Valiant efforts to sell Viktor Orbán’s version of 1956

Let me start with a brief summary of some events that will take place in Budapest and Washington on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Hungarian revolution of 1956. I’m certain that Viktor Orbán can never forgive fate that he was not the prime minister of Hungary on the fiftieth anniversary of that important event in the history of the international communist movement. After all, a fiftieth anniversary carries a great deal more weight than a sixtieth. Ten years later, Orbán is trying to compensate for that missed opportunity. Mind you, he was certainly not inactive on October 23, 2006, when he orchestrated a demonstration that eventually became a large-scale struggle between the inexperienced and ill-equipped police force and the rabble that had been egged on by Fidesz politicians for weeks. They had a second revolution in mind.

Now he is basking in glory, as if he and his kind had a legitimate right to speak about those days. The Orbán government has spent an inordinate amount of money both at home and abroad on the celebrations, but as far as I can see the results are meager. One of the Hungarian papers triumphantly announced that Hungary will have a very important visitor for the anniversary in the person of Polish President Andrzej Duda, who will appear alongside Orbán as he delivers his speech in front of the parliament building. The article made it clear that Duda will be the only foreign visitor in Budapest on that day. A rather interesting situation. Is it possible that the Hungarian government didn’t invite any foreign dignitaries for fear of being rebuffed and therefore settled for a show of Polish-Hungarian friendship that has an important message to convey to the rest of the world today? In any case, given the hype surrounding this not so significant anniversary, the absence of foreign visitors is glaring.

The Washington events are not faring any better as far as I know. The Hungarian government originally wanted to organize a conference on the significance of the 1956 revolution at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, but the Center refused to hold the event. Of course, it is hard to know what the management of the Center had in mind when it declined the request of the Hungarian government. There are a couple of possibilities. One is that the participants were mostly members of the government instead of scholars. The second complaint of the Center might have been the lopsidedness of political views of the participants presented to them. Well-known scholars of 1956 were most likely left out on ideological grounds. At the end, the conference had to be moved to the National Defense University, where it was held on August 12.

The theme of the conference was “1956: The Freedom Fight that Changed the Cold War—Geopolitics and Defense Policy.”  Donald Yamamoto, senior vice president of the National Defense University, and Réka Szemerkényi, ambassador of Hungary, welcomed the audience. The keynote speaker was István Simicskó, minister of defense. In connection with Simicskó it is perhaps worth remembering that he was the only member of parliament who voted “no” to Hungary’s joining the European Union in 2003.

Finlay Lewis, a journalist from CQ Now and CQ Roll Call, was the moderator of the morning session, during which Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack from the Institute for National Strategic Studies and the National Defense University, László Borhi, a historian from Indiana University, and Áron Máthé, vice chairman of the Committee of National Remembrance, Budapest discussed “Cold War Geopolitics and the Broader Context to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.” Peter Zwack’s only connection to Hungary is that he is the son of Péter Zwack of Unicum fame. He doesn’t speak Hungarian. László Borhi has written several books on U.S.-Hungarian diplomatic relations, but apparently he is far too close to Mária Schmidt. Áron Máthé is a fairly young historian who so far has published one book about a court case against a number of Arrow Cross men in 1967, which has nothing to do with 1956.

After a coffee break an hour was devoted to “the memory of the 1956 revolution and freedom fight,” during which “Time Capsule 1956—Revolt in Hungary” was screened and Imre Tóth, a member of the revolutionary government of 1956, spoke briefly. I didn’t manage to find anything about Imre Tóth’s precise role in 1956, but I heard from a friend that he might have been an employee of the ministry of foreign affairs, which was in utter chaos during October-November 1956.

After lunch were four more speeches, including one by Tamás Magyarics from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Magyarics’s specialty is U.S.-Hungarian relations.

