Tag Archives: 1956 October Revolution

An inveterate liar: Mária Schmidt’s celebrated freedom fighter

Today’s story is a sad commentary on the gullibility of some of the leading supporters of Fidesz. It’s the tale of a man who among his colleagues is known to be a habitual liar but who, over the past 30 years, has managed to fool an awful lot of people.

Pathological liars are not rare. I myself have encountered at least two. But most of us sooner or later realize that the stories they tell don’t add up. And we certainly don’t defend the truth of these stories in the face of evidence to the contrary. Here, however, once hard facts proved that our man had been lying through his teeth, Mária Schmidt, the chief organizer of the sixtieth anniversary of the 1956 October Revolution and allegedly a historian, came to his rescue. She attacked the media for trying to ruin her precious event and besmirching the halos of the “pesti srácok,” youngsters who fought on the streets of Budapest.

The man I am talking about is László Dózsa, an actor whose career has not been distinguished. He currently directs plays staged in the Újpest Színház, which doesn’t strike me as much of a theater. Yet shortly after Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz won the election in 2010, he was awarded the title “érdemes művész” (actor of merit). Admittedly, as far as awards in the theater world go, this one is fairly lowly. Even so, in one of his interviews a reporter asked him whether anyone had ever suggested that he received the award not so much for being an actor but rather for being a “freedom fighter.”

It would seem that his alleged activities in 1956 are central to his self-identity. In his Wikipedia entry, which most likely he wrote himself, he is described as “1956 freedom fighter, actor, director, actor of merit” in this order.

This year Dózsa made it as the freedom fighter of all freedom fighters. A painting based on a Life Magazine photo, depicting a young man with a rifle and captioned László Dózsa (1942-), was plastered all over Budapest. He must have felt on top of the world. But soon enough his world collapsed. It turned out that the boy in the picture was Pál Pruck (1941-2000). Once Pruck’s family learned that Dózsa had assumed his identity, they decided to act.

dozsa

It was high time to put an end to Dózsa’s outrageous stories about 1956. Dózsa was always known to tell tall tales. When after 1989 he began regaling people with his exploits during the revolution, his friends didn’t unmask him even though they figured the stories were lies. They thought the lies were harmless.

After a while the media became interested in the adventures of this extraordinary man. One of the first of these interviews, “The man who has three lives,” appeared in the October 2005 issue of Hetek, the fundamentalist Assembly of Faith’s weekly. This story was repeated over and over in several more publications, with new embellishments. It is difficult to create a coherent story from Dózsa’s recollections which were, I assume, purposefully vague, but there are a couple of fixed points: he joined a group that gathered around the Divatcsarnok at the corner of Rákóczi út and Szövetség utca and he joined the group after November 4.

According to his story, once the fighting was over the Russians made them, about 30 young boys, stand against the wall of the Rákóczi movie theater and killed everyone except him. He escaped with his throat half destroyed by a bullet. He was then taken to a prison hospital where he was interrogated and was so badly beaten that he was eventually pronounced clinically dead. He was taken, together with other dead bodies, to the cemetery on Kerepesi út and thrown into a common grave. They even poured lime on the bodies. The gravediggers, however, discovered that he was alive and returned in the darkness of night. They took him to the Jewish Hospital on Szabolcs utca where two professors operated on him. These two good men hid him until it was safe to return “from the dead.” Because of “international pressure” he was not prosecuted.

On its face the story is bizarre and unbelievable. And, after reading an interview with László Eörsi, the historian who has written scores of books on these small fighting groups, one can be pretty certain that not a word of Dózsa’s story is true. Eörsi describes himself as an “event historian” (eseménytörténész). I have several of his books, which are basically minute-by-minute descriptions of the activities of these groups. Eörsi interviewed Dózsa at one point but came to the conclusion that his stories were bogus because they could not be corroborated. No one had ever heard of the murder by the Russians of 30 people in the center of the city. Dózsa claimed that the Russians bombed the Divatcsarnok when in fact they didn’t resort to air attacks. He talked about firing squads against civilians at the Nyugati Station, but that occurred only on December 6.

So, let’s turn to Pál Pruck. Once the Pruck family found out that Dózsa had assumed the identity of the deceased Pruck, they complained. Dózsa, after the story broke, magnanimously agreed to take his name off “in reverence” to the deceased’s relatives. But he still maintained that he was the one who appeared in the Life Magazine photo despite convincing evidence to the contrary. Tamás Pruck, Pál Pruck’s son, remembers his father telling him that he had been sent by the guys of Corvin-köz (Corvin alley) for bread when a foreign photographer stopped him and took a picture of him. “But he never spoke about being such an important freedom fighter.” He was just a “srác interested in guns.” Apparently, he never received any decoration but he never asked for one either.

