“The demons we defeated seventy years ago have come back to life. Together we must take up the fight against racist, extremist views.” – Martin Schulz
European Parliament president Martin Schulz visited Hungary on April 13. Although state media covered his meetings with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and President of Parliament László Kövér, it offered little, if any, coverage of his visit to the southern university town of Szeged that afternoon.
Fortunately, local news portal szegedma.hu (Szeged today) published an excellent article containing the bulk of Schulz’s speech, as well as that of his host, Mayor László Botka.
The reason for state media’s attitude may be that Botka is one of the few Hungarian Socialist Party politicians to be (re)elected mayor in municipal elections last year.
Another reason may be that the EP President used the occasion of his visit to give a speech in which he accused “populist politicians” of “gambling with the future of our children” and warned that “the demons we defeated seventy years ago have come back to life. Together we must take up the fight against racist, extremist views.”
Echoing the agenda of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Budapest in February, Schulz met with the president of Szeged’s Jewish community and university students before meeting city leaders.
EP President Martin Schulz flanked by MSZP chairman József Tobiás (left) and László Botka (right)
Symbols of progressive, social democratic values
Schulz was received by Mayor Botka in front of the city hall. After a short EU flag-raising ceremony, they proceeded to the main chamber of the city hall. There Botka delivered a speech welcoming the EP president, who he said “represents progressive European and Social Democratic thought,” values for which “Szeged has become a symbol” in Hungary, The mayor said Szeged was always the “land of tolerance and peace” where Hungarians, Serbs, Romanians and Germans lived together in peace. “Freedom was always important here, and Szeged always did everything in order to preserve its free status,” said Botka.
The mayor pointed out that Szeged would not have been rebuilt after the devastating flood of 1879 had it not been for financial assistance received from other European states. The city’s survival is a symbol of European solidarity, explained the mayor. He said the citizens of Szeged “are not subordinate but European, Hungarian, thinking citizens, that cannot be led around by the nose. The do not tolerate tyranny which is violent and controlling. This is the modern European city to which Martin Schulz has arrived.”
Pointing out that Szeged had the EU to thank for some EUR 1.3 billion of investment in local projects, he assured the EP president that for the people of Szeged “Europe is not merely an economic union but a symbol of our home and our community of values—the symbol of a foundation that can be built not merely with money but with productive thinking, the desire to create, and with constructive criticism.”
Without mentioning Prime Minister Viktor Orbán by name, Botka proceeded to criticize the anti-Western rhetoric or the second and third Orbán governments.
“Whoever speaks of a Europe whose time is up and has met its fate, and awaits change from the eastern winds, who feels himself a stranger in Europe but at home in Kazakhstan, is seriously mistaken. We know that . . our Hungarianness can only be interpreted with our Europeanness,” concluded the mayor.
A community of values
Schulz then proceeded to deliver the following speech as reported in Hungarian by szegedma.hu.
“It is a great joy and honor to be with you today in Szeged. I come from western Germany where I was the mayor of a city of 40,000. But my city was near the border of two other countries. I grew up next to the Belgian-Holland border where I every day experienced the site of closed level-crossing gates. Long lines formed before them every weekend when people wanted to see their families and loved ones. Who grows up near such a border knows what it means to open gates. That is the real freedom.”
Taking peace and prosperity for granted
The EP President said the European community had developed considerably over the past few decades.
“Together we accomplished a lot. After two world wars we succeeded in building a kind of immunity system between countries. Since the unification of the continent important economic centers have grown up in areas that were in ruins after the war. The people rid themselves of dictatorship and built democracy. Together all of us could live in democracy in peace and solidarity.”
He emphasized that Europe became a community of values. However, he warned against “taking for granted” all that had been accomplished to date, and pointed out that eurosceptic voices “demanding re-nationalizaiton” were on the rise.
United in diversity
“Nationalist populism claims that if if we return to the imagined idyll of the national state, we can solve the problems. I am not at all arguing for the elimination of the nation-state. This is the people’s home, they feel themselves at home there, and this gives us identity, linguistic diversity, economic culture, literature, music and gastronomical values. Diversity is not a bad thing but rather a part of our wealth that we should protect.”
