Thank you very much. Good morning. I respectfully greet you, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Sándor, I am honoured to have received your invitation – or to be able to invite you here to the Carmelite Monastery. I can honestly say that for me this is a great moment, because when one is prime minister – especially in a government as hyperactive as our governments are, and when we have to work around the clock in times fraught with such crises – one feels that even we ourselves no longer remember all the things that we’ve done. And, as our years in government have mounted up behind us, together with events, decisions, achievements and their consequences, there has been no one to give an impartial account of it all. There has been no one to review and summarise all this, to look at, analyse and present it to the world in a way that was at least unbiased – because this is something we can’t expect from our opponents. There was no one, as I’ve said, to at least impartially do this. So I am grateful that the first such book has seen the light of day. Congratulations, Sándor, on undertaking this task and completing it. For some of us here today this is not simply an encouragement, but also a duty. Here, for example, is the Interior Minister, who is the only minister to have sat in every one of our governments, and whom I have worked alongside for every minute of those governments – the first of which was formed in 1998. That combined time is approaching fourteen years, isn’t it, Sándor? And the monograph surveying the transformation of Hungarian policing, law enforcement and related issues has yet to appear. But here also is Minister Zoltán Balog, with whom I’ve worked together for decades; he was minister for a long time, and we still don’t have a complete monograph dealing with the national government’s policies on culture or human capacities. There’s only one person to whom we could honour like Sándor, and that’s Minister Matolcsy, who has written about everything – and more. I think that we need people who can write – and I’ll repeat that we’re asking for nothing more than objectivity at the very least, standing back and exercising impartiality – about the events of this extremely exciting period, a period that is so important not due to us personally, but due to the historical situation. Because if someone browses through this book, they’ll see that we’re not just talking about a decade of Hungarian agriculture, simply a period of ten years: we’re talking about a decisive ten years of a certain quality, which therefore merits study. So I’m glad that we can gather here in this company, and encourage my other ministers to follow suit. All I can say, Sándor, is that it would be marvellous if all my wishes could be fulfilled as rapidly as the one following my call to you and our conversation about the creation of this monograph.
My respectful greetings to everyone here in this room at the Carmelite monastery. This is the first time we’ve done anything like this here; Sándor was right when he said that not many book presentations have been held here – not a single one, to be precise. This is the first one, but I’m happy to welcome you here as my guests. This room we’re sitting in is a public space: it used to be a concert hall. If I’m not mistaken about the year, in the room we’re sitting in now Beethoven himself conducted a concert in 1806. I think that where we’re sitting now is where the distinguished audience sat listening to him in 1806. Incidentally, there will be concerts here every year on the same day every year in May – although I don’t know the exact date. And there will also be a “Carmelite season ticket”; but due to the pandemic, this year Minister Kásler has not made this possible for us. But there will be Carmelite season tickets next year, and every month there will be concerts to which everyone will be welcome – just as today, after our get-together, everyone is welcome to join us in the garden.
I hope you won’t misunderstand my words now, but I’m happy to see Hungarian faces, and faces reminding us of the Szekler warriors who are now looking at me from the audience. This has always been so, even in the communist era. One knew precisely what one was being invited to: a meeting of the finance ministry, or a meeting about agriculture. There was a completely clear distinction between audiences – not only between speakers, but also audiences. This leads us back to a fact that we’ve no need to deny: Hungarian politics can turn this way or that and Hungarian public life can turn this way or that, but representation of the countryside or the world of the countryside has always been a mission for people coming from that world. Even in the communist era there was a clearly definable section of the power structure – that we can describe as the communist power structure – which was well symbolised by there being only one ministry which at all times throughout history – going back to pre-communist times – had its headquarters building in Kossuth tér: the Ministry of Agriculture, or the “Ministry of Land Cultivation” as it used to be known. This has now been changed somewhat, as we’ve refurbished the Ministry of Justice building for that purpose. This is not in any way a coincidence, because agriculture, the agricultural community with all its distinctive features – distinctive cultural features, not technical specialist features – has always been a part of Hungarian politics. Experts on political history could surely cite dates, people and events, but there have been times when it was a downtrodden part of Hungarian politics, times when it was tolerated, and other times when it rose to be an elite ministry. So here today we’re not only attending a simple book launch; but, if I’m not mistaken, we’re actually sitting together in the same room with people who are continuing this political