Freedom Square 89 – A Book on an Era
Philip Rákay, author of the book ‘Freedom Square 89’

The first volume of the book ‘Freedom Square 89’ (Szabadság tér 89 in Hungarian) by Hungarian media personality and TV presenter Philip Rákay tells the story of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Communistic era in Hungary. In addition to that, Rákay’s nearly 400-page-long work touches upon non-domestic events from that particular time period to give a more detailed context.

Philip Rákay first launched a TV series of the same title, but since he believes “television is the keepsake of a moment in time”, he decided to publish a book of interviews. He asked politicians, historians, musicians and other public figures, who took part in the political transformation in a certain way or studied and still study one aspect of it, to contribute to this historical journey. The first volume discusses the events happened between January and August 1989. Among others, one can read about Imre Nagy and the Hungarian revolution of 1956, the Opposition Round Table (Ellenzéki Kerekasztal, EKA) and the foundation of political parties such as Fidesz, MDF, SZDSZ, which later formed or is still forming the Hungarian reality. While the book mainly places emphasis on the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP) and its corrupted, non-transparent way of operation, Rákay also devotes time to arts and cultural phenomena like the underground music band VHK (Vágtázó Halottkémek; in English: Galloping Coroners).

While plenty of essays, studies and analyses were executed, the vast majority of the population of Hungary are left out from this particular discourse, and it seems only a few people would be  willing to invite individuals to take part in this conversation. The author undeniably wants to provide the readers with a collection of thoughts: under what circumstances the system has changed. “No one told my generation what was really happening in our country for 40 years, and later in 1989 and 1990. Surprisingly, I also received a lot of feedback from older viewers, who were very grateful for the programme because thanks to that they were able to understand hidden and withhold nexuses”. It’s “funny” that whilst information and access are praised, the Act CXXIX of 2015 on the modification of the Act CXII of 2011 on information self-determination and freedom of information came into force on 1 October 2015, meaning today it is even more difficult to the public to access public information and data.

However, this is not the only contradiction in the book. Tamás Deutsch, who is a founding member of the Fidesz and now a member of the European Parliament, criticized the lack of media coverage of one of the national holidays in 1989: “On 15 March 1989 more than 30 organisations represented the opposition, and one hundred thousand people showed up demanding freedom, the withdrawal of the Soviet army and free election. Despite this one could see only very short reports on this event; neither the Hungarian National Television nor the MTI (literally Hungarian Telegraphic Office) would be able provide enough resource to reconstruct what happened that day”. (Rákay, 2015, p. 112) This description might remind the citizens of Hungary [B1]of the demonstration held at the Opera House against the new constitution and the infamous national television’s report on it. In January 2012 the cameraman somehow managed not to show thousands of people who were at the demonstration. A list of past and present parallels could be easily created based on the content of the book.

To take a step further another perspective must be included. Even though it happened more than 25 years ago, the existence of the long-lived Iron Curtain and the sudden arrival of capitalism still influence lives in the once socialist countries. No one argues that 1989 has gained a significant role in Central and Eastern Europe’s history. That was the year when the Iron Curtain fell down and Europe reunited, and this also entailed that people started to hope again. Both those who grew up during the following decades and the slightly older generation might have heard their parents say: “We do hope it will be easier for you.” It surely became a mantra that reminded our parents not only of the older times, the memories one does not necessarily wanted, but a future of full of opportunities and freedom.

This plain and succinct wish acted as a catalyst for a great variety of people, since if they had learnt something about the life of others living on the other side of the curtain was that everything was possible: No matter where you come from, what you do, if you work hard, you achieve your goals – or at least you should. Still, something went wrong in Hungary and probably in other states as well. Instead of placing emphasis on building a community, the individual’s role was empowered, and private property began to dictate. Many people joined the insane race for goods, but many were left behind. Taking into consideration the past 25 years’ occurrences, one might ask him/herself, what has actually changed since 1989?