Central Europeans reflect on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall
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Margit Lánc

Soon after this, everyone found
his enemy

Budapest, Hungary, 2009
Hungarian English

Margit Lánc, retired, Information Sciences

The night the revolution began, in 1956, I was at the opera. Watching The Troubadour, with a schoolmate. Suddenly, during the third act, revolutionaries came onto the stage waving flags and yelling, “The revolution has begun, the revolution has begun”!

They were trying to get us to go to the radio station to protest the shooting of a student. There was some chaos and then the conductor, Ferencsik, had the orchestra play the Hungarian National Hymn. I wanted to go to the radio station, but as we were two eighteen-year-old girls with worrying parents, my friend said no, we had to go home. So we walked home, as there was no transport. People ruined Stalin's statue and pulled the pieces in the streets. 

Later, I was walking around Budapest. There were large fires all over the streets. Windows were broken out of all of the shops. It was amazing that nobody touched the valuable things. I went to the demonstrations at Kossuth Square where hundreds of people were killed. Had I been there five minutes earlier I could have been killed.

Soon after this everyone found his enemy. One person would inform on another and then another. My father went to jail because someone overheard him being critical of the government. Sentenced to one year in prison, he only served six months because they needed the space for real criminals. While he was in prison my mother sold everything, art, lamps, furniture so that we could eat. He had been a successful businessman with 100 people working for him. After prison he could only be a laborer.

After I had a child, I joined the party because I thought that it would be easier to raise him if was a member of the party.  In 1982 I moved with my husband to Moscow. He was doing diplomatic work. Because we were diplomats we could shop at special stores. Most of the goods were from Hungary. We gave everything away to the U.S.S.R. and for what? I stood in line at the shops with the regular people. I wanted to talk to the people. I started to buy rugs in Russia from Turkistan. I would bring them to Hungary and sell them. Then I would buy things here that the Russians could not get, such as jeans and athletic shoes, and sell them in Moscow. This way I made enough money to buy my son a flat.

The revolution in 1989 was the bloodless revolution. Everything happened very quietly. People still want to hang on to many things from socialism. They want to go to the doctor for free. They want to go to university for free. I vote against the referendums that support these causes. We have to be careful, or we will slide back to socialism.  

Overall life is better. The only thing that is not better is there are so many homeless people. There were no homeless people before the revolution. I would vote for the government that could take care of this problem.

This interview was in English
Photo by Miklós Surányi

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Ideology Suppression Revolution Freedom Hope Values Identity