Socialists leave Hungary divided over martyr's cause

In an act seen by many as smacking of little more than hypocrisy and opportunism, Hungary's ruling Socialist party is today set to pass a law elevating Imre Nagy, the leader of the abortive 1956 uprising, to the level of a martyr.

According to those behind the law, the intention is simply to complete the rehabilitation of Nagy, which began with his reburial in 1989, and to accord him the status of all the other most revered figures of Hungarian history. Instead of attracting universal support, however, the law has been condemned by political opponents.

For some, despite his undoubtedly radical and reformist platform, Nagy was ultimately too much of a communist to be worthy of such an honour. But the main problem lies in the fact it was the communist predecessors of the Socialists - in the form of Janos Kadar and the hardliners who took over from Nagy - whohelped in the crushing of the revolution and the arrest and execution of Nagy.

"This law does not have the pride and honour it should and is little more than a political move," said Laszlo Rajk, a member of the Free Democrats, who despite being in coalition with the Socialists are planning to vote against the bill. "If someone was killed, there must have been a murderer too."

Nagy seemed to have a premonition of what was to come at the end of the show trial in which he was sentenced to death for refusing to recant his actions in 1956. "I wonder if the people who sentence me to death now will be the ones who rehabilitate me later," he is reported to have said.

The Socialists are on a sticky wicket. While some of their predecessors joined forces with Nagy in 1956, others did not. Embarrassingly, the Prime Minister, Gyula Horn, was a member of a workers' militia unit that joined forces with Soviet tanks to suppress the revolution.

Like former communists throughout central and eastern Europe, the Hungarian Socialists say they have reformed and are now Western-style social democrats. Indeed, they say the policies they are pursuing now are precisely those that Nagy was trying to introduce in 1956. "There was a reformist wing in the party in 1956 and, as such, we too are the legitimate descendants of the revolution," said Ivan Vitanyi, one of the bill's proposers. "In our principles and practice today, we are continuing the work of Nagy."

With 54 per cent of the seats in parliament, the Socialist party should have no trouble forcing through the law. But there are many, including the Hungarian President Arpad Goncz, who have been saddened by the rancour of the debate. "I am totally disappointed and bitter," said President Goncz in a television commentary marking the 100th anniversary of Nagy's birth. "Sometimes I am not even sure there was a 1956."

Others, however, believe that, for all the fuss, the legacy of Nagy will not be tainted. "Nagy achieved the unique feat of uniting the whole nation on two occasions," said Janos Rainer, a historian at the Institute for the History of the 1956 Revolution. "The first was in the 1956 itself when, for all his Marxist past, he embodied the nation's demands for independence and freedom; the second was in 1989 when his reburial came to symbolise the democratic takeover. The fact that his figure is now being used to highlight political divisions is strange and awful, but his position in history is secured."

If Nagy is made an official martyr, he will find himself keeping company with some strange bedfellows. In addition to Lajos Kossuth and Istvan Szechenyi, Hungary's 19th century heroes, he will be rubbing shoulders with former Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef I and Josef Stalin.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific