Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s eulogy at the funeral of Kossuth and Jászai Prize-winning director and theatre manager Imre Kerényi
31 August 2018, Budapest

Bereaved Family, Dear Friends,

The curtain has come down. We give thanks for the privilege of having witnessed a unique and unrepeatable performance, given to us by the life of an extraordinary artist and exemplary patriot. We have come here to pay tribute to our brother-in-arms, friend, colleague and teacher: Imre Kerényi. We see him before us: the director, the teacher, the editor, the untiring warrior for Hungarian culture; running up flights of stairs two steps at a time, his jacket flung over his shoulder. He was always at full speed, always with something to do: to teach the finer points of his profession; to create an uncompromising Hungarian theatre; to convey our culture to every Hungarian, both within and beyond our borders.

Fellow Mourners,

If you were born Hungarian, you belong to a unique breed – indeed, a special one. You speak such a language, you have such a turn of mind, and you lead your life according to the truths and laws of such a way of thinking – and have done in the same place now for a thousand years – which is typical of only us. The Hungarian is exceptional, but as it is a rare member of the human species, it is also inevitably endangered. Therefore if you were born Hungarian, you have duties: more duties than are common for the sons and daughters of nations with tens or hundreds of millions of members. Not everyone sees, understands or accepts the responsibility – this specifically Hungarian type of responsibility. Our friend was one of the few who not only saw it, and not only proclaimed that what keeps us Hungarian is our culture, but who also developed this culture. Imre Kerényi was a Christian Hungarian man, and he clearly knew what duties of honour that involves. Those duties did not weigh him down, and they did not trouble him with anxiety; he was not stamped by any affectation of exaggerated Christian patriotism or by patriotic melancholy; he was not combative, and had no chip on his shoulder. In truth he was grateful for the special responsibility borne by the Hungarian people. He knew that without this burden he would be tormented by the unbearable lightness of being: the lightness that torments millions of people here in Europe, who do not know why their lives feel so weightless – and therefore so insignificant.

Fellow Mourners,

In this part of Europe men know that they are in this world to do something with their lives: something great; something greater and more important than us and our personal lives. There are some in whom this inborn knowledge fades over time, and who feel that in a lifetime it is a fine enough achievement if they survive and give a respectable account of themselves in everyday life: if they can hold their heads high in front of their wives, children, friends and colleagues. And we all know that this is indeed a solid achievement, and not to be underrated: a job well done. And there are others – like my friend Imre Kerényi – in whose souls a nagging feeling remains, who hear troubling voices, and whose hearts beat irregularly every now and then, reminding them that they have still not turned their lives over to the great mission awaiting them, the mission they have been singled out for. There may be success, standing ovations in the theatre, professional recognition, Kossuth Prizes and colleagues’ sincere enthusiasm. There may be money and a comfortable lifestyle. For such a person all this will count for naught, because they know that at the end of the day they cannot avoid their destiny. And then one day fate catches up with them, the moment comes when they are shown their personal mission – the mission that can be accomplished by no one else. At such a time the path of life straightens out: bends, zig-zags and blind alleys disappear, and there is only a straight path ahead; a straight but difficult path which one steps onto now, but which can take one to the unknown regions of eternity. And it will take one there – provided that one perseveres, continues on that path, carries on, is not diverted by self-pity, has enough stamina, and does not run out of inner strength. So the moment comes, the calling, and one enters the priesthood, joins the army or becomes a doctor. But above all, one can become a politician – or at least enter the political sphere, where one can be all three: priest, soldier and doctor. One can serve in three ways at once: show a higher horizon; fight for your own kind; and help those in need.

Shocking defeats often bring about life-changing moments. For many of us this was the case in 2002, when – after four beautiful, creative and uplifting years – Hungarians returned to power who urged the country to “dare to be small”. That was when Imre Kerényi’s destiny caught up with him, that was when the outlines of his mission appeared, and that was when the path opened up ahead of him. This is how he came to the conclusion that, with an entire career of theatrical work behind him, he would enter the arena of Hungarian public life and – with his characteristic conscientiousness and staying power – become a spiritual leader of the newly-formed “civic circles”. This is how I became his brother-in-arms, and he mine. We fought together through good times and bad, come rain or shine, under the flags of victors and vanquished. And this is why here and now we mourn with the pain with which only brothers-in-arms can mourn one another. You were a good fighter. You could fight like no one else. You knew that a section of the theatrical profession would reject you. You knew that they would twist the meaning of your every word. You knew that you would be a target for unfair attacks. You endured those attacks with a straight back, and with your characteristic sense of humour. Whatever you turned your hand to radiated optimism, discipline, faith and the confidence of expertise. A thousand times you told us that it is not enough to just be talented: you must also be a good person. And young people must also be taught this: precision, discipline, self-awareness. You taught us that we need people who understand that a performance, a book, an article – and indeed a country – is only worth anything and only fulfils its goal if its creators invest their entire personalities in it, proudly declaring, with full responsibility, that this text, this scene, this volume, this flag, this emblem is “me”. You also believed that – in its essence – a Hungarian film, theatrical production, book or work of art serves to deepen our patriotism, and to make us better, truer and wiser Hungarians. You knew that this is the only way that the country can retain the Hungarian realm for which you fought and worked – even during your final illness. You, too, were a member of that open conspiracy seeking to return things to how they were in the old days, so that once more the name of Hungary will inspire wonder.

Dear Friend,

We are so close to that goal. I thought that not only would we fight together, but that we would reach our destination together. We shall reach it; there is no doubt in our minds about that, as there was none in yours. We will reach it without you – but it will not be the same.

Fellow Mourners,

Imre Kerényi was a Christian Hungarian man who found the path to the service of his God, his country and his family. Let us rejoice in the fact that he found the key to a happy life. Let us rejoice that our friend was such a lucky man.


Rest in peace.