Hungary – Hungary commemorated its 1956 uprising against Soviet rule on 23 October, a conflict which made a significant impact on both national and European history. This public holiday has become a political rally day over the past decade, with each of the country’s political parties gathering its supporters for commemorative ceremonies and public speeches.
The resistance to Soviet rule and the fight for freedom have taken on a national mystique over time that each party wants to claim as its own heritage. The Hungarian government organised a huge march of its own under the now-traditional label of the ‘peace march’ (békemenet). Nearly half a million Hungarians marched through Budapest and then listened to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech, which is transcribed below. The united opposition struggled to gather somewhat more than 4,000 supporters, despite the fact that significant resources were deployed to bring together all the major figures of the opposition’s alliance. The country’s modest third force going into the elections, the nationalist party Mi Hazánk, gathered some 2,000 people at the famous Corvin theater, where the toughest fights took place during the 1956 uprising.
For Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party, the left is the heir of the Communists, and their event, which must be understood in the context of the ongoing election campaign, was marked by the memory of the brutal police repression of the Hungarian right-wing opposition that was perpetrated by the then socialist government led by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány in 2006. Gyurcsány remains the éminence grise of today’s left-wing Hungarian opposition. The watchword for the strongman of Budapest’s supporters: never again the left.
For the anti-Orbán alliance, the system built by the current Prime Minister over the past 11 years is similar to communism. They denounce the rule of a single party and its alleged corruption, and call for a Hungary better integrated into the European Union.
For the nationalists of Mi Hazánk – including 1956 veteran András Pongratz, who participated in their commemoration – it is obvious that they are the true heirs of Communism’s opponents, adopting a more martial tone than Fidesz in their denunciation of the left.
Full speech of Viktor Orbán on 23 October 2021 in Budapest:
Good afternoon, Hungarians. Good afternoon, Poles. Good afternoon, Italians.
Greetings to the people of freedom in the nation’s capital. It’s been a long time since we last saw one another. We have a lot to talk about this afternoon, but first of all, let us remember: let us remember those days sixty-five years ago, and that afternoon fifteen years ago. This is no ordinary place: here on the corner of Andrássy út and Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út, at around this time fifteen years ago, the past and the present came face-to-face. Fifteen years ago the young communists turned 23 October into 4 November. On one side there were tear gas grenades, rubber bullets, steel batons, water cannon and uniforms without identification numbers. On the other side was a nation hoodwinked and humiliated, which after fifty years had to hear again that it had been lied to “morning, night and evening”. On one side there was power acquired and held through hundreds of tricks and defended tooth and nail. On the other side there were embittered people lining up behind giant letters spelling “freedom”.
There are moments in the lives of nations when suddenly everyone feels “Enough is enough, things can’t go on like this any longer.” We have to decide, and our decision shows who we really are. The worth of an entire nation is revealed: it remains silent or protests; it acquiesces or rebels; it averts its gaze or stands tall; it slouches away or fights. You cannot hide, because you are confronted by the revelation of a higher truth which brooks no argument: you must either stand on this side, or over on that side. In an instant it becomes clear who is good and who is bad, who stands on the right side of history and who stands on the wrong side. We Hungarians made the right decision: we protested, we stood tall, we rebelled and we fought. Freedom pitted against slavery, independence pitted against occupation, Hungarian patriots pitted against communists. We remember that wonderful day when we Hungarians showed the world and our enemies who we really are. We remember the day when we asked ourselves not whether God was with us, but whether we were with God. We were imbued with enormous strength and it shook the pillars of communist rule. We remember the moment that will live forever in the memory of the free nations of the world. In the blink of an eye, the nation of the Hungarians found itself, and once again the name of Hungary lived up to the great acclaim it commanded in bygone days. We remember the moment when one longing was shared by all: by the cardinal and the lathe operator; by academics and lads from Pest; by the archduke and the partisan who became defence minister We remember the force which penetrated the iron curtain dividing the nation, and which flowed through student assemblies in Transylvania and into the cells of prisons in Szamosújvár [Gherla]. Mansfeld, Wittner, Szabó, Pongrátz, Nagy and Mindszenty: we look at them but we see one nation. A proud Hungarian nation, to which we all belong. Glory to the heroes!
