IMAGE: Bush reviews Hungarian troops
Charles Dharapak  /  AP
President Bush reviews the Hungarian honor guard at Sandor Palace in Budapest, Hungary, on Thursday.
updated 6/22/2006 1:50:38 PM ET 2006-06-22T17:50:38

President Bush on Thursday acknowledged Iraq’s turbulent transition to democracy, but said Hungary’s decades-long struggle to break the grip of Soviet oppression underscores the power of freedom.

“The lesson of the Hungarian experience is clear,” Bush said in the courtyard of Buda Castle, where he celebrated the coming 50th anniversary of Hungary’s bloody revolt against communist rule. “Liberty can be delayed, but it cannot be denied,” the president said.

Bush noted that Hungarian soldiers are helping to train Iraqi security forces, and are assisting in Afghanistan as well.

“This is important work,” he said. “By supporting these two young democracies, you are strengthening two new allies in the war on terror and you are bringing hope to millions of people in a vital region of the world.”

Human rights concerns
Earlier, Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom also paid tribute to his country’s difficult emergence from behind the Iron Curtain, yet he gently nudged Bush to make sure that the U.S.-led fight against terrorism doesn’t stomp on human rights.

“This fight against terrorism can be successful only if every step and measure taken are in line with international law,” Solyom told Bush in a gilded room at the Sandor Palace.

Bush’s commemoration of the 1956 uprising was more than four months early.

Communists seized control of the Hungarian government in the late 1940s. In 1956, the Hungarian people revolted against the communist oppression, but Soviet troops crushed the revolution. Pro-Soviet forces fired on a crowd of 100,000 peaceful protesters and killed more than 500. The following month, armored Soviet divisions rolled into Budapest, brutally crushing the revolt and leaving thousands dead in the fighting.

Bush noted that in the fall of 1956, history was written from the hilltop where he stood.

“From this spot, you could see tens of thousands of students and workers and other Hungarians, marching through the streets,” Bush said. “These Hungarian patriots tore down the statue of Josef Stalin and defied an empire to proclaim their liberty.”

Slow transition to democracy
Over the next three decades, the anti-communist movement steadily demanded greater freedom. In 1989, the Hungarian Communist Party ended its 40-year rule of Hungary, paving the way for multiparty elections.

“You never lost hope,” Bush said. “You kept faith in freedom, and 50 years after you watched Soviet tanks invade your beloved city, you now watch your grandchildren play in the streets of a free Hungary.”

The Bush administration is pursuing a more multinational approach to diplomacy, but widespread anti-Bush sentiment remains in Europe. It is driven by ongoing perception of a go-it-alone U.S. foreign policy represented most starkly by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“Sometimes we might have debates, we might have discussions,” Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said during a luncheon toast at the Parliament. “But after all, we know that we must work together and fight together for the objectives that we have together.”

Frustration over visas
Bush spoke on a stage set against a wall of the castle, with a panoramic view of Budapest, the twisting Danube River and the hills beyond. It was muggy and hot, with dark rain clouds threatening overhead and thunder occasionally punctuated his remarks to an audience of about 200.

Bush’s first stop in Budapest was the hilltop palace where he met with Solyom. In a cobblestone side courtyard overlooking the picturesque city, soldiers in tan dress uniforms with red accents stood at attention and a military band flanked by troops on horseback played both countries’ national anthems.

After the speech, Bush boarded Air Force One for his trans-Atlantic flight to Washington.

Bush’s first stop in Budapest was the hilltop palace where he met with Solyom. In a cobblestone side courtyard overlooking the picturesque city, soldiers in tan dress uniforms with red accents stood at attention and a military band flanked by troops on horseback played both countries’ national anthems.

Afterward, at the enormous Gothic-style Parliament building along the Danube River, Bush and Gyurcsany said that one of the only sticky issues that came up in their talks is the desire by several Eastern European nations to be included in the U.S. visa waiver program — a move that would allow their citizens to visit America for three months without a visa.

“I understand this is a difficult issue, and we have developed a road map so we can work through this issue,” Bush said.

The president’s tribute to what he called the “unbelievable thirst for freedom” that was exhibited by Hungarians in 1956 officially got under way when he placed a wreath at a black marble Eternal Flame Memorial in honor of those who died in the revolt. Bush and first lady Laura Bush bowed their heads briefly as they laid a bouquet of cut irises, lilies and other flowers at the memorial where a bugler played.

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