Thought Leadership

Dr. Péter Györkös
Speech of the Hungarian Ambassador to the Diplomatic Council

Below is the speech of the Hungarian Ambassador, Dr. Péter Györkös, as he delivered it at the DC Summer Celebration in Frankfurt, Germany on July 13, 2023. The speech is deliberately left unedited in lecture form so that everyone can make up their own minds about what was really said:

Good evening. To know the Hungarian language is something special. I studied in Moscow in the 80s, international relations. All the languages of the world are taught at this university. And there once the chairs organized a competition about the level of difficulty of languages. And Hungarian was on the fifth place in the world, but clearly on the first place in Europe. And then a few years ago there was a similar study in the USA, where companies wanted to know how they should motivate their employees to learn European languages. The results were the same. In this respect, the Hungarian language is a challenge in itself, is an official language of the European Union, but certainly we don't expect anyone to master that.

Hungary is the only country outside the German-speaking area where there is a German-speaking university, Andrássy University, with faculty at this university. Moreover, Hungary is the only country outside the German-speaking area where it is possible for children to learn and study everything in German, from kindergarten to PhD. Why is this important? It is important because we are not only linguistically positioned in such a way that there is a very strong bond between Germany and Hungary.

There is a very strong German minority in Hungary. About 200,000 of our compatriots can be identified as "Hungarian Germans". They have a directly elected representative in the Hungarian National Assembly. And: Hungary is the only country where the percentage of Germans is growing in comparison to the total population. And even, because it is a summer celebration, and I assume that unfortunately they can't enjoy Hungarian red wine here, but the Hungarian-German vintners have their own network. Some of the best winemakers in Hungary are from the German minority. This is due to the fact that after the liberation from the territories occupied by the Turks in Hungary, after the great settlement from Germany, they established their roots in Hungary. A n honestly, the German-Hungarian friendship did not start with that.

Our first meeting was not necessarily a nice story. It was like this: our ancestors came from Asia, in the flow of this greatest movement of peoples. You landed in the Carpathian Basin, but you wanted to go further. We are in the 9th/10th century. The first great meeting of the Hungarians and the Germans was on the Lechfeld, 955, where we suffered a huge defeat. But Germany, quite the formation, shaping of the German nation, is to be thanked in that the Hungarians forced them to form a kind of wall around the cities. Take Meissen, take Bremen, Paderborn and many, many cities. And that was a very important factor in the formation of a German de facto state.

But the Hungarians also learned an important lesson from this defeat. This is our first king, St. Stephen, because after this defeat on the Lechfeld by the Germans, by Otto, he made two strategic decisions. Crown from Rome and wife from Germany, from Bavaria. Blessed Gisela.

I will not make my talk so political. But it's like this, when it comes to whether Hungary belongs to Europe, etc., I use to tell you, then one day you take a trip by car from Budapest to Brussels. And then you enter Germany on the A3 near Passau. And in Passau is buried Blessed Gisela, the wife of the first king of Hungary. In the lower castle hell. But when they leave Germany in the direction of Brussels, on the A4, they are in Aachen. There stands the symbol of Carolingian Europe, the Aachen Cathedral. And part of this Aachen Cathedral since the 14th century is the Hungarian Chapel. In front of this Hungarian Chapel, and there is even a pilgrimage every seventh year, since the 14th century, and in front of this chapel there is a monument of St. Stephen by the sculptor Imre Varga. You should know, if you are ever in Röndorf, in the rose garden of Konrad Adenauer, there you will find a monument, "Adenauer de Gaulle", and that is also by Imre Varga. No one should explain to us what it means to belong to Europe.

Then we are in 1989, where the Hungarians knocked out the first stone from the Berlin Wall. Yes, that inspired me. I was involved in that, not as a political actor, just as a young diplomat. And I was told at that time, I started in March 1989 in the Mongolian Foreign Ministry, and I was told de facto that the next day I had to start my job as a GDR officer. At that time, all my colleagues told me, man, this is the most boring job ever. Imagine, spring 1989, GDR and Hungary. In the GDR, Kurt Hager, the ZK secretary at the time, became responsible for ideological issues. He said, what Gorbachev does, I will not imitate, because if my neighbor wallpapers over the room, I don't have to imitate that. But a few weeks later, the first GDR refugees appeared on the grounds of the West German Embassy in Budapest. Then came the pan-European picnic on August 19, 1989, when, for the first time since the erection of the Berlin Wall, nearly 700 GDR refugees left Hungary for West Germany. Since the Soviet troops stationed in Hungary at that time did not interfere, it was somehow considered as a proof that Hungary can continue.

On September 11, we also opened the border for the GDR refugees in terms of international law. Helmut Kohl later called that the first stone from the Berlin Wall in his memoirs "I wanted Germany's unity." But what I am prouder of than the blow from the Berlin Wall is the fact that support for the reunification of Germany was the highest in Hungary, even higher than among Germans themselves. Because we, and this is our self-image, we were not afraid of a united Germany. We even said that if Germany cannot achieve unity in freedom, then we have no chance to restore the sovereignty of Hungary and to belong to Europe again. And if, it's not about politics, but still a little bit, when I am lectured today in the Berlin Bubble by politicians of the current government coalition about what it should mean to be a good European, then sometimes I have to say: but back then they were against the reunification of Germany. They marched with banners 'never again Germany'. If Germany had not been reunified, we would not have a reunification of Europe today. That is, here we are assuming that our common sense was correct. Germany will be European, democratic and certainly gratitude is not a political category. But Helmut Kohl was grateful for what the Hungarians did.

