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Imagining Postcommunism

Visual Narratives of Hungary's 1956 Revolution

By Beverly A. James

Publication Year: 2005

Although the 1956 Hungarian uprising failed to liberate the country from Soviet domination, it became a symbol of freedom for people throughout Eastern Europe and beyond. Labeling the events a counterrevolution, communist authorities exacted revenge in two years of terror and intimidation. Then, for the next thirty years, they pursued a policy of forced forgetting, attempting to obliterate public memory of the events. As communism unraveled in the late 1980s, the 1956 revolution was resurrected as inspiration for a new political order. In Imagining Postcommunism, Beverly James demonstrates how 1956 became a foundational myth according to which the bloody events of that fall led to the ceremonial reburial of the martyred prime minister Imre Nagy in 1989, free elections in 1990, and the withdrawal of the last Soviet soldiers on June 19, 1991. She shows how museums, monuments, and holiday rituals have aided the construction of a new Hungary through the reclamation and expression of competing memories of the critical events of 1956. Surveying the dazzling array of ceremonies, exhibitions, and memorials commemorating the revolution and its heros, James invites readers to consider the difference between the communist regime’s master narrative of 1956, with its smug, false unity, and the multiple, polemical stories woven by competing political forces in postcommunist Hungary. A thoughtful application of communication and historical theories on the uses of memory, this study offers a unique perspective on a crucial episode in the history of Eastern Europe.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Eugenia & Hugh M. Stewart '26 Series on Eastern Europe

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book could not have been written without the help of a number of people. Two research facilities in Budapest, the Open Society Archives and the 1956 Institute, proved indispensable. Among the attentive staff at the two institutions, László Győri and Judith Gyenes, librarians at the 1956 Institute, deserve special thanks for their kind assistance. …

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Introduction: Visual Recovery Of A Repressed Past

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pp. 3-20

The latest political-cultural spectacle in Budapest is a museum that commemorates the victims of tyranny. The House of Terror is located on Andrássy Street, one of the city’s most beautiful boulevards, in an elegant neo-renaissance building that served as the headquarters of the Hungarian fascists from 1937 until the end of the Second World War. …

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Chapter One: Budapest’s Statue Park Museum

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pp. 21-38

The political, economic, and military consolidation of East Central Europe by the Soviet Union in the late 1940s was cemented by an aggressive ideological campaign. Its most visible aspect was the massive public display of revolutionary symbols: Buildings, bridges, and towers were crowned with the Red Star of communism. …

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Chapter Two: The Destruction Of The Stalin Monument

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pp. 39-60

Among the demands drawn up by Budapest students in the days leading to the 1956 revolution was the removal of a massive statue of Stalin that stood on the edge of City Park. As events spun out of control on the evening of October 23, a crowd estimated at one hundred thousand converged at the monument. …

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Chapter Three: Memorial To The Martyrs Of The Counter-Revolution

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pp. 61-82

In keeping with the Kádár regime’s efforts to suppress memories of the 1956 uprising, relatively few monuments to the “counterrevolution” were erected during the communist years. The main exception is Viktor Kalló’s Memorial to the Martyrs of the Counter-Revolution (also known as the Martyrs Monument). 1

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Chapter Four: The Sanctification Of Hungary’s Jeanne D’arc

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pp. 83-112

On October 23, 2000, a national holiday commemorating the 1956 revolution, a bronze bust was unveiled in the garden of a private folklore museum in Budapest. The subject of the statue, Ilona Tóth, was a twenty-four-year-old medical student executed by the Hungarian government in 1957. …

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Chapter Five: Museums And The Objectification Of Memory

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pp. 113-144

In June, 1957, an exhibit documenting the “counter-revolutionary events” of the previous fall opened in Hungary’s newly established Contemporary History Museum. Organized by the Institute for Party History, the display was designed to prove that the uprising was the work of reactionary forces bent on destroying the people’s republic …

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Chapter Six: Sculpting Heroes In A Post-Radical Age

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pp. 145-166

When the Soviet army attacked Hungary on November 4, 1956, Imre Nagy, his political supporters, and their families took refuge in the Yugoslav embassy, just down the street from where the Stalin monument had stood. A couple of weeks later, János Kádár signed a document guaranteeing their safe passage home. …

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Epilogue: The Persistence Of Narrative

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pp. 167-170

Following the symbolic burial of communism in 1989, Hungary implemented democratic political structures that have proven to be remarkably stable and secure. But the political cultural ferment that was unleashed is as heated as ever, and the legacy of the 1956 revolution remains a primary catalyst in the formation of citizens’ sense of self and nation. …


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pp. 171-178


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pp. 179-194


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pp. 195-202

E-ISBN-13: 9781603445955
E-ISBN-10: 1603445951
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585444052
Print-ISBN-10: 1585444057

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 42 b&w photos.
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Eugenia & Hugh M. Stewart '26 Series on Eastern Europe