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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 4:83–93.


Hungary’s Foreign Policy Dilemmas


Looking at the eleven centuries of Hungarian history in the Carpathian Basin, can one say that misfortunes inflicted upon us from above, form outside were an almost constant, or at least a decisive feature? Or is it more pertinent to point out the multitude of our own mistakes, misjudgements, often induced by false prophets? This is a question I frequently put to myself when I was still delving into the documents of our history at my desk in an alcove by the window, behind the catalogue cabinets of the old National Széchényi Library building in Múzeum körút.

When I thought of Ranke’s theory on the supremacy of foreign policy, the obvious answer seemed to be that the fate of smaller nations depends fundamentally on their outside environment, above all on the interests and wishes of the great powers. This theory certainly seems to be supported by an examination of the last two centuries: though this nation of ours was not really passive or apathetic, though it often set about overcoming the backwardness arising out of its inherited situation and resisted the great powers and alliances that bound its hand and foot, it can easily be said not merely about the ”Magyar Messiahs”, but also about the millions of ordinary Hungarians, to quote the great poet, Endre Ady, that ”They, alas, could do nothing”. Is this really the case, or just a comforting way of reassuring ourselves?

In connection with a lecture I gave at Indiana University, I discussed this subject – the untravelable road that Hungarian foreign policy had faced in the 20th century – with Aladár Szegedy-Maszák, in Washington in the summer of 1985. He was the Hungarian envoy in Washington who resigned in 1947 in order to protest at the first signs of misrule, when the non-communist Prime Minister of the country was forced into exile. Szegedy-Maszák warned against illusions that he, too, considered typical of us: let us not imagine that our tragedies are simply the work of Fate, let us not excuse ourselves lightly. Remembering the admonitions of Széchényi, I accept his advice. Let us seek the causes of the tragedies in our history in a combination of misfortune and misjudgement, above all if we accept the old-fashioned assumption – neither supported nor refuted by events – that there are lessons to be drawn from history.

As a university lecturer, I have shared my ideas on this topic with my students since 1977, and as a practicing politician I have tried, since 1990, to assist in preventing misfortune from returning, and to use foreign policy in promoting the rebirth of Hungary and its integration into the new post-communist Europe without the impediment of misjudgements.

It was not the Antall-government that first described Hungarian foreign policy as one of the most successful branches of the administration. But regardless of when and to what extent the description is true, the baneful influence of the stars on our history clearly seemed to change for the better at the end of the 1980s, when history at last gave Hungary a chance. The turn of events is especially conspicuous when compared with the previous decades, for Hungarian foreign policy in the 20th century (and Hungary’s whole history) can certainly not be called a success story. Some people have likened it to a crime story, but I do not think the comparison can be substantiated as a reproach to us. If a literary form is needed to describe the history of Hungarian foreign policy, I would prefer to call it a drama or, more specifically, a tragedy. The classical definition of tragedy is a dramatic work that portrays a deep human struggle and most frequently ends with the death of the hero. Aristotle goes on to say that the fall of a tragic hero is not brought on by his sins or wickedness, but by his decisions, his misjudgements of the situation. The drama of Hungarian history is made greater because the debacles were so often preceded by major successes. Before the fatal Battle of Mohács against the Ottoman Empire in 1526, there had been the glorious reign of the 15th century King Matthias. Before the capitulation to the Habsburg-Russian allied forces at Világos in 1849, there had been a victorious spring campaign liberating the whole country from foreign invaders. Before the collapse at the end of the Great War, the Hungarians had been an increasingly influential factor in an economically and culturally prosperous great power. Prior to the Hungarian Holocaust, in March 1944, when Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Hungary and brought about the deportations, the reign of mob terror and the destruction of the country by war, ending in Soviet occupation in 1945, Hungary between 1938 and 1941 saw the recovery of a third of the territories she had lost under the 1920 Peace Treaty, and furthermore had just about managed to prove to the world her fidelity to her humanist traditions by giving refuge to almost a million Jews, to Poles and also to POWs escaping from Germany, in the midst of an inhuman Hitlerite world. Similarly, the Soviet intervention on November 4, 1956 occurred at a time when the majority of the nation already believed that a free, democratic Hungary had been born again. The Hungarian public was always caught unaware by its defeats, and the greater the height from which it fell, the greater the paralysis it suffered by the fall.

