Speech at the Conference entitled „A Christian response to the challenges facing Europe”

15th April 2013. Bilbao (Bilbo)

Esteemed Papal Vicar General, Respected Chairmen,

Thank you very much for your words of praise. The Americans have a reply to everything, in their own, flippant manner. In situations such as this they often say that if my parents were here and heard these words of praise, then my father would have been proud of me, while my mother would have believed everything word-for-word. Permit me first of all to say how I came to be here. In 2012, I was invited to a Catholic conference in Madrid on account of the new Fundamental Law of Hungary. This is a Constitution that is based on Christian foundations. It generated great interest throughout Europe. Christians hailed it, forces opposed to us launched a salvo of criticism against us because of it and indeed the question lends itself, how could it happen that a Constitution based on Christian foundations is adopted in a country at the beginning of the 21st century.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I speak about this, please allow me to first convey the best wishes of the Hungarians to you. We are following the events here in Spain, including here in Basque Country. We see how you are struggling with the economic crisis. We have also experienced the difficulties that you suffer from every day, we are following the difficult struggle of your government, and we are familiar with the impatience, anguish and disappointment that people feel here with respect to the current situation in Europe. Tomorrow I shall also be discussing these issues with Prime Minister Rajoy in Madrid. I have come here for the same reason that I went to Madrid earlier, because I feel that European Christians must show solidarity to each other, because those who embrace other ideals are strong, well organized, show solidarity and always come to each other’s rescue, something which cannot always be said about us, Christians and about Christian political forces. Therefore I think that there is a need for us to encourage each other in the Christian-motivated efforts that we all are attempting to realise in both our private and public lives. It was actually a great dream of mine to make it to Bilbao one day. I was born in 1963 and in 1976 my favourite football team Újpest played a match here in Bilbao, where you beat us 5:0 with courageous play that granted no quarters. It is since then that I have been preparing to come here and visit the people who beat us so badly.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What’s more I arrived here with self-confidence. I arrived two days ago on Saturday and until then I thought that the most complicated thing on the European continent was Hungarian politics: we had communism, and transition too; we have seven neighbours, we have lost world wars, we have the German-speaking Austrians to the west and the Ukrainians to the East, who until recently belonged to the Soviet Union; ours is indeed a complicated world. This is why I travel the world filled with self-confidence, thinking that anybody who knows his way around in Hungarian politics will never get lost anywhere. However, during the past two days I have spoken with some Basques and my opinion has changed. My self-confidence is also tarnished somewhat and I had to realize that Basque Country is even more complicated than Hungarian politics. It is much more difficult to find one's bearings here, there are many more things to take into consideration, but I finally gathered enough courage to not cancel this speech.

Hungary is far away from here. For you to understand what I am going to say, you would need to know Hungarians a little better. We do not have the time here for me to tell you all about that. What I can tell you is that we are an exciting people, a special people. We speak a language that no one else in the world does, we do not have any relatives and we feel that the culture we represent can only be preserved by us and no one else, we have a special way of thinking. The best way for me to introduce ourselves is if I tell you that there are things that are important for everyday life and which were invented by Hungarians. This reveals much about the mind set of Hungarians. A Hungarian invented the ballpoint pen, espresso coffee and the computer. Perhaps this will make it easier to understand what is currently happening in Hungary.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The title of the speech is “A Christian response to the challenges facing Europe”. Perhaps there are some who think that I want to talk about what concrete problems weigh down on Europe today: the economic crisis, unemployment, demographic problems, migration and ethnic problems, violence, energy dependence, environmental and climate change. We could discuss each of these from a Christian perspective. It would be exciting, but I think that there is something, a primeval root of this crisis, from which all our problems – including the economic and financial crisis – really derive from. My feeling is that until we are able to find a response to this primeval issue, to the real question, we will only be able to provide symptomatic treatment to the other crisis factors too. Therefore, today I would like to talk about the main challenge that – in my belief – Europe is facing.

First, I would like to discuss the situation in Europe. Then I would like to talk about how we arrived at the current situation. After this, I would like to discuss how we can come out of this situation and finally what we Christians and Christian politicians should do.

