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Freedom at the Museum

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
February 27, 2008

A young Hungarian boy scrounging for wood. Russian tanks passing piles of debris that were once buildings. Homes, maybe. Demonstrators filling the streets.

These images of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 are on display at the University Museum now through July 3. In the exhibit Freedom ’56, historic photographs by Erich Lessing capture the spirit of a brief victory from communist oppression by Hungarian demonstrators, followed by the violent Soviet invasion that re-established Hungary as part of the Soviet orbit.

Contemporary photos of Budapest by Stephen Spinder complement the exhibition.

The 18-day revolt was launched in Budapest on Oct. 23 by a student demonstration against the Stalinist government and quickly spread nationwide. A group of the students who tried to have their demands aired over the radio were held against their will. When the demonstrators in the streets learned of this, they began chanting for their release and were fired up by the state security police.

Violence erupted throughout the capital and the rebellion spread across the country. Militias were formed to fight the police and Soviet troops, killing or imprisoning the pro-Soviet communists. Answering the call for political change, a new government was formed, vowing to re-establish free elections.

On Nov. 4, the Soviet government reneged on its agreement to withdraw its troops and invaded Budapest. In six days, more than 2,000 Hungarians were killed and nearly a quarter of a million people became refugees. By the start of the new year, all opposition to the Soviet regime had been suppressed.

In 1989, Hungary emerged as a democracy following the break-up of the Soviet Union and Oct. 23 was declared a national holiday.

The University Museum is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and, during the spring and fall semesters, Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. For more information go to http://www.izaak.unh.edu/Museum/general.htm.

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