Sunday, October 22, 2006

Szabadsag


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Hungarian Revolution. On this day fifty years ago, students took to the streets, demanding political and economic changes. Within a day, demonstrations had become violent battles, with Soviet tanks firing on unarmed protestors, and Hungarian partisans attacking Soviet troops stationed in Budapest. (The BBC has an excellent timeline of events up.)

This wasn't without precedent, of course. In 1848, the Hungarians rebelled against Austrian domination of the country. The Petőfi Revolution, as it is known (for the poet whose National Song was the rallying cry of the day and is now the national poem), was only put down after the Austrians asked the Russian Tsar to send troops into the country. The only non-Slav people of Central Europe, the Hungarians have always been wary of the Russians, with their focus on building a pan-Slavic empire with Moscow (or, at the time, St. Petersburg) at its center, and their defeat at the hands of Tsarist troops was doubly crushing. 1956 was very much informed by this history.

America was also complicit, of course. Radio Free Europe encouraged the Hungarians with talk of American support - support which never materialized, sadly. The Hungarians are still touchy about this, but some understand that the tensions of the Cold War bound America more tightly than she might have liked.

There were still bullet holes in some buildings, left from the fighting in 1956, when I lived there in 2000. Hungarians would point to them proudly, and recount the glory of those brave men and women who fought in the face of all odds, and even won a Soviet withdrawal - even if it was only temporary.

Strangely, the plazas of Hungary today bear a remarkable resemblance to those of 1956, with Hungarians again taking to the streets to voice political outrage. Socialism still drives a deep wedge through Hungary (indeed, I was once yelled at by an older gentleman - times were better when Hungary was Communist, he informed me). But today, no one is firing on the protestors. They will be able to be heard - in the streets today, and eventually at the ballot boxes. And that, at least, is a victory.

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