According to the wishes of Árpád Göncz, president of the Third Republic, he did not have a state funeral. Foreign politicians who admired him were at the funeral as private persons. The same was true of Hungarian politicians, including the current president of the country, János Áder, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. While János Áder sat close to the grave, Orbán and his wife stood far away, practically in the last row of the thousands who came to pay their final respects to the man who was beloved by many.
Árpád Göncz had asked Imre Mécs, who shared a prison cell with him after the Revolution of 1956, to deliver the eulogy at his funeral. Both men were arrested in 1957 and were released only in 1963, after János Kádár declared an amnesty for some of the political prisoners. In 1958 Göncz was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of appeal. Later he was heard to say that this was the happiest day of his life. After all, his life was spared.
Imre Mécs was not so lucky. He was condemned to death in 1958, and it was only a year later that his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Mécs, at the request of the family, didn’t deliver the complete speech, which I’m publishing here in its English translation, at the funeral. He left out his critical remarks about Viktor Orbán’s illiberal state. This text was delivered in front of the Parliament later in the evening. The picture was taken there.
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Twenty-six years ago, on June 15th 1989, an epoch-making, regime-changing funeral ceremony took place where and when we were able – at long last – to pay our last respects in a dignified fashion to the executed prime minister of the 1956 revolution and to thousands of other martyrs. Árpád Göncz was one of the most important personalities to pave the way for the regime change… Now, he, too, is gone. Our Uncle Árpi, who was loved by a whole nation, who was the father and protector of a nation. We have gathered here today to share the sorrow of Zsuzsa Göntér, his beloved wife, faithful companion, as well as that of the entire Göncz family. Árpád, you will be missed by your four children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. And, we too will miss you, Árpád, your friends and fellow prisoners of cell No. 50. Your colleagues, your acquaintances—so many people who may not even have met you in person, but who felt that you are with them, and for them. Look, this cemetery is full of mourners.
Seeing all this, I’m sure Árpi would smilingly rise from this catafalque, run to us, and, as he always did, would hug and kiss, caress and smile at us. Alas, it is impossible; such is human life. What he was, now becomes a miraculous memory. Yet, he will remain with us and love us all. In his entire life, love was the most important thing for him, which went hand in hand with the total rejection of viciousness and selfishness.
My dear friend! You went through difficult historic eras and hard times in your personal life but you always took sides with the good, the true, and the humane. It is therefore not surprising that you breathed, hoped, and acted together with the Hungarian students and people in the fall of 1956. When the mightiest army of the world perfidiously invaded us for the second time (in the 20th century?) and brutally crushed our freedom fight, Minister of State István Bibó, Árpi’s good friend, stood unshaken and represented Hungary. Árpád was instrumental in smuggling Bibó’s statements out of the country. He had an important role in the resistance movement, too. They were both arrested, we were worried for their lives. They were sentenced to life imprisonment. Zsuzsa, his wife, left alone with the four children had to fight all alone for her husband and the daily bread for the family. For us, she represents the biblical strong woman. A wonderful person! God bless you, dear Zsuzsa!
While in prison, and with his wife and four children at home— Árpád Göncz remained strong, and never gave up. Instead, he learned English in the prison and became a translator in the prison’s ‘translation office’. After his release in 1963, he became one of the best literary translators of his country. He worked night and day, translated, put famous literary works into Hungarian, and at the same time, he became a writer himself.
We, together with him, sought contact not only with other 1956’ers but also with members of the fledgling democratic opposition movement; all that in the midst of the sleazy clandestine machinations of the secret police. Finally, we got united and won, together with the heroic victims of 1956. After the funeral of the late Prime Minister Imre Nagy, the process of the change of regime got accelerated, and we looked forward to a promising future. Árpi played a significant role in that, too. At the roundtable discussions, with joint effort and will, we were able to create the first democratic state ruled by law: the Republic of Hungary. Most of the demands of 1956 and the desires of the nation came true: our homeland became free, we introduced a multi-party political system, and market economy also started to evolve. Our party, the biggest liberal party in our history, ended up second in the first democratic elections in 1990. József Antall, the victorious prime minister, offered Árpád Göncz the Office of the President of the country on the condition that we jointly phase out laws requiring a two-thirds majority in parliament—legislation that hinders efficient and responsible governance. This pact was necessary and wise, and thus the President of the Hungarian Writers’ Association, one of the leaders of the Free Democrats, became the first, outstanding President of the Republic of Hungary, and he held that position for the maximum of ten years.
Árpi took his presidential duties very seriously. He helped to consolidate a liberal state ruled by law, assisted the different branches of power to find their place in the system, and promoted the efficient operation of the Constitutional Court.
For ten long years, you promoted our reputation all over the world.
Thank you Árpi!
Thank you Mr. President!
Two years later, the President of Russia visited our parliament and apologized to the Hungarian nation. Unfortunately, the victims of 1956 resting in plot No. 301 could not hear that.
Then, we became a member country both in NATO and the European Union, and thus the old dreams of the Hungarians came true. Our nation never had such a great opportunity. Yet, the country does not succeed—why? Why is there dejection, hopelessness? Why is there pseudo-democracy? One time “young democrats” now turn against their principles, seek exclusive power, centralize practically everything, create a new predatory-exploiting stratum of society of their choice, and all that out of the money of the poor. They have institutionalized corruption and poverty, centralized the autocratic system, and oppressed self-governance in every field.
They stir up hatred, and ignorance is rampant. Love, which determines the quality of your life, is persecuted and is ‘non-grata’. But you are right, Árpi! There are a lot of good people, but they are benign and silent or soft-voiced. Nevertheless, they do help the needy, the homeless, and the fallen. We can count on them.
We are in pain now that we lost you, the ‘Man of all men’, and our hopes are also fading away. I miss you, my dear friend, Árpi. I miss you so much. I miss your soft voice, your firm posture; and I miss your smile, too.
The current power intentionally ignores the spirit of 1956, Árpi. They cleared away from Kossuth Square the Statue of the Eternal Flame that you initiated, and which was set up through the generous contributions of ordinary people. We have just found it with the help of civic volunteers at a sculptor’s place just outside of Nyergesújfalu. We will take it back and guard the flame that we rekindled together in 1996. This beautiful and modest statue must be put back in place, because the memory of the revolution and freedom fight of 1956, the most important historic event of the 20th century in Hungary, must have a worthy monument in Kossuth tér, which was one of the most important venues of the revolution. I am sure you would be with us in this fight! I remember how painful it was for you when football hooligans spoiled the festivities of the 50th anniversary in 2006, while leaders of 56 states visited us, praising our revolution and our country that had never been respected more.
Enough is enough! We will bring back the flame of the revolution! We will revive the spirit of 1956! We will bring back democracy! Dear Árpi, we owe this to you and to ourselves.
What can we do? We must follow the guidance of Ferenc Deák: we must unbutton the old vest and rebutton it again. We must reach back to our pure, original values, to the time of the change of regime in 1990, the ideals of the Republic of Hungary.
What we need is cooperation, cooperation and again cooperation, we need to join our forces, otherwise we will never have democracy in Hungary again. Petty rivalling groups cannot democratize the country: they will be nothing more than just unimportant showcase decorations in the hands of power.
We promise you, Árpi, we will not rest until the sun rises again over our homeland.
You will remain forever in our history, and also in our hearts.
May I ask members of the mourning family as well as all those present here today, let us hold each other’s hands as we did on 16th June 16th 1989, and for a long and deep minute think of Árpád Göncz, our beloved and everlasting president.
God bless you, Árpi, and rest in peace!
Kossuth tér, 6th November 2015