19th August 2020

Speech of President of the Republic János Áder at the Kossuth- and Széchenyi Prize award ceremony

Mr Prime Minister,
Mr Speaker,
Distinguished Award Recipients,

Every Hungarian, even children know what transpired in Pest and in Buda on 15th March 1848. Every single moment of that day, even the light drizzle has become history by today.

However, the memory of the 19th of August 1848 is not remembered so strongly by the nation. “Rise Hungarians” was an urging slogan in March, which eventually turned into hard and arduous work in the next coming weeks and months. This kind of persistent work rarely gets the kind of attention that revolutions merit.

When in fact, the country’s independence had to be defended by arms in August, therefore the members of the National Assembly were preparing to decide on the armed forces. 172 years ago, precisely on this day, arguing for an independent Hungarian defence force in a debate of great significance Kossuth reasoned that “all people with any strength they have” are obliged to make a sacrifice for their country.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a special, dramatic twist of fate that this Award Ceremony is not held on its usual day, the 15th of March. Months have passed since our previous national celebration. And we are here on the eve of the next one.

These past months are not only important because of the hardships we have experienced, but also because they give us an opportunity to think from a different perspective on what we usually celebrate on 15th of March. To not only concentrate on a single day. To look with amazement at the huge achievements of 1848-49, which was always more than fine, big proclamations, wonderful tricolour cockades or the raindrops on Kossuth’s hat. To not only see Petőfi on the steps of the National Museum, where our teachers, somewhat erroneously placed him.
To also hear Petőfi as he spoke months later. When for example on a summer day similar to this he stood on the symbolic threshold of the newly elected National Assembly and said to the future legislators:

“May your work be so great and rewarding that when later on people look on it, they stop in amazement”.

Here within the wonderful walls of the Parliament it is difficult to imagine today that the symbolic “threshold”, which Petőfi wanted those entering to stop for a moment actually led to a concert- and ballroom. Because in the summer of 1848 Hungary had a National Assembly in Pest even before it had a suitable and fitting building for it.

Whatever the setting, it was for the first time that day, that it was not the usual feudal delegates that entered through the doors, but elected representatives. That summer they held elections for the first time in Hungary, in accordance with the freshly secured self-determination and the laws adopted in April. It was this historic moment, the first National Assembly that Petőfi addressed with his enthusiastic and poetic words. May your work be so great that others stop in amazement.

We tend to forget that 1848-49 was not only an inspiring and liberating revolution, also a freedom fight later that demanded a lot of sacrifice, but also the – resolute, dedicated, toilsome – work of many others, visible today only to the eyes of historians.

Among the heroes of 1848-49 you will find all those who drafted the laws of national independence. Those who within a short time created a brand-new public administration from nothing, established a national defence force from scratch. Those who organised public education and built roads.

The story of 1848-49 is full of human achievements, which even after such a long time makes the world stop in amazement.

This story speaks about people, who did diligent, first class work. Yet, do we mention them alongside politicians and famous military leaders?

The names of officials who – performing an unprecedented feat – moved the most important state institutions within 5 days from Pest to Debrecen.

The general, who did not excel on the battlefield, but with heroic efforts organised supplies and stocks for soldiers. He was called Mihály Répásy.

The archivist, who with diligent foresight collected, safeguarded and catalogued the correspondence of Kossuth. His name was Antal Vörös.

Do we remember the surgeon, whose surgical inventions helps to speed up the recovery of wounded soldiers? His name was Ágost Schöpf-Merei.

The foundryman, who offered the capacities of his entire foundry in service of the revolution. A man called Ábrahám Ganz.

The engineer building bridges and reinforcing forts. His name was Sándor Asbóth.

Or Károly Halászy, the teacher, who gave the greatest sacrifice to set an eternal example of patriotism for his students.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the wonders of Hungarian history is that the common objective elevated common efforts to new heights. To build the new nation, to create its free life, independent daily existence. This is why the modern, civic Hungary created in 1848-49 could become the huge, common creation of the nation, worthy of respect and awe. The achievements of which ultimately survived the disastrous fate of the freedom fight.

1848-49 was always an example and a point of reference for all later generations which were ready to act. 30 years ago, when on the threshold of the long-awaited democratic elections we had to create independence and autonomous existence for the country, we also used it as guidance.


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