Ever since the adoption of Christianity, the Hungarians have followed a Western alignment, in the knowledge that this is the only path to survival and progress. Within this alignment, they were able and obliged to seek a balance, initially within the triangle of the Eastern and Western Empires and the Papacy, and later on the perimeter of the ambitions of the European great powers, and at times on the line of intersection between them. Independently of the extent to which the sympathy and respect of the Hungarians for particular European peoples was requited, regardless of the fact that a counterweight or support had to be sought from time to time in the South or the East, Hungarian politicians who thought in terms of the nation’s prospects never believed that ex Oriente lux.

There were choices open to Hungarian foreign policy primarily in the first part of the period stretching from 1849 to 1920, from the surrender at Világos to the Peace Treaty of Trianon. The argument that the Compromise of 1867 was responsible for the collapse taking place fifty years later is scarcely defensible. Without partners and allies, and turned by the afflictions of history into a minority in the country named after them, the Hungarians did not have much chance of retaining their historical territory in whole. The alternatives in theory were a confederation with the neighbouring small nations – the national minorities of Hungary and their relatives beyond the borders – or a compromise with the Habsburg Empire, but neither the international situation nor the behaviour of our neighbours left them a real choice. Where I see the responsibility of the Hungarians lie is in the fact that they made no attempts between 1859 and 1867, and still more when they had attained a position of power after 1867, to forge a multilingual, multicultural Hungaria and, simultaneously, to arrive at a sincere, generous reconciliation with the other Danubian peoples. Since there are few similar instances in world history, it merits special attention that such reconciliation was urged by László Teleki in 1849 and by Kossuth in exile. The 1868 Law on Minorities pointed in the same direction, but Eötvös did not receive sufficient support from the political public to carry it out faithfully in practice, and Lajos Mocsáry himself felt that he was a rare exception to be working along these lines. In the same context, the governments after the 1867 Compromise were unable and unwilling to keep the country plainly on the liberal, enlightened and democratic political course which had gained attention and admiration from most of the world in 1849.

The oft-quoted argument that the Hungarians had no say in the foreign policy worked out at the Ballhausplatz in Vienna (or the Hofburg, i.e. is by the sovereign) is false and too convenient. The Hungarian Prime Minister had a statutory right to influence the conduct of foreign affairs. The common foreign minister had to report regularly on his activities to the delegations of the Parliaments, and the Hungarians, through their aristocracy, were strongly represented on the diplomatic staff. Nor is it worth pleading that the people themselves had no say in foreign policy, as the same could be said of practically every state at the time, and there is precious little sign in the incidentally quite free press of the day that Hungarian society was notably opposed to the common foreign policy of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Moreover, the rare alternative proposals put forward by the opposition, the Independence Party, hardly offered a better course, and their rhetoric turned the neighbouring peoples even more firmly against the Hungarians.

Although it was Gyula Andrássy, a Hungarian, who concluded the Dual Alliance with Germany, his real purpose was to create a “liberal alliance” with the West (England and France) against the Russian autocracy which had suppressed Polish, Hungarian and Romanian liberty. However, this was frustrated in 1878 and 1884 by the conservative forces in Austria. By the end of the century France was committed to supporting Russia, and England had given up trying to keep its Russian rival out of the Balkans and the Straits. But all Hungarians considered it advantageous when the Triple Alliance was formed with the addition of liberal Italy, the country which had granted Kossuth a home and long remained grateful for the significant Hungarian assistance given to her struggle for unification. Indeed, the Triple Alliance secured for the Hungarians a good thirty years of peace and, thereby, the chance of economic prosperity.

From the point of view of Hungarian foreign policy interests, which it was certainly possible to assert within the frames of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in the 20th century, the trouble was caused not by the Dual and Triple Alliance, but by the Anglo-German discord that broke out at the beginning of the century and the consequent division of Europe into two blocs of allies. Despite the conscious Anglophilia of the Hungarian political elite (ever so sensitive to foreign affairs) and the spontaneous Francophilia of the intellectual elite, Hungary simply had no chance of either staying out of the conflict that was brewing or taking the side of the Entente. This predicament was termed “manifest destiny” by one wise observer, Esmé Howard, the British Consul-General in Budapest. The essence of the Western messages coming to Budapest in various forms was that the Monarchy should stay together, that it should stick by the German alliance but try to curb Germany’s ambitions. Apart from that, the Hungarians were expected to remain the most stable part of the Monarchy, act as a counterweight to the “Cis-Leithanian”, i.e. Austrian, conservative and ultramontane trends, and reach agreement with Hungary’s non-Hungarian minorities without sacrificing the country’s integrity.

