The Symbolic Square

It is evident that there is a Kossuth Square, because there is a Parliament.  The Parliament not only created the square but, by its dimensions and mass, gave it a structure.

According to the architect, Imre Steindl, the building is a constitution-temple, but in reality it is also something else.  Its image raises the specter of political power regardless of whether the power is constitutional or not.  This symbolic power was potent from the beginning.  It made the actual site of the political power meaningless.  Both within and without politics a peculiar dual feeling developed in people.  They recognized the Parliament as a symbol of centralized political power even though they knew that, in fact, the center of power was elsewhere,

When the building was erected everybody knew that without Francis Joseph there could be no meaningful political decisions.  Yet the ruler saw to the affairs from Vienna and never worked from the Parliament building.  Between the two wars everybody knew the Miklós Horthy, the regent of independent Hungary lived in the Buda Castle and had generally the same sphere of authority as Francis Joseph.  During the Communist era everybody knew that the essential power resided at the Party headquarters, which was located, during the 1950s, a one hundred meters south of the Parliament on Akadémia Street.  After 1956 it was three hundred meters to the north of it on the Széchenyi Quay.  (Actually the important decisions were not made there, but in Moscow),

The known power center could be in the Buda Castle or in the capital of the Soviet Union, the Parliament still became fixed as a building of symbolic power.

We might think about it as a political magnet, deposited in the center of the city, which could attract every intention which wished to manifest itself in the world of politics.  In order for this to happen, it has the square surrounding it.

It is this that made the Kossuth Square particular and different.  Naturally it endured everything that an ordinary square had to endure but it attracted what did not and could not take place on any other square the way it did here.

In this shorter chapter I will review the events that the square attracted.  I could say that I will investigate the political magnet effect.  I will not study all of them but only those which were particularly characteristic and significant.  I will not spend a great deal of effort on them because I have two other means of information available.  What I do have are photographs and documentary reports from the contemporary press.  Both of these are parts of this volume.

I consider it my duty to interpret the events which took place here in the context of a square representing politics and power.  It was because of this characteristic of the square that the events took place here and the principal reason was that the organizers of the events attributed symbolic significance to the area.

The Manifestations of Power

Kossuth Square, precisely because of the presence of the Parliament, almost automatically provided an opportunity for the political-power establishment to present itself.  In contrast to the interior of the building, the square is public, can be seen directly and thus the self-presentation of the establishment is available there for a larger audience.  The need for the power structure to show itself off is not a new and/or transient phenomenon.  The manifestation and self-representation usually follow ritual activities and one of their strongest features is that they must be impressive.  This can be achieved by involving large groups of people, by their active participation and/or by the ritual choreography of formal elements which can be identified with the power establishment.

In the case of Kossuth Square we can find examples for all of the above.

We can see the starting point of the square’s symbolic history in such a power structure self-representation on June 8, 1896, a day the contemporary press called the “Day of Homage.”  At that time, in the year of the millennium and on the anniversary of the 1867 coronation, a so-called “Mounted Parade” was held and an important part of this was the “activation” of the newly created square.  The goal of the show power through self-advertising was to indicate that all of Hungarian history validates the given political system.  In effect, the contemporary power elite demonstrated itself, in the form of a legitimizing action through the use of history, in accordance with a predetermined choreography.

It was this “starting event” from which everything representing one line of the square’s symbolic history of events was derived.  All of it had been already potentially contained in the conceptualization of the square.

The manifestation of power changed over the years, but even though there were variations, the basic, common elements remained the same.

The starting event, the buttressing of the existing power establishment by historical justification, continued even under different systems of power.  One of the characteristic elements of the Hungarian political structure during the interwar years was the elevation of Christianity to a political concept.  At the end of May 1938, the nine hundredth anniversary of the death of  St. Stephen, the main entrance of the Parliament was converted into an altar and the Holy Crown and the mummified extremity of the king, the Holy Right Hand relic, were paraded in the square.

A similar function of legitimizing manifestations of power was accomplished in the square by the dedication ceremonies of statues and memorials, erected by different political systems, to the memory of individuals ranging from Andrássy to István Nagyatádi Szabó and from Kossuth to Béla Kovács.  Historical legitimization was important for all political systems, it being the least important for the democracy.  Since, however, the history of Hungary during the twentieth century was dominated by anti-democratic regimes, it was no accident that such acts were organized as a symbol of power.

