10/22/2009 - Vice President Joe Biden recalls sacrifices of 1956 during presentation while visiting Central University Library, Bucharest, Romania. "Those of us who know about the bloodshed and the freedom fighters in Hungary in 1956; those who felt the chilling end to the warm Prague spring of 1968 in Wenceslas Square; those who shut down the shipyards in Gdansk in 1980; those here in Romania who endured the most ruthless totalitarian dictatorship in the latter half of the 21st [sic] century in Europe. Each and every one was struggling not only against something, but for something -- for government, a government that responds to the needs of its people; for a more tolerant society, built on respect and dignity; for the freedom to think, to believe, and to pursue your dreams.
The White House
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Director, Mr. Mayor, former Presidents who I've had the honor to meet in the past, it's good to be back in Romania. And, Mr. Mayor, as we say in America, thank you for the passport to come into your city. I appreciate it very much.
What a magnificent forum, what a magnificent forum. And I say to all the students, thank you. I'm honored that you are here.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's an honor to be back in Romania. This is not my first trip, nor God-willing, will it be my last. And it's great to be back in Central Europe to help mark an extraordinary season of change. Twenty years ago, the world watched in awe and admiration as the men and women throughout this region broke the shackles of oppression and emerged a free people.
It's literally hard to imagine that this beautiful library was the scene of such heavy fighting in 1989. I was reviewing pictures of what it looked like with tanks stationed outside. Ladies and gentlemen, when the firing stopped and the smoke cleared, the façade of this building was scarred by shells and bullets. Five hundred thousand books were burned, part of your history and your legacy. And just blocks away, in University Square, some of freedom’s young defenders were struck down. But their courage and conviction prevailed, and I hope and know set an example to all of you who followed.
When the Iron Curtain was lifted, the wall fell in Berlin, in their places grew democracy, a democracy that you've deserved for a long time. Across Europe, a new sense of possibility took hold, galvanizing the region, uplifting a continent, and literally inspiring the world. The story of freedom –- your story -- is one of the greatest achievements in modern history. And it's important that we celebrate that remarkable -- that remarkable moment. It's also important that we remember how far Central Europe has come in the last 20 years.
Early in my career as a United States Senator, a young senator then, I brought my two now grown sons, but then very young sons, to Central Europe as they reached their teenage years. I took them immediately to Dachau, so they would begin to know what men and women are capable of at their worst, but also understand what men and women were capable of at their best.
I took them to the Berlin Wall. I had them walk through Checkpoint Charlie, so that the rest of their lives, they'd remember, they'd understand that the freedom we sometimes take for granted was not a birthright for tens of millions of people on this continent.
And today, I come back to Central Europe and Romania, not only with an official delegation from the United States government, but with my 11-year-old granddaughter, Finnegan Biden. Finnegan, stand up. I want these people to see you. (Applause.) And my daughter, Kathleen Biden. Would you stand up, Kathleen? I'm going to embarrass you, I know. (Applause.)
I brought them along, because I want them to understand, particularly my granddaughter -- as my son learned -- I want them to see and understand first-hand the story of this region and of this continent. My granddaughter is visiting museums and monuments that chronicle the turmoil of the 20th century in Poland, here and in the Czech Republic.
And she has seen with her own young eyes, she has seen in the people she meets and in the vibrancy of your cities and your streets the incredible, incredible possibilities of this 21st century. She is a witness to a powerful fact: that the true validation of 1989, the real story of your country and this region lies less in what you tore down, and more in what you have built.
Those of us who know about the bloodshed and the freedom fighters in Hungary in 1956; those who felt the chilling end to the warm Prague spring of 1968 in Wenceslas Square; those who shut down the shipyards in Gdansk in 1980; those here in Romania who endured the most ruthless totalitarian dictatorship in the latter half of the 21st [sic] century in Europe. Each and every one was struggling not only against something, but for something -- for government, a government that responds to the needs of its people; for a more tolerant society, built on respect and dignity; for the freedom to think, to believe, and to pursue your dreams.
You have begun to realize those dreams that only the bold imagined 20 years ago -- a Europe whole and free, anchored in a European-Atlantic alliance institutions of NATO, and the European Union.
We Americans are incredibly proud to have been your partners in the peaceful reunification of Europe. As President Obama said on the eve of NATO Summit last spring, and I quote him, "This shared history gives us hope –- but it must not give us rest. This generation cannot stand still."
We cannot stand still because we now face another season of change, another season of challenge -- an economic crisis that has hurt too many people and eroded their confidence, a war in Afghanistan now in its eighth year, and new forces shaping this young century. Those new forces, among other things, include the spread of weapons of mass destruction and dangerous disease; the expanding chasm between the rich and poor; ethnic animosities and failed states; a rapidly warming planet and an uncertain supply of energy, food, water; the challenge to freedom and security posed by radical fundamentalism.
