Many thanks to President Pásztor for inviting me here to be among you, and I thank you all for attending this gathering. Campaign taskmasters back in Hungary – who are also my bosses – usually advise against gatherings of this kind, because they ask who is working out in the field while we’re holding such a meeting. But all the same, as President Pásztor said, it’s not every day that we can meet here in Szabadka/Subotica in person. As we’ve heard, this happens every other year, and so we’re happy that we can be here together today. I’d also like to separately salute Andor Deli. Naturally this opportunity wasn’t presented to him as a gift: he won the trust of Fidesz at its nomination meeting because of the excellent work he’s done over the past few years. So just as the President has thanked me, I also thank you for strengthening our parliamentary group with such an excellent representative. Andor, I wish you every success!
It is always an honour to be welcomed in the city of Dezső Kosztolányi. Perhaps one of the first times I experienced this was at the unveiling of a statue of Kosztolányi himself. I don’t remember what year it was, but a lot of water has flowed under a lot of bridges since then. First of all, I’d like to thank you for your patience. Now that we’re here together for a short while, perhaps we can look back over the events of the past few years. You may remember that in 2010 there was an election in Hungary, when the civic, national and Christian forces managed to win the trust of the majority of the country; and with a two-thirds majority we embarked on an era – perhaps now in all modesty we can describe it as embarking on an era – which began in 2010 and has continued up to the present day. I well remember the difficult dilemmas we confronted back then. The motherland was in a wretched state, and we were effectively bankrupt. Not only were the day-to-day figures bad: the structure of the economy itself was inadequate, and I also think that in people’s minds there was more pessimism than self-confidence. So many things needed to be changed. When I sat down with my friends – including your president István Pásztor, with whom I often discuss the affairs of Hungarians living beyond the borders – I had to ask for their patience. I had to tell them that if I were to follow my heart, without question I would immediately – in 2010 – offer them all possible funding; but I added that if we failed to return order to the motherland, then there would be no strong motherland, and neither would there be strong Hungarian communities beyond the borders. So I asked for patience. And from your point of view our first term didn’t seem particularly bright, as we had to focus most of our attention and resources on rectifying the situation within our borders. In 2014 there were signs that the task was not impossible, that we would, after all, pull ourselves together, that what we had conceived would pass the test of time, and that the motherland would set out on the path of recovery. Then the time came to devise great plans together. And devise great plans we did: over the past few years things have happened which not only hadn’t happened before, but which we thought would never happen in our lifetime. We never thought that in every forum, and against even the strongest countries, the motherland would be strong enough to be able to stand up for communities beyond its borders. Here I’m not primarily speaking about your community, because there were no such conflicts here; but this is the situation in Ukraine, in Transcarpathia. On the world stage we have to stand up for the interests of our fellow Hungarians – at times even against our own allies. In previous decades few of us thought that Hungary would ever be strong enough to adopt such a stance, or that the country would not only be able to offer financial resources to communities beyond the borders, but would be able to do so without this policy being killed by envy back home – as there are always applicants for money. There tend to be more applicants than there is money, but I don’t think this is specific to Hungarians: it’s more to do with the nature of money. In any event, in essence we’ve not simply made smaller amounts of money available, but very significant sums – which in the long term may even be capable of altering living conditions here. This has happened in a way which has also garnered widespread support for it in the motherland. This is something that not many of us would have imagined previously.
