Good morning, Director Maróth, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Honourable Mayor,
This morning we cannot be accused of launching the day with a mass event; but in politics there’s an old wisdom which states that there are times when one should count, and other times when one should ponder. As I look around me now, I see that this morning we have come together to ponder and show our respect: the respect due to the academic importance of the institution which will be based in the building we are now opening.
You have come a long way since the establishment of your institute in 2002, and you have had to wait more than fifteen years for a fitting home. There are countries – let’s call them lucky countries – where such institutions can immediately start work as soon as they are formed, in a bespoke building that meets their every need. In the future it would be good for Hungary to be such a place, because to a large extent the competitiveness of an academic workshop depends on infrastructure of appropriate quality. Bearing in mind these difficulties, the outstanding work you’ve done over the past decade and a half is even more valuable and admirable.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Avicenna Institute is now an internationally recognised base for Middle Eastern studies, and those young researchers who came to you when you were founded are now internationally recognised scholars. If, however, we look at the building itself – and here I separately thank Mr. Turi – then I have to say that there has been good reason to leave the past seventeen years behind. This building is based on a design by Imre Makovecz. It is good to see that my old brother Imre can still enrich us – even from beyond the grave. We again thank the project designer Attila Turi and his colleagues, who here in Piliscsaba have added another new work to the oeuvre, and enabled us to pay off another debt – not only to Imre Makovecz and the Avicenna Centre, but to all Hungary. We have been a “plan chest country” for long enough: a country where outstanding plans have remained unrealised. Perhaps now this will change. In Pesterzsébet two days ago we handed over a church by another legendary architect, Bálint Szeghalmy. There they had to wait more than eighty years for the plans to become reality. Many other major buildings designed by Imre Makovecz are similarly unrealised; but let there be no doubt that, one by one, we shall build every one of them.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Under normal circumstances, all I would need to say here would be that in Europe we Hungarians are known as the most western people of the East. I should talk about how much evidence there is for this: in words of Iranian and Turkish origin in our language; in our cuisine; in our folk motifs; in our literature and our music. I should say that a thousand years ago we Hungarians chose to belong to the West, but without forgetting our Eastern origins. We are proud of this, and so we are researching and nurturing these roots. Obviously it’s no accident that we have Europe’s largest collection of Oriental ceramics, carpets and historic weapons. It would be good if this was known by ordinary people in the street and not just scholars. I should also talk about the importance of Islamic culture. It is a civilisation which is more than a thousand years old, and which has made invaluable cultural and scientific contributions to the world – for example in mathematics and medicine – which are worthy of the highest respect. Its most famous representative was Avicenna. All this commands respect, and we Hungarians look on this culture with respect. It was not by chance, therefore, that during the first civic government – from 1998 to 2002 – we created the Avicenna Foundation for Middle Eastern Studies, to research our eastern roots and the Middle East region. And we were right to do so, Ladies and Gentlemen: since then this institution has produced internationally renowned researchers and outstanding work.
So this is what I would have said under normal circumstances. Today, however, the circumstances we live in are far from normal. The reason for this is that Europe’s familiar order stretching back many centuries has been disrupted. And we can say that when we created this institution, we were actually looking forward to meet the changes that we are experiencing in Europe today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Europe today is undergoing a grave crisis: a migration crisis that has in fact broadened into a civilisational crisis. We can sum this up by saying that the East has come to the West. A large proportion of the immigrants arriving in Europe come from the East, and most of them are followers of Islam. As a result, Oriental studies has become an even more strategic research field. And this immediately highlights an interesting circumstance, as nowadays the geographical area for your research is not as simply defines as it was a few decades ago, because Islamic culture has occupied new geographical regions. An increasing number of Muslims are settling in the cities of Western Europe, and indeed even in independent enclaves. Therefore today we must not only focus on events to the east of us, but also on those to the west of us. The first step in understanding the crisis is to gain the most extensive knowledge possible of the culture and politics of migrants’ countries of origin. I think that Western Europe’s modern-day warriors for integration believe that there’s no reason why anyone who wants to go to France or Germany and who wants a French or German standard of living shouldn’t immediately become French or German. Today the Brussels elite lives in this bubble. But in reality migrants are coming because they want French, German or Hungarian standards of living, but also want to live according to their own culture, customs and rules. Europe is politically deluded if it thinks that people arriving from the Islamic world do not bring with them the laws, customs and conflicts that have existed in their culture for centuries. Is Europe prepared for this? Can it solve such a centuries-old antagonism? Can it contain the resulting social problems? Can Europe protect the equality of women? Can it guarantee the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Muslims and Jews? There are many questions for which Western Europe has not yet found answers.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our starting point is to take help to where it is needed. This is the appropriate approach, and the only one that does not force anyone into surrender. In order to help them, we need to know the culture of the people living there – including their everyday culture. It is an old truth that familiarising oneself with other cultures strengthens commitment to one’s own culture. I hope that the Avicenna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies will continue to assist us – the whole of Hungary, including the Hungarian government – in being good partners for the countries of the Arab world, while strengthening our own cultural, Christian and European essence.
In this task I wish you much strength, wisdom and patience.
Thank you very much for your attention.