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Hungary Celebrates Anti-Communist Anniversary - 2001-11-05


Hungarians have commemorated the 45th anniversary of the Soviet invasion that crushed the 1956 anti-Communist revolution for Independence. Prime Minister Viktor Orban urged Hungary's traditional churches and "especially young Christians" to help his ailing nation, where social tensions have increased since the collapse of communism more than a decade ago.

Elderly Hungarians walking through the streets of Budapest today can still recall the revolution against Soviet-style Communism. They can spot buildings still marked with bullet holes, and they remember the sound of gunfire that reverberated throughout the capital, Budapest. And the radio announcer who asked for the help that never came.

The revolution, which began with student-led demonstrations on October 23, was eventually crushed by fresh Soviet troops, who invaded Hungary on November 4, 1956. About 500-demonstrators died in the fighting, 25,000 people were sent to prison, and 200,000 fled the country.

In addition, 230 people were executed, including Prime Minister Imre Nagy, who became a symbol of the struggle for freedom. His remains and those of three executed comrades were reburied in 1989. Their graves were visited Sunday by Hungarian President Ferenc Madl and other officials.

Although freedom arrived soon after the collapse of communism in 1989, Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, has expressed doubts about the nation's new-found freedom. Mr. Orban said that although communism disappeared "from people's lives from one day to the next," the question is whether the profound change, which so many Hungarians had expected for decades, had indeed happened.

Church officials warned last month that Hungary's new era could lead to serious social problems. "If you think about the example of Hungary, there is a growing rate of violence, job dependence, and alcoholis," says Hungarian Roman Catholic Priest Laszlo Lukacs, who has close ties with the Vatican . "People have to learn how to live with freedom their responsibility."

At the same time, churches have seen a dramatic fall in the number of practicing Christians. In the 1990's, the percentage of the population calling itself Roman Catholic dropped from nearly 70-percent of the population to nearly 60-percent.

Prime Minister Orban has suggested that the new generation must carry on the spiritual and social mission of those who went to prison because of their faith during the 1956 revolution.

That opinion is shared by Odon Olah, who then was a 19-year old rebel leader. He says the dramatic changes in post-communist Hungary were not those for which he almost gave his life. He is unhappy with the country and its post-Cold War rulers. "Because they still do not care for the working people. They still do not care about the poor people," he says. "We did not fight to see some people getting very rich while others have to eat from the garbage."

On Szena Square, where dozens of people once gave their lives in the cause of freedom, young Hungarians now brandish mobile phones and stroll around a shopping mall. A small monument is the only visible evidence of what was once a battleground.

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