24 February 2018
VilNews has its own Google archive! Type a word in the above search box to find any article.

You can also follow us on Facebook. We have two different pages. Click to open and join.
VilNews Notes & Photos
For messages, pictures, news & information
VilNews Forum
For opinions and discussions
Click on the buttons to open and read each of VilNews' 18 sub-sections

Prague centre is full of life!


Warsaw, Kraków, Prague,

Bratislava, Budapest

Tour guide, writer and photographer: Aage Myhre


VilNews is on its way around Europe!
Throughout May-June you are all invited on a
journey from north to south, from east to west. Some
articles will dwell with history. Some with Lithuanian contact
points in various countries. I have travelled across Europe with
camera and notepad for nearly 40 years and hope you will enjoy seeing
and reading about some of my experiences. Today's tour starts in Warsaw,
continues to Kraków, then to Prague, Bratislava and Budapest. Have a nice trip!

The Renaissance Sukiennice building is the central feature of the Main Market Square in Kraków Old Town.


Our today's journey begins in Warsaw. From there we drive south in Poland,
head west to Prague in the Czech Republic, before continuing south to
Bratislava in Slovakia and Budapest in Hungary.


Today’s journey:


Today’s journey goes through former Warsaw Pact countries

It hurts to get back to the Baltics and Eastern Europe after experiencing Finland and Scandinavia. Admittedly, these countries at the Baltic Sea’s southern coast have undergone great development since the Iron Curtain fell in 1990, but it is also terribly hard to think of all the hundreds of thousands who died; tortured and killed by Hitler’s and Stalin’s obedient idiots. These once proud culture nations were on a par with countries in Scandinavia before the world war so brutally changed everything.

After the war, these countries were forced into the Warsaw Pact, the 'Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance', a military alliance between the Soviet Union and countries in what is often called the Eastern bloc. It consisted of both real independent states and states that despite their formal independence in reality were controlled from the Kremlin. Attempts to break out of the pact were brutally suppressed by the Soviet power apparatus.

Warsaw is located barely five hours by car from Vilnius. We drive.



Poland is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north. The total area of Poland is 312,679 square kilometres (120,726 sq mi), making it the 69th largest country in the world and the 9th largest in Europe. Poland has a population of over 38 million people,[6] which makes it the 34th most populous country in the world and the sixth most populous member of the European Union, being its most populous post-communist member. Poland is a unitary state made up of sixteen voivodeships. Poland is a member of the European Union, NATO, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), European Economic Area, International Energy Agency, Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, International Atomic Energy Agency and G6.

The establishment of a Polish state is often identified with the adoption of Christianity by its ruler Mieszko I in 966, over the territory similar to that of present-day Poland. The Kingdom of Poland was formed in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented a long association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin, forming the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth ceased to exist in 1795 as the Polish lands were partitioned among the Kingdom of Prussia, the Russian Empire, and Austria. Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic in 1918. Two decades later, in September 1939, World War II started with the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invasion of Poland. Over six million Polish citizens died in the war. Poland reemerged several years later within the Soviet sphere of influence as the People's Republic in existence until 1989. During the Revolutions of 1989, 45-year long communist rule was overthrown and the democratic rule was re-established. That gave foundations to modern Poland, constitutionally known as the "Third Polish Republic".

Despite the vast destruction the country experienced in World War II, Poland managed to preserve much of its cultural wealth. There are currently 14 heritage sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in Poland.

Since the end of the communist period, Poland has achieved a "very high" ranking in terms of human development and standard of living.

The beautiful Tatra Mountains are a mountain range which forms a natural border between Slovakia and Poland, and are the highest mountain range in the Carpathian Mountains. The summit Rysy (2,499 m/8200 ft), located in the north-western part of Tatras, is the highest mountain in Poland.

Warsaw - the city that rose from the ashes after World War II

Warsaw is the post-war bird phoenix. Barely 20% of the city was left after the war’s bombs and fires. Most of Warsaw was in ruins. After the war, under the Communist regime that was installed by the Soviet conquerors, major residential projects were completed in order to solve housing shortage. Mostly through the use of large, prefabricated concrete elements.

Gray, dreary suburbs as in the rest of the post-war Eastern Europe. Fortunately, many of the city's historic streets, buildings and churches were restored to their original shapes.


File:Destroyed Warsaw, capital of Poland, January 1945.jpg
Warsaw in ruins, autumn 1944.

During the Second World War, Warsaw was subject to Nazi administration. All higher education institutions were closed and the entire Jewish population, several hundred thousand, about 30% of city residents were moved into the infamous Warsaw ghetto. When the order in 1943 came to destroy the ghetto as part of Hitler's 'Endlösung', this resulted in the famous Jewish 'ghetto uprising'. Despite fighting a heavy superior force, they held out for nearly one month. When the fighting ended, almost all survivors were massacred. Only a handful managed to escape or hide.