The Life Magazine photo

The Life Magazine photo

Yesterday I was sure that Mária Schmidt would remain quiet. The evidence against Dózsa was far too strong. I was wrong. Today Schmidt called the poor deceased Pruck a criminal and insisted that Dózsa was an outstanding national hero. At the same time she launched an attack against the opposition media, which insists on debasing the memory of the ’56 revolution and its heroes.

The photos Pál Pruck and László Dózsa at the time

Photos of Pál Pruck and László Dózsa at the time

Her defense of Dózsa stretched the limits of logic. 444.hu summarized it well. (1) Dózsa is credible because he received a lot of decorations for the heroism he demonstrated in ’56. (2) In 2007 Dózsa himself wrote that this was a photo of him, something that nobody questioned. (3) Normally photographers don’t identify their subjects in a wartime situation or they give them phony names. That’s why the photographer gave an existing person’s name to a photo depicting Dózsa. (4) This is not the first time that the wrong name is attached to this photo. (5) Dózsa years ago in a video taken at the House of Terror identified himself as the boy on the picture. (6) Nothing is known about Pál Pruck’s activities during the revolution. (7) He himself said in a television interview that he doesn’t know how the photographer got his name. (8) Pál Pruck was a criminal who was in jail several times. He was also used by the Kádár regime’s propagandists to discredit the revolution. (9) The relatives of Pruck didn’t come forth although the photo was widely known. (10) It is suspicious that Pál Pruck didn’t suffer any reprisals after the revolution.

This is the best that Orbán’s court historian could come up with. Pitiful and embarrassing. But, I said to myself, isn’t it also embarrassing that Dózsa received the Officer’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit in 2006 during the Gyurcsány government? At least this is what I read in his Wikipedia entry. Well, I checked the list of recipients and there is no sign of László Dózsa. He even lied about that in his Wikipedia entry.

On the other hand, he has been richly rewarded for his faithful service to right-wing causes since 2010. I already mentioned his becoming an “actor of merit” in 2011. But the big prize came this year, on the sixtieth anniversary of the revolution. He became an “honorary citizen” of Budapest. Apparently, Mayor István Tarlós and the Fidesz majority’s choice was Dózsa while Csaba Horváth (MSZP) argued for László Nemes Jeles, director of the Oscar-winning Son of Saul. Tarlós put an end to the discussion by saying that “László Dózsa is our son of Saul.” What a gift. Tarlós, Schmidt, and the rest can now contemplate how to rescue Dózsa for posterity.

November 3, 2016

A more fitting celebration of the 60th anniversary of ’56 in Washington

About a week ago I included a sentence about the reception Réka Szemerkényi, Hungarian Ambassador in Washington, was giving for the sixtieth anniversary of the outbreak of the October Revolution. I reported that to the best of my knowledge a number of important American officials serving in the White House, Congress, and State Department had declined the invitation over concerns about the alarming political developments in Hungary. In addition to their general concerns, they may well have also noticed the systematic falsification of Hungarian history, which includes the events of the ’56 uprising as well. Mária Schmidt, Viktor Orbán’s court historian who had already perverted the history of the Hungarian Holocaust, rewrote the history of the revolution for the anniversary. The result is a monstrosity that bears no resemblance to reality.

This assault on the revolution prompted a group of people in Washington to organize a gathering to celebrate the real events of sixty years ago. They chose not to celebrate with those who claim that executed Imre Nagy “died nicely but wasn’t a hero.” Yes, this is a direct quotation from the chief organizer of the anniversary, Mária Schmidt. Thomas Melia (who as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, had extensive dealings with Hungary), former Hungarian Ambassador to Washington András Simonyi, and Professor Charles Gati of Johns Hopkins University organized the event that took place last night. About forty people attended, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser; Charles Kupchan, currently special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council; Damian Murphy, senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs and her husband, Robert Kagan, well-known author, columnist and foreign policy commentator; Hoyt Yee, deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs; André Goodfriend, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest between August 2015 and January 2016;  Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, who writes many of the paper’s editorials on foreign affairs; and Pál Maléter, Jr. son of the minister of defense in the last Nagy government who was reburied along with Imre Nagy on June 16, 1989. Anthony Blinken, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, couldn’t make it but sent his greetings.

Professor Gati briefly retold the story of the revolution, which is admittedly complex because the intellectual unrest that preceded it began as a factional struggle in the communist party between the Stalinists and the reformers but quickly led to a coalition government in which four parties were represented. This coalition government, which naturally included the communist party, decided to leave the Warsaw Pact. Gati emphasized that the revolution was “profoundly democratic—demanding freedom of the press and checks and balances (called ‘socialist legality’ )—and profoundly pro-Europe. These demands were at the top of the list presented by the students.”