It would take a long line of argument, and so I will merely state the proposition, that all the great powers bear responsibility, to differing degrees, for the outbreak of the First World War, and that the most the Hungarian government could have done would have been to veto the declaration of war.

During the war, or at least during its initial stage, all the belligerents directed their resources and diplomacy at attaining victory, and there were no essential differences between parties in this respect. As for the failure of the efforts to conclude a separate peace, which gained momentum when Emperor-King Charles ascended to the throne, it cannot be blamed either on the sovereign or on the Hungarians. Nor was it a result of Hungarian foreign or domestic policy that Hungary featured in the Entente’s peace plans simply as spoils to be thrown to the lesser allies or the prospective member-states of the grand alliance against Germany planned for the post-war period.

In the autumn of 1918 and in 1919, Hungary’s foreign policy options were purely theoretical and practically non-existing. To a decisive extent it can be ascribed to the short-term political interests of the victors that the Western great powers, in the spring of 1918, abandoned their age-old doctrine of the need for a great power in Central Europe, offering the peoples living there the chance of independence, and some of them the chance of joining the winning side. It can be described as a misfortune that no such choice was open to the Hungarians, and still more that, despite the many arguments in favour of establishing a multinational democratic federation in Central Europe, the concept of a “United States of the Danube”, devised by Oszkár Jászi, including the idea of a Swiss type Hungary formed out of autonomous cantons, in the event excited very little response from our neighbours, who had been given a chance of making easy territorial conquests. So the birthday of national independence in Central Europe also became the date on which the internecine quarrels of the peoples living there started to become very serious.

It was a misjudgement on Hungary’s part or, rather, a fatuous illusion, to imagine that President Wilson’s entry onto the international stage would replace power politics with the rule of law and justice. That error was committed by Mihály Károlyi, a well-intentioned man, but inferior in his ideas and talents to the contemporary Hungarian political establishment, and quite unsuited to playing the particularly difficult role of leader in one of the most critical periods of the history of Hungary. He wanted to prove his good intentions by refraining for months from using military force to try and block the patent intentions of the neighbouring states to make conquests. It may be that the country, exhausted after four and a half years of war, and weak in terms of social cohesion (in the first place due to etatism), really had no strength to do so at the very time when the state was collapsing. But the policy of passive protest was a total failure against the policy of fait accompli pursued by the voracious neighbours. The rude awakening came too late. It was largely despair that led to the proclamation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic and an Eastern alignment that proved even more illusory than the previous hopes placed on the West. It had no chance either militarily or politically, but it was a gift to the nationalism of the neighbouring countries and turned the victorious great powers even more against the Hungarians. Yet it is not true to say that the Treaty of Trianon was a punishment inflicted on Hungary for the experiment with Bolshevism. The borders would have been drawn even more disadvantageously if the peace conference had fulfilled the maximum demands of the neighbouring countries.

The three years between 1918 and 1921 were a period of misfortune and of misjudgement, of successive humiliations and of blunders and extremist sentiments that reinforced each other. It is seemingly inevitable that the Hungarians, really struggling “against a whole world” (as Károlyi put it), should not have been dealt even one winning card. The occupation, followed by the hopeless “peace talks” in Paris, were compounded by a dictated peace. In which Hungary lost two thirds of her territory, the regions which were emotionally and economically most important. Even after the treaty was signed, the constant outside intervention persisted, extending even to interference in the form of government. The peace gave rise to the irredentist foreign policy of the implacable Hungarians, but Trianon had tragic consequences not only for the losers, but also for the winners, bringing them misfortune as well, as later events showed.

So was there an alternative, after the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, to a programme of promoting peaceful territorial revision? In view of the indisputable fact that the borders were drawn with extreme partiality and that highly intolerant policies were pursued against Hungarian minorities of three and a half million, it must be apparent that it would scarcely have been conceivable for any Hungarian Parliament to support a government which proclaimed any other programme. But if the borders had been drawn more fairly and a mutually tolerant policy had been pursued towards the minorities that inevitably would have remained on either side of the borders, there might then have been a good chance of a reconciliation of the kind reached, for instance, in this century by the peoples of Scandinavia, who have likewise clashed with each other several times in their history.