The second set of the manifestations of power were those events on the square when an announcement was made to the people declaring: “we are the new power, we are the new world.”  These manifestations of power were functions directly justifying politics.

The 1918 liberal democratic revolution declared its victory on this square to a large assembly of people.  It was also here and again before an enthusiastic crowd, that in November, 1918, it was announced that the country had a new form of government, it had become a republic.  It was here that the Communists held the celebration of the initiation of the rule of the Hungarian proletariat after they had assumed power on March 21, 1919.  It was here that Zoltán Tildy was honored on February 1, 1946, on the occasion of being elected president of the republic.  This was the second republic that was proclaimed on this square.  It was also here that on October 23, 1989, the third Hungarian republic was proclaimed, on the basis of a parliamentary decision,.  So far there have been three republics in Hungary and all were proclaimed on this square,

These were formally very emphatic events and it was no accident that they were associated with the presence of a very large assembly of people.  The presence of the “people” fulfilled a politically justifying function.  It assisted the new power to proclaim itself and emphasized its existence or appearance.

The power which happens to rule at the time likes to gather masses of people on this square so that they can demonstrate their loyalty to the existing power.  An example for this was when the first government of the new democracy summoned its supporters at the end of October, 1990, at the time the taxi drivers started a movement announcing and producing major traffic blocks.  At the time of the 2002 elections, the prime minister of the day, who because of losing the elections would have to vacate his position, also organized a mass-meeting of his followers on this square.[2]

So far we have seen two types of activities in the history of the square which demonstrated either the historical and/or the immediate political justification of the powers in being.  Now I am going to show the third subset and discuss the manifestations of a national character by the powers.

The Parliament building was designed and erected as a structure of power, ready to serve as the representation of the state.  In the prescribed, protocol-determined ritual of this activity the main entrance to the Parliament and the square in front of it had a major role.  On such occasions the steps leading to the entrance are covered by a red carpet.  The foreign guests arriving here are greeted in the square by honor guards appropriate to the rank of the visitor or to the nature of their visit.  This is the way it is done everywhere in the world.

The history of the Kossuth Square, however, includes additional functions as well.  It is the site of the National Banner and from 1965 to 2006, on August 20, the anniversary of Hungarian statehood and constitution, the newly graduated military officers took their oath of allegiance in the square.[3]   The oath taken and the presence of the National Banner emphasized the existence of the system in power at the time.  During the communist era Soviet generals participated in the swearing-in of the new officers indicating that the Parliament and the Kossuth Square were not really the centers of the prevailing powers.  Their presence was suitable, however, to demonstrate the true legitimacy of the communist system.

There were instances in the history of the square that on national holidays major official ceremonies were held here.  An example for this is that at the beginning of the 1990s, on October 23, anniversary memorials of the 1956 revolution were held here.  The large, official arrangements for national holidays were not linked tightly to the square and their appearance here was sporadic.  On various national holidays displays are usually set up in the square.  Placing wreaths before the statues and monuments on the square has become a part of the square’s function.

The events followed their protocol, became an organic part of the square’s history and remained within their official forms and framework.  So far as I know, only one foreign statesman spoke to the people here.  On July 11, 1989, George Bush, the president of the United States, spoke to the people in the square, forgoing all rules of protocol.

Whichever subset we examine, it cannot be denied that the manifestations of power had become an organic component of the symbolic use of the square.

Manifestations of Protest

The square attracted manifestations of protest precisely for the same reason it attracted manifestations of power.  The effects of the political magnet produced the one just as it did the other.

In 1896 the square opened its activities with a demonstration of power but nine years later, with the legislature already busy in the building, the first major protest meeting took place there.  This first one was followed by a large number of such events up to the present times.

The term “protest” is used here as a generic concept.  It means that some people do not want something and would prefer something else.  What this something else might be is frequently confused and difficult to understand.  It is usually clear what they do not want and that it is this emotion that brings them to the square.  Thus, just like the manifestations of power, the expression of protest represents a variety of components which can be readily categorized.  This is why I believe that their use is legitimate.

September 15, 1905, was the day which initiated the manifestations of protest in the history of the Kossuth Square.  The contemporary press called the day “Red Friday.”  The demonstration was organized by the Social Democratic Party.  The purpose of the protest was the matter of the universal, secret franchise.  This was one of principal demands of the period and this is why, contrary to its positive statement, it may be considered a manifestation of protest, because the powers of the day were not inclined to grant it.

