Another March 15, another speech by Viktor Orbán. It seems that even Mother Nature is on this man’s side because this morning, when he delivered a nearly half- hour long speech in front of an enthusiastic crowd, it was sunny and warm. By the afternoon, when the opposition was supposed to have its gathering, the weather had turned nasty–rain and high winds. The demonstration had to be cancelled. Pro-government commentators suggested that the gathering was cancelled not because of the storm but because the opposition was unable to assemble a large enough crowd.
The Orbán government’s attempts to roll back history began almost immediately after Fidesz won the election in 2010. They undertook a major construction project, returning the large square in front of the parliament building to the way it was before March 19, 1944, when the German troops “occupied” Hungary. That meant, among other things, that all the statues that were placed there after 1944 had to be removed. Those that got damaged during the war had to be refurbished. The statue of Mihály Károlyi, the president of the First Republic (1918-1919), had to be removed not only because the statue was erected after that date but because, echoing the charges of the counterrevolutionary regime of Miklós Horthy, he is accused of dismembering Greater Hungary. The statue of perhaps Hungary’s greatest poet was also banished: Attila József was sent to the lower bank of the Danube where few people will see him. An incredible amount of money was sunk into this project. It was finished just in time for the country’s national holiday, three weeks before the election. The square is now open to the public.
The celebrations that began in the square were followed by the highlight of the day, the speech of Viktor Orbán in front of the National Museum. Why the National Museum? Because, according to common wisdom, it was here that Sándor Petőfi recited his famous poem “Talpra magyar, hí a haza!” (Rise Hungarian, the Fatherland calls!) It was hard to estimate the size of the crowd from the video, but it was large and enthusiastic. Lots of Hungarian flags sold for about three euros. Polish flags were abundant as well. Orbán has many friends in Jarosław Kaczyński’s far-right party who make their yearly pilgrimage to Budapest on March 15.
As for the crowd’s enthusiasm. Viktor Orbán’s charm is firmly grounded in his nationalism. Nationalism might have been a progressive movement in the nineteenth century but by the twentieth it was discredited, mainly because of the extremes to which Hitler’s Germany took it. Orbán’s nationalism consists of profuse praise for those Hungarian virtues that make Hungarians superior to all others. Yet these superior Hungarians need protection because outsiders want to keep them down. There is one man who will not only save them but will ensure that they have the happiest future in the history of the nation.
This is what Hungarians have heard day in and day out over the last four years. If nationalism is “an infantile disease,” as Albert Einstein thought, it seems that the admirers of Viktor Orbán haven’t quite grown up yet. I fear that there will be a rude awakening one day, but for the time being there seems to be great enthusiasm for a continuation of the status quo. Program? No, there is no program, but the people who watched the celebrations don’t care. Everything was fine in the last four years and life will be even more wonderful in the next four. Isn’t it extraordinary? Every economic indicator shows that the last four years were at best years of stagnation, that poverty is widespread, and that living standards have dropped.
There was not much new in today’s speech. Weak and cowardly nations have no future. But Hungary is different. Led by Viktor Orbán, the country has fought against its adversaries: the financial world, imperial capitals, even natural disasters. “This is a strong and brave nation” but “outsiders don’t want to see a strong and successful Hungary.” His government defended people from the monopolies and “imperial bureaucrats.” It is a “country that broke the locks that seemed unbreakable,” an act that “made those who thought nothing of us respect us.”
The bashing of foreigners continued: “Our history teaches us that, if necessary with work, bravery and blood, it is we who must write our own history. We learned that when freedom is brought by a foreigner, it can also be taken away.” And further: “Foreigners used to put down our revolutions but there were always those who helped them from within.” This man foments hatred of other nations (and accuses the opposition of collusion) while using their money to his and his friends’ enrichment. But when money is brought by a foreigner, it can also be taken away. Then Orbán would learn how costly it can be to write, and re-write, the “nation’s” history.