In the summer of 1944 came the great 'Warsaw uprising', when the Poles decided to fight against Hitler's forces. Nearly 200 000 civilians were killed. The Germans then razed Warsaw to the ground. In violent anger.

Monuments and public buildings were blown apart by a German special unit, 'Das Verbrennungs-und Vernichtungs command'.

About 85% of the city was in ruins, including the historic old town and castle. Stalin's forces were standing in the outskirts of the town and watched the whole thing, but did not intervene.

Old Town
Old Town in Warsaw as it appears today. Beautiful and cozy. Mostly new buildings, but in their original form.


Lublin – the city where Poland and Lithuania signed their 1569 Union Treaty

File:Lublin, Stare Miasto - Brama Krakowska i Plac Łokietka (2009-06-12).jpg
Cracow Gate in Lublin Old Town is among the most recognizable landmarks of the city.

The Union of Lublin replaced the personal union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with a real union and an elective monarchy, since Sigismund II Augustus, the last of the Jagiellons, remained childless after three marriages. In addition, the autonomy of Royal Prussia was largely abandoned. The Duchy of Livonia, tied to Lithuania in real union since the Union of Grodno (1566), became a Polish–Lithuanian condominium.

It was signed July 1, 1569, here in Lublin, and created a single State, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was ruled by a single elected monarch who carried out the duties of Polish King and Grand Duke of Lithuania, and governed with a common Senate and parliament.

Lublin is the ninth largest city in Poland. It is the capital of Lublin Voivodeship (province) with a population of 350,392 (June 2009). Lublin is also the largest Polish city east of the Vistula River.


Kraków - culture at Europe's largest medieval town square

Kraków has grown from a Stone Age settlement to become Poland's national academic and artistic centre. Medieval Krakow was surrounded by a 3 km long city wall with 46 towers and seven gates. The current town plan was drawn up in 1257 after the destruction of the city during the Tatar invasion in 1241 Union of Kraków and Vilnius of 1499, also known as the Vilnius Protocol was an important agreement in the Polish-Lithuanian union. So it was indeed these two towns that played key roles during the long partnership between these nations.

Krakow was relatively undamaged by WWII, and stands today as one of the most beautiful and genuine Eastern Europe has to offer.

In 1978, Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow, raised by the Vatican as Pope John Paul II, the first Slavic pope ever and the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years.

Kraków’s central market square, Rynek Glowny, is Europe's largest medieval square.


The never-ending neighbour dispute

A few years ago my wife and I fell into conversation with two Poles in Oslo. When they heard that my wife

was from Lithuania, they were quick to assert that the Vilnius area is actually Polish and never should have been given to Lithuania after World War II. My wife immediately responded that the area Punsk in eastern

Poland in reality is Lithuanian and should be re-incorporated into the mother-country. The dispute was in full swing.

I have subsequently many times seen texts reminiscent of history forgery when Polish and international

historians describe the Polish-Lithuanian relations in the later Middle Ages. The relationship is often

described as if Poland was the leading nation and Lithuania a province in the east, while the reality was as the map above shows, with Lithuania as Europe’s biggest nation for centuries.

But Lithuania is not much better in its attitudes versus Poland and the Poles. In a comment article last year, Gary Peach had some interesting reflections on this topic in the European Voice. This is an excerpt of what he wrote:

“Foreign minister for only two years, Audronius Ažubalis cannot be blamed for all of Lithuania's external mishaps and misfortunes. With neighbours like Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russia's Vladimir Putin, diplomatic successes are hard to come by. But as regards Poland and Latvia, Ažubalis shoulders some responsibility for the sorry state of affairs.

In fact, the minister alone set the tone for relations with Poland this year when, in an interview released on 2 January, he lashed out at Warsaw, saying that issues involving Lithuania's minorities, which include approximately 200,000 ethnic Poles, are a domestic matter and that Vilnius should not be lectured. “We don't need a big brother,” said Ažubalis, who in not-so-subtle terms went on to compare Polish pressure on Lithuania to bullying by Russia and the Soviet Union.

This was exceptionally harsh rhetoric, and will probably lead to a new nadir in bilateral ties. Poland feels Lithuania has attached unfair strings to a multi-billion investment in an oil refinery – Lithuania's largest taxpayer – and has threatened to dump the investment and sell it to the Russians. Warsaw also supports the desire of Lithuania's Poles to spell their names with the letter ‘w', which does not exist in Lithuania's alphabet, and to post street signs in two languages in some towns. At one point, Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, even said he would not set foot in Lithuania until the ‘w' appeared in passports.