On the same day the ribbon cutting ceremony of the “1956 Hungarian Freedom Fighters Exhibit” took place at the Pentagon. Present were U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense James J. Townsend, Ambassador Colleen Bell, Defense Minister István Simicskó, and Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi. Ambassador Bell delivered this short speech:

Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to be here today at such a special event. Ambassador Szemerkényi, Minister Simicskó, special guests and friends of Hungary, I am honored to be here.

As many of you may know, I serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and I have the honor of representing the United States and President Obama in Budapest. During the past two years, I have grown to love the Hungarian people and their devotion to freedom. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Minister Simicskó and greatly appreciate all he and the Hungarian Defense Forces do to make Europe a more free and democratic continent. Thank you for your contributions to NATO, as well as all of the other bilateral and multilateral exercises you participate in on a continual basis. The Hungarian military has deployed – and currently remains deployed – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa, the Balkans, and the Baltics. Even if our countries don’t always see eye to eye on all issues, our troops still stand shoulder to shoulder. Hungarian forces’ contributions to democracy and freedom help to make the world a freer place in which to live.

As friends and allies, the United States and Hungary share a faith in democracy. We share a common heritage, cherishing our rights not as subjects or vassals, not as dependents or followers, but as citizens.  We are citizens bound together by our love of liberty, and our willingness to serve.

That is why we are here today – to honor those very brave men and women who sixty years ago attempted to throw off the yoke of communism. Today, in a free Hungary, in the United States, and in many other places around the world, we honor their memory and sacrifices.

Thank you so much for joining us here today. Köszönöm szépen.

Finally, a controversial bronze statue depicting a young boy, a “Budapest Lad/Pesti srác,” will be unveiled on October 16 in Washington.

"The Budapest Lad" in Washington I guess they don't dare to show the rest

“The Budapest Lad” in Washington

The Budapest version of the statue "Pesti srác

The Budapest version of the statue “Pesti srác”

I must say that the Budapest version is a great deal better from an artistic point of view, but as the photo of the model for the statue demonstrates, these kids couldn’t possibly have known what the revolution was all about.

pesti-srac3I really should devote a post to the interpretations of the Hungarian Revolution put forth by Fidesz over the years. Initially, the party viewed the event as a “bourgeois democratic revolution.” But then the Fidesz leadership found their real idols, about 200-300 street fighters who were mostly working class youngsters and whose leaders as time went by became far-right spokesmen for those revolutionary times. They claimed that the real heroes and leaders came from their ranks, as opposed to those anti-Stalinist communists who were responsible, in the final analysis, for the outbreak of an armed revolt. Members of Fidesz have never been admirers of Imre Nagy. As Orbán said years ago, “Imre Nagy is not our hero.” For a while, they even contemplated removing his bust from a site near the parliament building.

These young street fighters did have a role to play in forcing the Nagy government to transform itself into a coalition government of sorts. But had the revolution been successful and had it ushered in a period of consolidation, these unruly groups would most likely have been quietly disarmed and eliminated. For Orbán and Fidesz, however, these kids and their intransigent leaders are the embodiment of 1956.

Of course, there will be speakers from Hungary at the unveiling: Miklós Seszták, minister of national development, Zsolt Németh, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Hungarian parliament, and János Horváth, former doyen of parliament. Horváth was born in 1921 and left Hungary in 1956 for the United States. In 1992 he was the Republican candidate for Indiana’s 10th congressional district, which was a fairly hopeless undertaking against the Democrat Andrew Jacobs, Jr., who held the seat between 1983 and 1997.

Colleen Bell will also give a speech, which is somewhat strange since, to the best of my knowledge, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and Thomas Melia, USAID’s assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia, declined invitations to the reception organized by Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi. Keep in mind that both of them have been and still are heavily involved in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Hungary. Their refusal to attend is not a good sign.

It matters not how many billions the Orbán government is ready to spend on this sixtieth anniversary extravaganza as long as the whole democratic world is watching what’s going on in Hungary with horror. As long as foreign observers and politicians look upon Viktor Orbán as an ally of Vladimir Putin and someone who wants to destroy the European Union. No amount of paint or bronze can cover the grime that has accumulated in Hungary in the last six years.

