Today is National Day in Hungary, officially to commemorate the day the Third Republic of Hungary was proclaimed in 1989, but more deeply felt is the simultaneous commemoration of the day the 1956 Revolution began. One of the great features of national holidays in Hungary is that all museums provide free entry, so we visited Terror Haza, (House of Terror), a brilliantly conceived and executed history of state paranoia and cruelty during the 20th century in the former home of the secret police. You can see the stenciled “TERROR” in the steel eave protruding from the roof, which on a lovely sunny day like today provides an effective shadow effect. Also note the Communist star and the Arrow Cross on the eave, symbols of Hungary’s two oppressors; between the Nazis and the Communists, it became a tough call as to who was worse.
Afterward we joined the throng headed down Andrássy út toward Heroes Square for the public celebration. We stopped several blocks from the square when the crowds thickened up in front of a massive video screen and we were treated to this (apologies for not getting the phone out in time to catch the beginning):
What you don’t see is the activity right before the anthem began. All conversation stopped and you could see all the men straightening up and standing at attention. There’s no slouching through an anthem paying tribute to so many fathers, uncles and cousins who lost their lives trying to stop a steamroller with their own shoulders. Hungary is over a thousand years old, but freedom is both recent and personal.
It’s a beautiful song — and you are blessed that we chose not to ruin it for you with our voices — with the curious aspect, at least in anthemhood, of ending with an extended instrumental-only section. I’m not sure what that says about this fascinating place, but I think it does say something.
Isten, áldd meg a magyart
Jó kedvvel, bőséggel,
Nyújts feléje védő kart,
Ha küzd ellenséggel;
Bal sors akit régen tép,
Hozz rá víg esztendőt,
Megbűnhődte már e nép
A múltat s jövendőt!
O Lord, bless the nation of Hungary
With your grace and bounty
Extend over it your guarding arm
During strife with its enemies
Long torn by ill fate
Bring upon it a time of relief
This nation has suffered for all sins
Of the past and of the future!