Schulz said the European Parliament did not need a super European state, but rather strong regions as no one country is able to solve the problems of the modern age on its own. He said “strong and legitimate” European institutions were needed to handle issues such as climate change and immigration. He pointed out that by 2050 Europe will contain only 5 percent of the world’s population, and that China alone can handle a population three times that of all of Europe.
“Who would believe that the Member States would be better off arguing for their rights on their own? Neither the US, nor India, nor China will deal with individual states as equals. We become the playground of other powers and interest groups if the countries do not stand together. This is not a theoretical argument. We are talking about how we want to protect our societies and maintain our diversity in the 21st century.”
Schultz warned that this could only be accomplished if EU member states banded together.
“Those populists who are singing the anthem of renationalization are gambling away the future of our children. Either every country loses on its own or we will together win as Europeans. Today the old demons that we thought we had banished are once again bearing their teeth at us. The terrorist attacks in Paris were a barbaric attack against our freedom. Now we must close ranks against fear and we must take up the fight against uncertainty.”
When good men do nothing, evil triumphs
He mentioned that he had visited the Szeged synogogue, the second-largest in Hungary after Budapest’s Dohany street synagogue visited by Chancellor Merkel in February. He said that even now he found it “shameful” and “shocking” that Germany was among nations that forced Hungary’s Jews into ghettos and destroyed them.
He said there is nothing more painful than the fact that 70 years after the world war “Jews must again ask whether they have to be afraid when going to a Jewish school, a Jewish cemetery.”
He called painful the fact that there are those in the European Parliament who deny the proven facts of the Holocaust and question the loss of life. The EP president called “extraordinary” the fact that “70 years after the war people are taking to the streets with Hitler’s ideology and propaganda, and with cheap slogans persecute minorities for the sake of winning votes.
“If there are such members of the European Parliament protecting the ideology of mass murderers, it is shameful. It is not believable that the masses are behind the agitators. We must take action against persecution and hatred.”
Quoting the English philosopher Edmund Burke, the EP president said that “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” We have a collective responsibility to take action against every form of racism.”
Extremism rooted in unemployment
Schulz believes extremist views always strengthen during times of crisis, and that reducing unemployment is a weapon against radicalism and racism. Szegedma.hu reports that Schulz “supported his statement with alarming numbers.”
In the European Union countries there are 27 million unemployed people. One in four between the ages of 15 an 24 have no workplace. There are countries in the EU where unemployment approaches 50 percent. There the danger exists that the children will belong to a lost generation. In the interest of overcoming this, EU experts are developing an investment plan whose goal is to create a better life for everyone, and not just some affluent members.
The EP President called “investment in knowledge” and “creation of excellent universities throughout Europe” the number one priority.
“We have created in Europe a society whose starting point is the human being. If society protects human rights but also demands that individuals contribute to society, then this can be successful. Let us be equal in the eyes of the law and let us form a society of mutual respect. That is the society that I wish for our children.”
After the speech Schulz took questions. One person was curious as to what could be done to combat extremist views among youth. Schulz said that in many Member States the fact that governments were not always willing to spend money on youth caused the latter to “rightfully lose its confidence in the state.” Schultz believes extremist views arise from unemployment.
In response to whether he would build a soccer stadium next to his home as Prime Minister Viktor Orban did in his home town of Felcsút, the EP president responded that a friend of his lives next to a stadium not far from his house, and he always complains about drunk fans vomiting in his yard.
Strengthening ties between the EP and national parliaments
Prior to traveling to Szeged, Schulz met with Orbán and Parliamentary Speaker László Kövér,
According to a statement issued by the head of the parliamentary press office, both Schulz and Kövér stressed the good relationship that exists between the European and Hungarian parliaments, and said they agreed on the importance of “strengthening the relationship between the EP and national parliaments through the maintenance of an institutional structure that enables both nation-states and the European decision makers to contribute to the creation of a strong Europe.”
Kövér said that over the course of the discussion they discussed political developments in Hungary and tasks before the European Union. He said that in spite of all the debates of the past and the future, it was in everyone’s interest for Europe to become stronger, adding that this could only be built on strong nation-states.
Schulz said it was important for the national parliaments to be given an important role in the European Parliament. He pointed out that half of the EU regulations adopted by the EP were initiated by Member States, and that both parties were interested in strengthening their cooperation “in the interest of improving their effectiveness.”