The Buck Stops Here: The Buck Stops in Budapest

"Every time I describe a city, I am saying something about Venice," Marco Polo tells the Great Khan of China in response to the Ruler's question why Polo tells him about every city he has seen except the one he is from.

The night before we arrived in Budapest there had been protests against the government. Ferenc Gyurcsany, the Prime Minister, had been caught on tape acknowledging that he had lied about the economy. The protesters wanted him to resign because he had lied to the people. Tanks were brought in to quell the protests. 150 Hungarians were injured. On succeeding nights the protesters swelled to 20,000. Gyurcsany had lied. He should resign. It was the worst protests in Hungary since 1956.

In 1956, Hungarians had risen up against their Communist oppressors and declared themselves a free country. "For many years," the new Radio Free Budapest reported, "the radio has been the instrument of lies. It lied day and night." Hungary was free for four days. On November 4, the Soviet Union sent in 6000 tanks. At that time, Olympic squads were already in Melbourne, Australia, for the 1956 Olympics. The Russians and Hungarians had the best water polo teams in the world and met in the gold medal game. Spectators report the water was red with blood after the match. (In water polo, there are no fouls under water.)

In 1956, about the same time Soviet tanks clanked into Budapest, the President of the Lakewood High School Student Council made a motion to discuss a purchase. I raised some objections and the discussion lengthened with no apparent resolution. Finally, the President cut off discussion, saying we had more business to discuss, and there was no point to this discussion, since the faculty advisor to the Student Council had already made the purchase of what we were discussing.

"History," Ernst Bloch notes, "shows its Scotland Yard pass," but as anyone knows, history does not always look in the right places, ask the relevant questions or follow up clues. 1956 was as crucial here as it was in Hungary, but it tends to get lost in the Sixties decade that followed. Were it not for 1956, however, the Sixties would not have happened or would have been different.

In 1956, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that the doctrine of separate but equal schools had no place in America and Martin Luther King led the Montgomery bus boycott, among the first of civil rights protests and marches that bled into Sixties' demands. Allen Ginsberg ran off mimeographed copies of Howl, his counterculture barbaric yawp which changed the sensibility of our culture forever. If there was underground samizdat writing behind the Iron Curtain, Howl was America's own samizdat, a work maligned and dismissed by academics and mainstream media alike.

Carl Perkins's "Blue Suede Shoes" became the first record to reach the top of the pop, R & B, and country music charts, but Perkins seemed merely the herald for the King to follow, Elvis Presley, who materialized unexpectedly one day in Sam Phillips's studio. By mid-summer, Elvis was reviled by whatever establishment could find its voice. He needed to be banned, run out of town, somehow silenced. In the fall, I heard him with 10,000 other suddenly freed kids at the Cleveland Arena. (One night in Budapest I went to hear some traditional Hungarian folk music. The lead singer gave an Elvis impersonation.)

The protests in Budapest in 1956 and 2006 formed in Lajos Kossuth Square. Kossuth, a Hungarian revolutionary hero, led Hungary to freedom in 1848 and became the first president of an independent Hungary until Russian troops intervened on behalf of Austria and overthrew the short-lived Kossuth government. Kossuth and his fellow Hungarians fled, many to America. Kossuth was treated as a hero in the States.

In Margaret Butler's history of Lakewood, The Lakewood Story, she describes the Andrews farm in the nineteenth century: "Often during the season, a dozen or more Bohemian women picked and loaded the fruit for market."

There were 57 Bukais (the way my grandfather spelled his name) in the Budapest phone book.

(I am indebted to J. Hoberman for calling my attention to 1956 in America.)

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Volume 2, Issue 21, Posted 12:12 PM, 10.02.06