However disillusioned Hungarian society was after 1920 with the victorious powers (all of which they had learnt to identify as supporters of the cause of Hungarian liberty in and after 1849), Hungary’s foreign policy, when it came to its senses, looked to the West once again. An attempt was made in 1920 to persuade France to take a leading, organizing role in Central Europe and build this upon Hungary, which was centrally placed strategically as well. Admiral Horthy, who in 1920 was elected Regent, would have liked both on political and sentimental grounds, to rest the new Hungarian foreign policy on the great maritime powers. Prime Minister Bethlen, as a realist, knew this was not directly possible, but through the League of Nations he managed to stabilize the economy by raising substantial Western loans. His sole intention with the Italian alignment, established in 1927, was to break out of the isolation and find a path towards France and Britain. Only the most desperate adventurers in the 1920s thought there should be an alliance with the extremist, nationalist circles in Europe, primarily in Germany, in order to pursue a revanchist policy.

The generation of Hungarian diplomats raised in the school of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy perhaps tended to look down on the diplomacy of the Little Entente, but they did not underestimate it. They were aware of the real power relations and the sixteen-fold military supremacy on the other side, and they sought a way of escaping from the chains that bound Hungary. This led first of all to feeble isolated attempts to reach agreement with the Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, Benes, and the Romanian King Ferdinand, and after Horthy’s speech at Mohács in 1926, to a rapprochement with Yugoslavia. In the early 1930s it was mainly Hungarian business and the friendship society run by Elemér Hantos that attempted to lessen the political tensions with our neighbours through closer economic cooperation and some kind of customs union.

The consequences of the peace settlement based on blind nationalism proved more serious than the most pessimistic forecasters could have predicted. As Hugh Seton-Watson wrote, “In each of the new states there prevailed a narrow official nationalism”, and the oppressive policy pursued against the national, religious and political minorities led to internal and external tensions and conflicts. “This state of generalized and mutual hostility provided opportunities for any great power intent on disturbing the peace.” Instead of the new Central European countries, which Hinsley, the Cambridge professor, termed “small, unstable caricatures of modern states”, waking up to their community of interests, they chased after great-power support for their endeavours to sustain or overthrow the new order. After two decades of existence, the new Central Europe, created by British and American initiatives, and then by the ideas and decision of the French, collapsed as a consequence of the brutal intervention by Nazi Germany and abandonment by its Western patrons.

Not even under the shadow of a German expansion that threatened all the peoples of Central Europe could Hungary come to any material agreement with the Little Entente, as the governments of the neighbouring countries were unwilling to fulfil Hungary’s one condition of substance: an end to the policy of discrimination against the Hungarian minorities. The agreement reached at Bled in August 1938 contained too little and came too late. Nonetheless, it played a part in the still insufficiently appreciated gesture by Horthy and his Foreign Minister Kánya, when they firmly rejected Hitler’s proposal that Hungary should attack Czechoslovakia. The last attempts to save Central Europe included the “horizontal” Warsaw-Budapest-Belgrade-Rome axis, suggested at the end of 1937. Although this was not specifically anti-German it was designed to halt the expansion of both German and Soviet influence. Hungarian diplomatic attempts at the end of the 1930s received no kind of assistance whatever from the Western democracies. In fact these democracies gave no real support even to their own allies, Poland and the Little Entente. The explanation for this was not some kind of cynicism or hypocrisy, but the so-called Realpolitik, resulting from their limited resources and lack of direct interests in Central Europe. All that compelled Britain and France to pursue a policy of appeasing Hitler and refraining even from condemning him verbally, despite all the sincere sentiments of outrage over his actions.

I will refrain here from dealing with the foreign policy of the Teleki government and the foreign-policy attempts made by Hungary during the Second World War. The subject is intricate, it requires much space. (The historian György Ránki, during the last few years of his life, produced some truly lasting work on this subject, and I would gladly see in print his American lectures, which aroused no little argument.) It can no longer be disputed that Hungary really was an unwilling ally. The real conundrum faced by Hungarian foreign policy in this tragic period was what George Kennan described as the oldest and toughest dilemma facing mankind: How far is it permissible to connive with evil in order to mitigate its harmful effects? When must it be opposed, even if that means the strongest resisters will be weakened or even annihilated in the process?

