My late uncle, István Rásonyi-Papp, was studying to become an architect. He was an enthusiastic, idealist, freedom-loving young man full of plans. In 1950, for ‘subversive behavior,’ he was arrested and taken to Recsk, a small town in northern Hungary, without any judicial proceeding or incriminating charges. There, István and his fellow laborers built the forced labor camp in a stone quarry where they were starved and tortured. The Recsk camp operated until the fall of 1953 when the prisoners, some 1500, mostly educated persons who were held in complete secrecy, were transferred to police custody or sentenced to more years in jail. As writer and poet György Faludy, who was a ‘guest’ at Recsk “from the first to the last day” just like my uncle, wrote, “he warned us that the law promised six to ten years’ imprisonment should we drop but one word about the circumstances, place, or reasons for our imprisonment. He would advise us to report anyone who asked insistent questions and to tell our families that we had been on a study trip in the Soviet Union.” Unsurprisingly, these persecuted prisoners, who were freed under such circumstances, had no reason to stay in Hungary after the end of the 1956 revolution and freedom fight.
It has been 67 years since Recsk was opened up and it has been 61 years since, following October 23 of 1956, freedom-loving Hungarians could finally grasp, even if only for a moment, what it’s like to experience internal and external freedom at the same time.
As Albert Camus wrote, “Hungary conquered and in chains has done more for freedom and justice than any people for twenty years. But for this lesson to get through and convince those in the West who shut their eyes and ears, it was necessary, and it can be no comfort to us, for the people of Hungary to shed so much blood which is already drying in our memories. In Europe’s isolation today, we have only one way of being true to Hungary, and that is never to betray, among ourselves and everywhere, what the Hungarian heroes died for, never to condone, among ourselves and everywhere, even indirectly, those who killed them.”
It has been 61 years since Hungarians showed the world that it is possible to contest oppression, dictatorship and despotism. We Hungarians have also shown the world that the efficiency of a fight for freedom shouldn’t be measured by momentary success.
The fight for freedom can only be successful if we pass on the love of freedom from father to son and mother to daughter. Every generation knows that it is our duty to safeguard our internal and external freedom. This is the legacy of the fighters of Pest, the heroes of 56; a legacy all of us must cultivate.
We commemorate the heroes of 1956 each year so that we don’t forget how volatile and fragile freedom is and how much our parents and grandparents sacrificed for it.
Fewer and fewer of the heroes of ’56 are still with us. As the number of witnesses declines, so grows the responsibility of the younger generations and decision-makers. It is our duty to preserve, cultivate and genuinely pass on the memory of 1956. We have already completed some of our homework, but most of it requires an ongoing effort.
Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen!
Today – after decades filled with lies and the falsification of history – our children can finally get to know the real stories behind Hungary’s most important events in the 20th century. They can learn about the heroes who were previously pronounced guilty and sentenced to anonymity and also about those responsible for the deaths of the freedom fighters.
Our current national curriculum, culture of memory, initiatives in kindergartens, schools and museums, and the programs of last year’s memorial year make sure that no child is brought up without an awareness of the significance of 1956, without the chance to be proud of being born into a nation of freedom fighters.
Our pedagogues and Hungarian parents teach children that in October of 1956, all corners of the world turned their attention to Hungary. The strong ones, the leaders of free states, the ‘West’ were watching us. But so were the small ones, the oppressed, the people who suffered from dictatorships. They eagerly awaited news from Hungary. They wondered whether the actions of Hungarians would start an avalanche of revolutions around the world and whether the Hungarian freedom fighters would defeat the oppressors.
The majority waited in silence (we find one of history’s great lessons in those cases when the great powers deem an event a matter of internal affairs and when they consider it a crackdown on fundamental rights that calls for international intervention), then many came to the aid of refugees, persecuted freedom fighters, giving them shelter, livelihood and vision. After the crushing of the 1956 revolution and freedom fight, some 200 thousand people left Hungary. A great majority of whom have won praise from Hungarians – with their work and passionate patriotism – once they built remarkable careers in their “new homes” around the world, in Belgium too.
Thank you! Thank you to everyone, who gave shelter to the refugees of ’56! We will always be grateful.
On October 23rd, we also celebrate the proclamation of the Third Hungarian Republic. In 1989, after the fall of communism, we had the same mindset: we have everything it takes to finally regain control over our destiny as a free, thriving, self-confident and proud European nation.
Finally, we live in a free country again. We Hungarians enjoy democracy, freedom and independence. We enjoy and require it. If need be, we would fight for it over and over again.
Now, in 2017, eyes are on Hungary again. Those who are familiar with the events and understand the message of 1848-49, 1956, and 1989, know that the Hungarian people haven’t changed. We are the same freedom-loving nation that is ready to shed blood for freedom and independence as we were 28, 61 or even 169 years ago. This cannot be done any differently. This is our legacy.
We fight for our freedom in Budapest, the Carpathian Basin and, if it is necessary, in Brussels too. Compared to 1956, now we are not only responsible for ourselves, the Hungarian people. As a proud Member State of the European Union, we are ready to fight, if necessary, for Europe’s freedom too. We pledged to protect our common external borders and we do so. We are working hard so that Central Europe, the Visegrad Four and neighboring countries contribute more and more to the strengthening of the European Union with their ever-improving economic performance, intellectual capital and innovative mindset. We are active participants in the common thinking about a stronger, more successful and more competitive European Union. A European Union that keeps getting stronger in a way that never disregards the independence and freedom at stake for nation states. A European Union that is able to protect its citizens, where Christian roots and values are respected and where there will always be shelter for those who are truly persecuted and ask for help in a legal way.
This is how we maintain the legacy of ’56. The true meaning of the sacrifices of the Recsk labor camp and the heroes of 1956 may be understood with us and through us.
Thank you for your attention.