Friday, April 30, 2004

Well, thank goodness for that …

It seems that Joseph Stalin is not going to be, even posthumously, an EU citizen. The city of Budapest has said so. Stalin had been given honorary citizenship on November 7, 1948 in supposed gratitude for the Soviet “liberation” of Hungary in February 1945 but more because the Communist Party, backed by the Red Army, was gearing up for its final push for power that was accompanied, inevitably, by a great deal of bloodshed.

At about the same time a huge statue of the Great Leader was put up in one of the leafy avenues of Pest. As one of the first acts of the 1956 Revolution the people pulled down the statue and danced with joy on it. Oddly enough, the boots remained for some years, and even when they were taken down the two hoops, where the boots had stood were still visible.

But what no-one had realized is that Stalin’s honorary citizenship of Budapest had also remained. This year, on April 4, anniversary of Hungary’s liberation in 1945, a demonstration of several hundred people pelted with stones and eggs the memorial to the Soviet soldiers-liberators. Their argument was that the “liberators” imposed another bloody tyranny, which then lasted for 40 years. Some people are never satisfied. (In parenthesis one may point to certain changes in Hungarian life: when the political order imposed by the liberators was at its strongest there were no eggs to eat, never mind pelt memorials with.)

Earlier this week the City Council of Budapest met and solemnly decided to strip Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin of his honorary citizenship, so that, even posthumously, he could not accompany the people of Hungary into the EU. Some have objected to this act, saying that history is history and cannot be re-written.

One honorary citizen will be there with the Hungarians posthumously: Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat, who saved thousands of Jewish children from the Nazi camps during the war and was later arrested and spirited away to presumed death by the Red “liberators” was awarded that honour last year.

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