Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Failure of '56 to inspiration of '06?

Pres. Bush is going to Hungary this weekend and National Review hopes he'll be inspirational in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the 1956 student uprising against the Communists. Silence in the face of the Soviets' brutal quashing of the uprising is perhaps the greatest failure of the Eisenhower Administration.

The Monk went to Budapest with the Monkette2B three years ago and liked it a lot -- a very nice city with good people. We had a great visit (Travelogue available on request). One of the sites we made sure to see was Szobobor Park, the residence of the Communist statuary that Hungarians removed from their streets and plazas after liberation from the hammer-and-sickle in 1989. Here's what The Monk wrote about that trip:
Szobobor Park is the Commie Statue Museum of Budapest -- a park area (duh) where the immediate post-Commie Hungarian governments worked to keep the statues "gifted" to Hungary by the Soviets. After the Hungarians became freed from communism, they instinctively sought to topple the various statues of communist icons that were sprinkled throughout Budapest by the USSR or its puppets. So today we took the Hammer and Sickle Walk from Absolute Walking Tours of Budapest. Our guide: Zsofi (zho-fee), an early 30s Budapest resident who lived through the Commie and immediate post-Commie periods in Hungary.

First, some background. Europe is a tribal construct and many of its worst wars are tribal, just as the paralyzing warfare in subSaharan Africa. The modern version is the former Yugoslavia -- Serbs, Croatians, Bosnians, Macedonians, Slovenians, Yugoslavians and Kosovars. Hungary is Magyar, but the closest relatives to the Magyars are Estonians and Finns, not any of the Slavic peoples that are physically close to Hungary (Czechs, Slovaks, Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Yugoslavians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, etc.). Throughout its history Hungary has suffered conquest and overthrow -- the Holy Roman Empire, the Turks, the Austrians, and the Soviets (in essence) -- and the Magyars don't love their former overlords overmuch.

In addition, Hungary was on the wrong side of both world wars -- in WWI it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (although it was the junior partner) and lost more than just Austria when the Empire was split at Versailles. Instead, large parts of what were ethnically Magyar, and nationally Hungary, became territory of other countries -- Western and some Southern areas of Hungary were included in Yugoslavia, some northwest and northern lands became part of Czechoslovakia, and Transylvania and much of eastern Hungary was seized by Romania. As a result, there are numerous ethnic Magyars living in Yugoslavia, Slovakia and Romania and most have fewer rights (today too) than the dominant ethnic groups in the countries. In World War II, Hungary sought to appease the crocodile only to be its last meal -- its dictator's compliance with Hitler did not prevent Hungary from being conquered, nor did it prevent Hungary from having the second-highest number of Jews killed in the Holocaust despite the fact that deportation of Hungarian Jews didn't even start until 1944. Ultimately, Hungary was on the wrong side of the WWII peace -- included in the Soviet "sphere of influence" under Yalta and soon after a client state of the USSR.

In 1956, Hungarian premier Imre Nagy (imm-ray nah-dee) sought to relax Communist controls and grant freedoms (including, ultimately, elections) to the Hungarians. The USSR deposed him and set up a puppet government; students led riots and the Soviets sent in the soldiers. The students led attacks against the USSR soldiers (and created the "Molotov cocktail" for Evgeny Molotov -- the Soviet official in charge of pacifying Hungary) and the rest of the world stood by and watched (Eisenhower reportedly regreted this later). The Soviets quelled the riots, squashed dissent and dissenters, set up show trials for Nagy and some followers and gave Nagy to the horrific Gheorghie-Dej regime in neighboring Romania, which later executed him. Simply stated, neither the Soviets nor Romanians are well-liked in present-day Hungary (then again, no one in Eastern Europe likes the Romanians -- the only Romance language group in the area and therefore not tribally connected to the Slavs or Magyar/Finns, home/birthplace/breeding ground of the actual Gypsies, and run by the mini-Stalins Gheorghie-Dej and Ceausescu for 44 years).

The tour itself went first to a Buda residential area that was built under the Communists in the 60s or 70s. The residential area was chock full of Communist project-housing -- prefabricated concrete blocks stacked and mortared together, all grey and dismal, with small windows, cheap wallpaper, linoleum flooring, tiny elevators and ONE sewer line per each 75+ unit building (i.e., if it got stopped up, everyone would be out of water). We went to a top-story flat (that's "apartment" in American) in the Communist housing project that housed the equivalent of junior executives of the Communist party during Hungary's Commie era (1946-1989). The flat had a rickety 6x3 foot terrace ("That doesn't look steady" thinketh Holly, letting me pass by to stand on it and take pictures) overlooking other apartment buildings of the same (lack of) design and the nearby industrial plants, a cramped living room (that served as the parents' sleeping area) with linoleum floors, cheap and thin wood accessory furniture, grayish white walls and sub-dorm room quality furniture, a bedroom with blocky, ugly bookshelves, low narrow twin beds and unstable writing desks, a narrow kitchen and a run-down bathroom. Total square footage, about 525 -- remember, this is a GOOD apartment. On top of the wondrous accommodations, the residents had to wait 15 years for a phone line and 6-7 years for a car. The cars available = Lada, Travant, Skoda -- three names synonymous with Yugo on the reliability scale (and all three are widely seen in Hungary today). Inside the kids' room -- posters and pamphlets from the communist youth groups all children joined (or were "encouraged" to do so) and that staple of every Communist teenager -- a Vanilla Ice poster.

After the life-sucking apartment, we went to Szobobor Park. The statues there had been placed in various places throughout Budapest during the Soviet era -- Liberty Monument, Millenium Square, Heroes Square, embassy row on Andrassy Utca, by Parliament, etc., to highlight the greatness of Communism, the USSR's friendship, the power of the workers, and so on. The new government removed them to the controversial park (most people wanted the statues destroyed) and set up the exhibition.

The front of the park has a three-arch entrance gate with a Lenin statue on the left, the admissions in the middle and Marx statue on the right. The admissions has three doors, but only the left one is open because (a) Communism is a Leftist doctrine, and (b) you could only be admitted to the inner sanctums of Communist governments through a corrupt side door, not direct achievement. Inside there is a broad straight avenue running through the middle of the park symbolising the never-ending timeline of the communist state, but the line ends at a brick wall -- the 1989 end of communism. The park is split into three 8-shaped areas (with the line running through the middle of the 8s) because Marx decreed that the 24 hour day should be 8 hours' work, leisure and sleep, and the 8 is (sideways) infinity. In one of the circles of an 8 was a patch of flowers shaped into a red star -- the same type of patch that resided outside the Parliament in the Commie era and reflected the red star that hung atop the Parliament (get it? the red star hanging atop the home of Hungarian democratic rule) during those years. In the park were various statues -- another Lenin, a Soviet soldier breaking through a wall (freeing Hungary in 1945), a Soviet soldier planting the Hammer-and-sickle flag, a hero of the 1956 uprising -- a Soviet soldier shot (from behind, natch) by the student rebels, a pair of hands cupped around a globe (worker power), a Bulgarian Commie who stood up to Hitler (who in Hungary would know the Bulgarian Commie anyway?) and more. I bought a tee-shirt that has the recycling person stick-figure tossing a Soviet hammer-and-sickle symbol into a trash can.

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