October 14, 2016
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London Calling!

Of course, everyone knows how it all started: 15 students protested and were arrested and put into jail.

Their parents and relatives then organised a protest to get them released.

This turned into a bloodbath as the authorities mowed down the demonstrators with disproportionate weapons.

All known relatives of the opposition and allied opponents were then relentlessly hunted down and murdered.

And we all know that hundreds of thousands of ‘refugees’ fled over the border to escape persecution.

Yes this is what has occurred in ……….. Syria.

From my understanding, the parallels with ’56 are uncanny – and show how the Hungarian ‘Uprising’ could have turned out.

God help Alleppo.


Your “understanding” borders on the non-existent.

Tibor farkas

Your description of the beginning of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 is pure fiction. That is not how it started


Oh dear, Tibor!

Just like Bambi……. you didn’t read it properly.

This is how Syria started – I just said there were parallels with the Hungarian ‘Uprising’.

Bambi and you should try reading it again?

Bambi has mis-read posts before?

In English you have to read left to right then top to bottom?

I’m not sure how you do it in Hungarian?

Try again? Good luck.


@Charlie, 4:22 am

Dear Churl,

No matter how often it is read, it still comes out as out-of-left field irrelevance.


While nominally celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising of 1956, Mr. Orban celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Fidesz/Fradi attempt at another counter-revolution – this one to overthrow the democratic government led by Mr. Gyurcsany. Like so much else associated with the present prime minister of Hungary, that didn’t work either.

The current situation is perfectly summed up by the last sentence of Prof. Balog’s post:

“No amount of paint or bronze can cover the grime that has accumulated in Hungary in the last six years.”


About the 1956 Revolution I can recommend this book “In the Name of the Working Class: the Inside Story of the Hungarian Revolution” by Sándor Kopácsi.
Found it years ago in a 2nd hand bookshop, didn’t know anything about it (the book) before. Unfortunately can’t cite from it now, as I’ve lend it out and (still) awaiting for return, but the main thing is, is that’s really written from within th Revolution
It honestly reveals things from more sides, from before during and after the Revolution.

The book was reissued in e-format by the author’s daughter in 2013. Sándor Kopácsi was police chief in Budapest and a reform communist who supported Imre Nagy. The book in electronic format can be bought on Amazon. The new addition apparently has a number of corrections in it made by his daughter based on documents not available at the time it was originally published in 1979 and from films of the secret trials following the defeat of the revolt. I assume Eva knows much more about the various controversies surrounding this book and the perspectives of the author. The new introduction also takes a pretty good shot at Orban in manner not dissimilar to Eva’s discussion of 1956 revisionism. I have myself contemplated writing an essay about historical revisionism of the 1956 revolution propagated in the USA by extreme anti-communist, in some cases former Arrow Cross supporters, American Hungarians. There are numerous anti-communist publications of the late 1950s and early 1960s that reflect the position that 1956 was an anti-communist revolt not appropriately supported by the USA. These ideas found there way into other anti-communist emigre communities like the Polish community and even the Cuban community were they were accepted… Read more »
You know I got the same narrative which was based on Mindszenty as well before I got the opportunity to delve into ’56 history. I think one of the most direct takeaways I have of the failed revolution is the fact that time certainly appears to have muffled the furious cries of those who railed against the attack on freedom to choose a different way in the face of a soul-quashing regime. Arguably ’56 today isn’t exactly prime-time news. So from that time on it appears Rossiyan ‘PR’ has come a long way. For one thing indeed the revolution taught them much on ‘rehabilitation’. And they will continue to do this work until all are ‘rehabilitated’ in their way. And when we look at its new ‘barat’ Magyarorszag it is extreme irony to see how its government has the gall to use ’56 as a platform to arrogantly profess its adherence to democratic principles even as it destroys the institutions and individuals responsible for its existence. Yes the ‘grime has a accumulated in Hungary in the last six years’. And those windows of Magyarorszag are doing their job of blocking outrage on events there from those looking outside in. It… Read more »
Giuseppe Riccardi

