After 2010, we tend to think of New Year’s greetings as honeyed, lofty speeches about the nation, laced with literary phrases devoid of real meaning. If at no other time, it is worth immersing oneself in these New Year’s greetings at this time of crisis. Especially this year, as this is the first time that Katalin Novák has welcomed the New Year as Head of State.
To understand this year’s speech, it is worth looking at Katalin Novák’s predecessor. János Áder’s speeches were often gloomy, reflecting on negative events and only afterwards bringing hope and good wishes, sometimes boring, listing the wonders of nature, these speeches became a presidential recitation contest. In the really difficult years of Covid, the speeches were turned even more sombre by the pandemic, and in 2022, as if he had been given an oracle ball for Christmas, he greeted hungarians with Márai and war pictures – could have told the government.
In contrast with this Katalin Novák brought a whole other character: she appeared as the mother of the nation.
Her conservative dress and understated make-up were also in keeping with what was expected of the head of state: she appeared as a pretty but not overly attractive woman. Her tone of voice and the sweet smile at the corner of her lips gave the impression that the hungarian nation was her own child, who had fallen and was bleeding from her leg, but she covered her with kisses, if not to heal it, to soothe its pain with her love. In her speech on the crisis as a whole, the image of the mother appears several times, crowned at the end of the speech by her toasts to families with children.
“It is a miracle of God that our country is still standing!” – borrowed the words of Sándor Petőfi by Katalin Novák. Thus, already in the introduction, we sense that something is wrong, Katalin Novák – presumably deliberately, for the umpteenth time – is talking out of the box, and breaking the myth of the governing parties, which has been built up over many years; of a government that has fought victoriously in wars, and which successfully defends the country from its constant attacks. Whether it is Brussels, Soros, migrants or the offensive of the left. Viktor Orbán is thus waging a kind of crusade in Europe, defending and protecting our country.
According to Katalin Novák, this is a “divine miracle”, not a victory of reason, strength and will, in which members of the government, like so many aides-de-camp, help the commanding general to victory. According to the President of the Republic, therefore, it is now only true faith and not government that will defend our country.
But this is also the end of the new president’s eccentricity. She goes on to say that “we would like next year to be easier than this year has been”, but by piling on sentences we quickly get to the point where it will be harder, we need to know how to cope with it, and we need strength and help to do so. She says that it would be better to leave behind us all the struggles and difficulties that threaten an uncertain future in the face of a livelihood crisis and the threat of war, but she also declares that we cannot get rid of our burdens in the new year in one fell swoop.
At this point we arrive at one of the most important statements of the speech: ‘In the midst of difficult life and circumstances, many are redoubling their efforts and not choosing to flee. They stay on their feet.” Novak cites as examples many of those he has met for a handshake in the past year. “We are a strong, fighting, crisis-resistant nation”, the head of state concluded, adding that “talent and the hungarian cunning” would no longer be enough, and that diligence and hard work would be needed.
Katalin Novák suggests, not too subtly, that from now on everything is our responsibility.
Those who can survive the hardship are those who – if possible- double or triple their investment, take on more work and become more useful members of society. After all this, the head of state asks us to hold on to each other: “if the strong stand by the weak, the young reach out to the elderly, the wealthy take notice of the less well-off, we will make good use of the achievements we have made together over the past decade”.
But this is a narrative we already know well from Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. It is the same mindset as when the Prime Minister said that those whose consumption exceeds the level set by the government should reduce their needs or earn more.The images of entanglement conceal the intention behind the amendment to the law adopted at the end of last year, which places the state at the end of the line of responsibility and intervention in the management of social problems. It is a concept which is nothing more than a declaration by the State that it is willing to assume only the minimum possible responsibility for the well-being of its citizens.
With this speech, Katalin Novák changed the dimension of the President’s New Year greetings. The last two presidents before her in office did not intend to express the unity of the nation on these occasions, which was their duty.Rather, they have reduced this tradition to a dull, kindergarten storytelling. The newly debuting President, on the other hand, has used the occasion to express the state’s indifference to the nation’s troubled members. Echoing the government narrative, she became the nation’s stepmother by the end of the speech.
Luckily, at least she didn’t wear her Fidesz-logo earrings.