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Istvan Bibo, ethical genius from the side of victims

by Istvan Bibo

Istvan Bibo and Julia Vasarhelyi at the Garden of Milan

Istvan Bibo and Julia Vasarhelyi at the Garden of Milan

We publish the speech made by Istvan Bibo, the Righteous Bibo' son, during the ceremony at the Garden of the Righteous of Milan

Dear Ladies and Gentleman, Honourable Guests

I am profoundly honoured to stand in front of you, and I wish to thank you very much indeed for the invitation on behalf of my sister also, which she could not oblige due to the health condition of her husband.

Our father the Assembly of the Association for the Garden of the Righteous of Milan found worthy of including in the Garden of the Righteous is often called naive, because he believed that holding on to principles and morals was not only desirable in politics but also indispensable for a genuine, long-term realism in politics. In other words, he thought political honour, taste and morality were existing and necessary concepts, and he drew all the conclusions of this for his own life.

He is regarded naive also for being on the side of those social and/or ethnic groups or individuals who had no chances and/or were persecuted, regardless of how his conduct was received by society, public life, government, regime, political parties, opinion-making groups… Who were those without chances and that were persecuted?

They were agricultural labourers and landless peasants living in deep poverty in the 1930s (over half the population of Hungary at the time); they were Jews in 1944, in whose rescue he personally participated; they were Germans (Swabians) deported from Hungary without differentiation and Hungarians cruelly declared similarly deportable by the Czechoslovak government of the time; they included a victim judged war-criminal in proceedings marked by investigative faults in 1948; they were detainees suffering in the jails of Stalinism in Hungary who had no hope of rehabilitation even in the period of the de-Stalinising thaw in 1954; they were detainees jailed for the 1956 uprising who were left out of the amnesty of 1963 (some 3–400 persons) throughout the period between 1963 and 1971.

He is regarded naive also for taking up personal tasks in family, professional or national affairs and exercising an intensity of resolve out of proportion with the prospects of a positive outcome.

This was why he wrote and published his study „The Jewish Predicament in Post-1944 Hungary” in 1948, in the last moments before the Communist takeover; this was why, as a minister of the Imre Nagy government, he stayed in the buildings of Parliament when it was besieged by Soviet troops on 4 November 1956; this why he remained in Hungary though he could have left in 1956–1957; this was why he had his Memorandum on the historical significance of the 1956 uprising he had written in February and March 1957 published in the press of a neutral country without regard for his personal fate; this why, after his release, he distanced himself, not demonstratively but clearly, from the thawing Kádár regime: which, by then, was afforded a degree of legitimacy by Western nations.

In today’s Hungary, those who, especially on the government side, keep silent about him, but are nevertheless forced to say something about him, say he was naive. I do not think this is a charge; it is narrow-minded and self-conceited contempt, which is no use of arguing with because it is hopeless. I am exceedingly happy that you have decided to include him in the Garden of the Righteous. Thank you very much on behalf of my sister, too.

Istvan Bibo

Analysis by Istvan Bibo

18 March 2019

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