Remembrance is the theme of this Hungarian Review, and it is so to a degree we deeply regret. It was always our intention to make this issue part one of a two-part series on recollections of – and reflections on – the Hungarian Revolution. 1956 is one of the most significant years in the history of the Hungarian people and, separately, in the history of modern Europe.
From a narrowly Hungarian perspective it is the moment that Hungary redeemed the failures, errors, and even crimes that had disfigured her history during and after 1919, in 1944–45, and during the Rákosi years. In two short weeks the nation rose to defend its freedom, independence and unity against foreign oppression and domestic treason.
Though the nation lost to overwhelming power, it did so courageously and honourably. Though some Hungarians were in the Soviet camp, they were overwhelmingly rejected even by many who shared their collectivist ideology. And though the battle was lost, the cause was won: the temporary victors of 1956 could rule subsequently only by appeasing the real nation (or what the French call le pays réel).
From an international perspective 1956 marked the end of the advance of Soviet power in Europe – what Winston Churchill in another context called “the end of the beginning”. It revealed the hollowness of Soviet claims to be the true carriers of people power, showing that in Marxist praxis, tanks trumped people. And for the Kremlin, as Americans say, it was all downhill from there.
The Fall of Budapest was an event as important as the Fall of Paris in 1940 – and every bit as misleading as a guide to the future. But how did we feel about it at the time? What combinations and alternations of courage, fear, despair, hope, cruelty, mercy, swept through our minds and souls? And what do we think about it now?
In this and the next issue we run numerous accounts of people who were there and numerous reflections on what each of them thought their accounts meant in a larger sense. Others reflect in retrospect.
All are worth reading; all enlighten us. But if there can never be one truth about an event such as 1956, perhaps there can be one conclusion. E. Sylvester Vizi quotes François Mauriac: “When the stronger side is systematically inhumane, then perhaps the course of history is set by the will of the weaker.” What has happened since 1956 certainly does not contradict Mauriac.
For the moment that is where our Remembrances of 1956 end.
But not our Remembrances in general. Only two weeks before this Review was sent to the printers, György Granasztói died unexpectedly. Dr Granasztói was one of the conceivers and the guardian angel of Hungarian Review from its earliest days and a dear personal friend to everyone who worked on it. He had a unique blend of scholarship, wit and lightness of touch even in making hard choices that made him instantly welcome in all company and long regretted after his departure.
We will be saying more about our dear colleague next time. In this issue, however, we are more than fortunate in being able to publish two eloquent eulogies that Viktor Orbán and Gyula Kodolányi delivered at his funeral service. They are that rare thing: an official oration that evokes the real personality and goodness of its subject, a simple but powerful lament for the loss of a friend. We commend them to you.
As always, however, I must stress that we are producing a magazine rather than a monograph. Though remembrance inevitably dominates our pages this time, the demands of art, history and topicality have in no way been neglected.
Nicholas T. Parsons casts an ironical eye on the reactions of the great and good in Britain to the result of the Brexit referendum in which, apparently, the voters had the gall to disagree with their betters who accordingly wonder if democracy is all it is cracked up to be Stalin’s best Hungarian disciple Mátyás Rákosi would have sympathised. And poet and translator Tony Brinkley, in his account of the writing of Osip Mandelshtam’s “Ode to Stalin”, describes what happens to culture when dictators have a revolver in easy reach – an apt postscript to the Soviet regime of Hungary in 1948–1956.