One of the few pictures of members of the Nagy government: Zoltán Tildy, Imre Nagy, and Pál Maléter

One of the few pictures of members of the Nagy government: Zoltán Tildy, Imre Nagy, and Pál Maléter

Of course, we know that the Orbán regime’s narrative is very different: the revolution was transformed into an anti-communist crusade led by right-wing representatives of the pre-1945 period. Those intellectuals who were disillusioned communists were removed from the historical narrative prepared for the anniversary celebrations, as were social democrats and liberals. As if they never existed. They simply don’t fit into Orbán’s worldview.

Professor Gati then moved on to the situation in Hungary today and brought up the speeches of Péter Boross and László Kövér. “This Monday, the speaker of the Hungarian parliament blamed the United States not Moscow for crushing the revolution while another high official spoke of the heinous deeds of U.S. imperialism,” adding “I’m not making this up.” And, Gati continued: “Even in Washington, where Hungarian officials work hard to mislead us by praising transatlantic relations, on Sunday they somehow forgot to read Vice President Joe Biden’s message to their invited guests; I guess their feelings were hurt that they didn’t hear from President Obama.”

Gati told his personal story as a refugee after the revolution. “I came here penniless and was treated fantastically by everyone: the International Rescue Committee, Indiana University, and various employees of Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, even the State Department.” He recalled that the quota for Hungarians (4,400) was quickly filled but that within days Congress was authorized to allow another 40,000 Hungarian refugees to come. He contrasted this behavior with the situation today. In Hungary they build a razor wire fence to keep refugees out and even in the United States some people contemplate building walls. “My hope is that the old spirit of generosity will guide us again someday soon. There is another Hungary there that deserves our attention and support,” he concluded. I think that every Hungarian refugee should join Charles Gati in remembering the generosity of Austrians, Germans, Brits, Swedes, Swiss, Canadians, Australians, and Americans in those days and feel profoundly sad at the behavior of the Hungarian government, which incited ordinary Hungarians against the refugees.

I should add that Anita Kőműves, a young journalist who used to work for Népszabadság, happened to be in Washington and was invited to speak. The applause that followed her words honored those journalists who paid for their bravery with their livelihood because Viktor Orbán doesn’t believe in a free press, one of the very first demands of the Hungarian students in 1956.

October 28, 2016

The Hungarian government’s Anti-American rhetoric: László Kövér and Péter Boross

Two weeks ago Ambassador Colleen Bell returned to the United States to take part in the celebrations organized by the Hungarian Embassy in Washington for the sixtieth anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. One of the events was the ribbon cutting ceremony for the “1956 Hungarian Freedom Fighters Exhibit,” which took place at the Pentagon. Here the American ambassador delivered a short but ringing speech about the wonderful U.S.-Hungarian friendship because “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.” What a charitable description of the present state of affairs in Hungary.

Official Hungary didn’t seem to appreciate the ambassador’s expressions of friendship and her praise of Hungarian democracy. Only a few days later at least two important political personages attacked the United States in the basest fashion in connection with the celebrations of ’56.

Let me start with Hungary’s elderly statesman Péter Boross, who for a few months in 1993 and 1994 was the prime minister of Hungary and now at least on paper is one of the chief advisers of Viktor Orbán. Anyone wanting to know more about Boross’s “love of democracy” should read my post titled “Péter Boross: No longer the wise man of Hungary?”

It just happened that three days before the anniversary of the revolution the U.S. State Department released a statement that “share[d] the concerns of global press freedom advocates, international organizations, and Hungarian citizens over the steady decline of media freedom in Hungary.” The statement called attention to two recent incidents. One was the ban of 444.hu from the parliament building on October 19; the other, “the sudden closure of Hungary’s largest independent newspaper, Nepszabadsag, on October 8.” The short statement ended with: “as a friend and ally, we encourage the Hungarian government to ensure an open media environment that exposes citizens to a diversity of views and opinions, a key component of our shared democratic values.”

The answer came soon enough. Péter Boross delivered a speech on October 22 in front of one of the several monuments commemorating the events of 1956. He spared no words condemning the United States, specifically mentioning the U.S. State Department’s statement concerning media freedom in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. As Boross explained, October 23 is “a sacred day which certain people deride.” For example, “the deputy spokesman of a great power’s foreign ministry who is worried about the state of Hungary’s media freedom.” Somewhere in Washington the last issue of Népszabadság is being exhibited, he complained indignantly, and without hesitation offered the following retort: “Shouldn’t we exhibit a couple of items from the list of the heinous crimes [gaztettek] of the American imperialists?” Well, well, old habits die hard. Or perhaps, as János Dési of Klubrádió wrote in an opinion piece, “Boross was always a useful link in all dictatorships.” Dési’s comment is appropriate because as a youngster Boross was an enthusiastic cadet in a military academy that ended up fighting alongside the Germans.

