Viktor Orbán’s October 23

The other day I was thinking about the history of national holidays. Prior to the birth of modern nationalism naturally there were no national holidays, only religious ones, and even in the last two hundred years or so some of the national holidays were slow to appear. For example, Bastille Day was not a national holiday until a century after the event. The fourth of July was made an official, paid holiday only in 1870. In Hungary, March 15th didn't become an official holiday until after the First World War. The newest Hungarian national holiday–October 23, commemorating the outbreak of the Hungarian revolution in 1956–for obvious reasons was not celebrated until 1989.

I hate what politicians do to national holidays, but when they talk all sorts of nonsense about March 15 only my historical sensibilities are bruised. However, when it comes to 1956 I feel personally violated. My own memories, my own part in the events are being trampled on.

Orbán's speeches often make my blood boil but his "oration" today, which was apparently applauded by the throngs, was really too much. As politicians are apt to do, Orbán is rewriting history. This is not the first time that he reinterprets the history of 1956. A few years ago he decided that it was a "bourgeois [polgári] revolution." After all, a "polgári" government deserves a "polgári" revolution. This time he went even further. He claimed that his government, his revolution in the voting booth is the fulfillment of our wishes in 1956. Mr. Orbán is wrong. In our worst dreams we didn't think of a future with Viktor Orbán, who is making mockery of democracy.

Well, let's get back to the current interpretation of 1956. In Orbán's mind, in the fall of 1956 it looked as if the nation didn't exist anymore. But then it became clear even to Imre Nagy that the demonstrators were not simply students, workers, intellectuals. The nation stood in front of him. In Orbán's version Imre Nagy first addressed the crowd as "comrades" but someone shouted: "We are not comrades. The nation is here." Well, the first sentence is true, except it wasn't someone but about 100,000 strong. The second is not true. No one talked about the nation being there. I was present, and I remember the whole evening vividly.

Viktor Orbán has a fertile imagination when he tries to interpret what we, those who stood there, thought. According to him we suddenly felt that the nation was "reborn." Because the nation was battered by two lost wars, by the loss of territories as a result of Trianon, by the bloodletting of the nation by those who escaped in 1945 and those who were exiled. I can assure Mr. Orbán that we didn't think about any of those things. We were not thinking of the two lost wars, Trianon, or those who together with the German troops left Hungary in 1944 and 1945. We were thinking of Stalinism, of Rákosi, the AVH, the political prisoners, the fear, the peasants' miseries, the lack of essential staples in the stores, and the lack of freedom.

I'm also baffled by the following: "The heroes of 1956 were those who didn't allow themselves to be talked out of making Hungary great." What does that mean? Sure, a lot of people were worried about the consequences of an armed uprising. They regretted the loss of life, feared crushing defeat and even worse oppression than before, but that cannot be interpreted as cowardly people who wanted to deprive Hungary of its greatness. Whom does Orbán have in mind? Those intellectuals who were fearful, rightfully so, of the consequences? Or is he trying to set participant against participant? On the one hand those who were the intellectual leaders and on the other hand those young workers and students who fought in the streets? Most likely.

Orbán's verbal flourishes are occasionally laughable. What about this sentence? "The Hungarians' sigh of freedom (szabadságsóhaj) knocked out the first brick from the wall of communism and through that opening decades later the whole socialist regime was carried away by the draught." Oh my! Can anyone imagine a sigh that knocks out a whole brick and a draught that carries away a regime?

In any case, those great Hungarians of 1956 started a struggle which "now [they] carry to its fruition." In spite of the change of regime in 1990 and the free elections, they have felt that "something holds down [their] hands…. 1956 was an unfinished story until 2010. [Orbán and Fidesz] delivered the coup de grâce to the regime of lies. The age of national unity arrived."

Orbán continues, comparing his revolution and the revolution of 1956. "We didn't win in the spring to leave everything as it had been before. The heroes of 1956 didn't sacrifice their lives, we didn't go through with the regime change, we didn't suffer through the past eight years to stop, lose our self-confidence when there is the chance…. The nation said that everything must change in Hungary." Let's not get stuck on the question of what the results of the elections empowered Orbán to do. Those who voted for Fidesz, for example, knew nothing of a new constitution or the nationalization of their private savings.

Perhaps the most egregious part of the speech is the one about the heroes of 1956 sacrificing their lives for Viktor Orbán's "revolution." That really boggles the mind. Or what can one say when he compares the last eight years to the times that followed the revolution of 1956! How can anyone in his right mind compare the two? A dictatorship imposed on Hungary by a foreign power and its lackeys and a period in which a democratically elected coalition government was in power. The period between 1957 and 1963 was a terrible time in Hungary. A time of retribution when hundreds were executed and thousands imprisoned.

And while he is turning 1956 into his own revolution he also distorts his own role in 1989. Even those who dislike the Viktor Orbán of today talk about him in glowing terms when at the reburial of Imre Nagy he dared to openly demand the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. So, he made sure today that people didn't forget the very important role he played when he said that "if in 1989 we didn't demand the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, today Central Europe would still be full of them." In brief, without the young Viktor Orbán the Soviet Union would still be intact, the Soviet Empire would still be flourishing, and the Cold War would still be with us. Surely, he himself cannot believe that. But perhaps his admirers do. One never knows. He is a persuasive fellow, especially when his audience is ignorant.

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Rigó Jancsi
Guest

My father-in-law was on the streets of Gyöngyös in 1956. He was quite horrified by both election results this year, and this speech surely feels like a personal insult to him.
Everybody should be outraged, but sadly we’re already used to this. Don’t forget the statement that all offices have to have on display in a nice frame on a good spot…
I am always “surprised” that Orbán “forgets” to mention that four of those years after the political change were under his government, and that the Hungarian people, that he supposedly represents, chased him out of office then.
He may call himself prime minister again. But he’ll never fit into the shoes of Nagy Imre.

Paul
Guest

The ignorant, led by the mad.
You should be glad you got out, Éva, you wouldn’t want to be a pensioner in Hungary under this regime.

Paul
Guest

Going slightly off topic for a while – this article set me thinking about national holidays in this country (England, not the UK), and I wondered how unique we are in having no national days?
Our ‘bank’ holidays are all either religious (at least in origin) or just holidays awarded for political reasons.
Is this just coincidence, or does it reveal something about the ‘English character’?
Perhaps other countries should follow suit? After all, no one can possibly get worked out about the meaning or political significance of the ‘late august bank holiday’!

Passing Stranger
Guest
I thought your mentioning of March 15 was quite interesting, considering we are discussing invented traditions. March 15 was only a day off from 1941. Surely you don’t think Horthy would have elevated demands for parliamentary power and freedom of the press to a fully fledged ‘pirosbetű ünnep’? One of the curious things about 1956 is the demand for reinstation of March 15 as a national holiday. A holiday that had only a wartime tradition of national celebration. In contemporary national(ist) accounts much is made of this demand, as proof of national fury at the communist degradation of March 15. But, much like Horthy, the MDP did, in fact, celebrate March 15, only it wasn’t a day off. A demand for March 15 as a national holiday could charitably be seen as a rejection of both Horthy as Rákosi, more likely it was simply a convenient stick to beat the regime with. I could not otherwise explain why suddenly the catholic church cared about March 15, a holiday it was not interested in before 1945. Considering the broadness of the opposition to the regime, though, 1956 was a ‘national’ rising, even if not in Orbán’s sense of the word. The… Read more »
Guest

Maybe a bit OT:
On this 23rd we went to Keszthely and found that the market was open and busy, just as on every other saturday – from a distance you could hear something (music and speeches), but not many people seemed to be involved in the celebrations.
Life goes on – most people have other things to worry about …

Mark
Guest

“This time he went even further. He claimed that his government, his revolution in the voting booth is the fulfillment of our wishes in 1956.”
Unfortunately Orbán is not the first to use 1956 for political purposes. Both the idea of a nation united, and that 1956 justifies whatever political order the government of the day seeks to shape have been present since 1989. Indeed yesterday was also the 21st anniversary of the proclamation of the “third” republic in 1989, which, I think demonstrates how everyone has tried to use 1956 for their own purposes.

Mark
Guest
Passing Stranger: “Also the unity of purpose between communists and revolutionaries in especially the countryside may surprise Orbán.” Actually, I suspect FIDESZ knows this. In both their terms of office they have been fairly consistent in seeking to prevent balanced research into 1956. Their persecution of the 1956 Institute, which has done most to document the history of the Revolution (http://www.rev.hu), has been pretty consistent. It was just been subject to substantial retrospective budget cuts which have forced it to make deep cuts in its staffing. Back when they came to power in 1998 in a similar attempt to hinder the work of this institute they slashed its agreed budget (the “profit” from this went into creating the 20th Century Institute which in turn is connected to Budapest’s House of Terror – essentially a bizarre piece of right-wing propaganda). The “crime” of the 1956 Institute is to document the “reform Communist” dimension of 1956 as well as its straightforwardly anti-Communist side. The fact that there were people like Imre Nagy, who were Communists, who stood by the Revolution, and paid for their principles with their lives is something the right would rather see written out of history. Passing Stranger: “On… Read more »
Diótörő
Guest

Did Orbán really say anything like it was HIS personal revolution, as Éva S. Balogh suggests? No, he did not. He did
say, howver, that many of the goals of ’56 and the elections of 2010 were the same – and were they not? Éva S. Balogh was not outraged when during such celebrations in the previous years people – the throng, as she refers to them – were separated from the politicians by railings and searched by security gorillas. I do not remember that Éva S. Balogh was particularly outraged when a cezaromaniac political clown launched his police on the crowd on the anniversary of the revolution so dear to her heart. Isn’t it nice, by the way, that Comrade Kádár, after hanging a few dozen or hundred revolutionaries, imprisoning a few thousand, forcing another few thousand into exile, fulfilled several of the demands of the revolutionaries… another disgusting article from those who take pleasure in shoveling some much on their own country.

Diótörő
Guest

much=muck in the last line

Mark
Guest

Diótörő: “He did say, howver, that many of the goals of ’56 and the elections of 2010 were the same – and were they not?”
No. To suggest they were is either a gross falsification of History, or is to display spectacular ignorance of the basic facts. Orbán is probably guilty of the first, and given that Diótörő underestimates the numbers executed, imprisoned or who went into exile clearly is guilty of the second.

Diótörő
Guest
Mark: I believe that there are many of you out there – including Mme Balogh – who do not care much that we have only been recently able to get rid of some of the communists who were responsible for killing, forcing into exile and humiliating thousands of people. You do not seem to care that Mr Biszku et al. are drawing special pensions, and the former lover of the second-in-command of the communist regime, a censor and a pathological liar has been, until very recently, the head of the governing party. Etc. You seem to follow the principle that the worst socialists are better than the best right-wing government, and in this logic you do not condemn those who have ruined the country three (3) times in the past thirty (30) years. Instead, Mme Balogh and those who share that logic, viciously attack those who try to put things right. If that is the case, and apparently that is, I can understand why you are suggesting that there was not much in common between the goals of ’56 and 2010. The people, unfortunately, did not listen to you, as they voted for change. I might be ignorant of the… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Diótörő: “I can understand why you are suggesting that there was not much in common between the goals of ’56 and 2010. The people, unfortunately, did not listen to you, as they voted for change.”
Actually Diótörő has no clue what lies behind my comment. (S)he suggests that it is a political comment motivated by ideology. It isn’t. I’m not a member, nor a supporter of any Hungarian political party. As a non-Hungarian citizen I didn’t vote. But I am an historian. And 1956 is one of the areas on which I have seen the archival records – and anyone who maintains that 1956 and 2010 have anything in common is either deluded or falsifying history.
Diótörő’s comment above lacks elementary logic. How and why people voted in 2010 does not change the historical facts of what happened in 1956. I am quite happy for anyone to criticize the MSZP (I have done many times in the comments on this blog) – but if they do so, don’t start falsifying the historical record.

