Hungary honours heroes of 1956

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In twos and threes the groups of mainly elderly mourners walked among the tombstones and laid their floral tributes. The largest bouquets were reserved for Imre Nagy, the reforming Communist who came to embody the 1956 Hungarian National Uprising and who paid for it with his life.

Fejes Maria Szentene recalled the heady days 40 years ago when thousands of Hungarians took to the streets to rid the country of Soviet rule. "I was only 10 but it was a great thing to be alive at that time," she said.

"As a nation we were united, all fighting together for freedom and independence. Every year I like to come here to remember that." In addition to Nagy, an estimated 400 people were sentenced to death in the clampdown that followed the crushing of the uprising by Soviet tanks.

For years their bodies lay in an unmarked grave in Plot 301 of Budapest's Ujpest cemetery.

Deliberately untended and concealed, the graves had an unwelcoming air: soldiers stood on guard to deter unwanted mourners.

With the demise of Communism in 1989, the graveyard was spruced up and the victims of the uprising reburied in their own plots.

As Hungarians collectively paused yesterday to reflect on the anniversary of the start of the uprising, a steady flow of people came to pay their respects.

For Gyorgy Bekesi, it was harrowing: his father, Bela, was one of those executed. One of his only recollections of his father is, as a three-year- old, visiting him in prison and sitting on his lap shortly before he was hanged.

"I knew very little of my father but at least I know that he died for what he believed in," explained Mr Bekesi. "Of course, it was a great shame that the uprising had such a tragic outcome but, 40 years on, everyone can see that its cause was just."

The leaders of the uprising also announced that Hungary would withdraw from the Warsaw Pact alliance and hold free and fair elections.

At a ceremony marking yesterday's anniversary, President Arpad Goncz, who was himself jailed for several years for his role in the uprising, said that although the occasion belonged to those who participated, it was time to hand the "flame of freedom" to the younger generation.

But the ceremonies were also marked by bitterness over the fact that none of the Hungarians responsible for suppressing the uprising have subsequently had to face trial and that the contents of the files detailing what everybody did remain secret.

Many commemorating the anniversary were irked by the fact that 40 years ago Gyula Horn - Hungary's present Socialist Prime Minister - was a member of a pro-Moscow militia unit that helped put down the rebellion.

"We may be able to come and mourn our dead freely now, but we can hardly talk of justice having been done yet," said Mr Bekesi. "The heirs of the murderers are still among us."