With the prolongation of the debates on electoral rules and in connection with several parliamentary crises, there were several attempts to hold such protest meetings on the square.[4]

The next notable occasion was a protest against the republican government which had obtained its power after the 1918 revolution.  It was organized by the communists at the beginning of February, 1919, on behalf of the unemployed.  I must note that the first dual protest meeting in the history of the square also took place in February, 1919.  The Social Democrats, favoring the government, and the communists in opposition to it demonstrated at the same time and not far from each other.

The protest actions of the Social Democrats were linked tightly with the Kossuth Square.  After the Soviet Republic was replaced, they organized a demonstration here to have the trade unions participate in the government.

They were also the ones who used the square for protest activities during the Horthy era.  In 1927 they protested against the regime taking over Lajos Kossuth.  It was again the Social Democrats who, in the name of the construction workers, protested in 1946 against the government led by the Smallholder Party.

During the decades of the Communist dictatorship the square was sleeping so far as protest meetings were concerned.  It is in the nature of dictatorships that they do not allow public protest activities and from this perspective it made no difference whether the dictatorship was a benign or malignant one.

It was only during the 1980s that the square began to wake up from its Sleeping Beauty state, so far as protest activities were concerned.  On the occasion of the commemoration of the Hungarian Revolution of March 15, 1848,  the opposition organized small groups to place flowers before the statue of Kossuth.  In 1988 even a speech was delivered on this occasion.

It was in the autumn of 1988 that the square really came back to life.  Two protest meetings were held at that time.  One of them, on September 12, protested against the Nagymaros-Gabčikovo hydroelectric dam project and the other one, between October 6-8, demanded the release of the 160 young men who were incarcerated as conscientious objectors, or the establishment of alternatives to military service.  The former one was organized by the Duna Kör  (Danube Circle) and the latter one by the East-West Dialog Hálózat Kör (Network Circle).

After this time the use of the square for protests increased sharply.  Taxi drivers demonstrated here, smallholders, with and without tractors, students about tuition, meat industry workers, teachers, firemen, policemen, large land owners, people harmed by economic transactions, investors, supporters of the Democratic Charter, and all others who had a problem.

Protests, linked to this square, became a general practice. It was here, in 2006, that the prime minister who lost out in 2002 organized a major gathering at the end of his electoral campaign.  It seemed to prove through one person and one political party, that the square, that political magnet, was equally suitable for the manifestations of power and for protests.  It is a matter of the opposite sides of a single principle.

In 2006 the longest protests in the history of the square took place.  Continuous, way-of-life demonstrations lasted from the middle of September to the eve of October 23, demanding the resignation of the prime minister.

The novelty was not in the protest.  We have seen that for protests there was a long tradition in the history of the square.  What was new is what I referred to as a ”way of life” demonstration.  In a cultural-anthropological sense this means that it had a different shape from all previous protest demonstrations. Because of its duration of more than a month, a tent camp was set up by the Rákóczi statue on the square. “National rock music”, i.e. rock music with a nationalistic text was played continuously, a goulash kitchen functioned for a while, clothes were hung between the tents to dry, and in the evening there were speeches.  The whole event gave the impression of a camp meeting in the wilds.  The legislators and the enforcers of the law watched the event helplessly.  The movement was the living denial of the social science theory, according to which the behavioral patterns and rules of the private and public sectors differed from each other.[5]

After 1988, one of the statues on the square also “participated” in the protest movement.  The Mihály Károlyi statue, commemorating the controversial leader of the 1918 revolution, was repeatedly doused with red paint.[6]

The use of the square for protests started from the left wing, but became general after 1988.  It seems that if the Hungarians have a problem, they definitely favor the Kossuth Square to express their complaints more or less violently.

Not only manifestations of power, but protests as well, became integral traditions of the square.

Moments of Political Mercy

Because the Kossuth Square became totally politicized, there were some moments in its existence when events took place there which were clearly political in nature but which could not be defined as either manifestations of power or protests.  When they occurred the participants were not yet in a position of power but were just at its gates.  They could be confident that the power would be theirs momentarily.  These events were related to the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary changes in Hungarian history.  Because the history of the square being a political magnet illustrated these changes, they usually took shape in the events taking place in the square.

