Don't let this be another Hungary, 1956

Published: March 10, 2011 at 7:02pm

Pal Sarkozy fled his native Hungary in the 1940s to escape deportation by Stalinists to the Siberian labour camps. His son was the first to formally acknowledge the revolution leaders of Benghazi.

Today we heard the news that Libyan rebel forces have been beaten into retreat under the onslaught of Gaddafi’s men, to whom Ras Lanuf has fallen once more.

One’s mind shrinks from the thought of the purges that will now come, which have begun already.

We have the eyewitness reports of three BBC journalists who were arrested and tortured, kept in a cage, as to what is happening even as we speak and discuss, in those torture chambers.

In the endless debates on what to do about Libya, Europe – and more particularly one of its member states – should be endlessly haunted by the spectre of Hungary, 1956.

So far, the scenario has unfolded with a disturbing similarity to what happened then. Now it is up to national leaders to ensure that the subsequent chapters of that horrific part of Europe’s history are written in a different way for Libya.

We cannot allow Hungary 1956 to happen all over again. That would be beyond shame, and we now have no excuse.

The Hungarian uprising began with students and drew in thousands of ordinary people armed with weapons no more fearsome than garden implements or ancient hunting-guns. They organised themselves into militias and fought against the Politburo and the secret police, the oppressive regime which had terrorised them since Hungary was parcelled out to Josef Stalin.

They fought on the streets of Budapest, which turned into a war zone. The rebels set up councils and seized control from the communist Hungarian Working People’s Party. The government collapsed and was replaced by a new government, which declared that it would withdraw Hungary from the Warsaw Pact and introduce free elections and democracy.

The Politburo pretended to agree to a withdrawal of Soviet troops. The people thought they had won. There was wild celebration in the streets. Statues of Josef Stalin and other symbols of oppression and terror were toppled and hacked to pieces.

Then, on 4 November, the Soviet tanks rolled in. The might of the Soviet army was brought to bear on ordinary citizens and their ordinary guns, spades and rakes. They fought back. They radioed for help to the west. They were given to understand that the west would help if they stood up to the Soviet tanks. They had faith that the west would come to the rescue, that free Europe, the United States, would not let them down. They held out for six days.

That help never came. The uprising was crushed completely and in the most horrible way possible. Thousands were rounded up, tortured, murdered or condemned to hard labour in Soviet camps.

Two hundred thousand people managed to get out of Hungary in just a few days, scrambling through darkness over fields, waterways and rough terrain to reach the border and freedom. They took nothing with them, starting from scratch in North America, Britain, France and western Germany.

The millions who didn’t get away ended up worse off than they were before. Determined that no further uprising would be possible, the secret police systematically hunted down and persecuted all dissenters or suspected dissenters. There were mass arrests and denunciations for months afterwards.

For the next 33 years, until the Berlin wall came down in 1989, no public discussion about the revolution was allowed in Hungary. You could not even mention it. You had to pretend it never happened. But since 1989, the discussions haven’t stopped, and invariably, the shame of those who spoke for liberty in the west and then failed to help the Hungarians has come under scrutiny.

I, for one, do not think it is a coincidence that Nicolas Sarkozy was the first national leader to welcome members of the Libyan National Council in Paris as the “only legitimate representatives of Libya”, and to declare that France will now send an ambassador to Benghazi.

Some people have said already that the move was inspired by France’s history of revolution. They forget that Nicolas Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa is Hungarian.

47 Comments Comment

  1. La Redoute says:

    Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

  2. asp says:

    “They forget that Nicolas Sarkozy is Hungarian.”

    I didn’t forget. I just didn’t KNOW!

  3. Frankie's Barrage says:

    Unfortunately it does appear as if history will repeat itself. It seems that the anti-Gaddafi forces are too weak to resist for long the air-strikes and heavy weaponry of Gaddafi’s military might.

    The US and EU do not have the appetite to intervene and Russia and China will block any UN initiative. So it is only a matter of time, and Gaddafi is fully aware that time is on his side.

