I was first introduced to Imre Nagy in Michener’s The Bridge of Andau and the portrayal of Nagy in that book was fairly ambivalent — he became prime minister during the Hungarians revolted against the Soviet Union but look at these average, everyday people who really were the revolutionists.
However, that’s not the reason why I picked up Benziger’s book; I was actually intrigued by the subtitle of this book, “Contested History, Legitimacy, and Popular Memory in Hungary”. I’m really interested in the construction of history and collective memory because, remember, history is written by winners not losers. And in this case, the Soviet Union was the winner.
Nagy was executed and buried as a traitor to Hungary following the 1956 Revolution. His grave site, known as Plot 301, contained both his bones and that of other well-known and everyday revolutionists portrayed as traitors. In 1989, however, he and his fellow revolutionists were reburied as heroes, which was seen as an important factor in the end of the Communist government in Hungary. Benziger states that not everyone agreed with the reburying of Nagy and a bill introduced in 1996 to name him the martyr of the nation has stalled in the Hungarian Parliament (at least as of 2008 when this book was published).
The format of this book was fairly odd. It appears like a collection of scholarly articles printed together (complete with bibliographies at the end of each chapter), but each “article” references other chapters. Each chapter also has a theme to it — Nagy before the revolution, Nagy after the revolution, treatment of Nagy by textbooks.
I probably should have started with a biography of Nagy before reading this book because there were references to political parties he joined and decisions he made that I did not fully understand. However, there were parts of this book that I found really interesting and I am glad that I read, if nothing else than that I will better understand the (contested) statues and tributes to Nagy around Budapest when I visit next month.
- Benziger, Karl P. Imre Nagy, Martyr of the Nation: Contested History, Legitimacy, and Popular Memory in Hungary. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008. Print. 208 pgs. ISBN: 9780739123300. Source: Library.
- Michener, James A. The Bridge at Andau. New York, NY: Random House, 1957. Print. 272 pgs. ISBN: 39441778X. Source: Library.