tradition. I am pleased to be with you here today. It is a special privilege to be in the company of such eminent professors. I met the distinguished professor among a fleet of tractors in Kossuth tér, when farmers were protesting against the Horn Government’s attempts to sell agricultural land to foreigners. I feel blessed to be able to look back on this. I feel equally blessed to look back on the years I had the privilege to spend as a law student under the tutelage of Mihály Kurucz, who – together with some other fine young university lecturers – taught us law relating to agricultural cooperatives. These were important lessons for us. So I am glad of this, Professor. I’ll make no secret of the fact that we’re on first-name terms, because even as a university lecturer the distinguished professor was on first-name terms with students who weren’t much younger than he was. So I’m glad that you’re here with us. If you’ll allow me to take up your valuable time with some personal recollections, this meeting takes me back to the happy months when I worked at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Engineer and Manager Training Institute. That was some time in the eighties, around 1986–1987. It was only for a few months, but I gathered some valuable and important experience about the world of socialist work organisations, which in turn contributed to our formation of Fidesz just a few months later. I was able to raise my experience from the world of agriculture and from the village of Felcsút to a higher level, because my role was organising advanced training courses for the presidents, agronomists and financial experts from the sphere of agricultural cooperatives, which still existed at that time. These courses took place at an institution called Hotel Piroska, somewhere in Budapest’s District III, if you remember that. An important part of that role – which later I was able to use in politics – was holding my own in games of “ulti” [the Hungarian card game] with agronomists. This was a serious challenge, as anyone who recalls those years of their youth will confirm. With their help I understood the essence of Hungarian politics, because that’s what the game of ulti is about: if you want something, then two people will always join forces to stop you. And this law has been true ever since, and is also true in politics now, regardless of the issue: if you want something, you’ll immediately have two enemies. So you should only initiate something if you think that you’re able to defeat or to overcome the two or more people joining forces against you. If you’re unable to imagine this and overcome them, then don’t even take the first step. You see, one can learn such important lessons by organising agricultural training courses in Hotel Piroska.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
After this, allow me to say a few words in connection with this book. It was written by several people, but the principal moving force behind it is Sándor Fazekas. And while he’s said that it is written in the language of science, the author can never entirely conceal himself behind any scientific approach, table or list of figures. On every page this book reveals itself to be the work of the former Mayor of Karcag. His political career started in Karcag, which in agricultural terms is an especially valuable part of Hungary. It was from there that Sándor came to serve in my second and third governments for eight years. This is important. De Gaulle once said that the land never lies. Considering the importance, significance and distinct political representation of agriculture, I believe that this is especially true for countries like France and Hungary, and also for our author. This book was written by a man from Karcag, whose destiny it was to rise to ministerial rank; and this can be sensed throughout the book. This is not a book written with scientific detachment, although it undeniably contains statistics and data. Everyone can see that the person who wrote this book loves the Hungarian countryside and Hungarian agriculture – because that is where he comes from.
Why have I liked working with Sándor, and why am I happy that he coordinated the writing of this volume? I have long since observed – and perhaps it’s even a theory of mine – that the archetypal Hungarian is the farmer. In saying this I’m not seeking to exclude anyone from the community of Hungarians, but when you look at Hungarians and try to understand what they think and why, and why they behave as they do, then you’re ultimately taken back to ancient times, to the world of farming instincts. Someone from the countryside – even if they don’t come from an elegant large town like Karcag, but from a small village like I do – is of the same opinion as someone from Karcag: there’s a plot of land, it has clear boundaries, they’re responsible for the quality of life and order on that plot of land, for living off that plot of land, they’re responsible for its beauty and for what happens on it in general. This means that there is responsibility. But this responsibility is not unlimited, it’s not theoretical, it’s not abstract, and it doesn’t just float in mid-air: someone is responsible for that plot of land in the here and now; for the people there, for the yard, for the cats and dogs, for the vegetable garden, for the vines and for the fruit trees. And also for the cooperative effort ensuring that the whole is united in order and harmony. This is the duty of a Hungarian; if they have a house then this is how things should be. I think that this farmer’s sense of responsibility enables one to understand why the Hungarian countryside has given Hungarian politics so many good state organisers and so many good state leaders. Because one must have precisely the same notions about the state as one has about one’s own farm and home in the countryside.