The bashing of the United States continued a couple of days later when László Kövér delivered a speech in the parliament building where MSZP and DK members and perhaps some independents were conspicuously absent. For Kövér the “lesson of the revolution and war of independence [of 1956] is that without the maintenance and defense of its own self-image, self-determination and self-esteem the whole of Europe, the whole of the European Union may become the tragic victim of the unscrupulous self-interest of great powers outside of Europe and of clandestine powers [háttérhatalmak], operating over and above the states without democratic mandate and supervision.” How he got from an uprising against a Stalinist regime and the Soviet occupation forces to the political and economic encroachment of the United States, because, let’s face it, this is what Kövér is talking about, and George Soros’s Open Society project is unfathomable to me.

Kövér continued, claiming that “the Hungarian ’56” also has a message for the 21st century. Every time I hear a politician say that either a historical occasion or a long-dead historical figure “sends messages to us” I have to laugh because I once read a very funny piece by a blogger who said: “No, my friends, St. Stephen doesn’t send us messages. Neither does Sándor Petőfi nor Lajos Kossuth.” Well, I can add, neither does the Hungarian revolution of 1956. Especially not the kind of confused message that Kövér tries to convey about national sovereignty based on the will of the people which, if tampered with, “will lead to the weakening of democracy, anarchy and subordination of Europe.” Thus, in this context, when the Orbán government defends Hungary’s national sovereignty “it defends the heritage of 1956.” Those who think that Hungarians can be made to abandon the heritage of ’56, their historical ideals and their beliefs underestimate the Hungarian people. “No threat, no lies, no sugar coating” will work.

Of of those Soviet tanks Kövér was talking about

One of those Soviet tanks László Kövér was talking about with Hungarian coat of arms plastered on it

But the above was a mild rebuke in comparison to what followed: Kövér’s reinterpretation of the United States’ role in the Hungarian revolution of 1956. It was on November 1, 1956 that Hungary declared its independence and neutrality. “The next day, on November 2, the foreign ministry of the United States informed the Yugoslav leader, Tito, who was host to the Soviet party secretary [Nikita Khrushchev] at the time, that the United States doesn’t look with favor upon those countries neighboring on the Soviet Union that are unfriendly toward the Soviet Union. It was after that, on November 4, that the Soviet Union attacked Hungary with more tanks than Hitler had sent against Poland in 1939.” In brief, the defeat of the uprising is directly attributable to the pro-Soviet policies of the United States, which assured the Russians of its support of the beleaguered Soviet Union. This is a pretty incredible statement. I have no idea where he found this, for me at least, totally unknown piece of information.

As an antidote I recommend the website of the 1956-os Intézet és Oral History Archívum, especially “Győzhetett-e volna a magyar forradalom 1956-ban?” I also recommend Charles Gati’s highly acclaimed book Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt (2007).

October 26, 2016

Brazen falsification of the history of ’56 by the Orbán regime

Yesterday I wrote that because of the political eclecticism of the October Revolution it is easy for people to use those days for their own political ends by latching onto one ideological strain or another. But interpretation, even if in this case necessarily reductionist, is one thing; blatant falsification of history is quite another. Unfortunately, it is the latter that’s going on in Hungary today.

Just to show the scope of the systematic rewriting, and distortion, of the history of the revolution, I will cite two recent examples. The first is an article from the notorious 888.hu, a news site that is supposed to capture the imagination of pro-Fidesz millennials and post-millennials. The other is an exhibit put together by the so-called historians of the House of Terror, whose director is Mária Schmidt, the grand master of historical falsification.

Last night I read an article that enraged me, titled “Gyurcsány falsifies the historical memory of ’56 with pathological cynicism.” His sin? He dared to say, while laying a wreath at one of the monuments to the revolution: “While the revolution of Imre Nagy aimed at advancing the homeland, the current prime minister’s references to his name, memory and legacy are a desecration of this immaculate revolution. It is naked blasphemy.” He added that “while the revolution of Imre Nagy was the revolution of freedom and democracy, the current Hungarian prime minister is the leader of the counterrevolution.”

I perfectly understand that a government-financed publication is unhappy about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s assessment of both the 1956 revolution and Viktor Orbán’s political role. But what followed in the article is the crudest distortion of historical facts. One may argue about the role of Imre Nagy in the early 1950s, but to claim that “neither the majority of historians nor the Hungarian people have ever considered” Nagy to have an important role in the revolutionary period or after is simply preposterous. I was astonished to read that “it was only an accident that Imre Nagy headed the provisional government and it was only his execution that made him more or less an honored historical character.” Further, the author of this incredible piece of prose claims that the only reason Nagy accepted martyrdom was his alleged knowledge that even if he resigned as prime minister, he would have been executed by his communist comrades.

