Speech delivered at the Inauguration Ceremony of the 2012 Wallenberg Year (National Museum, 17 January 2012)
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a special privilege for me to inaugurate the Wallenberg Year in commemoration of the Swedish saviour diplomat. This day marks the beginning of a series of events in Hungary and Sweden throughout the Memorial Year, organised by the two countries in honour of a person whose memory is one of the most important symbolic ties between the two nations. In honour of a Swedish diplomat, who rescued tens of thousands of our Jewish compatriots at the time of the horrible tragedy of the Holocaust.
Therefore I first welcome His Excellency Carl Bildt, head of Swedish diplomatic corps attending today’s event. Also, I extend a warm welcome to His Excellency Yossi Peled, Minister representing the Government of the State of Israel, where Wallenberg is honoured as one of the “Righteous among the Nations”. Remembering the Righteous among the Nations is one of the things that are certainly worth learning from Israel: honouring those who advocate for us in trouble and at times of injustice, and hence subscribe to universal human values.
We should also remember the Hungarian and Swedish helpers of Wallenberg, of both Jewish and non-Jewish origin. We should mention Mrs Miklós Váli, a member of the Wallenberg Memorial Committee, who escaped from persecution in the Shoah thanks to Wallenberg and volunteered to work for him as a typist to speed up the issue of Schutzpassen. We should also remember the other rescuers, the ordinary people of sound moral integrity, who saved close and distant acquaintances, friends, colleagues or even complete strangers, and risked their lives, just like Wallenberg, to help their fellow human beings. Unfortunately, however, there was not enough of them.
As the Foreign Minister of Hungary I find it especially distressing to say that the Hungarian State was weighed in the scales and found wanting in the Holocaust. It was unable to defend its citizens. Indeed, it provided assistance in their extermination, if under foreign occupation. This is how hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews became displaced and stateless, deprived of their Hungarian nationality and human existence in their native land.
Our conscious choice to inaugurate the Wallenberg Memorial Year in the Hungarian National Museum today is a testimony that our nation has broken away from the dark spirit of the 20th century forever. Breaking away does not mean failure to raise awareness of the responsibility of Hungary as one of the countries involved in that inhuman chapter of history. We know that revealing the past and drawing lessons are all-important duties.
Raoul Wallenberg was one of the members of the generation that proved with their advocacy that it is possible to stay human in inhumanity, to quote the line by the Hungarian poet Endre Ady, which has been chosen as the motto of the Memorial Year. Indeed, when evoking the activity of Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest, we remember a personal drama, on the one hand.
On the other hand, we not only value the personal human dimension of his story but also the professional dimension. In the critical days of the Holocaust, Wallenberg served as a diplomat in Budapest, and hence he had a special tool in his hands: his own status. Wallenberg used the requisites of being a diplomat, such as protection, “privileges and immunities”, as important tools for his work of saving people.
Any diplomat who takes his mission seriously is well aware of the great responsibility involved. Wallenberg also set an example to diplomats of subsequent periods. A memorial year is always about the commemorated person, showing who he was and what we think of him. But it is also about the people who remember, showing who we are and what we think of ourselves.
This commemoration of Raoul Wallenberg is a confession that we share his ideal and values. As the Holocaust is a tragedy to humanity at large, so is the Hungarian Holocaust a tragedy to all Hungarians, the Hungarian nation. This is what we confirmed in a recently published strategic document of foreign policy, in which we laid down that our European policy and the whole of our foreign policy are based on our mutual responsibility shared with our allies and other international partners for each other, the citizens of each other, and for the security, welfare and freedom of the citizens of each other. We laid special emphasis on that statement concerning Israel. The security of people, wherever they are in the world, is not indifferent to Hungary, but the Middle East is particularly important in this respect.
The Jewish community in Hungary and the community of people speaking Hungarian and of Hungarian descent in Israel are linked to each other by ties of kinship and friendship. These ties mean a special value in the system of relations between the two countries. As I inaugurate the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Year today, I am pleased to stress that Wallenberg has been, and will always be a link between Sweden, Hungary and Israel, albeit reminding of a sad period is history. His memory will always be present in our relations with Sweden and Israel. We are aware that the well-known historical circumstances prevent us from placing flowers on the tomb of Wallenberg.
The full historical exploration of his life is still ahead but is inevitable. His fate also warns us that dictatorial ideologies are of the same nature. They do not and cannot tolerate the truth. A number of events in the Memorial Year will especially address young people. We share the task to pass down the responsibility from generation to generation: you must not drift with the trends of history but must stay human even in inhumanity. I wish you all an absorbing commemoration.