The Lithuanians have their own set of gripes, and are now reeling from Poland's decision late last year to withdraw from a nuclear power plant project that would replace the one Lithuania closed in 2009 as part of its EU accession agreement. Formally, Poland, which has no nuclear power tradition, says it must concentrate on building its own plant; informally, the country is fed up with Lithuania and sees no reason to make any efforts to help the diminutive neighbour restore its status as a ‘nuclear power'”.

Read the complete article here:

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It has a population of 10.5 million. The country is bordered by Germany to the west, Poland to the north, Austria to the south and Slovakia to the east. Its capital and largest city, at 1.3 million inhabitants, is Prague.

It is a pluralist multi-party parliamentary representative democracy, a member of the European Union, NATO, the OECD, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the Visegrád Group.

The Czech state, formerly known as Bohemia, was formed in the late 9th century as a small duchy around Prague, at that time under dominance of the powerful Great Moravian Empire (which reached its greatest territorial extent during the reign of Svatopluk I from the House of Mojmír). After the fall of the Empire in 907, the centre of power was transferred from Moravia to Bohemia, under the Přemyslids. During the rule of Přemyslid dukes/kings and their successors, the Luxembourgs, the country reached its greatest territorial extent (13th–14th century). Life in the country was significantly affected by the Hussite wars, during which it faced economic embargo and crusades from all over Europe. Following the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Crown of Bohemia was gradually integrated into the Habsburg monarchy as one of its three principal parts alongside the Archduchy of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. The Bohemian Revolt (1618–20) led to the further centralization of the monarchy including forced recatholization and Germanization. During radical reforms in the 18th century the Bohemian Crown was even de facto abolished (1749). In the 19th century the Czech lands became the industrial powerhouse of the monarchy and the core of the Republic of Czechoslovakia which was formed in 1918, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I.

After the Munich Agreement, Polish annexation of Zaolzie and German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the consequent disillusion with the Western response and gratitude for the liberation of the major portion of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia won the majority in the 1946 elections. In a 1948 coup d'état, Czechoslovakia became a communist-ruled state. In 1968, the increasing dissatisfaction culminated in attempts to reform the communist regime. The events, known as the Prague Spring of 1968, ended with an invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries (with the exception of Romania); the troops remained in the country until the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when the communist regime collapsed. On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into its constituent states, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.

The Czech Republic is the first former member of the Comecon to achieve the status of a developed country according to the World Bank. In addition, the country has the highest human development in Central and Eastern Europe, ranking as a "Very High Human Development" nation. It is also ranked as the third most peaceful country in Europe and most democratic and healthy (by infant mortality) country in the region.

Český Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic’s South Bohemian Region.


My choice is Prague and Václav Havel

Václav Havel (1936-2011) was the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992), before the country was divided in two. He was also the first president of the Czech Republic (1993-2003).

I hold him as Eastern Europe's leading and best political leader after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and I believe that Europe should count itself very happy that a man with his qualities had much to say in the post communism era. He also had a successful career as an essayist, playwright, poet and dissident. In 2005, British Prospect Magazine ranked him fourth among the world's top 100 intellectuals. If only several East European leaders had been keeping a similar level ...

File:Václav Havel.jpg
Václav Havel.


Prague has been a political, cultural and economic centre in Europe and especially central Europe through 1100 years. For centuries, during the Renaissance, the city was the permanent seat of the two Holy Roman emperors and thus also the capital of 'The Holy Roman Empire'. Later Prague an important city in the Habsburg monarchy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

"Prague is like a textbook of styles," I think as I walk around in the Old Town. Here stand a thousand years of architectural gems side by side. Good architecture from the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque. Most of these beautiful buildings are now carefully renovated and restored. 'The city with the golden spire' is one of the nicknames this beautiful city has received. Church steeples and bell towers as far as I can see.

The most famous landmark in Prague, the Charles Bridge, has carried people on its curved arches over the Vltava river for hundreds of years. It was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1357 to replace the old bridge that had been destroyed by a flood in 1342. This part of Prague is now a pedestrian paradise, where all the tourists are wandering around and enjoying the sight of the river, the beautiful architecture and each other. No doubt that Prague is attractive and breathtaking beauty. Probably the number one tourist city in Eastern Europe!

File:Prague old town square panorama.jpg
Bells toll for all visitors to Prague.

Photo: Aage Myhre

Prague is simply amazing. Most of the buildings are beautiful and well kept!
Photos: Aage Myhre



The Slovak Republic (short form: Slovakia) is a landlocked state in Central Europe. It has a population of over five million and an area of about 49,000 square kilometres (19,000 sq mi). Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south. The largest city is the capital, Bratislava, and the second largest is Košice. Slovakia is a member state of the European Union, NATO, United Nations, OECD and WTO among others. The official language is Slovak, a member of the Slavic language family.

