Fighting the Devil: Viktor Orbán’s speech on St. Michael’s Day

Yesterday Viktor Orbán had a busy day. In the morning he unveiled an enormous statue erected in Ópusztaszer to celebrate his own regime. In the afternoon he attended a gathering at Lakitelek where 25 years ago some 200 public figures, writers, and thinkers met to discuss the state of Hungary in 1987. Lakitelek is considered to be the beginning of the end of the Kádár regime.

Let’s start with Ópusztaszer; tomorrow I will write a few words about Lakitelek. The state-funded statue was erected to celebrate Orbán’s Regime of National Unity. In keeping with the self-aggrandizing spirit of the prime minister, it is a whopping 17 meters tall. The Hungarian government hired a sculptor from Subcarpathian Ukraine to create this monument to itself because, after all, Hungary is a world-nation (világnemzet). For the unveiling ceremony they chose the Day of St. Michael. Keep in mind that Orbán’s full name is Viktor Mihály Orbán.

It is also significant that the statue was erected in Ópusztaszer where, according to Gesta Hungarorum by Anonymus or “the anonymous notary of King Béla,”  Árpád, the founder of the Hungarian royal house, summoned all the notables to a meeting where they established a unitary Hungarian state. According to C. A. Macartney, who wrote a whole book on old Hungarian codices, Anonymus’s work is “the most famous, the most obscure, the most exasperating and most misleading of all the early Hungarian texts.” Since the description of this meeting in the Gesta Hungarorum depicts royal authority as it existed in Anonymus’s lifetime at the turn of the thirteenth century, the story of the meeting at Ópusztaszer is most likely the invention of the author’s fertile imagination. It is especially doubtful that anything monumental would have happened in Ópusztaszer since until recently the village was called Sövényháza.

However, at the time of Hungary’s millennial celebrations at the end of the nineteenth century Árpád Feszty, a man of not outstanding artistic talent, decided to paint a so-called cyclorama called The Arrival of the Hungarians. It was an enormous painting with a circumference of almost 120 meters and a height of 15 meters. It was clearly designed to be a money-making enterprise since people had to pay–as people still do today–for the privilege of viewing it.

During the siege of Budapest in 1944-45 the painting was damaged, but in 1970 the decision was made to restore it and set it up again at its original site in Sövényháza, which was named or renamed, take your pick, Ópusztaszer. Restoration was a slow and painstaking job and thus the Ópusztaszer Memorial Park was officially opened only in 1995.

So, setting up a statue celebrating the Orbán “revolution” in Ópusztaszer is a highly symbolic gesture for Orbán and his regime. It is supposed to signify the second establishment of the Hungarian state. The whole thing is bizarre even without Viktor Orbán’s speech on the occasion. Celebrating at a place that most likely had no real historical significance and commemorating a “revolution in the voting booths” that didn’t happen is bad enough, but when the prime minister compares himself to the Archangel Michael and Jesus Christ one really doesn’t know what to say.

But that’s not all. The Hungarian prime minister talked about the Hungarian nation as an ethnically pure group that is held together by kinship and blood rather than by association through language and culture. He kept talking about “őskép,” which in English is “archetype.” It seems that the Hungarian archetype is the large falcon or “turul” that according to legend is associated with the birth of the Hungarian ruling family, the House of Árpád.  Here is a choice sentence from Orbán’s speech relating to the turul and today’s Hungarians: “We are born into the turul just as we are born into our language and our history.” I didn’t realize that babies are born with language skills or with Hungarian history in their blood. And I really don’t know what it could possibly mean to be born into a bird of prey.

From the turul he moved over to politics and politicians. According to Orbán, “anyone who decides to enter politics must learn to read signs. The reading of signs is indispensable for governing. Someone who governs knows that everything has its ordered time. From signs he knows when to speak and when to be silent.” So, we have a prime minister who reads signs (and who presumably knows how to reference Ecclesiastes: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven). One of the signs Orbán sees is that “the world of new laws is approaching the European continent.” I must say that this world of new laws is not going to be a pleasant place if Orbán is correct because the first commandment in this new world will be that “the members of strong nations unite while those of the weak ones perish.” All Hungarians “should be able to read these signs” and learn from them. They should all join the Regime of National Unity.

Who is guiding Viktor Orbán and Fidesz on this journey into the new world? Orbán turns to the New Testament for answers. First, there is Archangel Michael himself on whose name day on September 29 according to Hungarian folklore shepherds must give account of the sheep they took care of between St. George’s Day (April 24) and the Day of St. Michael. Moving from the benign to the violent, Orbán cited The Book of Revelation 10:7-10: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

What did Orbán learn from this passage? Michael was full of love and serenity and thus there was no place for Satan. “We, the Hungarians of National Unity, should oust all discord from Hungarian life with our own love, service and serenity.” This is a truly odd interpretation of the passage. Who are the Devil and Satan in Hungarian society who must be cast aside? Where is love and serenity in this biblical passage?

And what other models should the prime minister follow? He should be a good shepherd à la the parable of the lost sheep (Lk 15:4-6): “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.'” So, Orbán continues, he as prime minister has come to report to the Hungarian people about all his accomplishments. “We can rejoice because we have found our lost sheep.” I assume he’s claiming that he found the right answers to the country’s ills.

According to him, “there are two traditions, two outlooks, two sets of ideas, two kinds of hearts in Hungarian politics. One rejects national unity, the other finds it to be its starting point. One gives up on the lost sheep, the other constantly looks for them. One turns people against people, the other builds on national unity.”

Finally, he recalled the glories of 2010 when “the overwhelming majority of Hungarians said yes to national unity.” What he didn’t add was that at the moment only 15% of the Hungarians are standing behind him, whether he’s looking for lost sheep or ready to fight the Devil and Satan.