segunda-feira, 24 de outubro de 2016
Viktor Orbán’s revision of the 1956 revolution
Viktor Orbán’s revision of the 1956 revolution
‘Our responsibility is to prevent Brussels from Sovietizing,’ says the Hungarian leader.
By LILI BAYER 10/23/16, 8:42 PM CET Updated 10/23/16, 9:00 PM CET
BUDAPEST — Celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Hungary’s revolution against Soviet rule ended with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech in front of parliament Sunday being drowned out by protesters whistling and shouting “dictator.”
One of the country’s most prominent historians, Krisztián Ungváry, who turned up to protest against the speech, was bleeding from the face after a pro-government member of the crowd punched him.
In the preceding days, Hungarians received recorded phone messages urging them to attend the rally to hear Orbán address the crowd. In a throwback to the government-sponsored commemorations of Communist rule, the streets of Budapest have been filled with large billboards portraying young 1956 street fighters carrying arms.
The government has spent tens of millions of euros on the event, commissioning songwriter Desmond Child, who has worked with bands like Aerosmith, to write a theme song. Hungary’s youth are the “target group,” said Minister for Human Resources Zoltán Balog, who was charged by the prime minister with organizing the year’s celebrations.
“Before the risk was lies about 1956, now the risk is disinterest,” he said.
“Our responsibility is to prevent Brussels from Sovietizing” — Viktor Orbán
But for many of Orbán’s critics and some surviving revolutionaries, the government’s campaign — coinciding with significant spending on an anti-refugee campaign — is seen as an effort to boost nationalist sentiment and distract the public from more urgent challenges.
“Most participants in 1956 already passed away, and now the anniversary is only used for propaganda and political purposes. They didn’t even talk to the remaining participants,” said Imre Mécs, a 1956 revolutionary who was sentenced to death for his role (the sentence was later commuted) and served as a member of parliament between 1990 and 2010.
Stop Brussels ‘Sovietizing’
Orbán has a long history of manipulating the memory of 1956 and first drew public attention as a political actor when he spoke at the 1989 reburial of Imre Nagy, the leader of the revolutionary government whose bid to make Hungary independent from Soviet rule cost him his life.
Now, the prime minister is attempting to draw parallels between Hungary’s struggle against Moscow and his own struggle against the European Union. “Our responsibility is to prevent Brussels from Sovietizing,” Orbán told the crowd of thousands gathered outside parliament Sunday.
At the same time, some of Orbán’s critics believe that his party is changing the history of the revolution to serve the prime minister’s political purposes.
A day before Orbán’s speech, a small group of protesters — including the children of some members of the revolution’s short-lived government — gathered in front of the House of Terror, a controversial history museum commissioned by Orbán during his first term in office. They carried banners portraying what they believe the official narrative has ignored. One showed the faces of dozens of executed revolutionary leaders. Another showcased photos of the original demands of students who sparked the revolution, including the withdrawal of Soviet troops, freedom of the press, re-examination of political show trials and Nagy’s appointment as leader.
“The crowd kept demanding to hear Imre Nagy,” recalled Péter Kende, who was a 29-year old journalist standing with the protesters in front of parliament on the day the revolution broke out. “I left eventually … and then someone ran in and told us there was shooting outside and protesters are dead.”
“There are many interpretations of 1956 … but this government’s is a fraud” — former dissident László Rajk Jr.
No mention of Nagy
Neither the billboards covering Budapest buildings nor the plethora of government-sponsored memorial events mentioned Nagy or other revolutionary leaders who were later executed or imprisoned. The protesting students and their reform messages are nowhere to be seen.
“There are many interpretations of 1956 … but this government’s is a fraud,” said László Rajk Jr., a former dissident whose father — a Communist minister of the interior — was the most prominent victim of the bloody 1950s show trials which set the stage for the revolution. The government campaign makes out that only a select group “are the heroes — no one else,” he said.
The Fidesz government is trying to “monopolize the revolution” and create a “new story,” argued Maria Vásárhelyi, a sociologist and expert on Hungarian historical memory, whose father was a member of the revolutionary government. The Orbán administration’s narrative erases the “role of left-wing politicians and actors and denies the left-wing character of revolution,” Vásárhelyi said.
Some members of Orbán’s government admit that there has been a conscious shift in how the revolution’s legacy is presented to the public.
“The people have come to the fore. In the past the focus was on the intellectuals: what writers did, what the reform Communists did, what the anti-Communist politicians did, what the Church did … Now we talk about the simple people, the local level,” said Balog, the human resources minister.
But some Hungarians believe Orbán’s government is violating the dreams of the 1956 revolution — as well as generations of Hungarian freedom fighters, from the 1848 revolution to 1956 and the 1989 transition to democracy.
A protester holds a placard which reads, “Europa yes! Orbán no!” as activists and sympathizers of several civil organizations protest in Budapest on October 23, 2016 | Gergely Besenyei/AFP via Getty Images
The plan to disrupt Orbán’s Sunday speech emerged a week earlier, at a rally protesting against corruption and the closure of the largest opposition paper, Népszabadság. Péter Juhász, the opposition politician who led the initiative and whose party distributed whistles to protesters, was physically prevented from entering the rally.
Protesters yelled “dictator” and “democracy,” while some held copies of the now-defunct Népszabadság.
Mécs, the revolutionary who was sentenced to death for his role in 1956, fears the government is undermining the ideals he fought for. “I am quite depressed, because many people sacrificed their lives for 1956 … and now the government is sweeping it all away,” he said.