Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Imre Nagy, Martyr of the Nation: Contested Memory and Social Cohesion

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Imre Nagy, Martyr of the Nation: Contested Memory and Social Cohesion

Article excerpt

In June of 1996 the Hungarian Parliament passed a law that made Imre Nagy the Martyred Prime Minister of the Hungarian Nation. Nagy had been the Prime Minister of Hungary during the ill-fated Hungarian Revolution of 1956. His refusal to step down from his post in favor of Janos Kadar after the successful Soviet military intervention that began on November 4, 1956 had led to his condemnation as a traitor and execution on June 16, 1958. Nagy as a symbol of national sovereignty came to embody the hopes and aspirations of the Hungarian Revolution among the majority of the Hungarian people during the years of Soviet occupation. Verification of his symbolic power and significance can be seen in the popular outpouring associated with his funeral and reburial on June 16, 1989. This became one of the seminal events that led to the restoration of a sovereign Hungarian Republic, as it explicitly legitimated the demands of the opposition in their bid to unseat the Hungarian Worker's Party from power.

The seeming unity of purpose that was exhibited at the funeral soon unwound as the emergency caused by Soviet occupation and loss of national sovereignty were no longer part of the political reality of the Hungarian nation. The Parliamentary debate over the memory of Imre Nagy provided a forum for the contested memory of the Revolution as embodied by the various political factions vying for power to forcefully resurface. This article will explore how each of the major political factions then in power used the symbolic memory of Imre Nagy to legitimate a chain of history favorable to themselves. The article will further examine how this fractious debate can be seen as a discussion of Hungarian national identity, and as such, an example of how the politics of contested memory promotes social cohesion.

The Imre Nagy memory bill was proposed and introduced to the Hungarian Parliament by the Socialist Party and two members of the Free Democrats who were at that time, in coalition with the Socialists. The Socialist Party had been formed by members of the reform faction of the Hungarian Worker's Party during the summer of 1989. The party was led by Gyula Horn, Prime Minister from 1994-1998. Gyula Horn had been a member of the Pufajkasok, or Worker's Militia, initially formed by Janos Kadar to assist the Soviet military in his regime's demobilization strategy after the initial crushing of revolutionary resistance in Budapest in 1956. How was it then, that the party whose immediate descendants had participated in the counter-revolution and were responsible for the execution of Imre Nagy were now introducing a bill to memorialize him in concert with two of their former enemies? The answer lies in part with the history of the political factions in Parliament and their relationship to the uneasy history of 20th century Hungary.

Like the instigators of the Hungarian Revolution, the coalition partners of the Socialists and former members of the opposition, were composed of democratic socialists, such as Imre Mecs and Miklos Vasarhelyi, who were themselves former revolutionaries. Their belief in issues of social equity were coupled with a strong belief in democratic pluralism. It was Imre Nagy's belief that a Hungarian socialist utopia could be reached only by taking an economic "third way," which lay somewhere between the course laid out by the Stalinist and Capitalist economic models, that attracted followers from this movement. Pivotal to Nagy's idea was the recognition of the Hungarian National State as an authentic source of identity, which was a far cry from the "universal man," advocated by the Soviets. It was this rejection of the Soviet model that created many enemies for Nagy both in and out of the Soviet Union and at the same time endeared him to a substantial portion of the Hungarian population, most notably those in favor of democratic socialism.

It must be noted here that Imre Nagy was a communist and not particularly interested in the concept of democratic pluralism. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.