1956 And All That

My last post (waaaaaaay back when) about life here was pretty baseline, but now I’m coming to the end of my stay (t-minus two weeks and crying).  Obviously I can’t say I’ve truly inhabited Budapest since living in a dorm with lots of Americans obviously gives me a buffer to real real Hungary. However, I can say that I definitely have more insight on how this country works and what it’s like to be here.

I honestly knew nothing about this place when I stepped off the plane, so it’s been interesting to see how Hungary’s history fits in to all the general western Europe stuff I learned back in AP Euro (the names of all the Hungarian famous people are hard to pronounce, so it was almost a relief when we got up to Maria Theresa in my history class).

Most of Hungary’s history is about getting invaded or taken over because they’re in a prime geographical location for that. They were constantly fighting off the Turks or under the rule of the Habsburgs. Then World War I rolled around and they lost 2/3 of their territory (Transylvania) because they got punished in the Treaty of Trianon. Then, after World War II they became a satellite state of the Soviet Union.

Over the years the Hungarian people have tried to overthrow their oppressors. One of the most notable dates of this was October 23, 1956 when they attempted to overthrow communism. It failed miserably.

It was a hugely defining moment in Hungary’s history, and as a result pops up everywhere. In my literature class we’ve read many stories that either allude to or are explicitly about the revolution. If you walk around the city you will find memorials in a fair amount of places commemorating the fighting and the lives lost.

For my internship I’ve read a lot of first-hand accounts of people witnessing the revolution, and it’s incredibly strange to read about the role of streets and squares that I now frequent on a regular basis. These stories give these areas a completely different meaning that’s not noticeable unless you’ve read or learned about the revolution.

For example, I pass Kossuth Lajos Tér on the tram every Tuesday going to my internship. This square contains the Parliament building, where everyone gathered in ’56 to sing protest songs from the 1868 revolution. Standing in it now it is hard to notice anything else but the beauty of the Parliament building.

You end up paying little attention to the actual square that at one point contained thousands of protestors trying to remove communism from their country. (If you look closely around the square you can even see the filled-in bullet holes still present from “Bloody Thursday” – the fateful day where Soviet troops and Hungarian secret police fired into the crowd killing many).

As of a couple days ago this square now houses a cute Christmas tree and a nativity scene.

Another example is Corvin Negyed or Corvin Quarter, which has a large mall and a movie theatre at the centre. It was the site of one of the bloodies battles during the revolution in which people almost entirely under the age of 20 fought against Soviet tanks. There’s now a monument there to the kids who took up arms and died for their country, but apart from that it’s a pretty hip area with some good shops.

Basically, life goes on.

It’s also extremely interesting to see how the culture of Hungary has been so defined by communism. At first glance it’s quite a normal place, but it’s only been free from communism for 26 years. That’s virtually no time in the grand scheme of things.

Most grandparents of Hungarians my age were the around the same age in 1956, and can recount stories of where they were and what happened to them. Most parents of Hungarians my age were around the same age in 1989, and can recount stories of the regime change and how their lives were before and after. Hungarians my age have grown up hearing about communism and its lasting effects, but now it’s relatively second-hand knowledge.

This country has been through a lot but it’s persevered, and isn’t doing too horribly nowadays. Obviously there’s a lot to be improved but it’s working on it!

Now, I started writing this post a while back and then got caught up in life things so I never ended up posting it when I meant to. However, I still feel the need to connect all this to what’s been going on in the US and the world recently, so here goes:

The ’56 revolution is known as a valiant struggle agains the oppressive communist regime. People rose up and died fighting for an almost tangible cause. I think the issue that is happening in the present day is that we are forgetting history, so we aren’t getting as angry when things start to repeat themselves.

So many people want to ignore or just simply haven’t experienced the “oppressive regime” that is racial injustice, so it’s not a big deal and shouldn’t be focused on.

Many people just claim that the death threats towards black students on Yik Yak or Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims is simply free speech so they have every right to support and continue to engage in these hurtful actions. They’re dumb.

Hungary isn’t the most diverse country, but there are still prejudices held against the Roma people and sometimes even Jews (and most recently a little bit against the migrants). Regardless, it was easy for Hungarians to start a revolution because they were all experiencing the same oppression of communism.

Unfortunately for many people of colour (e.g. black students, Muslims, Syrian refugees, etc), their concerns are being waved away by old white people who still run a lot of the world. Their oppression is being swept under the carpet with little thought or, in some cases, purposefully intensified (seriously wtf Trump).

Honestly, that’s pretty scary to me.

The ’56 revolution was spurred on by students posting “16 points” which was a list of demands of the people, all around Budapest. Some of the first-hand accounts of the revolution were by people my age, so if they (and even children) could literally fight the Soviets for freedom, I think our generation can handle a little bit of speaking out and putting our own power to good use.

I’m not saying let’s start a revolution (cue Beatles lyrics), I’m just saying we as a generation need to start paying more attention to our world so that we can find creative solutions to these issues that somehow keep cropping up.

Anyways, that’s the end of my rant.

Stay tuned for some probably very sappy posts in the future about me having to leave this gorgeous city 😥 😥




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