I am a politician; therefore I would not like to argue on religious or theological grounds, but instead from a social, cultural and political perspective. There is a difficult question here: what grants one the right to dare to articulate an opinion on such a difficult issue? I have been involved in politics for nearly thirty years now. I first participated in underground organizations struggling against communism. We founded an anti-communist, opposition movement in 1988. The first free elections in Hungary were held in 1990, where I became a Member of Parliament at the age of 27. We won the elections in 1998 and I was able to form a government as Prime Minister at the age 35. I managed most of the European Union accession talks with Brussels. We lost the elections in 2002 and were in opposition against the socialists for eight years, then after eight years we returned to power while obtaining more than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. In 2011, Hungary held the rotating presidency of the European Union, a task that I also led. These together would seem to constitute enough grounds for me to dare to speak on various issues related to the European Union not from theory but from practice, from the perspective I have on European politics.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have all read in the news that Europe has lost a major part of its economic competitiveness. Others are stronger, are developing faster and are more competitive than we are. This has happened before, it could happen to anybody. The real question is how did this crisis erupt so suddenly? Why did we not stop the processes earlier, why didn’t anybody stop the debt spiral? Why didn’t anybody say that things were going in the wrong direction? Where were our leaders when someone should have stopped these processes and warned us that we must adapt to the changing world? Why is it, that all these troubles suddenly hit families and countries, shattered the family living standards of millions and no planned adaptation ever occurred?

There is an issue that needs to be clarified here. Is it all right for a politician to talk about the relationship between the economic crisis and Christianity? Wouldn't it be better to leave such issues to scholars, philosophers or theologians?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have my own approach to this question. I am convinced that people committed to Christianity, clerics, laymen, Catholics and Protestants are linked by a common feeling: the responsibility of the watchman. We read in the Book of Ezekiel that if the watchman should see the armed enemy approaching, but does not sound the alarm, does not warn the people of the impending threat, then God will make him responsible for the lives lost. My conviction is that the religious and laymen leaders of Europe are such watchmen, whose responsibility is to talk to people about what they see as threats and problems. This is why I dare to speak on this topic today.

The point of departure for my speech, in full awareness of my responsibility, is that the economic and financial crisis taking place in Europe is not a coincidence and is not a problem that can be rectified by a few skilled technocrats or financial and economic professionals. My starting point is that the financial and economic crisis is the consequence of policies which have been present on the continent for a long time now. What do I hear, dear people of Bilbao, if I listen to Brussels executives or the Prime Ministers of numerous European countries? To summarize and simplify my experience: the majority of them think that the cohabitation of people in Europe should be planned exclusively according to economic rules. They think that the economy, the market and its life-giving nectar – money – are the main sources of rationality, and that in fact the rationality of the economy and the market cannot even be questioned. In Brussels, they think that market logic can be used to remedy any and all social troubles. They also think that if there are any problems in the economy, in the market economy, if there is any disorder, then the market will be able to correct itself and return to its former state of equilibrium. Anybody questioning these dogmas is dubbed irrational, a reactionary and frequently a dinosaur. The way of thinking that supports the supremacy of the economy has created its own political counterpart. The political version of market supremacy is liberal individualism. I am not sure if this is the most precise category, but perhaps you understand what I am thinking of. The point of departure is that if common good does not exist, if “bonum publicum” is not present, then only individual interests will prevail. Only private economic motivations and considerations will matter. Other impulses that form part of human life, such as religion, national pride and family bonds do not matter when compared to personal economic interests. This culture and politics has developed its own way of speech, its themes, its vocabulary and reasoning. This is the language of moral relativism. There are no immutable truths; everything depends on our point of view.

What do we not hear when European politicians are talking? What words do we not find? We will not hear the words honour, pride, commitment, obligation, nation, patriotism, steadfast, greatness, valour, fairness – we do not hear these words at all. It is as if these words had never existed. I am of the opinion that there is an aggressive secular political vision prevailing in European politics today that is called progression. They think that this future is desirable for Europeans today: we are going from religious towards irreligious, from national to supranational, from the family towards individualism. Today in Brussels, those people are in majority who not only believe this, but also want things to be this way. In reality, whether consciously or subconsciously, they are thinking and working on a Godless society. They view religion as an accessory to an individual lifestyle. They think that everybody should keep their faith to themselves, but consequences that stem from this faith should not manifest themselves in government, in the economy or in European politics.