I come here today with a straightforward, simple message: The United States and Europe, a Europe whole and united, will meet these challenges together, for that's the only way they can be met. No amount of idle talk, no distortion of the facts, can chip away at this unassailable truth: The United States of America remains committed to our alliance with Europe, which we Americans believe, and continue to believe, is the cornerstone of American foreign policy, as it has been, for the last 60 years. We are all the more committed, because our European partners have grown broader and stronger. We, the United States, cannot succeed without you. And if you will forgive my presumption, I do not believe you can fully succeed without us.
I know that some in Central Europe look at the problems and responsibilities the United States has assumed around the world, and conclude that we have no longer focused -- we no longer are focused on this region of the world. In fact, it's precisely because of our global responsibilities and your growing and capacity and willingness to meet them with us that we value our partnership with Central Europe and Europe now more than we ever had. It's quite to the contrary.
Together, we have responsibilities to shoulder, and we have promises to keep. Those responsibilities are larger now, and the promises more significant. We see Central Europeans rising to this moment, heeding the call to leadership of major regional and international institutions. Twenty years ago, imagine the Presidency of the European Parliament, head of UNESCO, Chair of the Council in Europe, Justices on the European Court of Justice, Commissioners in the European Commission. The time for Central Europe has come. You have shown yourselves ready for our common challenges, willing to tackle them, and able to overcome them. That's why in America, we no longer think in terms of what we can do for Central Europe, but rather in terms of what we can do with Central Europe.
First and foremost, we are bound together by shared values, and a common commitment to protect those values, whenever and wherever they are challenged. NATO is the bedrock of that commitment. One of the high points of my career was leading the effort as a United States Senator to expand NATO to Central Europe. As a matter of fact, Mr. President, you'll remember, I suggested that Romania should be in the first tranche. I was the one who fought until the very end to see it included in the first tranche. Thank you for making me look so prescient, you've done so well.
As President Obama has said, there are no old members, there are no new members of NATO; there are just members. Under Article 5, an attack on one is an attack against all. Our countries are bound together by America’s dedication to European security –- and by Europe’s dedication to America’s security, which you demonstrated quickly and powerfully in the wake of 9/11, the first time Article 5 was invoked, without us asking.
Today, we carry heavy responsibilities -- we, all of us. Our sons and daughters, like my son, are serving side by side in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in the Balkans. For this -– for the courage of our friends and for their losses –- the American people are grateful.
Our alliance was built around consultation and collaboration for collective defense. That's what it is about. But faced with new threats, we need a new vision on how to meet them, and new capabilities to succeed.
That's why the decision to develop what we call a new strategic concept for NATO is so very important -– and that's why it is so vital that Central European voices make themselves heard in this process.
One powerful example of how this can work is our partnership on -- our new approach to missile defense.
And we are determined -- we are determined to ensure that our NATO allies have the protection they need when they need it, because that's our solemn obligation under Article 5. Taking into account how the threat has evolved, and how our technology has improved significantly, the United States believes there is a better way to defend against ballistic missiles than the approach we had been pursuing up until several years ago.
This phased adaptive approach the United States is proposing, it has adapted its design to meet the growing threat to Europe, with a proven technology that will cover more of Europe –- including Central Europe –- more effectively than the previous approach.
It meets the missile threats of today, and allows us to improve our defenses against that threat well into the future. Its flexibility will enable us to adapt if the threat changes. Its very existence will deter those who might think about coercing or attacking our forces, or our allies in Europe –- and it will defend them, our friends in Europe, against that threat should deterrence fail. Simply put, our missile defense plan means greater security for Europe, and greater security for America.
Some -- maybe even understandably -- jump to the conclusion that this new missile defense approach was meant to appease Russia at the expense of Central Europe. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is absolutely wrong. Missile defense is not about Russia. Our approach is driven by security requirements of the United States and our NATO allies, period. Period.
What is true is that we are working to strengthen our relationship with Russia. We believe that a more constructive relationship with Russia will benefit all. But we're not naïve. The truth is we share some common interests: cutting the arsenals of nuclear weapons; securing vulnerable nuclear materials; stabilizing Afghanistan; preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
And we also continue to have disagreements with Russia on matters of basic principle. In February, in Munich, Germany, in the very first major foreign policy speech of our administration, I enunciated our administration's outline for foreign policy, and I made clear our core principles. The United States stands against the 19th century notion of "spheres of influence." We will not tolerate it, nor will we be co-opted by it.
We stand for the right of sovereign democracies to make their own decisions, to choose their own alliances, without the right of any country to veto those decisions. We will never make a deal about anything with anyone above your heads or behind your backs. The maxim we live by is clear: nothing about you without you, nothing about you without you. And I would argue, look at our track record, look at our track record.
