In Hungary, everything starts with an old story. One of my favourite cult movies, the deservedly celebrated film Moszkva tér (Moscow Square), gives an account of the Hungarian political transition that occurred at the very end of the 1980s. In a particularly ingenious scene that takes us back to 1989, the head teacher announces that post-1945 topics would be outside of the scope of the final exam. As the head teacher puts it, this is good news for everybody: the students have less to study, and for herself, personally, it is good news because though what is included in this (and she points at the history textbook) does contain an amazingly high degree of truth, she would refrain from declaring it strictly fact-based.
All Hungarians understand what this is about. And you can believe us: Marxist education is far from strictly fact-based. Many people among us still remember the times when, over four decades of communism, this type of ideologically biased education was provided in our schools. Moreover, the ideological bias was not only apparent in human sciences which have more direct links to politics, but also in geography, physics, and even mathematics.
A typical math problem was phrased like this: “A peasant working alone sowed 95 kilograms of rye. After harvest, he threshed 1140 kilograms. What was his percentage yield?” Bonus question: “Why is the yield higher in a socialist cooperative?” Now it sounds like parody, but back then it was dead serious.
When we won our freedom back more than thirty years ago, we also wanted to do away with such practices. We wanted to return to the real world which was—and hopefully still is—based on the free competition of opinions, worldviews, scientific theories, and business enterprises. A world where, consequently, no one tells us at school what to think about various things, where instead we can learn how to think by ourselves. But this is only one side of the coin.
The other side of the coin can be grasped as follows, roughly: competition is not the only constant. Certain values are also permanent and stable, including the accomplishments of Christianity and the Enlightenment, the importance of the nation, and respect for the institution of the family. Let’s remind ourselves that it was precisely these values which ensured the success of the civilization we all share, handed down by every generation to the next one, through an alliance of parents and school.
And this is what we believed in at the time of the regime change and we continue to believe in today: stable foundations in terms of our value system, but with competing ideas and a focus on results guaranteed in and through its organization. Or, as we often say in politics these days, following a medieval religious scholar: unity in the main things, and freedom in the rest, and—if it happens like this, we would be most delighted—Love in everything.
The way I see it, the freedom we fought for is at peril once more as the modus operandi of ideologically biased education we Hungarians were faced with throughout the decades of communism has come back. Paraphrasing [the Hungarian poet] Endre Ady, the spectre is looming at Dévény—that is, from a western direction.
We have swapped places, apparently. As we bought a ticket for a slow train headed to the West, they hopped in a sports car to race in the opposite direction. And we have the same old conclusion to make: we should not expect to receive a solution from others, we have to find out for ourselves how we should go forward, instead of reverting to the past.
If we Hungarians fail to give a substantial answer to the question of what the values our children’s education should be based upon actually are, then the answer will be given by others, and not ourselves. The patterns available for us to adopt are not exactly tempting. Some institutions in the West have been hijacked by an allegedly progressive ultra-liberal thinking, which, in terms of both content and methodology, is rather similar to what we had to live with during the period we have managed to leave behind.
Back then, we had class struggle to worry about, now we have a struggle of races. Back then, history was the story of the oppressors and the oppressed, now it is the story of the struggle of the sexes and/or genders. Back then, the red flag was to be held up high, now we see the rainbow flag raised by the activists. Dissidents among staff at universities are silenced, and students who are not progressive enough are stigmatized. Critical race theory, woke, and cancel culture—these are expressions which do not sound familiar to most Hungarian parents yet, but have been, in other countries, invading the everyday lives of parents and rendering the normal operation of schools almost impossible.
The Eastern model, by contrast, is already well-known to us. We also understand that it just doesn’t work in Hungary. In the East the schools are training an enormous number of children. With such a vast student population in the system, numerous outstanding talents will emerge based on the laws of statistics, if nothing else. The situation is different here; there are comparatively few Hungarians, and therefore we have to bring out the best in every one of us. Talent promotion and the ability to find and advance unique voices are crucial for our national strategy.
