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Prime Minister István Bethlen’s country-building work can provide useful answers to our present-day challenges

Mr Orbán wrote “I’m convinced that the country-building work of István Bethlen and his government – which was undeservedly marginalised, and even lied about for decades – can provide useful answers to the issues which the challenges of our own time force us to face today”.

The Prime Minister’s message written for the conference organised by the Veritas Research Institute for History and Archives and the public collection and public education directorate of the Office of Parliament was read out at the forum held in the Upper House session room of Parliament by Press Chief of Parliament Zoltán Szilágyi.

The measure of the work of a government and a prime minister is the distance between the starting point and the end point to which they succeed in leading the country entrusted to them. The impact of István Bethlen’s work in government pointed way beyond crisis management; it was the foundation and organisation of a country, thanks to which free and independent Hungary was born again after many centuries, the Prime Minister wrote.

Mr Orbán recalled that in the spring of 1921 István Bethlen became the leader of a country balancing on the verge of financial and economic collapse, a country that was isolated in terms of opportunities in foreign policy, surrounded by enemy states, deprived of two thirds of its territory and more than one half of its population, and dispossessed of the vast majority of its natural resources; a country which had only just started recovering from the blood losses caused by the World War, the Spanish flu and Bolshevik terror. A mass of problems on such a scale could have easily buried even a black-belt crisis manager under itself, he added.

He indicated that István Bethlen was, however, able to accomplish this seemingly hopeless job with excellent results because he sought the solution not in the world-redeeming ideologies of the time, but instead he assessed the situation of what was left of the country and the entire nation in light of the actual opportunities. He did what he could, relying on what was at his disposal, he stressed, adding that he had faith in the strength, talent and exceptional self-healing capacity of the Hungarian nation. This was enough to put together the building blocks strewn around by external and internal hostile forces, and to build a home for the Hungarian people from the torso that seemed hopelessly non-viable, Mr Orbán stated in summary.

At the conference, on behalf of Speaker of the House László Kövér, Deputy Speaker of the House János Latorcai welcomed the attendees, recalling that at a conference held earlier on the subject, the Speaker of the House said: “those who have a vested interest in weakening and in forever subordinating the Hungarian State want to forget and to make people forget István Bethlen; those who aim for an independent and strong Hungarian State want to remember and to make others remember him”.

Mr Latorcai highlighted that today historians and the representatives of responsible politics agree that the political performance of István Bethlen and his government is important for us all, and must be commemorated. He recalled that Hungarian history is abundant in tragic end-points and subsequent heroic rises. However, according to a historical study, the people of today see the tragedy of Trianon as the most severe blow in all their history, from the Mongol invasion to 1956.

He stressed that it is the duty of historians to explore the history of the 20th century, but its evaluation and utilisation also fall within the realm of politics. However, in the exercise of processing it and learning from it, both self-recrimination and shifting the blame onto external circumstances can lead us astray, but if we are able to remain between the two extremes, to explore the proceedings of the past with due self-criticism and by adopting an international outlook, it gives us hope that we might be able to see the dominant political figures of that era not through ideological spectacles, he said.

Regarding István Bethlen, he said if we strip the ideological shackles off, his person and performance cannot be indifferent even for a single thinking man who seeks to find an example of how to raise from the dust a country crushed and doomed to failure.

He added that also in Hungary which regained its freedom of action after 1989-1990, we must strive in our world laden with ever further crises “to forge together and reinforce the nation-building strength of our citizens”.

A hundred years ago, István Bethlen was able to form a government at the end-point of an unprecedented historical trauma, and the lethargy and sensation of loss caused by it, he said. His name could become one with the concept of consolidation because he was able to unite Hungarian society, not only economically, but also politically, by excluding the extremes and rising above ideological division. His elevated spirit, European outlook and international commitment free from demagogy elevated him from politician to statesman, Mr Latorcai pointed out.

The performance of István Bethlen and his government is now above academic and political debates, and can offer important lessons to everyone, he said.

In Mr Latorcai’s view, the message of the anniversary is that “we must serve the Hungarian cause because no one will fight our fights for us; everyone must work in their respective place, but for the whole of the community”.

At the conference, which was also attended by former Prime Minister Péter Boross, 13 speeches were delivered.