Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003

Budapest, Hungary

A young poet was running through the corridors of the university asking who wanted a submachine gun. I thought it better to have one. I kept it under my bed. We were the national guard, about 2,000 of us, the armed wing of the reform government.

My job was to guard a psychology professor who the leadership said was very precious to them. We had meetings at the writer's union with the respected elder writers. They played a kind of advisory role. One older writer was invited by the workers to a trade union meeting and was asked: 'What should we do?' He was very slow. He scratched his chin. 'Continue,' he said. They continued.

There was a box outside the West Railroad station marked "for the wounded." It filled up with money and no one stole it. On Nov. 4, it rained and the money was destroyed. I had crazy moments when I believed that maybe some terror would be appropriate against the collaborators, because the Russians were many and the collaborators fewer.

I went out to see who I could shoot but could not, somehow, imagine it. I was in bed with my wife on the morning of Nov. 4 [when the Soviet tanks returned]. I could hear cannon fire. I got my submachine gun and went to the war. I went to the university.

There were people who were so full of enthusiasm. One came and asked us to go with him because the Russians were firing on their position. I said, 'Why?' He said: 'Because we are being shot at.' 'Just to be shot at?' I said. 'Yes,' he said, 'but to be shot at together.'

It was beautiful and heroic, but there was a lesson in 1956. Bloodshed put the Soviets in a corner. Slow, steady political work in the end was more efficient.

Gyorgy Konrad is a novelist and essayist whose writings were banned by the communists as politically subversive