Hungarian anti-fascist demonstration: Speech of Gordon Bajnai
The debate over what really happened yesterday is raging. First, there were those who strenuously objected to the presence of Antal Rogán, leader of the Fidesz caucus. By now, however, the attention has shifted to the fundamentalist Hit Gyülekezete, one of the organizers of the demonstration. I suspect that many of those young people I extolled came at the call of Sándor Németh, the head of the church.
Zsófia Mihancsik pointed out that the crowd we saw yesterday was very different from the ones that normally go out to demonstrate against the government. They looked different and they behaved differently. Every one of them had a Hungarian flag in hand, which they waved furiously. And yes, they shouted slogans in unison. But what can we do if Hungarian parties are incapable of organizing a larger demonstration? Obviously, this church, which is committed to Israel as practically all fundamentalist Christian churches are, knows how to organize.
Some people complained that the people were asked not to boo during Rogán’s speech. It was construed as obstructing free speech. On the other hand, if you read Gordon Bajnai’s speech you may notice an equal restraint when he talked about not complaining about the wrongdoings of the government.
As for the numbers. Interestingly, the Ministry of Interior, unlike after the Peace March, didn’t make an official estimate of the size of the crowd. When asked, the answer was that it is not their duty to count heads. Interesting! The latest estimate is 50,000 people.
Viktor Orbán didn’t do what Attila Mesterházy asked him to do. He didn’t explicitly and clearly distance himself from Jobbik and condemn them. He refused to dismiss Zsolt Németh because of his inadequate answer to Jobbik parliamentarian Márton Gyöngyösi. He talked about the incident in a roundabout way by saying: “As long as I stand in this place, no one can be attacked because of his faith or origin. We Hungarians do protect our Jewish compatriots. The Hungarian nation suffered through dictatorships. We will not allow anyone or any kind of ideology, economic interest or foreign power to divert Hungary from its democratic conviction and the respect of human dignity.” I might add that Orbán read the above from a prepared text which is not his wont during parliamentary debates.
There are at least two problems with this short reference to the event of last week. One is that Orbán speaks of “we Hungarians” protecting the Jews. The implication is that Jews are not Hungarians, not part of the nation. It is worth quoting here from Gordon Bajnai’s speech where he talks about the “Hungarian Shoah [as] fratricide.” The other problem is that unfortunately there was a time when “we Hungarians” failed to protect “our Jewish compatriots.” The promise therefore sounded hollow.
Below is my translation of Gordon Bajnai’s speech which, according to Origo, the crowd liked best. The same article claimed that the listeners were not at all enthusiastic about Mesterházy’s speech. I must say that I didn’t notice any change in the mood of the crowd.
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My dear compatriots, my dear fellow citizens!
The organizers asked each speaker, myself included, to be brief. They are right and not just because of the cold. There is no need to speak at length to explain why we are here.
We want to live in peace! We want to live in a world where problems are solved not by force but by common effort. We want to live in a place where upon encountering difficulties people look for solutions and not for scapegoats.
I’m forty-four years old: my generation grew up without experiencing war. I want my children to be given that privilege. It is critically important how we react to the hatred of Jews, the hatred of Gypsies, and how we respond toward those whose lifeline is hatred itself.
We, the many thousands of us here and those who are watching the event on television in addition to the millions across the country, want to live in a country where life without fear is an entitlement. An entitlement which cannot be taken away from anyone regardless of where he was born or whose child he is.
We want to live in a country without fear, in a normal country. In peace, not in war. And not in ceaseless domestic warfare.
Hungary today, however, is not functioning as a normal country. Start with the fact that the public considered it a sensation that diverse representatives of public life today at last, together and not against each other, are standing up against hatred. Civic representatives and politicians. Right wingers, left wingers, and centrists. Members of the government party and the opposition.
In a country that functions normally this shouldn’t be news. What would be news in those countries is if representatives of democratic parties didn’t act this way. A democrat is not afraid and he does not strike fear in others.
Yet this demonstration will make banner headlines in Hungary. This is not the media’s fault. This is our fault. The fault of all of us.
Because it is true that it gives us hope that today, on the first day of Advent, at the most important site of the country’s capital, Hungary is functioning the way it should be functioning every day…
However, we should feel guilty that we haven’t been here in the past years. At the very least when Róbert Csorba and his five-year-old son Robika were killed in Tatárszentgyörgy. Mrs. Tibor Nagy and József Nagy in Nagycsécse. Jenő Kóka in Tiszalök and Mária Balogh in Kisléta.
Six Hungarians just because they were Gypsies. They were killed because of their origin.
