An October Revolution Worth Honoring



Nicholas Weininger, a frequent commenter at Catallarchy and PhD student at Rutgers, writes about the Hungarians' revolt against their Soviet oppressors.


On October 23rd, 1956, millions of Hungarians rose up against their Soviet puppet government. Their revolution began with student demonstrations in Budapest and grew to include armed and unarmed resisters from all sectors of society. They achieved initial success in driving out the surprised Soviet occupying troops, and for a few days it looked as though they had succeeded in liberating themselves. Hungarian flags flew over Budapest with the hateful Communist emblem cut out of the middle.

Then, on November 4, the Soviet army reentered Hungary and crushed the revolution. In the aftermath, the Soviets murdered about 1200 rebel leaders and dumped their bodies in unmarked graves. Communist rule in Hungary continued, half-hearted and sullen, for thirty-three more years. A quarter-million Hungarians emigrated in the immediate aftermath, while the borders were still permeable; like the refugees from Nazism before them, they have immensely enriched their adopted countries. Perhaps the most famous Hungarian-American émigré is retired Intel CEO Andy Grove, born Andras Grof.

I was in Budapest in 1997 for the commemoration of the revolution. Children, free from school, scampered happily in the streets carrying little paper flags with holes in the middle. Though the ceremonies were solemn and heartfelt, I could tell that already the Hungarians, eight years after the final and peaceful overthrow of Communism, were beginning to treat it less as a day of sorrow and more as just another national holiday. That's as it should be: a relaxed attitude toward history is a mark of deeply and securely felt freedom.

And yet every so often an article like this makes me wonder how deep the feeling really goes. I spent a week in Hungary in April 2004 and did not see the degeneration the author describes. But I worry about the cultural stain that Communism has left, as indeed I worry about the fate of the culture of freedom everywhere in the world.

In the end I cannot put it better than Albert Camus:

Hungary conquered and in chains has done more for freedom and justice than any people for twenty years. But for this lesson to get through and convince those in the West who shut their eyes and ears, it was necessary, and it can be no comfort to us, for the people of Hungary to shed so much blood which is already drying in our memories. In Europe's isolation today, we have only one way of being true to Hungary, and that is never to betray, among ourselves and everywhere, what the Hungarian heroes died for, never to condone, among ourselves and everywhere, even indirectly, those who killed them. It would indeed be difficult for us to be worthy of such sacrifices.


Links:

Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

Camus' essay "The Blood of the Hungarians"

Wikipedia entry on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution


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