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14: What the Hungarians Say about Western Propaganda

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What the Hungarians Say about Western Propaganda(1)


An almost casual question about the impact and merits of the propaganda broadcasts provoked an immediate, lively response among the escapees.

A middle-aged schoolteacher from Pecs spoke for the group. A former party member herself, she had become the head of the local Revolutionary Council. One week before, she had jumped from an improvised prison-van on its way to deliver her and twenty-six insurgent leaders to the Foe Utca prison in Budapest, had sneaked back to her home town, collected thirteen members of her family and friends, and led them over the border.

She repeated what other escapees had said before:

"Don't credit the radio; this revolution was caused by pressure from within. It was instigated by the greediness of the Soviets who stole our food; by the arrogance of the party leaders who sat in their villas spitting at us; by the continual provocation of those long freight trains daily carrying our uranium ore and our bauxite to Mukachevo, the Soviet border stop. The Soviets reaped what they had sowed. They gave the arms to our army; they forced our youngsters to read Gorki, Fadeyev, Simonov -authors who described techniques of street fighting, the prescription for a Molotov cocktail, the art of building barricades. The radio? Yes, it was important. But the revolution would also have started if radio had not existed."

A veterinarian from Budapest who had arrived one hour earlier objected:

"But you ought at least to admit that the radio gave the discontented in the party the vocabulary with which to voice their opposition."

A cannery foreman from the schoolteacher's group put in bitterly:

"Sure, the radio helped us to find out that there could be a better life somewhere else. When the shooting started, the speakers in their studios in Munich had it easy: just talking, talking, talking. We did the fighting."

An elderly typesetter from the Szabad Nep - Szikra printing plant in Budapest spoke up:

"It will be hard to forget the unkept promises. Most of those who believed were bitterly disappointed. That is how it was with us in Budapest: during the fighting not one windowpane in our flat was left intact. Our furniture was in shambles. The only thing we continued to protect was the radio set. My wife put it in a box in the corner and wrapped our bed pillows around it. That's how much we cherished it. It was our source of hope, of connection with the outside world. That's how, on November fourth, we heard the transmission from the UN building in New York, and we cried with joy. There was the American delegate solemnly declaring that the big United States would never let the brave Hungarian people down. I speak English, sir, and there was the simultaneous translation by a Hungarian for all others to hear."

He interspersed a sequence of powerful but untranslatable Hungarian curses.

"On the following morning the Russians struck back. Nowhere in this big, free world was there anyone who did anything about it. And there was nothing any more we could do ourselves. How can we ever believe anything again?"

A young man with a sensitive student's face, his dirty, torn sheepskin jacket bulging from the soiled bandage around his badly wounded left arm, resignedly waved his right:

"Sixteen of us were holding a roadblock, at the Tuekor Utca, in Budapest, that is. The inhabitants of the adjoining houses sat in their cellars. They had brought us a Tungsram radio set and rigged it up with a series of extension cords from the wall plug in an empty shop. There we sat in the cold, waiting for the tanks, listening to jazz. Occasionally our leader -he is dead now- turned the dials. He wanted to get any station which would tell us how bad, or desperate, our situation really was. Our own Freedom Stations were already silent; BBC was talking about Suez; and Radio Free Europe just sent out talk about how glorious we were. It was then that all of us heard it, crackling out from three spots at the wave scale, the voice shouting: 'Hold out, Hungarians, hold out! Help from the West is on the way! You must continue to fight.' It still rings in my ears. Believing it cost us the lives of five comrades- when the Soviet tanks finally came. The people who made those broadcasts have blood on their conscience."

I asked: "Now that everything seems lost, do [71/72] you think that the West should continue its broadcasts to Hungary?"

There was a general protest at the way I had put my question.

"This revolution hasn't been lost. It has only been prolonged," the man with the wounded arm exclaimed quickly. "It started on its own, and it will continue without you. But if you stop broadcasting now, you will abandon yourselves. It would mean that you were giving up what had become a vital part of your own fight which you, in the West, might still lose." [72]

1. Franz Spelman, from "What the Hungarians Say about Western Propaganda," Harper's Magazine, CCXIV (April 1957), 70-74. Copyright, 1957, by Harper & Brothers. Reprinted from Harper's Magazine by Special Permission.

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