Category Archives: History

A missed anniversary

Memories of the Avarffy trial1

Of course, one hundred and fifty is a dignified and awe-inspiring anniversary and we celebrated it more ways than one. Next to that a mere one hundred years may seem like some object of insignificance, but not this one. And yet, we have skipped by it, forgetting and not mentioning it, although it was much worthy of mention.

The story of the following chain of events began on the 6th of January 1921, when a parliamentary back bencher, one Elek Avarffy, published an article in the National Newspaper (Nemzeti újság), entitled ”A few words about the Galicianers and a bit of statistics.” The word ”Galicianer” referred to those Jews who had flooded into Hungary since the 1880s under anti-Semitic pressure in Russia from the province of Galicia. Which province, by the way, at this time was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and therefore, those refugee Jews were really citizens and not ”migrants”. In fact, up until the early 1920s, most of them were transitory, eventually setting out for America; only a minority remained in Hungary.2 But in the anti-Semitic political climate of Hungary after World War One, even those few were far too many.

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The Birth of a City

We Take a Walk On the Bright Side

We do, from time to time, revisit the question: what kind of city is this?  We have discovered many dark sides of the city which is contemporary Hungarian landscape.

This time, let’s take a walk on the city’s bright side.

On a foggy November 17th day in the year 1873, forward-looking Hungarian magnates, ambitious merchants, and city elders decided that Buda, Óbuda and Pest should form one metropolis.  Budapest, a city of slightly less than two million residents now is almost as diverse as it was in 1873.  Almost – is the operative word here.  Germans and Jews, Serbs and Greeks, Armenians and Slovaks formed the majority of the 1873 population.  Soon each group began to assimilate and become Hungarian.  This process suffered setbacks and led to the dark days of Budapest’s Jewish community in 1944, as the leftover shoes on the bank of the Danube offer testimony to tragic events.

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The birthday of Budapest

To say that the year 1849 was a most peculiar one would be a major understatement. The previous year, 1848, was the year of revolutions all over Europe, but those slowly died down, having accomplished their main objective: the dissolution of the post-Napoleonic security system of Vienna, thus ushering in the era of rapid capitalistic progress. Not so in Hungary. The young, impetuous emperor, Franz Joseph, who approved and signed most demands of the revolution in 1848, insisted on the submission of Hungary and sent in the army. But the army proved useless in the face of Hungarian resistance; and a serious war ensued, which the Austrians were gradually losing. However, refusing to accept defeat, Austria called for Russian support, which did arrive and two hundred thousand Russian troops gradually overwhelmed the Hungarians. In August, 1849 the Hungarian army capitulated.

Faced with the reality of a threat from the encroaching Russian army, the Hungarian Parliament had legislated their main political objectives, as a last minute effort, in June of 1849. Most of these were not carried out then, but remained on the books, waiting to be realized in a better, more favourable time. Amongst them was the creation of a new, independent capital city: by uniting Pest, Buda, and Óbuda, the three neighbouring cities on either side of the Danube. On their own, each of them was quite insignificant; in fact, they were so different from each other that no sane person would have considered uniting them. But there was a new development, a new fixed bridge, that opened in the fall of 1849, that created a new condition in the life of these cities.

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Some Commemorate to Remember, Some Remember to Forget

1956, Revolution and national holiday

On October 23, Hungarians commemorate the heroic revolt of the ‘people’ in 1956 against the Hungarian-Communist rule backed by the Soviet Union.

The revolt, which did enter the annals of history as the Revolution, had been crushed by Soviet tanks on November 4.  János Kádár was installed by Soviet party bosses as the new gauleiter; and thereafter, for almost a decade, the dark days of the Kadar regime loomed over this country.  In the weeks following the defeat of the revolt, more than 200,000 Hungarians left the country, mainly through Austria, to the many host countries that received the Hungarian ‘freedom fighters’ and simple refugees with open arms.  The Communist leader of the short-lived new Government, Imre Nagy, was tried for treason and hanged in June 1958.

I am at loss when I want to tell my foreign audience what specifically Hungarians do to commemorate this day.  Around 1989 and 1990 it was relatively clear – a revolt by the people against a brutal and oppressive regime.  Since then, the memory is fragmented.  This would be fine, as truth is fragmented in our world; however, the message of the 1956 Revolution is increasingly tailored to contemporary political agendas.


Recently, when Russia comes across as a decent supplier of oil and gas, the ugly historic record with Russia and the Soviet Union has been forgotten in the narrative of present-day Hungarian leadership and its supporters.  In sharp contrast to prior years, this year Viktor Orbán will not appear in public at a carefully orchestrated public demonstration in Budapest.  His spin doctors have not yet invented a new narrative for a Russian friendly message for October 23.

The ‘people’ who do not buy this nasty propaganda and just want to remember the many colors of the revolt, resort to simply recollecting their own private stories.  So does my fellow editor Sándor in his unique post and podcast.

I have my own stories of those chilly October days.  I was 5 years old, at the beginning of childhood.  Half the age of Sándor in 1956.  Our Buda house was far from the battles and violent skirmishes, but not so distant that we could be spared from congregating in a cellar apartment from day three or four of the eleven-day revolution.

We spent the first days in one room of our apartment.  My father was on the streets, he delivered the university students’ pleas for reform to Communist Party headquarters where he was injured on his leg by the shards of a hand grenade.  He was treated in hospital for a few days.  I recall the Hungarian Radio’s program on October 23, there was little news, if any; mostly Beethoven’s Egmont Overture was played for hours.  For many Hungarians the revolt is still associated with this musical experience.  When we had just had enough of Egmont, I would ask for playing a vinyl record which, on the A side, had Isaak Dunayevsky’s light composition that I still call Red Poppy.

The children of six families spent a few days in a cellar apartment which served as an air raid shelter.  We loved those shelter days, as no one asked us to stick to our daily routine.  We had limited facilities for cooking, even fewer supplies, but somehow, we found a small cookstove on which red bean and leftover goose leg was prepared as cholent.  I have not had any better cholent since those days.  We played a bit, talked a lot, and there are odd erotic experiences from those nights that come out of the dark cellar of my memory.  The only thing I can say after all these years is that something happened.  So, I would often call these days the best times of my childhood.

My father came home in the last days of October; he decisively turned his back to his Communist years, and then the drab years of the Kadar era began.

From “darkness at noon” before 1956, Hungary entered the era of drab greyness day and night.

András Hanák

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Ecstasy in the fall

1956, Revolution and national holiday

As we are sliding towards the national holiday of 23. October, I am being washed over by memories.

On the 22nd of October, 1956, the day before the Revolution, nothing was different from any other dull, gray days that were the norm in those years. Lining up at stores for the most basic food stuffs, hanging on the outside of street cars that were always too jammed, and the struggle of my parents to maintain our barely tolerable existence. We were the unwitting victims of the postwar poverty and the murderous communist terror, living in fear and deprivation. Of course, I knew nothing about those dire conditions, because despite it all, I was in the midst of a relatively happy childhood. However, the atmosphere of those days and years was stifling, filled with dread and hopelessness. That was on the 22nd.

The following day, on the 23rd  the weather was better, people were milling about and walking on the streets, and those who came to us reported that the youth are marching; and soldiers are tearing the red star from their head gears, throwing them on the ground, and joining the demonstrators. The pall of hopelessness was lifted in one instant, my parents were smiling and my grandmother was so touched by the events that she was shedding tears.

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