The Slavs arrived in the territory of present day Slovakia in the 5th and 6th centuries during the migration period. In the course of history, various parts of today's Slovakia belonged to Samo's Empire (the first known political unit of Slavs), Principality of Nitra (as independent polity, as part of Great Moravia and as part of Hungarian Kingdom), Great Moravia, Kingdom of Hungary, the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Habsburg Empire, and Czechoslovakia. A separate Slovak state briefly existed during World War II, during which Slovakia was a dependency of Nazi Germany between 1939–1944. From 1945 Slovakia once again became a part of Czechoslovakia. The present-day Slovakia became an independent state on 1 January 1993 after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

Slovakia is a high-income advanced economy with one of the fastest growth rates in the European Union and the OECD. The country joined the European Union in 2004 and the Eurozone on 1 January 2009. Slovakia together with Slovenia and Estonia are the only former Communist nations to be part of the European Union, Eurozone, Schengen Area and NATO simultaneously.

The Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic went their separate ways after 1 January 1993, an event sometimes called the Velvet Divorce. Slovakia has remained a close partner with the Czech Republic. Both countries cooperate with Hungary and Poland in the Visegrád Group.
Slovakia is one of Europe’s most beautiful countries. Here from the Tatra Mountains.

Bratislava – home of Škoda

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and, with a population of about 431,000, also the country's largest city. Bratislava is in southwestern Slovakia on both banks of the Danube River. Bordering Austria and Hungary, it is the only national capital that borders two independent countries.

Bratislava is the political, cultural, and economic centre of Slovakia. It is the seat of the Slovak president, the parliament, and the executive branch of the government. It is home to several universities, museums, theatres, galleries and other important cultural and educational institutions. Many of Slovakia's large businesses and financial institutions also have headquarters there.

The history of the city, long known by the German name Preßburg, has been strongly influenced by people of different nations and religions, namely by Austrians, Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks, and Jews. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, a part of the larger Habsburg Monarchy territories, from 1536 to 1783 and has been home to many Slovak, Hungarian, and German historical figures.

More than 60% of all direct foreign investments in Slovakia are located in the Bratislava Region. The car manufacturer Volkswagen was established in Bratislava in 1991 subsequent to acquiring Škoda Auto and has expanded since. Currently, its production focuses on sport utility vehicles, which represent 68% of all production. VW Touareg is finished and Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7 are partially built there.

In recent years service and high-tech oriented businesses are thriving in Bratislava. Many global companies, including IBM, Dell, Lenovo, AT&T, SAP, and Accenture, are building their outsourcing and service centres or have plans to build in near future here.



Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The capital and largest city is Budapest. Hungary is a member of the European Union, NATO, the OECD, the Visegrád Group, and is a Schengen state. The official language is Hungarian, also known as Magyar, which is part of the Finno-Ugric group and is the most widely spoken non-Indo-European language in Europe.

Following a Celtic (after c. 450 BCE) and a Roman (9 CE – c. 430 CE) period, the foundation of Hungary was laid in the late 9th century by the Hungarian ruler Árpád, whose great-grandson Saint Stephen I was crowned with a crown sent by the pope from Rome in 1000 AD. The Kingdom of Hungary lasted for 946 years, and at various points was regarded as one of the cultural centres of the Western world. After about 150 years of partial Ottoman occupation (1541–1699), Hungary was integrated into the Habsburg Monarchy, and later constituted half of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy (1867–1918).

A great power until the end of World War I, Hungary lost over 70 percent of its territory, along with one third of its ethnic population, and all its sea ports under the Treaty of Trianon, the terms of which have been considered excessively harsh by many in Hungary. The kingdom was succeeded by a Fascist regime, and then a Communist era (1947–1989) during which Hungary gained widespread international attention during the Revolution of 1956 and the seminal opening of its border with Austria in 1989, thus accelerating the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. The present form of government is a parliamentary republic, which was established in 1989. Today, Hungary is a high-income economy and a regional leader in some respects.

Hungary is one of the thirty most popular tourist destinations of the world, attracting 8.6 million tourists a year (2007). The country is home to the largest thermal water cave system and the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Lake Balaton), and the largest natural grasslands in Europe.

The people of Hungary (the Magyar) have been known as great horsemen for centuries. As invaders crossed or conquered Hungary over the centuries, they brought with them their fine Turkoman (ancestors of today's Akhal-Teke), Iberian (ancestors of Andalusians and Lusitanos), and Arabian horses. These horses were crossed with the hardy little local horses to create a superior mount for the Hungarian cattlemen.
A traditional Hungarian horseman steering horses on the Great Hungarian Plains, or “Puszta,” in Bugac, Hungary.