I do not know if you feel the impact of this culture here in Basque Country, but we do feel it in Hungary. If you think about the status of the other continents, about North America, South America, Asia or Africa, then you may become aware of a strange fact. There is only one continent whose political leaders, or at least the majority of them, insist that Man is capable of organizing the world without God and Gods laws. Today, this is a European thought. Although the United States of America also belongs to the West, it is impossible to put such ideas to the public there, it is inconceivable in the world of Islam, and even the people of India would be surprised if somebody wanted to talk them out of the social lessons that can be drawn from the teachings of the Hindu religion.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I think therefore that nowadays, European politics is living in two misconceptions. The first is that Christianity did not play a decisive role in the evolution of Europe, because when debating the Basic Treaty of the European Union, we wanted to include Christianity among the roots of Europe, we were voted down. It was not left out of the basic treaty by accident! It was considered and omitted. The other delusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that they think that Western values and institutions can be maintained without Christian moral principles.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let us see the consequences of these delusions. Scholars of human society usually agree that all civilisations are built on two main resources: human creativity and a sense of permanence. Permanence means that people can be sure that they are surrounded by values that never change. These help to decide what is good and what is bad, what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong.

If we look at Europe, then we see that it has neglected both resources. It tried to substitute work and the creation of value with financial speculation and with loans, while permanence was replaced by relativism. The East is today more competitive than we are because it appreciates both resources of civilisation more than we do; it respects work more than we do and respects its own cultural traditions far more then Europe does. In addition Ladies and Gentlemen, if what is valuable and what isn’t begins to be questioned, then respect for the other resource, the value-creation of human creativity, will also diminish. This means that if they give up on the permanent values of civilization, then human performance will also decline. This is what happened to us in Europe and this is why when constructing Europe we began to be ashamed of our Christian roots and to neglect them along with our moral and cultural traditions. We have come to a point where such forms and ideas of human relations as the nation and the family have begun to be questionable. The original meaning of work and loans have also become uncertain in economic life. This means that important things – work, trust, family and nation – still exist but have become disengaged from the moral foundations that Christianity has provided for them.

Perhaps a Europe that represents Christian values would not have allowed people to consume the future of their families with unsecured loans. A Europe that represents Christian values would perhaps have been aware that every single euro that we take out in loans must also be earned. A Europe that represents Christian values would rather lend to people who it sees are prepared to and will work for it. A Europe that represents Christian values would not have allowed whole countries to sink into debt slavery. A Europe that represents Christian values would perhaps have promoted policies that distribute the burdens of the crisis in a more equitable manner. What is it that we see instead? If a government in Europe is forced to take on a loan from a European or a global organization, then it is also forced to institute measures that discredit it in front of its own voters. Austerity measures follow and this is in the long term interests of neither the governments nor the creditors. Because if order is disrupted due to the many austerity measures and stability is lost and the framework of economic life become unstable, who will then work to repay the euro loans that have been received?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is important, that when I talk about Christianity and the Christian foundations of Europe, then I am not speaking about a personal belief in God. Although that is also important. I am speaking from another perspective, from the aspect of organizing society, and my statement is the following: Europeans will not be able to drive Christianity from their heads. They will not be able to forget the biblical story, the story of redemption. We may have different approaches to the story and its characters, we might interpret it in different ways, we might even think that it is a fictional story, but there is one thing that we cannot do and is very unlikely to happen in Europe: we cannot behave as if this story doesn't exist and is not at work in the minds of we Europeans.

For we Europeans, our main resource of civilisation is the story of Christianity and the moral role played by this story. The main resource of the Arab world is Islam, for the Asian world it is Buddhism and the Hindu religion, while Christian culture, tradition and religion are the main resources of Western civilization, regardless of the kind of relationship that we manage to establish with the Creator. This means that a European cannot shed his Christian skin. This should also be understood in Brussels. There is no point in pushing for a new, common European identity in which the fundamental fact that the moral framework of European life is provided by the biblical story is not accepted. While it is proclaimed that we are seeking some new identity for ourselves, while attempts are made to use cunning reasoning to leave out the fact that we are part of Christianity from the definition of Europe, while there are politicians who call for this, then our continent will continue to struggle in a state of permanent self-denial.