We’ve all learned over the past two years that as the globe around us shrinks, the bonds between us grow. We are partners in today’s global economy. That’s why we worked with our European partners -- the IMF and the World Bank -- to make sure international support for your economies was there when you needed it most.
That’s why it's heartening to see how many of you have successfully braved this worldwide recession and put your nations on the road to recovery. And working together, we can all learn lessons from this crisis that will help us lay the foundation for a renewed century of growth and to rebuild prosperity.
One lesson we need to work together toward is a more secure energy future. We need sustainable energy security that includes diversification of supplies and transit routes, smart investments to deal with climate change. The connections between European countries should exist not just through European countries. Here, in this region -- by history, geography and necessity -- the countries of Central Europe are well placed to lead all of Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen, finally, let me say a word about leadership in an area that Central Europeans are uniquely qualified to provide -- the advocacy of democracy. Americans, I believe, are rightly proud that people around the world occasionally look to our example, and look for our leadership. But the truth of the matter is you are the model for millions -- not us, you -- Romania and other Central European countries. The example you set 20 years ago inspired the world. The leadership you exert over the next 20 years can change that world, encouraging, supporting, and consolidating young democracies in Central and Eastern Europe.
In Eastern Europe, countries still struggle to fulfill the promise of a strong democracy, or a vibrant market economy. Who to look to better than you? Who to look to better than Central European countries that 20 years ago acted with such courage and resolve, and over the last 20 years, have made such sustainable progress? You can help guide Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine along the path of lasting stability and prosperity. It's your time to lead. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus can benefit from your personal experiences. The E.U. Eastern Partnership Initiative is a good example of how you can energize the effort. And we will partner with you in working to fulfill the promise of 1989. But your leadership needs to be bold and your voices loud.
There’s an old Romanian proverb: "The cheapest article is advice. The most valuable is a good example." You are the "good example." Twenty years ago, the people of Central Europe took the world history that they inherited, and willed it in a new direction toward greater freedom, justice, and fairness. The odds were stacked against you. We know from history that destroying old oppressive regimes is a great deal easier than building new flourishing democracies. But you've delivered on the promise of your revolution. You are now in the position to help others do the same.
Speaking to our Congress 20 winters ago, Vaclav Havel pointed to a special sense of empathy and imagination the people of Central Europe share. Years of subjugation, he said, "have given us, however unintentionally, something positive: a special capacity to look somewhat further than someone who has not undergone this bitter experience." He went on to say: "A person who cannot move and live a normal life because he is pinned under a boulder has more time to think about hopes than someone who is not trapped in this way." He was right.
Now you have the freedom to act on those hopes, and you are. And I believe together we can turn that hope that we shared into a history we can be proud of. This is the moment. You students, if we are smart, brave, and lucky will be able to tell your grandchildren you were present at the creation of a new Europe, a new security, a new era of peace, because you were bold enough to seize that moment. Be like those in '89. Be bold. Exercise your leadership. You have a history, and you have a tradition. You can make a gigantic difference. And we'll stand with you.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening. And may God bless America and all of our allies. And may God protect all of our troops who are in harm's way. Thank you very, very much. It's been an honor to be here.
New Video posted to the AHF 1956 Portal! "News Magazine of the Screen" presented "Flight from Hungary" in early 1957 featuring video taken after the brutal Soviet re-occupation. "This is battered Budapest under the brutal Russian boot, Soviet tanks roam the streets under the ruins they laid as communist secret police hunt down heroic Freedom Fighters. 25,000 Hungarians are dead." A fascinating video, it also includes news about the Suez Crisis and more glimpes into life during this time. [See all our Videos]
The 1956 Hungarian Revolution was the first tear in the Iron Curtain. Hungarians from all walks of life rose up against insurmountable odds to fight the brutal Soviet installed Hungarian communist government. Thousands died fighting, others tortured and executed, while 200,000 were forced to flee. 2006 marked the 50th Anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution.
AHF's work regarding the tragic events nearly 50 years ago, dates back to the early days of the revolution and thereafter assisting tens of thousands of refugees. In 1956 the American Hungarian Federation activated the second Hungarian Relief program for the refugees of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, providing $512,560.00. With the support of the American Hungarian Federation, over 65,000 refugees arrived in the USA. Get involved and help us continue our tradition of helping our community! Join Us!
States that have passed the 1956 Revolution 50th Anniversary Resolution:
4/28/2006 - Texas became the first state to adopt the AHF 1956 resolution (House Resolution 75). AHF extends sincere thanks to Texas Senator Janek and Representative Woolley for introducing the measure and to AHF's Texas Chapter President Chris Cutrone in Austin and Honorary Consul for Hungary Phillip Aronoff in Houston for their efforts in securing the introuduction of the resolution. The resolution's title: "Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution and recognizing the sacrifices of Hungarian Freedom Fighters, the contributions of Hungarian Americans, and the friendship between the people and governments of the United States and Hungary." Full text of the Texas resolution can be found on the Texas House Website.