The Hungarian language has Finnish-Siberian origin!

Who would have believed it, that the Hungarian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group, originating in languages spoken in Siberia and Finland? Or that the Finno-Ugric languages,

together with Basque, Turkish, Greenlandic and Maltese are the only languages in Europe that does not belong to the Indo-European language family? The largest Finno-Ugric languages are Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Mari, Syryen and Northern Sami.

Hungary is always full of surprises!


Stephen Báthory, the Hungarian who became Lithuania’s Grand Duke

File:Batory Jagiellonka.jpg
Stephen Báthory and his wife Anna Jagiellon were co-rulers,
as the second monarch in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
with the dual title ‘King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania’.

You may remember our story about Anna Jagiellon (Lithuanian: Ona Jogailaitė, 1523–1596) daughter of Grand Duke Sigismund the Old and Italian Bona Sforza. In 1572, when the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, at the time the largest and one of the most populous states in Europe, was vacated after her brother Sigismund Augustus died without heirs, she convinced the Polish and Lithuanian nobles to elect the French prince Henry of Valois as the new ruler. It was Jean Montluc, Bishop of Valence, who had offered the French prince to the electors of the commonwealth as the next King and Grand Duke. Montluc promised the electors that Henry would marry Anna, "to maintain the dynastic tradition". Unfortunately, for Anna, after Henry was elected as the first monarch in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, he withdrew his promise and they never wed.

In 1574 Henry left Poland to assume his new duties as King of France and by May of 1575 the Parliament of the Commonwealth had removed him as their monarch. By the autumn of 1575 a new candidate was offered to the electors, Stephen Báthory, Prince of Transylvania. Stephen had to agree to the condition that he would marry Anna, which he did.

On 15 December 1575, near Warsaw, Anna along with Stephen Báthory, her fiancé, was elected as co-rulers, as the second monarch in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with the dual title of King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. The coronation took place in Krakow 1 May 1576.



Budapest was founded by the Romans around 89 AD

I am driving into Budapest a hot summer afternoon. We have had a few wonderful days in Hungary’s holiday paradise at Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s largest lake. Drunk good Hungarian wine and enjoyed the delicious water. But now it is the capital that counts. Infinite beautiful Budapest, Buda on one side, Pest on the other side of the slow Danube River which divides the city into two, with its beautiful water surface..

1100 years before me it was the Magyars, the ancestors of today's Hungarians, who entered the area. Even then, there was a town here, Aquincum, founded by the Romans around 89 AD. In the year 1541, the two districts of Buda and Pest were invaded by the Ottomans, who remained here until 1686 when the Austrian Habsburgs conquered the city.

World War II resulted in 40% of Budapest's Jewish community to be exterminated. A total of 400,000 Jews and about 40,000 ethnic Hungarians were killed during the war.

After the war the city was a showcase for Hungary's harsh communist government. In 1956, led this hard line to the rebellion. The revolution ended when the USSR sent in tanks and troops.
Over 2.500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet soldiers were killed in the conflict. 200,000 fled the country.

In 1896 Hungarians celebrated the 1000 anniversary of the Magyars arrival in the city. Many buildings were erected on the occasion. Metro, Parliament and Freedom Bridge were among them. Today's Budapest is full of architectural attractions, including a Roman amphitheatre, Gothic cathedrals, a traditional Turkish bath, and much more. Here I feel at home...

File:Budapest castle night 5.jpg
The Buda Palace in Budapest.

Szeged in South Hungary – where the 1956 revolts started


Dénes Fejér  2006 001
Dénes Fejér

Ruszkik, haza!

Russians, go home!

The 1956 revolution in Hungary gave hope - but ended in disillusionment. This was what Dénes Fejér (78) told me when I met him here in the University Aula in his South-Hungarian hometown Szeged. Mr. Fejér was himself a 23-year old journalist, actively participating when the Hungarian uproar against the Soviet rulers started exactly here 55 years ago.

I asked him to confirm that the 1956 revolution in Hungary started here in the University Aula in the Szeged University, “Yes, this is correct,” he says. “55 years ago, on the 16th of October, 1956, students from our Szeged town founded the youth organisation of MEFESZ (Hungarian Student Organisation). This event could be considered as the very first step of the revolution because in Hungary, at that time, after over ten years of Communist post war regime, only state founded and supported organisations could be established in a legal way.”

“The Szeged initiative could be seen as the first crack on a dam where water is about to pour through. Of course, you don’t immediately realise when you see a small stream of water; that what follows it is going to overwhelm you. The Communist leadership did not see right away what actually was about to happen, as they did not expect such a massive force appearing in just a few days.”

Dénes Fejér, who was 23 when the revolt started, stands here in the Aula that looks more or less the same as it did in 1956, demonstrating how things started evolving exactly here that October evening 55 years ago.