The absence of options facing Hungarian foreign policy after 1945 was not initially apparent, but it was quite plain by 1947. The line of domestic and foreign policy that the Hungarian nation wished to pursue was perfectly clear from the results of the 1945 general elections. Regrettably it proved impossible even to adopt a Finnish type of stance that involved a conscious limitation of sovereignty and far-reaching regard for Soviet endeavours in order to salvage broad domestic and more limited foreign political room for manoeuvre.

When I delivered a lecture at Indiana University in 1985, entitled “The Untravelable Road”, I ended my line of argument on the one hand by saying that the absence of options was no excuse either for omitting to seize the faint opportunities or for the grave mistakes clearly committed in domestic policy, whose evasion or redress would certainly have strengthened the country and at least improved our reputation abroad. My other concluding remark was that everyone, particularly the new generation that would succeed us, should be prepared for a period when Hungary would again have a chance to pursue an active foreign policy and be free to weigh the alternatives. That chance came sooner than anyone imagined.

The government programme, elaborated after the free elections of 1990, outlined the main foreign-policy objectives of a democratic Hungary: resumption of relations with the Western democracies and development of a relationship of trust with them, involvement in the institutions of European integration, and a negotiated termination of the Warsaw Pact, or if that could not be accomplished, a unilateral withdrawal from it by Hungary. We declared a policy of extending the hand of friendship to our neighbours, in the hope that we could establish amicable cooperation with all of them on the basis of the common suffering under the dictatorships, the common acceptance of the Western system of values, and the obvious community of interests.

It can hardly be disputed that my government’s achievements in foreign policy – in the knowledge that it had the agreement and support of the entire nation – were greater and faster than anyone at home or abroad could have imagined in the spring of 1990. Apart from our decisions based upon our interests, the course of history, with the internal erosion and subsequent collapse of the Soviet system, has been of great assistance in this. But I do not think my job now is to sum up our achievements. That can await the election campaign or, rather, the historians.

I do not think that Hungarian foreign policy has to weigh up any kind of choices on basic issues in the radically new historical situation. But there are plenty of dilemmas and questions to decide.

Luckily we need not face earlier dilemmas such as whether to follow a German, British, French, or possibly American, alignment. NATO and the European Communities continue to bind together the Western world, which faces a new assignment since the end of the Soviet threat: to extend the frontiers of freedom, democracy and prosperity eastward, unless it wants to remain a kind of Neo-Carolingian Empire, leaving the greater part of Eurasia to its fate.

Nor do we need to choose between the European Communities and the United States, because the Atlantic concept has also survived the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hungary was the first country in the region to come out in favour of it, and it did so in the most decided way. The future Prime Minister, József Antall, while still in opposition in January 1990, surprised the Americans themselves. After all the truculence from the Western Europeans, there came such determined statements on the subject from the potential leader of a country that was only just freeing itself from communism. From the summer of 1990 onwards, Poland also moved steadily in the same direction, followed by Czecho-Slovakia. This is what led up to the development of cooperation among the Visegrád Group, not outside encouragement of some kind.

Nor is it a problem for us to decide which of our neighbours to make friends with or to what extent. We are open to all who reciprocate, and believe in regional cooperation, European integration, the steady dismantling of frontiers, and the democratic system of values.

There is no question, however, of making friends over the heads of the Hungarian minorities of three and a half million, let alone at their expense. Nowadays it can hardly be considered an antiquated idea any more to view the settlement of the situation of the minority ethnic groups as one of the key questions of European stability. Hungary’s special attention to this issue might have seemed like a Hungarian obsession until the recent past, but the Yugoslav crisis and the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Trans-Dniester region have shown the question is deadly earnest. This was expressed very clearly by József Eötvös in his Dominant Ideas in the Nineteenth Century (1853) and in another work, written in 1865, where he points out that “the national-minority movement is not the consequence of artificially induced agitation or a battle against theoretical principles or imagined insults, but a needful outcome of our whole development so far... Such a movement cannot be suppressed by force, nor can it be assuaged by making concessions, but only by satisfying the needs for which it has emerged.”

