by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the exhibition to commemorate the 1956 Hungarian revolution
We are here to remember heroic deeds. And to honour those who have fallen.
When the Red Army came to Hungary toward the end of World War II, they were welcomed as liberators. But the Soviets wanted far more than just to liberate. They wanted to control.
They imposed one-party rule and a totalitarian regime. The oppression sowed the seeds of revolt.
On October 23, 1956, a great popular demonstration took place in Budapest. People called for free speech, free elections and the withdrawal of Soviet troops. When the secret police opened fire, peaceful protest was turned into violent revolution. Instantly turning thousands of ordinary people into brave freedom fighters. This pro-democracy rebellion could have led to a new dawn of peace and freedom for Hungary. But soon Soviet tanks crushed the Revolution. In the weeks that followed, two hundred thousand people fled the country.
Not so many years later, when I was a child in the 1960ies, my father and mother told me stories about the uprising in Hungary in 1956. They told me about Imre Nagy and Pál Maléter. About people standing up for freedom and democracy. But in particular they told me about people fleeing from oppression. Because my father and mother were at the border between Austria and Hungary. They both were volunteers working for an international student organization running a refugee camp and helping people to get out of Hungary.
I’m proud of my father and mother for the role they played in those difficult days. And I still have friends in Norway who fled from Hungary at that time. Tragically, the Hungarian people continued to suffer for decades. But freedom is stronger than oppression. Democracy is stronger than dictatorship.
When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, Hungary regained its independence. And ten years later, Hungary joined NATO. Along with Poland and the Czech Republic. It’s great to see how Hungary, and other countries of the former Warsaw Pact, have become proud members of NATO. An Alliance built on our shared values of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. The same values that the Hungarian people fought for in 1956. United by these values, the whole Alliance is stronger than the sum of the individual countries. This shows the value of collective defence in what continues to be a dangerous world. So I am grateful to Peter [Ambassador Sztaray] for sharing this exhibition with us here at NATO Headquarters. For giving us all a chance to reflect on this important chapter of Hungarian history. To remember heroic deeds and honour the fallen. And to reflect on the important role that NATO plays in defending our citizens and our values.