The Fall of the Language Curtain

Ten years ago the body of Imre Nagy, the political leader of the failed Hungarian revolution of 1956, was exhumed from a secret grave for a public and honorable reburial. A huge gathering in Budapest's "Heroes" Square marked that moment, listening to a then unknown student leader, Viktor Orban, call for the Red Army to leave Hungary and for democracy to be established. Today, Viktor Orban, is Hungary's Prime Minister.

BUDAPEST: In linguistics we know that some verbs have a function called the performative function. By uttering the verb we actually perform an act: we christen a ship, we pronounce a couple man and wife. In other former Communist countries, democratic changes were sometimes accompanied by violence. Changes in Hungary were brought about solely by the power of words. Words proved revolutionary. Language delivered a fundamental breakthrough in the life of nations.

Speeches delivered ten years ago at the reburial of former Prime Minister Imre Nagy, executed in 1958 by Communist collaborators of the Soviet occupying army, contributed to that process. Words demanding that Russian troops leave Hungarian territory culminated in the collapse of the communist regime. How effective words can be, particularly if two hundred thousand people gather in a square to hear them!

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