Occupying forces

What Hungary needs now is a good, old-fashioned occupation

Just like other caesars before him, George Bush’s visit to Hungary was one of he came, he saw, he conquered. Actually, there was no need to conquer anything as Hungary has been subjected to the dictates of Washington for many years now. Nonetheless, for many within this tiny Central European country the effect of his visit was more or less the same.

Occupying forces

US-President Bush in Budapest yesterday: "Fifty years ago, you could watch history being written from this hill. In 1956, the Hungarian people suffered under a communist dictatorship and domination by a foreign power. That fall, the Hungarian people had decided they had enough and demanded change." Photo: White House

Ironically, the mass media in Hungary and abroad were at pains to stress that Bush’s visit to Budapest was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian revolution of 1956. What pundits failed to point out was that the revolution occurred in late October, not June. The timing here is important: many Hungarians — especially the few remaining survivors of the revolution — did not want the American president in Hungary during the official anniversary in October, when Bush was initially invited.

Many still look back with bitterness and pain at how the US reacted to the revolution 50 years ago. After promising the occupied nations of Central and Eastern Europe assistance if they break free from the chains of communism, when this actually happened in October 1956 and no help had come, many felt betrayed. Some could not believe that western powers would let a small country like Hungary — which was also a member of the UN at the time — be trampled underfoot by the Soviet Union. The usual answer to this was that the US was not willing to risk a war with the Soviet Union — and possibly a nuclear one at that. However, there was no indication that the Soviets would have gone that far if push came to shove. Moreover, it still remains to be explained why US policy changed so abruptly later on to the point that the White House was willing to risk a nuclear confrontation over a small island in the Caribbean a couple of years later.

Although the visit of George Bush on the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian revolution provided an outlet for many to vent their feelings against the US, a much broader and distinct form of anti-Americanism has been building momentum over the past few years. Indeed, it represents an undercurrent to the angst and insecurity many feel nowadays. Subsequently, Hungarians have been gripped by a "occupation mentality", one which many hoped would have been forever lost when the Soviets left the country almost two decades ago.

For much of its history, Hungary has been an occupied country. The country was taken over for various periods of time by Mongols, Turks, Austrians, Romanians, Germans, and Russians. Unlike the past, however, the occupation people now feel they are under isn’t represented by the physical presence of foreign soldiers. Rather, it’s apparent in the melting pot of globalization: the encroachment of global capital and a homogenized culture.

Globalization’s process of occupation, unlike other occupations of the past, threatens to destroy the very fabric of society. It knows no bounds, and in just a few years it has been able to destroy more than any other occupier had done in the past. Thus, although the Turkish occupation of Hungary may have been one of the longest lasting of the country’s string of occupations, leaving a deep impact on the national psyche, it nevertheless respected the country’s traditions and culture. In fact, some aspects of the Turkish occupation eventually became integrated into Hungarian society and culture, such as the country’s Turkish baths.

Consequently, some have observed that what Hungary needs now is "another 56". However, it’s hard to see how this century can produce the ferment and rebellion that was characteristic of not only 1956, but that of 1848 as well. One of the key strengths of globalisation is that it plays to the material weaknesses of most people. The quest for material wealth often takes precedence over the desire for social justice. Revolutions only occur when those who take part feel they have little to lose but a lot to win. Inundated with mobile phones, computers, cars, and a host of other trappings of a consumerist society, many are cowered into silence by the fear of losing the little that they have. Ironically, at this stage it seems that the only hope for Hungary is another occupation — one akin to the "good old days".

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