    The first signs that even the Western powers can see that Gaddafi is likely to prevail is the reluctance to give recognition to the Libyan National Transitional Council. They are already hedging their bets.

    Gaddafi is not afraid of international isolation. He has been through it before and survived.

    So it certainly does not look good for those who want a free and democratic Libya. Tragic but inevitable!

    • France has formally recognised the government in Benghazi as the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people. This means that if the government in Benghazi asks France for military assistance, France has a legal remit to oblige.

  4. Saif and Sound says:

    In the interview, Saif Gaddafi said the regime would “never surrender” to the rebels.

    “This is our country, we will never, ever give up and we will never, ever surrender. This is our country. We fight here in Libya, we die here in Libya,” he said.

    “The Libyan people, they will never, ever welcome NATO, we will never, ever welcome the Americans either.”

    Seif dismissed moves by France which today became the first country to recognise Libya’s opposition as Libya’s rightful representative.

    “The French or the Europeans, they should talk to the Libyan people,” he said.

    “If they want to support the militia, do it. But I will tell you now: you are going to lose. We will win. He also said that this may perhaps be the time to use all miitary might.

  5. willywonka says:

    I don’t know, but I’m feeling pretty depsondent right now. I have this horrible sinking feeling that Ghaddafi’s forces are going to win. They’ve routed Ras Lanuf and they’re progressing onwards toward Brega then Benghazi.

    They will rout the rebels to the very last one, and we’re going sit impotently in our corners twiddling our thumbs. I’m feeling very depressed right now, and I am in abject fear for our valiant neighbours to the South.

    I do not think that the European leaders are really concerned for the welfare of these people – in spite of any charter or declaration of human rights, endorsed by envery nation, but proving to have no more value than the paper its written on.

    No amount of remonstrations, that we ought not let this be another Hungary, will serve to move an implacable NATO or US, that are bent, it seems, on ensuring they don’t come under fire for intervening, rather than crossing that bridge when they come to it.

    Perhaps I only had a fool’s hope after all.

    • C Falzon says:

      Without intervention from the West Gaddafi will most definitely win.

      The more we wait around doing nothing the more drastic the action that will be needed to sort out this mess. Even at this point we already need more than a no-fly zone. That was an option until a few days ago but not anymore.

      Anything short of precision bombardment of Gaddafi’s military assets and fortresses will only make things worse.

      If we leave it much longer then only a full-scale invasion with land forces will be of any use. Gaddafi may be crazy but he is far from stupid and is indeed a very good military planner.

      He is sure to have assumed an imminent imposition of a no-fly zone and will presently be reorganising himself to work around that, not least by setting up human shields to protect his CCC assets and more importantly his anti aircraft defences.

  6. Antoine Vella says:

    This time there isn’t even the fear of a world war to use as an excuse for inaction. It’s just a blend of inertia, opportunism and indecisiveness about who should bell the cat.

  7. red nose says:

    The French leader is in my eyes the hero. He knows what procrastination will lead to. Carla Bruni must be really proud of him and the doubting Thomases should hang their heads in shame.

  8. Herbie says:

    I am convinced Gaddafi will prevail and the west will once again suck up to him.
    Poor Libya

  9. Denis says:

    This makes interesting reading….not actually in line with your thoughts

    [Daphne – In fact, it has nothing to do with my thoughts. It was written four years ago, and is not about either the Hungarian uprising or the Libyan revolution. But it does illustrate the point that Sarkozy is Hungarian.]

  10. C Falzon says:

    There’s KMB interviewed by Consie’s boyfried on Smash TV.

    According to him, Gaddafi has popular support in Libya.

    Probably the same kind of popular support KMB had here in the 80s.

  11. Denis says:

    Paul Sarkosy apparently left Hungary in 1948….long before the Russian invasion

    [Daphne – Please explain your point, because it isn’t clear.]

  12. Denis says:

    One question?

