Oktober 23 és November 1

It’s another foggy morning in Szeged. It’s been like this all week. Most days it burns off by late morning, but yesterday it never lifted. It was a bit spooky, like that Stephen King story where the fog moves toward the town, but there were no monstrous insects in this fog, thankfully! I find it unsettling, particularly walking around in the fog in the dark. I guess it’s just because I’ve never lived anywhere where there is much fog. People from San Francisco and London are probably wondering what my problem is!

Anyway, I’m hoping the fog will lift, since I want to go have lunch at the fesztival in the main square downtown, Széchenyi tér. Yes, it’s time for yet another Szeged fesztival. This one is the Mangalica Fesztival. If you recall from my last post, the Mangalica pig is a heritage Hungarian breed from the Puszta–the cute curly-haired fellow in the picture. (More on Mangalica pigs.) This festival is dedicated to these pigs and their breeders; it’s one of the many gastronomic festivals here, and I’m sure one of the main purposes is to promote this Hungarian product (or, as they call Hungarian products–Hungaricum). I checked it out last night in the fog, and there are lots of folks selling crafts, but the main highlight is the pigs themselves, all cleaned up and ready to be admired and, I suppose, petted. There are the usual food and pálinka stands, including my favorite Hungarian specialties, lángos and kürtöskalacs (I’ll be chowing down on one of the latter very soon!). [Aside: Oddly enough, there was a booth in the Galeria dept. store in Berlin selling kürtöskalacs. Turns out they are from Hungary–a branch of a place on Vaci ut. in Budapest. Was strange, but of course we bought one there!] There are also a large  number of booths selling Hungarian sajt (cheese) and kolbasz, presumably including some made from the Mangalicas.  And, of course, the usual bands. So that is the destination for this Saturday afternoon.

But what I want to write about today is the recent celebration of two of Hungary’s most important holidays, the 23rd of Oktober and the 1st of November. The 23rd is the anniversary of the start of the 1956 Revolution, and is also Republic Day, the day the Republic of Hungary was declared in 1989. November 1st is All Saints Day.

On All Saints Day Hungarians visit the cemeteries and decorate their relatives’ tombs with flowers and candles. It’s a beautiful sight in the evening as well as the daylight. I’m intrigued by the links between the Hungarian All Saints, Halloween, and Día de los Muertos, and in fact talked about these with both my students and the high school students at the Csányi Foundation. These three “days of the dead” have a common foundation in the Christian celebration of All Saints & All Souls Days, while fusing these in Mexico with indigenous traditions regarding the visiting spirits of one’s dead relatives. Some say Halloween is a similar fusion of the traditional Celtic festival of Samhain with All Saints/Souls Days, but other scholars say there is no evidence to support this. At any rate, the Hungarian All Saints Day seems wholly of the Christian tradition, while Halloween and Día de los Muertos are fusions of various traditions that have developed (and are still evolving) in interesting ways over time. Halloween is not really celebrated here, although Hungarians certainly know of it. Indeed, there was what the students called a “zombie” parade on the night of the 1st. I saw this, mostly young people, many in some sort of costume, walking along one of the main streets with a police escort. My camera didn’t cooperate in getting a good picture of this, unfortunately! Here are a few pictures from the temetó (cemetery) near my apartment in Újszeged, including one with a bit of Halloween fusion:

As for Oktober 23, this is of course one of the most important days in Hungary’s civic calendar. I’ll attempt a brief recap, but send you to two sites that have longer summaries of the 1956 Revolution, should you be interested in learning more. It seems that after Stalin’s death in 1953, things loosened up a bit in Hungary, and Nagy Imre became prime minister. Hungarians began to assert more freedoms, but the communists reacted and removed Nagy. Nevertheless, the border controls were lessened in the summer of 1956, prompting large numbers of Hungarians to flee West. What had begun could not be stopped with Nagy’s removal, and the universities became centers of revolutionary activity, including my very own University of Szeged. The  Association of Hungarian University and College Students was founded at a meeting in the auditorium of the Arts Building at U-Szeged on Oct. 20, and drew up a list of 16 points describing the political aims of the protesters.

On Oct. 23, college students in Szeged and at universities around the country held demonstrations and read the 16 points, kicking off the 1956 Revolution. Among these was the demand that Nagy be returned to office. The protesters took symbolic actions as well. In Budapest, they toppled and destroyed a statue of Stalin, and cut the communist coat of arms out of the middle of the Hungarian flag (so the flag with a hole in the middle became a symbol of the revolution). Nagy was reinstated as prime minister, and tried to negotiate the removal of Soviet troops from the country. Cardinal Jozsef Mindzenty, head of the Hungarian Catholic Church, who had been arrested and sentenced to life in prison for “treason” in a show trial in 1948, was released from prison.

