What happened on June 16, 1989? Another falsification of history?

Time flies. It was twenty-five years ago today that the remains of Imre Nagy, Miklós Gimes, Géza Losonczy, Pál Maléter, and József Szilágyi were reburied. On Heroes’ Square a large crowd gathered to listen to speeches. Six coffins were displayed. The sixth, empty one symbolized those people who were killed (or executed) during and after the revolution.

Negotiations over and preparations for the reburial were conducted by the Történelmi Igazságtétel Bizottság (TIB), whose members had spent years in jail after 1956 because of their participation in the revolution. (One member was Imre Mécs, who in the last two months has been demonstrating against the erection of the memorial that commemorates the occupation of the country by the German army.) Although the relatives and the majority of TIB wanted to have private reburials, eventually a large public event was organized with the approval of the opposition parties. Originally, only well-known participants in the revolution were supposed to speak: Béla Király, Sándor Rácz, Miklós Vásárhelyi, Imre Mécs, and Tibor Zimányi.

How did the young Viktor Orbán, one of the leaders of a youth organization, end up being included in this group of illustrious revolutionary veterans? István Csurka, the writer and one of the leaders of Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MD), suggested in a radio interview that “representatives of young Hungary should be included.” It was decided that a leader of Fidesz should deliver a speech right after the veterans of the revolution. So, in a way, Viktor Orbán must thank the late István Csurka, subsequently the founder and leader of the anti-Semitic Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja (MIÉP), for an auspicious beginning to a very successful political career.

In the last few years Mária Schmidt has become Fidesz’s history ideologue, entrusted with crafting an interpretation of the past that suits Viktor Orbán’s political agenda. I wrote at length about her efforts at rehabilitating the Horthy regime, but in the last few weeks, most likely in anticipation of the 25th anniversary of Viktor Orbán’s most famous speech, she also embarked on rewriting the history of 1989-1990. Schmidt in her speech in Washington practically attributed the whole regime change to Viktor Orbán. He was the only person who dared to openly demand the departure of the Soviet troops.

The young Viktor Orbán, June 15, 1989

The young Viktor Orbán, June 16, 1989

Yes, it was a brave speech but not because Orbán demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops. In fact, only about half an hour earlier Sándor Rácz, chairman of the workers’ council in 1956, in a very harsh anti-communist speech demanded the troops’ departure. What was new and significant was that Orbán was the only speaker to call attention to the incongruity of party and government officials standing by the coffins of those who were killed by the same regime that they represented.

The speech was different from the others in another sense. It was not a eulogy but the kind of speech that is normally delivered at a political rally. The significance of the speech didn’t lie in its anti-communist rhetoric. The others were equally anti-communist. But as Zoltán Ripp, a historian of the period, pointed out, his speech “was a denial of national reconciliation and not only considering the past.” The message was that the Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt (MSZMP) is and always will be the enemy. Therefore we should not be surprised that shortly after the 2010 election he seriously contemplated banning MSZP as the legal successor to MSZMP.

While Imre Mécs wanted the members of the audience to hold hands, Orbán wanted to wipe out the past and all its actors who, in his opinion, were guilty, regardless of what they did or did not do during their lifetimes. I think that this speech explains a lot both about Orbán’s character and his rather undifferentiated worldview. I always complain about his lack of differentiation with regard to the Stalinist period, the early Kádár era, or the years of the 1980s. For him, judging from this speech, it was all the same. And, let’s not forget, Imre Nagy and the rest of the bodies in those coffins had been members of the communist elite. Later Orbán unequivocally stated that “Imre Nagy is not our hero.”  I’m certain that he was not his hero on June 16, 1989 either, but he had to give an oration at the funeral of the man after all. So, he carefully but obviously made a distinction between the communist Imre Nagy and the one “who could identify with the will of the nation and who could set aside the holy communist taboos, that is with the unconditional service of the Russian empire and the dictatorship of the party… We learned from their fate that democracy and communism are irreconcilable.”

Viktor Orbán was not present at the 25th anniversary ceremony, attended by the presidents of Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland. Instead, he delivered a speech at a meeting of the European People’s Party held in Portugal. Earlier, however, he gave an interview to Bild, on the basis of which the journalist came to the conclusion that it was Viktor Orbán who “knocked the first stone out of the wall.” So, President Reagan ordered Gorbachev “to tear down that wall” and Viktor Orbán grabbed a hammer. This is how historical myths are created.

