Soldiers, officials and a crowd of merely a few hundred onlookers gathered in the rain early Sunday in front of parliament for the launch of celebrations marking St. Stephen’s Day.
Troops in ceremonial gear, carrying swords, were accompanied by troops in traditional clothing on horseback.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán did not attend the ceremony: instead, Defense Minister István Simicskó spoke as a member of the government, and President János Áder also addressed the crowd. Both politicians drew parallels between Hungary’s past struggles for independence and security, and what they described as today’s challenges.
“Once again we need to see that what can truly be ours is only what we are able again and again to defend,” said Áder, addressing the assembled troops. “Security means something different than just a decade ago. Defense means something different from just five years ago.
“We need to defend the independent, free and European country that has been shaped by the sacrifice, character and work of millions of Hungarians since St. Stephen,” he said.
Speaking of St. Stephen, the president said: “He stood by Christian Europe, so that Hungary would remain the country of Hungarians.”
Defense Minister Simicskó, meanwhile, spoke more directly about Christianity.
“We need to keep our Christian faith in this fast-changing world … there is no other path,” he said. “Only Christian faith, which we got from St. Stephen, can move us forward. We want our children and grandchildren to be able to live as Hungarians in this homeland.
“Unfortunately, it appears Brussels is losing its faith,” said the minister.