Hungary suffered through a double blow of dictatorship during its recent lifetime. First by the the Nazi regime, which was defeated in WWII, and again with Soviet communism. Communism invaded shortly after the Nazi regime’s fall, and officials were said to have wanted to punish Hungary for not siding with Russia during the war.
Although communism was eventually defeated in 1989, there were moments of protest and uprising. While I was visiting Budapest on October 23rd, we realized it was the 52nd anniversary of the 1956 Uprising against communism. The uprising started as a student demonstration and spontaneously attracted thousands as they all marched to the Parliament Building. Shots were fired and news of the revolution spread.
The communist government actually fell and was disbanded for a short time while chaos ensued. It seemed like Hungary was finally making progress and would see victory. But eventually, officials changed their minds about negotiating a withdrawal of Soviet forces and decided to crush the revolution instead. Over 2,500 Hungarians were killed and executed during the protest and nearly 700 Russians were also killed. Communism regained its footing in Hungary by November 10th.
While we walked through Budapest last week on the anniversary of the uprising, we saw many Hungarians waving their flags and gathering in public squares, making speeches, and marching. We couldn’t understand what was being said over loud speakers as they were speaking in their native tongue of Magyar, but it was very peaceful and the locals seemed serious and contemplative.
We quickly discovered that we couldn’t walk through all the parts of town; Hero’s Square and some of the major streets were blocked off for the gatherings. It was a little disorienting to see so many police in full riot gear stopping us as we walked down major roads. It made me think of what it was like for Hungarians living during communist occupation, who couldn’t travel without the government’s permission, could only hold jobs the government chose, and felt the constant presence of its militia.
The entire weekend we watched as locals gathered and waved their flags. We learned the Russians had put their symbol in the middle of the Hungarian flag during their occupation. After their liberation in 1989, many locals cut out the symbol and kept their flags as a reminder. We even saw an elderly man who must have lived through both the Nazi and Soviet regime waving his flag proudly, the hole still there.
I felt very fortunate and proud to be a part of Hungary’s special holiday of remembrance…
Here’s some historic footage of Hungary’s uprising in 1956…
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