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May 8, 2022
Budapest, Hungary: Victims of the Change

Memento Park, Budapest

We have heard from people who are concerned about traveling to Hungary during the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Here in Budapest, we see absolutely no difference in the daily life and activities of the people here, either locals or tourists. Hungary shares a small border with Ukraine, but on the far side of Russia. Budapest is in the center of Hungary, and remains a safe, vibrant and tourist-filled city.

Over the centuries, Hungary has been invaded by Huns, Magyars, Mongols, Ottoman Turks, German Nazis, and Soviet Communists. Hungarians appreciate and value their freedom and culture. The people possess a funny and sarcastic sense of humor. As one guide told us, “The best way to take away an enemy’s power is to ridicule them.”

One of our guides has been doing her job for 30 years. This means she started just after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. A petite woman, she remembers never being able to buy clothes because Soviet-made garments were always in large sizes. (She had to buy children’s clothing.) She was overjoyed when Chinese-made garments became available.

Budapest's Liberty Statue
It was first erected in 1947 to mark Hungary’s liberation from Nazi Germany by the Soviets, with the inscription: “To the memory of the liberating Soviet heroes [from] the grateful Hungarian people.”
After communism fell in 1989, the inscription was changed: “To the memory of all who sacrified their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.”

Another one of our guides is 29 years old. He shared some amazing stories from his grandparents and parents.

The grandparents lived under the Soviet regime. All personal property (including real estate) became the property of the “people” – i.e. the Soviet State. You were guaranteed housing… but six families shared an apartment. You were guaranteed a job… but there weren’t enough real jobs to go around. As a result, the State created jobs such as “Official Door Opener” and “Official Door Closer.”

There was a law against playing music too loud after 8:00 pm. If you were reported by a neighbor, then you – and your family – were visited by the Black Cab. You were deemed “unsupportive of the State,” taken to a labor camp, and were never seen again. What’s more, if you were reported, the State investigated your four neighbors. If three had reported you and the fourth had not, then the fourth neighbor – and their family – were visited by the Black Cab. They were deemed “unsupportive of the State,” taken to a labor camp, and were never seen again.

In other words, everyone around you was a potential spy. When Communism fell, the grandparents were never able to adjust to freedom. They thought it was some kind of trick, and they were not about to be fooled.

The guide’s parents were called “Victims of the Change.” They had been raised by a generation of Communists, but their job was to transform the country – and raise their own children – into a radical new world of Western Democracy.

Thanks to that Change, our guide enjoys freedoms that were once unheard of. He talked about how hilly Buda is now the milieu of wealthier and older Hungarians, while flatter Pest is the milieu of younger and more westernized Hungarians. Everywhere we went, there are huge historical buildings and palaces being renovated to restore Budapest’s past glory. The historic Chain Bridge is one example.

When an historic building is being renovated, they often cover it with a display of what it will look like when finished

Budapest is very tourist-friendly and very safe. We saw a bunch of rowdy young men carousing in the streets. As they jostled each other, one broke a wine glass he was holding. Astonishingly, he stopped, picked up all of the pieces of broken glass, then went on his way.

Budapest has become more beautiful and inviting since we were last here more than 20 years ago. We can hardly wait to see what it looks like the next time we visit.

March 21, 2002: The Lee Family in Budapest during our trip around the world

May 5, 2022: Twenty years later, Cameron and Russell revisit the same spot

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