Kevin Moore
Guest

Diótörő is mainly right.
There are many many people in Hungary who firmly believe that an unfinished business was settled this spring.
These many many people believe that the “social democrats” put out of power this year are essentially the same as those who were in power in 1956. Not exactly the same in person, but many have their direct descendants here, and surely the same in goals and “competences”. It’s only their arsenal that is different: the Soviet army is not here any more to keep them in power by force.
But these many many people think that this is practically the only difference.
You will probably call these many many people woefully ignorant – this is something you often do, especially with the ones having higher education than you -, but that won’t change things one bit.

Mark
Guest
Kevin Moore: “These many many people believe that the “social democrats” put out of power this year are essentially the same as those who were in power in 1956.” There are many people who believe that Elvis is still alive, or that UFOs determine the course of human affairs. The issue isn’t really whether someone believes something – people believe in all kinds of things, but whether they are right to do so. If someone can show me when in the past 20 years the MSZP collectivized agriculture; introduced a planned economy; abolished private ownership of industry; banned FIDESZ and locked its supporters in labour camps – then I will accept that the MSZP and the MDP (or even the MSZMP) were the same. There are lots of things to criticize the MSZP for, but in making the case the way they do FIDESZ are guilty of woeful ignorance of the difference between periods, hysteria and an extraordinary lack of proportion. Kevin Moore: “You will probably call these many many people woefully ignorant – this is something you often do, especially with the ones having higher education than you” Why is it that the right always likes insults when it… Read more »
Alias3T
Guest

“There are many many people in Hungary who firmly believe that an unfinished business was settled this spring.”
I haven’t met any of them, and I meet quite a lot of people, both in the capital and beyond it, relatively few of them bearded intellectuals.
In fact, the only people who claim to think this are OV and people reading from his script. Which is why I think both of you are writing these posts on at least a semi-professional basis.
I know plenty of people who voted Fidesz, plenty who are pleased there is a new government, many who hated the Socialists, and even many (though fewer than a few months ago), who are pleased with this government’s achievements.
None of them ever seem to imply they see the April elections as having been ‘more than an election’, a ‘settling of accounts’, or as something that heralded a new era. Like most people in democracies who have just seen the party they backed get into office, they talk of it as an electoral result that they’re pleased with.
I guess that seems inadequate if you believe you have a nation to rescue.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kevin Moore: “You will probably call these many many people woefully ignorant – this is something you often do, especially with the ones having higher education than you”
Whom do you have in mind? I mean people with higher education. Who are they?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “Why is it that the right always likes insults when it loses arguments? I should warn you though that I have a PhD in post-war Hungarian history – in most systems around the world it is impossible to be any more highly qualified to speak about what I am discussing here than that.”
This would be funny if it weren’t so sad. This guy doesn’t even bother to check the credentials of the people he is trying to argue with. It would be easy enough if he took the trouble. Mark has a webpage and I have my bio on this blog.

Passing Stranger
Guest
Though PhD’s in Hungarian history can come in handy now and again, you don’t need one to understand how utterly ludicrous it is to compare 1956 and 2010. In contrast to Alias3t I have come across this revolutionary sentiment. It is especially popular with the younger generation, in Jobbik circles but is also current with Fidesz supporters. Witness the speech of Gergely Pongrácz to the Jobbik founding meeting: Jobbik has already tried to appropriate 1956 years ago. This kind of sloganeering has been going on a lot, especially online, where it has spread to Fidesz supporters. It is certainly something of the last 4-5 years, prior to the 2006 street battles this comparision was mostly absent from public debate. Although, I have to admit, even the staunchest countryside Fidesz supporters did not allege this was an actual reviolution. These students like to imagine themselves to be heroes similar to the revolutionaries fighting Soviet tanks in 1956. It is very similar to the ‘anti-Fascism’ of the 1960s generation in Germany: sheltered by the safety of democratic institutions, more than twenty years after communism collapsed ignomiously, these people have found that the time has now come to join the anti-communist resistance, made… Read more »
frank
Guest

Eva: it would be nice for a change if you included something positive about Hungary/Hungarians in your blog. Spectrum to me means that all angles are covered, bad to good. It is depressing to read so many negative comments. Hungary is certainly not alone with her problems.May be our English friends could point out issues/events that surprised them – in a good way.

