Remembering the 1956 Hungarian uprising

I’d like to welcome you all here tonight to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising.

I would like to give a special welcome to the Hungarian Honorary Consul, Klara Szentirmay, who has co-organised this event with me. And a special welcome also to the members of the Hungarian community here tonight, including some who were part of the momentous events in Hungary, in October 1956.

I would also like to acknowledge members of the diplomatic corps, and my fellow MPs from several parties.

I was keen to host this event, and the wonderful exhibition on the uprising which is on display next door, for several reasons:

Firstly, I wanted to pay their tribute to the Hungarian people, who struggled so bravely for freedom 50 years ago and whose example has inspired many who followed, and paved the way for the democratic revolutions that finally took place in 1989 in Hungary and other Eastern European countries.

Secondly, I wanted to celebrate this momentous anniversary with the Hungarian community in New Zealand, to honour them with a parliamentary reception, exhibition, and an official motion in Parliament yesterday remembering the uprising.

Thirdly, I wanted to convey how much the Hungarian resistance helped foster political understanding and progressive change in New Zealand. It was a formative political experience for me. In 1956 I was 12 years old, living in Christchurch. My mother, Elsie Locke, was then a Communist, but one who identified with the Imre Nagy the liberal Communist to took over as Prime Minister during the October revolution in Hungary.

We listened to the BBC News every day. I remember her enthusiasm at the people’s revolution which began on October 23, when workers, students and others, took over the streets, removed the symbols of Stalinism, and quickly toppled the regime.

My mother was elated when Soviet troops began to withdraw from Hungary, but that emotion turned to total anguish when the Russian tanks swept back in on November 4 and drowned the revolution in blood.

My mother left the Communist Party as did about a third of its members. That phenomenon was repeated throughout the world, and gave impetus to the formation of a New Left, made up of a combination of refugees from communist parties, independent student radicals, and people on the left of the Labour Parties.

I became a part of this New Left, helping set up a New Left Club at Canterbury University in 1963.

The Hungarian revolution ingrained in me a passion for civil liberties which I have pursued since then, including into Parliament today. So I have to thank the Hungarian people for that.

I pay tribute to the Hungarian people here today, and particular the veterans of that inspiring mass revolt 50 years ago.


East Foyer – Parliament Buildings