And it makes a Hungarian-history-deficiency like myself wonder: what tragedy has this country gone through to justify the call for such sentiments and how are its people remembering it?
The former can be found on the Internet but the latter is what the focus of this four-day workshop was. More than 20 young Europeans from seven countries came together to explore our knowledge and perception of the remembrance of the national and European history in Hungary. Walking through “Momento Park” – a patch of land with random communist statues standing – visiting the “House of Terror”, “The Shoes on the Danube Promade” and the Jewish quarter made me more puzzled than before. We were supposed to be there and learned about the Hungarian past, and I didn’t expect that Hungarian history is still living, breathing and consuming the people in whichever way politicians want to swing it.
Unlike in Germany, where students have been taught to reflect on the World Wars for a few decades in formal education, critical remembrance is something new and dynamic in Hungary. There are a lot of sensitive spots that no one wants to touch just yet and the government is, in some ways, dictating what exactly and how people should remember. For instance, there have been great debates about whether it was a “cooperation” between Hungary and Nazi Germany in 1944, or was it a true “occupation”, like how many Hungarians would remember.
A guided tour at “The House of Terror” received the most critical doubts and discussions among all participants. Anger, frustration and puzzlement came all at once if one is spoon-fed what we are “supposed” to feel, fear and remember. The deliberate heat, the “conclusions” that the tour guide crushed down our throats and the oversimplification of how all Communists were evil and were just Nazis with different uniforms were all packed in a one-hour tour. This has made me realise how freedom of thoughts is so valuable.
The endless discussions in bars, restaurants, during our walks in these four days taught me so much about Hungary, and also had a glimpse of how the scar of history is still so raw that a serious look into it already creates pain. Depending on your political views and your family history, we remember our history differently. But having been to the workshop reassures me again just how important remembering the past can change the future.