    What makes Libya more attractive than Somalia or Sudan?

    [Daphne – What would concern and interest you most, Denis: a fight next door or a fight in the next city?]

  13. Another John says:

    My view is that Gaddafi, and his entourage, are condemned to fall.

    I think many western leaders have an axe to grind, and they have not jumped at the first opportunity only to be seen as going through the right legal (and practical) channels, as opposed to the rushing-in in deposing Gaddafi without the express request of the rebels.

    This only stands to reason, given the international flak that the allies are getting for being in Afghanistan and Iraq (despite the fact of ridding the country from the ruthless Saddam). The formerly oppressed have quickly forgotten their predicament in these cases and are now urging their liberators to leave.

    The caution by the western leaders is attributable as well to the fact that military planning is important ( together with a plan about the aftermath of military intervention). I think that Gaddafi’s downfall is written on the wall. It is only a matter of (a short) time, no matter what his propaganda to the contrary says.

  14. J.Aquilina says:

    what a brilliant article … as usual … and how well-researched. keep it up. wish there were many more journalists like you the world over …

  15. C Falzon says:

    There’s so much to say about KMB’s performance on Smash but I’m so distraught by what he’s saying that I can’t quite write much of anything coherently.

    All I can say is how much worse and dangerous a person than I ever thought was once our Prime Minister.

  16. A.Attard says:

    A prime minister with a spine; makes you proud to be Maltese and a Nationalist.

    Can you immagine the outcome had Joseph Muscat been prime minister?

  17. H.P. Baxxter says:

    Saying that Sarkozy is Hungarian hence his support for Libyan rebels is like saying that he’s Jewish hence his support for, er, what exactly?

    I think you’ll find that the reason for France’s position is far more mundane, and far more related to domestic politics than you would realise. The resignation of Michèle Alliot-Marie (the Last Gaullist, and probably the last honest politician) was nothing short of a political disaster for the governing majority. Pundits and opposition leaders have been harping on about how France’s diplomacy has collapsed and what a fiasco this was for the past couple of months.

    Sarkozy, and the French government wants to be seen to be taking the initiative. And they have good reason to do so. I say again, France was the only Western country ever to fight Gaddafi directly, and suffer casualties, when everybody else was just talking the talk. And this happened as recently as 1987.

    • Macduff says:

      H.P. Baxxter, I know this has nothing to do with your post above, but you’re probably the only one who can answer my question adequately: is Malta’s co-operation essential in imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, even if we refuse to host the military aircraft?

      I mean, with Malta’s flight information region extending over most of the central Mediterranean, wouldn’t the aircraft have to pass through the Maltese FIR for the no-fly zone to be effective?

      • H.P. Baxxter says:

        They can avoid it, but it will be a hell of a longer trip, with half a dozen air-to-air refuelling stops, making it more expensive, more complicated, and less effective.

        Jien ma nafx fejn sejra Malta. Dal-ahhar gimaghtejn kienu l-prototipku tal-behaviour ta’ Gonzi: l-ewwel dinjità u statesmanship, imbaghad wara l-meetings ma’ tuzzana bazuzli (iva, kelma Laburista, imma f’dal-kaz approprjata) li jghidulu, nassumi, kemm se jintiflu impjiegi “fejn naqilghu hobzna”, jibda l-backtracking. U nibdew bil-bullshit fuq l-interess nazzjonali, u fuq azzjoni umanitarja mhux militari. Finalment, Malta kienet, ghadha, u tibqa’ bejta ta’ merkanti.

      • H.P. Baxxter says:

        Read this for an answer:

      • Macduff says:

        Thank you.

        Seems the Prime Minister is torn between his own convictions and Malta’s commitments as an EU member state on one side and a powerful business lobby and an electorate of scared rabbits on the other. We’ll have to wait and see.

      • ciccio2011 says:

        Macduff, I do not want to be stupid, and I am not sure if your question may be tricky. But why would the FIR come into it? The FIR is an obligation we have with the ICAO to provide flight information to civil aircraft passing in our FIR. So, I mean, it is an obligation under the civil aviation convention, which deals with civil flights. This is not a military obligation.

