Canada showed great solidarity to Hungarian refugees in 1956/57, after the suppression of the 1956 Revolution, so this is an especially apt place to hold this commemoration–observed Ian Bradbury, founder of The Stand 2016 on the sixtieth anniversary celebration of the uprising. The Hungarian Forum of Ottawa organized the modest commemoration on Parliament Hill, in Canada’s capital city, and participants were invited to listen to Mr. Bradbury, a former Canadian Forces officer with experience serving in Bosnia and Herzegovina, speak about his new initiative aimed at building an international movement of grassroots communities dedicated to social justice. After a brief discussion of the events of 1956 and how the revolution’s goal included the creation of a social democracy in Hungary, participants read the pledge developed by Mr. Bradbury in Hungarian translation, as well as in the original English. The pledge emphasizes that the “pursuit of peace, the respect for life and human dignity is the objective of the collective international community” as well as the “belief that all human beings are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of solidarity pursuing peace and justice for all living beings, without distinction of any kind such as: race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
Ákos Kertész, an award winning Hungarian author who now lives in Montreal, participated in the commemoration with his wife, Éva, as well as his son, Miklós. Mr. Kertész spoke about the importance of unequivocally rejecting inhumanity and groups or ideologies that promote the inhumane, intolerant treatment of others. The author also recited a poem from Milkós Radnóti–a canonical Hungarian twentieth century poet who was killed during the Holocaust. The piece, entitled “I cannot know,” (Nem tudhatom) explores the dilemmas of patriotism. In English translation (translated by Gina Gönczi) the poem sounds like this:
I cannot know what this land means to other people.
For me, it is my birthplace, this little nation embraced
by flames, the world of my childhood rocking in the distance.
I grew out of her like a tender branch from a tree
and I hope one day my body will sink into her.
I am at home. And if a shrub happens to kneel down
beside my foot, I know both its name and its flower;
I know who walks on the road and where they are going,
and what it might mean when in the summer sunset
the house-walls shimmer and drip with crimson-agony.
For one who flies above, this land is merely a map,
and does not know where lived Vörösmarty Mihály,
what does this map hold for him? factories and wild barracks;
but for me crickets, oxen, steeples, peaceful homesteads;
he sees factories in his lenses and cultivated meadows,
while I see the worker too, who for his work trembles.
Forests, singing orchards, grapes and cemeteries,
among the graves an old woman who quietly weeps.
And what seem from above train tracks to destroy
is a conductor’s house and he stands outside and signals;
many kids surround him, a red flag in his hand,
and in the courtyard a komondor rolls in the sand;
and there’s the park, the footsteps of long-lost loves,
the kisses on my mouth both honey and cranberry.
And walking off to school on the edge of the road,
to avoid being called on, I stepped on a stone;
look, here’s the stone, but from above, this cannot be seen,
there is no machine with which all this can be revealed.
For we are guilty too, as other peoples are,
knowing full-well when and how and why we’ve sinned so far,
but workers live here too, and poets, without sin
and tiny babies in whom intellect will flourish;
it shines in them and they guard it, hiding in dark cellars
until the finger of peace once again marks our nation,
and with fresh voices they will answer our muffled words.
Cover us with your big wings, vigil-keeping evening cloud.
The Hungarian Forum of Ottawa, a small non-profit community group established in October 2015, in order to provide for an open and inclusive platform for people of Hungarian origin or an interest in Hungarian culture, was pleased to welcome two local Ottawa residents for the first time at one of our events, namely Marina and Ági. (The latter is a regular reader of this site.) They braved the frigid, single-digit temperatures and the relentless winds on Parliament Hill–a situation that we aimed to at least partially rectify by serving some hot tea.
Judith Petényi, President of the Hungarian Forum of Ottawa, offered participants the opportunity to continue their discussions over what in Hungary is considered a traditional Sunday family lunch at her home in the west-end. Ms. Petényi also recorded much of the commemoration and aired it Sunday evening on her weekly Hungarian-language broadcast on CHIN Radio.
The tragic and violent Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the subsequent refugee crisis, which displaced 200,000 Hungarians, was a time when a young, in many ways still nascent country, Canada, reached out in solidarity to the citizens of a country with a long, rich and often troubled past. By accepting some 38,000 Hungarian refugees in under two years, proportionally more than any other country, Canada was an example of social solidarity and compassion, acting justly on the international world stage. As such, we felt that marking the sixtieth anniversary of the revolution on Parliament Hill, mere steps from the Centennial Flame, was a meaningful place to not only recall the past, but focus on the sense of social justice that allowed for tens of thousands of Hungarians to build a new home in Canada.