File:1956 hungarians stalin head.jpg
Hungarians gather around the head of the toppled Stalin Monument in Budapest 1956.

I ask Dénes Fejér to explain more about the 1956 revolt that started here in Szeged:

You were yourself present in that Aula meeting, and if I understand you correctly, this meeting became a fateful event (among several other developments in those days) which led inevitably to the outbreak of the revolution. It was the first meeting after World War II where questions were not pre-arranged slogans glorifying the regime, but where - because of the insistence of the audience - everyone was allowed to speak, and raise questions. What would you say were the most significant things happened at that assembly?

For two years after the end of the war in 1945, there was a plural political system in Hungary. Different political parties existed, and in the 1945 general elections the Independent Smallholder and Civil Party received absolute majority with 54% of the votes and the Communist Party only received 17%. Stalin realised that the people of Hungary did not want to embrace its system. The 1947 elections were already fraudulent and the Communist forces won. In 1948 the Social democratic Party was forcibly incorporated into the Communist party. The general wave of terror appeared only after this time. Forced nationalisation was started with businesses, commercial institutions, industrial entities and later, even private property like houses. A terror organisation was created within the Internal Ministry, called the AVO (State Security Authority) which later became an independent entity, having its own rules and methods.

This was the background where the MEFESZ was established, as the very first independent organisation in Communist Hungary. The programme and its demands were summarised in twenty points of the there are a few that are interesting. These included the request for open and free debates, the open trial of guilty Communist functionaries, the abolishment of death penalty in political cases, democratic elections, freedom of speech, and the that the 15th of March, the Commemoration Day of the 1848 Revolution should become an official national day. As you can see, these conditions and demands are natural in a free country but were unknown and unthinkable in a dictatorship. Although not part of the twenty points, another demand was phrased by the participant of the meeting. This was later a key phrase of the revolution: Russians, go home! The most fundamental demand was for the truth, that is to say that the leaders of the country should not lie and should not make the young people and the population lie. Telling the truth in Hungary at that time meant sever prison sentences.

To my knowledge, the assembly started as a rather innocent gathering where the students simply asked: “Why are the Soviet troops still stationed in our country?”, but ended with a the clear demand: “Ruszkik, haza!” - “Russians, go home!” From such a radical manifestation of the demands, you must have known that this was about to become dangerous?

The whole meeting started as a regular Communist youth organisation meeting. The Communist youth leaders gathered before it and reviewed the demands of the MEFESZ leaders, like András Lejtényi. When they learn the radical nature of these, they became frightened and left immediately for higher authority, the Communist party representatives at the university. Then the MEFESZ leaders went to meet the gathered students, read their demands, and the MEFESZ had the day!

“There was a general feeling of freedom among the participants. Fear disappeared. Saying the truth was a standard, normal thing during the event that caused happiness and joy among the audience.”

Didn‘t you realise that, according the Soviet system of those days, your collective name was "Shut up!" Did you not know that the Aula microphones were only for the Party collaborators and that nobody else were supposed to talk?

Nobody thought of ‘Shut up!’ at that time. After the first few words, there was a general feeling of freedom among the participants. Fear disappeared. Saying the truth was a standard, normal thing during the event that caused happiness and joy among the audience. The principle of ‘Shut up!’ had accumulated an amount of pressure in everyone that just erupted then. The age of ‘sober thoughts’ ended and the demand of freedom and truth became prevalent for the university youth.

You were yourself working as a journalist those days, and on the 23rd of October the newspaper “Delmagyarorszag” published your article called “Az igazsag keresesenek utjan”. What was the essence of this article and what reactions did you get?

This article, titled the ways of finding the truth, summarised what I have just explained above. It is very typical that we were not even sure whether the article would appear at all. The official, Communist newspaper Délmagyarország reported the event but left out the most important aspect which was the break of the dam, the shedding of the Communist oppression!

The period of hope to win over the mighty Soviet Union by peaceful measures, however, did not last long, and soon fights started spreading all over Hungary and the revolution began before your eyes. How will you describe this outcome of your efforts from the Aula assembly?

The main fighting happened in Budapest. This was the obvious and visible sign of the revolution. The fighting, the combat on the streets. The AVO, the armed troops and the Soviet soldiers were all surprised that ‘here they shoot back’. It was believed that a demonstration of force with tanks on the street would frighten people and prevent the escalation of the events, thus helping the consolidation of the Communist dictatorship. It didn’t happen like that.

Probably the Hungarian national character contributed to this as well. The courage to start again, to love one’s country, the national tradition of not giving in to slavery.

