Monday, May 5, 2014

So Close But Yet So Far

Hello Columbia College Travelers!

My name is Justin Davis and I am a Political Science major with Criminal Justice and Administration, Legal Studies and a Philosophy minors. I am taking a 3-credit hour course, Politics of Central Europe, which focuses on the rise and fall of communism in Eastern Europe. For this class I have researched the city of Budapest and located a few landmarks/places/monuments that are of significance to communism.

(Cells in House of Terror)
(House of Terror Museum)
I have come to find that Hungary took a very unique path during the rise and fall of communism after WWII. Immediately after the war ended, the Soviet Union’s influence and strength over Hungary, Budapest in particular, was too strong to fight. Before the Soviets controlled the city of Budapest, Nazi Germany had a secret police headquarters in which those who opposed communism would be tortured and interrogated. The Soviets later took over the secret police headquarters and began to practice the same techniques that the Nazi’s did. The building is now called the House of Terror and the holding cells in the basement have been left in the same condition the Soviets left them in.

(The Budapest Ghetto)
Budapest had one of the largest remaining Jewish populations in Eastern Europe at the end of WWII. Although Hungary remained friendly with Germany, Hungarian Jews in Budapest were largely left alone until the concluding years of Nazi control. The Jewish community in Hungary began to be grouped in the Budapest Ghetto where they were separated and killed or shipped to a concentration camp.

(Statue on top of Gellért Hill)
After the revolutions of 1989, the Hungarian people tore down almost all of the Soviet/communist icons in Budapest. One of the icons that was not destroyed is the statue that sits upon Gellért Hill. Gellért Hill is one of the tallest locations in downtown Budapest that looks over many historic sites. This location would be a great place to visit as the sun goes down because of the great view it offers over the city. The statue was originally erected by the Soviets but when the Soviets began to give more freedom to the Eastern European states under Gorbachev, the meaning of the statue changed to honor the Hungarians that fought for the freedom of Hungary.

Hungary was one of the first countries that had a large opposition to communism before Gorbachev allowed more freedom and one of the first countries that had begun implementing economic changes. After the revolutions of 1989, Hungary experienced what is known as shock therapy. Shock therapy is when a country rapidly changes its economy. Hungary’s transition to a capitalist system was a great success, although it did experience some hard times. One of the main reasons for Hungary’s success was its willingness to allow foreign direct investment.

(1956 Uprising - Statue of General József Bem)
The uprisings that occurred in Budapest in 1956 marked the beginning of the fight against Soviet rule. Hungary was far more educated than many of the Eastern European countries and the Students of Hungary took to the streets to protest Soviet control. The protests were crushed by the Soviet Union but the uprising showed that there may be enough opposition to Soviet control to gain independence in the future. The uprising began around the statue of Polish General József Bem, which would be another great site to visit.

The official separation from Soviet control began when the 150-mile long fence that separated Hungary from Austria was removed. This allowed many East Germans to escape to the west. The following year Socialism took hold of the government and after the first free elections, Hungary rapidly embraced the western market and government. The soviet model of government was left behind and Hungary began its path to be a successful European country.
(Soviets leaving Hungary)
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