This is the Hungary that the new generation of communists provoked once more in 2006. Their ascent to power was paid for in lies. They bewitched us with the promise of tax cuts – and then raised taxes. Hospital fees, copayments in doctors’ surgeries, skyrocketing utility bills. They took away the 13th month’s pension and abolished family benefits. In collusion with the world of international banking they lured hundreds of thousands of families into the trap of foreign currency debt. The country was sold off, everything was sold to foreigners: airports, national energy companies, public services. And after they had looted it, they bankrupted the whole country and attached an IMF leash to our necks: “So you’re limping Hungary; take this hump for your back too.” And when we raised our voices in protest, they responded with tear gas, with rubber bullets and with attacks by mounted police. They had people’s eyes shot out and batoned defenceless women and elderly people. Fifteen years ago, here where we stand now, the streets of Pest were soaked in violence, blood and tears. All this happened on the fiftieth anniversary of the ’56 Revolution, and was seen by the world. I will say this slowly, so that everyone understands: we shall never forget what they did!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
According to the wits of Pest, the right time to be offended isn’t when you have just cause, but when it’s worth your while. We waited for the right moment. For four long years we waited – patiently, ready to settle the account. God was fair, and what they received in punishment, we received in reward: our two-thirds election victory. We united as we had in ’56 and swept away socialist Hungary. In 1956 Ernő Gerő and his crew fled headlong to Moscow, but in 2006 we were not so lucky: the socialists and their leader were left hanging round our necks. He remained, and has been wandering among us ever since, haunting our public life as the Phantom of the Parliament. Recompense can be gained in a single euphoric moment, but it took years to make good what the Left had destroyed. It was a great mercy that national unity was preserved throughout, and that the ruins could be cleared with the united efforts of workers, engineers, farmers, the owners of businesses small and large, scientists, teachers, nurses and doctors. We put Hungary back on its feet. We created one million new jobs. We got rid of foreign currency loans, we crushed taxes, and next year the minimum wage will be higher than the average wage was under the socialists. We reacquired the utility companies, banks and the media, and increased national wealth by 50 per cent. We have taxed multinationals, protected families and cut household utility bills to the lowest level in Europe. Hungary is now strong enough to honour both its old and young people at the same time. The 13th month’s pension will be restored, and next year young people in work will pay no tax. And families raising children will get back the tax they have paid this year. We have our own Hungarian world and our own Hungarian life, and we have a constitution which guarantees that never again can they do what they did to us in ’56 and 2006. We have transcended the borders that have separated the parts of the nation and we have reunited the Hungarians. This required the united will and hard work of many millions – of those who believed in the power of love and unity. Theirs is the glory, and they deserve the credit. It’s true that it did no harm for us to have an able-bodied government capable of action.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Neither should we forget that when we slashed household utility charges, when we scalped multinationals’ extra profits and when we sent the IMF home, we were attacked by the whole of the European Union. And they also attacked us when we stopped the migrants, built the fence and defended our borders. Dozens of prime ministers attacked Hungary. We are still here, but who remembers them – or even their names? This is an old story, Fellow Commemorators: just as in 1849, 1920, 1945 and 1956, Europe’s high dignitaries are once again trying to go over our heads to make decisions about our fate, but without our consent. They would force us to be European, sensitive and liberal – even if it kills us. Today the words and actions that Brussels directs at us and the Poles are like those usually reserved for enemies. We have a feeling of déjà vu, as throughout Europe we hear echoes of the Brezhnev Doctrine. It is time Brussels understood that we were more than a match for even the communists. We are the sand in the gears of the machinery, the stick caught in the spokes, the thorn in the flesh. We are the David that Goliath would do well to avoid. We are the ones who in ’56 holed world communism below the waterline, and we are the ones who knocked the first brick out of the Berlin Wall. And we are still standing firm. All we say is not that the Hungarians are right, but that they will be right. And because what is right for Hungarians is proved by the third instance, after utility prices and the migrant issue, we will be right for the third time: there will be a referendum, and we will protect our children. Hungary will be the first country in Europe in which we stop aggressive LGBTQ propaganda at the school gates.
And let us not forget that whoever we were up against, whoever we had to confront, the Left always went behind our backs and harmed us in any way they could. As everyone can see, once more they are organizing and threatening vengeance, sowing the seeds of discord, hatred, strife and violence. Our opponents think that we won’t see the wolf if they cloak it in sheep’s clothing. But we see it immediately: we know it’s a wolf. We also know that the wolf will eat grandma – and indeed has already eaten her. This is why everyone in league with the wolf has disappeared into the belly of “unity”; and believe me, there is room in there for ever more bite-sized heroes of the moment. It is written thus: “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing…You will know them by their fruits…every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” Indeed, on the tree of the Left the only politics that can grow is left-wing politics. There is only one Left, however many different types of stage makeup they wear. They start with lies, they continue with violence, and in their wake they leave bankruptcy. Those who fifteen years ago oversaw the indiscriminate shooting of people are today preparing to take the stage once more. And somewhere on the far side of the “Great Water”, Uncle George is also getting ready. When they should have come from over there, they didn’t; now they are here when we haven’t called them. Now occupiers are not seeking to impose their commissars on us, but seeking to get them elected. Now they are not using firearms, but Facebook. I think they misunderstood us: our invitation was to liberate us from Soviet occupation, not to interfere in our democracy.
