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Decades after the 1956 revolution, Hungary has a new refugee issue

Last Updated Oct 18, 2016 at 7:19 am PDT

"Did you know? There is a war on in Syria." "A stupid question deserves a stupid answer. Spoil your ballot!" Advertisement by the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party for the October 2nd referendum. (John Ackermann, NEWS 1130 photo)

Roughly 2,500 Hungarians were killed in the revolution

Approximately 200,000 fled the country as refugees

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (NEWS 1130) – Sunday will mark 60 years since the start of the Hungarian revolution, a country-wide uprising against Soviet rule.

NEWS 1130‘s John Ackermann travelled to the country earlier this month, speaking with policy-makers about the anniversary and comparing it to the current political situation. Today, he’s finding out if any parallels can be drawn between the revolution and the migrant controversy gripping the country now.

About 2,500 Hungarians were killed in the revolution, while around 200,000 fled the country as refugees, many of them arrived in Canada to begin new lives. Six decades later, the country still remembers that generosity.

“We are still very much grateful what Canada did for our Hungarians,” admits Attila Mesterházy, a member of parliament and the former chair of Hungary’s socialists. “After the revolution they had to leave the country and a lot of Hungarians went to Canada and I know that there was a political debate about that.”

Speaking of political debate, what about any parallels between the Hungarian refugees of 1956 and the Syrian refugees trying to enter the country today?

“I’m afraid not,” responds Zoltán Kovács, the Hungarian government’s Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Relations. “Any comparison of the two is a lack of historical knowledge. It’s an ignorance of history to compare the dividing lines of Europe back 60 years ago to something else, which is posing a major challenge for the European Union, this time.”

In an October 2nd referendum, Hungarians roundly rejected a proposal to accept refugee quotas set by the European Union.
Ninety-eight per cent of Hungarians who cast ballots voted against the measure.

Even though the initiative fell well short of its own threshold of 50 per cent plus one total voter turnout, the government is treating it as a mandate to amend the constitution to prevent resettlement without Hungary’s permission.

Kovács insists 3.3 million votes can’t be disregarded. “This government came to power back in 2014 with 2.3 million votes. It’s a clear-cut reinforcement on the particular issue, which by the way, at that time, back in 2014, was not on the agenda.”

But Mesterházy and the Socialists say it is a failure for the government, and a sign Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is vulnerable heading into Hungary’s 2018 parliamentary elections. “You know, the Hungarians doesn’t like if someone would like to tell them from abroad what to do here in Hungary,” he admits.

However, having said that, he feels Hungary must do its share to help alleviate the migrant crisis.

“I understand that there [is] some reluctance here in Hungary to accept these refugees because they have different kind of backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, social backgrounds, but still, we think that somehow, the European Union should help and, of course, Hungary should do its best to also help,” Mesterházy explains.

Tomorrow, our series continues when John Ackermann has a conversation with Budapest Mayor István Tarlós about his memories of the 1956 revolution.