Now Imre Nagy is removed from the Hungarian national pantheon

While Viktor Orbán and György Matolcsy try to figure out what on earth to do before Hungary's finances collapse let's return to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

Historians and political analysts have often explained that although those who took part in the regime change between 1988 and 1990 appealed to the traditions of 1956 and in fact the Third Republic was declared on October 23, 1989, the fact is that the influence of 1956 is practically nonexistent in today's Hungary. In 1956 the intellectual leaders of the revolution were dreaming of some kind of socialist democracy. In practical terms they had the Yugoslav model in mind, such as factories actually run by the workers. Surely, this idea was no more than utopianism. In 1956, again following the Yugoslav example and taking their cue from Austria's status, the intellectuals of 1956 envisioned a neutral state that would be a guarantee for the Soviet Union that the new socialist Hungary wouldn't be antagonistic toward its eastern neighbor. The coat-of-arms those people had in mind was the Kossuth coat-of-arms.

In 1990 Hungary became a state committed to the free market economy or, more plainly, to the capitalist system. Gyula Horn, the leader of the new socialist party, announced at the very beginning of 1990 that Hungary should join NATO. Even the sacred symbol of 1956, the Kossuth coat-of-arms, was cast aside and the old one with the crown on top reestablished. Today's Hungary has practically nothing to do with 1956.

Yet at least in words all politicians appeal to 1956 as the prime example of Hungarians' desire for freedom and democracy. Viktor Orbán made himself a well known public figure by being chosen to speak at the reburial of Imre Nagy and the other martyrs of the revolution on June 16, 1989. What did he say in that speech about Imre Nagy and the other "communists" whose remains had been collected in the coffins displayed on Heroes' Square? He bowed "in front of the communist Imre Nagy and his friends" for two reasons. He respected the fact that these people could identify with the will of Hungarian society and that, even in the shadow of the gallows, they refused to stand together with the murderers. According to the Orbán of those days "we could learn from their fate that democracy and communism are irreconcilable."

But that was a long time ago. Since then Viktor Orbán changed his mind about many things including the role of Imre Nagy. By the time he first became prime minister he quite openly admitted that "Imre Nagy is not our hero," and soon enough he tried his best to rewrite history by calling the October days "a bourgeois democratic revolution."

Nagy Imre

The rewriting of history is a favorite pastime of Fidesz politicians. They have been working furiously to rehabilitate one of the most undemocratic governments of Europe, Miklós Horthy's regime as it existed between 1920 and 1944. While Admiral Horthy's Corvin-Chain was revived during Orbán's first tenure as prime minister only to be discarded by the socialist-liberal governments that followed, Orbán didn't give up. The Chain returned: fifteen such decorations will be distributed yearly by the government. At the same time, the current Hungarian government is planning to drop several decorations that have something to do with 1956. There was the Nagy Imre Érdemrend (Imre Nagy Decoration) and the 1956 Emlékérem (1956 Memorial Medal). In far-right circles Imre Nagy's name is mud. One commenter in Magyar Hírlap wrote in connection with the Imre Nagy Decoration: "nagy imre egy budos kommunista volt, azok kozul is egyike a legmegvetni valobb [sic], gyava aruloknak!" (Imre Nagy was a stinking communist, among them is one of the most despicable and cowardly traitors.) Obviously, the Orbán government wants to please these people by getting rid of the decoration named after Imre Nagy.

The socialist members of the parliamentary committee on cultural matters naturally inquired what the problem is with Imre Nagy. They received answers that demonstrated the confusion of even those people who submitted the proposal for a new law governing state decorations. One of the MPs, the Christian Democratic István Pálffy, explained that all decorations must somehow be connected to St. Stephen! But then what is the situation with the Corvinus Chain? After all, King Mathias wasn't exactly a descendant of St. Stephen. Or why didn't they abolish the Kossuth and the Széchenyi Prizes? Surely, Pálffy didn't quite dare to tell the real reason. The truth came from Mária Wittner. She explained that Imre Nagy was a communist and as such is not worthy of a commemorative decoration.

The Christian Democratic chairman of the committee added that one cannot single out Imre Nagy, who is after all a controversial figure. In his opinion Cardinal József Mindszenty or even István Bibó were more important in 1956 than Nagy. Another member opined that everybody who deserved it already received the Imre Nagy Decoration and there is no need for more.