In the same interview Orbán said that “the struggle against the communists nowhere lasted as long as in Hungary…. I have to admit that our opponents were talented when it came to hanging onto power … They were good fighters. It took me twenty years to defeat them.” According to him, that fight lasted until 2011 when Hungary had a new constitution. So, it seems, Viktor Orbán hasn’t changed as much as most people claim. His attitude toward his opponents has not changed in the last twenty-five years.

Mária Schmidt’s interpretation of the end of communism stands in sharp contrast to Viktor Orbán’s. According to the former, it was Viktor Orbán who first talked about free elections and the withdrawal of the Soviet troops and, since the armed forces didn’t break up the meeting, it was clear to everybody that “we buried communism on that day.” On the other hand, according to Orbán’s interview in Bild, communism ended only in 2011. Complicated, isn’t it?

Mária Schmidt was also in charge of the celebration to commemorate Viktor Orbán’s historical role on June 16, 1989. She declared that it is supposed to be “a day of rejoicing,” and so the organizers invited two rock bands from the 1960s and 1970s–Omega, a Hungarian group, and the Scorpions, a German group–to give a free “Concert of Freedom.” The granddaughter of Imre Nagy, the wife of Pál Maléter, and the daughter of József Szilágyi protested. To them June 16 is a day of mourning because it was on that day in 1958 that the people who were reburied in 1989 were originally killed. To make a day of joy out of it is sacrilegious.

June 16, 1989 was, of course, more than a day of remembering and paying homage to the dead. It was a political event of national importance. It was part of a process that ended in the collapse of the Soviet empire. But Mária Schmidt distorts history when she tries convince us that it was Viktor Orbán’s speech that ended communism in Hungary and forced the Soviet troop withdrawal. And Viktor Orbán’s idea that communism in Hungary ended only in 2011 is outright ridiculous. Another falsification of history has begun.


  1. Can you possibly post the quotes from Schmidts DC speech that you find objectionable? Paraphrasing is not the same thing…

  2. to @ Bodro – schmidt’s speeches are meaningless.

    she became an enemy of hungary. but bodro will it possibly never understand.

  3. Hmm that’s a Soviet term tho. I just asked a simple factual question that I think Eva can easily answer, so I’ll allow her to do so.

  4. Actually, if you listen to or read a transcript of Orbans 1989 speech, you don’t ominous clues to a master plan of nationalism or fascism. If the core of this post is what Schmidt is saying, you need to do more than opine without quoting from her speech. I understand that the purpose of this blog is to rant about all things Fidesz and Orban. But if you want to be credible, you should do the leg work.

  5. bodro – have you got an exclusive apologetical approach to the failed Gombos, Daranyi, Teleki, Kallay, Bethlen, Sztojai, Horthy etc. and a purely negative approach to the Rakosi, Stalin, Kadar stuff?

    Can you separate the failed discredited Orbans from the only good Deaks, Somssich, Batthanyi, Szechenyi?

  6. The young Orbán had ceased the moment in 1989. This is how politicians of caliber are made.
    I was at the at the 25th anniversary ceremony yesterday. It was impressive. Orbán has shown political tact by his absence. The focus was on the five heads of state, properly so. Yet Orbán towers over all others, your silly comments notwithstanding. .

  7. London Calling!

    Typo in penultimate para, Eva. June 16 1888 should read 1989.

    Best troll joke of the month!

    “Orban towers above the others!”

    Orban is just a “little man” in stature, intelligence and in leadership.

    “Towers”!!!! What a hoot!!!

    Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha……

    Made my day!



  8. Btw

    There was no ‘first stone’ – it was the Austrians who let the East Gernans escape through their borders via Hungary.

    If there was a first stone it was the one found in the bottle of palinka at the ‘picnic’ with Gyula Horn and the Austrians.

    Orban’s trick, aided by Schmidt and all his sycophants is to ‘attach’ an insignificant presence onto some major event then claim “it was Orban what done it!”.

    Even if delicate sensitivities of the real heroes are trampled on along the way.