And we didn’t come out here and didn’t ask each other how such things could happen in our country…. We didn’t ask their forgiveness for not being able to defend them. There was no national mourning.
This was a grave mistake and Hungary can never make such a mistake again! This event is also about that.
Lately one often hears that if a frog is dropped into hot water he will jump out because his vital instincts work. However, if the temperature of water around him is raised slowly, he will be cooked to death without moving a muscle.
In the past few years, we Hungarians were getting used to higher and higher degrees of hate. We no longer even winced. But at stake is our national survival and leading lives worthy of a human being.
In this country there cannot be innocent anti-Semitic talk [zsidózás] and there cannot be innocent anti-Gypsy rattle [cigányozás] because the Holocaust is our national tragedy. In Hungarian Shoah there are not only victims but guilty compatriots. This was a fratricide that must change forever our relations to the words and deeds of hate.
Not long ago a member of parliament made a speech that cannot be explained away. It was an anti-Semitic speech full of hate. It was also a speech that revealed his own being, his party Jobbik, and the whole Hungarian extreme right.
He said that Hungarian Jews must be listed because they are a national security risk.
I fervently want to believe that this country, this nation learned its lesson. That we learned that the national security risks are those who want to compile lists on the basis of origin, worldviews, or beliefs.
Once was enough. We don’t forget! And we won’t let anyone forget!
That’s why we are here, this is what I hope. Because of our reawakened vital instincts. Because we want to make it clear that we don’t want to step into the same river twice. Into the same river at whose banks orphaned shoes—shoes of Hungarian men, women, and children—will lie to the end of times.
This troubled, wise and great river, the Danube, is our witness that we don’t forget and don’t let others forget!
Anti-Semitism is not about Jews. And the hatred of Gypsies is not about Gypsies. It is about us, all of us, about Hungary, about the nation.
The future of the Hungarian community depends on our solidarity with each other.
Nazism is incompatible with life. The Nazis, those who discriminate, the neo-fascists bring only devastation. And once the country is in ruins they think they can rule it. In a normal country they wouldn’t be able to achieve this.
But Nazism is like most pathogens. It is able to attack only those with a weak immune system. It can defeat only sick countries.
That’s why this virus likes economic difficulties, societal crises, division within the nation. Because it is in that kind of environment that it thrives and multiplies.
And therefore symptomatic treatment of it is not enough. Prevention is a must.
Good governance, a strong societal center, and a healthy political culture are necessary to make sure that these pathogens don’t show up in our cities and villages again. That they are forced back to where they belong: to the pages of historical works on great epidemics, between the chapters on cholera and the bubonic plague.
Today in a way is also a day of awakening. Politics–as it has been practiced in the last twelve years, which consisted of a kind of domestic cold war—made us blind and irresponsible.
We became blind because we didn’t realize that the unscrupulous power struggle, the division of the nation, the debasement of politics only assists the Hungarian extreme right.
And we became irresponsible because during our fanatical political struggles we too easily branded each other. “If you are on the left, you are a communist. If you are on the right, you are a Nazi.”
It is not in our interest to drive away from the middle of the political spectrum any of our compatriots by attaching unfair and rash labels on them.
By now this mutual branding game has divided and weakened Hungary. It has sent bad messages to everybody.
It told the real Nazis that their presence is acceptable because after all one half of the country calls the other half Nazi. … But the truth is that the presence of Nazis is unacceptable.
People on the right felt that they have more understanding from, have more in common with the far right than with the middle. But the truth is that the far right denies everything they believe in. National unity, Christian teachings, the inheritance of St. Stephen. Faith, hope, and love.
It sent a message to the people on the left that anti-fascism and a culture open to the world is their exclusive domain… But the truth is that to contrast the right-wing worldview with anti-fascism is to commit the same sin as to contrast left-wing views with patriotism.
We are patriotic Hungarians—and therefore anti-fascists—before we are right- or left-wingers.
Many people suggested that I use the occasion to castigate the complicity of the government parties and/or the impotence of the left-wing governance. I will not oblige!
I fought the regime yesterday and I will fight it again tomorrow because it gives ample reason to do so every day.
But today is not a time of normalcy in Hungary. Our first commandment is: “Everybody must cooperate against the Nazis. One must not collaborate with them for any reason.”
It doesn’t matter what party or what politician you vote for at the next elections, we will be deciding on the future of Hungary.
So, let’s send the message together: No one will frighten us! Let’s send the message that no one must be afraid in Hungary! Because together we are louder than any word of hate and together we are stronger than any deed of hatred.
We are Hungarian, we defend each other, and we are not afraid!
Thank you for listening.