Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 in the OECD, 26 October 2016

On the 26th October 2016, the Permanent Delegation of Hungary to the OECD and UNESCO celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, in the OECD Conference Center. The participants were high-level officials from the OECD and the UNESCO, OECD- and UNESCO ambassadors and Hungarian colleagues of the OECD. 

The event was opened by Ambassador dr. Zoltán Cséfalvay with the citation of Albert Camus quoted in the title. In his speech, he reflected on the historical background of the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight, and emphasized that we owe the true heroes of 1956 – the youth of October – a debt of gratitude for the heroism, patriotism and pure, self-sacrificing struggle with which they achieved the victory of the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight. 

After the speech, the movie titled The Ambassador to Bern of Attila Szász was projected. The Hungarian historical drama, that has won the Bronze Zenith Award, was a great success among the Parisian audience as well. 

Rebeka Tóth

Opening Speech by Ambassador dr. Zoltán Cséfalvay:

"It gives me truly a great pleasure to welcome all of you at the celebration of our national holiday commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian revolution, the fight for freedom and independence in 1956. 

Many speeches have been told on that occasion, and since we are in Paris I would quote Albert Camus: ”Hungarian blood is such a treasure for Europe and freedom, we must take care to protect every drop of it”. 

In a historical context, however, I find more pertinent quotation that this freedom fight was the first nail in the coffin of the Soviet communism and hegemony in Central and Eastern Europe.

After 9 years of Soviet occupation, brutal repression by the ruling communist party, in 23th of October, 1956, a whole nation said, enough. During this communist dictatorship the State Security Authority was the most hated, which could arrest anyone, at any time, and it did so, - and you will hear its name, AVO, many times in the film.

The day that we commemorate today started with a march organised by students of Technical University of Budapest, to express the solidarity with Poland, where the uprising in Poznan was oppressed. The people went to the Josef Bem statue, common hero of both nations. Here, someone cut out the hated communist coat-of-arms with red star from the Hungarian flag, and the flag with a loch became soon the symbol of revolution. Another group of people went to the Stalin statue, which was erected in the place of a previously by the communist destroyed Catholic Church, and toppled the 9 meter high statue. Only the boots of Stalin left and people put the Hungarian flags in the boots. Meanwhile a third group went to the Radio building and after heavy fighting took the Radio. In that very night, Imre Nagy, a Marxist, but at the reformer wing of the communist party, became prime minister of the country, and the red star fell down from the top of the building of the Hungarian parliament. Next day Soviet army troops entered Budapest, but in the fights on the streets the Hungarian freedom fighters were able to counterattack and forced them to retreat. Few days of freedom and independence followed. 

Prime minister, Imre Nagy, first announced the immediate withdrawal of the occupying Soviet troops from Hungary, and later declared Hungary an independent and neutral state. The State Protection Authority, the AVO was disbanded, and local councils had started to organise the everyday life. 

But at the dawn of 4th of November the Russian tanks entered streets of Budapest again and launched a full-scale attack. Definitely, against the most powerful army of the world the Hungarian freedom fighters were not able to keep the city. At the same time, a puppet government headed by Janos Kadar, devised back in Moscow, was formed, and proclaimed the revolution as counter-revolution.

The Kadar regime  you can see in the film some sings: Kádár is a killer – took a brutal revenge for 1956. Around two hundred thousand people were compelled to leave their country. 

Twenty two thousand people were imprisoned, and many hundreds were executed. In order to execute the young boys who had fought in the streets in Budapest even the age limit of the death penalty was reduced to 16 years (Peter Mansfeld). 

And in 16th of June 1958, the prime minister during the revolution, Imre Nagy was secretly tried, sentenced to death and executed by hanging. He was buried unnamed in a distant corner (section 301) of the New Public Cemetery, Budapest, face-down, and with his hands and feet tied with barbed wire. 

During the time of the communist leadership it was not permitted his death to be commemorated. The only place to do that was in Paris, at a symbolic gravestone in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Let me be a little bit personal at that point. I was born in the very same year, in 1958, in March, in a small village just about 15 kilometres from the Austrian-Hungarian border, in the neighbourhood of a small industrial town, called Mosonmagyaróvár (Wieselburg). I know it is difficult to spell out this name, although it became world-wide well-known at that time, because in 26th of October 1956 the border army and the State Protection Authority, AVO, opened the fire on the peaceful protesters, and nearly hundred people were killed. 

My father was in the many thousand men crowd and fortunately survived. Otherwise I could not be born two years later. But during my entire childhood my father did not speak a word about this event, he apparently wanted to protect me. Finally he told me the whole truth about this tragic event only 33 years later, in 1989, when the communist regime started to slowly collapse in Hungary. 

Looking back on that year, I found it is perfectly sound what the Washington Post wrote in 27th of October, 1956: “Even if weapons are on the Russian’s side, history is on the Hungarians’ side”.

So, it came to 1989, the most remarkably year in my life, when I – as many as hundreds of thousands Hungarians – got day after day information and pieces about the truth, the truth about the 1956. I am glad to God to let me experienced that year, the year, when many of my colleagues at the Embassy even had not borne. 

The highlight of this process was 16th of June 1989, the ceremonial reburial of Imre Nagy, at the Heroes’ Square, in Budapest, and I could stand there among quarter of a million people. Among the speakers there was a 25 years old young man, leader of a newly founded small opposition party, who spoke in the name of the Hungarian youth. 

Let me quote it:

”Today, 33 years after the Hungarian revolution and 31 years after the execution of the last responsible Hungarian leader, we have a chance to achieve in a peaceful way all that was obtained through bloody fighting for the nation, if only for a few days. 

If we believe in our own strength, then we are capable of bringing an end to the communist dictatorship. 

And if we are determined enough we can force the ruling party to subject itself to free elections. 

And if we do not lose sight of the 1956 principles, we can choose a forum to begin immediate negotiations for the withdrawal of Soviet troops.” 

Probably, you know this young man, because he visited the OECD this April, had a speech and a discussion at the Council, he is the current prime minister of Hungary, Victor Orbán.

With this long historical background let me invite you to the film, Ambassador to Bern, which is based on a true story about aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. It is political thriller, which chronicles the day of August 16, 1958, exactly two months after the execution of Imre Nagy. 

On that day two Hungarian freedom fighters broke into the Hungarian embassy in Bern and took the ambassador hostage. And you could see it isn’t easy to be a freedom fighter, as well as to be an ambassador. 

This projection has been sponsored by the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and Freedom Fight 60th Anniversary Memorial Board.

With all these words I would like to raise my glass to freedom and independence of Hungary."