Dr. Gerhard Papke, formerly an MP for the German FDP party at the North Rhine-Westphalia state parliament from 2000 until 2017. Former Parliamentary Group Chairman for the German FDP party at the North Rhine-Westphalia state parliament and Vice-President of the Parliament until 2017. Since 2019, he has been the president of the German-Hungarian Society, which has its headquarters in Berlin and Bonn. We met Dr. Papke during his visit to Budapest in June and asked him to share his thoughts on the present and future of German-Hungarian relations.
You became involved in the German-Hungarian Society even though you have no personal connections to Hungary. What made you decide to become the leader of such an organization?
Although I have no family roots in Hungary, I greatly admired the Hungarian people’s love of freedom when I was young and read a lot about the 1956 Hungarian National Uprising. The eastern part of my German homeland was under communist rule.
The Hungarians had shown in 1956 that one must never accept a dictatorship and thus set a sign of hope for the whole of Europe. And in 1989, the Hungarians broke the first stone out of the wall that divided Germany.
Many of my compatriots will never forget that about the Hungarians. Nor will I. And even today we Germans can learn from the Hungarians. That is exactly what I am trying to convey in Germany.
You are really saying that Germany should learn from Hungary? What do you mean by that?
Let us perhaps start with national consciousness: Hungarians are a history-conscious people, because they have often had to fight for bare survival in their thousand-year history. That is why they want to preserve their culture, their language; their traditions give them strength and orientation. In Germany, on the other hand, attempts have been made for many years to portray their own nation as something bad, because Hitler brought so much misfortune to Europe with his fascist reign of terror in the German name. But excessive, hateful nationalism and cosmopolitan national consciousness are quite different things! The left-wing parties in Germany deliberately blur this distinction and suspect anyone who openly professes his or her country as a right-wing radical. This is part of their strategy and partly explains the fear in Berlin and Brussels of Viktor Orbán.
Dr. Gerhard Papke in Budapest
The German political left fears Viktor Orbán?
But of course. Hungary is a relatively small country, to be sure. But it has developed into a counter-model for everything that left-green ideologues want: Hungarians defend the classic family with mother, father, and children and ignore all this trans madness that is being spread in Western Europe and the US. The Hungarians defend the borders of Europe, while the German government is currently bringing several thousand Afghans to Germany by plane every month and are opening the borders wider and wider for mass immigration.
Hungarians defend a decentralized Europe of self-determined, free nations. They do not want an EU superstate telling them how to raise their children.
All this challenges the relentless claim to power of woke ideologues who want to force Europe to toe their line through Brussels. That is why Hungary is declared the realm of evil and permanently defamed with false statements. That is what I am trying to fight.
And what experiences do you have in the process?
I am constantly insulted and sometimes even threatened. But on the other hand, I also receive enormous encouragement. After every interview, people write to me and thank me for my pro-Hungarian stance. I am also not so easy to attack because I do not get any money for my commitment to Hungary and I work on a voluntary basis. As a long-standing politician of the FDP, I cannot simply be put in the radical right-wing corner. Hungary has many more friends in Germany than you think if you only follow the mainstream media. This experience motivates me enormously, as does the warmth of Germans of Hungarian origin who suffer greatly from how unfairly their old homeland is often treated in Germany.
You say Hungary has many friends in Germany, even though the German press often paints a distorted picture of Hungary?
You have to see that the media and political landscape in Germany is currently more in flux than it has been for decades. The classical parties and many media have moved so far to the left that many Germans no longer find themselves in them. There is a growing interest in Hungary because certain convictions are becoming visible there that liberal-conservative people in Germany miss. Hungary is becoming a place of longing for a world that is being lost in Western Europe, including Germany.
Despite pressure from the German government, your companies and industry are voting with their feet and investing in Hungary in record numbers. Will this trend continue despite the existing duality between trade and politics, or is there a danger that disputes will affect business relations?
It is really outrageous that some German politicians like Ms. Barley warn against investing in Hungary!
But German companies have had completely different, consistently positive experiences in Hungary. And this close economic integration of our countries is a very stable foundation for the German-Hungarian friendship.
Because people from both countries work together every day in countless companies and learn to appreciate each other. That makes them immune to hate slogans!
Most Hungarians still view the Germans with affection, as the people of Bach, Goethe, or even Adenauer. That is why the hostility coming from the press and politics is so incomprehensible to us. But are you still the people of Rilke, Bach, and Goethe, or are we Hungarians living in the past?
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the greatest German poet of all time, is just as imperishable as Sándor Petőfi. And the close coexistence of Germans and Hungarians is just as imperishable. I believe that in the foreseeable future, we in Germany will also once again have a government that is committed to the deep friendship between our peoples. So let us look to the future with optimism!
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