Open Dog
Guest

Talking to my homies it seems to me that mainly the older generation is clinging to this idea of “silent revolution”. Younger generation simply bumped the other party because it didn’t work out (at least they believe so). This “56 thing” will go away in 20 years. I asked my father what is the difference between this election and the one in 98? Was that a revolution too? I just got yelled at .. 🙂 Let me pick your Phd brains on one thing that bugs me. Why the Antall government didn’t take care of the commie issue in the early 90’s? Why didn’t they outlaw the MSZP, ban the Nepszabadsag, prosecute communists (even Kadar)? Maybe there is some kind of lingering guilt or shame that some people want to get rid of by promoting this “silent revolution” idea of the April elections ?

An
Guest
@Open Dog Here is my non-PhD answer, but coming from someone who was 18 in 1989. I am greatly disturbed by the black-and-white representation that today’s politicians paint of the old regime, obscuring the difference between the 80s with the 50s, the MSZP with the MSZMP, etc. In the 80s and in 1989 nothing was black and white, good and evil… it wasn’t as simple as that. It was GREY. The old communist party, MSZMP had basically died out with the death of Kadar in the summer of 1989. Much of the party membership by this time was so-called reform-communists who thought that transformation into democracy was desirable. The hardliners (those who did not believe in democratic changes) were a minority. (By the way, among these reform-communist was Pozsgay Imre, who, if I understand correctly, is going to be involved in putting together the new Constitution). During the course of the year MSZMP had been willingly participating in negations with the opposition on holding elections. Then, in October 1989 MSZMP dissolved itself. Two successor parties were formed: the Workers Party (Munkaspart) who carried on the old communist ideology, and MSZP, a pro-democracy and pro-market party in the left. The opposition… Read more »
peter
Guest

after 8 years of Mszp governing, and corruption cases, no miracle that disappointed people could be taken to streets, and for voting, and no miracle that these people are trusting in new government..these people will be desappointed again – as they were the past 20 years,because politicians, and people generally will not change, politicians will not be more fair, they want power so much…- the only question is: when? and the other question is, if they (and us) will have the right to vote again in democratic circumstances in 2014.

Diótörő
Guest
Mark: Stating that some of the objectives of ’56 and the vote of 2010 are identical, does NOT change anything in connection with the facts and historical events of ’56 – any such accusation is a malevolant distortion of my statement. I do not believe that someone with a PhD is the supreme authority on history and his (her) opinion should be accepted as the final argument. (Isn’ that a pity that for a long time we were deprived of the chance of reading good PhDs on ’56, e. g. Bill Lomax’s book was banned in Hungary by one of the great, progressive European social democrats, Mme Ledvai, when she had not yet known that she was a social democrat, and was but an arrogant communist censor.) And her presence in today’s Hungarian politics is a powerful argument in drawing up the personal and ideological connections between the communist party and the so-called MSZP. It is noteworthy that Mark does not say much about my arguments in connection with Mme Balogh’s strong and utterly unfair bias or with most others things, but criticizes my humble person instead. Frank’s statement is right, but vain: it is no use to expect anything… Read more »
Passing Stranger
Guest
“Why the Antall government didn’t take care of the commie issue in the early 90’s? Why didn’t they outlaw the MSZP, ban the Nepszabadsag, prosecute communists (even Kadar)?” Well. Kádár was dead by then, so that would have been difficult. To An’s answer one might add that in Hungary the party pretty much relinquished power voluntarily, unlike in, for instance, Czechoslovakia, the GDR or Romania. Unlike in Poland, there was no real mass pressure from below. Impetus for reform came from within the party itself, for instance from characters like Imre Pozsgay. It is pretty safe to say that had Orbán not existed, communism in Hungary would have collapsed all the same. There are several reasons why there was no mass purge after 1990: a reward for the peaceful transition of 1989, a desire to look forward rather than backward, a realisation that the country would need the experts of the old regime, an understanding that most people had in some way collaborated, and so a purge would be massively disruptive, and also affect many conservative politicians and church figures. In fact, there would be no end to it. If you’d ban Népszabadság, then you’d have to ban Magyar Nemzet… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Diótörő: “And her presence in today’s Hungarian politics is a powerful argument in drawing up the personal and ideological connections between the communist party and the so-called MSZP.”
Perhaps, but no more than the presence of the former MSZMP activist and official in the Education Ministry during the 1980s, Rózsa Hoffman as a state secretary in the current government is of personal and ideological connections between the MSZMP and FIDESZ.