In essence we are talking about a few moments which signify the most exciting and erotic sides of political activity.  Every indicator points toward completion but the act had not taken place yet.  It is almost certain that power will be acquired, but it has not yet.  We must remember that political passions just like all passion-based activities seek gratification.

The first such event in the history of the square was the popular meeting on October 28, 1918.  The event was about the government powers descending upon the National Council, about Mihály Károlyi becoming prime minister, and about the transformation of the still living but moribund political system.  Three days later it happened and the revolution, known as the “Fall-Aster Revolution” was victorious.

The second similar event took place, almost exactly one year later, when on November 16, 1919, The National Army, under Miklós Horthy’s leadership, marched into Budapest.  The terminal point of the march was the square in front of the Parliament.  Horthy was not regent yet, the power was not yet his, this would only come on March 1, 1920, but it was almost certain that he would achieve what he wanted.  In the marching-in ritual of the National Army political eroticism, the moment of male-dominated victory, was reasonably overt.  A delegation of Hungarian women presented Horthy, riding a white stallion, with a banner.  Cecil Tormay declared, “Take it! The hands of women have blessed it and consecrated it to glorify your manly hands.”  Then sixty-three women with black veils marched in, representing the sixty-three counties and presented flowers to Horthy.  Cecil Tormay called them the daughters of the dismembered and occupied Hungary.[7]

Then “beautiful girls in Hungarian national dress” marched in, with the daughter of the prime minister at their head, presenting a bouquet of chrysanthemums to the commander in chief.  It can be felt that the ritual has a barely concealed, distinct, sphere of interest related sexual-erotic content: the male leader is entitled to unconditional female submission.

The third such moment occurred on October 23, 1956.  At about nine in the evening Imre Nagy spoke to the people assembled in the Kossuth Square.  At the same time, in a different part of the city, the Stalin statue was torn down and the radio station was occupied.  The masses gathering in the square demanded Imre Nagy.  He was the one they wanted to hear.  In the political atmosphere of the day it was obvious that after the dictatorial Rákosi-type of leadership, Imre Nagy must follow and that he was the man of the hour.  Imre Nagy spoke to the multitude.  He stated that the legitimate demands of the young people would be heard, that reforms would come promptly but that all problems would have to be resolved within the Party.  Less than twenty-four hours later he was the prime minister.  Barely a week later, on October 31, he again spoke on the Kossuth Square.  He announced that he negotiated the removal of the Soviet troops from Hungary, the withdrawal of Hungary from the Warsaw Pact and that October 23 would become a national holiday.

The three moments show considerable differences in their political orientation and choreography.  Yet all three took place on the square and it is a common feature of all three that they were preliminaries to the assumption of power.  They were moments of mercy.

Political Piety

Memorial events and acts of piety represent a separate chapter in the history of the square.  These were also linked to the actual political powers because they were the only ones who could use the square and the Parliament as an area for a funerary activity.  Yet, I am reluctant to include them as manifestations of power.   The reason for this is cultural in nature.  Death and the related ceremonies and rituals can, naturally, be used for political and power purposes, but here we are dealing with a larger picture.  Death and piety are placed in such a sanctified value system that while the political issues and the conflicts battled over in life do not disappear, after death they are temporarily placed in abeyance.  Stating it differently, death and piety can, for a short time, culturally overshadow political logic.  I believe that political piety might be a better term than manifestation of power.

The starting point of these types of events was in February, 1919.  On the 20th participants in a large meeting of the Central Committee of the Unemployed were persuaded by the communists to march to the editorial office of the Social Democratic Party newspaper, the Népszava.  There was gunfire and six of the defenders of the editorial office were killed.  Their catafalque was set up in the Dome Chamber of the Parliament.  Then, the coffins were taken out onto the main entrance stairs.  The memorial ceremony and the speeches were held in the square,

Not much later there was another occasion to use the square for piety.  On June 24, 1919, with the assistance of the warships on the Danube, a revolt started against the ruling Soviet Republic.  The revolt was defeated but a number of soldiers of the Red Army were killed in the fight against the insurgents.  At the end of June, the bodies of eighteen Red Soldiers were placed on a catafalque in the square.  They were the “martyrs of the proletarian state.”