This is, of course, a pack of lies. After 1954 the whole country pinned its hopes on Imre Nagy, and that huge crowd in front of the parliament building on October 23 stood there for hours, not moving an inch until the party chiefs inside the building produced him. Once he spoke, the crowd dispersed peacefully. To say that Nagy played only an accidental role in the revolution is such an incredible claim that it takes one’s breath away.

And now let’s move on to a much more serious act of falsification of ’56. It is more egregious than the 888.hu’s scribbler’s fantasies about ’56 because it was committed by so-called historians. Readers of Hungarian Spectrum have been exposed to enough articles by Mária Schmidt, the director of the House of Terror, to know not to expect much from anyone who works for that institution. In fact, it itself is a crude falsification of history.

Photo by Gabriella Csoszó / FreeDoc

Photo by Gabriella Csoszó / FreeDoc

The story is as follows. Viktor Orbán put Mária Schmidt in charge of the sixtieth anniversary celebrations of the ’56 revolution. She received 13.5 billion forints for proper celebrations all over the world. The House of Terror also received money to erect a picture gallery of sorts in front of its building on Andrássy út for the edification of passers-by. The exhibit is attractive. The only problem is that the most important actors of the revolution are missing: all those whose political views don’t conform to the present regime’s requirements. When including a person “on the wrong side” is unavoidable, like in the picture gallery of those executed, the historians of the House of Terror made sure that everybody would understand that the martyrdom of the “communists” was not the same as that of the rest. Of the 226 people executed, only three are identified by political affiliation (in all three cases, “communist politicians”): Imre Nagy, Géza Losonczy, and Miklós Gimes. As for the rest of the story of the revolution, important political actors simply don’t appear, as if they never existed.

There is a small civic group which calls itself “Eleven Emlékmű” (Live Memorial). It grew out of the circle of people who have been holding a vigil at the infamous memorial erected to commemorate the occupation of Hungary by German troops on March 19, 1944. They were the ones who first became aware of the lopsided presentation of the events of the October revolution. Mária Vásárhelyi, daughter of Miklós Vásárhelyi, one of the prominent participants in the revolution, and Adrienn Molnár were responsible for providing the names of those who, as a result of the present Hungarian regime’s “purification” efforts, either became non-persons or were singled out as communist politicians. The list consists of 60 names. Here I will list only the best-known.

♦ ♦ ♦

István Bibó (1911-1979), Hungary’s most notable politician in the 20th century, minister without portfolio in the last Nagy government. He received life imprisonment.

Tibor Déry (1894-1977), writer. He received nine years in 1957 for his role during the revolution and for his opposition to the Kádár regime.

Ferenc Donáth (1913-1986), politician who was jailed between 1951 and 1954. Close associate of Imre Nagy. He received a jail sentence of 12 years.

István Eörsi (1931-2005), writer, poet, translator. Worked as a journalist during the revolution. He originally received eight years.

Miklós Gimes (1917-1958), journalist. During the revolution he was the editor of a new newspaper called Magyar Szabadság. After November 4 he published a samizdat paper called Október Huszonharmadika. He was executed along with Imre Nagy.

Árpád Göncz (1921-2015), politician, agriculturist, writer, translator, president of Hungary (1990-2000). He originally received a life sentence.

Sándor Haraszti (1897-1982), journalist, politician. In 1951 he was sentenced to death but in 1954 that was changed to a life sentence and later he was set free. On October 31 he was named editor-in-chief of Népszabadság. In November he was deported to Romania. In 1958 he was sentenced to six years.

György Heltai (1914-1994), lawyer, politician. As deputy foreign minister he worked to prepare Hungary for its withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. He emigrated, and between 1959 and 1963 was head of the Imre Nagy Institute in Brussels.

Anna Kéthly (1889-1976), social democratic politician who had an important role to play in the reorganization of the Social Democratic Party during the revolution. She was a member of Imre Nagy’s last ministry. She traveled to the Vienna conference of the II International in November and failed to return home. Abroad she became president of the Hungarian Revolutionary Council.

Sándor Kopácsi (1922-2001), police chief of Budapest who sided with the revolution. He was second-in-charge of the National Guard, which was headed by Béla Király, who by the way later became an adviser to Viktor Orbán. Király, of course, made it to the House of Terror display. Kopácsi was sentenced to life, a sentence that was commuted in 1963. In 1975 he emigrated to Canada.

Béla Kovács (1908-1959), Smallholder politician arrested by the Russians in 1947 and exiled to the Soviet Union. He was released only in April 1956. He was active in the revival of the Smallholders’ Party during the revolution and between October 27 and November 2 was minister of agriculture in the second and the third Nagy governments.

