As in any city anywhere, many public squares can be found in which some past event or person is commemorated.
While in Budapest last week, we came across this obelisk in a place called Szabadság ter, which is Hungarian for Freedom Square.
This monument commemorates the fallen soldiers of the Soviet Union who died while fighting to liberate Budapest from the Nazi forces at the end of World War II, 1945. Now it is a controversial monument, because the Russian liberation of Hungary from Nazi-German occupation, although appreciated by the Hungarians at the time, has faded into the past. Furthermore, the failed communist hegemony that was later imposed brutally by the Soviets is no longer tolerated. In fact, the Hungarians have delivered themselves out of the grip of Soviet domination.
Many Hungarians resent the entire communist period. Consequently, many want to get rid of the monument. That is a controversy for the people of Hungary, and especially those in Budapest, to decide among themselves.
It is a problematical situation because you can't please everyone who has deep feelings, or an opinion, about such things as the blood of long-dead soldiers in the ground.
As an American visitor, my personal feeling is: it was unfortunate that our guys did not liberate eastern Europe after the Big War, instead of the Soviet Russian soldiers. With the framework of our American Marshall plan, we could have-- we would have-- done a better job of helping the Hungarians--the Czechs, Romanians, Yugoslavians, East Germans, Ukrainians and all other eastern Europeans--helping them to recover from the terrible aftermath of warfare.
But history is full of could-haves, would-haves, should-haves. All of history is truly water under the bridge, or, as in this case, blood under the ground. Russians died there in Hungary while running the damn Nazis back into their holes in Germany. It happened. Shit happens.
So the Memorial should probably remain. Nevertheless, there are many other statues that formerly commemorated Soviet Russian activities in Hungary, which HAVE been removed, and I commend the Hungarians and other eastern Europeans who have made such revisions in order to clear the area for setting new courses of liberty for their people.
Moving right along, however . . . Very near this memorial site is another significant site in Budapest, the Hungarian Parliament Building.
We see here the front side, which sits squarely on the Pest (Pesht) side of the Danube river, facing Buda on the west. What an impressive vision for building representative government we see in this nocturnal viewing.
On the backside of this building, there is a very special window, which opens onto a balcony.
On the ground below it is a large square, Kossuth Square. In that spot, on a certain Tuesday night in October of 1956, thousands of Hungarian citizens were gathered; they were hoping to impose a big change on their government, maybe even a revolution. These people were sick and tired of the communist oppressions that the Soviets had been imposing on them, and they were ready to ditch the whole plan and start over.
The people who had gathered here on that fateful night in 1956 had a man on the inside-- the inside of the building, and the inside of the Hungarian Communist Party-- which had heretofore been controlled by the International (Russian) Communist Party.
The inside man's name was Imre Nagy. He was a man of the people, a popular leader, a true Hungarian, and he had just been appointed by the Communist party to be the next Prime Minister.
But Imre was trying to walk a middle path between two impossible positions. The position he favored was in support of what those people down in Kossuth Square were demanding. The other position he strove to represent was the official program of the Communist Party as it was determined by the Supreme Soviet in Moscow.
On a particular Tuesday night in October 1956, Imre Nagy discovered that he could not walk that middle line; he could not negotiate a path of reconciliation between these two positions. This awareness came to him in a terrible moment of realization--when he squinted out from the balcony and saw the thousands of expectant Hungarians out there. There was a new fire in their eyes, a new tone in their collective cry for government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Janos M. Rainer describes the scene in this 2009 biography of Imre Nagy. With the thronging crowds gathered in from of him, Nagy stood in an open window ready to deliver a message to the people. It was about 9 p.m. The crowd was so large that some people could not hear him, even with the loudspeakers. Rainer writes:
"As Nagy approached the open window, he saw himself confronted with a completely unfamiliar force. (Nagy later said): 'Only when I perceived the mood in the square did it become clear to me that what was called for was quite different from what I had prepared.' "
"Comrades!" he began.
Some answered, "We are not comrades!"
Many retorted loudly, "No more comrades!"
Someone said "All of Budapest is here!" "The nation is here."
The people had gathered there to receive the leadership of a new, fearless Prime Minister to guide their movement into its destiny. They were seriously ready for a change. They were fed up with those guys from Moscow and their lackeys. As far as they could see, Imre Nagy, who stood ready to address them, could be their man of destiny. He had the courage and the independent spirit to rise to the challenge.
But Imre was in no position to accept their mantle of leadership. The heavy burden of his role in the Communist party prevented it. Oil and water do not mix. He was too good a Communist Party man. According to Soviet doctrine, the Revolution could not happen here and now because the Revolution had already happened.
In 1917, In Russia. According to Communist doctrine, that Bolshevik event would be the model and the inspiration for all revolutions heretofore.
So while Prime Minister Nagy thought he was inching the people's governance forward a notch or two, an entirely different strategy was being planned by the Soviets for the next day. The light of dawn saw Soviet tanks rolling into Budapest, to put an end to those Hungarian upstarts thinking they could do something without the Communist Party's approval. Nagy did nothing to stop it because he knew he couldn't stop it. He was a realist.
That was one balcony scene. But that night's gathering was a mere flash in the pan, a failed attempt to bring democratic processes into communist hammer and sickle brutality. It happened in Soviet-occupied Hungary in 1956.
But there was another balcony scene in eastern Europe and it took place in a not-so-different place--Prague, Czechoslovakia--but at a very different time-- 1989.
From this balcony on Wenceslaus Square in Prague, dissident leader Vaclav Havel, spoke to thousands of Czechs and Slovaks who had gathered there on a fateful night in November of 1989, to demand the right to govern themselves.
Fortunately, this balcony scene ended quite differently from the earlier one in Hungary, 1956. On November 30, 1989, the overwhelming resolve of the assembled Czech people put an end to Soviet domination. Things were never the same after that liberating night in Prague. Later it was called the Velvet Revolution, because it happened with very little violence. That's the night when the Soviets finally began to give up on trying to fix Europe according to their communist programs.
The Prague balcony scene in 1989 is the one that changed eastern Europe forever. But here's the cold, hard truth about how the cold war finally ended: what the Czechs accomplished with their Velvet Revolution in Wenceslaus Square in 1989 would not have happened if the Hungarians had not started the ball rolling in 1956.
In history, it takes a while for destined events to happen. In the case of the obelisk and balconies of Soviet-occupied eastern Europe, it took over forty years. Let that be a lesson for all of us freedom-loving people.
King of Soul