Director-General Mária Schmidt’s speech on the 62nd anniversary of the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight
23 October 2018, Budapest
They say that the key to personal success – and indeed to health itself – is to not forget moments of happiness and success, and to treasure them as one does the memory of one’s first kiss and first love.
Honourable Compatriots, Dear Friends,
The same is true for the nation. We cannot draw strength from failure, from misfortune, or from darkness, but only from those moments that give us cause for pride; for instance, the pride that we feel when we remember the events of the Revolution and Freedom Fight of sixty-two years ago. What happened to us then here in Hungary still provides hope and strength today. Hundreds of thousands of people stood hand-in-hand on the main squares of our cities; hundreds of thousands of total strangers hugged each other. There were those who shed tears of joy, because the communal heartbeat of the nation was so strong that it was sensed even by those who did not want to sense it.
It was the echo of this communal heartbeat that brought us together here today. If we stand alongside one another and open our hearts, we can feel our everyday problems diminish and we feel stronger. We see each other’s faces in better focus, and realise that we belong together.
This is as it should be.
We are here today to jointly remember those days of sixty-two years ago, that to this day represent a benchmark for us. What happened on 23 October 1956 is a benchmark for patriotism and commitment to one’s homeland – both now and forever.
All of us here today are the descendants of the Lads and Girls of Pest. Today we are still sustained by their will to live and yearning for freedom. By simply recalling their heroic deeds, our mouths form into a smile and we are filled with pride and renewed strength. We have them to thank for the fact that our immune system is so strong, and that we are capable of standing our ground and preserving ourselves.
God bless our heroes!
And God bless those heroes who are still here with us today. Honour to the heroes!
Let us look at our debt to the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight.
Initially there was a vain attempt to use artificial and anti-human teachings to erase our collective national memory, to discontinue and eliminate our patriotism and our commitment to our homeland.
They failed in that attempt.
In vain they sought to delete from our memories the many outstanding figures of our history, the memory of the giants who fought for Hungarian freedom and our country’s independence. In this they also failed. In vain they tried to force some of our greatest historical figures into the service of communist ideology: we need only think of Sándor Petőfi and Attila József. They did not succeed in this either.
They failed in this too.
In vain they terminated our national holidays with fire and sword, or recast them. In vain they created false memorial days. They failed once again.
And in vain that they did everything they could to flush patriotism out of our young peoples’ souls, and to reprogramme young minds to internationalism. In this enterprise they were also unsuccessful.
They failed in this too.
The communists were born losers, and they knew it. This is why they needed to rely on violence, terror, the Soviet occupation and its occupying army.
Otherwise they would not have stood a chance of tyrannising us.
In 1956 the Hungarian communists and the occupying Soviet army realised that even ten years of their reign of terror had been unable to break the backbone of the Hungarians. This is our nature: we are stubborn and forthright; we insist on our past; haste is not to out liking, and we move forward with deliberation; we do not give our love easily – but when we do, we love with all our hearts.
And no matter what anyone says, we are a nation of good spirit and blessed with a healthy sense of humour; there are few topics on which we cannot summon up a good joke within seconds.
Of course this requires courage, but that is something we’ve never lacked. I’m reminded of a joke from the Pest of the 1950s. Back then telling it took great courage, because one was risking years in prison. It went like this:
Archaeologists have found a mummy. First of all the Americans examine it and determine that “This mummy is approximately 2,500 years old.”
The British also get the chance to analyse it and declare: “This mummy is approximately 2,800 years old.”
Finally the ÁVH [Hungarian State Protection Authority, the secret police] is given the mummy. They determine the following: “The mummy is exactly 2,786 years, six months and two days old. The deceased was married twice and had four children; one became a writer, the others architects. His first wife was quarrelsome and secretly drank wine heavily.”
The other archaeologists ask how the Hungarian State Protection Authority could know all this so precisely.
To this the ÁVH reply: “He confessed!”
This is what we are like: we make jokes out of pain and laugh in the face of a seemingly invincible enemy, so that eventually we can survive the terror. This is what has kept us alive throughout the centuries. Our fellow Europeans, if they know a little Hungarian, still often express surprise at all the things we say and write without the constraint they are shackled by: political correctness. No, we are not politically correct; we never have been, and I hope that we never will be. Because that destroys freedom, and we Hungarians cannot live without freedom!
This love of freedom and this insatiable desire for independence is so deeply rooted within us and is so unfettered, that if the need arises and our national existence and survival is in danger, it immediately impels us to act. In other words, it has only ever been possible to strip us Hungarians of our self-determination, sovereignty and democracy – of our freedom – in one way: by force.
The truth of this was proved by us almost thirty years ago, when we reburied the heroes of 1956. The magnificent example of 1956 once again guided us, and the youth of Hungary made history again. Yes, in my eyes what happened in 1989 and 1990 was a direct continuation of the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight – and indeed its fulfilment.
Of course there were those who attempted to blur the sharp dividing line between dictatorship and freedom, who obstructed the exercise of justice, and who attempted to appropriate 23 October for themselves. But they too failed. Just as 1956 was the collective success of the whole Hungarian nation, the anti-communist revolution that in 1989 swept away the communist system was also the shared glory of us all. I believe that the time has come for us to stop describing what happened then as a “transition” or “system change”, and finally declare that it was an anti-communist revolution – which, thank God, did not need to degenerate into a bloody war for our freedom.
The fact that in our homeland today there are four million Hungarians who have no memory of the period of dictatorship means that we are faced with a new task. We must tell them how happy and satisfied freedom and independence make us, how good it is for us to be able to experience them, and what great sacrifices our nation has made to ensure that the enemies of freedom could not triumph over us. We must teach them that freedom and national independence are not given freely and not given in perpetuity: we must fight for them again and again every single day. They must also know that a time may come when they too must fight for them!
We have our heroes, whose example can help to guide us. The self-sacrificing heroism of the Lads and Girls of Pest made world history. It showed the world – and us – that we will fight against even the greatest odds when our freedom and independence are at stake. Because we owe this to ourselves.
Because we are all the proud descendants of 1956.
Long live Hungarian freedom! Long live our homeland!