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.”
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.