October 23rd: 1956 Revolution, how to prepare for your trip to Budapest
Palma, Ivan 16-10-2018
Emánuel Csorba was quite a brave 28-year-old. In 1956, he lived on Móricz Zsigmond körtér, an important junction on the Buda side. When the revolution against the Soviet occupation broke out in Budapest on October 23, he did what we’re so used to in the era of smartphones: took his camera and started snapping pictures of the events. The photos would be first published long after he was dead – when his son posted them on Facebook 60 years after the defeated freedom fight. [caption id="attachment_7686" align="aligncenter" width="1842"] Author: Dr Emánuel Csorba https://www.facebook.com/ferenc.csorba?sk=photos[/caption] If you visit Budapest in October, you can combine sightseeing with a really interesting history lesson about how a small nation the size of Hungary stood up against the mighty Soviets, and achieved for a brief moment freedom and independents. Even if the Soviets eventually came back and crushed the revolution, Hungarians are really proud of the events of October 1956. Let me give you a very short basic history, and walk you through how you can take part in the commemoration while you’re here. If you’re into trips with some depth over the must-see’s, you’ll really enjoy delving into this.
1956 in a nutshellCommunist parties started taking over Eastern European countries after the Second World War. They pretended to be of the people, and for the people, but the actual people mostly saw them as occupiers and oppressors. Very few dared to revolt, and the Hungarian revolution of 1956 was the first major freedom fight against the Soviet invaders. [caption id="attachment_7676" align="aligncenter" width="1842"] Author: Dr Emánuel Csorba https://www.facebook.com/ferenc.csorba?sk=photos[/caption] The events began as students started marching and demanding rights and free republic on October 23; people from all walks of life joined the crowd, which ended up going to Radio Budapest, where the secret police opened fire to disperse them. Battles in the streets began, and a new prime minister (Imre Nagy, later to become the martyr of the revolution) promised change. And for a moment the effort seemed victorious. Less than two weeks later, on November 4, Soviet tanks rolled through the city to crush the revolution, declaring victory on November 11. For a short time after the revolution, the borders were easier to cross (in fact if you know older Hungarians living abroad, chances are they left at this point, with some 200 thousand fellow Hungarians who decided to try their luck abroad). The communist governments ended up ruling until 1989, the fall of the Iron Curtain.
What it means todayIn short, Emánuel Csorba had history to immortalize right in front of his eyes. What all this means today, 62 years on, is a different story. Many people simply enjoy the 4-day long weekend (Oct 20-23), when many shops are restaurants are closed and most people don’t work. [caption id="attachment_7681" align="aligncenter" width="1842"] Author: Dr Emánuel Csorba https://www.facebook.com/ferenc.csorba?sk=photos[/caption] For many, especially those whose family members were involved in fighting, 1956 is still a relatively recent memory. People talk about it, politicians try to drum up support by referring to it.
Events: how to make your trip to Budapest more meaningfulThere are official events throughout Hungary, but often they are politically charged, and there have been violent episodes between clashing political factions in the past. What’s more, they are usually all in Hungarian. Programs include the raising of the national flag, and usually free entrance to the Parliament on the 23rd. You can also impress locals with your knowledge on the subject, especially after you’ve read the mini history lesson above, and visited one of the most interesting Budapest museums or watched a related Hungarian movie: House of Terror (Terror háza) – This exciting museum now occupies the former Budapest headquarters of the Gestapo and later the communist secret police. The exhibits have materials about both regimes and commemorate the countless people tortured and killed in its cells.
MoviesMansfeld – The true story of a teenage martyr of the freedom fight made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the revolution Children of Glory – As the revolution coincided with the Melbourne Olympics, this movie (by the Hungarian-born producer of Terminator who happened to leave Hungary in 1956) follows the exploits of the Hungarian water polo team in their showdown with their Soviet rivals. The screenplay is incidentally by another Hungarian-American, Joe Esterhas of Basic Instinct renown. For a documentary on the same subject, we recommend Freedom’s Fury produced by Quentin Tarantino Sunshine (A Napfény íze) – Beautiful family history by Oscar-winning István Szabó starring Ralph Fiennes following the Sonnenschein’s through generations from the late 19th century through the mid-20th, including 1956 Two more amazing movies are set before and after the revolution, basically explaining why people had enough of communism, and what happened afterwards. The Witness (A Tanú) – Cunning satire of Stalinist-era Hungary that was banned for ten years because of its political message. It bears witness to the oppression that lead directly to the revolution. Hungarians quote catchphrases from this 50-year-old evergreen to this day. Time Stands Still (Megáll az idő) – Coming-of-age story of two teenage brothers whose father had left the country after the revolution, and who have to come to terms with the burden of the family legacy in the 60’s. Many critics think this is the best ever Hungarian movie.
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