1956, October 23

I still can not talk about those days without choking up. I can not forget
the collection boxes of the Writers Union, unguarded, full of paper money, I
can not forget the untouched goods behind the broken windows of the stores,
nor the  carts of the villagers, distributing their own produce on the street
corners, free of charge. I can not forget that spirit of  total acceptance
and solidarity with all Hungarians regardless of their class, religion,
ethnic background or politics.
              After the 4th of November - having been one of the authors of
the 16 points - the AVH pufajkás were waiting for me at my parets' house. So,
I spent over a month in hiding. The only money in my pocket was a 20 forint
bill, but I was unable to spend it. Strangers fed me when I got hungry and
when darkness caught up with me, I slept in other peopleás beds, but because
of my National Guard (Nemzetör) armband, nobody ever accepted any money from
me. Finally, I gave my 20 forints to a shepherd boy on the Austrian border.
Those beautiful days changed me for life. I dedicated my first technical
books to the Hungarian Freedom Fighters, and Edward Teller, in his preface
also paid his respects to them.
            After such noble memories, I had very high expectations for the
day when freedom returns to Hungary and my people can once more be the
masters of their own future. In the 1980s, my optimism was reinforced while
working with the democratic opposition (the samizdat people).  Among them I
felt that the spirit of 1956 has survived.  Jews and Christians, former
aristocrats and former communists were all working together with us 1956-ers
from the West to plan a better future for all Hungarians. These leaders later
founded the MDF and the SZDSZ. I considered them not only as my friends but
also as natural allies of each other and as the future leaders of the new
                In 1985 I reported in the Wall Street Journal that we have
found the grave of Imre Nagy and in 1989 I stood in guard at the martyred
prime minister's coffin during the reburial ceremony. Yet, the free and open
society of our dreams did not materialize. Over the years I did receive
copies of some 104 secret police reports on my "activities", but the names of
the reporting spies been removed and I received no reports from the period
prior to 1987. This was strange, because my activities were not only observed
during that period, but I was also hospitalized in 1983.
               My first disappointment came when the Green Party invited me
to run for Parliament in 1990, in the same district where Gyula Horn was also
a candidate. At one of our debates he offered his hand and knowing his
background as a pufajkás, I could not force myself to take it. After that,
when we were walking through a corridor, he said to me: "They won't even know
that you are here!" It took me some time to learn that there was only one
daily newspaper in the district: "Somogy Népe" and Horn's party controlled
it. He was right, that paper decided the outcome of the election. Horn was
elected and the American TV crew, which came with me to give a glowing report
on a US citizen being elected in the new Hungary, had to report on a reality,
which was resembling the old ways.
                My second major disappointment came, when in 1990, instead of
my friends in the MDF and SZDSZ forming a coalition government, they split
and the SZDSZ joined the former communists for no other reason, but because
of the distrust among Jewish and Christian Hungarians. This was the first
time, when the new and democratic Hungary turned its back on one of the
ideals of 1956. It was the first time, when I felt that the memory of Pista
Angyal (my friend - an Auswitz survivor - who was hanged after 1956 and to
whom I dedicated my book on 1956) and our cherished 1956 ideal of total
national unity, been betrayed.
                 In 1992, while lying down in front of the trucks at Cunovo,
I learned that the "environmentalist movement of 1989" used the Danube issue
to get rid of the Kádár-Németh-Horn regime, but did not really care about the
Danube. On the 23rd of October in 1992, only 643 people followed me into
Slovakia. In 1997, in The Hague, I also learned that the leader of the
Hungarian delegation, György Szénási did not care about the return of the
Danube and did not want my Compromise Plan, which would have satisfied the
desires of both sides while saving the Szigetköz. Szénási (who is still the
lead lawyer of the Hungarian side) did not even submit to the Court the
supporting documents, which the international NGOs developed to help our
             In spite of all that, the Court ruled that Czechoslovakia
violated the law by unilaterally diverting the Danube. In spite of that,
today, Szénási is trying to talk the Hungarian Government into accepting the
present situation, which the Court ruled illegal. If that happens, that will
violate both the Hungarian Constitution and the Rio Treaty and we will have
no choice, but to initiate a lawsuit first at the Constitutional Court of
Hungary and than in Strasbourg to return the case to The Hague.
              In addition to the Danube problem, I am also disappointed that
real reconciliation did not yet occur between our Christian and Jewish
co-patriots, that some Jewish Hungarians still believe that all Christians
were Nazi collaborators, while some Christian Hungarians still believe that
all Jews were ÁVH collaborators. I am also disappointed about the slowness of
affirmative action which should bring the next generation of Hungarian
Gipsyes into the main stream of society and should replace the generally
accepted Roma stereotypes with positive heros as role models for todays Gipsy
children. I am disappointed about the prevailing general mood of lethargy and
cynicism, about the acceptance of selfishness and corruption. I also wish
that there were truly independent  newspapers in Hungary and that the
population was not so polarized, that they pay more attention to who the
speaker is, than to what is being said.
             On the other hand, I also see hopeful signs.  I find the
infulence of the new president, Ferenc Mádl, very constructive. His comment,
that we should smile more" and his view that we should concentrate on what
is good in our co-patriots are very healthy. I believe that Hungarians have a
lot to be proud of and we should bring up a new generation with a healthy
sense of national self-respect. We should give our children the heroes they
need. The books of patriotic writers did that after 1848. It is now time that
our children to also learn about the heroes of 1956, about the examples of
István Bibó or István Angyal.
               An other reason for my optimism is the work of the
international Hungarian Lobby on the Internet. The selfless and effective
work of HL's 3,000 members and the fact that most of them are under 30, is a
very good sign. An other good sign is the return to Hungary of many members
of my childrens generation, the many joint ventures they form and the
world-wide cooperation among Hungarian professionals they inspire. Yet an
other good sign is the effort to register the thousands of Hungarian
Churches, club houses and other properties world-wide, which do belong to the
Hungarian nation.
             Yet another positive development is the evolving international
view about the Balkans. According to this view, we should learn from history,
which tells us that no foreign power ever stayed in the Balkans for long.
History also teaches us that there was peace in the Balkans only when there
was real power in the Carpathian Basin. This means much more than the
possible gift of F-16s by the USA to replace the MIGs in the Hungarian Air
Force. This means that the formation of a powerful Central Europe - a
Visegrád or Danubian Federation of say 100 million - is in the interest of
the whole world. Such a federation is also desirable for Hungary, because if
it did emerge, it would minimize the significance of  the borders and would
allow for the cultural reunification of the Hungarian nation, which the EU
will not do for decades, possibly generations.
               In short, while the road is long and hard, on this 23rd of
October, we should all remember, that the Kids of Budapest started the
process which destroyed the Evil Empire and we should also remember that it
must be the spirit of 1956, which will heal the Hungary and fuel the growth
of a beautiful future for our unified and self-respecting nation.

Béla Lipták (U.S.A)