The future belongs to those nations and individuals who know where they came from, who they are and where they are going. My first visit to Budapest, the capital of Hungary, was an enriching introduction to such a city, such individuals and such a nation.
Regarding the question of where they come from, Budapest is a perfect illustration of the Hungarians’ lively relationship with their past. The architecture is your first clue: there is an undeniable focus on restoration, in the truest sense of the word. Rather than dressing old buildings like slaves to contemporary architectural fashions, those stately old structures are carefully repaired and restored in line with the architectural style of the time in which they were built.
In stark contrast to this, many Western European cities are replacing ornate sandstone and marble with cold steel and glass. So classic, timeless elegance is cynically exchanged for the gory craze of grey, Brutalist blocks. Although it may be cheaper in the short term to demolish a beautiful old building and replace it with a fashionable, faceless concrete block with windows, the Hungarians clearly approach their architectural heritage with more respect and appreciation for the virtue of timeless beauty. This conservation awareness ensures that Budapest’s unique cultural identity is purposefully preserved for future generations.
However, there is no getting stuck in the past. They follow Paul Kruger’s advice by taking what is beautiful and good from the past and building on it for the future. An example of this focus on the aesthetic as well as the historical context was when we saw how a tarred walkway was cut up and replaced with beautiful marble stones.
Unfortunately, the exact opposite process is taking place in most other European capitals and in South Africa. The Hungarian parliament building in Budapest is not even 120 years old yet, but its breathtaking Gothic architectural style would easily make one think that it was built many centuries ago. It is as if the modern West has convinced itself that the construction of awesome buildings was only possible in a bygone era. The Hungarians are living proof that this is a destructive, self-fulfilling prophecy.
In my conversation with Mark Granza, the editor-in-chief of the publication IM-1776, in Budapest, he emphasized that the Hungarians are undoubtedly committed to a conservation struggle in which they not only conserve, but also build with conservation awareness. Afrikaners can learn from the Hungarian example that a cultural community can also bring about new creations with a conservative philosophy.
A living culture must grow. The abundance of museums, heritage sites, statues and monuments around every corner in Budapest, many of which have recently been erected, speaks to the Hungarians’ lively relationship and ongoing dialogue with their past.
The preciousness of identity and the importance of the question, “Who are we?”, is demonstrated in the Hungarian attitude towards the necessity of borders. Hungary has some of the strictest border controls in Europe. When you study their history, it is no mystery where the origins of this outlook lie. Historically, Hungary has always been one of the gateways to Europe from the East. Many invasions from the East were repelled by the Hungarians over the centuries. The Eastern cultural influence can consequently be seen everywhere in Budapest. The Hungarians are obviously proud of their complex cultural heritage that connects the Eastern and Western cultures.
The idea of a culture as a unique center or link between two diverse worlds reminded me of what NP van Wyk Louw wrote about Afrikaner culture, “In this and every generation, there is only the daily task: to preserve both our heritages – Europe and Africa – warm to the heart; to be in Africa knowing that we are from the old West; to be Western without disregarding a single difference of Africa.”
Flip Buys, chairman of the Solidarity Movement,’s sentiment that we may be on our own side is woven like a golden thread throughout the Hungarians’ national philosophy. Van Wyk Louw joins this in our own context as follows: “In our crisis today, let us instead think of the greatest commandment: You must love God, and your neighbor as yourself. Note: not ‘your neighbor more than yourself’, as foreign countries sometimes demand of us.” A healthy self-image and sense of identity are critical for the survival of any culture. Without borders, identities and homes are not possible.
Professor Danie Goosen from Akademia sums it up as follows: “A borderless world without place – ruled by the dictates of boundless spaces – is not just a world without meaning. It is at the same time a world without a home.” A Hungarian can keep you busy all day with stories about their identity, as well as their home.
Where are you going? Ask any Hungarian a question more or less along these lines, and they will answer: “Upstream!”. While many European nations prioritize short-term benefits over the long-term, the temporary over the eternal, fads over the timeless beauty, and a hostile, negative relationship with their past over a reasonable dialogue with it, Hungary does the opposite in all these areas.
The Hungarians do not take the cheap or popular shortcuts when dealing with matters concerning their future. They understand the old folk wisdom that cheap is often expensive. Professor Goosen reminds us that a culture only blossoms when resources and time are spent on what is considered “useless” by pure materialists.
Afrikaners can easily draw inspiration from the example that the Hungarians set for us. We must be brave and far-sighted enough to swim upstream when necessary. By elevating ourselves above the purely mechanical cost-benefit calculations of our time, we unlock our creative reserve and the potential for creative innovation.
Afrikaners have much to be thankful for and even more to be proud of in our rich cultural history. We are the offspring of faith pioneers and principled, fearless freedom seekers. Our history is full of heroes and heroines who made it possible for us to survive in Africa. Our actions will determine whether our descendants will know where they came from, who they are and where they are going.
We will have to put our shoulders to the wheel again because in Africa the road has always been long and hard, but the view is unbeatable when you stand exhausted but grateful with your brood on the summit.