    That he needs to do this is part of his insecurity – and that of his sycophants – typical of ” little people”.

    Orban having ‘tact’ is the second best troll joke of the day – if it wasn’t so pathetic.

    “Towers”!!!!!!!!!! still rolling on the floor hahaga ha ha haha………ha!



  9. @zsejocska

    ” and a purely negative approach to the Rakosi, Stalin stuff?”

    Who doesn’t have a “purely negative approach” to Rakosi and Stalin? A Communist murderer perhaps, or who could it be? 100 million dead from Communist mass murder is not quite enough for you to have a “purely negative” approach to Communist mass murderers? And to their “stuff”?

    If to you genocide, mass murder, tortures are “stuff”, than you are a truly despicable human who is not worth the air they breath in.

    Let us stop and turn back on this road before this forum turns into a Communist advocacy center where it is unacceptable to have a “purely negative” approach to Communist mass murderers. Because a purely negative approach is exactly what they deserve and more.

  10. @ sanda – what is the advantage of the blind anti-communism, you practice?

    history has not started with Stalin or Rakosi.

    There were horthys, hitlers, szalasis before them.

    Many intelligent hungarian politicians wanted to the stop the rule of horthy, and failed.

    Who can like the gombos, daranyi, imredy, sztojai, szalasi periods?

    The post WWII result was the murderous rule of the rakosis, and not surprisingly, many poor hungarians benefited from the affirmative actions of the communists, while the decadent gentry suffered an almost well deserved fatal blow.

  11. sanda,

    Your dogmatic approach to discourse is out of place here. If you don’t like what you see on this site, why are you reading it and commenting on it?

    You wrote: “Who doesn’t have a “purely negative approach” to Rakosi and Stalin?”

    A large number of Russians have a positive view of Stalin, at least for now. One person’s mass murderer is another person’s saviour, a statesman who did more to defeat Nazism and Fascism than any other person. I loathe them both, personally, but to pretend that everyone agrees with you or me is either overt dishonesty or pernicious ignorance.

    You wrote: “100 million dead from Communist mass murder ”

    So you’re going to hang all “murders” committed under communist oversight on each individual communist leader? How many “murders” is Rákosi accused of, directly? Meanwhile, I don’t know where you got your “100 million” number, but it must include at least some of the deaths which occurred under Mao, yet the party that he brought to power is still the undisputed ruler of China. How many innocent people were murdered by the Magyars in the century leading up to Szent István’s reign? How many innocent people died as a result of colonialism?

    The point is that there is no black and white, as much as you would like to pretend there is, and no group or ideology is completely blameless. Even Buddhist monks can systematically murder and persecute innocent minorities, as can be seen with the Rohingya and others in southern Asia. By belittling someone for his or her beliefs, you might feel that you gain moral superiority, but supporting Orbán now may very well lead to similar piles of innocent dead people. Why do you feel that you can be so sure it won’t? History shows otherwise. Orbán is not so very different from Mao, Stalin, or even Hitler, all of whom were highly popular among their own people at one point. It all depends on your point of view.

  12. @Googly:

    I fully agree! And re your example of Buddhists:

    Right now Buddhists are murdering Muslims in Sri Lanka …

  13. @Tryker, On March 15 he did not demand the withdrawal of troops. He just asked whether we can speak of independence when the Soviet troops are still here. By the way, he was wrong factually. The Soviet troops in November 1956 did not return. They never left. Only fresh troops joined them.

  14. The BBC World Service talked about the “occupying” Soviet forces as early as November 4 1956

  15. “On March 15 he did not demand the withdrawal of troops. He just asked whether we can speak of independence when the Soviet troops are still here.”

    Let’s not get too hung up on semantics. My assessment of his current (wrong)doings is deeply negative but you simply cannot deny that he was the very first person in 33 years to raise the issue of the Soviet troops publicly. Plus if you listen to the five-minute excerpt from his March 15th speech, you will see that pretty much all other elements of his June 16th address were present too.

    @CharlieH: Why, of course. So did the all the rebels/revolutionaries fighting in the street. But that’s beside the point as we’re talking about who dared to raise the question again, after so many years.

  16. My main problem is the myth of making Orban the hero of the regime change that he was being “brave” when it was relatively safe to be. And those who were actively speaking up against the regime when it was a lot more risky, like Demszky, get zero recognition for the fact.