The revolutionaries of Budapest used bottles filled with petrol against tanks. They had no heavy weapons or anti-tank artillery. They fixed a burning piece of rag on the bottle and tossed it to the moving vehicle. The burning liquid turned the steel monsters into burning coffins. When the Soviet soldiers were abandoning their vehicles, they became easy preys to the weapons of the fighters.

There was an interrelation between the demands of the Szeged students, the fighting in Budapest and the revolutionary state nation-wise. The mental preparation rallied the fighters. The machine guns and the words were equally weapons of the revolution. Words changed things without bloodshed. From the smallest villages in Hungary to any institution or organisation, everyone of them had revolutionary councils. They replaced the very often incompetent previous leadership whose only added value to the system was their loyalty to the oppressing regime. The highest authority in the Communist state, the Central Committee and the Political Committee was simply dismissed. Instead of them reliable and trustworthy people were elected by the population or members of institutions or organisations. With open or secrets ballots. I was elected by a secret ballot to be on the workers’ council of the press in Szeged, and on the city’s revolutionary council.

I think this was the real result of the revolution. Replacing the old, Soviet puppets, the Communist leadership, and raising new, honest people into the power. This was created by the synergy of the students’ wishes and of the fighting in Budapest.

“For those who have never lived in oppression, in fear and in deprivation, for those who, on a daily basis, enjoy freedom and the rights of liberty, they probably don’t really know what freedom means for a prisoner.”

It has been said that something nearly supernatural stirred the hearts, minds and consciousness of the Hungarian people those days. Those shared feelings with friends and strangers must have been very special?

This special, disturbing experience is not difficult to describe for those who lived through it. The beautiful memories must be recalled from the past half-century. For those who have never lived in oppression, in fear and in deprivation, for those who, on a daily basis, enjoy freedom and the rights of liberty, they probably don’t really know what freedom means for a prisoner. I believe that it was this everlasting desire for freedom that prevailed back then. It was as if we were not even walking on the face of the Earth, as if floating in air. The communication changed among people, they were smiling to each other. They were nice, understanding towards each other. We even believed that the ‘guards’, our oppressors could change because they would realise that it is, in fact, better to live like this, free. It is probably also true that the experience of freedom created delusions.

By mid November 1956, it became evident that your revolution was lost. Not only the street fights, but also the lengthy demands of the students, which were fully supported by the whole society, were not going to be met. Instead, more and more of reprisals and arrests happened and an air of bitter disillusionment began to replace the heady days of the victorious revolution. How would you describe these days?

In the first days of November, it became obvious that the revolution had failed. Not in its results, not in its memories, not in its principles but in its survival. It was not our weakness but the overwhelming Soviet military power that defeated it. The twelve days a freedom turned into a totally different direction. In a few days we suddenly had to realise that those who had pretended to be with us till the 4th of November in 1956, turned into bloodthirsty puppets of the occupying forces and lost their human faces, becoming willing executioners.

The new puppet regime with Soviet arms behind it could only gradually strengthen its own position. They were expecting results, agreements, and waiting for their supporters t show once again. This started very slowly with the dismissed Communist leaders and members appearing again and again. Once they were feeling safe, the brutal punishment started.

We were hoping that they might have learnt their lesson, that we could not be treated the same way as we had been treated for nine years before the revolution. This was not the case, they continued everything in much the same way as it had been before. Everything came back, the deportation camps, the beatings, the prisons, the torture. Hungary again became a prison and we again humiliated prisoners.

It took some time before the Soviet rulers of your country were able to close the borders completely, and Austria was very willingly letting thousands of refugees cross into their country. You decided not to leave, why was that?

It became obvious that for those who had participated in the revolution, there was no place in Hungary any more. And many of them indeed left the country. Maybe some left because of fear, some because of adventure or new possibilities. Almost 200.000 people left the country. One of my best friend left who is currently living in New York while I was kept in a Soviet military prison in Eastern Hungary. Another friend of mine, who was briefly arrested with me, was inviting me to go to France.

It had never occurred to me that I could or would leave. Never, for a moment. I knew that I had account for all my activities eventually, and I was hoping that my life would be spared. During the revolution I did not fight, did not kill anyone. In my captivity Major Zokov, the Russian officer was interrogating me about all these things. Ha was trying to convince me that we were counter-revolutionaries while I was trying to convince him that we were revolutionaries. We couldn’t convince each other of course. I do not recall any fear gripping me, when, together with seven of my colleagues, I was transported in an ambulance, escorted by two armed armoured personnel carriers. I was wearing a white shirt and, when we were disembarked at the main square of Csongrád to be taken to the nearby hills, I remember thinking that anyone could easily recognise the white on a corpse, and might be able to inform my mother about my fate. I was not executed, but taken to Debrecen to the Soviet military airfield.

