Throughout its history, Central Europe has always had not only a role, but also a calling. Up until 1990, the Soviet occupation of our region hid this fact from our view. The task of realising our traditional mission in a modern context remained meaningless for as long as Soviet troops were stationed in our countries, and we were driven solely by the desire to break free from the Warsaw Pact.
In addition to this, our horizons were restricted and our strength diverted by the task of freeing ourselves of our own communists and – after the bayonets of the occupiers had disappeared – consigning them to where they belonged: as far as possible from governmental power, to schoolbook compendiums of historical crimes with which we can educate our children and grandchildren, and show them what comes from trying to build a future without the embrace of national ideals and Christian teachings.
After the overthrow of communism and gaining our freedom, our countries were happy, but severely weakened. All our energies were devoted to survival, the trial of strength presented by an enormous transformation, and laying the foundations for a new era compatible with the Western world. Even so, already back in 1991 the command we received from our hearts was that our countries – Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia – would have to join forces in some way. We knew that centuries come and go, but the peoples of Central Europe remain a community of shared destiny.
And indeed, thirty years later and members of NATO, we are able to call ourselves the most dynamic region in the European Union. Solid growth, low unemployment, rapid digital transformation, strong investment: all this is what we are today.
The difficult debates within the European Union on migration, the demographic situation, the role of families, the conflict between national culture and multiculturalism are once again drawing our attention to Central Europe’s historic calling. Is there even such a thing? If so, what is its modern form? And for us prime ministers the most pressing question is this: can politics act in response to it?
According to the Hungarian way of thinking, Central Europe is the territory that lies between the lands of the Germans and the Russians. It is bordered on the north by the Baltic Sea, and on the south by the Adriatic. And while one might debate its precise boundaries, there is no doubt that Central Europe’s core region is formed by the V4 countries.
We Hungarians have always believed that we were not simply born into this world: if one was born a Hungarian, one also has a mission. One’s mission points beyond oneself: its scope and significance are European. We also know that we can only fulfil this mission together with the other peoples of Central Europe. For in the region between the worlds of the Germans and the Russians – the region in which Western Christianity borders the Orthodox world, and where many languages and national cultures have grown to maturity – there is a specific common cultural quality, an outlook on life, a turn of mind, and a characteristic attitude. A multitude of Polish, Slovak, Czech and Hungarian poems, novels and films are testament to this. And our calling is to maintain all this.
Hungarians’ conception of their mission dates back to the Roman Empire. To our minds, our Europe was created by peoples who, independently of one another and at different times, attacked the Roman Empire. These peoples founded their countries on the ruins of the former Roman Empire. They adopted Christianity, but did not surrender their own cultures; as a result, a variety of alloys were forged by the hammer of history.
This decided our destiny, with the birth not only of national states, but also of national cultures. There emerged an ideal, a law, a precept of how Europe should be: a great spiritual unity with shared cultural outlines, notions and ultimate goals, but with separate and independent members bound to one another in the unity of Europe. Every one of these is duty-bound to serve European spiritual unity and its goals, but they are not obliged to serve one another’s interests. Europe is a diverse unity. Those who attack its unity are bad Europeans; but so are those who seek to erase its diversity.
The unity of multitude and multitude in unity. This is Europe’s secret, its allure; it is this dramatic tension that gives it beauty, and it is this innermost essence that is found nowhere else in the world. This is why the people of Central Europe are in love with Europe. They understand that harmony lies in the tension and consonance of difference. Harmony does not mean uniformity; it does not mean monotonous homogeneity. This is the source of the mission of Hungarians and the other Central European nations striving for independence.
Facing outward, defending the spirit which binds nations together and Christian European culture against all external attacks on Europe, in the form of a bastion and a shield; facing inward, defending diversity against attempts at imposing hegemony over independent nations. For centuries this has been the secret and precondition of European balance and stability. This is European self-defence; and, in seeking to introduce the idea of European sovereignty in Brussels, the French president also seems to be cautiously moving in this direction. A dual struggle of defence against external and internal enemies: a struggle for Europe’s unity, and for its diversity. Successive renewed attacks externally, and the flames of imperialist ambition rising internally. This was Europe’s political history until the end of World War II, when our continent lost the right and the ability to control its own destiny.