Consequently, I am convinced that there is a great need to discuss and learn about what is right and what is valuable. And about what is wrong and what is worthless. And how we should tell the difference, and how we should hand down this knowledge to our children without making them lose their creativity and openness. And how we should preserve the alliance between and common interests of parents and school, which is the prerequisite of the transfer of knowledge that is worthy of being handed down through the generations. And how we should develop our children’s critical thinking, and what they should learn about the balance of rights and obligations, issues of gender and race, and national identity. I am totally convinced that there is no issue today that could or should be considered more crucial for the future of Hungary.
As Ronald Reagan put it: “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation from extinction.” This requires no explanation for us Hungarians—we have learnt this from repeated experience.
Foreign visitors should understand that we are a stubborn people. We have been living here for more than a thousand years, we have stuck to our difficult language (close to impossible to learn), we insist on preserving our special culture and unique traditions. We do not want to tell others how to live, and we find it difficult to tolerate others wanting to tell us what to do and how to do it. Attempts have been made by a number of empires to conquer us in the name of various ‘universal’ systems of thought over the last one-thousand years, but those empires and systems of thought have all become extinct, and we are still here, alive and kicking.
The following joke should illuminate the point I am trying to make. Soviet communist party general secretary Leonid Brezhnev and Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent are having a chat in the Hereafter. Leonid Ilyich asks the Sultan eagerly how they managed to occupy and rule Hungary for a period of one hundred and fifty years, whereas the Soviets managed to do so for only forty. And Suleiman replies, “My dear friend, we refrained from making two mistakes. First, we did not make the Turkish language compulsory to learn at school in Hungary, and second, Hungarians were not required to celebrate the day when they lost the battle of Mohács.”
Hungarian people have proven many times that they stick to the values they hold dear and that blades of foreign ideas will break on them. They will cling to the accomplishments of Christianity and the Enlightenment, and they will stick to their nation and the institution of the family. Education for them is, literally, a matter of life and death. We adults, now, in this country, including parents and teachers, have—without any pathos—a mission: we must ensure that Hungarians will still be living in this corner of the world in ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred, or a thousand years’ time. We must teach our children to think independently, to be truly imaginative in their creative endeavours, and to participate in debates properly prepared, but all this will only be possible to accomplish if they do not reject, abolish, or cancel either western Christian civilizational values or our special Hungarian values, but instead they claim them as their own.
It is stipulated in our Fundamental Law that Hungary is proud of its history spanning more than a thousand years, that it is proud of its Christianity, and of its power to preserve the nation. We believe that the basis of human existence is human dignity and that freedom may only flourish in cooperation with others. We believe that the most important framework of the life we share is provided by the nation and the family. Believe it or not, there are even more ‘radical’ passages in our Fundamental Law. It stipulates, for instance, that the protection of the constitutional identity and Christian culture of Hungary is an obligation of all bodies of the state. Regarding the family, the Fundamental Law states that “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the nation’s survival.” The basis of the family is marriage, and the relationship of parents and their children. And now comes the most ‘radical’ statement: the mother is a woman, the father is a man. Period.
We believe that in today’s world we should also speak clearly about our children. Based on this, we stipulate on the level of the constitution that every child has the right to the protection and care that is required for his proper physical, intellectual, and moral development. And of course Hungary protects children’s right to the identity corresponding to their sex at birth and ensures that education is available for them in accordance with the constitutional identity and Christian culture of our country. And, most importantly, parents have the right to freely choose the type of education for their children.
These rules were passed by Parliament with the support of the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian people, within the framework of the rule of law and democracy.
And this is why it is completely unacceptable that liberal political forces are trying to attack us day after day, citing principles of democracy and the rule of law. This is why it is unacceptable that right now, in line with the plans of Brussels, they are trying to roast us, dissidents, in the framework of a so-called ‘rule-of-law’ procedure. Our notions concerning nation, the family, and the protection of children are different from the Brussels elite’s views of the same, and the legal procedures available in the European Union are used as a stick, to exert political pressure.
Thus, since we are under pressure, and we should not deny that we are facing a challenge, Hungary wishes to rely on the support of the direct will of the people. In the spring, a referendum will be held—as it was also done on the issue of migration—to understand what people themselves think about gender sensitivity training targeting our children at school or in the media. We will see the result of the referendum soon, but one thing is certain: Hungary has been the only country in the West where people were and are asked to share their opinion on mass migration and the gender issue, instead of allowing politicians to make decisions behind their backs.
Balázs Orbán is political director to the Prime Minister of Hungary.