Because it would have been more hurtful for you than for us, you may well have paid close attention to the fact that not only was there no opposition to this from Hungarians in Hungary, but that those political parties in Hungary which did oppose it – and which argued that no support of any kind should be given to Hungarians beyond the borders – have all been voted down. There are parties in Hungary which say that you shouldn’t even have the right to vote, and that there’s no need for dual citizenship either – let alone the provision of financial resources. In Hungary today these parties are being voted down. These are the times we live in. There are probably more profound psychological reasons for this. This is not simply a question of political tactics or communication or the like, but much rather the feeling that although we Hungarians live in the territories of seven or eight countries, at the end of the day we belong together; and this is not simply a historical fact, but a task, a challenge and a mission for the future. Even if it’s not expressed in such precise language, this thinking is being formulated across the Carpathian Basin. Therefore the part of the nation which is in a better situation – and in this case it’s the Hungarians in Hungary who are in that situation – must always commit to do more. This is why over the past few years we’ve launched initiatives which will, I hope, bear fruit in the years to come.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Honourable President,
As President Pásztor said, we are preparing for a European parliamentary election. Because this campaign has only just started, I can also say that this is my first campaign meeting – and I am happy that it can be here in Szabadka/Subotica. As I’ve said, this is symbolic: both in terms of our kinship; and also in the significant area of highlighting that the borders of the political formation called the European Union and those of the cultural formation called Europe are not the same. There are still communities which live in Europe but are not yet part of the European Union. The Hungarians in Vojvodina are one such community. The non-Hungarian, Serbian community of Serbia is also a community whose place is in Europe: it is a European community, but not yet part of the European Union. This draws attention to the fact that in the coming period we Hungarians here in Vojvodina and also at home must work to eliminate this difference as far as is possible. It is my unshakeable belief that Serbia will become a member of the European Union. It will become a member sooner than many people today believe it will. I well remember when Croatia was in such a situation; and also back then – when many dismissed the possibility, saying that it would happen at some time in the next century, if at all – Hungary was its loudest and most determined supporter. And yet we somehow succeeded in guiding Croatia into the European Union. For a number of reasons, today Serbia is a more difficult task, but I’m certain that we’ll succeed. As the President also pointed out, this is in the interest of both the Serbs and the Hungarians living in Serbia; but I’m convinced that this is also in the interest of the European Union, because the European Union is beginning to run out of resources.
We need new resources. Strength comes from the Member States. And if you look at it from the right angle, enlargement is in fact not a burden, but a new opportunity and a resource – also for the European Union itself. This is true because today the European Union has leaders who cannot see much further than the end of their noses, and who sometimes give the impression that they can’t even see that far. Indeed they seem like people who are unable to take two steps in a straight line. There are clear signs of this. But in truth, time will bring forward the right leaders: there will be elections now, and later there will also be national elections. There was an election yesterday, in Finland. You can see changes taking place. Slowly but surely we’ll see the emergence of European leaders who are keenly aware that the great task for the next ten years will be integration into the European Union of the area bounded by Bulgaria, Greece and Hungary. And in this region the most developed and most important player is clearly Serbia. Therefore when it advocates Serbia’s EU membership, Hungary is not tilting at windmills or chasing dreams, but in fact implementing a realistic political programme. And in this we’ll certainly succeed.
After this, allow me to say a few words about our own affairs. I’m going to bore you with some figures. Over the past three years economic development funding of somewhere between 60 and 70 billion forints has flowed into Vojvodina. The uses to which this will be put will be your responsibility. Seen from a distance – from where I look at the situation – this looks good. Many people have applied for funding, which has gone in many directions. More than ten thousand people have applied; so I think that, rather than being concentrated, the money has been spread widely. And in order for an economy to start growing, one needs the feeling that, in one way or another, everyone who has the energy also has access to opportunities. As we see that so far this has worked well, I’m pleased to tell you that we shall continue this. This year also a sum of around 7 to 7.5 billion forints will come here. I’ve received a Vojvodina tourism plan which will launch projects of this nature, and perhaps there’s even a government decision related to it. I know that you’re impatient, because every day people are leaving Vojvodina, and so every day there is an irreplaceable loss. Hungarians are also leaving. And the same questions worry us all: will those who have left come back? And will women give birth to enough children to replace those who have left? We are faced with these two momentous questions. If we look at the demographic indicators, we can see that we’re not doing well in connection with either of them. So our task is no less than helping the people of Vojvodina – the people and families who live here and the businesses that operate here – onto a path of development which, within a foreseeable and credible period of time, will lead to a situation in which it no longer makes sense to leave this region.