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Similarly, the mentality of people elevated from agriculture to politics stems from this natural characteristic: that one must always focus on the task at hand. Tasks must be carried out relying on this set of instincts, farming instincts. Tasks are not something to be talked about – although there may well be time for that in the evening; in the daytime, however, we don’t talk about things, but do them. Tasks are real and clear, and if you fail to perform them there will be clear consequences: your livestock will die, your produce will rot, or your roof will start leaking. Against this there is only one remedy: to get up in the morning and do your job. This is why it’s difficult for us people from the countryside to understand the floundering related to the Chain Bridge in Budapest. If a bridge is in a poor state of repair you don’t simply talk about it: you get down to it, you need to issue a public procurement call for applications and you need to do the job. Sophisticated rhetoric, seeking to prove who isn’t responsible for what, and all policy approaches rooted in muddle are generally entirely alien to the political attitude based on the spirit of the countryside. This is why it’s fitting that there are so many of us people from the countryside in a nationally-minded government. I’m not saying that it would be right for a government to exclusively comprise such people, because a country is much more diverse than that, and in a national government urbanites, urban culture and high culture must also be represented. It’s very important, however, that the countryside should continuously contribute to the leadership of the country – not simply with its knowledge, but also with the instincts I’ve mentioned. And this book clearly shows us all the good sense and usefulness of this approach. Sándor mentioned that I wrote a foreword, which I’m afraid I don’t rate as highly as he does, but I thank him for his courteous remark. What I’ve written for this book is more like a few words of introduction, but it does say what I think about the importance of this book, and the importance of the area dealt with in this book: that national self-respect is inconceivable without agriculture. We don’t have to justify this with clever rhetoric. It’s enough to mention a few simple facts. As is often part of my job, if you travel around the country and see arable land, you don’t think that it will all turn into money at some point: you have a comforting feeling, a feeling of self-respect that the land is being cultivated. Or similarly, when I see statistics confirming that Hungary is the world’s third most important producer of agricultural seed, what comes to mind is not that the businesses operating in the sector must make a fair profit, which is indeed very useful and worthwhile, but that we really are somebody. Because not only are we able to create something great in a field of life, but we’re able to create something great in the most important field of life: that from which life feeds, that from which life grows. And then one not only assigns economic significance to these statistics, but also significance in terms of policy for the nation; because, as I’ve said, the performance of the countryside and agriculture is also an issue of national self-respect.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Now I’d also like to say a few words about the period we’ve just been through. With a cool head, detachment, unemotionally and with sufficient self-restraint we can say that before 2010 the Hungarian countryside was among the country’s main losers. If we look at the period between 1990 and 2010 to determine which sectors were winners and which were losers, which sectors made progress and which fell behind, we can be confident in saying that the Hungarian countryside was a loser. It was a loser in terms of the distribution of resources, development, investment, and in terms of the creation of modern regulations. In 2010 what I and the country needed was not just a minister of agriculture, but someone to put the Hungarian countryside back on its feet. Sándor was entrusted with no less than this, and this is what I said when we first spoke about his possible ministerial mandate. This is why I took Sándor on. And if you read this book thoroughly, you won’t be surprised that Sándor took a broad view of his job – meaning that he dealt not only with the area of agriculture in a narrow sense, but much more widely. Let’s say that he chose the topics that each form the subject matter of a chapter dealing with one aspect of the revival of the Hungarian countryside. So with due modesty, I can say that the reason the two of us – Sándor and I – are sitting here at this book launch is that we did a great deal: enough to have something to write a book about. This is somewhat immodest, but we can confidently call it an attempt to put the Hungarian countryside back on its feet – an attempt that can be regarded as acceptable at the very least. If we think about it, we can say that we’ve protected our arable land. If we look at the distribution of resources across the Hungarian economy, we see that the food industry and agriculture have been given very significant opportunities, and we’re not far from the point – we’re not there yet, but we we’re not far – at which we could say that it’s possible to lead the same quality of life in a Hungarian village as in the capital. The British say that you can only have a high quality of life in the countryside, but this is not quite so – after all, the British have a tendency to exaggerate. While we’re not yet at the point at which a young married couple envisaging their future can choose life in a village or small town without any feeling of resignation, we’re not far off that point. Of course the idea that you’re more likely to have a good quality of life in the countryside is natural for those of us who were born there, but between 1990 and 2010 the attraction of the countryside suffered a sharp decline. Over the past ten years we’ve had the task of trying to revive and popularise the feeling that we brought from home: that you can only lead a truly good life at home. In this, we have much to thank the Minister for. Let me repeat: even though we’ve not quite reached the point at which a young married couple can say that they can lead the same life in the countryside as in the capital, we’re definitely closer to achieving our goal. The book clearly describes this.
