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May 10, 2022
Budapest, Hungary: An Ode to Freedom

Heroes’ Square, Budapest

Only two generations ago, people in Budapest did not have basic freedoms. As we explore Budapest, go on excursions, and speak with local guides, we are learning more about how that affects the soul of this city.

There are constant reminders of the 40-year Soviet occupation. A museum in the Hungarian Parliament Building exhibits the big red star that used to adorn the top of the cupola. Across Kossuth Lagos Square (named for Hungary’s president during the failed revolution of 1848), the Ministry of Agriculture Building still displays bullet holes from when the Soviet military opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in 1956.

The Hungarian Parliament Building

For more than 40 years, a red star adorned the top of the cupola (stock photo)

The red star now sits in the Parliament museum

The Ministry of Agriculture Building

Hungarians adore American statesmen. A statue honors Ronald Reagan, who in 1987 demanded “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” (It is deliberate that Reagan’s statue has him walking away from the Parliament Building.) A statue honors George H. W. Bush, who in 1989 was the first US President to visit Hungary. (In the pouring rain, Bush looked at the Hungarian crowd, tore up his prepared speech, and decided to “speak from the heart” instead.)

A statue honors US President Ronald Reagan

A statue in front of the US Embassy honors US President George HW Bush

In nearby Liberty Square, a “Soviet Heroic Memorial” honors the Soviets who liberated Hungary from Nazi German occupation at the end of WWII. Ironically, when we visited, there was a large and emotional demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Soviet Heroic Memorial, somewhat obscured by protesters

Liberty Square also has a “Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation.” This memorial is controversial; critics allege that it whitewashes Hungary’s complicity in the Jewish Holocaust. To set the record straight, there is a grass-roots memorial right in front that honors Jewish Holocaust victims.

The official Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation…

… and the unofficial memorial in front of it

There is another memorial to WWII Jews on the bank of the Danube River in front of Parliament: 60 pairs of shoes

Liberty Square sits at one end of Andrássy út, the “Champs-Elysée” of Budapest. At the other end, in Heroes’ Square, the “Millennium Monument” has huge statues honoring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and Hungarian national leaders, and the Memorial Stone of Heroes.

When we visited Budapest 20 years ago, we were surprised to see a statue of George Washington in the nearby City Park. We soon understood why Hungarians wanted to honor this symbol of democracy. In our current trip, Gail made a special effort to find this statue again (it is not easy to find).

A local woman in a souvenir store helped us locate George Washington

Mission accomplished!

On Andrássy út itself, there is a “Terror Museum.” The building is covered with photos of Hungarian freedom fighters who lost their lives to the Soviet regime. There are more reminders outside: a sculpture of the Iron Curtain and a piece of the Berlin Wall.

The Terror Museum

In 2002, the fall of the Berlin Wall was still fairly recent news

The graffiti has since been cleaned off

Only two generations ago, people in Budapest did not have basic freedoms. Today, they have a huge appreciation for basic rights that we Americans sometimes take for granted. It is educating, enlightening and eye-opening for us to visit this city.

Here’s another retro photo. Gail, Joss and Cameron visited Heroes’ Square in the pouring rain in March 2002.

Twenty years later, it is a beautiful sunny day

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