Bush Visits Hungary to Commemorate 1956 Uprising

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President Bush is marking the 50th anniversary of Hungary's 1956 uprising against Soviet rule with a visit to the former Soviet satellite. He met with European Union leaders in Vienna on Wednesday, where he addressed the issues of North Korea, Iran and Iraq.


President Bush is in Hungary today, speaking on the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising, a popular revolt crushed by Soviet troops. With the city of Budapest and its historic bridges behind him, the president hailed the patience and courage of the Hungarian people in their long struggle.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: You know that the democratic journey is not easy, but you continue to make the tough decisions that are necessary to succeed. America admires your perseverance. We welcome your progress, and America values our alliance with the free people of Hungary.

WERTHEIMER: President Bush speaking today in Hungary. NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea is traveling with the president. He joins me on the line. Don, the president was commemorating the anniversary of the 1956 uprising, but he was also making a comparison to the situation in Iraq throughout his speech. What are the parallels?

DON GONYEA reporting:

He was, indeed, and it is something he does often. He likes to go to a place where they've only really attained freedom and democracy in the last generation, because he feels an audience in a place like this really does understand when he talks about the kind of tyranny that there is in Iraq. He often compares Saddam Hussein and the kind of government he ran to the kind of government that the Soviets did with so many countries within their sphere and under their thumb. It's about the lack of freedoms that people have, the lack of the ability to move, the lack of a free press, all sorts of things. Mostly, it's about the inability of people to really live their dreams when they live under governments like that.

WERTHEIMER: We have an example from this morning's speech, where the president is talking about Hungary, but clearly, he is thinking about Iraq.

President BUSH: In 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 lesson of the Hungarian experience is clear: liberty can be delayed, but it cannot be denied.

WERTHEIMER: Don, there are clearly some differences here. In 1956, the United States did not come to Hungary's aid, but of course, the United States invaded Iraq. Did the president talk about that?

GONYEA: He did not. He only talks about the similarities, and that each had brutal dictators. President Eisenhower in 1956 made the choice not to go in -not to send troops in, not to respond - and a lot of people saw that as abandoning Hungary. The one thing the president did today, again, he spoke for himself, speaking present tense and looking to the future. He did say that wherever people in the world are fighting for freedom - and again, he's talking about Iraq - that the U.S. will stand with them.

WERTHEIMER: Don, we have heard this kind of thing from the president before in other speeches in Eastern Europe. This must have had a kind of a familiar ring for you.

GONYEA: It sure does. I've seen a number of these, going to back to early in his first term. Whenever he goes to Europe, of course, Europe is a place where he is not very popular at all. Polls bear that out. But he is more popular in Eastern Europe. Again, those countries that are experiencing freedom only in the last 25, 30 years or so. And he's gone to, say, Tbilisi, Georgia and Bratislava, Slovakia and Vilnius, Lithuania and Bucharest, Romania...


GONYEA: ...and he delivers a speech that is very similar to this one - again, tailored to each country - that speaks about freedom and democracy. It's one of his favorite things.

WERTHEIMER: Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea, who's traveling with the president in Budapest.

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