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Central Europe is experiencing a renaissance

The Prime Minister was speaking at a commemorative event linked to the conference “Europa Centralis – History of the Region Throughout the Ages”, which was organised by the Jagiellonian University to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Polish professor of history Wacław Felczak. In his speech Mr. Orbán said that the Hungarians and the Poles have come to understand that they must seize control of their fates, and by uniting their efforts history has given them the chance to make Central Europe the most successful region in Europe and the world. This is what the V4 are working on, he said, and “there is no point in aiming for a lesser goal”.

Mr. Orbán pointed out that Wacław Felczak had “mapped out a path for our political ideas”; it was on his advice that Fidesz was formed, and so “he became our intellectual and spiritual founding father”. The Prime Minister said that Central Europe has now come close to how Professor Felczak wanted to see it; while earlier the Habsburgs, the Germans and the Soviets wanted to administer the region, he said, today the EU “is unifying, embracing and protecting” it. This, he added, is a more favourable state of affairs than has ever been experienced before.

Photo: Balázs Szecsődi
Photo: Balázs Szecsődi

The Prime Minister highlighted the following: the region’s role within the EU; the fact that the members of the Visegrád 4 (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) stand up for each other; the common stance taken by the V4 countries on the issues of European reform and immigration; and the region’s economic development. The region is now displaying its better side, and Wacław Felczak would be pleased with the situation today, he said – adding that economically and politically Central Europe is Europe’s most stable region. He remarked that we should not allow our critics to shroud accurate assessment of the situation.

Mr. Orbán pointed out that the Hungarian and Polish governments were right to give Professor Felczak’s name to a fund designed to support intellectual cooperation. The fund is being set up by the two countries, and each of them will contribute one million euros to it annually. The Prime Minister said that he is biased when it comes to speaking about Wacław Felczak. While today bias is seen as a fault, it springs from a virtue: friendship. When we are with friends, we cannot remain impartial, he explained.

War II and by Moscow in the nineteen-fifties. He acknowledged that such bias does exist, but when it is commented on Hungarians have always seen this as a compliment, he said, adding that this attitude is mutual.

In Mr. Orbán’s opinion, Polish and Hungarian history is a dense weave of personal ties, with Hungarians sharing a common fate with the Polish people. Nothing testifies to the substance of this better than the fact that in World War II the Hungarians “were on the losing and guilty side”, while the Poles were on the side of “the victors and victims”, he said. In the end, however, the reward received by the Poles was the same as the punishment received by the Hungarians: Soviet occupation and communism.

The Prime Minister said that he is also biased, because he and his generation looked upon Wacław Felczak as a hero, because he had managed to pick the best time to appeal to the souls of the Hungarians, who “were not prepared to accept the apathy” which descended on their compatriots after 1956, and “the soul-destroying regime which communism – commonly referred to as socialism, as a term of endearment – created around itself”.

Mr. Orbán also told his audience that he went to see Professor Felczak at the end of the nineteen-eighties, asking him to give a lecture on Poland, as he and his associates wanted to hear the truth from a trustworthy source. Wacław Felczak delivered two lectures, Mr. Orbán said, and indeed he mapped out a path for their political ideas when he advised his audience to form a political party.

According to the Prime Minister, as a historian Wacław Felczak gave the highest importance to sources, and in today’s “Europe stricken by immigration”, there is continuing relevance for his principle of “back to our roots”: in other words, back to our Christian, national and European roots. The Prime Minister stressed that Wacław Felczak was a true Central European citizen who felt very much at home “in the intermediate world between the West and the East”.

He said that the Western and Eastern dictatorships which sought to cast their shadow over Central Europe always had to reckon with the close bond between the Hungarian and Polish peoples, as this was an obstacle to their plans for oppression. They did their best to try to destroy this bond, the Prime Minister said.

Mr. Orbán stated that “the minefields which they laid, however, failed to achieve their goal” in Hungary. To a significant extent, he said, this can be attributed to Professor Felczak, who eventually became one of the participants and architects of Hungarian history. The Prime Minister said that today we bow our heads in honour of his memory and lifework.

Stanisław Kistryn, Vice-Rector of the Jagiellonian University, said that the theme of the conference was the impact of Central European history on Poland and Hungarian-Polish friendship. We must always remember people like Wacław Felczak, he stated, and thanked Prime Minister Orbán for devoting time to this.

After the conference, Mr. Orbán laid a wreath at a memorial plaque in honour of Wacław Felczak.

Wacław Felczak (1916–1993) won a Polish state scholarship to study history at Eötvös College in Budapest from 1938 to 1939. In 1940 the underground resistance sent him back to Budapest, from where he organised the Warsaw-London-Paris courier service. He was arrested by the Czechoslovak state police after having agreed to help rescue a family from communist Poland and secure their passage to the West.

Photo: Balázs Szecsődi
Photo: Balázs Szecsődi

The Polish security agencies sentenced him to death for espionage; his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was finally released in October 1956. In 1958 he resumed his career as a historian at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, where he wrote his magnum opus, “A History of Hungary”. In 1987 he returned to Eötvös College as a guest lecturer, and also gave a series of lectures at Bibó College, which was just across the road. In 1991 he became an honorary member of Fidesz.