The V4 and Europe
In the mid-2000s all four of us joined the European Union. New horizons have opened up, and debates about Europe’s nature and its future have also became our debates. After being outsiders we became insiders, and we were faced with an unavoidable question: what will be Central Europe’s contribution to our shared European future? The old members of the club heard concepts that were strange to their ears: homeland, Christianity, family and sovereignty. Initially they tended to regard these as elements of cultural and historical folklore. I think they believed that this was some kind of temporary condition affecting late arrivals, something which would pass with time, like chicken pox. “After all”, they thought, “at the end of the day, we’re all heading in the same direction, and surely we all want to arrive at the same destination.” This was a pleasing thought, which took no one outside their comfort zone – and indeed the 2008-2009 financial crisis presented enough technical challenges as it was.
Then the migrant crisis crashed in on us. Eyes were opened, everything was thrown into sharp relief, and we clearly saw profound differences between ways of thinking, philosophies, principles of social organisation and personal commitments.
It was then that we Hungarians realised that the speeches and writings about a post-Christian and post-national era were not merely journalistic bombast, but real political intentions; in fact, they formed a complete European programme, the future envisaged by Westerners, a future which they had already started building.
We realised that while we had been enduring communism in Europe’s Sovietised territories and longing for a way of life based on Christianity and sovereignty, those living in Europe’s Americanised half had been redefining the essence of Europe, and had been steadily working on the implementation of their programme. They did not see Europe’s mission as repelling external attacks against Christianity, or as preserving our internal diversity. Their new European mission had become complete openness: the elimination of borders – or at most their existence as only a temporary, necessary evil; gender roles and family models that can be changed at will; and policy that sees the obligation to maintain our cultural heritage as a task that should rather be left to museologists. And their goal is not only to conceive, create, introduce and legally mandate all this in their own countries, but also to make this the general condition in every country of the European Union – including those like ours, which are unwilling to acquiesce.
In this situation in Europe, we Hungarians can clearly see the essence of our European calling.
It is to bring the uncompromising anti-communist tradition into the common store of European values. It is to place the crimes and lessons of international socialism alongside the crimes and lessons of national socialism. It is to show the beauty and competitiveness of a political and social order that stands on Christian social teachings. It is to show others – first and foremost our friends in France – that, despite weaknesses and failings in personal faith, in Central Europe there is a Christian model for the organisation of society which is based on Christian teachings. It is to continuously alert those nations in Europe’s safe interior to the existence of external dangers. It is to remind them of something that we know so well from history: that the waves of people crossing the Mediterranean are now pushing the tide towards us, and these waves could reach all the way to Scandinavia. The masses of migrants now appearing are, in fact, part of the waves of those longing for European life, against whom our ancestors always sought to defend themselves with all their might. Not to defend oneself is de facto surrender, and its consequence will be complete civilisational transformation – as experienced at close quarters by nations in the Balkan neighbourhood on Europe’s southern and eastern perimeter.
And it is to remind ourselves that no matter how enlightened the builders of this empire may be, they will ruin the spirit of Europe, and will therefore always achieve the opposite of the original intention.
On these difficult and complex issues there may well be differences among us – including among the Visegrád countries. There are certainly differences in emphasis in terms of our approaches to history, there may be differences in the way we feel about one country or another, and at times we may even disagree on the interpretation of geopolitical relations.
But it is certain that our nations fully appreciate the responsibility they bear for the future of Europe: to defend it against external attacks and to defend it from internal imperial designs, maintaining the sovereignty of our homelands and nations.
Failing in one’s mission may be heroic, but there is no joy in it. Fulfilling a mission, while guiding one’s country to success, freedom and prosperity is no less heroic; and it is also a source of joy. Central Europe’s prospects for the latter outcome are good. On behalf of my nation, I thank you for these three decades of Visegrád cooperation.