Baffling NY monument planned to commemorate 1956 Hungarian Revolution

It seems that historical monuments have more to say about the time in which they are built than the time they commemorate.

On March 15, 1928, a large crowd gathered at Riverside Drive, New York, among them the 520-member delegation of the Horthy regime, to dedicate a monument of Lajos Kossuth, the hero of the 1848 Revolution. Progressive Hungarian-Americans boycotted the event because they believed propagandists were using Kossuth and his liberal ideals to make authoritarian Horthy more palatable in the US. Still a large group of people protested at the ceremony.

Now there is a plan to build another monument, this one to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, right next to the now “historic” Kossuth statue. This raises the questions, why here? And why now?

Is this an expression of Hungarian Americans? The planned monument has been designed by Tamás Nagy and Csongor Szijjártó, architects in Budapest.

Does the monument capture the experiences of Hungarian American 56-ers? According to the plan a “stepping stone”, a 5 foot by 5 foot piece of granite, with 56 LED lights will be installed. The 12cm tall (yes, this is less than six inches tall!) stone has lights arranged as the constellation of stars above Budapest on October 23, 1956. 17:40 PM in the afternoon. (See here the rendering of the original plan.)

 Original 1956 monument plan with LED lights.

Original 1956 monument plan with LED lights.

On the Hungarian American Memorial Committee’s website I discovered a different design. Here the stepping stone and LED-light display have been replaced with a bench with a round piece of concrete with the same star constellation pressed on to it as a metal mesh. (See here.)

Rendering of the latest version of the monument.

Rendering of the latest version of the monument.

The bench and the round piece of concrete with the metal mesh carving is called – Stars of Hope. The constellation is supposed to represent the stars visible in the night sky over Budapest when the first shots were fired and NASA technology was used to calculate the exact position of the stars! As it turns out, the weather on the afternoon of October 23, 1956 was cloudy and the revolutionaries could not have seen the stars.

Stars above Budapest on October 23, 1956. 17:40 PM.

Stars above Budapest on October 23, 1956. 17:40 PM.

I’m not an expert on statues, but this “memorial” feels dishonest and a little silly. While the granite stepping stone with the high-tech LED lights is intriguing, the gray bench with the round piece of concrete is simply baffling. Referring to the neighboring Kossuth statue one commenter has written, “Now everybody in New York will know that the 1956 revolution was led by Lajos Kossuth.”

I suspect the project is a thinly vailed PR attempt by the Hungarian government and their US friends to drum up friendly media reports in support of the embattled Orbán-regime. Hopefully it is not too late to stop this project and plan a suitable memorial of the 1956 revolution in New York at a later time.

56-ers deserve better.

György Lázár

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