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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the commemoration ceremony marking the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Count István Tisza

I respectfully welcome dignitaries from churches and the Hungarian state, and members of the Tisza Family.

Fellow Commemorators, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Immediately before his assassination, István Tisza said, “I want to die as I lived: courageously”. One hundred years ago today the legendary politician of the Age of Dualism died a martyr’s death. His murder is a dark chapter in Hungarian history, which remains unexplored to this day. What we know for certain is that the entire nation was wounded by the shots that extinguished his life. His death traumatised Hungary in the same way as the deaths of Miklós Zrínyi and István Széchenyi. And this is how it has been burnt into the collective memory of the Hungarian people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

István Tisza was not a man who was frightened by having guns aimed at him. On several occasions he stared down death. He knew that death can take away one’s life, but not one’s integrity. I believe that he also knew – and was proud – that he would be among those Hungarians who sacrificed their lives for Hungary. He understood the meaning of the phrase noblesse oblige: “nobility obliges”. He knew that such obligation emerges as soon as someone recognises their mission: the fate designated to them by Providence, the task which must be taken up by the scion of a true-born Hungarian family. Tisza recognised this at an early age, and as a young man he was already preparing for the task. Later he entered the political arena resolved in his heart to contribute at least one building block to the foundations of the future of the Hungarian nation. He answered the call for “Hungary to fulfil its destined role, to earn itself recognition and respect – from within and without – and provide success for the entire nation.” After wartime collapse, the devastation of the Red Terror and the forced relinquishment of two thirds of the country, these building blocks represented the foundations which could be built on by Bethlen or Klebelsberg – the two great Hungarian statesmen of the interwar period. And, even one century later, several of those building blocks are still present in the foundations upon which the Hungarian nation is now being built.

Fellow Commemorators,

When the end came, István Tisza accepted his fate. Nowadays we are barely able to understand this, but this was dictated by the honour of his family. This path was designated for him by his upbringing, his faith, and a tradition of Calvinist public service which began with Gábor Bethlen, Prince of Transylvania. He did not hide behind others, he did not flee abroad, he did not abandon anyone to their fate or betray anyone. He did what he had to do in any given situation. He radiated strength – indeed an iron will – which spread confidence and trust wherever he went. His handshake was a contract. He believed in transparent and straightforward combat. Today we can see that he understood the situation of Hungary, the Monarchy and Europe more accurately, more clearly and with a greater insight into current affairs than any of his Hungarian contemporaries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The “Aster” putsch saw the rise to power of István Tisza’s opponents, who did not even know how to react to his death. He rose above them – even from beyond the grave. The leader of the Socialist Operetta Republic and his henchmen saw Tisza in the same light as Historical Hungary: they hated him because he was proud and strong, and because he was imbued with the consciousness of a people which had lived and survived in the heart of Europe for a thousand years: here, in the path of warring armies, surrounded by the double ring of steel of Germanic and Slavic peoples. Neither Tisza nor the country wanted to become what the Red Count [Mihály Károlyi] and his associates envisaged. Károlyi and his people wanted power, but could not rise to the greatness of the Hungarian people, because they could only hope for support from our enemies, and from anarchy. After they were abandoned by both the masses in Pest and by their supposed allies in the West, they found a direct route to the prison cells run by [the communist leader] Béla Kun. The hussars of the salon and the foolish dreamers could not – or would not – accept the futility of bowing and scraping to the leaders of the Entente: the flood would eventually reach Budapest, and their doorstep. They did not understand that if there are no defenders on the dam – or if we commit the insanity of voluntarily demolishing the dam ourselves, the flood will sweep all before it. Tisza, however, was well aware of how high the stakes were, and he had therefore opposed the war. But he also knew that once the war had broken out – against the will of the Hungarian people – it must not be lost. In this he was right: the flood that eventually swept away the old Europe drove Hungary to the brink of ruin, and tore millions of our Hungarian brothers and sisters from us.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

István Tisza was a national politician through and through, who did not serve the interests of classes, aristocratic factions, ideologies or economic interest groups, but the interests of the entire Hungarian nation – from the most remote Hungarian villages to the most inconspicuous working-class enclaves.

Fellow Commemorators,

Even today it is hard to comprehend why, in the summer of 1914, Europe raised a gun to her head – and, once she had done so, why she pulled the trigger. We know the usual explanations, the hunt for scapegoats and the conspiracy theories. Yet the more we look into the facts, the more it seems that a bad decision was made in Vienna, then another in Berlin, a third in Saint Petersburg, a fourth in Paris and a fifth in London; and so many bad decisions combined to lead to a catastrophe that devastated the whole of Europe. The shadow cast by several bad decisions rendered us Hungarians unable to make a good decision: we were not a sovereign state, we were chained to a multi-ethnic empire, to a rock about to plunge to the depths – which reached the ground four years later and shattered into pieces. But Europe itself suffered a catastrophic haemorrhage, and in fact the Great War was lost not simply by the Central Powers, but by the whole of Europe. The war consumed Europe’s political, economic and cultural influence in the world, vaporising its myth of invulnerability and its moral standing. And brownshirt and red dictatorships were already waiting in the wings.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The nature of politics, and of international politics, is that there are always guns – and there are always people who, without thinking, clamour for their use. Today we are also living through a time in which world politics is undergoing a realignment. Today modern technology is also shifting to a higher plane. Today dangerously self-destructive and suicidal ideals are also gaining ground. And there is also no shortage of European leaders whose thinking extends no further than the following day’s headlines. Today we also need to be alert, because if we let control of our fate slip out of our hands, we could lose our whole country. We must not be swept along by European events in the way we were in 1914.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we have sovereignty, our own path, a strong economy, and national cohesion spanning borders which embraces every Hungarian. We have strong allies who agree with us and bravely stand up for us. Let us appreciate this, and use it for the benefit of the entire Hungarian nation. And let us be proud that the strong country that is able to stand up for itself – which István Tisza saw as the most important goal of his political career – is today a reality. Today, with the respect that is due to its forebear, this is the Hungary that bows its head in honour of its martyred prime minister.

Glory to István Tisza!