1789. 1871. 1989. Three years, three milestones. The first year marks the beginning of the French Revolution and the birth of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which are considered to be the dawn of the Modern Era. However, according to the one-time head of government of the British global empire Disraeli, the epoch-making significance of these events was eclipsed by the German Empire established in 1871, which was proclaimed on January 18 in Versailles, in the Hall of Mirrors of Louis XIV's, the Sun King's splendid palace, the symbolic venue of the great powership of France.
Two hundred years after the French Revolution, in 1989, there again appeared events significant from the point of view of world history. The second Hundred Years' War, which broke out in 1914, ended; the bipolar world ceased to exist, the Soviet empire collapsed; we dismantled the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. As a result of all these developments, both Germany and Europe became reunified. Our region witnessed anticommunist revolutions and movements of national rebirth. That is to say, a new era dawned and, at the same time, reunified Germany found its place again in the middle of Europe in those days, a quarter of a century ago.
The generations which experienced all these processes twenty-five years ago were aware that they were involved in events shaping history, nor did the movers and leaders of the developments of the time ignore that their deeds were making history. The young Viktor Orbán's address at the reburial ceremony of Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs on Heroes' Square, President Bush's torn-up speech cards in the raging storm on Kossuth Square, the tears of happiness of the East German refugees when they could literally take a breath of liberty upon their arrival on Austrian soil as well as the triumphant looks of young people climbing on the Berlin Wall have all become part of our unforgettable common experience. The experience of liberty and the triumph of these people have become the triumph of all of us, a shared success: the shared success of the region's nations seeking liberty.
The shapers of the events of the time have become our common heroes. The father of German unity Helmut Kohl, who is turning 85 this year, stands out from among these people, and not only due to his physical stature.
With today's conference we, Hungarians are paying tribute to the man, Helmut Kohl whom our region is grateful to for its accession to the European Union. For us, Kohl is important first and foremost as the re-unifier of Europe. We have always considered him to be the Chancellor of Europe, that is, to a certain degree our Chancellor. We have entrusted this office to him out of love and appreciation, since he has always been a friend of ours and a supporter of our cause. And we have not disappointed him, either.
I have been thinking a lot about why the historical significance of Chancellor Kohl has not been and is still not suitably appreciated in his home region, that is, Europe or the Western world, similarly to that of President Bush, called "Europe's luck" by Kohl, who has not received the acclaim merited by his achievements, either. Obviously, ordinary people do appreciate them, they do love and respect them both in their home countries and abroad. I had the great honor of being able to accompany both Chancellor Kohl and President George Bush for several days, when they visited Budapest at the turn of the millennium. They were applauded by the people wherever they went: in the streets, in restaurants and at the airport. Hungarians do not like to wait on the road side while a motorcade is passing by. Nevertheless, as soon as they learned that it was Kohl and Bush who sat in the cars, they began to clap their hands.
It is the political and media elite which to a considerable degree dominates western public discourse that refuses to appreciate and acclaim them. As a matter of fact, this elite is predominantly leftist and includes, in a not negligible proportion, people of the 1968 generation, and among them a number of former Maoists, Trotskyists and Communists. These people have not up to this day recovered from the blow that they suffered a quarter of a century ago. The reason for this being so is that it was in vain that they celebrated Gorbachev rather than Kohl and Bush, hoping that he would eventually establish Socialism with a human face with his reforms that they had longed for since the middle of the 19th century and which would have been so cool, indeed. As a matter of fact, Gorbachev was not only unable to give socialism a human face, but his perestroika and glasnost brought about the downfall of the entire Soviet model, and thank God, the Soviet empire collapsed. Instead, national sovereignty, which had been written off umpteen times by the representatives of the leftist elite, market economy that had been treated with contempt and democracy prevailed. Because history, apparently rather than being concerned about progress, took the side of Christian conservative political forces. Communism was consigned to the rubbish tip of history. The triumph of Kohl and Bush has taken away the promise of a progressive future from the western Left and deprived their representatives of their illusions. This is what they cannot forgive even today, 25 years later. It is they whom France’s Houellebecq suitably calls "the dying mummies of the belief in progress", also stating that although "they have long disappeared from a sociological point of view, due to their seclusion into the citadels of the media" they have kept some of their influence.
A quarter of a century ago our home country and our region regained their liberty and national sovereignty. We have defeated communism and have made foreign invaders withdraw so as to be able to enter the 21st century as free and democratic countries. Because we had such leaders as Helmut Kohl, who unified Germany and thereby also Europe.
According to the great Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, it is characteristic of moments shaping history that "when time has come, the message travels kilometers with the speed of electric current to reach people of various nations, regardless of where they happen to be. People who do not even know each other. The message is carried by the air and everyone it finds will immediately understand that things need to be done differently from now on!"
The message reached Helmut Kohl as well. And he immediately understood it himself. Let me quote him:
“We live in a special era. The years ahead of us will have a deep impact on history... Such eras are rare. It would be unforgivable if we acted undecidedly or powerlessly.”
We are paying tribute to Helmut Kohl, who acted, when it was possible, indeed necessary, with patient resoluteness, decidedly and cleverly. If it had not been so, he would not have made history.