After I was released from prison, I did not want to leave. I couldn’t leave my country. I would not replace Hungary for any other place. I have seen a few peaceful spots in the world where life could be different than here. Once a Hungarian poet has said that for a Hungarian patriot ‘whether your faith may be blessed or cursed, here [ie. in Hungary] you must either live or die’. This is a moral command for me.

Some of your fellow students were executed and the Soviet jails were filling up during the next few months. You were among them arrested, hence it would be interesting to hear your personal story from the time after the revolution was so brutally crushed?

In the spring of 1957 I was arrested again, this time by the Hungarian political police. But before that an interesting episode happened in my life. When I was released from the Soviet prison, in February I returned to Szeged where I was approached by the newly organising Communist party, through two veteran leaders, Vince Bite and Károly Csíszár. I used to know Uncle Vince, since when I was ten to twelve, I used to be his helper in playing bowling at the beach. They told me to become member of the MSZMP [the newly formed Communist party] because I had been selected to be chief editor of the Délmagyarország newspaper. I had three days to consider their offer. I turned it down. Have you given it enough thoughts? Uncle Vince asked me. I have, I told him. Well, I hope you won’t regret it, he answered.

In two months time, I was arrested. I was interned. The whole thing became only a little bit clearer when I was released after one year. The temporary imprisonment that required no court verdict, could be prolonged indefinitely after every six months. When I was released, I was only allowed to do manual labour, only as a non-qualified worker, despite having a university degree with a certificate that allowed me to teach. My driving license was withdrawn, my reserve officer rank of the army was taken away, I did not get a passport, and could not travel abroad. As I recall, it did not really affect me because after finishing secondary school, I went to work on the Tisza bridge and learnt the craftsmanship of carpenters. This enabled me to work with my own two hands, and solved my financial problems.

What was difficult was the social exclusion. When my friends saw me on the streets, they went to the other side. Nobody dared speaking to me, or to be seen in the company of a convicted ‘counter revolutionary’. I was living with my mother and with my elder sister because I had lost my elder brother who had died in Russian captivity in the war.

During the sixties the terror had waned a little bit. I was allowed to teach in elementary school, although only subjects that were practical based, handcrafts. On regular basis a political officer appeared to check on me, and to try to make me work with them as an agent. I refused, and eventually got fed up with it all, and I returned to the construction industry. In the end I became a foreman, then a project manager. I was applying for eight years to the Szeged university law faculty but was always turned down. In the late 80s I was invited to be as chief editor of one of the first independent publishers. This was already the end of the Kádár-regime [János Kádár was the leader of Communist Hungary after 1956, till 1989. The period between 1956 and 1989 was often referred as the Kádár-regime.

“It was only after many years that we learnt that the USA and the Great Britain informed the USSR that they would not oppose their intervention in Hungary.”

The governments of the free world watched your Hungarian Revolution with deep admiration even if none of them seriously considered providing military support, nor condemnation strong enough to stop the brutal actions of the Soviet Union. How do you view the behaviours of the Western countries those days?

The Western world provided enormous help to those almost 200.000 Hungarians who left the country. Those who went not as adventurers were appreciated by their new countries. Among the refugees you can find people who still come back to Hungary and who in fact, have two countries now. They have no roots, and their children have departed from Hungary for good.

The Western influence that we had in the days of the revolution was deceiving. It was only after many years that we learnt that the USA and the Great Britain informed the USSR that they would not oppose their intervention in Hungary.

Radio Free Europe was continuously encouraging the fighters to carry on because they were promised foreign help. This has led me to conclude that if it succeeds, if we had national local government in Szeged, I would suggest to change the name of Roosevelt Square in Szeged (like it was changed from Stalin Square) as I cannot support a liar, a friend of Soviets, even if he had once been the President of the USA.

Roosevelt Square in Szeged. The inscription lauds Franklin for his stand against
Fascism. Dénes Fejér, however, wants to change the name of the square.
“I cannot support a liar, a friend of the Soviets, even if he had been once
President of the USA,” he tells me.
Dangerous undertows erode the stability
of Central and Eastern Europe

An article by Stan Backaitis, Washington DC

Category : Blog archive

VilNews e-magazine is published in Vilnius, Lithuania. Editor-in-Chief: Mr. Aage Myhre. Inquires to the
Code of Ethics: See Section 2 – about VilNewsVilNews  is not responsible for content on external links/web pages.
All content is copyrighted © 2011. UAB ‘VilNews’.

مبلمان اداری صندلی مدیریتی صندلی اداری میز اداری وبلاگدهی فروشگاه اینترنتی گن لاغری شکم بند لاغری تبلیغات کلیکی آموزش زبان انگلیسی پاراگلایدر ساخت وبلاگ بوی دهان بوی بد دهان