Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives
Through the Telephone
As a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak, public March 15 commemorations had to be cancelled in 2020. Whoever wanted to celebrate this day, they had to do so at home. György Krassó's address on March 14, 1987, is worthy to recall not only for its wittiness and inspirational determination, but also because its circumstances may seem familiar, owing to our current emotional conditions (further complicated today by social distancing and home office); it was given at a commemoration held in a private apartment, from his London exile, through the telephone.
March 15 in 1986, just one year earlier, saw the "Lánchíd Battle," a clash between the police and the youth wanting the commemorate independently of the state; thus, in 1987, state security authorities as well as the democratic opposition were preparing intensively. The previous night, on March 14, the artistic collective Inconnu Group organized a commemoration, hosted by Tibor Philipp in his home. The invitation notice, preserved at the Blinken OSA, helps us to picture the event; red wine served in green-and-white glasses composed the Hungarian tricolor, Mihály Dresch and István Grencsó gave a concert, the philosopher Miklós Gáspár Tamás gave a speech, an actor performed Lajos Kossuth's 1849 Debrecen address, donations were gathered to aid the Fund for Supporting the Poor; and György Krassó called through the telephone. They did not yet know, how the next day would turn out, or that two years later, commemorating March 15 would become a crucial act and a driving force of the process of the regime change.
Program of the March 15 celebration at Tibor Philipp's home in 1987.
(Blinken OSA, Tibor Philipp Collection)
5. The economist György Krassó's celebratory address from London (through the telephone):
London is quite a noisy city, and we live in one of its particularly noisy districts. Trucks honk and creak in the morning, people shout all day. Screams are more common during the night; or rather moans, as we soon realized. Fire alarm appliances repeatedly fail and buzz, but nobody cares of course. Eventually, we got used to all these.
One day in early November last year, suddenly we heard explosions and gunfire. Overwhelmed by old memories, I rushed to the window, hoping to see at last the brotherly tanks of the liberating army; but I waited in vain, they did not come. So we hit the streets, and learnt that it was Guy Fawkes Night. Guy Fawkes was an early 16th- or 17th-century Catholic terrorist, who smuggled gunpowder barrels into the Parliament building, but his plan was lousy, he was betrayed and beheaded. And people, mostly boys and girls, celebrate its anniversary with firecrackers, and fireworks, and toy guns. Usually, a couple of buildings burn down...
Englishmen tend to look dull, but this day, they do rejoice. And not exlusively this day. They have a good number of holidays, not even necessarily revolved around "glorious" military victories or tragic defeats; although their history offers many such occasions. Instead, they simply call them holidays. Four of these well-paid holidays are humbly referred to as bank holidays, days when the banks are closed. They still come up with holidays. When, following desperate struggles, Lady Thatcher abolished the Labour-controlled Greater London Council, the Council celebrated the sad day of its own death with fireworks. And people marched to the Thames, and shouted, and cursed the government, and lovers made love. Despite the fact that, as I mentioned, Englishmen rarely look carefree.
New York is constantly celebrating, the Washington Square is crowded every night, and, I suppose, Paris is no different.
I'm not telling you this merely for the sake of chatting with you, although it really does feel good. I mean, to feel, for a couple of minutes, as if I were among you. Still, I am truly touched by the idea of delivering an address to you!
Anyway... I'm telling you this, because these popular holidays, for example New Years Eve, when boys and girls snatch police helmets and pass them around Trafalgar Square, these make me depressed and think about why holidays at home are so different. They are not carefree, nor joyful or easygoing; they are associated with grief, anxiety, and fear. April 4 is not merely about the liberation from Nazi oppression, but also the destruction and the still on-going occupation of the country. On May 1, can we celebrate while workers have no rights? On August 20, can we joyfully commemorate King St. Stephen's state-builder achievements? On November 7, do we celebrate the triumph of the lords of the Russians keeping us down today?
Our two fundamental national holidays: March 15 and October 23. Both is a celebration of the youth, of freedom, and of revolution. In France, people sing and dance the streets for two days, on the anniversary of their revolution. And in Hungary? On October 23, one cannot even wear a cockade, unless they want to get arrested in no time. On March 15, if one intends to celebrate independently of the state, they will face police batons and guns, as if not getting a beating should be thanked for. Weeks earlier, authorities began the snooping around and the patrolling, warning and shadowing people, examining papers, searching houses.
The subject of their fear is no secret. Hungary is the home to revolutions, no oppressing power succeeded in permanently disciplining this nation. They may think that they did, that we will remain quiet, gently accepting their rule, as the minions talk about deliberate progress and national unity. And then, suddenly, everything collapses; progress really does happen, and in what speed! And unity as well, but against them! In a few days, the country achieves more than it previously did in decades. It acts wisely and carefully; and one can now sing and feast, because it is the police who have to hide!
Yes. It is this day, that they fear. Because they know, against all their arrogant confidence, they feel: this day will come. Just like it came in 1848, in 1918, and in 1956. And centuries earlier, with Dózsa, and before him, with Rákóczi. This day will not come tomorrow. Tomorrow, police will wave their batons, and bootlickers will try to shift the singing from revolutionary songs to neutral folk songs. We cannot help but fear, because for now, it is them holding the guns. For now, it is them, whom the Austrian chancellor or the English prime minister visits. For now, an outsider cannot understand that new shine in the eyes of some of the youth. But that day will come. And perhaps, this time it will come without bringing, once again, more blood and grief to the Hungarian fate. Perhaps, it will come and it will remain with us, so that we can even forget it, and we can march the streets carefree and joyfully; either on the anniversary of that day, or on a lovely bank holiday.
By the way, how do you do?
(Published in: Demokrata, 1987:3)
Commemoration on March 15, 1987.
(Photo: Fortepan/Judit Hegedűs)