We are grateful both to the former chancellor and to the Germans because they assumed that with the reunification of Germany, history had not come to an end. Now comes the reunification of Europe. And we are there. We have arrived there. Next year we will see the 20th anniversary of enlargement. Nevertheless, the mood is not particularly good, and in this mood Hungary is sometimes somehow brought into play as a troublemaker. Whereby we assume we know what is at stake if we want to defend our unity in freedom and also the sovereignty of Europe.

Keyword 2015, where we said that without external borders Europe is like an egg without a shell. And we will prove that it is possible to protect the external borders, because there is a fundamental difference between the iron curtain and the Berlin wall, which were erected against one's own people, and a fence on the green external borders, which must be erected to protect one's own people and one's own economy. Because if you're not able to protect the external borders of the EU, then you're about to end up at a point where the two greatest achievements of European integration, and this is also relevant for the economy, the internal market and the Schengen system, are lost. Certainly, that was the moment where my country was kind of presented as the evil fence-sitter.

But we assume that here, and this is also topical today, and this unfortunately continues to be topical for a bit, we are in a situation where you have to understand that there are global problems in the world, take migration, refugees or climate protection, that you cannot solve on European soil. That is, we assume, you do not have to import unsolvable problems in Europe, but export our help. And we act on that basis.

We are very interested in Europe remaining really strong. Unfortunately, we assume that today Europe is still rich, but not strong. Maybe the new geopolitical situation will change our attitude - come time ,come advice. What may be interesting for you in this, if you are either curious people or economic or business people.

Hungary is certainly something strange because of the culture, because of the language, but recently there was a study of a UN organization, responsible also for tourism, with a list of the ten most beautiful cities in the world and in the first place is Budapest. I can only recommend that you come there.

As for the economy, you should know the following. Many people talk about Germany being an exporting country and Germans being an exporting nation. In your case, the ratio between GDP and exports is a little bit below 60%. In Hungary it is 82%. We are much more integrated both in the domestic market and in world trade. Why? Because we don't have a coast. Certainly, Hungary with its size will never be determinant of how the world works or the world economy. But we have counted on the fact that within the internal market, especially in cooperation with the German economy, we will jointly strengthen competitiveness. That led to a restructuring of economic performance in Europe.

We are interested in all European countries being able to show great performance. But in the meantime, Hungary and the Visegrad countries have become growth engines together with the German economic area. In Hungary you can find such important strategic industries, not only the automotive industry, but also already the defense industry and many medium-sized companies. We have about 6,000 German companies in Hungary, employing 300,000 people. If you add the family members, then that is already more than 10% of the Hungarian population.

With us it is not a question for discussions what the new secretary general of the CDU said. We have been implementing this for more than ten years. Those who can work, must work. "The Workfare Society. We don't support unemployment, we support work. In our country, corporate income tax is the lowest in Europe, because we believe that performance should not be penalized. We pay higher taxes, higher than average in Europe for consumption. All these issues are certainly related to cultural access to these issues. There is always this discussion whether those are right who say "this is the economy stupid", or those who say "No, no, this is the culture stupid". In Hungary we say both are important and that comes together in the relations and cooperation between Germany and Hungary. This, by the way, is much much better than the media often portray it.

What I can only recommend for my part: Make your own experience. It is worth it, we are reliable partners, we are reliable Europeans, but certainly we will stand up for our own truths, be it distribution union or performance union, be it border protection or uncontrolled migration. On such issues, which will divide us for decades to come, that's where we should leave each other alone. We have made this so-called offer of tolerance. Whoever chooses to become an immigration society, that is their own free choice. We should not want to impose that on the others. It will not be able to succeed anyway. If you look at the history of Hungary, we are permanently rebellious. And you can only put us down, but otherwise you can't. Or talk to us.

The same, I have to tell you, also applies to social policy. because in Hungary the legal basis looks like in Germany until June 2017. And at that time Germany was not an illiberal state either. But we assume that everyone exercises their sexual identity the way they want to. By the way, tomorrow there will be Budapest Pride in Hungary. A huge manifestation, in a good mood, with 100,000 people. But still we stick to our basic rules, that marriage is a bond between man and woman. The father is a man, the mother is a woman, and until the age of 18, the main responsibility for the sexual education of the children is in the hands of the parents. When people say we are lost in the past, we point to our progress in digitalization and energy transformation and also in nuclear, where we can work much better with our French allies than with our former German partners.

But one thing is important: What we have a fundamental interest in is that together we have a secure future for Europe and for our children in Europe, and that Europe can keep up in the new global set-up. Because one of the big lessons of the last 18 months is that it's not just a question of what's happening on our eastern flank, but what's happening in the world, how other parts of this world ultimately line up, and that can only be done if we in Europe really focus on what keeps us afloat.

Let's see each other as soon as possible in Hungary. Not just in Budapest. Because when it comes to Lake Balaton, that was the biggest meeting place for the Germans. You should know this, those who have not yet known. There is a place in Europe, in Hungary, that is, that is the inland sea of Hungary, Balaton. The Germans say Plattensee. It was really the case that in the summer of 1989, liberalization had already reached such a level here, also politically speaking, that the Hungarians said, including the government officially, we will never again send back to the GDR those GDR citizens who do not want to return. As a result, tens of thousands piled up in Hungary, because Hungary was the biggest inner-German meeting point in the 1980s. For the GDR tourists, was the happiest barracks, the land of goulash communism. That is, there you can enjoy in the socialist system, in this framework, yet certain freedoms. In addition, there was good wine and good food. And for the West Germans, it was also a kind of adventure without any major risk. The German families on both sides of the Berlin Wall discovered it: in Hungary we can meet each other. What I can say to the Germans today: We have not changed. Goulash, we are still the happiest country, not the barrack, but the happiest country. And from the goulash communism is gone, but goulash is still there.

Thank you for your attention.