New Museum in Washington, D.C. honours the memory of Hungarian martyrs

INDEX, 20.7.2022. (András Sereg)

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  • 2022. July 21.

The Victims of Communism Museum in Washington, D.C., has recently opened its doors. The Hungarian exhibition section honours the memory of 1956, József Mindszenty, the deportations, and also the regime’s fall. Áron Máthé, vice-chair of the Committee of National Remembrance, participated in the creation of the Hungarian-related exhibition. We asked him about the establishment of the museum and the exhibition.

The building of the Museum is located in the centre of the American capital. There is an exhibition area and a library on the ground floor and a conference room on the first floor. The museum was established with the support of the Hungarian and Polish governments, as well as, to a lesser extent, with the support of other sources and internet fundraising. Réka Földváryné Kiss, chair of the Committee of National Remembrance and Áron Máthé, vice-chair of the Committee of National Remembrance also participated in the development and proofreading of the Hunagary related exhibition section of the museum.

Áron Máthé told Index, that in 2003, when he was still working at the House of Terror Museum, Lee Edwards, an American professor of conservative political philosophy, visited them, and was also received by Maria Schmidt, Director-General of the House of Terror Museum. At that time Professor Edwards mentioned that the foundation – he was working for – would establish a museum in Washington, D.C., dedicated to the memory of the victims of communism. There was no mention of specifics, only about an online, virtual museum.

A few years later, however, they took a big step forward, as the professor and his co-workers in the foundation erected a monument to the victims of communism in Washington, D.C. with Hungarian support. Back in 1993, the U.S. Congress adopted a law to build a monument to the victims of the communist dictatorship in the capital. The law, supported by both Republicans and Democrats, led to the formation of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, chaired by Lee Edwards. The Foundation raised nearly one million dollars in private donations for the statue's erection. In addition to the monument, they wanted to create an institution, similar to the American Holocaust Museum, but the needed approximately one hundred million dollars could not be raised. Everyone was sympathetic to us, but actually we got little support - commented later Lee Edwards.

The monument, erected to the communism’s victimes, is located not far from the Capitol. The public sculpture- a female figure holding a torch - was inaugurated in the summer of 2007. U.S. President George Bush and Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, also spoke at the inauguration ceremony. The three-metre-high bronze creation is a miniature replica of the large white statue erected by Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in 1989, which was destroyed by Chinese tanks by crushing the democratic movement. The statue of the liberty goddess in Tiananmen Square was modeled after the Statue of Liberty in New York.

After 2007, almost a decade and a half passed by until the hoped-for museum could be realised, to be true in a more modest way. But ˗ as Áron Máthé puts it with historical irony – this is not the first step, but rather a "big leap". After all, apart from Central Europe,there are not many places in the world, that have museums dedicated to the communism’s atrocities, victims and freedom fighters. Such things actually do not exist at all, and it is a particularly big deal that this exhibition could open it's doors in Washington, D.C., Amerika, where there are serious controversies about the historical past. The question is, whether this museum could have been established at all in Western Europe, which does not deny the co-traveller heritage - noted the vice-chair of the Committee of National Remembrance. After all, according to him, the House of European History in Brussels – the 'official' historical centre of the European Union – does not entirely present events according to such a narrative.

The Hungary related section of the Museum in Washington - opened in June 2022 – includes pictures, quotations, informational texts and figures from the establishment of communism at the state level until 1990, the change of regime, with regard of course, also to 1919. According to Áron Máthé, the exhibition was dedicated to the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight, the character of József Mindszenty, the deportations, the Iron Curtain, but also the fall of the regime and the opening of the border in 1989.

The vice-chair of the Committee of National Remembrance finds it shocking that the museum’s opening was at most a minus news item in the U.S. national press. But in turn before the opening, Andrew Bremberg, also held a press tour. When asked, how he explains this disinterest, Áron Máthé puts ap: "I have the impression that it's interesting to talk about communism as long as we talk about Russia or China, but as it turns out that there have been plenty of victims of communist dictatorship in other countries too, somehow the topic becomes disliked by the mainstream media; or when the past is a reminder that the stealthy communist ideas and movements that are creeping up in the West must also be openly stated what they want."

Source: Magyar vértanúknak is emléket állít az új washingtoni múzeum/Index; 2022.07.20.



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