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."
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.