Today it’s difficult to believe that such a situation will exist, isn’t it? We see young people preparing to leave, and we hear their reasons for doing so. But if you do your sums right, if you calculate well and our plans are realised, then at some point not very far in the future you will suddenly realise that the rate of emigration has started to slow, it will decrease, and eventually reverse. This is what has happened in Hungary, and this is why I’m bold enough to speak to you about this. In Hungary over the past two years the number of people who have left to work abroad has been lower than the number of those returning, and this trend is continuously strengthening. If we manage to implement our plans – and there seems to be no reason we wouldn’t – then over the next three years this trend will be even more remarkable, and we’ll see a large-scale flow of Hungarians returning to Hungary. There will always be people who choose to leave. There’s nothing wrong with that, because it’s good to see the world, it’s good to study abroad and it’s good to have worked abroad for a while; but it’s better to start a family at home – because, after all, one belongs to the country in which one was born. Hungary is on the threshold of this turnaround, or it has already begun. If Hungary has been capable of turning this situation around, then in my view Vojvodina will also be capable of doing so – with the assistance of the motherland, if not solely through its own efforts. I strongly believe this. Therefore we’ve never regarded the money sent here as some sort of aid or welfare benefit, but as an investment which will help to keep young people here, help to preserve the future, and help to connect the Hungarians of Vojvodina with Hungary, and Vojvodina’s economic system with Hungary’s economic system.
Indeed, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have reached the stage at which the Hungarian economy – horribile dictu – is strong enough to enable me to conduct talks today – and even conclude agreements – with the leaders of the State of Serbia about significant Hungarian investment and injections of capital in areas outside Vojvodina. I think that in part this is also good for you, as it completely disproves the accusation that the only area that is important for us is Vojvodina, it disproves the accusation that we have all sorts of secret plans, and therefore we obviously only provide for Vojvodina. We’re now making it clear that the whole of Serbia is important for us, and we see the whole of Serbia as a business opportunity for Hungarian capital. We’ll also be able to cooperate with Serbs south of Vojvodina, we’ll be able to set up joint ventures, and we’ll be able to ensure they have an interest in the success of Serbian-Hungarian cooperation. We must understand that we also need Serbs who believe in and have an interest in Serbian-Hungarian cooperation. So it’s always easier, more promising and more lasting if we’re able to expand opportunities to Hungarians on the basis of cooperation, rather than them having to achieve results in competition with Serbs. This is why we appreciate the opportunity offered by the fact that between the governments of Serbia and Hungary there are currently good relations, there is cooperation, we’ve created the foundations for trust, and the Serbs also need Hungary – for their European Union accession, if for no other reason. But we also need the Serbs, because within the European Union we will have to fight battles in which the weight of the Central European countries will be critical. We can clearly see that on important issues the peoples of Central Europe think differently from the peoples of Western Europe. One such issue is migration, but so is the issue of our family model, and many other cultural issues. So for us Hungarians it is in our interest for there to be as many Central Europe countries as possible in the EU: in addition to the fact that Serbia’s membership is good for you and the entire Hungarian community, it will also strengthen the group of countries in the European Union which share our way of thinking. I could hardly think of a more optimal situation for cooperation between two countries.
So we are on the threshold of good times and great opportunities. I wouldn’t yet dare to say that the motherland is a powerlifter – perhaps that would be an exaggeration. But when it flexes its muscles it can show dynamism, and so we’ll implement the great plans that we’ve resolved upon. We identified yet another one at the intergovernmental meeting today. This is an old matter that István often brings up in our discussions: the railway line linking Szabadka/Subotica with Szeged and Baja, to which the Serbian government finally gave its approval today. We’ve set up working committees, we’ll rebuild the missing section and modernise the existing one, and this project will be under way. For Hungary I’ve already appointed former minister János Lázár, from Hódmezővásárhely, as a government commissioner, and it will be his duty to oversee this project. So we have great plans, and they’re all making headway. Among these I should also mention the Budapest–Belgrade railway line, the construction of which is already under way here, and which will soon start in Hungary as well. As a result, the travel time between the two capitals will be cut from today’s time of between seven and eight hours to between two and three hours. I can say that today we’re making progress in every area in which cooperation is possible.