    Orban has good political instincts and he was exploiting the moment, as usual. And now his history rewriting machinery is working hard on making him the number one hero in the fight against communism.

  17. As regards Cserhalmi, it would be great to be able to listen to a recording or watch a video. The link you provided takes us to an article instead. As far as I remember, Cserhalmi did not explicitly mention the Soviets but quoted, among other things, the 10th point from the original March 15th (1848) demands, which of course stipulates that foreign troops be “taken away” – and in the context of the events of 1989, everybody knew what that meant. I am not sure if he mentioned the Soviets expressis verbis like Orbán did though. A full-length recording of Cserhalmi’s performance would be most welcome.

  18. Tryker

    As QED’d by Eva

    …. it’s astonishing that Orban’s propaganda and hagiographic support gets through the most questioning faculties such as yours.

    There’s nothing fair – or any necessity for balance – when it comes to the Orbanistan Commocracy Thuggery.

    That there is total support for Thuggesz in my partner’s village is still making me smart and look at fellow villagers with acute pity.

    The way ‘truth’ is massaged in this Thuggocracy is so obvious – how can Hungarians swallow it hook, line and sinker.

    Beats me.



  19. It is great to read to the intelligent comments today.

    It is hard to explain the state of mind of millions of Hungarians who can not stand up against such a bad regime.

  20. O/T

    Just pure coincidence – on the the BBC World service a minute ago – ‘Witness’ about the reburial of Imre Nagy.

    NTA!!! (Nick Thorpe Alert!) He chats to the the MC of the event (Ivan Baba (?)).

    Introduced as “a Key Moment in the collapse of communism”.

    Nick Thorpe does his brown nosing bit about ‘Victor’ but does at least give credit to Sandor Racz being the first to break the agreed rules with the communists. Sandor Racz called for the withdrawal of the Russians (first!) – calling for international assistance.




  21. The first person who “demanded” the withdrawal was Sandor Racz, not Orban. Racz was the President of the 1956 Greater Budapest Central Workers’ Council. Racz in fact spoke before Orban on they famous afternoon.
    Orban, as usual only true to himself not to the facts. As far as his minions go, as usual they do not do their own diligence but keep repeating the “facts” that were spoon feed to them by Fidesz/Orban/COF.

    “Az első, és a legnehezebben kezelhető akadály a szovjet csapatok jelenléte Magyarország területén. Ezek az eredményei az ő jelenlétüknek, ezek a koporsók! És a megkeseredett mai életünk is! Azért kérjük a világ valamennyi becsületes emberét: közösen segítsük hozzá a Szovjetuniót, hogy minél hamarabb kivonhassa csapatait magyar hazánk területéről.
    A második akadály a kommunista párt, amely görcsösen ragaszkodik a hatalmához, holott a napnál világosabb, hogy az, amit nem tettek meg 43 éven keresztül, az többé már nem tehető jóvá. Rajtuk múlott, hogy milyen volt ez a 43 év magyar élete. A magyar népnek csak el kellett viselni, és ebbe rokkant bele a magyar társadalom.”

    I hope Simon and Tyker can still read Hungarian, and not only when the Fidesz PR is in overdrive but when the truth is spoken. No apologies needed as the facts speak for themselves.
    Translation of the bolded text: ..”together we should help the USSR to withdraw its troops from the territory of our Hungarian home”

  22. Oh, It was Viktor Orban who blocked Racz’s Hungarian President nomination for numerous times. (Just to note: Racz is not my cup of tea, but…) Make you wonder?

  23. Some commenters here are openly supporters/apologists of Stalin and nobody has a problem with it.

    It really tells a lot about this blog.

  24. Stalinism lives
    June 17, 2014 at 12:46 pm
    Some commenters here are openly supporters/apologists of Stalin and nobody has a problem with it.

    It really tells a lot about this blog.

    I know, right? Simon and Tyker just cannot stop whitewashing Orban’s attempts to restore those Stalinist values. I cannot comprehend why would they support such values, but there you have it.

