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Feb 25, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

The victims of communism shall not be forgotten

Since 2000, Hungary remembers the victims of communism each year on February 25th. The totalitarian oppression in the name of this “mad ideology,” in the words of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, shattered millions of lives all over the world. Today's memorial is the day we light a candle for communism’s victims, many of whom still live among us.

Since 2000, Hungary remembers the victims of communism each year on February 25th. The totalitarian oppression in the name of this “mad ideology,” in the words of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, shattered millions of lives all over the world, in show trials, in GULAG camps, in the way it snatched away people’s livelihood and in the banal, everyday way it denied the freedom of the human spirit. February 25th is the day we light a candle for communism’s victims, many of whom still live among us.

Sixty years ago, in 1956, brave Hungarian women and men took fate in their hands. Fighting for freedom with any weapons they could muster, they sent scrambling what was then the second largest army in the world. Eventually, the military might of the Soviet Empire overwhelmed the “Hungarian freedom fighter” of 1956, but not before the lads of Pest exposed to the whole world the true, brutal nature of communism. After the 1956 Revolution, the world saw in communism an oppressive dictatorship, but that’s not when it all started.

In 1947, Hungary had a democratically elected government led by the Independent Smallholders’ Party. On February 25th of that year, the secretary general of the Smallholders, Béla Kovács, was abducted by the communist, political police and deported to the Soviet Union. With the help of the Soviet army, many more followed.

Not much later, March 12, in the famous speech unveiling his Truman Doctrine, the president of the United States recognized these unlawful actions. “The peoples of a number of countries of the world have recently had totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will. The Government of the United States has made frequent protests against coercion and intimidation, in violation of the Yalta agreement, in Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria. I must also state,” President Truman continued, “that in a number of other countries there have been similar developments.”

Regardless, the Soviets stayed and countries of Eastern Europe suffered under their oppressive rule for approximately 45 years. Hundreds of thousands were directly persecuted and many saw their lives change forever by the torture or imprisonment of their relatives. In Hungary alone, the number of people taken away to the GULAG was between 700 thousand and 1.1 million, a staggering number considering that the country’s population is around 10 million.

Hungary’s commemorative year for the GULAG victims is coming to an end this February. Minister of Human Capacities and Head of the GULAG Commemorative Committee Zoltán Balog just announced that the government will double the pensions of the GULAG victims. Following some 600 events organized nationwide as part of the commemorative year, Minister Balog emphasized that without a sufficient reckoning of the history of the GULAG, we fail to comprehend the history of mankind in the 21st century and its inhumanity. We shall remember that we never forget.

“Today, nobody doubts that communism was a similarly mad ideology as national socialism,” said Prime Minister Orbán in 2015, fifteen years after his first government (in office from 1998 to 2002) declared the date of the abduction of Béla Kovács a commemorative day for the victims of communism. It serves as a poignant, national recognition of the victims who could never really be compensated for their sufferings.

That painful history has compelled the government to take other actions as well. Putting human dignity before freedom of speech, the first Orbán Government banned the use of certain symbols, including the communist symbols and those associated with national socialism. The government of Hungary supported the establishment of the Washington D.C.-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation with a donation of one million USD, and we continue to support causes that aim to honor the victims.

If you happen to be in Budapest on February 25th and would like to remember in some way the victims of communism, your best option is to visit the House of Terror Museum (Andrássy u. 60.), where you can join the day-long candle lighting and visit the museum for free. In the Buda castle the exhibition and week-long program, “Closed in the Barracks – Sentenced to Life,” displaying the memories of the victims is also open to visitors throughout the day. The prime minister is delivering a speech commemorating the victims on Saturday morning in the Rákoskeresztúr New Public Cemetery.

The Orbán Government has put special emphasis on remembering those who suffered under communist oppression and who were forgotten for decades. We invite you to join us in this solemn remembrance on February 25th.