György Litván (1929-2006), historian who belonged to the opposition that centered around Imre Nagy after 1955. He was a member of the Revolutionary Committee of the Hungarian Professionals. He received six years.

Géza Losonczy (1917-1958), journalist, politician, organizer of the Petőfi Kör, member of the closest circle around Imre Nagy. He was named minister without portfolio on October 30 when Imre Nagy announced the end of the one-party system. He began a hunger strike in jail, where he died under unclear circumstances.

Pál Maléter (1917-1958), army officer, minister of defense in the last Nagy government. He was abducted during his negotiations with the Soviet leadership. He was condemned to death and was executed.

István Marián (1924-2004), army officer, head of the military department of the Budapest Engineering University who became one of the leaders of the Association of Hungarian University and College Students. He originally received a life sentence, which was commuted in 1963.

Imre Mécs (1933-), electrical engineer, active in the organization of the National Guard. In 1959 he was condemned to death, a sentence that was changed to life. He was released in 1963.

Imre Nagy (1896-1958), prime minister and foreign minister. On November 4 he and his close associates escaped to the Yugoslav Embassy, which they left on November 22 with a letter of protection from János Kádár. They were immediately arrested by the Soviets who deported them to Romania. Nagy was brought back to Hungary in April 1957 and was condemned to death on June 15. The next day he was executed.

József Szilágyi (1917-1958), politician. He joined the Imre Nagy faction in 1953. One of the organizers of the demonstration on October 23. First he worked together with Kopácsi at police headquarters and later he was the head of Imre Nagy’s secretariat. He was among those who found temporary shelter in the Yugoslav Embassy. He was also condemned to death and executed.

Zoltán Tildy (1889-1961), Hungarian Reformed minister, head of the Smallholders Party. From October 25 he served as deputy prime minister in the Nagy government. He received six years but was granted clemency in 1959.

Miklós Vásárhelyi (1917-2001), journalist. Close associate of Imre Nagy. He took part in the organization of the Petőfi Kör. On November 1 he became the press secretary of the Nagy government. He received five years. In 1990 he became a member of parliament in the first free elections.

♦ ♦ ♦

After going through these names, one wonders what remained of the October Revolution as chronicled by the historians of the House of Terror. I fear not much.

October 24, 2016

The sixtieth anniversary of the October Revolution

Today, on the sixtieth anniversary of the October Revolution, there were two gatherings in Budapest, with the usual speeches: the official one in front of the parliament building and the one organized by the opposition parties. As could have been predicted, no one said anything about what really happened on those autumn days sixty years ago. The speakers on both sides talked a lot about freedom-loving Hungarians, but these are words that sound hollow today.

The ideological strains of ’56 were eclectic and fluid. The original program called for a radical reform of the Soviet-type political system, but in it one could find traces of Titoism and western-type social democracy. As János M. Rainer says in his new book on the October revolution, “the common platform was patriotism, national independence. This is the common positive content of October 23.”

Since the Soviets decided not to wait for the final outcome of the uprising, ’56 has remained an unfinished story. We have no idea what would have emerged from the sometimes conflicting strains of thought, so politicians can use those events to their own advantage. But one thing is sure. Those who lived through ’56 consider it the most important time of their lives. They believe it was a special gift of fate that allowed them to witness an event which can, I believe, be compared to 1848-49 in significance for the nation. All other important historical dates–1918-1919, 1945, 1989–pale in comparison.

So, let’s see what politicians did to 1956 this year. Let’s start with the official celebration. The government, which spent over 13 billions on a “proper” celebration of the national holiday, grossly overestimated the interest in Andrzej Duda, president of Poland, and Viktor Orbán, even though a serious effort was made to ensure a full house. Fidesz mayors all over the country were urged to bring busloads of people to fill not just Kossuth tér but also Alkotmány utca, all the way to Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út. At least this is what the placement of the loudspeakers all along the street indicates. As a result, the over-magnified voices of the speakers echoed in the half empty square and the totally empty Alkotmány utca. According to those who were present, they couldn’t make out anything from the speeches.

The organizers hired a private company, whose employees were dressed in civilian clothes, to ensure order. I guess the idea was that having hundreds of uniformed policemen on hand wouldn’t be good for the government’s image. Those demonstrators who followed the call of Péter Juhász of Együtt were kept outside of a cordon set up for the occasion. The cordon didn’t prevent some elderly amazons from attacking the whistlers. One poured beer on a woman who wasn’t showing the same reverence for the great man as she did. A few burly men smashed faces and then ran away. One of the victims was Krisztián Ungváry, the well-known historian.

