Hungary's Battle For Memory
John Mason describes the convoluted way in which Hungary has publicly celebrated its history through all the vicissitudes of its recent past.
The Pest side of the river Danube that slices through Budapest is dominated by one of the largest parliament buildings in the world. Designed to govern an empire and completed in 1902, only sixteen years before the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy collapsed, this outsized, neo-Gothic building, modelled on Westminster, tells us more about the aspirations than the reality of Hungary’s troubled history. Four statues dotted around the parliament building give us a truer picture of Hungary’s past.
At the southern end of parliament stands a statue of Ferenc Rákóczi, the Transylvanian prince who fought for Hungary’s independence against the Habsburgs before being driven into exile in 1711. Opposite Rákóczi, on the north side, is a statue of Lajos Kossuth, who led Hungary to independence for six months before he was forced into exile in 1849. Also on the north side of Parliament is a statue of Mihály Károlyi, the first president of independent Hungary for five months before he was driven into exile in 1919. Finally, across the square in front of parliament, is a statue of Imre Nagy, the prime minister of Hungary for ten days during the revolution of 1956, who was executed two years later.