Let me give you a few, at first sight ridiculously evident examples to demonstrate how threats to civilisation and the disregard for Christian teachings are related. If we can steal from each other by manipulating the banking system, then why should we persecute a pickpocket? If we can allow speculators to become rich by making a company or a whole country bankrupt, then why do we punish embezzlement and fraud? If we consider it legal that a bank is allowed to flourish at the detriment of others, if we allow anybody to earn money by speculating on the downfall of a whole country and so ruining the lives of millions of people, then what grounds do we have for punishing bank robbers? If Europe believes that the family is an obsolete institution, then why are we surprised that there are fewer and fewer children born, that pensions for the elderly must be generated by fewer and fewer workers or that labour has to be imported to Europe from other continents, which leads to severe problems?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The situation today is that Europeans are incapable of even biological self-preservation. Let me finally say a few words about what we can still hope for. Our Christian identity also means – and this is the good news – that we have a chance for renewal. We have a common cultural and moral community. There is a strong foundation to build on. Accordingly, we do not have to seek new spiritual foundations to enable the renewal of Europe. It is this old foundation that we must use in a modern way in European politics to develop tangible economic and political solutions for managing the crisis.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am convinced that Christianity is an exciting, living and inspiring heritage. Christianity has succeeded in putting the most exciting dilemma of European life into focus. The most important value for Europeans is freedom. Freedom and the continuously changing order and the system of regulations that limit freedom are what provide the dramatic tension that has made the story of European Christian culture so interesting from the very beginnings until today. Is there any force that restricts freedom? If it does exist, then where are the limits along which a new generation may define its own life? If we want to come out of the crisis and we want to close this era, then we contemporary Europeans must respond by defining the future guarantees and limits to freedom, in other words how to define the national and European common good. What I do know is that we must speak about the protection of the family and of life; that we must raise unconditional respect for human dignity to the level of common good. Financial capital and speculation must be re-regulated in consideration of the public interest. We must strengthen the honour of work, of productive work. There are unique national variants of such policies. It is evident that different measures are needed in Sweden, Spain, in the Netherlands or in Hungary for that matter. This is precisely why Brussels must respect nations much more in the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The question now is whether Christians will accept the current order of freedom, this European order as an opportunity or, instead, consider it as more of a threat. I would propose to Christians, to European Christian Democrats that we should look on the Europe of freedom and the order of freedom as an opportunity. Truth cannot be dictated, the truth can only be professed. Tyranny may be able to exist without faith, but freedom cannot. And truth can be best professed in the free world within the free European culture. Therefore we should never stand on the side of state-sponsored violence and state-dictated uniformity, but should instead stand by the idea of a free society. We have to trust that there is enough persuasion in our words and that our truth is suitable for us to be able to base the organisation of the European community on it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We need self-confidence: political assertiveness and Christian political assurance. Our community is held together by the idea that we are all part of a universal story. Everyone can discover themselves in this story, can find their own stories and can expect to receive assistance in their decisions; we all may see the misleading paths and the consequences of good and bad decisions. This is also true for politics, for people active in public life, for movements and parties alike.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Participation in the political struggle is a difficult issue for Christians, it raises serious dilemmas. I say that we should not shy away from these difficult issues. We must reconcile the representation of the truth with the idea of securing a majority. In countries and on a continent where we cannot be sure if the majority of Europeans still consider themselves Christians. Because if we only secure the majority, that is if we gain power, but do not represent the truth, the way we Christians think of it, then what use is power? If we do represent the truth, but cannot obtain or preserve our majority, then our truth will be in vain if we cannot use it to the benefit of our nation. We are not Christian political kamikaze, but responsible political leaders, who need both the truth and the majority together in order to realise our ideas. Meanwhile, Ladies and Gentlemen, must to bear in mind that beside the truth and the majority, even if we are able to reconcile them, we will not be able to achieve perfection in this world, because we are only human. Therefore the point of departure for Christian politics cannot be anything but humility, modesty and sound realism.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The times in which we live, the way that we live, threatens us with the dreadful spiritual danger that we will become lost in petty everyday problems, in our struggle for survival tomorrow, that we will drown in the part without seeing the whole. I am convinced that Christianity can lift us from these feelings of being lost and abandoned and can place us in a framework of reference that provides us with the splendour of every spiritual and national community. A poet once wrote the following: “What has happened to you Man, why are you so desperate? The Lord will forgive you for everything, except your despair.”

A clerical leader was asked several centuries ago, what he would do if he was told that the world would come to an end on the following day? His response was this: I would plant an apple tree today. However adverse the situation today in European politics, whatever advantages our adversaries should enjoy today in Brussels, it is this relationship, this understanding and this spiritual state that can provide courage and self-confidence for Christian European politics.

Schumann said, and today we know he was right: Europe will either be Christian or it will not exist. I think this is the only good response to the 21st century challenges facing Europe.

I wish you much spiritual strength, perseverance and success for the tasks ahead.

(orbanivoktor.hu), http://www.kormany.hu/

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