Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the unveiling of the statues of Ignác Semmelweis and Ibn-Sīnā

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the unveiling of the statues of Ignác Semmelweis and Ibn-Sīnā on the 1st of December in 2015, Tehran (تهران).

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.
First of all, may I express how great a moment this is to all of us coming from Hungary to be here with you. I would like to welcome the honourable leaders of the university, the students and the respected members of the Iranian Government. It is a rare occasion for you to see Hungarians here – especially a Prime Minister – so I would not like to deprive you from enjoying the beautiful Hungarian language. So, I will continue in Hungarian, if you don’t mind.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Highly Esteemed Members of the Iranian Government, Honourable University Leaders, Dear Students, 
We came here to your capital because for twenty-seven years no Hungarian prime minister has been here in Iran. This was an untenable situation. The fact that for twenty-seven years there were no relations between our countries at such a level was a particularly unnatural state of affairs for two peoples who are so proud of their past, who bravely stand their ground amidst the storms of the present, and who have high hopes for the future. Yesterday, however, we had the great honour of being received by the First Vice President, and today we had the opportunity to meet your President and supreme religious leaders. And this occasion here is one of the highlights of our visit to Tehran. 
In Hungary, if you were to ask Hungarian people in the street about what makes them Hungarian and how they would define themselves, most of them would mention culture. Hungarians are people who speak the Hungarian language and belong to the high-level culture that has been developed in the Hungarian language. This is now rather a rare thing in Europe. You may be aware that Hungary is a secular modern state, and in nature is significantly different from your Islamic republic. Yet if you knew the Hungarian language – which I wholeheartedly encourage you to try – you would be able to understand the words of our national anthem; uniquely in Europe, this is not a marching song or a traditional folk song, but a prayer. The Hungarian national anthem is a prayer which begins with the name of God; and this reference to God is now the first line of our Constitution. 
Ladies and Gentlemen, 
Therefore I am able to say that I greet you here as the prime minister of a people which is unique in Europe. This is not based on our merit; humility necessarily forms part of Christianity, and we must therefore admit that this is not based on our merit, but a feature which is specific to us: we speak a special language and we belong to a special culture. In the European Union – of which we are a member – we are looked upon as the easternmost Europeans or the westernmost Eastern people. With these words and this description others seek to suggest that the Hungarian people is a newcomer to Europe. Indeed, this is true: the Hungarian people arrived in its present homeland – Central Europe, the Carpathian Basin – one thousand one hundred years ago. We arrived in Europe one thousand one hundred years ago, and ever since we have succeeded in preserving both our culture and language, as well as a considerable area of our former territories. We feel that we have not only preserved our special culture, but have also enriched it, because throughout all this time we have tried to combine the wisdom we brought from the East with Western rationality. This has resulted in a very specific Hungarian way of thinking; this has enabled Hungarians to give the whole of humanity a disproportionately large number of scientists and artists, compared to their population of ten million or so. Therefore we Hungarians are proud of our origins. And when we translate a poem by a Persian poet, or read accounts of Iran from eighteenth and nineteenth century Hungarian explorers and travellers, or assess the loanwords in the Hungarian language derived from the Persian language, we feel that we are closer to our own origins, and we understand more and more facets and details of ourselves. This is the background, Esteemed University Leaders, Honourable Minister, which help you understand why it is an honour for us Hungarians that the Tehran University of Medical Sciences has, with our assistance and support, erected the first statue of Ignác Semmelweis in Iran, 150 years after his death. And it is also an honour for us that we may today unveil statues of “the rescuer of mothers” Ignác Semmelweis and “the Prince of Physicians” Ibn-Sīnā.
Dear Students,
When the printing press first appeared in Europe, the question immediately emerged as to which books were the most important and most valuable for the European people of that time: which needed to be printed urgently, so that they could be read by the largest possible number of people. Among the first printed books was the Bible, of course, which is our holy book; but there was another book which was printed just as soon – and in numbers at least as great as was the Bible. This was “The Canon of Medicine” by Ibn-Sīnā – or Avicenna, as we know him in Europe. And at that time in Europe there was nothing surprising in this. For centuries medical students in Europe had studied from the Canon how to diagnose, treat and prevent illnesses. Europe was able to rediscover the teachings of the ancient philosophers because this tradition had been preserved by the libraries of Persia, and fostered and perpetuated by its scientists. Such aspects of our cultural history amply demonstrate why it is quite natural that we are together here in this room today.
