NEWS WATCH: Hungarians Commemorate 20th Anniversary of End of Communism

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest

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Hungarian border guards take away Iron Curtain. Via BBC News


BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- Hungary is commemorating its crushed 1956 Revolution against Soviet domination and the 20th anniversary of its declaration as an independent republic, marking the end of communism.

The ceremonies come however as opinion polls show a growing number of Hungarians are dissatisfied with the political changes that have occurred since then.

The Hungarian flag was raised and the Hungarian national anthem played on a misty and rainy autumn Friday morning, as Hungarians observed two major historical events.

The ceremony in front of Hungary's Gothic parliament building commemorated the failed revolution against Soviet domination, which erupted on October 23, 1956. It was crushed within days by the Soviet military, leaving thousands of Hungarian citizens dead.

But, also on Friday, Hungarians recalled that exactly 20 years ago acting president Matyas Szuros fulfilled one of the greatest dreams of those involved in the anti-Communist rebellion.

HUNGARIAN REPUBLIC

Standing on the balcony of the parliament building, he declared Hungary an independent, democratic state. He told a cheering crowd that beginning on the 23rd of October, 1989 Hungary would be known as the Republic of Hungary.

Hungary's current president Laszlo Solyom observed solemnly as a military honor guard marched nearby in remembrance of those who fought and died for freedom.

Later, people laid flowers at the graves of Hungarian heroes, including Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy who was executed for his role in the 1956 revolt.

His grandchildren and former freedom fighters also laid wreaths on the central monument of the revolution in Budapest, and a memorial on the dismantling of the Iron Curtain, made of barbed wire, was inaugurated near the Austrian border.

MIXED FEELINGS

However, although freedom has long since been achieved, many Hungarians were not in a celebratory mood on Friday. A just released survey by the respected Ipsos opinion institute found that most Hungarians are dissatisfied with the political, social and economic changes of the past two decades.

Half of the respondents said they or their families are "'the losers" of the post-communist transition. Nearly 60 percent of those questioned regarded the political and economic developments that began 20 years ago as "bad for Hungary." Only one in five Hungarians said they satisfied with the changes.

That worries Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai.

Speaking at a conference in parliament on the changes,  Bajnai said that "Although the 1956 Revolution failed, it planted the seeds for the declaration of an independent state in 1989." However he acknowledged that while the past 20 years saw many achievements , "there are many people who feel disappointed about post - communist Hungary." He said, "Politicians have a great responsibility in this because it was them and not the people who missed the available opportunities."

GENERATION GAP

Adding to the frustration is the growing gap between young people - 20 years old and younger - and those older people who lived under communist-rule.

Zsolt Bero, who was born on January 1, 1989, looks with amazement at old news papers of that turbulent year in Hungary and other Eastern Block nations. "It is difficult to understand that the government at the time set the prices foor food and even washing powder," he said. "That situation was unsustainable and that the market had to decide."

Yet elderly people have said that less freedom also meant more social security in a country that currently faces its deepest recession in years.

There has been international concern that extremist parties might use this disillusionment and generation gap to gain support ahead of next year's elections.

One right wing party, the Movement for a Better Hungary, or Jobbik, held a large rally in Budapest, Friday, where it also announced plans to form an alliance with major extremist parties from several European countries. (BosNewsLife's NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments, especially in former Communist countries, impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals. Part of this BosNewsLife story also airs via its affiliated Voice of America (VOA) network).

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