So this policy is not dictated by selfishness, still less by ulterior motives, and not simply by the responsibility felt (and laid down in our Constitution) for our fellow Hungarians divided from us by our borders. The existence of peaceful and harmonious cohabitation among the peoples living side by side, overlapping and mixed with one another, or in ethnic enclaves, throughout the Central and Eastern half of Europe, is one of the basic requisites for European peace and security. In the light of this, there can be no doubt that we must try to explain to the world by every means at our disposal, and above all convince our European partners, that the demands of the minorities and individual ethnic groups to organize, govern and administer themselves is not a destabilizing factor at all, but a way of reducing tensions and preventing explosions. Oszkár Jászi’s thesis that ”the national-minority question is democracy’s centre of gravity” remains valid today, but this is not primarily our dilemma, but our neighbours’. Ours is merely to decide how to promote a situation in which the minorities no longer see flight from their native land as their only way out. Since ethnically homogeneous states could only be created in this part of Europe only by forcible deportation and re-settlement or mass murder, there is no other choice but to create the conditions and institutions that can secure the future of all Central and Eastern European peoples, even those who live in ethnic enclaves or as dispersed communities. This entails reviving in a modernized form the international mechanism already established once in 1919 to guarantee this. That is the only means of achieving lasting peace and stability in the new Europe. Even after the tragic ethnic conflicts of the recent past, it remains a hard task to gain international acceptance for this argument, but not an insoluble one, so long as all Hungarian citizens, the Hungarian communities living in Western democratic societies, and as many politicians and citizens as possible, cooperate on it with the requisite sense of responsibility and recognition of the sensitivities of others.

So the real question is not which of our neighbours we conclude agreements with or when we do so, nor what form we should use to express the undertakings we made in the 1947 peace treaty, the Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter. It concerns when and which of our neighbours recognize the need to abandon the policy of oppressing and applying petty restrictions on Hungarian and non-Hungarian minorities and of trying to create homogeneous nation-states (which is a kind of “ethnic cleansing”), because it contravenes the spirit and letter of European integration and constitutional statehood, and because they cannot win by such a policy in the long term, so that it basically conflicts with their own national interests as well.

Since integration into Europe is the fundamental objective of Hungarian foreign policy, it determines our relations with the various European groupings. Our entry into the European Union will resolve the question of our relations with NATO and the West European Union. In fact the closest relations with the latter two organizations could develop before Hungary gains full EU membership. I do not view either the Visegrád grouping or the Central European Initiative as an alternative to such integration. They are not rivals to each other; both are complementary to the building up of our relations with the European Union. I also consider as initiatives promoting European integration such cooperation between border regions as the Alps-Adriatic grouping, or the Carpathian Euro-Region just formed through local initiative. The latter has drawn some critical reactions from certain countries, but in my view for exclusively domestic reasons.

There is, however, a genuine dilemma about what Hungary can do to prevent the severing of the eastern half of Europe, to stop new economic, human-rights and possibly political dividing line developing, or becoming more pronounced east of our borders, which would also segregate certain Hungarian minorities not only from us, but from European integration. The key to averting this danger is not in our hands, but with our opinions, advice and actions we can be of assistance to the West in developing the appropriate response.

There is no question about the road Hungarian foreign policy should take. It is of course the Hungarian road, “the famed road of Verecke” (Ady) that led from our ancestral home to the Western Empire and the Bible, the road that took our students to the universities of Oxford, Paris and Italy and brought here the Renaissance, Humanism, the Reformation, Enlightenment, and Liberalism – all the stems that bore fruit having a special flavour when grafted onto the Hungarian tree. On this road as the novelist Sándor Márai puts it, “the power of intellect and solidarity is mightier than the terror of instincts”. For anyone in the region to stray onto another road evokes the danger of the Bosnian atrocities being repeated. On this road we are accompanied by all Hungarians, by all who follow Széchenyi, Kossuth, Deák, Eötvös, the Telekis, and the Tiszas and Bethlen as well, and by all who follow Bibó and the many ordinary Hungarians.

No alignment dilemmas face Hungarian foreign policy today. The question is simply what means we can use to achieve our objectives, how to overcome or avoid the traps laid by opponents, rivals, the narrow-minded, and the obstacles erected by our own defeatism and impatience. It looks as if the present one will be a difficult year, and there are further years of human trials ahead of us, but our great men of the past urge us to act “steadfastly”, and, as Endre Ady wrote:

Brace yourself,

Fate, Life and Time are free,

The richest now is he who waits, who bides his time.

To know when and how long to bide one’s time and when to act is the eternal dilemma of politics, and whether we can respond to it well depends on whether the remaining decade of this century and the new millennium before us will bring happier times for us and our descendants.


* Read as the annual “József Eötvös Memorial Lecture” at the Europa Institut Budapest in 1993.