Hungarian Ambassador Bálint Ódor published a piece entitled “A Hungarian Tribute to Canada” in a publication called National Newswatch. In this piece, Ambassador Ódor writes:
“Canada is a nation that understood the message of 1956 clearly, and also extended helping hands to a large number of Hungarians who were forced to flee their homeland…By its rare display of heroism and solidarity, the revolution unmasked communism once and for all…When the martyrs of 1956 finally received the burial they deserved on June 16 1989—after more than 30 years—it led to free elections in 1990. Communism in Hungary was finally over. The revolution was a rude awakening to many Western European idealists who were previously convinced that the Soviets were trying to build a fairer society…The story and images of the Hungarian Revolutionstrengthened the determination of the politicians in the free world; it became very clear that communism must be contained and eventually defeated…After the revolution, almost 38,000 Hungarian refugees found freedom and the opportunity to prosper in Canada, an ocean away from home. After the long months of waiting in camps in Austria, they arrived to Canada, with five dollars in their pockets and with the wish to work and establish a new life. They were successful in doing so. The new Canadian-Hungarians quickly adapted to the lifestyle and the rules of the new homeland and managed to find their ways around…Canadians’ generous welcome, and the newcomers’ contributions to their new country have shaped the Canada of today, and connect Canadians and Hungarians in a bond of gratitude and friendship.”
Ambassador Ódor’s narrative of 1956 is quite misleading. The 1956 Revolution, the uprising in the streets, which the revolutionary government of Prime Minister Imre Nagy found exceedingly difficult to contain and quell, was characterized by very disparate groups with divergent ideals and political philosophies. In fact, part of the justification used during the Soviet re-invasion of Hungary was the revolutionary government’s inability to restore order on the streets of Budapest for the first week of the uprising. But the driving factor, certainly on October 23rd, was less anti-communism and much more so a desire for freedom from political and economic tyranny, as well as a desire for independence from the Soviets. At its most basic level, there was a shared yearning to return to the liberalizing economic and political reforms that Imre Nagy implemented two years prior, during his first short term in power. Anti-communism was one stream or direction during the days of the 1956 Revolution, but it most certainly was not the only one, and it was not even a dominant thread in the initial days and hours of the revolt.
Regrettably, Hungary’s government today, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and an inner circle of oligarchs and political operatives in the Prime Minister’s Office, is an example of tyranny, systemic economic and political intimidation, the marginalization, demonization and state-led abuse of the vulnerable and a regime bent on dismantling what little remains of media freedom in Hungary. While Ambassador Ódor may celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of 1956 with Canadians and while Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion may speak of “Canada and Hungary’s shared history and strong people-to-people ties, prosperity, inclusion and international security” in his meetings with his Hungarian counterpart, Péter Szijjártó, the Orbán government has trampled on nearly every ideal of 1956. It destroyed the Third Hungarian Republic, declared with great symbolism on October 23rd, 1989, as the successor and guarantor of the legacy of 1956.