Just as I suspected, Viktor Orbán’s speech in Ópusztaszer is widely considered to be a watershed. The Hungarian prime minister in this speech embraced the ideology of “Blut und Boden” (Blood and Soil) that was coined in the late nineteenth century and revived during the Nazi period. After all, Orbán emphasized blood relations and attachment to the homeland (Heimat). It was the first time that Orbán openly associated himself with stock phrases of the Nazi ideology and thus the current Hungarian far right.
In comparison to this shocking event his speech at Lakitelek celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF) was mild, although his praise of the chief organizers of the original meeting necessarily entailed praising some leading lights of the current Hungarian far right.
Who were the most important spokesmen of the gathering in 1987? Zoltán Biró, who nowadays writes vitriolically anti-Semitic pieces and can be heard uttering outrageous political opinions on Echo TV. Lajos Fűr, who played an important role in the organization of the Hungarian Guard. András Balczó, brother of Zoltán (Jobbik MP and deputy speaker of the House), who proudly announced in 1989 that “Hungary is under the supremacy of the Jews.” And what about Sándor Lezsák, Fidesz deputy speaker of the House, who was the sponsor of Kurultaj, the tribal meeting of the Turanians? And one of the most important participants was István Csurka, author of The Sixth Coffin. Sándor Püski, the publisher, who nowadays specializes in anti-Semitic far-right publications, was also among the 181 present. Sándor Csoóri, the poet who later became head of the World Federation of Hungarians and today is known for his nationalistic and far-right ideas, also attended. And perhaps I should mention Gábor Czakó, a Kossuth Prize recipient last year, who a few days ago proudly announced his belief in wife- and child-beating.
It was in Lakitelek in the backyard of Sándor Lezsák’s house that the Magyar Demokrata Fórum was born. Although Lezsák in his speech commemorating the event emphasized that the declaration the founders drafted foreshadowed the current regime of national cooperation and the new constitution, the truth (at least if we accept his description of the current regime) is very different. In Lakitelek by and large only the representatives of the Hungarian equivalent of the German Völkisch movement were present. For the people in Lakitelek the “nation” was more important than general human and civil rights. Although today these original signatories like to talk about “unity,” Lakitelek was actually the symbol of division between the “nationalist-populists” and the “democratic opposition.” The organizers of Lakitelek refused to hold a common gathering with the democratic opposition, whose leaders later established the liberal SZDSZ (Association of Free Democrats).
Despite their national populism, the people who organized MDF were a great deal less radical than the liberals of the other camp. They sought a compromise, a third road between socialism and capitalism or between a one-party system and total pluralism. While the members of the democratic opposition were fully committed to western-style democracy, the founders of MDF sought a uniquely Hungarian path, perhaps enjoying the support of the reform communists of the ruling party. Those who today claim to be such revolutionaries were actually quite timid. Their aim was to establish themselves as a legal entity. They didn’t even formulate a program. The declaration drafted by Sándor Lezsák, Zoltán Bíró, Lajos Fűr, Gyula Fekete, Gy. Csaba Kiss, Sándor Csoóri, and István Csurka was vague. They wanted to have a publication of their own, and to achieve this goal they were quite ready to cooperate with Károly Grósz, who followed János Kádár as the first secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP).
Naturally, Viktor Orbán and his friends who established Fidesz as a youth organization competing with the official Magyar Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség (KISZ) were not in Lakitelek on September 27, 1987. In fact, Fidesz didn’t come into being until the spring of 1988. At Lakitelek in 1987 one of the participants, the thirty-four-year-old Dénes Csengey, bitterly complained that one couldn’t see any young people around. Where are they, he asked.
Well, Viktor Orbán has the answer because he mentioned in his speech that while the wise men of the Magyar Demokratikus Fórum were gathering at Lakitelek, he and his college friends were talking politics in Szarvas at a campsite. What he forgot to mention was that these two groups wouldn’t have been caught dead together. They were at opposite ends of the political spectrum in those days: MDF was on the right and Fidesz was considered to be the “youth organization” of the liberal SZDSZ. But Orbán, clever fellow that he is, resolved this old conflict by explaining that while the members of MDF were bound by the “national ideal,” the founders of Fidesz were joined together by their “anti-communism.” At that time “only the wisest ones saw that we are talking about two branches of the same tree.”
And who were these wisest men? István Csurka and György Szabad. The readers of Hungarian Spectrum know a lot about István Csurka but may not be familiar with György Szabad, a historian who wrote his most important books on the period between 1848 and 1867. His life and ideological beliefs make Szabad an interesting member of the Hungarian right. He is a fervent nationalist whose historical works reflect his deep commitment to Hungarian independence and his antagonism toward the Habsburgs and the Compromise of 1867. Szabad became speaker of the House in 1990 as one of the leading members of MDF. After 2002 he was often seen in the company of Viktor Orbán.
As for Orbán’s understanding of the background of Lakitelek, it is scant. Otherwise he wouldn’t have claimed that “the true merit” of the participants was that “they didn’t let themselves be talked out” of holding the meeting. To my knowledge no one tried to talk them out of anything. On the contrary, the members of the democratic opposition very much wanted to have a joint meeting at Monor, but the MDF organizers refused to participate. Instead, the Lakitelek crew invited Imre Pozsgay, a high official of MSZMP, who was supposed to assist them in their quest “for legitimacy by constitutional means.” No revolutionaries here.
The rest of the speech was full of Orbán’s old clichés about the decline of the West and his handling of the crisis. Today, just as in 1987, there are people who “tried to talk us out” of the action that is the right one. But just as the founders of MDF were right when they proceeded, so is the Hungary government today under his guidance.
His speech in Lakitelek may pale in comparison to the “Blut und Boden” speech at Ópusztaszer. However, his outfit of the afternoon cannot be outdone. Commentators and bloggers are horrified at the boorishness of their prime minister. I do hope that readers who haven’t already seen it will appreciate the official photograph found on the Hungarian prime minister’s website.