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European-American Topics - Editorial - 1956

50 years ago
By Helen Szablya,Honorary Consul of Hungary for WA, OR and ID
Posted October 8, 2006

The Hungarian Revolution broke out in Budapest on October 23rd, 1956. According to the Austrian Peace Treaty, finally signed in 1955, the Soviets should have left Hungary within 90 days. A year later they were still there. Restlessness among the people culminated in 16 Points, asking for all the freedoms, taken for granted in the US, guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. 

With overwhelming enthusiasm we marched to the Parliament, my husband a professor and I a student, pregnant with our third child. There our emblem, the flag with the hole in the middle was born, by cutting out the hated Communist hammer and sickle from it. To the Radio Station! We will read the 16 Points to the whole world! 

A Committee entered the only Radio Building in the country and never returned. Outside, the crowd became inpatient, and the AVO (secret police), shot at the quarter million people squeezed into a two-lane street between three-story buildings. Young people, brought up by the Communists since the Soviets had occupied Hungary in 1945, felt in their guts they had had enough; enough of hypocrisy, of slavery, of being at the mercy of the government.  

And the impossible happened: the Revolution became victorious. The blood on the streets of Budapest wrote history: a tiny nation rose, united as never before against a tyrant. Bloody battles for several days ended in the Soviets leaving.  

For four glorious days we had freedom and democracy. Former parties organized for a free election, and 28 newspapers were published. Imre Nagy became Prime Minister, taking over the government legally. He declared Hungary neutral, asking the UN to guarantee our neutrality. He got the country out of the Warsaw Pact. 

Then the Suez Crisis developed. Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. Britain, France and Israel wanted to prevent it. They gave up under direct US pressure. The UN chose to discuss the issue of Suez first. As always - oil was more important than people. The Hungarian Revolution was crushed.  

20,000 casualties, 3,000 dead - and no freedom. The stream of refugees stepped over the 200,000 mark. We were among them, with Louis 10 days old, Janos, 2, and Helen, 4. We were captured twice, but gained our freedom the third time. 

The Hungarian Revolution was crushed - but not forever. The wish for freedom is stronger than life.  

The Hungarian Revolution was the first nail hammered into the coffin of the Soviet system. Between 1956 and 1989 the Czechs had their Revolution in 1968, and the Poles the Solidarity movement in 1980-81. Each added to the collapse of the Communist system. The last nail was also hammered in by the Hungarians, when, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Hungary and Austria, together, cut through the Iron Curtain to let East Germans defect to the West in 1989 - the toppling of the Berlin Wall followed closely. 

International opportunities were avoided by the US at the UN in 1956, and they continue to be avoided today. Blood on the streets of Budapest in 1956, as on the streets of Iraq and Darfur today have been writing history. 

“Innocent ignorance - if there is such a thing” - Pearl S. Buck Nobel-prize winning author of the Good Earth wrote about American mindset, when it came to world politics, to diplomacy. This “innocent ignorance” made the President of the USA claim he was “not informed”, while the entire world listened to the S.O.S. cries of the Hungarian people, begging help against a tyrant. We wanted democracy. Around the world many people thirst for democracy and Americans, realizing their leadership role, try to help everyone achieve that. But that ‘innocent ignorance” keeps haunting, when we only listen to the evidence we want to hear, do not agree with elections that do not go “our way”, ignore the rights of others to think differently, do not understand cultural differences, know nothing about those we want to help and try to help in a way that is resented.  

Historical events are important because if we do not learn from the past we will be forced to relive it. Extreme left is as bad as extreme right - many know from experience. The only system worthy of human beings is democracy, but the greatest weakness of democracy is that it can be voted out of existence. “Innocent ignorance” can kill us. All those who have democracy must appreciate the choices they have and make the right ones, or they will have to suffer the consequences.


Helen Szablya is the Honorary Consul of Hungary for WA, OR and ID, her book: The Fall of the Red Star, her oral history drama: Hungary Remembered, and her hundreds of articles, as a former journalist, won numerous awards. The Szablyas have seven married children and 16 grandchildren. Dr. Szablya, Prof. Emeritus WSU, passed away Oct. 2005. For her lifetime achievements in promoting a free Hungary, Helen was awarded Hungary’s highest civilian award, the Hungarian Order of Merit, by the President of Hungary in October 2005.  

October 21, 12 noon at St. James Cathedral a Mass will be said in Commemoration of the 1956 Revolution. Reception following. For all related programs, please, see the Calendar


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