Those who toppled the statue of Stalin in 1956 were not educated orators, warrior leaders of the people or well-trained generals. The heroes of the globally historic moment of ’56 were the simple sons and daughters of the Hungarian people – just like us here in this square. Today what matters is not what is wanted by Brussels, Washington and media controlled from abroad. Now, too, the fate of the Hungarians will be decided by the Hungarians. What 23 October reminds us is this: to never forget our own personal responsibility. One thousand one hundred years have burned into our DNA the realisation that here in the Carpathian Basin we must fight for freedom every day, again and again. The fight for freedom demands not only heart, not only brains, but also strength. Our strength, Dear Friends, is our unity. In unity there is strength. We are together because we believe in the same things: in the family and in the nation; we all believe in a strong and independent Hungary. Those who defend their family and their nation against external attack can rely not only on their brains, their heart and their strength, but also on the fact that they are right. Truth, Dear Friends, was on the side of the freedom fighters back then – just as it is today. We have been sustained here in the heart of Europe by this truth: the truth of the Hungarians. And for centuries – just as in ’56, in 2006 and today – we have always wanted the same thing: justice for Hungary!
We cannot assume that we are always right in every situation, but we are always right if we defend ourselves when under attack. We are right when we stand up for the truth known by our grandparents and parents, about the right and worthwhile way to live: about what is valuable and what is worthless in the fleeting, ephemeral phenomenon that is a human life. This is the truth that gives invincible strength. The truth of the Hungarians is in you, Dear Friends; it is in all of you, embedded in your souls. Listen to it, proclaim it, and act upon its impulse. And when the time comes, stand at your gates and defend what is yours. Everyone must play their part in the battle that awaits us if we want to defend the freedom of our daily lives: the safety of our families; the borders of our country; the future of our children; the fruits of our labour; our pensions and our salaries; the reductions in household energy bills; our culture, our customs and our language. What we achieved yesterday and the day before must be defended tomorrow. What is enough for today will not be enough for tomorrow. We are counting on every Hungarian who cares about the future of Hungary. For us what comes first is Hungary; and so even those who do not vote for us will fare better with our government.
I know that there are many who do not take our opponents seriously. Many people think that we have gained recompense for 2006, that we reap one election victory after another, that the country is doing well, and so there is nothing to fear. And indeed what the Left has been doing resembles the entertainment industry more than responsible politics. They produced billboards on which huge letters proclaimed that they would defeat us; but then they didn’t even make it to Christmas [Karácsony]! They organised an election for themselves, but they couldn’t even win that election, in which they were the only candidates. They have been competing to see which of them could rule over Hungarians by the grace of Brussels and George Soros as their governor in Hungary: who could be the new pasha of Buda, the new chief of the royal council of governors, or the new party secretary-general. They openly say that to regain power they will even join forces with the devil. Their aim is to take Hungary from the hands of Mary and put it at the feet of Brussels.
It is true that there is no need for so many of us to assemble here just because of a few failed left-wing parties; but nobody of intelligence should be under any illusions. We should not be fooled by the sputtering judgement and spectacular floundering of the Left in Hungary. None of that matters. What matters is the power of the international actors who are behind them. What is powerful, what is the real challenge, and even a threat, is their international backing: the money, the media and the network behind them. This is a formidable force that can only be defeated and driven out of the country by the collective action of millions of Hungarians. We are putting them on notice: so far those who have bitten into us have come out of it with broken or blunted teeth. Regardless of the might of the enemy, we did not run away; and neither will we back down now, because we know that we will see this through together. Look at the person standing next to you: if you look into their eyes, you will see that you can count on them. They will do everything possible for us to break through even the thickest wall. This is our strength, this is our power base; and not even all the dollars or euros in the world could take it away from us. We came, we saw, and we will conquer again!
God above us all, Hungary before all else! Go Hungary, go Hungarians!
Translation provided by the International Communications Office of the Hungarian government.