BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungary marks the 50th anniversary of the anti-Soviet revolution with commemorations starting Sunday, though the events could be roiled by divisions stemming from recent political turmoil in the country.
Opposition parties and several veterans groups planned to boycott events where Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany will speak. Protests against Gyurcsany have been ongoing since Sept. 17 when he was heard admitting on a leaked recording that his government lied about the economy to win re-election in April.
Also, many question the right of the Socialists — heirs of the communist party which ruled Hungary until 1989 after the 1956 revolution was crushed by Soviet troops — to lead the official celebrations.
President Laszlo Solyom, Gyurcsany and Parliamentary Speaker Katalin Szili on Sunday handed out state awards to nearly 80 people, including many veterans of the revolution.
Upon accepting the medals, several of the recipients only shook hands with Solyom at the ceremony, omitting Gyurcsany and Szili — also from the Socialist Party.
Speaking some hours later at one of the commemorative events, Solyom spoke about the dilemmas of the anniversary.
"A national celebration can only be one which the nation has accepted in its heart ... and is part of a nation's self-consciousness and identity," Solyom said. "When will Oct. 23, 1956, be such a national celebration?"
"It is not enough to pass a law about it, to mark in red in the calendar, to have a holiday," Solyom said. "We have to demonstrate that the dignity of 1956 is stronger than everything else."
Dozens of officials are set to attend the ceremonies, including a gala concert at the Hungarian State Opera on Sunday evening, with speeches by Solyom and his Austrian counterpart, Heinz Fischer.
Delegations from at least 56 countries will be in Budapest. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Spain's King Juan Carlos are among the expected guests. The U.S. delegation is led by New York Gov. George Pataki, whose paternal grandparents were Hungarian immigrants.
Several events will also be held Monday, the actual anniversary of the start of the revolution, including the unveiling of a large memorial dedicated to the uprising near the spot where an 60-foot-high statue of Stalin was toppled and cut into pieces.
Around 2,800 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the Red Army attack, which was launched Nov. 4, 1956.
After the military defeat, strikes and protests continued for several weeks until a Soviet crackdown definitively ended the uprising in January 1957.
Some 200,000 Hungarians escaped the country and at least 225 Hungarians accused of participating in the revolution were executed — including Imre Nagy, the prime minister of the short-lived government ushered in by the uprising.