Yesterday saw the traditional commemorations of the anniversary of the 1956 uprising that mutated into the Hungarian Revolution. A popular revolution against the communist government of the time, it ended on the 10th November after a brutal crackdown by Soviet troops seeking to preserve the government of their client state.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban used the memorial as a platform of dissent against his political opponents, both domestic and foreign. He compared his domestic opponents with the Hungarian communist conspirators who aided the Soviets in destroying the momentum of the revolution; he accused foreign politicians and economic institutions of acting like the Soviet ‘imperialists’, intervening in Hungary’s domestic affairs.
Orban is an increasingly-controversial figure and he has used a parliamentary majority to enact sweeping reforms, which strengthen his own power at the expense of democratic rights and civil liberties. Indeed, his rule has become reminiscent of the Soviet dictatorships of the past that he supposedly abhors.
The selfish politicking of Orban threatens to overshadow the commemoration of one of the most important historical events of the 20th century. For many people worldwide, the Soviet Union’s heavy-handed response to the Hungarian Revolution once-and-for-all shattered the moral legitimacy of the communist state and tilted the balance of diplomatic power in favour of the US during the Cold War.
Orban’s use of history to smear his opponents is likely to backfire. It is he that is most comparable to the dark days of Soviet dominance and he increasingly resembles the post-Cold War ‘strongman’ of Central Asia, only without the economic achievements to boot.
Unsurprisingly, the rally led by Orban was countered by those on the left of the political spectrum, who called for his removal, and by the far-right Jobbik party whose leaders believe the Hungarian political system to be riddled with the remnants of the country’s socialist past and thus unable to represent the “true Hungarian” people.
None of the political parties have covered themselves in glory by using the 1956 revolution memorials as a staging post for vicious sniping against enemies. Yet, worryingly, it is Viktor Orban who continues to prove himself a dangerous and paranoid demagogue, more concerned with his own power status than the principles of freedom expressed by the revolutionaries over half-a-century ago.