Monday, October 24, 2011

Boldog Szabadnap Magyarság

Yesterday, the 23rd of October Hungary celebrated its independence day. It’s also the anniversary of the uprising in Budapest in 1956.

The Soviet Union was just another occupier in a long line. Hungary had been occupied by the Ottomans, The Austrian Hapsburg Dynasty and the Nazis before the iron curtain went up after World War II. Soviet Communism brought military occupation. Hungary’s bountiful crops were exported. Poverty and paranoia were facts of everyday life. People froze in the winter for lack of warm clothing. One of the worst factors were the few Hungarians recruited as secret police to spy and instill fear in their own people. The secret police were called the AVH and hated more than the Communist occupiers. Neighbors couldn’t trust one another. Offhand remarks could be reported. People could be jailed without trial and even disappear forever.

Things came to a boiling point in October 1956 when a peaceful uprising at a radio station was fired upon. Days later more shots killed innocent citizens. Then street warfare erupted. The Soviet tanks were no match for the narrow, hilly streets of Buda. Residents of the city greased the streets and sent the tanks sliding. Dinner plates were laid in the street to resemble land mines and housewives stuck broom handles resembling rifles out their windows to distract and lure tanks into blind allies. Molotov cocktails took tanks out. AVH were rounded up and some were shot.

Then the fighting died down. Budapest appeared free and peaceful. Journalists arrived from behind the iron curtain. Some thought they had gotten rid of the Soviet Occupation. Then under cover of a snowstorm one night, thousands of Russian Tanks arrived. They were not the little tanks but the latest war machines. Showing no mercy, they took back the city.

Hungary remained occupied until 1990 when it finally declared its independence from The Soviet Union. When my family was there in 1996 we stood at the Parliament building on October 23 and watched the solemn ceremony commemorating the date. There were still places you could see bullet holes in walls from 40 years back.

During the days of peace some Hungarians were anxiously waiting for help from the west. They kept expecting help from The United States or NATO. No one came. But even what I’m reading today suggests other countries see The United States as a beacon of democracy. I read interviews with prisoners or the gulag in Siberia. Even up through the 80’s the Soviet secret police could have someone arrested and taken away to a prison where they would be put to work assembling machine parts. It was the lowest form of slavery. Beatings and torture and starvation were expected. The accounts I read made me consider that we here in the U.S. have it pretty good.

Now today we have protesters that started On Wall Street and spread to other cities. I understand that the people occupying cities right now have several legitimate concerns. They are frustrated at what they see as not only injustice, but robbery. And some are doing the only thing they think they have left. I assume that most of them appreciate living a country where they can peacefully protest. And that when there are isolated incidents police brutality they are not tolerated. In a few other countries the protests would have never grown this big. And if they were then there would be tanks rolling in. Family members would be wondering if they would ever see their loved ones again. But they wouldn’t dare mention the names in public any more.

There is no easy solution to the protester’s concerns today. I don’t feel it’s right to tell them to just count their blessings and go home. But it will take more than a few arrests and incarcerations to begin to match the sacrifice and passion that has happened in real totalitarian regimes. And those others weren’t just protesting for a better way of life. They were fighting for the basic human rights. They needed warm coats in the winter. They didn’t want to be taken away and thrown in jail for a few words someone thought subversive.

So keep protesting for what you think it right people. And pull those coats tighter as winter comes along.

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