Remembering the 1956 Revolution

Romanced by today’s creative, fun-loving Budapest, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always so. For a dozen days in late October and early November 1956, Hungarians fought to liberate themselves from the yoke of communist oppression. Everyday people from all walks of life suddenly became freedom fighters. Spurred on by indefatigable traditions of independence and self-determination, the people revolted and nearly won.

But as Soviet tanks rolled in to put down the revolution, many Hungarians paid dearly. Few families would remain untouched by the tragedy and violence. This gripping story of a fight for freedom against all odds captured the imagination of the world, for no satellite had dared challenge Soviet might.

It would be 33 years before Hungary would finally be free and Hungarians could officially remember the 1956 Revolution without fear of reprisal.

It’s always a somber occasion to recall the grave losses to the Hungarian nation over those autumn days, and the commemorations in this 60th anniversary year are of particular import. Together with Hungary’s 1956 Memorial Commission, we have embarked on a public campaign to remember the revolution through traditional and electronic media over the upcoming months.   

Over 200 thousand Hungarians left their homeland in 1956. Our 56-ers, their children and grandchildren might be interested to learn more about the events that led to their families leaving Hungary. One of the primary sources is magyarforradalom1956.hu, which lists events, photos, videos, grant applications, and more. A Facebook and an Instagram account complement the website.  Please help get the word out and invite your friends to like the Facebook page.

The past six weeks have seen events gather pace as more groups join the effort. Already billboards featuring some of Hungary’s well-known freedom fighters have begun to appear. Early in May, the chairwoman of the 1956 Memorial Committee, Dr. Mária Schmidt, signed an agreement with Hungarian Film Commissioner Andrew G. Vajna to organize a film festival centered on the theme of 1956. This was followed with a strategic media partnership signed with MTVA, Hungary’s public broadcasting agency. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Dr. Schmidt also spoke at the Friends of Hungary Foundation’s annual global meeting, inviting the Hungarian diaspora to join the events at home in Hungary or via several online platforms. Minister of Human Capacities Zoltán Balogh invited the diplomatic corps to Várkert Bazaar to present upcoming events and opportunities for Hungary’s partners, allies and investors to participate and share its values. One of several planned academic conferences by 1956 scholars was also held in Budapest to discuss the historical legacy of the revolution.

To this day, many stories of resistance remain untold. In an effort to uncover the popular history of the revolution, the Commission is sponsoring an open competition, a don’t-miss opportunity for ordinary citizens to tell how the events of 1956 affected families and friends who were lost to the complicated aftermath, either suppressed at home or carried across the world by the Hungarian diaspora.

For example, voting has just concluded to select the winner among a shortlist of four official stamps commemorating 1956; the childhood home of Hungarian freedom fighter Ilonka Toth was awarded funds for restoration; and the Commission has also earmarked funding for several productions highlighting Hungarian culture at Sziget Festival, as well as joining the official sponsor’s of this summer’s Children’s Island, with more decisions and events to come – among them the opening of an exhibition on the signs and symbols embedded in 1956 photography at the Ethnography Museum on June 22. 

Stay tuned at: www.magyarforradalom1956.hu

(Picture source: Fortepan)