Orban’s attitude towards Russia is quite similar to the german,italian and greek one.
These countries are loyal nato members but want to mantain economical ties with russia and resent being used by the usa too roughly.
Obama was a bad president who caused dramatic problems in the arab countries and used ukraina to break the peaceful developement of the russian system.
Divide et impera…
Europe should build a more integrated european defense and nato will be stronger and more respectful of our countries.

Alex Kuli

I was just wonderin’… if Maria Wittner gets her own 1956 poster on the streets of Budapest, why on earth doesn’t Imre Mecs get one?

Alex Kuli

US Ambassador Colleen Bell:

“During the past two years, I have grown to love the Hungarian people and their devotion to freedom…. The United States and Hungary share a faith in democracy. We share a common heritage, cherishing our rights not as subjects or vassals, not as dependents or followers, but as citizens. We are citizens bound together by our love of liberty, and our willingness to serve.”

Madam Ambassador, with much due respect, I must ask: Before writing your remarks, did you take advantage of the District of Columbia’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana?


After Ambassador Bell no longer holds her position she will likely sound just like Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis did on CNN a few days ago hammering away at Fidesz. I have always found our State Department Officals to be full of BS. Sec Kerry one day is denouncing Russia for war crimes then the next day wants to sit at the table with them. Such is the inherently duplicitous nature of that bussiness. Thank goodness I served in the Army and not the diplomatic corp.


Re: ‘Sec Kerry one day is denouncing Russia for war crimes then the next day wants to sit at the table with them. Such is the inherently duplicitous nature of that bussiness. Thank goodness I served in the Army and not the diplomatic corp’

If Kerry is getting graded he’s got a D on his report card. Negotiating on certain things with Rossiya looks to be fruitless. Kerry was always trying to constantly bang the square in a round hole.

On the army and diplomatic corp: Wasn’t fit for the army. Took the Foreign Service test. But life intervened. Would have liked to perhaps serve though if posted to the Magyar station God knows how I would have functioned. No doubt one would have to keep in mind that American John Wayne, his saying that ‘Sometimes a man’s gotta do what he’s got to do’. Something to think about for diplomats who find themselves in deep do-do.



She carefully avoided “love of democracy”!!!

I think that’s called “Ambassodar talk”- we’re all ambassador’s on here!

Jon Van Til

The Hungarian-American Fulbright Commission
for Educational Exchange is holding a related event in Chicago next week:


Hungarian Club of Chicago also has a less intellectually driven event on the 23rd at the Copernicus Center which I will be attending. I did find it humorous that at the Fulbright event there would be an Elvis Presley musical interlude.


Istvan…that’s what you call, ‘rock ariund the clock’…;-)…


I would much rather have the Hungarian community here exposed to a great contemporary artist like Palya Bea. For those who have not heard her here is a sample I think Orban has deep enough pockets to fly her in for the occasion after all he can always steal more.


Why hasn’t dear Viktor the O invited the boss, Pyutin, to the 1956 counter-revolution celebrations?


Just a quick comment regarding tech issues. Is the edit function available? Looks like it was lost when I changed password recently.


Well after my post it seems I do have it. No doubt a blip in the machines.

András B. Göllner

The proximity of Hungary’s political culture to the one in the USA is roughly the same as the distance between Makó and Jerusalem (those in the social media avant garde, who do not fathom – please google it, and send a tweet to Donald, and let him play around with it)

It’s truly sad to read the drivel that US ambassador’s to Hungary tend to give birth to during their brief moments in the sun. True – if the Donald is triumphant, the gap between Mako and Jerusalem will significantly decrease, and Hungary may end up with hosting Roger Stone, or one of the Trump’s surrogates. at Roosevelt square. Now, THAT, would be juicy. Can you just picture the Orange Man in a tiny towel keeping his hands to himself in the Rudas baths, with Vajna Timy by his side, while Melania, and Baron would be running up and down Váci utca (pronounced Jutka) buying Paprika and Pálinka for Ivanka, Donald jr, and the folks back home ? Who said it was a long way to Tripararie ?


