Saturday, October 21, 2006

Hungary 50 Years On

The fiftieth anniversary of the Hungarian uprising takes place this week, amid continuing political turmoil, as a result of the shenanigans of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. Much rot has been written about the uprising, such as a piece by Kathy Sheridan in last Saturday's Irish Times. The rebels are portrayed in Western Europe by ignoramuses as persecuted victims of Communism, fighting for a free market and a return to a Catholic state; they certainly were victims, but like the reformers of the Prague Spring twelve years later they were committed socialists who did not see any need to do away with the more positive aspects of the socialist system. They were certainly not Catholic or pro-capitalist zealots as many imagine them to be. The Hungarians had a democratically-elected Communist government in the inter-war years and the memory of Miklós Horthy's puppet fascist wartime regime was still fresh in the memory. The government of Imre Nagy and the thousands of brave men and women who fought the Soviet invasion had no desire to dispense with a welfare state, wealth redistribution or secularism.

Of course their faith in Moscow's tolerance for reform was cruelly dashed and for many in the West, who had chosen to disbelieve the warnings of Orwell, Koestler and others about the ills of Stalinism, this was the end of their flirtation with Communism. Janos Kadar, the puppet installed in Nagy's stead was to eventually liberalise the Communist state by stealth but the scars of the crushing reaction to the uprising remained. There is a great interview in today's Libération with the Hungarian-born journalist and academic Pierre Kende, who fled his native country following the invasion, where he analyses the effects of the rising on Hungarian history and society.