      • Macduff says:

        I don’t know myself. I thought Malta’s FIR gets into the equation following the clip Al Jazeera broadcast, with an AWAC requesting information about a Gaddafi jet and the Maltese ATC promptly supplying it.

        To the rabbits kicking and screaming at the comments section, it should have rung the alarm bells: we’re already cooperating with NATO. But it went by unnoticed, of course.

  18. Denis says:

    What makes Libya more attractive than Somalia or Sudan?
    This does not apply to you or me….it is about speculative interest beyond the atrocities in these countries. The level of interest or intervention in the countries mentioned was and will never be anywhere close to what we are seeing in Libya… my humble opinion, oilfields are the magnet.

    The article gives the impression that Sarkozy’s Hungarian ancestry played a major role in his recognition of the Libyan National Council as the legitimate government in Libya.
    I beg to differ in the sense that Sarkozy may have Hungarian ancestors but he is thoroughly French.
    To quote the NYT article by Schmemann:
    “His father, Paul Sarkozy, had left Hungary in 1948 and followed a typically complicated émigré’s odyssey (including a stint in the French Foreign Legion) that ended up in Paris. There he married a woman of Greek Jewish origins, whom he left with their three sons when Nicolas was a small boy. So Nicolas was raised with no direct contact with Hungarian language or culture. When a woman of North African heritage questioned him about his roots during the campaign, he retorted, “You are not Algerian, but French. And I am not Hungarian.””

    [Daphne – You are able to read, but you are clearly unable to understand and interpret what you read. This post is about the tragic parallel – at least there is time to avoid the tragedy in Libya – between the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the uprising that began in Benghazi last month. The gist is that Europe, and most particularly one of its member states – Hungary – should conduct its deliberations in full awareness of Europe’s shameful failings towards Hungary in 1956, and the results of that. I suggested, at the tail-end of the piece and not as its main thesis, that Sarkozy is more likely to have been conditioned by Hungary’s recent revolutionary history than by France’s 18th century revolution.

    As for his quoted retort, nothing else is to be expected in confrontation with an elector when he was seeking election to the French presidency. He could hardly do that by claiming anything other than a 100% French identity. However, he is about as French as a man born of a Greek mother and a Hungarian father but raised in Malta would be Maltese – citizenship notwithstanding.]

  19. Min Weber says:

    And what about the possibility of a secession? The East could become Cyrenaica or Barqah (capital Benghazi), and the West Tripolitania (capital Tripoli).

    If other countries copy France’s example, and recognize the rebel-controlled territories as Libya, Tripolitania could secede.

    If Gaddafi regains control of all of Libya, international pressure might allow him to permit the secession of Cyernaica.

    Politics is the art of the possible.

    • Min Weber says:

      I do not want my comment to be understood as pro-Gaddafi. I am also proposing a possible scenario, as a reaction to Sarkozy’s move.

      [Daphne – France has not recognised ‘the government of Benghazi’. It has recognised the Transitional National Council as the “sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people” – that means the whole of Libya. It has said that its new ambassador will be posted to Benghazi only until Tripoli remains in Gaddafi’s hands. This does not mean it will have one ambassador in Tripoli and one in Benghazi. It will have no ambassador in Tripoli and post its ambassador to Libya to Benghazi. The only person I have heard talk of Tripolitania as a current separate entity was KMB on Smash tonight.]

      • Min Weber says:

        Yes, it is true. KMB has come up with this idea, but he is not the only one. I have heard many people mentioning this idea – at the Kazin Malti for instance. (Yes! Incredible but true!)

        Needless to say, I am merely speculating. But Sarkozy’s move could have such an effect.

        It all depends on what the BRIC nations will want (Brazil, Russia, India and China). These countries are aspiring to world actor status, in competition with the US and Western European countries.

