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‘We Will Not Be a Colony,’ Delacres Hungary’s Viktor Orban

Posted on the 16 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
‘We will not be a colony,’ delacres Hungary’s Viktor Orban

Hungary PM Viktor Orban. Photo credit: OECD

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s remarks in Budapest on Thursday, March 15 were a model for “How to Make a Nationalist speech in Modern Europe”.

Typically he began with the past  – the speech was framed around two great Hungarian uprisings against foreign super powers: the 1848-49 uprising against Hapsburg rule and the 1956 revolution against communism. In both instances, he argued, Hungary was a beacon to the people of Europe: “They looked at us like this in 48-49, when Europe became silent, silent again, but then the feudalist world disintegrated all around Europe and strong nations were born in its place.  They looked at us like this in 56, but the communist tyranny, that we drove the first nail into, finally collapsed, allowing Europe to reunite again.”

Hungary’s defiance was characterized as the force which ultimately unites Europe. Nationalism was shown as a force for freedom, because ultimately nationalism was an expression of the people:The political and intellectual program of 1848 was this: we will not be a colony! The program and the desire of Hungarians in 2012 goes like this: we will not be a colony!”

Of course a good nationalist speech must also play on certain words/fears. For Orban the angle was to play on Hungarian fear of the loss of sovereignty/freedom to Europe  - and his bombshell word “colony”, followed by the even more loaded term, “axis”: “We are more than familiar with the character of unsolicited comradely assistance, even if it comes wearing a finely tailored suit and not a uniform with shoulder patches. We want Hungary to revolve around its own axis, therefore we are going to protect the constitution, which is the security for our future”.

Nationalism and the language of colloquialism
Orban’s speech  also demonstrated perfectly the type of language to use in a good nationalist speech, and why this language is important. For example, in the example above his use “comradely assistance” and” finely tailored suit” is brilliant piece of derisive “colloquialism”.

In fact Orbans deploys the  same colloquialism throughout the speech: “An independent national bank is one, which protects the national economy from foreign interests. They knew and we also know well that anyone with common sense will not entrust the neighbours with the keys to the pantry.”

The colloquialism of “finely tailored suits”, “keys to the pantry” is a key feature of nationalist rhetoric. When Orban talks of  Europe’s problems he says “the clog wheels are creaking”, and of leaving “countries by the roadside”. This colloquialism not only brings color and thus memorability to the speech, it also speaks to the common sense of the audience, the ordinary people who can see things far more clearly than the politicians or bureaucrats. Above all this colloquialism allows Orban to both deride Europe and to put a put a distance between what he characterises as Hungarian “wisdom of the people” and Europe’s “the unholy alliance”: “We will not sit and watch idly, if any political or intellectual trend tries to force an unholy alliance on Europe.”

The most telling word here is “intellectual” (always suspect to nationalists!) – dangerous people because they do not live in the real world, they do not have to live with the consequences of their ideals – only the common people do.

So far then, the speech works as a fine example of modern nationalist rhetoric – that is of course until one examines the obvious – which is that this speech is about nationalism – or rather that one can’t forget that nationalism is a real dimension to a country’s behavior.

Nationalists have a point! Their Past.
When Orban lists the nations who have supported Hungary recently, he recites: “Our Lithuanian, Czech, Latvian, Slovenian and Romanian friends have all stood up for us. Not only did they stand up for us, they also came, our Lithuanian and Polish friends are here to celebrate with us.”

No surprise that this list of Eastern European country’s who endured communist rule. The experience of a nation defines its response. The simple, obvious truth of this speech is that nationalism cannot be ignored in the new Europe. Orban and others express the views of the silent crowds. “We also have with us the silently abiding Europe of many tens of millions, who still insist on national sovereignty and still believe in the Christian virtues of courage, honour, fidelity and mercy, which one day made our continent great.”

The surprise of this speech is that nationalism does have a voice, a valid voice in Europe (Orban enjoys the strongest democratic mandate in the EU, his Fidesz party won the 2010 election with a stomping two thirds majority). Dismissing nationalism is more dangerous than letting it speak.

There was one other surprise at the end of the speech. Nationalism needs an enemy to attack. It had seemed through the speech that that enemy was European bureaucrats. But for Orban the conspiracy goes deeper, to a new foe: “If we don’t act in time, in the end, the whole of Europe can become a colony of the modern financial system.”

It may not be, but this feels to me like the first time a European leader has referred to the “modern financial system” as being the ultimate enemy. Don’t expect it to be the last.

To read the whole text of Viktor Orban’s National Day speech, visit VoiceGig. 


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