Budapest is now capital of a democratic, progressive European nation. Especially when current urban renewal is complete, this will suit it well. I suspect it’s what the inhabitants wanted all along — only 7%, after all, voted Communist in 1945. Other votes were invalidated.
Hungarian history is essentially tragic. The nation has, unavoidably and often lethally, been the ham in other people’s sandwiches. 300,000 Hungarians died on the Eastern Front, and 80,000 civilians in the final year of World War II. Primo Levi noted that Hungarian was the predominant language in Auschwitz. 600,000 Hungarians perished there, and after 1945, 700,000 were deported to Soviet labour camps. The last returnee came home from the gulags in 2000. Around the fifties thousands died or were imprisoned at the hands of the ÁVO/ÁVH, often minority leftists. Don’t forget those who died as a result of forced land collectivisation, or the 200,000 who fled the country in 1956. Given there were only 10 million Hungarians in the first place, Left and right, rural or urban, whatever the race, all suffered.
My mother was cross that she was unable to return to Hungary in 1939, but it almost certainly saved her life. Many things said and unsaid in the family come to mind, but some facts of life emerge with hindsight:
- Even the most superficial contemplation of what people went through in the 20th century in Central Europe sets Western victim culture in a larger more vivid perspective.
- Every cultural subgroup, pretty well, had its victims and perpetrators at different times. There is no simple matrix of goodies and baddies, except simple humanity or lack of it. The priest who brought the Sacrament to Christine Arnothy’s cellar, recorded in her memoir of the Budapest Seige of 1944, put it like this: “As to the dead who are all about us here, don’t imagine that they accuse us; on the contrary they are sorry for us...” Thus the Jewish atheist who gave his dead son’s suit to a German soldier to help him escape, and was shot soon after by a Russian soldier, was as righteous as the priest who helped Arnothy’s family escape in 1948, because “Justice and Charity come before everything.”
- Many things were not said, and probably should not be. Others can now be heard and understood. There is a bizarre humour in every situation, and a high degree of randomness, both of which may elude people in more rational societies and ages. It says something about the resilience of the human spirit, after all people over a certain age have been through, to see souvenir shops selling Russian gas masks, and a CD of rousing party marches called The Best of Communism, available also as a Club Mix.
The Communist régime, for all its robust, self-conscious Atheistic basis, could not replace the Himnusz. It was too truthful to experience to be replaced by a march. The Himnusz, and the context in which it has been sung aloud or in people’s hearts, is a haunting reminder that ideology is not enough. We are all human together. People may be liquidated, but humanity shines out, especially perhaps amidst acts of inhumanity. The priest was correct. In the final analysis, Charity and Justice alone are irreducible.