Good afternoon Citizens of Veszprém, Good afternoon Hungary.
Today is a day of remembrance and celebration for Hungarians living in all parts of the world. On the day of Hungarian freedom, from here in Veszprém we salute the Hungarians of Hungary, of the Carpathian Basin and of the whole world. We have come here to celebrate 23 October, but in truth we should have come to Veszprém a day earlier; because the people of Veszprém did not wait for the people of Budapest, but founded their revolutionary organisations independently on 22 October, and proclaimed their demands to the world. They were earlier to wake up. We are not surprised – that is just the way Veszprem is: it likes to be ahead of the curve. It was already thus one thousand years ago: Veszprém was at the forefront in the age of the city’s Christian founders; this is how and why this fortress became the home of Gizella, our first Queen. And thus it was in ‘56: on 23 October the red star was already being hammered to the ground here in Veszprém. Every town and village in Hungary has its own 1956; each of them has something to teach us, and each of them is part of our great shared freedom fight of 1956. Therefore to be distracted by the limelight shone on our capital city and to see 1956 as only Budapest’s revolution is not only unjust and patronising, but absolutely mistaken. This is why it is fitting and just that today, here in Veszprém, we are bowing our heads in memory of the freedom fighters of 1956. God bless the people of Veszprém!
The exact number is not known. It is believed that some three thousand people were killed in street fighting and gunfire aimed at crowds, twenty thousand were wounded, and that communist reprisals sent more than two hundred to their deaths and thirteen thousand to prison. Two hundred thousand Hungarians fled the country.. The story of those who suffered reprisals in prison and those who were executed is its own shocking and instructive drama. What Hungarian faces, characters, and Hungarian fates! Their diversity alone proves that ‘56 was indeed a great shared struggle for freedom for the whole nation: among those executed were priests, workers, farmers, teachers and Communist Party leaders; old and young, men and women, Budapesters and provincials. An entire nation stood on the scaffold. The story of the heroic martyr of Veszprém, Árpád Brusznyai, is one of the most moving and instructive. He was a university classical philologist, then a secondary school teacher in Veszprém – a teacher and champion of young people. He was the kind of intellectual who understood the message of the times and knew that if history dealt us Hungarians a new hand, it would be a crime not to pick up the cards and play. He also understood that 1956 would be European Hungary’s last chance for a long time to free itself from the world of Bolshevik socialism, which rejected European culture, Christian civilisation and the right of nations to exist. This could succeed just as had been the case for the Austrians the previous year, in 1955, when the Soviets withdrew from Austria. Brusznyai knew that the doors were closing, and that if we failed to get out then, the whole country would be forcibly herded into the Soviet experiment which sought to create communist man, a communist society and a Soviet empire. And God alone knew whether the Hungarian nation, which had jealously guarded its language, culture, spirit, customs and entire way of life for a thousand years, would survive the Soviet occupation – and if so, what changes it would undergo. There was no alternative: we had to try. This clear thought, this grave historical reckoning, is the reason the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and Freedom Fight was not an inarticulate howl, not an outburst of rage from the oppressed, not a gasping cry for revenge, not an unbridled outburst of the desire for freedom. In addition to all the Hungarian Revolution’s breathtaking heroism and death-defying courage, it was a sober, measured and responsible movement. The Revolution itself was a blaze of Hungarian genius, and the story of Árpád Brusznyai was the true, unadulterated, authentic embodiment of this. Only thirty-two years old, he was a recognised leader who undertook what needed to be undertaken. But he protected the young, not wanting anyone to behave recklessly with the precious blood of Hungarian youth. And he did not allow even justified street revenge against the dictatorship’s marauders, defending them from lynching, damping down emotions, suppressing others’ instincts to cast aside restraint. After the crushing of the freedom fight, the communists executed him. They killed him not because he was guilty, but precisely because he was innocent. The fate of Árpád Brusznyai is a true Hungarian fate. It is our fate: responsibility for our fellow humans, unrelenting truthfulness, a readiness to take action, the just treatment of our enemies. Hungarians are a chivalrous people – sometimes exaggeratedly, at the expense of reason. This is why it repeatedly happens that those we have saved or are protecting end up attacking us. In recent times we have been the first to protect Europe from migration. And we were the first to propose peace instead of war – with which we could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. And today we are the first and only ones seeking to restrain the peoples of Europe from voluntarily, eagerly and blindly marching into another – even bigger – war. For this we have never received thanks, appreciation or goodwill, but have often received smears, backstabbing and friendly fire. This is a pattern of Hungarian fate that repeats itself again and again. We gain no satisfaction from the fact that the Westerners are now stewing in their own juice. Árpád Brusznyai was thirty-three when he was executed. This finds a parallel in the Gospel of Luke, in which Pilate asks those who demand the crucifixion of Jesus, “What wrong has he done? I can find no fault in him for which I should condemn him to death.” And indeed he was innocent, but they murdered him, cast lots for his robe, and even persecuted his memory, in order to permanently erase him from the history of Veszprém. And for three decades this was successful. I remember that during our secondary school years we never heard the names of Pongrátz, Ilona Tóth or Brusznyai; but we did hear the names of the murderers who sent them to prison, sentenced them to death and concealed all memory of them.