As Ildikó Lendvai, MSZP member of the committee, noted, this last explanation is especially curious because the document establishing the Imre Nagy Decoration states that the recipients "must show patriotic courage, serve Hungarian independence, work for societal dialogue, societal peace and unity of the nation." She added that it seems that the Orbán government not only doesn't want to have anything to do with Imre Nagy but it also has problems with dialogue, national unity, and peaceful change.

Meanwhile, those of us for whom Imre Nagy was a hero, the brave prime minister who was ready to sacrifice his life and unlike others never asked for mercy, are shuddering at the direction Viktor Orbán is taking Hungary. A few days ago a French television station called Fidesz a far-right party and mentioned it next to the party of Jean-Marie Le Pen. By now I truly think that the distinction between Jobbik and Fidesz is minimal. Viktor Orbán is just not as honest as Gábor Vona about his beliefs and plans. That's all.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Joseph Simon
Guest

October 23 is a National Holiday in Hungary and there is a boulevard in Budapest az ’56osok Útja. Nagy Imre is a hero for us, I have just completed a biography of him. If this is what OV is doing, I am greatly puzzled as to why.

HungaryWakeUp
Guest

The Nagy Imre Tarsasag with the leadership of Dr. Ferenc Donath will keep the legacy of 1956 alive.
Orban is Vona.
The task is to peel away the electorate from the FIDESZ-JOBBIK clique, and to attract them with something honest, like a New Deak movement.

Jarek
Guest
An
Guest

“The Christian Democratic chairman of the committee added that one cannot single out Imre Nagy, who is after all a controversial figure. In his opinion Cardinal József Mindszenty or even István Bibó were more important in 1956 than Nagy. ”
Is it a bad joke?
Somebody please wake me up from this nightmare. Every day I read several things on the Hungarian news that are greatly disturbing.
Now the latest is that the government is creating a super-secret service that can freely access and collect all personal data, that were stored is separate government databases up till now. So, for example, it will be possible to access citizen’s medical records, their tax return, and speeding violations in one database. Splendid.
Oh, and journalist will have to reveal their sources to this new super secret service authority without a court order. Wonderful.

Member

“Itt Nagy Imre beszél, a Magyar Népköztársaság minisztertanácsának elnöke. Ma hajnalban a szovjet csapatok támadást indítottak fővárosunk ellen azzal a nyilvánvaló szándékkal, hogy megdöntsék a törvényes magyar demokratikus kormányt. Csapataink harcban állnak! A kormány a helyén van. Ezt közlöm az ország népével és a világ közvéleményével!”
“This is Prime Minister Imre Nagy. The Soviet troops have been attacking the capital since the early hours of the morning. Our troops are engaged in battle, the government is still in place. I would like to bring this fact to the attention of our country and the international community.”
He died for this.
King Orban the 5th doesn’t have the cohones to make the same speech.
What kind of stupid country is this? Changing it’s heroes like underwear. Who’s next? Batman?

Paul
Guest

Compare and contrast:
Orbán attacked the Soviet troops in his great speech, safe in the knowledge that they had already agreed to go, and that he was taking no risks whatsoever.
Nagy reluctantly took responsibility for a nascent state standing up against the full might of the Soviet army, in the certain knowledge that they could (and would) crush him.
One was a true hero, putting his life on the line out of duty, not personal gain. The other is a cowardly political opportunist, who will stoop to anything to keep power.

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest
There is no question that Imre Nagy was a true Communist, perhaps truer than Rakosi or Gero and the rest of the ruling elite between 1945 and 1956. He joined the Communist Party as a young man and eventually ended up as one of the Moscow Hungarians, who survived Stalin’s purge of Bela Kun and many others. He returned with the Red Army and quickly became the symbol attached to the privatization and then sovietization of the farmland countryside. He was responsible for the destruction of the Hungarian farmer population, he ordered the forced confiscation of food stuff stored and hidden from the authorities. If his goons did not find “counterband”, they made sure it was planted. That’s the bad memory of Imre Nagy. At the same time Nagy became more and more alarmed by the excesses comitted by Rakosi and slowly became the symbol of internal (communist) opposition to the Stalinist/Rakosi line. In 1953 he seemed to win the power struggle, after Stalin died and Nagy instituted a somewhat kinder, gentler communism. Sovietization (kolhoz) of the land was slowed down, thye depoetees were allowed to leave the places of local arrest. The air was less oppressive. Rakosi did not… Read more »
Sandor
Guest

