Sunday, November 05, 2006

Back for the fall

Autumn has come and nearly gone here in Hungary. There has been a flurry of events to accompany it. Unfortunately this flurry knocked me out of the blogging loop for a bit, but I’m back… with a lot to say.

I should start with the announcement of my sister’s new baby. Thomas Earl Lutz was born on the 23rd of October, 2006. Congratulations to Courtney and Terry. I’m happy to have a nephew – my first. I hope he’s a trouble-maker.

Speaking of Thomas Earl, I was in an interesting place when I got the news of his arrival. My nephew was born on the 50th anniversary of Hungary’s revolution against the Soviets, and when I got the call telling me of his birth I was in a café trying to avoid the right-wing rioters out ravaging the streets of Budapest . Odd, you might think, that members of Hungary’s political right would choose to celebrate the anniversary of such a momentous event with eruptions of violence and anti-government themed protests. Odd because the Hungarian right is traditionally tied to themes of nationalism and to the proud history of Hungary. One would assume that such a party would attempt to ring in this anniversary with all the pomp and ceremony of an independence celebration.

It would seem ridiculous to politicize this event, this event that recognizes a time when Hungarians found one voice – despite the many disparate ideals in this country – one voice that railed against the Soviet Empire strongly enough to drive the occupying troops of the Russian army, the largest standing army of the day, out of Hungary entirely. Students, workers, the military, and even several politicians all came together to stand up against the Soviet occupation, and for a short time they were triumphant.

The brutal Russian retaliation that followed served as a wake-up call to Communist thinkers in the west. People saw the unpleasantness that Moscow had, until that point, kept hidden for the most part behind the Iron Curtain. The 56 Revolution and its aftermath is often considered as one of the first major dents in the Soviet façade, and is thought by many to be a major factor in what led to the eventual collapse of Soviet rule.

I had been looking forward to being here for Hungary’s celebration of the event, but when political events took an ugly turn last month I knew the event would be tainted. (For those out of the loop, the leader of the ruling socialist party was caught on tape admitting to lies, lies that likely got him re-elected. Since then, the opposition has been protesting and calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation.) I couldn’t have predicted, however, just how tainted the anniversary’s celebration would be.

The party representing the right organized a commemorative event at the intersection of the two busiest roads in the downtown area. The metro stop at that location is called Astoria, after a hotel at the intersection. People call the intersection by the same name (great PR for the hotel). Those familiar with my life here in Budapest may recognize the location as the metro stop just outside Lili’s apartment.

Dora and I picked up Lili after she finished work. We’d received a lot of phone calls urging us to keep Lili away from Astoria. For one thing, most of Dora’s family didn’t want us adding our number to the crowd, and thereby showing a kind of support for their cause. For another thing, there was fear of violence at the event.

Of course we headed straight for Astoria.

I suppose it was the large presence of skinheads that surprised me most. I have been engaged in an ongoing debate with a fellow teacher at McDaniel. He supports the right, and when I said the party needs to marginalize radical elements (like skinheads), he got upset and told me the party wanted nothing to do with such people. He even went so far as to suggest that the socialists were the ones responsible for sending such hooligans to events sponsored by the right. When we arrived at the commemoration, however, the skinheads were mingling with other people and seemed to fit in just fine.

Now I don’t want people to think the right in Hungary is a bunch of skinheads. That’s not true at all. Families were present, old people, young businessmen, the working class, and more – all there in support of their party. The skinheads were only a fraction of the crowd, but they were there - the loud minority. Now, I do understand that they are a minority, but the party does little, if anything, to discourage their antics. In fact, the speech given by Victor Orban, the party’s charismatic leader, inspired the more radical elements to violence. He opened with some pleasantries, a few words about the anniversary, but then he turned his focus to the political events of the day. He pointed his finger at the ruling socialist party and all but sanctioned the ensuing riots.

They attempted a march to the Parliament where a government sanctioned commemoration was taking place, but the police pushed them back to Astoria. This contained the violence, but it did not stem it. The clashes with police lasted well into the night. Tear gas and rubber bullets.

So, I was disappointed, once again, by politics making their way into an event that shouldn’t be politicized. The events of 50 years ago represented a lashing out against the Soviets, not against the socialists. In fact, many of the leaders of the revolution were striving to form an independent communist state, like Tito’s Yugoslavia. They actually were socialists. They just weren't Soviets.

The right here in Hungary has distorted that history, however, and attempted to use the anniversary in their efforts to oust the democratically elected (albeit under false pretences) socialist party. I hate to see something like this used for political gain. It’s a similar feeling I have about the democrats in the States politicizing the Iraqi war’s decline in popularity, or the Republican’s ongoing efforts to politicize 9/11. It is hard to see history trivialized in such a manner. It is hard to stand by as pundits and politicians use the blood of other people to further their causes.

Still, in the hyper-analyzed world we live in, no one seems to be asking the questions that matter to me. Like, “Isn’t our history and our heritage more important than the price of oil?”

Well, isn’t it?