The Hungarian Uprising Redux

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Next month is the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, the first popular revolt against Soviet domination in eastern Europe. Young Hungarians took to the streets of their capital on the Danube to raise their fist against communist rule before being crushed by Soviet tanks. Back then, in the midst of the uprising, the editors of Hungarian state radio announced to the country's stunned citizens that they had been lied to about the state of the economy and the activities of the government.

Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany may not have recognized the historical parallels that he was invoking when he told a meeting of his party members in May essentially the same thing: that the government had been lying to Hungarians about the state of the economy and their own activities for the past two years. "We lied in the morning, we lied in the evening," Gyurcsany said. "We screwed up. Not a little, a lot. No European country has done something as boneheaded as we have... Evidently, we lied throughout the last year and a half, two years."

But when a transcript of that speech was leaked to the press over the weekend, it produced another outpouring of public revulsion. Protestors took to the same streets, including the Parliament buildings and the famous Szabadsag, or Freedom, Square, where Soviet tanks clashed with demonstrators almost exactly one half century ago.

However inadvertently, Gyurcsany was "invoking a revolutionary spirit," said Laszlo Csaba, a professor of economics and European studies at Budapest's Central European University. "I think it shows that the situation here is serious, and that the Prime Minister has not taken into consideration the... popular revulsion that his words have created."

Last night, crowds overwhelmed riot police, torched cars, and occupied the headquarters of Hungarian state TV. An estimated 100 were injured. While such popular protests are common in some European countries, such as France, they remain the exception in the post-communist East, which makes the current outburst all the more surprising.

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