  25. In 89 my jaw dropped when the by then young, slim, scruffy dude said he wanted to “beat the communists into the ground” (as in compacting soil). That was fresh air. I also agreed with him when he distanced himself from Imre Nagy. Despite being the leader of the almost independent Hungary, Nagy was a hot shot commie. We didn’t think about asking Orban, hey, do you really want to beat your own dad into the ground? He’s father was a communist party secretary after all … Or for that matter do you want to beat yourself into ground? Because Orban was also a communist youth league (KISZ) secretary. I guess it was just the same BS as demanding the withdrawal of that the already packing Russian troops.

    To me that funeral seemed to be a compromise. Communists were still in power. I think it was disaster. It showed that there will be no closure. Today, mainly because of the Fidesz’ objection, the files of the Kadarian communist informant network still remains sealed.

    Weird country. First we commemorate a lost uprising. Then we commemorate the commemoration of the lost uprising … Sad.

  26. Totally OT:

    We’re just watching a very funny Hungarian movie on M2:

    Le a fejjel!

    That’s as crazy as Today’s Hungarian politics – but much funnier!

  27. Hungary is indeed an odd place muttdamon, I just returned to the USA from a visit yesterday. Here we are discussing Viktor Orbán’s 1989 speech when the younger Hungarians from my extended family were all discussing how they have to get out of the country. This included one relative who had a job at IKEA Budapest at Örs vezér tere, apparently this was considered to be a pretty good job for someone in their 20s. They honestly didn’t give a damn about the PM, Fidesz, the Jobbik, or the MSZP, they most of all wanted to be able to fully support themselves and stop living off of their family. Although I will admit somehow or another they managed to have enough money to go out to the dance clubs much to the distress of my cousins who were supporting their adult college educated children. My younger cousins both indicated they were working the Hungaroring F1 race in July and would have enough money to get out of the country, which somehow I doubt personally.

    Then I read this story on Friday by Christian Keszthelyi and it sort of put this into context. The story was titled: Hungarian suicide rate on the rise.

    “The number of suicides in Hungary has been rising since the start of the economic crisis, according to the Central Statistics Office (KSH). Before 2008, the incidence of suicides in Hungary was in line with European standards, and suicides were decreasing. KSH reported that suicide cases increased by 10% per year in Hungary since the crisis, which means more than 10,000 more people decided to put an end to their lives in 2008-2013. Experts speculate that the major factor for the rising number of such cases is people’s fear of losing job and becoming unemployed. According to Oxford researchers, since 2008, the number of suicides has been on a world-wide increase. Before the crisis, both Canada and Europe had seen falling suicide rates. The United States was experiencing an increase in suicide cases even before the crisis, but since 2008 the growth sped up, the researchers said. Sweden, Finland and Austria are exceptions in Europe, as suicide rates there have stagnated for the last couple of years. Oxford researchers maintained that the trend can be reversed through appropriate decisions at the government level.”

    Maybe it’s better to discuss obscure issues like Viktor Orbán’s 1989 speech when the reality of the situation is so depressing. It will be a while before I go back again it is all too upsetting.

  28. @Mutt. We who lived through the Rákosi era are much more lenient on Nagy. He was the only one in that bunch who had some humanity about him. He was different from the others as his later life demonstrated. He could have saved himself if he admitted his “sins.” He refused.

    Put it that way: We believed in him. Of course, he was a communist and he did all sorts of bad things but he at the end redeemed himself.

  29. If Viktor Orbán is a true democrat,so Putin is one!!You ma love him but all who love him are to blind to see what he is doing to the country!!Slowly it turns to an non democratic diktatur,and forget this sh…. that it was FIDESZ or Orbán who opened the border in 1989,and who ended kommunism…..

  30. About OV’s role in ending Soviet occupation. Even admitting he was one of the first who demanded the withdrawal of the troops, was this demand automatically followed by action because of this one speech!? Probably not, so why should the withdrawal be related to one speech. Was OV somehow involved in the negotiations about the terms and date of withdrawal? I cannot imagine. So what I consider the most weird is to believe that already in 1989 he just had to say something and everybody hurried to carry it out.

    About Istvan’s observations, specifically the emigration. Apparently Orban’s alleged “solution” to Hungary’s poverty and underdevelopment problem based on even wider spread subsistence makes people run. Perhaps a strategy that brings the “West” into the country would be more promising.

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