US-led efforts in Iraq and that country’s attempts to build a full fledged democracy.
He spoke in Budapest where, in simmering temperatures with helicopters flying overhead, a few hundred carefully selected guests were seated at Gellert Hill near Hungary’s Statue of Liberty, overlooking the Hungarian capital and the waters of the Danube River that cuts through the city.
President Bush said it was "this spot from where you could see tens of thousands of students, workers and other Hungarians marching through the streets," in 1956.
"They called for an end to dictatorship, censorship and to the secret police. They called for free elections, a free press and the release of political prisoners. This Hungarian patriots tore down the statue of Joseph Stalin, and the defied an empire to proclaim their liberty," Bush added.
With distant thunder audible at the hill site, Bush recalled how the revolution against Communism and Soviet domination was crushed by Soviet troops; 2,500 people, including women and children, were killed and 200,000 Hungarians fled, many of them to the United States.
The remains of revolution-leader Prime Minister Imre Nagy, who was executed in 1958, were reburried in 1989 when perhaps hunderds of thousands of Hungarians took to the streets. Soon after, Hungary became the "first Communist country" in the region to embrace democracy, and Russian troops left, in a way fulfilling the ideals of those who fought in 1956, Bush suggested.
Bush referred to his Christian faith saying "Our Creator" wanted every man, woman and child to be free. Christians were among those suffering under Communism. Many were imprisoned for leading churches or educating children. Bush said he and his wife, Laura, were moved when viewing the Crown of St. Stephen, Hungary’s first king who brought Christianity to this nation, over a millenium ago.
Besieged at home over mounting US casualties in the conflict in Iraq and criticized internationally, Bush also used the ceremony to claim that Hungary’s 1956 Revolution and the eventual collapse of Communism in 1989 are an inspiration for Iraq today. "I met with Iraq’s new Prime Minister Nuri Maliki who is committed to the democratic ideals that also inspired Hungarian patriots in 1956 and 1989."
Not all Hungarians welcomed his speech, amid frustration over the perceived lack of support from the US during the revolution. "The USA didn’t help us in 1956. So what else can they say now?," said 34-year-old Kristian, a computer programmer. "It’s only an advertisement for the USA in Hungary nothing else," added Bank Manager Nicolet.
62-year-old Aniko Horvath said Americans have no right to commemorate the revolution. "I was an elderly girl already at the time [of 1956] and I remember that Americans promised help, and they did not give us that help," she told BosNewsLife in a park not far from the venue where Bush spoke.
"Everything depended on America’s attitude towards our revolution. They could easily help us at that moment, than there would have been no Soviet tanks here."
Former veterans of the 1956 uprising urged Bush on Thursday, June 22, to apologize on behalf of his country for not coming to Hungary’s aid 50 years ago. They accused US-funded Radio Free Europe of encouraging the revolutionaries to keep fighting by promising American military support, which never came.
Bush suggested however that attitudes have changed and that America supports freedom seeking people, adding that he had lunch with three freedom fighters and that he was proud to have met them. Ahead of the visit, the Hungarian Catholic Church thanked Bush, a self declared ‘born-again Christian’, for US support after the fighting ended.
In a published letter to Bush this month, Primate Peter Erdo said Hungarian Catholics would not forget that a predecessor found shelter in the American embassy in Budapest in 1956. Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, fleeing Soviet tanks invading the capital, stayed for 15 years in the embassy as Communist rule was restored.
Accompanied by his wife Laura and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bush was visiting Hungary four months ahead of the official celebration of the Hungarian revolution in October. He says his schedule does not allow for an October visit.
The speech was the last event on the president’s brief trip to Europe, which included a stop in Vienna where he met European Union leaders to talk about issues ranging from Iran, trade and energy issues to the fate of the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.