Published January 13, 2015
President Bush, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hungary's bloody revolt against communist rule in this Eastern Europe nation, was urged Thursday to make sure the U.S. fight against terrorism doesn't stomp on human rights.
"I am here to celebrate the 1956 revolution, the idea of a revolution that celebrated the notion that all men and women should be free," Bush said standing with Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom in a gilded room with red brocade walls at the Sandor Palace. "I'm also here to confirm the friendship between Hungary and the United States."
Solyom paid tribute to his country's difficult emergence from communist rule and pledged to stand with America in today's battle against terrorism. Yet he said Hungary's commitment to democracy requires a respect for human rights.
"This fight against terrorism can be successful only if every step and measure taken are in line with international law," Solyom said through a translator.
Though pro-U.S. feelings are much stronger in the newer democracies of Eastern Europe, Solyom's remarks echoed those Bush has heard from other leaders on his stay on the continent this week. Widespread anti-Bush sentiment in Western Europe is driven by a perception of a go-it-alone U.S. foreign policy represented most starkly in Bush's decision to invade Iraq. There also are concerns over the U.S. prison camp in southeast Cuba and other issues of human rights.
Bush's first stop in Budapest was the hilltop palace where he met with Solyom. In a cobblestone side courtyard overlooking the picturesque city, soldiers in tan dress uniforms with red accents stood at attention and a military band flanked by troops on horseback played both countries' national anthems.
Afterward, at the enormous Gothic-style Parliament building along the Danube River, Bush and Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said that one of the only sticky issues that came up in their talks is the desire by several Eastern European nations to be included in the U.S. visa waiver program. That would allow their citizens to visit America for three months without a visa.
"I understand this is a difficult issue, and we have developed a road map so we can work through this issue," Bush said.
Bush's tribute to what he called the "unbelievable thirst for freedom" that was exhibited by Hungarians in 1956 officially got under way when he placed a wreath at a black marble Eternal Flame Memorial in honor of those who died in the revolt. The president and first lady Laura Bush bowed their heads briefly as they laid a bouquet of cut irises, lilies and other flowers at the memorial where a bugler played.
In an open-air speech in a Buda Castle courtyard, the president was urging other nations to celebrate the hard-won freedoms in such former Iron Curtain countries by helping to nurture new democracies in places like Iraq. Bush was to recall the difficulty of the transition to democracy in Hungary and other nations as a way of urging patience at home and abroad with the fits and starts of Baghdad's transition to democracy.
"All of us who have the blessings of freedom must remember the spirit that took place here and we must not take freedom for granted," Bush said as he toasted his hosts in a long, opulent hall where they had lunch.
Bush's commemoration of the 1956 uprising comes more than four months early.
The country that endured the Austro-Hungarian Empire, fascism, German occupation and then communism revolted on Oct. 23, 1956 when Hungarians encouraged by anti-Soviet protests in Poland began protesting the Kremlin.
Pro-Soviet forces fired on a crowd of 100,000 peaceful protesters and killed more than 500. The following month, armored Soviet divisions rolled into Budapest, brutally crushing the revolt and leaving thousands dead in the fighting.
The United States did not help the Hungarian protesters — a fact Bush was not expected to mention — and it would be more than 30 years before Soviet rule ended.
The president's agenda here recalls his trip to Europe a year ago. Then, he bracketed a visit to Moscow with a wreath-laying at an obelisk in Riga, Latvia, that represents the resistance to communism, and an ode to the power of democracy before tens of thousands in the same Tbilisi square where citizens celebrated the Soviet Union's fall.
Bush's next trip to Europe will be to the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to raise his nation's status as a global player when he plays host next month to the annual gathering of the world's major industrialized democracies. Bush and the other leaders, however, do not want to appear to be endorsing Putin's recent crackdown on freedoms in Russia.
Bush is not expected to directly mention Russia in his speech. The president apparently is taking a softer approach than Vice President Dick Cheney, who last month in Lithuania accused Putin's government of rolling back democracy and strong-arming its ex-Soviet neighbors.