On October 20, 1986 President Ronald Reagan issued this proclamation:
By the President of the United States of America
The people of Hungary have contributed many chapters to the history of the struggle for liberty, but never more nobly than in 1956. On October 23 of that year, Hungarians, including the young people, rose up in revolt against communist dictatorship and Soviet occupation.
The freedom fighters, as they were called by a world amazed at their heroism and idealism, fought almost barehanded against heavy odds, and soon fell victim to treachery and ruthless suppression. But they lit a candle of hope and inspiration that can never be extinguished.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a true revolution of, by, and for the people. Its motivations were humanity’s universal longings to live, worship, and work in peace and to determine one’s own destiny. The Hungarian Revolution forever gave the lie to communism’s claims to represent the people, and it told the world that brave hearts still exist to challenge injustice.
The Hungarian freedom fighters of 1956 perished or suffered exile, but their sacrifice lives on in the memory of the Hungarian people. Their example lives on as well, for we see brave people — we call them freedom fighters too — in genuine popular revolutions against communist oppression around the world. Let us honor the Hungarian freedom fighters of 1956 with renewed dedication to our own freedom and with continued assistance for those who follow in their footsteps today.
In memory of the Hungarian heroes of 1956, and to honor those who struggle still, the Congress, by Senate Joint Resolution 385, has designated October 23, 1986, as “National Hungarian Freedom Fighters Day” and authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation in observance of this event.
Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim October 23, 1986, as National Hungarian Freedom Fighters Day. I invite the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities to reaffirm their dedication to the international principles of justice and freedom, which unite and inspire us.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of October, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and eleventh.
The Hungarian Revolt of 1956 was an extremely important turning point in the Cold War. It demonstrated to the world that Eastern Europe was not, and never would be, Communist but rather merely territory held down by the force of the Red Army. This spirit of resistance lived on in each of the countries in the Warsaw Pact from the first imposition of Communist governments at the end of the World War II to the fall of the Communist states at the end of the eighties. It was a magnificent struggle that is too little celebrated in the West.
The heart and soul of the struggle in Hungary was one of the great men of the 20th Century: József Cardinal Mindszenty, primate of Hungary. Imprisoned by the pro-Nazi government in Hungary during World War II, he was imprisoned, tortured and condemned in a show trial by the puppet Communist regime after World War II. Freed by Hungarian patriots during the Hungarian revolt, he quickly joined the revolt. After it was crushed he took refuge in the American embassy in Budapest where he stayed for 15 years, a symbol of the unconquerable spirit of his beloved Hungary. Shamefully, in my view, the Vatican compromised with the Communist regime, annulling the excommunication imposed by Pius XII on all involved with the trial of Mindszenty, and calling him “a victim of history” rather than “a victim of Communism”. Mindszenty traveled to Vienna rather than Rome, upset at the suggestion of the Vatican that he should retire and live in Rome. He was stripped of his titles by Pope Paul VI in 1973, although the Pope did not fill the primacy until after the Cardinal died in 1975. The Church in Hungary has launched a strong effort to have the Cardinal proclaimed a saint, and I pray that it is soon crowned with deserved success.
Below is the public domain movie Guilty of Treason 1949, which tells the story of the trial of Mindszenty by the Communists. There was also the 1956 movie The Prisoner starring Alec Guinness, a heavily fictionalized account of his trial, which the Cardinal intensely disliked.
The people of Hungary have remembered Ronald Reagan’s sympathy for their cause. On June 29, 2011 a statue of President Reagan was unveiled in Freedom Square in Budapest.