During the Horthy era a number of noted funerary rituals took place on the square.  It was from here that in February, 1936, Count Albert Apponyi, the “Grand Old Man” of the political life of the day, was taken to the cemetery.  Gyula Gömbös, the prime minister died on October 6, 1936.  He was put on a catafalque in the Parliament and the square became a part of the funerary ceremonies.  Count Pál Teleki was also the prime minister when he committed suicide on January 27, 1941.  He also was placed on a catafalque in the Parliament and the square was an integral part of the funerary ceremonies.

The next occasion is the funeral of István Horthy, the vice regent of Hungary.  The son of Miklós Horthy, he crashed his plane on August 20, 1942, near Alexeyevka, on the Russian front.  He also was placed on a bier in the Parliament and the square was once again an important part of the ceremonies.

The acts of political piety, related to the square and being now considered a matter of tradition did not come to an end with the Horthy era.

Almost immediately after the end of the war, at the end of May 1945, a catafalque was set up in the square for Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinsky, whom the Arrow Cross partisans executed on December 24, 1944, in Sopronkőhida.   He was considered to be worthy of this honor as a martyr of Hungarian antifascist activity.

Mihály Károlyi, the first president of the first Hungarian republic died in his exile in France on March 19, 1955.  Seven years after his death he was brought back home and was buried from the Kossuth Square on March 19, 1962.

János Kádár had no catafalque in the Parliament or on the square and yet the square became an act of piety for him.  The catafalque was in the Party Headquarters on the Széchenyi Quay, (today an office building for the representatives) but the long lines of mourners were coming from the Kossuth Square.  Thus, during the summer of 1989, during the rapidly progressing change in the regime, the Kossuth Square became involved in the manifestation of piety rendered to the leader of the post-1956 Communist regime.

The last manifestation of piety to date occurred in December 1993.  This was when József Antall, the first prime minister after the change in regime died.  The traditional example of Gömbös, Teleki, and István Horthy was observed, and the departed prime minister had his catafalque in the Parliament and his funerary ceremonies in the Kossuth Square.

These acts of political piety are the best testimony to the original intent that Imre Steindl had in mind for the Parliament building.   The deaths and the piety had political emphasis and their sanctified content was well suited to the aura of the constitution-temple.

Unclassifiable Tragedy

The most tragic event on the square occurred on October 25, 1956.

According to later and somewhat biased descriptions:

In the morning a huge protest group gathered in the Kossuth Square. The Soviet tanks guarding the Party headquarters in the Akadémia Street peacefully watched the demonstration.  In the Party headquarters Suslov and Mikoyan were negotiating with the demonstrators when fire was opened by machine pistols from the roofs of the adjoining buildings on the peaceful demonstrators and on the Soviet tanks and their personnel fraternizing with the demonstrators. The bloody assault resulted in eighty dead and one hundred and fifty wounded.  The persons involved in the bloody assault and their leaders have not been definitely identified to this day.[8]

Between 10:00 and 11:00 [in the morning], eight to ten thousand people marched from the Astoria Hotel to Kossuth Square in front of the Parliament, demanding to hear Imre Nagy.  The soldiers manning the Soviet armed vehicles and tanks protecting the Parliament and the Soviet soldiers stationed in the square fraternized with the demonstrators.  At about 11:15 AM additional Soviet tanks arrived in the square.  At approximately the same time, according to eye witnesses, unknown riflemen opened fire on the demonstrators from the attic windows of the Ministry of Agriculture.  Some of the Soviet armed vehicles also fired on the demonstrators while others returned the fire from the ministry.  The firing claimed sixty to seventy dead and one hundred to one hundred and fifty wounded.  The precise sequence of events is still not entirely clear but public opinion uniformly attributes the bloody assault to the AVH.[9]

A large number of people were killed in the square It is no accident that I call this an “unclassifiable tragedy.” It is an unclassifiable tragedy because it is the only instance of mass murder in the square.  Unfortunately in the twentieth century history of the country the murder of unarmed victims was far from a unique event but in the life of the square it never happened, except on October 25, 1956.

It is also unique because the demonstration on October 25, while unmistakably political, did not fit into either the pro or anti power category.  It did not fit because after October 23 there was a series of events which had led by the 25th to the situation that there was a prime minister who became prime minister by the will of the uprising and of the rebels, but there were still the Stalinists in leadership positions both in the Party and in the military, against whom the uprising was directed and against whom the demonstration in the square was organized.  In addition, another duality, there was no understanding between the divided segments of the political powers.

