Honourable Mayors, Honourable Presidents, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you, Eduard, for being here with us. It is not usual to organise such a celebration for the twentieth anniversary of the opening of a bridge. Here are the prime ministers of two neighbouring countries, dignitaries from the two cities, community leaders and many, many citizens. But we are not opening a bridge – we are simply commemorating the opening of a bridge twenty years ago. As you can see, there is more to this than simply an anniversary: the Marie Valerie Bridge has become a symbol. I was fortunate enough to have been here for its inauguration. On such an occasion – in an inauguration speech – one can say that the bridge connects people and countries, and that the pillars rising from the water also symbolise rock-solid faith in a shared future. Twenty years ago I spoke such truths. Today we need to say more, and with a different voice. Today new winds are blowing, and we see the world differently. Back then we had thrown off the Soviet yoke a decade earlier. Back then we were new members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO. We were three years away from arriving at the gates of European integration. We longed for the homeland of our homeland, for Europe, and we hoped that joining the EU would solve all our problems. All the peoples of Central Europe were right to be full of hope. We believed that the truly arduous years of struggle were behind us, we believed that we had emerged from those hard times. Today the mood of that time has flown, it has evaporated: we have come to realise that we cannot entrust our future to the goodwill of external actors, and that every single day we ourselves must fight for our success.
Citizens of Esztergom and Párkány/Štúrovo,
The Marie Valerie Bridge is an uncompromisingly solid conception bound up in our everyday lives. This bridge helps people living here get to work, run errands or visit family members. Today it is such small but important things that constitute the distinctly Central European way of life in our countries. Expanding job opportunities, a strengthening economy, clean streets, decent buildings, traditions, family values, respect for religious and secular communities, the love of our home: we Slovaks and Hungarians must work to ensure that the people who live here can live as they want to, and in a way which makes them feel whole.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Honourable Prime Minister, Dear Eduard,
One would be hard pressed to find another two peoples with views of the world as similar to each other as those of the Slovaks and the Hungarians. The only thing that really separates us is the difference between our languages. We understand each other perfectly – until we start speaking. Even twenty years ago, Brussels was on our side, it supported us, and it helped us to rebuild this bridge. Today Central Europeans are seen ever more frequently not as equal partners, but as second-class Member States. For example, they want to force people upon us whom we do not want to live with. They want to force something upon us which would limit our economic opportunities. They also want to force upon us a way of life which runs counter to everything that we see as being valuable and worthy of preservation. This is a threat that is difficult to combat, and we often find ourselves in the role of modern-day Davids facing the Goliath of Brussels. Our Polish and Czech friends would also have much to say about this.
Indeed, this bridge would also have much to say. It was burnt down by imperial troops, in 1919 it fell victim to the war, and in the Second World War it was destroyed by the Germans, with its ruins left to us as a memento by the Soviet occupiers. Central Europe – and Slovaks and Hungarians – have indeed been overrun repeatedly by great powers from outside our borders. The foreigners always destroyed the bridges, and we always had to rebuild them. Here on the border of two countries which – both separately and together – have learned hard lessons from the aggression of invaders in the last century, it is easy to see that we Slovaks and Hungarians are not enemies, but companions in a shared fate. Intelligent neighbours do not wage war on one another and do not antagonise one another. Any hostility between peoples who live in Central Europe’s community of fate is senseless; the keys to the survival of us all are friendship and alliance. Cooperation between two equal nations that respect each other’s cultures is always fruitful. It is possible to be both a proud European and a Slovak, a proud European and a Hungarian. It is possible to produce economic growth for all, to create jobs for all, without denying our way of life, ourselves, our past and our values. There is no successful Hungary without a successful Slovakia – and vice versa. We, the peoples and states of the region, can only be successful if we are all successful, and if we work together. Let us be under no illusions: the success of Central Europe is important only to us, not to anyone else. So all those who argue against cooperation are arguing against themselves.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
The two decades since the bridge was built have taught us that Hungary and Slovakia should move forward together in cooperation. This has already brought its first results. In the past decade of European turbulence, the countries of the Visegrád Four have been able to grow continuously. We have something that Brussels lacks: we have built a stable and effective unity, and we have provided joint responses to the civilisational crises affecting us. This has been proven in the financial crisis, in the migrant crisis and in the coronavirus crisis. Twenty years after this bridge was rebuilt, there is a spirit of Central European cooperation that is stronger than ever. We want to be good students of history. We must not only rebuild bridges, but also remember who destroyed them. If we fail to do so, such things will happen again and again.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Every era has its symbols. The Marie Valerie Bridge continues to be a symbol. Its message to us is this: we are the future of Europe, and we must never again allow the destruction of the bridges that connect us to one another. Our destiny continues to be shared, while our tasks have multiplied and our responsibilities increased.
Success to Slovakia! Success to Hungarians!