Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Some Budapest basics, part I

By popular demand, some Budapest fundamentals:

What are the foundations of Budapest? We know that New York is New York because of geography, the desire to make lots and lots of money, the appearance of visionaries at every key moment, and the acceptance of newcomers. Belfast and Londonderry became the cities they are today largely because of the Protestant-Catholic conflict.

What about Budapest?

Budapest’s foundations are in some respects similar to, and in some respects pretty drastically different from, New York:

1) It shares favorable geography with New York: it is located along a major riverway on the European continent—the Danube--which make it easy to get goods back and forth to major markets—and it’s close enough to the black sea that you see possibilities far beyond Europe.

But, there’s more to it than that. One of the reasons that Buda was founded is that it is high on a hill, affording a commanding view of the east if not the west. That hints that this is a dangerous neighborhood, and it IS. Budapest is both blessed and cursed by its geography—there are NO natural frontiers, no high mountains, no huge rivers that would slow down opposing armies, just some foothills and lots and lots of plains, flat, flat, flat. That wouldn’t be good in any case, but it’s really going to be murder when the Russians get going, then the Germans. It is NOT GOOD to be a small nation and people with no natural frontiers in a hostile neighborhood sandwiched between historically aggressive powers.
Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic were some of the first to ask to get into NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty of Alliance, because of their history at the hands of the Germans and Russians. The Germans are no longer a threat; Russia may or may not become a good neighbor.

2) It is fiercely committed to the idea of freedom, of being able to determine its own destiny. It has the most elaborate parliament building in the world—it looks like a combination of the Vatican and the US Congress. Inside that parliament, they have the relics of their most famous warrior king, King Saint Steven, who first fought for their freedom and aligned them with the “civilized” nations of Europe, huge, imposing statues of the great men of Hungarian history and there is an honored quote by one of Hungary’s great men: I don’t like to say “Hungary was.” I prefer to say Hungary WILL BE!
Both the concept of freedom and the people who fought to make Hungary free of foreign rulers, foreign invaders, foreign influence are everywhere commemorated in Budapest.
One of the major bridges in Budapest is the Freedom Bridge. If you drive over it from Buda into Pest, you will arrive at the American Embassy, which is located on Freedom Square.
The square that the Parliament is located on is Kossuth ter, named for Lajos Kossuth, the man considered the father of Hungarian freedom. The metro station is Kossuth Ter. There is a Kossuth street. There is a Kossuth high school in the town. And that is just for starters.

There is even a GEO WASHINGTON statue in Budapest City Park, a tribute to the US founding father whose country gave so many Hungarians over the years the chance to live in freedom.

The major statues and monuments are all devoted to Hungarian fighters for freedom

Kossuth. Sandor Petofi. Imre Nagy. General Bem, whose image you see above. And the lady atop Gellert Hill, once a Soviet monument, but rechristened in the spirit of a free and independent Hungary

And if you look at Hungarian state holidays, a great many of them have to do with freedom, days on which independence was proclaimed, or reproclaimed:

March l5—the day independence from Austria was proclaimed

June l6—the day Hungary celebrates the winning of its freedom from Russia in l989

August 20-- St. Stephen day, celebrates King St. Stephen, who oversaw the Christianization of Hungary and ruled a free, golden-age state in the l0th century

October 23—beginning of the Hungarian rebellion of l956 against the Soviet Union..

Thus the factors that made Budapest a city, shaped its destiny, are: geography, and then the all-consuming desire for freedom, from invaders, from foreigners ruling them, from

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