Sándor has said that he wrote this book in a factual style, and so I need say no more on that, but I’d like to draw your attention to one final thing. The term “peace in agriculture” was coined at some point in the parliamentary career of our brother Józsi Torgyán, in the early nineties, around the time he used the expression “streams of blood”. At that time the situation was tense, and one could foresee the eruption of major conflict at any moment. The only slight benefit back then was that we could meet each other among the tractors, but on the whole such heightened tensions do more harm than good to agriculture and the country. Here in the room there is also someone who was one of my ministers when he was a member of the Smallholders Party. I also greet you, Minister, as someone from that era. I’m grateful that you’ve been kind enough to come here – from Nagykálló, I believe. So if we look back on that period, we can see that there was not only debate about politics; there was also a debate about the role that agriculture would play in our future. The term “peace in agriculture” was an everyday expression in political analysis in the first four or five years of the 1990s. Back then I also thought a great deal about how – instead of disputes, or alongside more restrained disputes – it might be possible to create calm and predictable conditions for production, land cultivation and animal husbandry. This was because our gatherings in Kossuth tér wouldn’t resolve the situation back at home, on the farm. Obviously farmers think that what one primarily needs is not trouble and conflict, but the predictable financial, legal, technological and technical conditions for production. And I thought a great deal about why there was no peace in agriculture, and when peace in agriculture would finally come. Then I realised that this term didn’t describe the situation accurately enough, because in order to have peace in the agricultural world, we need peace in land: not peace in agriculture, but peace in land! And there would never be peace in agriculture as long as the issue of land was not settled: as long as one felt that the land issue – who owns the land – was an open question. Will there be large farms, medium-sized farms, or small farms and family farms? There will never be peace in agriculture until this issue is resolved: until agriculture is able to be at peace with itself; until a set of conditions is created in which everyone feels that they have a future and their livelihoods as land owners are not under threat. Because in fact what is behind the need for peace in agriculture is always a battle, a fight for land, and the fear of losing land.
This is what I said to Sándor in 2010: “Sándor, the number one priority is to create peace in land. It may well be that the path leading to peace takes us through war, but let’s say what we want on the issue of land, and then pursue it with an iron fist, with a rod of iron. Let’s crush opposition if we need to, let’s find allies if we need to, let’s make agreements if we need to; but in Hungary let’s reach a situation in which there is peace in land. And then let’s defend this situation, let’s prevent anyone from upsetting it.” That was when we created that “80-20 rule”: we said that 80 per cent of land must be owned by small and medium-sized landowners. Once that point is reached, it won’t mean that they’ll cultivate it, because today – in contrast to all our romantic memories – Hungarians’ approach to the cultivation of land is unfortunately not what it once was, and landowners don’t necessarily want to cultivate land. Indeed one of the factors that makes agricultural policy so complex is that those who cultivate the land are not the owners: for whatever reason, owners want to give land to someone else to cultivate. But this doesn’t alter the fact that if we create calm and predictable conditions in agriculture, then all players will be aware of the status of the land and the fate of its ownership status. I believe that Minister Sándor Fazekas solved this dilemma brilliantly, because we can confidently say that today 80 per cent of land is owned by small and medium-sized landowners, and only 20 per cent of it is owned by large landowners. Furthermore, the percentage of the latter is decreasing as legal entities are gradually dropping out of the system. So I’m convinced that in Hungary today there is peace in land. It’s well worth protecting this peace in land when attempts are made to upset it from one side or another; in my view, we must resist this.
The peace in agriculture based on this peace in land must also be maintained, and it is the duty of the government of the day to give the Hungarian countryside and Hungarian agriculture the appropriate resources, technologies, attention and legal environment – following the strategic direction that is described in this book. Once we have this, then this sector will be capable of even higher performance than it has shown over the past ten years. This is despite the fact that one can venture to say that hardly any other ten-year period in Hungarian agricultural history has seen change as important and improvement in the situation of agriculture as dynamic as that in the past decade. But we still haven’t reached the summit. For us to get there, I wish us all much strength and health. Let us thank Sándor for having compiled an imprint of our struggles, for having brought these documents together, and for having illuminated the meaning of these struggles.
Congratulations, Sándor! Thank you very much.