Nation finds its silenced voice
Prime minister's lies incite anger, protest among Hungarians
It's staggering how close Budapest seems to the West when you look at a map. Hungary, smack dab in the middle of Central Europe is a short train or plane ride away from pretty much everything in Europe. But throughout its millennium of existence, Hungary has endured a great many obstacles, making its journey into the industrialized West a difficult one.
In the 20th century alone, the country played an integral role in the start of World War I, where it was part of the losing side and lost vast territory.
It broke from Austrian Hapsburg rule in Vienna only to be plunged deeply into World War II by its ingenious "supreme regent," Miklos Horthy. After several years of loyalty to Hitler, Horthy's backdoor deal with the Allies in 1944 was discovered. Soon after, Nazi Germany invaded the country. Hungarian Jews, who for so long had been protected from the Final Solution, were forced into ghettos and concentration camps. By war's end, only one-third of the Jewish population remained here.
After the war, the country fell into 40 years of Soviet rule, which added an increased burden to the already exhausted Hungarian population.
The Hungarian Revolution of October 1956 was a brave attempt to rebel against the repressive regime. However, it backfired. Most protesters were killed, imprisoned or forced into political indoctrination.
Of course, by the late 1980s, communism's Iron Curtain was lifting and Hungary faced a new challenge of making something of itself in the industrialized world.
It has been a delicate and difficult climb to repair the mistakes of the past, but in recent years, it seemed things were really on the upswing. Hungary was joining the European Union and readying itself to adopt the euro.
That was until September 2006, when an audiotape of current Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany was released. In the secretly recorded speech, Gyurcsany admitted he had lied about the current state of the economy to get his party re-elected. It seemed the economic outlook was not quite so rosy, and a swift adoption of the euro and other EU privileges was much further off than hoped.
Protests around the country erupted that year calling for Gyurcsany's resignation and simultaneously sent the fragile country into another state of turmoil. While protests died down, Gyurcsany remained in office.
The one-year anniversary of the tape's release was last week. Hungarians, despite the years of hardship they have faced in just the last century, came out to show their disdain for the current government once more, putting on strong faces and marching down Ring Road to Parliament.
While last week's protests were not remarkably big or influential (Gyurcsany and his government are still in office as I write), they were profoundly touching. People young and old, those who had lived through the wars and through communism and those who had not, were side by side, united for a common cause.
It was as if they protested for no other reason than the fact that they could. There was no one to stop them, nothing to hold them back. In a history marked with oppression and political strife, for a people always forced to accept the status quo even when that wasn't good enough, they were finally using their right to say something.
On a map, Hungary is so close to the Western world. In reality, it has a ways to go before it becomes fully "Western." But if the current situation is any indication, there are plenty of voices out there looking for a chance at equal opportunity in a free world. Considering the past 1,000 years, it's high time the Hungarians receive that chance.