In this post you can listen and read Árpád Schilling’s opening speech at Verzio International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival from last year.

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen! Let me welcome you all. It is a great honour for me to have been asked to hold this speech by Festival Director Oksana Sarkisova. All the more so as I consider Verzio International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival the most important one among Hungarian film festivals. For documentaries transmit not only impressions and ambiances, but they also remind you, frighten you and shake you up. Shooting a documentary is a moral act because in this genre it is not themselves that authors need to represent in the first place, but someone else: they need to adjust to the other. Representation and adjustment both raise a series of fundamental moral issues: putting another person’s problems before you is politics itself.

I applaud those creators who do not hesitate to use art for political purposes.  When millions live below the poverty line in Hungary, and hundreds of thousands of children are not properly taken care of, when tens of thousands are forced to live on the streets, when the governing party gobbles up the media, the prosecution, the courts as well as artistic and academic life, when it stuffs the pockets of oligarchs from public money and EU funds, when it mongers hate against people running from war while it does business with Arabs under international arrest warrant and sells Hungarian citizenship through off-shore companies, when it idolizes autocratic regimes, and accordingly, it continuously violates human rights and international norms, when it cherishes voluntarist dreams with stadiums and Olympic Games while it crushes education, thus depriving a multitude of youth from the hope of an autonomous and happy life, when it steals people’s savings deposited in private pension funds, when it destroys nature without as much as a flinch while it has been producing the smallest economic growth in the region for years – yet, many people still shy away from political topics. What’s the use of discussing politics, anyway? Look at this Schilling guy, there he goes again talking politics, gee wiz!

Those creators who make documentaries don’t approach the toughest questions of mankind from a theoretical perspective, but rather in a pragmatic manner. They don’t flip though papers or play smart aleck in exclusive clubs while munching on caviar sandwiches, they don’t parade on the side of famous celebrities so that they could mouth brutal platitudes about the state of the world afterwards. What they do instead is hold up man’s unbearable and miserable nature with awfully hard work and respectable courage. Man is the most merciless and the most vulnerable being on Earth. But he can face neither of his profiles. Fighting against the oppressors on the side of the oppressed is the duty of all enlightened individuals. Provided we can still take this to be an obvious truth at all…

In light of the successes of Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Orban and company, this doesn’t seem evident at all. Postmodern politics today no longer have principles, only tools. And these tools are so efficient that they can instantaneously make their users forget about the result of humanity’s several-thousand-year moral development, that is, mutual respect and tolerance for one another; they extinguish the barely flickering flame of conscience by disposable and unprincipled propaganda promising rapid success. In Hungary, the government fanned the fire of hostility in its citizens against the citizens of other states for a whole year, its only real aim being voter mobilization and the maximizing of votes. This was the official response to the global scandal of war and famine: running away from a mature and responsible management of the problem. Although the referendum against the refugees (or to use the Hungarian term: migrants) turned out to be invalid, a whole nation has been corrupted. We have been part of this vile game; they managed to drag us into this inhumanity. Today it is no longer self-evident for Hungarians that you need to help the depraved, that you should feed the starving before asking them where they come from. From now on, Hungarians will have to live together not only with the shame of their inability to face their collective crimes committed during World War II, but also with the fact that they started the 21st century by denying to give a helping hand, by the stigmatization, exclusion and basically, annihilation of the miserable. Shame. This is the only word that can describe this horror we are living in. Here and everywhere where those in power have renounced to mercifulness, to handling complex issues in a complex way, to the systemic eradication of human vulnerability.

The film entitled Sonita created by Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami tells the story of a woman whom liberty evades both in Afghanistan and in Iran. What would she like to do? Rap? About what? About how she lives and what surrounds her. However, she can’t do that, she doesn’t even have the freedom to decide with whom she would like to live. Her parents sell her to a man so that they could sustain themselves. What kind of a life is that?

When I see women suffer, I can discern the silhouette of men in the background. When I see children suffer, I can also discern men in the distance, and usually it is always men that I see everywhere when the topic is human suffering. Men who pray, engage in politics, do business and make war. It is men who pass harsh laws and build walls that reach the sky. It is men who play smart aleck and commit violent acts. Men. Just like me.

I am ashamed. I know that as a man, I will have to carry this shame with me all throughout my life. I know that I will have to repent in the name of all men for what men have committed in this world, there is no excuse or forgiveness. In vain would I apologize, that is not enough. I know that I need to pay attention to each of my words, to each of my actions. And do that also when I look at my wife or touch my children and also when I am among people, and also when I just sit quietly. I must remember every atrocity that I have ever committed as a man. I committed those atrocities because I thought that I was right, that I and only I was the beholder of the truth. I felt entitled to decide who had the right to do what, and also who didn’t have the right to do anything. And for this I will suffer till the last day of my life – for once thinking that I would demonstrate what truth and life was.

The film entitled Sonita is not only about women. It is also about the situation when professional consistency is overruled by anxiety and solidarity felt for the other. For me, the protagonist of this film is not so much Sonita, but Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami herself. The person who happens to be a woman, and for whom life is more important than rules, who goes against the general agreement, pays the price and redeems the slave. Sonita, this unique individual is finally freed from this crazy system of predestination, leaves her homeland and her heritage so that she could become whoever she would like to be. Fitting in is not a problem for her because she has always understood the language of free people, but in the end, she puts on her headscarf again – but this time, from her own free will.

Besides being marvellous, the film leaves a lot of questions unanswered. For instance, what happens to those who are not talented enough to stand out, or why it should be the American culture that sets a viable example, why should those who want to live a life worthy of humans still have to flee to America? Nonetheless, the film demonstrates it clearly that human individuals as such are precious. They do not become precious because they were born in the right place, or because others decide that they are entitled to sovereignty. Human beings dispose of themselves, and the community can deny this right to them only in especially severe cases. This film, similarly to other exemplary documentaries, not only poses questions, but also asserts something: since both God and the State were created by man, neither of them can be more powerful than man. A human being plunged into existence is free, whether you like it or not. This is just as much a blessing as it is a curse. But those who do not respect the freedom and the dignity of individuals, and their right to pursue happiness in their own way, offend nature itself. Who would dare to say that they are more powerful than nature? Who? Well, men, of course. And here I shall wrap up my speech because this is the least you can expect from a man.