There is a very important aspect of the Central European mental and social character that only History can explain. From the Baltic to the Black and Adriatic seas since the sixteenth century, complex but brutal power games have been played out between those who became today’s leading European, and later world, powers.
In the first half of the second millennium, Hungary developed to become a rich, stable, and powerful European state. It managed to survive Genghis Khan’s Golden Horde, and its grass grew back green and healthy. But what more accurately characterises the first 500 years of its existence as a nation are peace, strength, stability, and significant cultural importance in medieval Europe. Along with these elements, one should also consider the level of respect that it reached on the diplomatic level across Europe.
In 1526, the Battle of Mohács against the Ottoman Turks, which lasted 45 minutes, violently pushed Hungary back into the position of a secondary, colonised, weak, and poor country. This is how the second half of our millennium began, and this is how the Hungarian people learned the humiliation wrought by the presence of strangers upon its land. This people, unlike France, England, or the United States, suffered long-term degradation. When those other great powers lost battles or even entire wars, they was little in the way of a historically long-term impact on their populations. The exception to this might be what happened to the South under Sherman and then during the Reconstruction. Even Waterloo remained as little more than the bad memory of a lost battle for the French people a century later, as they were already vigorously fighting their second major war since Napoleonic times.
To return to Hungary, following the Ottoman occupation, which lasted 150 years, it was time for the Habsburg family to wear the Holy Crown. The Turks and their minarets were gone, but in their place came a new, complete, and crushing cultural identity: the German one.
The early eighteenth century was characterised by Hungary’s first war for independence. Our freedom fighters were called Kuruc, and our loyalists Labanc. The first wore moustaches, furry hats, and baggy trousers; the second were usually clean-shaven, and wore three-pointed hats and white uniforms. It was only in 1848 that Hungary rose as one against Habsburg domination, a fight for freedom that has been celebrated every March 15 since.
Hungary’s twentieth century was also tragic, suffering the loss of 70% of its territory in the aftermath of the First World War, which amputated the country physically, economically, and demographically. The Treaty of Trianon, like the peace treaty of Versailles, was a political humiliation meant to weaken Central Europe’s countries, and almost immediately became one of the factors leading to the Second World War.
After the Second World War and its great human losses, Hungary fell under the domination of the Soviet Union and became a socialist republic. Once again, the people’s daily life included the sight of foreign uniforms patrolling the streets.
In only 26 years of the democratic experience, Hungary’s society has witnessed large groups of foreigners again entering the country. This time they are not wearing uniforms, but they are mostly healthy young men of military age. They carry backpacks, but they aren’t tourists. They don’t care about Hungary’s countryside’s beauty, Buda’s castle, or Pest’s Heroes’ Square. They only want to proceed on to Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, or England.
The recent Paris attacks have only proven that the Hungarian people are right to be concerned. If Western societies can’t or don’t want to see the connection between migration and Islam, and the connection between Islam and Islamism, it’s their right. We, however, have decided to take political action, and we will protect ourselves. Why? Because we know that real political decisions aren’t about being nice and welcoming. We know that our country has interests, and that democracy – however hypocritical it might be – provides us the tools to defend them.