The shadow of old crimes is a long one, and when a crime is committed against an entire nation, it casts a shadow extending over seven generations and more. Today we know who Brusznyai and his associates were, but we are no longer willing to even utter the names of the murderers. Theirs is contempt and oblivion, while for Brusznyai and those like him we accord reverence and eternal remembrance. Glory to the heroes of ‘56!
Glory does not mean that we can comfortably walk away from painful lessons. Our nation is strong enough to face up to its faults. We know that the traitors are also part of our nation, and they are also in our history, like the “ill fate” mentioned in Himnusz [the Hungarian national anthem]. Where there are heights, there are also depths, and this law cannot be overruled by the city of Veszprém – however glorious and respected it is. Here, too, 23 October was followed by 4 November. After Brusznyai’s first sentence of life imprisonment, the Communist Party’s First Secretary for the County wrote from here in Veszprém to request that the punishment be increased, “in the name of the County’s Communists and honest workers”, as he put it. We shall not forget that either.
In the end 1956 triumphed in 1990. We who were there – who fought the political battles against the Soviet Union and the Communist Party leadership – remember it well. We could not have won without the legacy of 1956. We fought in the name of freedom, and those who were executed in the struggle for freedom gave us the strongest weapon; because those we opposed in 1989 were brought to power by the crimes committed against Hungarians in 1956, and therefore their power stood on unstable foundations. With the political transition, the communists only had a chance to enter the era of democracy with their skins intact and with a glimmer of hope for a political future if they first confessed to their greatest crime; and as soon as they had confessed to it, they lost power. They had to bury the previously undisclosed remains of the victims in public, but as soon as their bodies were buried, their souls were released and floated above the head of the leader of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party [MSZMP]. As the Fundamental Law of Hungary puts it, and I quote, these “were criminal organisations, and their leaders shall have responsibility without statute of limitations for … suppressing with bloodshed” the ‘56 Revolution. And as I see it , the successor party to the MSZMP is now microscopic in size; and I have no doubt that the last left-wing party – conceived as the last escape route for the communists – will end up where the spirit of ‘56 decrees it should. In 1989 all we had to do was to finish what the ‘56-ers had started, to show that thirty years of enforced silence was not equivalent to forgiveness, and that sooner or later the account – the historical account – would have to be paid. We just had to muster the courage to point at them and declare that the Emperor had no clothes and could not escape the judgment of the people. In the spirit of Brusznyai, the verdict was declared in free and democratic elections in which anyone could stand – even communists. Thirty years later, there is still debate over whether – given the resulting democracy’s feebleness in delivering justice – the Hungarians made the right decision back then. However we judge it, what is certain is that in Hungary we freed ourselves from Soviet occupation and replaced the communists without civil war or the loss of a single human life, and we avoided – albeit painfully and bitterly – Hungary’s economic and political collapse. Since thirty-three years ago to this day, in fact, Hungary is the only country in Europe never to have needed an early election; and we are still the safest and most stable country in the whole of Europe.
