Speech by Katalin Novák at the official opening of the Veszprém-Balaton 2023, European Capital of Culture Programme
Dear Mr. President, dear Zorán, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Attendees and those following us from afar,
It feels good to say we are in the European Capital of Culture. We gathered today for a dual celebration. Our hearts swell with pride, as this wonderful region of our country, i.e. Veszprém, Lake Balaton and the Bakony Hills, may come into the focus of attention for the whole of Europe.
We can be proud that we have all this to give, all this to show from what is ours. We can share with others the environment we received from our Creator, the beauties of the Pannonian landscape, the waters, the hills, the clean air and what was built by the human spirit and creative power over more than a millennium.
We are celebrating the European Capital of Culture, and at the same time we are celebrating – on the eve of the Day of Hungarian Culture – the 200th anniversary of the birth of our national prayer. As Gyula Illyés wrote about the Hungarian National Anthem the „Himnusz": We know every line of this poem by heart from when we turned six. I knew it by heart before I understood it, as one knows the confession prayer or children’s rhymes. Before it passed even a spark onto me from its strong glow, I had already poured all my heart’s fervor into it trustingly. Every time I uttered its first sound, I felt an electric shock, I immediately raised my eyes to the ceiling, I sang with a swelling throat." For 200 years, we have celebrated our victories, mourned our defeats and expressed our hopes for a better common future with Kölcsey’s poem written in a small village in the County of Szatmár, and we even bid farewell to the great Hungarians who passed away with it.
The “Himnusz” truly resonates only in the Hungarian soul. We know and feel it viscerally what it means to suffer for all sins, of the past and of the future. And we Hungarians are capable of asking for the Lord’s blessing and a time of relief together. In this desire, the nation can unite, and does unite again and again. This hand, unwillingly clasped in prayer, this common supplication expresses and creates, again and again, the togetherness of the Hungarian people that is beyond the grasp of the human mind. Dear Celebrating Audience! These are troubled times. Epidemics, natural and economic disasters, wars are trying to get in the way of life. They want to put an end to prosperity, they want to deprive us of security, they want to tear hope from us, they want to put a padlock on the mouths of muses. But life will find a way. Babies are born in shelters as well. In spite of the rising prices, there is a fierce struggle for a better life. Artists do not stop creating.
Culture is a source of life and hope. It can sooth pain, relieve fear, promote reconciliation. It reminds us that we must not just survive, but live. Abandoning culture in the most difficult times would mean leaving our fears, wounds and pains unattended, in effect it would be physical, spiritual and intellectual self-abandonment. The power of culture is well illustrated by how it can lift our spirits and fill our hearts with the joy of festivity even when the circumstances of our lives become more difficult. In fact, that is when we need it most.
As the legendary story goes, the prime minister of a country at war asked what items had been cut from the budget to defend the country, and was told that, for example, the budget for culture. He said: then what are we fighting for?
We Hungarians have continued to build steadily. We know that we must not only preserve, protect and pass on what our forefathers have bequeathed to us, but also enrich it. This is why 200 churches were built over the past decade, the House of Opera, the Museum of Fine Arts, the two Halls of Entertainment, the palaces and castles in the countryside shine in their old splendour again. This is why we have also created new, manifested in the House of Hungarian Music, the Museum of Ethnography or Csokonai Forum in Debrecen. This is why we are restoring the Castle Quarter of Buda and build community spaces in the smallest towns and villages. For us, our children, grandchildren, the Hungarians a hundred and a thousand years from now - to not just survive, but to live. All that is needed now are those to hand down and those to receive the rich inheritance.
We need the stories told by our grandparents, the games played in our mother’s laps, the books given to us by our fathers. Time and attention for children is needed. This is also culture. The way we rock our babies, raise our children, live with the adolescents and look after our grandchildren.
The cradle of culture – Hungarian and European - is also the family. The roots of European culture are also in the family. Ladies and Gentlemen, when we are celebrating Hungarian culture, it is not some isolated, unusual or unique phenomenon we are trying to present to Europe. Well, I do think we Hungarians are unique, and sometimes we want to be so even when quite unnecessary. But in the unique, we celebrate the universal, our common European culture.
This is why the President of Croatia is here with us today. He came home to visit us. The Croatian and the Hungarian cultures are intertwined with a thousand threads, and lifetime achievements like that of Miklós Zrínyi, Miroslav Krleža, Faustus Verancsics (Faustus Verantius), Manuel Štrlek or our common king Coloman the Book-Lover express the cultural wealth in Central Europe that forms the foundation for a strategic alliance beyond politics and the economy.
We are celebrating together in the knowldge that Europe needs us at least as much as we need a strong – much stronger than today – Europe of nations. We need the rest of us, the peoples and nations of the Balkans, with whom we have suffered in a community of fate for centuries. Even if we were sometimes adversaries, today we work together for mutual benefit. Hungary is fighting to ensure that they belong to our common Europe not only in spirit, culture and attitude to life, but also in legal and economic terms. Unification is not assimilation. We will continue to carry, preserve and enrich the heritage of our predecessors, enriching Europe.
The Hungarian soul has been predestined from the beginning to strike a new and unique note in the European concert. The words of the poet Mihály Babits are true for us, and as he himself said, true for the other, hidden and small peoples which have something they can give the world.
Just as in the symphony orchestra there is a place for clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, trombones and even piccolos next to the violins, double basses, violas, drums and cellos, so there is a place in Europe for the French, Italians, Scandinavians, Central Europeans, Croats and Hungarians, but also Serbs, Montenegrins, Kosovars, Northern Macedonians, Albanians and the people and culture of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well. Each nation is an independent note, a unique melody, yet the harmony can only be perfect with all of them together. Especially if we know that the conductor is not to be found in Brussels, and not even among us, but somewhere high above us.
Dear Celebrating Audience!
Veszprém, European Capital of Culture is a manifestation of the unique and of what we have in common. This is equally true for the city’s history and its present. The queens who used to reside in Veszprém brought Europe to us, and took the world of the Hungarians to other countries in Europe. Christianity, the cultural strength of the Archdiocese of Veszprém, has always been nourished by universal divine and human values. The university is part of Europe’s scientific circulation, the Petőfi Theatre, the Castle, the Community Space „Hangvilla” (tuning fork) and the Veszprém Zoo attract visitors in large numbers, and let's not forget the handball team. More than that, Veszprém does not only have a flourishing cultural life when it is European Capital of Culture, but also before and after that.
This is how we are Hungarian, European and Central-European, Christian and the custodians of universal human values, people who want to live their lives in a family, as proud residents of their town, their region, their country, showing their guests what is theirs, what is beautiful, good and true in their lives. I extend a heartfelt welcome to every well-intended person visiting Hungary, Veszprém, Lake Balaton and the Bakony Hills.
Thank you for your attention.