Just a few months ago, when I suggested that Orban is a wannabe Mussolini and his is a fascist government, the best I could get from you all was gentle waiving of hands and slight disapproval of the facial kind.
This was not the first time when my prediction was pooh-pooed. (Similar was when I predicted that Orban’s economic madness will fail within eighteen months, he complied punctually, but nobody here remembered the prediction anymore.) repeat my assertion let’s see if there are any, who still disagree.

peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear Eva,
re the sentece: “In 1956 the intellectual leaders of the revolution were dreaming of some kind of socialist democracy. In practical terms they had the Yugoslav model in mind, such as factories actually run by the workers. Surely, this idea was no more than utopianism. In 1956, again following the Yugoslav example and taking their cue from Austria’s status, the intellectuals of 1956 envisioned a neutral state that would be a guarantee for the Soviet Union that the new socialist Hungary wouldn’t be antagonistic toward its eastern neighbor. The coat-of-arms those people had in mind was the Kossuth coat-of-arms.”
Congratulations. You just spat on Nagy Imre’s grave by writing this. Some “utopia”; trust me it is not. It is our politics and this brings us to a collision course with your ideas.
Nevertheless we a common agenda here. Mr. Orban must go.
I wish you dedicated your time to actually helping people /how about we all here send our common letter of support to Ms. Tetenyi Eva in Esztergom?/ rather than writing half assed things about a great man whose message you obviously never got.
Sincerely:
Peter Litvanyi

peter litvanyi
Guest

It is time for a moment of laughter here:
“BLAME THE HUNGARIANS”:
High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://blogs.ft.com/the-world/2011/11/when-in-doubt-blame-the-hungarians/#ixzz1f4dFPtrn
As the European Union’s crisis deepens, the search is on for scapegoats. A new candidate for this role was recently brought to my attention – the Hungarians. This is not because they have done everything wrong. It’s just that when it comes to international politics, Hungary is congenitally unlucky.
A Hungarian acquaintance argues that every organisation that Hungary has joined for the last 150 years has collapsed shortly afterwards. The Hapsburgs were one of the Europe’s most successful dynasties. But then in 1867, the Austro-Hungarian empire was formed, and by 1918 it had disappeared. Hungary chose the losing side in both the first and second world wars. After 1945, it became a member of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. Given this long record of failure, the EU should have been on its guard when it welcomed Hungary as a member in 2004.
Sincerely:
Peter

Ron
Guest

Eva: While Viktor Orbán and György Matolcsy try to figure out what on earth to do before Hungary’s finances collapse.
No they are not. They are shopping in Vienna. At least Maltolcsy. While the rest of Hungary has no money to pay for their Christmas presents.
http://herizonford.tumblr.com/post/13410924925/visszajottem-becsbol-herem
Btw why is he not spending his money in Hungary? Or is he wants to make Vienna dependent on Hungary’s independent economy?

Ron
Guest

Peter: I wish you dedicated your time to actually helping people /how about we all here send our common letter of support to Ms. Tetenyi Eva in Esztergom?
Eva spent time and wrote a number of articles on Esztergom:
http://esbalogh.typepad.com/hungarianspectrum/2009/10/mayor-of-esztergom-hungary.html
http://esbalogh.typepad.com/hungarianspectrum/2010/02/is-freedom-of-speech-in-danger-in-hungary.html
http://esbalogh.typepad.com/hungarianspectrum/2010/10/the-former-mayor-of-esztergom-refuses-to-leave.html
http://esbalogh.typepad.com/hungarianspectrum/2010/10/esztergom-perhaps-the-voters-learned-a-thing-or-two.html
Another blog, this time in Dutch (use google translation) dedicated an article on Tetenyi and the situation in Esztergom.
http://www.scribblesfromhungary.com/2011/06/esztergom-een-hongaars-koningsdrama.html
You want to sent a letter to who? Tetenyi actually walked from Esztergom to Budapest to meet Viktor Orban with zero impact.
I do not think a letter will help. Pressure on the government to change the constitution, stop the new election law, and change back a few other laws may help.
Unfortunately, which has been proven many times, the government does not listen. Unless there is a court verdict or alternatively stop giving money.