In a way Péter Juhász triumphed. The whistling was loud, continuous, and quite audible on the video I watched. (I don’t know whether state television can filter out the whistling and booing.) The whistling had to be a great embarrassment to Viktor Orbán. As we know, he is a vain man with very thin skin. Unfortunately, he is also vicious. Who knows how he will try to hit back and punish those people he considers traitors.

Orbán began by claiming that the lesson of ’56 was that “communism can be conquered.” By the end of his speech he had moved on to the possible “Sovietization of Brussels,” which, you have to admit, is an incredible feat. He called on “the freedom-loving people of Europe to save Brussels” from the fate of Sovietization. In between, in a way, he reinterpreted the meaning of the word “freedom” by insisting that “without freedom we can become only a nationality.” Hungarians hold onto their national heritage, as the Soviets learned the hard way in ’56. This sounded like a warning to Brussels of what to expect if they insist on curbing the sovereignty of Hungary. But, of course, the parallel is deeply flawed. After 1949-1950 the Rákosi regime imposed on the country a slavish imitation of the Soviet model. It was suffocating and led to a massive rejection of Soviet ways. Nothing like that is going on today. If Hungarians are adopting the customs of other European nations or the United States, it is the result of a natural development. Or when Orbán talks about diluting ethnicity, this is a natural trend due to the freedom of movement within the European Union.

He spoke in the name of love

He spoke in the name of love

Of course, he himself wants to lead the freedom-loving people of Europe to save Brussels, but, as I said a couple of days ago, with the exception of two or three East-Central European countries, he is attracting no followers. Nonetheless, he doesn’t seem to be discouraged. For him, the dates 1956, 1989, and 2016 reveal a pattern: Hungary becomes an important player on the world stage every 30 years or so. His closing the borders of the country in 2016 can be compared in significance to the revolution of 1956 or the end of the one-party system in 1989. Thus, by the end of his speech Orbán managed to portray himself as a central figure on the world stage today. As important a figure as the leading lights of ’56 or the Soviet and American politicians who managed to lift the iron curtain. The man is certainly not known for his modesty.

As for the joint demonstration of the democratic opposition parties, minus LMP and Együtt, the size of the crowd was disappointing, as were most of the speeches. Gyula Molnár is unfortunately not an inspiring speaker. Ferenc Gyurcsány is, but this speech was not up to par. Lajos Bokros was a breath of fresh air. By contrast, I found Gergely Karácsony’s reference to October 23, 2006 most unfortunate. He essentially repeated the Fidesz line, that Budapest witnessed a brutal attack on peaceful demonstrations. As one of the journalists who was there said, his remarks about the events of ten years ago were followed by total silence. Karácsony should know full well that the country is deeply divided over what happened that day. It is not something that should be brought up at the first joint celebration of the more or less united opposition. It was a huge error. I just don’t understand how it is possible that some of these younger Hungarian politicians have so little political sense. On Friday I heard Karácsony say that he didn’t know what he was going to talk about. Perhaps he should have thought a little longer about it and/or talked his intentions over with others. Blaming the politicians of MSZP and DK for crimes against democracy is not an auspicious beginning for a united democratic opposition.

Returning to Viktor Orbán’s speech. He once again tried to show off his great Biblical and classical learning. In a muddled image, he compared Hungarians to the young David who defeated Goliath because they are like “the ancient Greeks who were in possession of olden knowledge” and who claimed that “the secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.” I would like to remind Viktor Orbán that Thucydides also said something else: “Justice will not come to Athens until those who are not injured are as indignant as those who are injured.” That situation might come sooner than he thinks.

October 23, 2016

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

The Orbán regime and culture: oil and water

When I heard that Mária Schmidt was appointed government commissioner in charge of the “Memorial Year of the 1956 Revolution and War of Independence,” I swore that I would refrain from being popping mad every time I heard yet another crime against the memory of those days. I said I would just ignore the whole thing, although I knew this would be difficult given the amount of money–13.5 billion forints ($49,245,000)–that the Orbán government is spending between October 23, 2016 and October 23, 2017 for the sixtieth anniversary of the event.

Ten years ago, at the more important fiftieth anniversary when scores of heads of states gathered in Budapest to commemorate the event, Viktor Orbán made sure that the whole thing ended as a major embarrassment for the government. He cared neither about the country’s reputation nor the memory of 1956. Perhaps, when his followers along with skinheads and football hooligans turned downtown Pest into a veritable battleground, he was dreaming of another revolution. He himself, however, fled from the rally as soon as he delivered his incendiary speech.

