Editing History through Art: An Examination of the 50 years of the Hungarian Soviet Republic poster

HungarianAs I was researching the Hungarian Collection, the poster titled 50 years of the Hungarian Soviet Republic (1969) caught my attention. This poster celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1919 Communist Revolution in Hungary. It is interesting that the year 1919 is cited as the beginning of a continuous Communist government because the Hungarian Communist Revolution of 1919 was a failure. In fact, the Communist regime of Béla Kun lasted for only six months before the Kingdom of Hungary was reestablished. It would be more accurate for 1949 to be cited as the beginning of the Soviet-Hungarian Communist regime because that was the point when a stable communist government was established. Nonetheless, this poster strongly promotes 1919 as the beginning of the Soviet-Hungarian Communist government. What could explain this contradiction?  What purpose could this poster serve?

There are many possible explanations for this ambiguity. Exploration of the historical context before the Hungarian Revolution of 1919 is the best means to find an answer.  Throughout its history, Hungary had a strong foreign presence within its borders. In fact, Hungary was governed by the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austria-Hungarian Empire. After World War I, Hungary was forced to turn over a significant amount of territory to the Triple Entente (France, Britain, and Russia).  Historically, Hungary was unable to establish a nation state, in which a people share a cultural background within defined territory.   In addition to the cultural and territorial confusion, the communist revolution of 1919 failed to create stability in Hungary.  Against this historical backdrop, Hungary creates a confusing definition of what it means to be Hungarian; therefore the 50th anniversary poster is an attempt to establish continuity.  It is far easier to cite 1919 as the beginning of a stable government  than to acknowledge Hungary’s complicated history including the failed revolution of 1919.  In an  effort to define Hungary’s national character, this poster consciously erased the influences and blunders of the past.

This poster is evidence that history was “edited” to define national character in Hungary. Ironically, today, the Hungarian government is continuing to obfuscate their recent past by divesting themselves of material culture associated with Communism under the Soviet Union. Can you find any other instances of this in Eastern Europe?

-Angela Salter

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