I think we need not be too concerned about Donald going anywhere. Bad treatment of others, especially women, must be a killer.
The remaining supporters hardly care. This is what makes the contest so dangerous, just in case the pro Trump underclass is triumphant. They belong to the same subcultural crowd that the masses voting for and demanding Brexit belong. VO is not far behind.
The tragedy is that Trump’s U electability leaves the field open for the awful HC. What a choice? What a system?


On Trump:
Of course, somewhere the comparison with the Third Reich.
The Republican’s presidential bid appears to have become the campaign equivalent of the last days of the reich, when Germany’s leadership raged at bearers of bad news from the battlefield, ordered non-existent divisions to launch counteroffensives, and embraced a nihilistic plan to burn it all down and take everyone along.

The difference is, unlike then, there seems to be little awareness of impending defeat or understanding of how it came to be. Instead, attitudes are like those after the first world war when Germans on the far right coined a word for their myth of betrayal: Dolchstoßlegende.

And something funny too – the All-seeing-Trump-machine!
You put in some coins and you get some wisdom …


@ Wolfi 7777

I don’t understand your phrase, “…when Germany’s leadership raged…”

Why don’t you just say, “When HITLER raged…” ?


Wolfi didn’t say it. That was a quote from the article he gave a link to.
I think it’s an excellent article, though you might find fault with the odd phrase in it.
In this case, I think “…when Germany’s leadership raged…”is possibly accurate. It wasn’t just Hitler.


@ webber

You mean the leadership in the bunker raged as a sort of Greek chorus for Hitler?

Best I know is that Hitler did all the raging…


Goebbels, until it finally dawned on him. He certainly propagated the lies about a devastating new super-secret weapon about to be used on the enemies of the Reich.


And poor George on his triumphal arch has to share ‘his’ park with that guy after the centuries.

There’s an inscription up top on the marble arch which says:
‘Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God’

Makes you think how in the world could anyone think he can manage to have the audacity to step into Washington’s boots. Open him up and the box of Trumpian ‘gravitas’ is found missing.


What a system?
Beats the alternatives.


Well, I do not know. In Germany you do not have a binary choice between two candidates neither of whom can be trusted. The system should be such as to filter out the crap.
The problem is created by a number of factors. This blog is not the best place to expand on this. It is rather OT.
The first point is that the political system no longer includes a consensus amongst the great and the good who to refuse to allow anywhere near the seats of power.
The second is the endless glorification of the mantra of almost meaningless phrases that apparently trump all other considerations. These include “democracy” , “elected” contra ” unelected”.
When the politicians do not like a judicial decision in England and Wales the response is all too often about “unelected judges” who are even worse when they are “male, middle class and middle aged”.
Excellence and achievement, unless in sport, are condemned as “elitist”.
Sorry, I must leave it at that.


Germany could eventually produce its own LePen, and the German LePen might win, no matter how large the field is. Indeed, in certain scenarios, the larger the number of competitors, the better for the extremist (splits the vote – vid. Trump in the primaries).
Does that mean I think Germany should change its system to more closely resemble the American or British systems? No. The system Germany got after WWII works very well for Germany.
The American system fits America.
The British system is right for Britain.


You know there’s a prettywell nigh political ‘nuisance’ now running around in CE, that region of ‘new trends of community’.
From the looks of it, the US will have to more than likely deal with another since he won’t be putting his pants on ( or off) in the White House. Jaysus, he will sure be causing a ruckus. Some guys you know are very very bad losers. Another will be joining the ‘klub’.