hungary is going forward, not back.

Go Hungary, go Hungarians!

Photo credit: MTI