Monday, October 30, 2006

1956: Hungary and Suez

In 1956, I was in my second year at university when these two events occurred almost simultaneously: the Hungarian uprising; and the Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Egypt to recover the Suez Canal and to oust Nasser.
In the broad thoroughfare called St Giles, where the Martyrs' Memorial is situated, two rallies took place within yards of each other. The first, in which I took part, was in noisy support of the Hungarians who were trying to shake off Soviet domination. The second, equally vociferous, was in support of the invasion of Egypt.
What stopped me in my tracks was the sight of my Senior Tutor, a man to whom I owed a lot and who later became President of my college, waving his umbrella assegai-style and calling down curses on the head of Gamal Abdel Nasser. My cause was righteous, my Tutor's was hideously wrong. Well, that's how I saw it. Why wasn't he with us shouting for the Hungarian patriots, instead of rubbing shoulders with a load of imperalist reactionaries railing against the man who had overthrown a corrupt monarchy and taken back what was rightfully Egyptian? Well, that's how I saw it.
For my Marxist father, the politics of the two events were simple: the Soviets were helping their Hungarian comrades to put down an American-inspired revolt by fascist reactionaries; Nasser was giving the capitalist imperialist running dogs a bloody nose. What it is to have a faith that accounts for everything. What a pity it is that such faiths tend to get so many things wrong.

What were I and my Senior Tutor doing in St Giles that day? Helping to change the world? When it comes down to it, our actions were nothing more than self-indulgence. I suppose it's important to stand up and be counted, but neither of us counted for much.

On my first trip to Hungary in the early 70's, I met an Irredentist*, although, of course, he was unable to express his opinions openly. I found out about his beliefs when I asked him about a plaque he had on his wall showing the boundaries of the old (pre-WWI) Hungary with a legend that read NEM NEM SOHA (No, no, never). His grievances thus pre-dated the Soviet Empire. I didn't ask him what part he had played in the events of 1956.
*In 1920 the Treaty of Trianon was signed, fixing Hungary's borders. Compared with the pre-war Kingdom, Hungary lost 71% of its territory, 66% of its population, and with the new borders about one-third of the Magyar population became minorities in the neighbouring countries. Therefore, Hungarian politics and culture of the interwar period were saturated with irredentism (the restoration of historical "Greater Hungary").Source: Wikipedia

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