1956 and the Fracturing of Hungarian Historical Memory
In the summer of 2009, Hungarians celebrated their role in bringing down the Berlin Wall at the twentieth anniversary of the Pan-European Picnic, when tens of thousands of East Germans had fled to West Germany via Austria. Yet in the autumn of 2009, Hungary hardly celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its transition to democracy on October 23, 1989—also the anniversary of the 1956 revolution. The political-cultural construction of Hungarian collective memory returns time and again to 1956. After 1989, political actors routinely appropriated the imagery and passions of the revolution as they set out to decode and expose opponents’ motivations, assign merit and blame, and articulate visions of the future. Political entrepreneurs transformed 1956, a pivotal historical moment of national unity, into a source of extreme political polarization that fractured Hungarians’ understanding of the 1989 transition, rendered unified commemoration in 2009 virtually impossible, and severely weakened Hungarian democracy.
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