Lastly, it is unclassifiable because tragedies always are.

It is not my purpose or my duty to give the details of the events, which, actually, are far from being accurately known.[10]  It only complements the above to say that, according to other sources, the demonstrators were fired upon from the Ministry of Construction, from the lower windows of the Parliament, and from the direction of Akadémia, Nádor, and Báthory Streets.

The participants in the shooting, the mass murders, included the border guards and the formation responsible for guarding prominent structures who were part of the AVH security police system, the so called “partisans” who were former antifascist fighters recruited for the support of the Rákosi leadership, and the Soviet military formations.

The demonstrators came to the square to emphasize four specific demands. It is an odd twist of fate that one of their demands, the discharge of the Stalinist Ernő Gerő from his position as first secretary of the Communist Party, actually took place, at the time of the massacre, only one hundred meters away at the Party headquarters.  The representatives of the Soviet leadership chose János Kádár to replace Ernő Gerő

There is no agreement yet as to the number of victims of the massacre.[11]  Nobody can tell for certain.

It is not a matter of debate, however, that the event was tragic.  It is also not a matter of debate that the massacre was largely caused by Hungarian armed units loyal to the Stalinist system and by Soviet formations.  Who was responsible to what degree is still a matter of debate.  Finally, even though the precise number of the victims is not known, there is no question that a political massacre had been committed on the square.

It is no accident that in the eventful history of the square this is the day to which memorials have been erected.

The Non-Political Square

We could sense from the series of events that the symbolism of  Kossuth Square favored its political role.  It was the continuity of political events which made the square into what it is.  This is what gave the square its uniqueness and its specific character.

In addition to the dominance of the political role, there was a non-political, or mainly non-political, trend which was not characteristic, which could have happened anywhere, but which is still a part of the whole picture.

The non-political events on the square took place mostly after the regime change in 1989-1990.  Such events included the erection of a Christmas tree, the occasional erection of a skating rink, the occasional establishment of a pontoon bridge between the Kossuth Square and the opposite side of the Danube, mass meditations in the square, charity hand-ball tournaments, giant photograph displays, concerts, and a square music and film festival where movies are projected onto giant screens for all to see.  It also is part of this series of events that at one time the new public transportation buses were first shown in the square.

The civilian and non-political use of the square occasionally included surprising events.  Such an occasion occurred on May 6, 2003, when thirty blind or vision impaired people marched to the Kossuth statue and placed white canes at its pedestal.  This was to express their displeasure with the insoluble personality conflict in the National Institute for the Blind between the female director and one of her section heads.

Yet, even the surprising and unusual actions express the realization that the square, in addition to its political dominance, entered so deeply into public consciousness that it was used for events which had seemingly no relationship with its political symbolism.  I use the term “seemingly” intentionally because I feel it is justified by the fact that the notable political-symbolic role automatically attracts other activities seeking public notice.

It is also a part of the non-event-centric public use of the square that people walk through it going to and coming from work, sit on the benches in the park-like portion of the square and, in other words, use it just like they would use any other partly park-like public areas.

The public use leads from time to time to the question whether the square should not be made more public oriented.  Since the change in regime the political activities on the square increased.  Ever since 1988 it is almost a daily discussion item that the square should be made more suitable for public use.

A contributing factor is that since the Parliament was erected many things had changed.  Mass motorization in Hungary took place after 1956, but because during the communist era House of Delegates met only for one or two days four times each year, parking was not a problem for the representatives.  Following the change of regime, the legislature meets for two session days and one committee day each week, other than when in recess.  If the square is not to serve as an open air parking area, something has to be done.[12]

Security issues have also changed.  From 1902 until the beginning of the 2000s anybody could walk up to the building or, at least, get quite close to it.  Today the Parliament is encircled by a security zone, in an esthetically rather undemanding way.  From the beginning of the last century, because of the public use of the square and the daily use by the people, there was always an attempt to establish parks.  At the beginning of the twenty-first century this might have to be reconsidered.