Mark
Guest
Open Dog: “Why the Antall government didn’t take care of the commie issue in the early 90’s? Why didn’t they outlaw the MSZP, ban the Nepszabadsag, prosecute communists (even Kadar)?” Firstly, political justice is difficult to do – in the interests of basic stability there has to be a certain amount of institutional continuity. As a state party the MSZMP required loyalty, and often membership, from those in leading positions in the state bureaucracy and the economy. As is commonly recognized in most of post-war western Europe the scope of postwar de-Nazification was quite limited. Secondly, Hungary aspired to be a European style democracy, and this generally means that a broadly social democratic party is present as a major political force. In 1990, the electorate could have placed an anti-Communist social democratic party into a leading position on the left, as happened in the Czech Republic. The MSZDP couldn’t even get the 4% necessary in that election to win parliamentary representation; the MSZP was chosen by most left-wing voters as their best representative. Like it or not, the MSZP has been a very successful democratic party – it has topped the poll in four of the six elections post-1989, and… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “As a state party the MSZMP required loyalty, and often membership, from those in leading positions in the state bureaucracy and the economy.”
The people who want\ to get rid of all the communists today seem to forget (or they don’t even know) that in Hungary there were 800,000 party members! Majority of them white-collar workers. So, where would one draw the line? This communist party member is OK while another not? How high in the hierarchy should people lose their rights as citizens? Difficult, if not impossible questions.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “Perhaps, but no more than the presence of the former MSZMP activist and official in the Education Ministry during the 1980s, Rózsa Hoffman as a state secretary in the current government is of personal and ideological connections between the MSZMP and FIDESZ.”
Ms. Hoffmannn is a piece of work! She has the temerity to claim that the only reason she joined the party was that otherwise she was unable to teach! The biggest lie I have ever heard. I had a relative by marriage who was an almost bigotted Catholic. And he was a teacher. One day he was hauled in–it was sometime in the mid-1960s–and he was told that they wanted him to be the principal. And he answered: “But I’m a clerical reactionary.” They told him that it didn’t matter.

Mark
Guest

Éva: “The people who want to get rid of all the communists today seem to forget (or they don’t even know) that in Hungary there were 800,000 party members!”
There were 816,622 party members in June 1988 (10.3% of the adult population), of which 44.7% worked in white-collar jobs.
Stigmatizing 10.3% of any population is not good for social stability, even if it could have ever been done reliably. People forget that the archives of party were not in state ownership until 1993. In the case of local party materials they were returned to most county archives between 1994 and 1996, often in not an especially organized state (as I was one of the first researchers to look at some of the county-level materials after they returned to state hands, I know a bit about it). While the cadre department materials do generally survive (though what is there differs from county-to-county), I have never seen anything like a membership list and I’ve worked in the records of four of the nineteen counties and in Budapest.

Kevin Moore
Guest
Mark: I only said that there are many many people who see a direct continuation from the communists in 1956 to the ‘social democrats’ of today. And this is surely true, there are many such people. It doesn’t automatically mean that they are right, nor does it mean that I agree with them. (I happen to agree with them anyway – but this was not the scope of my previous post.) You complain about ‘the right coming up with insults’ but at the same time it’s only you and the author of this blog who are repeatedly and systematically calling everyone ignorant who disagree with you. I call that a shot in the foot. In general, it shines through all of your posts that you are extremely arrogant and egoistic about your putative high intellectual and education niveau. I suppose (and let me allow this prejudice) you are one of those ‘intellectuals’ who regard for example intellectuals in technical areas to be inferior – I know many such human-intellectuals – and presume one can’t really be more decent in scholarly achievements than you. This probably gives you a too high ground from where you speak down on others. But let… Read more »
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