Joseph Simon
Guest

The memory of of the 1956 revolution and Nagy Imre were kept alive by those of us who left after the repression. It is a sad fact that most people in Hungary now have little knowledge of the historic role played by Nagy and of his tragic end. Many Hungarians resent or simply donot care about 1956. Let’s not forget that for thirty years his name and 1956 were taboo in Hungary. People are apathetic, preoccupied with the hardships of every day living, which is hard for most.

Member
Ron: “While the rest of Hungary has no money to pay for their Christmas presents {Matolcsy shops in Vienna]” True Hungarians shop in Vienna! An other legacy of Horthy era to follow. Joseph Simon: ” Many Hungarians resent or simply donot care about 1956…People are apathetic, preoccupied with the hardships of every day living, which is hard for most.” You got it all wrong again. It is NOT the Hungarians who want Imre Nagy to be forgotten. It is Viktor Orban. Do you remember? I also o not see the hardship of everyday living of Orban and Mataolcsy per see. Most Hungarians, wit the exception of the supreme right, has no intention to forget about Imre Nagy. Imre Nagy became an obstacle for Orban. He used Imre Nagy until he needed him. The reburial of Imre Nagy was a stepping stone fir Orban, just lime hi atheism, his liberal values and so forth. “Friends” and political allies are all stepping stone for Orban. He changes his believes, morals and friends according to what will advance him the most. I do not feel sorry for any of his friends or believers when they finally fall from grace. I pity them because… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Sackhoes Contributor – thank you for your post – informative, moving and well written (and what I was trying to say by “reluctantly took responsibility” – but expressed much more eloquently!).
I’m sure all on here would welcome more contributions from you. Perhaps you could arrange with Éva to fill in when she needs a day off?

HungaryWakeUp
Guest

this could be the most serious comment to the FT’s lighthearted play on Hungarian history:
“High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://blogs.ft.com/the-world/2011/11/when-in-doubt-blame-the-hungarians/#ixzz1f6Tcny1O
Yol | November 28 11:21pm | Permalink
Darko, my sense of humour is gone. Tonight, democracy in Hungary officially ended. The Orban parliament just cancelled the independence of judiciary from the ruling party. They will decide for at least 12 years, whom to prosecute, they will appoint the judges for the trials, and they will demote or dismiss judges who will not follow the Party’s demand.
The current head of the Supreme Court declared that the new system in the judicial branch will be more authoritarian than the Communists’ was. He is right.
In a few days they will change the electoral system and will establish a new secret police that will have the right to know every aspect of people’s lives, including political leaning and health records.
Hungary has become the dictatorship of cynical oligarchs and politicians headed by Orban.
The European Union’s silence is deafening…”

Paul
Guest

“Just a few months ago, when I suggested that Orban is a wannabe Mussolini and his is a fascist government, the best I could get from you all was gentle waiving of hands and slight disapproval of the facial kind.”
Perhaps you should read this blog more often before posting. I for one have been making this point (and more) for the last 18 months.
And, in defence of many of the other posters, while they do not share my view that the time for talking has long past, and that Orbán can only be removed by protest, strikes, etc, they do actually share your (and my) view as to what he is and what he’s doing.

Paul
Guest

Prter and Hungary Wakeup – please check C&P before posting, you both included the FT’s ‘do not cut and paste’ warning that they automatically generate when you C&P!

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

Paul: thanks for your kind comments on my post. I will, of course, continue to make comments on the topics on this blog as time permits, but I would not dream of becoming an understudy for Eva Balogh. This is her blog and she is doing a great job with it. I do not always agree with her opinions, but I admire her dedication, her research and her wide knowledge.

Joseph Simon
Guest

A few years ago a book was published about Nagy Imre that he was in fact a KGB agent while in Moscow. Living in Hungary 4-5 months every year, I was saddened to see how many people, even my friends, believed this slander. People are almost annoyed when one brings up the heady days of ’56.

Jano
Guest

Sackhoes: Let me thank you too, reading the post I really hoped that there would be a comment like yours under.
Joseph: It’s not necessarily slander, people are not angels or devils. As Sackhoes wrote above, Nagy shared a lot of responsibility for the communist crimes between 45-53. But he made up for it. He came clean and died for his cause. In Romania, all he had to do was publicly condemning himself and the revolution and his life would have been spared (watch Márta Mészáros’s movie about Nagy), but he refused.