*  *  *

So far as the symbolic use of the Kossuth Square is concerned the elements showing a temporal continuity were established between 1896 and 1919.  The later periods only followed what had been established in the above period.  The “political magnet,” the radiation emanating from the Parliament was functioning perfectly.  It attracted even acts of political piety.  Consequently the political nature of the square underwent a complete transformation and the series of symbolic political events became a characteristic feature.  The character so established was reinforced by the politically motivated massacre of 1956.  The political tragedy on the Kossuth Square became an integral component of history.  In the mean time the every-day public activities on the square continued and are part of the square’s history albeit in a subordinate and not dominant role.  Some elements of the square’s public history were, and still are, influenced by the force of its political symbolism.

The symbolic use of the square was not always of the same intensity or of the same dimensions.  The more civil rights were available in a period of time, the more the square was used for political protests. From 1956 to 1988 the square was totally silent in this regard.  Its most intensive period began in 1988.

It was always available for the manifestations of power and every ruling power took advantage of this opportunity.

The Kossuth Square became the principal square of Hungary.



[1] This is a chapter of my book: András Gerő: Public Space in Budapest. The History of Kossuth Square. Boulder, Colorado, Center for Hungarian Studies and Publications, Inc. Wayne, New Jersey, Columbia University Press, New York, 2009.

[2] The number of people is an important factor at all events which tend to emphasize the power of protest manifestation.  The greater number the greater the emphasis. For this reason, in many instances, the organizers or the press exaggerate the numbers. The most striking exaggeration occurred in connection with the 2001 government party’s mass meeting during the election campaign. The organizers talked about 1.5 – 2 million attendees, when the square with only 65,000 m² usable space can accommodate no more than 260-300 thousand people at most.

[3] In 2006 the banner staff was given a new base.  After 2007 the new officers were sworn in at the Heroes’ Square.

[4]  A demonstration in May 1912, which came to be known as “Bloodred Thursday,” was unable to reach its announced target, Kossuth Square. For an analysis of the events, see Gábor Gyáni, Identity and the Urban Experience: Fin-de-Siècle Budapest (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 2004), pp. 144-151.

34 One of the principal theoreticians of the utilization of squares, Richard Senett, believes, and bases his theories on the belief, that it is a basic characteristic of the changes in public activities, that the private lives become mystified because they can no longer be made public and can no longer be part of public life.  Senett’s arguments have some validity but it is likely that he ignored the vital demonstrations representing the conscious publicity of a whole form of life.  See Richard Sennett,  The Fall of Public Man (New York: Vintage Books, 1978).

35 On the right of the political spectrum Mihály Károlyi came to be known as the “Red Count” for his left-wing sympathies. He was falsely accused of paving the way for the humiliating Peace Treaty of Trianon. His statue was repeatedly doused with red paint.  On October 31, twice during the last week of July, 2003, on February 26, 2007.  On April 26, 2007 it was doused with acid.

[7] Cecil Tormay’s text is published as, “A nemzeti hadsereg ünnepe az Országház téren” [The feast of the National Army on Parliament Square], A Est, November 18, 1919, pp.3-5.

[8] Mihály Bihari,  Magyar politika, 19442004: politikai s hatalmi viszonyok [Hungarian Politics, 1944-2004: Political and Power Relations] (Budapest: Osiris, 2005).

[9] András B. Hegedűs, ed., 1956 kézikönyve. Kronológia [Handbook of 1956: Chronology] (Budapest: ’56-os Intézet, 1996), p. 92.

[10] For the events on the Kossuth Square, see László Varga, Az elhagyott tömeg: tanulmányok 19501956-ról [The Abandoned Crowd: Essays about 1950-1956]] (Budapest: Cserépfalvi, 1994), pp. 99-126;  László Eörsi, ”A véres csütörtök” [Bloody Thursday], Századvég 6, no. 1 (1990): 241-251;  András Kő and Lambert J. Nagy, Kossuth Tér, 1956  (Budapest: Teleki László Alapítvány 2001).

[11] Varga gives seventy-four names. Eörsi estimates the number of dead at two hundred.

[12] In 2002 a bicycle path to the square was being discussed and, according to Népszabadság, May 27, 2002 issue, an underground garage is also planned.  In 2003 the plans for public toilettes were considered.  The press reported on April 14, 2004 that on August 20 the square would be remodeled.  In 2005 the underground garage was again the main topic.  It was announced on June 25, 2005 that the government would remodel the Kossuth Square.  Nothing of the above was ever realized.