Now, for the sixtieth anniversary, the Orbán government will celebrate themselves and their regime for a whole year while rewriting the history of the 1956 uprising to match their own ideological agenda. The work has already begun. As early as January, at a symposium organized by the Foundation of the Sins of Communism, Bence Rétvári, undersecretary of the ministry of human resources, mouthed off about anticommunism being one of the foundations of democracy, in connection with 1956. The only trouble with that interpretation is that the revolution was not an anticommunist uprising. It was a revolt against Stalinism, something we will never hear about in the “Memorial Year.”

I’m sure Viktor Orbán was mighty upset that he wasn’t the prime minister of Hungary in 2006. Although he is trying to compensate now, I can tell him ahead of time that the sixtieth anniversary of an event is nothing like the fiftieth or the hundredth, no matter how much money he throws at the project. Moreover, this government is known for its incompetence, so we can anticipate many mishaps along the way.

The celebrations hadn’t even started when the first blunder came to light. For some reason this government thinks that songs celebrating an event or an idea have a beneficial effect on the population. For example, in 2013 Tibor Navracsics’s ministry of public administration and justice gave its blessing to a theme song for the Day of National Togetherness, June 4, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon. The song as well as the lyrics turned out to be “horror itself.” Here are a few lines from the lyrics: “I dreamed of a peach tree under which everybody dances / I stood in a large circle with you, in the soft grass on a dewy field / Our hands touch, the soles of our feet step on each other / The light of happiness burns in our eyes./ Join the circle! / Dance as your blood dictates, feel the heart of the earth beating with you because we are all in one together.” At that time Bálint Ablonczy, a right-wing journalist, suggested that the government “should leave that culture thing alone. It is not your thing.” Since then the infamous song has died a quiet death.

Unfortunately Viktor Orbán didn’t listen to Ablonczy. On the spur of the moment during his trip to the United States he asked Desmond Child to write a song celebrating 1956. Child is of Hungarian-Cuban extraction and, although he speaks no Hungarian and has had little to do with the country until now, he decided to become a Hungarian citizen. Child agreed but either was not inspired or was simply lazy. He merely re-orchestrated a song he wrote for the University of Miami Hurricanes in 2007, “The Steps of Champions.” That’s bad enough, but what got the goat of Hungarians was that the Orbán government allegedly paid Child 50 million forints ($182,388) for his work. The Hungarians who negotiated with Child–Mária Schmidt and Gábor Tállai, one of her co-workers at the House of Terror–knew nothing about the background of the song. As for the price, they thought it was dirt cheap. As Tállai said, “anyone who knows anything about this profession will think that it was a steal.”

The Hungarian negotiators claim that they paid Child $182,388, while the composer, who is all upset, claims that he received no money for the re-orchestrated piece, now called in Hungarian “For a Free Country”(Egy Szabad Országért). He did his work gratis. He wrote on Facebook: “I’m extremely surprised and disappointed how a part of the Hungarian media has launched a full-blown and unworthy attack against the project, my person and my family life. I feel especially hurt that they would politicize even this sincere tribute to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution which lives forever in our history to promote their own current agendas.” Considering that Child knows no Hungarian, someone must be feeding him the lines about the antagonistic and unfair media which tries to politicize the sacred anniversary of the revolution. Who is telling the truth? We don’t know.

And then there are the Hungarian lyrics written by Tamás Orbán, editor of light entertainment at Duna Televízió, which is part of MTVA (in English: Media Services and Support Trust Fund), which can best be described as the Orbán news factory. He is perhaps most famous for his Hungarian lyrics for a TV series for children, “The Smurfs,”called “Hupikék törpikék” (Gaudy blue little dwarfs). 444.hu found quite a few hilarious lines, such as “you have been worn away between many fires”; “you don’t need to know the past in order to gain understanding”; “this landscape is not a map”; “neither misfortune nor enemy can tear us apart.”

fishes

The enunciation of the singers is also problematic. The line “Magyarország halld szavunk, hány arc és név” (Hungary, hear our pledge, how many faces and names) sounds very much like “Magyarország, halszagú , hányatsz és mész” (Hungary, fishy smelly, puke and leave). So a lot of people are having loads of fun with this new hymn of the revolution. But don’t worry, this atrocity will soon be forgotten like others before it. There was, for example, the Hymn of the Republic that was supposed to replace the national anthem. I remember that many of its words were either historical or archaic and that we as children had no idea what they meant. One line went: “Hullt a pór, hullt a gyereke” (The peasant fell, and also fell his child). “Pór” is an old-fashioned word for “paraszt,” peasant. Well, we didn’t know “pór” but we knew “por” (dust) and dust falls, doesn’t it? We didn’t bother with the nonsensical “dust’s child.”

No one will remember the lyrics of the tribute to 1956 and no one will sing it, although I’m sure that the state radio station will blare it at least once a day. But it will simply not stick. Orbán and Company should have left “culture” alone. Not their thing.

August 21, 2016