The Houston Chronicle also published an Op-Ed calling attention to the resolution by Hungarian Honorary Consul Phillip Aronoff in Houston and Bryan Dawson-Szilagyi, AHF Chairman of the Executive Committee.
Ohio. Special thanks to the Hon. Péter Ujvági, Ohio State Representative (D) who successfully pushed the resolution (#212) through both state houses. [download the resolution] Ohio Governor Taft also issues a proclamation [download]
- AHF President Emeritus, Entrepreneur, Freedom Activist,
and 1959 US "Citizen of the Year," George K. Haydu, passed away
after long illness. The death of this great humanitarian and
leader is a major loss for the Hungarian-American community and to all
his many friends. Despite many death threats and being shot in the leg
during "Loyalty Day" parade in New York City, George was undeterred
in his efforts to bring freedom to Hungary and comfort to refugees.
5/19/2005 - Gergely "Bajusz" Pongratz, a leader and hero of Hungary's anti-communist revolution of 1956, has died at age 73.
Pongratz suffered a heart attack on Wednesday in the southern
Hungarian town of Kiskunmajsa where he lived, said Dezso Abraham, secretary
general of the World Council of Hungarian 56ers revolutionary veterans
group. During the revolution, Pongratz was commander of one of the key
resistance groups fighting the Soviet army. [read
12/10/2004 - JENO SZEREDAS, 90, Hungarian Freedom Fighter Federation Founder, AHF Member, and Noted Artist Dies...
Jeno Andras Szeredas, Hungarian political activist and Senator, 1956 Freedom Fighter, Founder of the Freedom Fighters Federation in the United States, poet and artist of rare talent died quietly in his sleep at his daughter's home in Connecticut on November 30. He had just celebrated his 90th birthday.
Born in Iglo, Hungary (now Slovakia) in 1914, Mr. Szeredas was both witness to and active participant in the turmoil sweeping over Europe for the balance of the 20th century. [more]
Memorials Dedicated to 1956
"October 23, 1956, is a day that will live forever
in the annals of free men and nations. It was a day of courage, conscience
and triumph. No other day since history began has shown more clearly the
eternal unquenchability of man's desire to be free, whatever the odds
against success, whatever the sacrifice required."-
President John F. Kennedy,
Albert Camus' Stirring Letter to the World:
"The Blood of the Hungarians"
I am not one of those who wish to see the people of Hungary take up arms again in a rising certain to be crushed, under the eyes of the nations of the world, who would spare them neither applause nor pious tears, but who would go back at one to their slippers by the fireside like a football crowd on a Sunday evening after a cup final.
There are already too many dead on the field, and we cannot be generous with any but our own blood. The blood of Hungary has re-emerged too precious to Europe and to freedom for us not to be jealous of it to the last drop.
But I am not one of those who think that there can be a compromise, even one made with resignation, even provisional, with a regime of terror which has as much right to call itself socialist as the executioners of the Inquisition had to call themselves Christians.
And on this anniversary of liberty, I hope with all my heart that the silent resistance of the people of Hungary will endure, will grow stronger, and, reinforced by all the voices which we can raise on their behalf, will induce unanimous international opinion to boycott their oppressors.
And if world opinion is too feeble or egoistical to do justice to a martyred people, and if our voices also are too weak, I hope that Hungary’s resistance will endure until the counter-revolutionary State collapses everywhere in the East under the weight of its lies and contradictions.
Hungary conquered and in chains has done more for freedom and justice than any people for twenty years. But for this lesson to get through and convince those in the West who shut their eyes and ears, it was necessary, and it can be no comfort to us, for the people of Hungary to shed so much blood which is already drying in our memories.
In Europe’s isolation today, we have only one way of being true to Hungary, and that is never to betray, among ourselves and everywhere, what the Hungarian heroes died for, never to condone, among ourselves and everywhere, even indirectly, those who killed them.
It would indeed be difficult for us to be worthy of such sacrifices. But we can try to be so, in uniting Europe at last, in forgetting our quarrels, in correcting our own errors, in increasing our creativeness, and our solidarity. We have faith that there is on the march in the world, parallel with the forces of oppression and death which are darkening our history, a force of conviction and life, an immense movement of emancipation which is culture and which is born of freedom to create and of freedom to work.
Those Hungarian workers and intellectuals, beside whom we stand today with such impotent sorrow, understood this and have made us the better understand it. That is why, if their distress is ours, their hope is ours also. In spite of their misery, their chains, their exile, they have left us a glorious heritage which we must deserve: freedom, which they did not win, but which in one single day they gave back to us. (October 23, 1957)
AHF dedicates this work
- Read this in German, Hungarian, French, and Spanish on this AHF member site, the [American Hungarian Museum]