Fifty years ago today events occured in Budapest that quickly led to the death of many and the emigration of about 200,000 Hungarians to various corners of the world. (Considering a country of 10 million, that’s a significant number.)
Having grown up in a system that didn’t recognize this day as worthy of mention (given that its whole point was to topple the Soviet-influenced regime) I have never had much of a connection to it. And having left Hungary soon after the political changes of the early 90s after which the date became officially important and a holiday, I have never developed much of a bond with it. In fact, I’m more likely to recognize November 7th as a special date (the one Hungarians and others in the region used to celebrate) than October 23rd. All that is a testament to how strongly social context can influence one’s perception of important historical events and dates.
The image above is from the Times Square area in New York City. I was walking down Broadway on Saturday and noticed the red-white-and-green lines. I figured it was a mistaken use of the Italian flag. When portrayed horizontally, the Italian flag has to be green-white-and-red in order not to be confused with the Hungarian flag. But people unfamiliar with the Hungarian flag (which would be most of the world) don’t know this and so I sometimes see the Italian flag portrayed that way. However, as I neared 50th St. I realized that this was meant to be a Hungarian flag. The Hungarian Cultural Center put up two huge billboards on the corner of Broadway and 50th to commemorate the occasion and to invite folks to “REimagine freedom“.
And yes, there has been unrest in Budapest during the past few weeks including some events today. Some people are trying to draw parallels to the events of 1956, but that seems ludicrous. Just because some people – mostly on the far right so you are not going to see sympathies from me – who are especially good at inciting a few hundred folks do not like the current regime doesn’t mean the prime minister needs to be ousted. (I commented on all this a few weeks ago.)