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Conflict over Saint Stephen’s heritage

August 21st, 2012

A right-wing commentator praises the Orbán government for continuing Saint Stephen’s heritage by strengthening the Hungarian state. A left-wing columnist, on the other hand, accuses the government of betraying the legendary Hungarian king’s efforts to modernize the country, by weakening democracy and turning away from the West.

The 20th of August was declared Hungary’s main national holiday by the first democratically elected parliament in 1990. Since then each Saint Stephen’s day, political leaders and pundits regularly produce rival interpretations of how Hungary must be faithful to the heritage of its first Christian king.

Stephen was a great sovereign not only because he realized the importance of converting his people to Christianity and allying with the West, but also because he was able to build a strong state, writes István Stefka, editor in chief of Magyar Hírlap on the occasion. A strong state can only be created and maintained if a good leader asserts his power, the pro-government commentator suggests. As opposed to the great leaders of the country, the former Communist and Nazi rulers needed power in order to rob, humiliate and torture Hungarians. Stefka believes that while the previous Socialist governments used their power only to steal, Viktor Orbán is proving himself loyal to Stephen’s heritage, by using his power wisely, in order to strengthen Hungary, through his ‘freedom fight’ against foreign financial interests.

In Népszava, Tibor Várkonyi contends that the Orbán government has betrayed the heritage of Stephen by weakening democratic institutions. He likens the centre right government to the pagans who opposed Stephen the westernizer. He accuses the governing right-wing majority of turning away from the West and praising non-democratic Eastern regimes, including Communist China. Stephen wanted to create a modern state, while PM Orbán’s Constitutional overhaul “abolished basic rights in the hope of creating a monarchic-style rule, which cannot be reversed”, Várkonyi contends.

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