1956 triumphed, and we rejoined the community of European peoples. This also forms part of historical recompense. But it is also true that Europe – the place to which we have returned – is no longer the place from which we were torn. And it seems to me that it is moving ever further from that place. We wanted freedom, we are free, and Europe is united in freedom; but now we have to face up to the fact that we have different conceptions of freedom, and different conceptions of what a free world is. From here, it seems as if freedom for Westerners is some kind of escape: “Break free from yourself, break free from what you were born as – or at least change what you were born as! Grow out of your past, like a childhood disease! Change gender! Change nationality – or at least leave it behind and change your identity! change every component of yourself, reassemble yourself according to the latest fashion, and you will be free!” Here in Hungary we wanted the exact opposite. We wanted to finally be who we are. The idea of my not being a man, not being Hungarian and not being a Christian is like having my heart ripped out. For us freedom is not escaping from ourselves, but the opposite: freedom is an arrival, a homecoming. A commitment: be who you are! Accept that you were born Hungarian, born Christian, born a woman or a man. Accept that you are the child of your father and mother, the spouse of your husband or wife, the parent of your daughter or son. Accept that you are a friend, and that as a child of your country you are a patriot. Not in ‘56, nor in ‘90, nor in 2023 were we – or are we – prepared to renounce this for the sake of Moscow or Brussels.
Dear People of Veszprém, Dear Friends,
For us, freedom is a survival instinct. My family, my friends, my country: all are me. For the Hungarian people, the fight for freedom is not something that they can take on or resolve: freedom must be defended, otherwise we are lost. Thus it was in ‘56, in 1990, and thus it is today. It is as simple as that. All the greats of old knew this, from King Stephen to the ‘56-ers. A Therefore the Hungarian nation is a freedom-fighting nation, and the precise essence of the Hungarian nation’s strategy for life is that we end up standing by the grave of every occupying empire.
We also need to talk about the fact that in our lives today we see things that remind us of Soviet times. Yes, history can repeat itself. Fortunately, what was a tragedy the first time round is at best a comedy the second time. Fortunately, Brussels is not Moscow: Moscow was a tragedy; Brussels is a bad contemporary parody. We had to dance to the tune Moscow whistled. Even when Brussels whistles, we dance the way we want to; and if we don’t want to, we don’t dance. But the lecturing from the comrades is the same – except now it is called a “conditionality procedure”. The censure of Hungary by the Party is now called the “Brussels rule of law procedure”; and now tanks are not rolling in from the East, but dollars are rolling in from the West – to the same places, and to the same people. The big difference is that the Soviet Union was hopeless, while the European Union is not yet. It is true that it has surrendered itself to migration, and it is true that it cannot pull itself out of the war that it has been rash enough to enter. And it is also true that it has entrusted its fate to leaders who are incapable of defending its security, freedom and prosperity. Moscow was beyond repair, but Brussels and the European Union can be repaired, and there will be European elections. Europe is still alive, still breathing, and in its body its vital systems are still operating – as is so brilliantly and convincingly demonstrated by the city of Veszprém, European Capital of Culture. The home of Árpád Brusznyai and the Veszprém heroes of ‘56 is today the European Capital of Culture. Do we need any clearer encouragement for next year’s elections to the European Parliament?
Dear Citizens of Veszprém,
Famous photographs preserve the memory of candles being lit and messages being placed where the freedom fighters met their deaths. On the most famous of these photographs is this note: “We promise that your deaths have not been in vain!” This is why we are here today: to remind ourselves of our old promise. The sacrifice of the ‘56-ers will only make sense if we defend, live and pass on Hungarian freedom. They did not die in vain if we do not live in vain, if we give to the world what only we can give. In this, Veszprém is doing well, it is doing just that: it is showing what the world is like if you look at it with Hungarian eyes, if you paint it in Hungarian, if you sing it in Hungarian. Today Veszprém is showing the whole of Europe what Hungarian culture is like, what freedom is like, if you are Hungarian.
We are able to do this because we have not lost sight of the most important law of survival. We still know that the past is not behind us, but beneath us: it is what we stand upon. On the 67th anniversary of the 1956 Freedom Fight, I salute the heroes, known and unknown, and the honour of our compatriots who – despite decades of hardship and suffering – did not give up, but set an example for us all.
Long live Hungarian freedom, long live the homeland! God above us all, Hungary before all else! Go Hungary, go Hungarians!