At some time in the middle of the nineteenth century, a Hungarian physician arrived from Hungary to join the staff of Vienna’s maternity hospital. He was a physician with a rebellious cast of mind, which was common among Hungarians at the time. Based on his research and experience, he set out to discover what leads to the development of childbed fever, and what could be done to reduce the number of women who were dying of this condition. He came up with a clear and simple solution which proved to be extremely effective: after staff were required to routinely wash their hands in disinfectant solution, death rates – which had previously run at around twenty to thirty per cent – immediately fell to just one or two per cent. He was a Hungarian, and so too was his fate: his discovery and the introduction of his strict hygiene regime earned him many an enemy. This is something that the Hungarians know only too well: you want to do something good for the world, and you are immediately faced with enemies. This was exactly the fate of Ignác Semmelweis. He had a brief and bitter life: his life’s work only earned him recognition after his death, and only much later was he acknowledged as one of the great figures of universal medicine.
Ladies and Gentlemen, 
So today we are unveiling statues of two intellectual giants, of whom we have reason to be proud. They were both physicians, outstanding figures of that most noble and demanding profession, who left their mark on universal medicine: Ibn-Sīnā, who created the Canon of Medicine; and Ignác Semmelweis, who set out to fight the outdated, narrow-minded views of his time. They might seem to be far apart, their names redolent of two different worlds. Yet if we observe them from the correct angle we may see the similarity, which can be summed up in our acceptance of the following injunction: “Gather together everything so that you can cure, and dare to deny everything you have learnt if it stands in the way of curing people.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, 
Naturally we would not be here today in such large numbers if these two statues only had significance in a medical context; government delegations would certainly not be here. It would be enough for scientists to pay their tributes. However, the fact that representatives from both the Iranian and Hungarian governments are present clearly demonstrates that the two statues represent more than science alone: they represent something more. We came here today, to your university, because we believe that this dual statue unveiling also symbolises the friendly cooperation which has developed between Iran and Hungary. As I mentioned, in the Middle Ages a great many Hungarian students learnt medicine with the aid of Ibn-Sīnā’s Canon, and today I can inform you that, over the last few years, more than four thousand Iranian students have graduated in Hungary; and also in this academic year, 1,116 Iranian students are studying at Hungarian universities – most of them at Semmelweis University. The enrolment of Iranian students in Hungarian universities is assisted by the Avicenna International College, which was set up in 1995. The President of the College is Dr. Shahrokh MirzaHosseini, who is an Iranian who graduated and settled in Hungary. We wish to take this opportunity to show him our great respect and thank him for his work.
Another milestone in our cooperation was in the spring, when our foreign ministers approved the latest Hungarian-Iranian educational and scientific action plan; and in September this year we decided to offer one hundred Stipendium Hungaricum scholarships to our Iranian friends. These are scholarship grants which are paid by the Hungarian state to Iranian students, in order to encourage them to come to study in our country. This is another testament to the fact that Hungary looks on Iran with the greatest respect and appreciation. We are proud that young Iranians choose to study at Hungarian universities. This is an honour for us, bearing in mind the monumental cultural traditions of a great civilisation such as that of Iran.
Dear Students and Professors, 
I believe that the statue of Ignác Semmelweis could not have been erected in a worthier place. The inscription on its pedestal reads, as you will see: “May this statue preserve the memory of Ignác Semmelweis, the rescuer of mothers!” I ask you to remember that three thousand kilometres from here there is a people which is still rich in scientific minds and inventions, and which is eager to share its experiences with its friends. We should especially thank sculptor István Madarassy – who is here with us today – for creating this outstanding work of art. In addition to him, I would like to thank the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, those who conceived this idea, and everyone who took part in the project’s realisation. 
May this statue symbolise our time-honoured friendship and the long-standing traditions of Iranian-Hungarian scientific and educational cooperation.
May God preserve you.
Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister

« vissza

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  • Viktor Orbán, 52
  • Lawyer, graduated at Eötvös Loránd University and studied at Pembroke College, Oxford
  • Married to Anikó Lévai
  • They have five children: Ráhel, Gáspár, Sára, Róza, Flóra
  • Chairman of FIDESZ, vice-chairman of the European People's Party


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