GDF
Guest

Peter Litvanyi: “It is our politics and this brings us to a collision course with your ideas.”
What group are you referring to when you say “our politics”?

Kirsten
Guest

Paul, but you should actually be impressed by the protests in Esztergom. It appears to be without much effect currently but should more people in other cities join in, this would be very serious for OV.

Paul
Guest

Re Sackhoes’ post above – I forgot to comment on the ‘open thread’ idea suggested the other day*. I think this is an excellent idea (especially as so many of my posts are off-topic!), although I suspect we might have to wait until HS migrates to different blogging software before this is practicable!
*apologies to whoever suggested this – I forget which poster it was and I’m writing this on my phone, so it’s impossible to look it up without losing the text (how ‘smart’ is that?!)

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Peter Litvanyi: “Some “utopia”; trust me it is not. It is our politics and this brings us to a collision course with your ideas.”
I was there and I know what I’m talking about. It was a Utopian idea that wouldn’t have succeeded. I might have been only a politically inexperienced twenty-year-old but even I knew by the end of the twelfth day that Imre Nagy’s new party would most likely lose at a free and fair elections.
Yet, that doesn’t prevent me from thinking of him as a hero and as a great man who gave his life for something he believed in.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “all he had to do was publicly condemning himself and the revolution and his life would have been spared (watch Márta Mészáros’s movie about Nagy), but he refused.”
Or read János M. Rainer’s biography of Imre Nagy. I actually heard about this I think in 1967 or 1968 from Mária Ormos, the historian.

Paul
Guest
That was a point I meant to make yesterday, Éva – the leaders might have been aiming for some sort of ‘democracy within socialism’. (Although, because of the confusion of the time, we need to ask which leaders, and at what stages in the uprising?) But I’m not at all convinced this is what the people wanted. Maybe, at the beginning they didn’t know what they wanted – except to protest/fight. But, once they tasted that early victory and began to believe a Soviet withdrawal might actually be possible, I suspect that most people would have voted to leave ‘socialism’ far behind and move Westward as fast they could go. I don’t need to remind you of this, obviously, but many people today seem to think of 56 as being well into a long-term Soviet rule, whereas it was only 8 years since Hungary had been relatively free and democratic. Easily within the memory of even the youngest students on those early marches. 1989/90 may have been difficult because those round the table were grappling with ideas that were theoretical to them, and perhaps not fully understood, but in 56 the people knew exactly what they had lost and what… Read more »
Member

“Open thread” I personally like the guided format. I do not think I would be able to keep up with twenty different subjects a day. I like the idea that we are semi-focused, even though I throw in some off-subjects time to time too. I like that we are “forced” to move on day by day. I think this is a very effective way to make sure that our comments and feedbacks are considered by those who happen by this blog. Maybe I am in the minority with this. I like the blog format, and having more then one thread is a Forum style not a Blog style social tool. THere is nothing wrong with Forums, but the main thread would get lost I believe.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Some1: “”Open thread” I personally like the guided format. I do not think I would be able to keep up with twenty different subjects a day.”
I have looked into the matter and it seems pretty complicated but I guess I could conquer that problem.
By sharing Some1’s concern I have been thinking a different solution. There are several people among the commentators who are pretty well versed in contemporary Hungarian politics. What about some of you actually offering your own thoughts in shape of articles. You could send them to me and I would be able to post them.

Paul
Guest

Some 1 – my understanding was that the proposal was that the blog would continue as it is, but an ‘open thread’ would be added for off-topic discussions.
I don’t think this would damage the blog in any way, in fact it would mean that discussion of Éva’s posts stayed more focussed. But at the same time, those of us involved in off-topic discussions would be able to find and continue them more easily.
True, this adds a ‘forum’ of sorts to the blog, which might be seen as confusing by some, but that’s effectively what we have here anyway. The problem is that it’s just not very effective this way – discussions are difficult to follow for more than a few days and sometimes Éva’s posts almost get lost in off-topic ‘replies’.
Still, I don’t expect Typepad caters for anything like this anyway!

wpDiscuz