I sometimes ask myself whether or not what lies ahead of us is more difficult than what we’ve already achieved so far. And today I also told my Serbian colleagues – who don’t quite understand this, as they didn’t grow up in the Hungarian culture – that historians describe the Hungarian people or the Hungarian nation – or at least I have a historian friend who says this – as a “declarative” nation. This means that we declare things, and just by doing so we believe that those things have already happened. I think that there’s a lot of truth in that. And for that reason it’s possible that the period ahead of us will be more difficult than the period we’ve just lived through, because that one was a period of declarations. It has been a period in which we’ve had to assess our strength, say that this would happen, that would happen, and so on… Now, however, we’re looking forward to years in which everything will depend on whether we can realise what we have declared. Another friend of mine, a former MDF [Hungarian Democratic Forum] minister, says that from time to time documents are found in Turkish archives which state that when the Hungarians attack, the first wave is unstoppable and devastating – but there’s no second wave. That too may contain much truth, and so I’d like to convince you now that the period ahead will not be a period of great declarations. This will not be a period of great words, because those great statements have already been made. Now we will see a phase in which we must take advantage of the opportunities we have bargained and fought for. This is painstaking work. It’s less heroic, and perhaps less suited to the romantic Hungarian psyche; but now everything depends on whether we’ll be able to realise the things that we’ve resolved upon, that we have money for, that we have a mandate for, that we have approval for from the Serbian side, and that we have strength for on our side. This is what will determine the outcome of the next few years, Ladies and Gentlemen. Perhaps this won’t be the most romantic period in the history of the Hungarian community in Serbia, or the most romantic period in the history of Serbian-Hungarian relations either; but I am absolutely certain that it will be the most useful and important period. Because if now we make good use of the opportunity and realise everything that we’ve planned, then on those foundations we’ll be able to devise even bigger plans and build even bigger structures.
In closing, allow me to make one more observation on the reason that I keep urging you to grasp the opportunity now. There are countries in Europe which operate relatively well even when they have no governments. The Germans can afford to take six months or so to form a government, with no government in the interim. There are societies, cultures and economies in which life somehow still goes on in the usual way and results keep coming, even without political stability. And then there are countries which don’t work like that; our nation, for instance, is one of those, because in our country the fish really does “rot from the head down”. If there’s disorder at the top, then there’s disorder lower down, too; if there’s no political stability, life comes to a halt. I’m not talking about paralysis, but everything slows down; everything is on hold. And I think that the same is true for the Serbs: if there’s no political stability, Serbia’s economic performance also begins to slow down and comes to a halt, with everyone waiting to see what will happen. And if I’ve understood the situation correctly, we live in a period today when in Serbia also it’s clear that the Government is extremely stable, and the opposition – how shall I put it – can hardly be considered a major force for the future of this country. In Hungary the situation is more or less similar, and the Government is extremely stable. So we have two peoples for whom political leadership is extremely important, and in both countries we can look forward to at least three or four years – we’ll see what happens after that, but we definitely have at least three or four years – in which political stability and leadership are a given. This means that if we seize the opportunity now, then in the next three or four years we’ll even be able to complete the work of eight to ten years. This will stand or fall on us alone.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The most important thing is that our first step should be the correct one. That first step is the upcoming election to the European Parliament. I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity. Of course it’s difficult for me to put myself in your shoes, but there’s a certain bravura in you who live here in Vojvodina – in a country which isn’t a member of the European Union – sending representatives to the European Parliament: Hungarian representatives, moreover, who will not only represent Hungary there, but also Serbia. I think there’s a certain piquancy to this, something dashing and with a touch of flair; and this is a good reason for Hungarians not to miss this historic opportunity, but to seize it. Go to the polls and support us. I’d like to be able to tell you to choose from among several good options – but regrettably I can’t say that, because I wouldn’t want to deceive you. The truth is that, although it hasn’t always been the case and won’t always be in the future, at present it is only our political community – the alliance between Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party – that is able to represent Hungary with sufficient weight and seriousness on the international scene, in Brussels, to stand up for the Hungarian people, and to provide firm leadership for the country. So I ask you to vote in the election and to support us.
Go for it Hungary, go for it Hungarians!
Thank you for our having been able to cooperate with you in recent years.