Monday, October 27, 2008

Visits and Vacations

This last weekend in Hungary was a four-day holiday. On the 23rd the country celebrated the Revolution of 1956 , during which the Hungarians booted the Soviets out of the country for a full seven days (before the Soviets came back with their tanks and guns).

The holiday has taken on a political bent over the past few years. For three years running, on the date of the anniversary the opposition party here in Hungary has held a large rally in Budapest's city center. Two years ago there was some serious violence. Last year there was a little trouble, but it was was much more subdued. This year there was a rally, but no major violence.

Even if events were more civil this year, I did get to see the event through a different, and slightly disturbing lens. My long-time friend Brad is here in Hungary on a visit. He took a walk with Dóra, me, and the dogs on the 23rd. On the walk we skirted the rally itself.

Having a visitor in town always forces me to take a closer look at the city I've called home for four years now. I think the same is true for Dóra, and as we passed the rally we found ourselves in a reflective mood.

The rally was held at Deák Ferenc tér, right where all the major streets and Metros intersect. Meaning the city was effectively shut down so the opposition party could pay homage to the bravery of those who rose up against tyranny some fifty-two years ago. A part of me knows that's a good thing. I'm happy Hungarians are passionate about their nation's history opposing totalitarianism.

But those positive feelings were tempered when Dóra told us that the man at the podium who was addressing the crowd was the leader of Hungary's far-right party - the same party that sponsored the marches that recently spiraled out of control, where police were injured and racist chants were bandied about. Once we knew the speakers affiliation, it was hard to ignore the other signs of intolerance. Shaved heads were peppered throughout the gathering. The red and white stripes of the nationalist flag were much more prominent than the red, green, and white bands of the national flag. At one point the speaker instigated a call-and-response that had the gathered crowd bark out a slogan, and while I know that happens at political rallies, the crowd's tone had an unsettling edge to it. Members of the Magyar Garda, a right-wing militia group, were lined up and ready to parade through the assembly.

Brad was stunned. The combat boots and hairstyles spoke a creepy international language. For someone in from the US, this gathering was an eye-opener. Dóra was more disappointed than stunned. She remembered how this anniversary was once commemorated. In the mid-90s there was little-to-no political posturing. The citizens of Hungary marched the same route that protesting students and workers marched in 1956. Dóra doesn't remember anything from this holiday in the 90s being as divisive as what we saw last week.

After the walk, Brad,
Dóra, and I took the dogs out to the countryside and enjoyed a weekend away from the city. It gave us a chance to clear out heads and relax. Something perhaps more people should do.