But then the reaction came. Soviet tanks rolled into Kossuth Lajos tér (named, of course, for the Hungarian revolutionary leader of 1848) outside Parliament on Oct. 25 and troops began to shoot peaceful demonstrators, killing some 800. Revolutionary protests were attacked by troops in other cities across the country, and on Nov. 4 the USSR sent its army in and began a war that crushed what remained of the 1956 Revolution. Nagy was arrested and executed, as were some 400 others alleged to be leaders of the revolution. Nagy was buried in an unmarked grave, and in 1989, he was reburied after a huge ceremony at Heroes Square, marking the symbolic end of communist rule in Hungary.

In all, more than 2000 Hungarians were killed during the Revolution, and more than 20,000 were imprisoned. Another 250,000 or so Hungarians fled through the (relatively) open border before the communists shut it back down in January 1957; about 35,000 Hungarian refugees were accepted by the United States. Cardinal Mindzenty fled to the U.S. Embassy for refuge, and ended up living in there under self-imposed “house arrest,” until 1971, when he finally left the country (after a papal-engineered compromise that annulled Midzenty’s excommunication of communist officials, in exchange for which they allowed him to leave the country). A local Dunkirk-Fredonia note: the (now closed) Cardinal Mindzenty Catholic High School in Dunkirk was named for him, and he visited Dunkirk before he died in 1975. He left instructions that he was not to be buried in Hungary until the last Soviet troops left the country, and when that happened in 1991, he was entombed at the Basilica at Esztergom. (I’ve included a photo of his tomb below.) (For more on the Revolution, see here and here; for more on Mindzenty, see this.)

Hungarians have, not surprisingly, many memorials and monuments to the heroes and martyrs of 1956. In Budapest, there is a nice statue of Nagy Imre on a bridge, facing the Parliament Building. Underneath Kossuth tér is a free museum and memorial to the martyrs of 1956, which Carol and I visited in October. It had multimedia displays showing where protests and deaths occurred across Hungary, and film of survivors discussing the Soviet attacks in front of Parliament, as well as the parents of some killed, speaking of how they were hounded by the police when they went to the cemetery to visit the graves. There was also a memorial tomb and the massive flag with the communist coat of arms cut out. I found it to be a particularly effective and moving museum, which left me wanting to know more about the history of the revolution. Szeged has several monuments to 1956 as well, including one honoring the U-Szeged students who helped spark the demonstrations of October 23, in front of the Arts Building auditorium. There is also the Hungarian Pieta, a Madonna grieving for the victims of 1956, outside the Dom (Cathedral). My own favorite, however, is the marble statue in Rerrich Béla tér, which depicts the revolutionaries of 1956 bearing the dead butterfly of freedom–an artistic statement that is at once beautiful and heart-breaking. These monuments and memorials were appropriately adorned with wreaths, flowers, and the national colors during Oct. 23 ceremonies (which I unfortunately missed as I was returning from Budapest that day). Below are pictures of some of the monuments and memorials to the heroes of 1956.

So that’s the scoop on these two important Hungarian holidays. Now it’s time to visit the pigs and get some kürtöskalacs and maybe some kolbasz (sorry, pigs) and, of course, a sör or two. It’s still foggy, but I will just have to cope!







2 responses to “Oktober 23 és November 1”

  1. Tim Avatar

    Great post! Thanks Ellen. Of course, the US energetically “condemned” (but did nothing else) the Soviet invasion of Hungary and its violent crushing of the Revolution. As a side-note to this historical moment, I, also, became a casualty of the Revolution. Along with most American Catholics (the Mindzenty factor was big), our Catholic high school was kept up to date on events in Hungary. On one particular day when the Soviet tanks were in Budapest, our principal called all students into the tiny school hall where we underclassmen were packed in SRO. We were gathered to listen to some kind of radio broadcast from Budapest. Whether it was “live,” I can’t say now — but artillery fire and gunshots could be heard in the scratchy background over the announcer’s voice. At a particularly dramatic moment a girl next to me grabbed my arm violently and with her long fingernails left a long, jagged scratch. Thus, the faint scar on my arm and your excellent post still remind me of those days!

    1. admin Avatar

      Thanks Tim, and thanks for sharing your history of the events of 1956. It is, of course, inspiring to see what college students could do, even if they weren’t successful in the end. And it’s cool that U-Szeged played a key role. I visited the auditorium where it all began yesterday!

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