As Hungarians prepare to celebrate the 56th anniversary of the 1956 revolution and freedom fight against the Soviet occupation, we are painfully reminded that the Cuban people have lived for 53 years under the despotic Castro regime.
The 1956 revolution captured the world’s imagination and represented a victory of the human spirit over the moral bankruptcy of totalitarianism. Although Hungary’s transition hasn’t been without challenges and occasional setbacks, the country’s democracy is vibrant and has proven resilient. Generations of Cubans, however, have known nothing but dictatorship and deprivation. Hungary’s struggle for freedom contains lessons for Cuba’s growing civil-society movement and for countries, such as the United States, that seek to support a peaceful, democratic change on the island.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Castro government proved adept at maintaining its grip on power by adjusting to a deteriorating economic situation. As it will eventually discover, however, it will not be able to avoid the one constant in the history of nations: Change, brought about by the universal yearning for freedom.
And while change, to be permanent, must also come from within, countries like Hungary can help. Cuba’s political dissidents need moral and political support to be able to push peacefully for change. No one knows this better than Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a staunch anti-Communist, whose budding democratic youth movement received such support from the administration of President George H.W. Bush in the late 1980s.
We also learned in Hungary that a vibrant civil society was critical to our success. The international community can help by encouraging civil-society groups to unite in their effort to promote freedom. One way to do this is to recognize internationally the heroic struggle of those who put their lives on the line every day in Cuba for the cause of freedom. That’s why Prime Minister Orbán decided to recommend Óscar Elías Biscet for the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
Given the state of Cuba’s economy there is growing pressure on the government to implement reforms. The international community should use this opening to support microenterprise projects on the island. In Hungary, right under the noses of the communist government, a parallel limited private economy slowly took hold. This micro-capitalistic system created an entrepreneurial spirit that later helped fuel Hungary’s economic growth following the transition to democracy, with stakeholders already invested in a free market economy.
The 1956 revolution should serve as an inspiration and a beacon of hope to the people of Cuba. Having lived under communism, I understand the suffering that totalitarian governments inflict. This is why Hungary, the United States and the rest of the world have a moral obligation to help the Cuban people control their own destiny.János Martonyi, minister of foreign affairs, Budapest, Hungary