        If BRIC – or a couple of them – will want Gaddafi to stay in power to defy Western hegemony, then the two-State solution could materialize.

        The chessboard is very wide, and Gaddafi is but a pawn. He might delude himself he’s the Queen (he has already compared himself to Queen Elizabeth II) but in reality he’s just a (megalomaniacal) pawn.

        The real game is being played behind the scenes between the US, Western Europeans (those who count among them, anyway) and BRIC. Even the Arab League will kowtow to the will of the stronger among these actors.

        While we blog and comment, the big actors are calculating, negotiating and calibrating their next move.

        It seems to me noteworthy that a new US is emerging – a sort of isolationist, lower-profile US. One wonders whether Obama is really gauging the mood of the Americans, or whether he is trying to live up to the persona imposed on him when he was given the Nobel prize.

        With regard to your comment on the “government of Benghazi” being recognized, I understand your point. However, Sarkozy’s move necessarily implies that for France the TNC is the “legitimate” government of Libya.

        [Daphne – That’s what I meant. Perhaps I should have said the government IN Benghazi, not OF.]

        On what basis France has arrived at this decision at this juncture is another matter altogether. But if other countries do not follow suit, we might end up with a situation similar to that of Cyprus: Turkey recognizes Northern Cyprus, the rest of the world does not.

        So, the scenario I am speculating about is an eastern Libya recognized by France (and others) and a western Libya (not recognized by France and others).

        There are quite a few examples of such a solution: the Koreas and Cyprus are but two of them.

      • C Falzon says:

        My understanding is that the ambassador will be stationed in Benghazi only temporarily, that is until Gaddafi loses contol of Tripoli, at which time the new government and also France’s ambassador would move to Tripoli. So it will have its ambassador in Tripoli but not in Benghazi.

        The intention seems to me to maintain Tripoli as the capital of Libya, with Benghazi only being the temporary seat of the provisional government untili Tripoli is rid of Gaddafi.

    • H.P. Baxxter says:

      “Politics is the art of the possible.”

      Din mhux wahda mill-pet quotes ta’ de Marco?

      • Min Weber says:

        Possibly! But Bismarck said it first.

      • H.P. Baxxter says:

        Imma de Marco ikbar minn Bismarck, skond l-istudenti tieghu.

      • Min Weber says:

        Stop it, Baxxter – I’ll have a cardiac arrest if you go on like this.

      • willywonka says:

        Jiena student ta’ De Marco, u m’ghandix illuzjonijiet – grazzi!

      • ciccio2011 says:

        Baxxter, another de Marco quote was “Il-politika tal-perswazjoni.” (And I not guaranteeing whether this one was plagiarised from Bismark or not).

        Therefore, lil Gaddafi irridu nipperswaduh jitlaq.

        [Daphne – In fact, that’s exactly what de Marco would have said.]

    • Another John says:

      I do not subscribe to this view. Gaddafi is definitely a ‘former strongman’, a has-been.

      It seems his atrocities and his in-your-face mockery of the European way of life produced an anger which seethed just below the surface of many Europeans. Europeans just had to make do with his rehabilitation.

      At the first real opportunity, he is being disowned and declared persona non grata. He will not be even allowed to remain in ‘peace’ in his own country, let alone running a state.

      • Min Weber says:

        If the world were still dominated by Europe, I might agree 100% with you, and withdraw the scenario I am speculating about.

        But since the BRIC nations are vying for dominance, or at least to achieve a hegemonic status equivalent to that of the US and Western Europe, I cannot agree with your scenario which discounts the new powers.

        If you look at the BRIC nations you will find that India has suppressed secessionist movements using military force. China has used military force to suppress dissidents (i.e., not even secessionists). Russia is not the champion of human rights, and Brazil is not a Northern hemisphere democracy.

        In other words, the new actors on the world stage are not Western-style democracies which believe all out in human rights.

        We cannot discount these countries without giving due consideration to their aspirations and their weight in the international arena and in the determination of international politics.

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