Walking through any city in the world, one can see a lot of monuments that remind them of historic personalities or events. Budapest is not an exception, it is a city that has a lot to boast.
The monuments tell us about the history of the country, the people it is proud of and its heroes, about events deeply engraved in the hearts of its citizens. But the monuments can tell us not only about the country and the city they are placed in; they often provide information about other countries as well, their heroes and their history, symbolizing friendly relations between the countries. That is why I would like to propose a virtual tour of the places in Budapest that offer information about Ukraine.
Let’s start with the place that is familiar and close to every diplomat, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary. Not far from the Hungarian foreign policy office, when walking in the direction of the Margaret Bridge, admiring in the meantime the beauty of the Danube, on the building at 44 Margit körút, we can find the memorial plaque dedicated to the opening 100 years ago, on January 24, 1919, of the Extraordinary Diplomatic Mission of Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR) in Hungary. At that time, Ukraine did not succeed in preserving its independence and UNR was destroyed in 1921, but the UNR diplomatic mission in Budapest managed to operate until May 1924, and was the last of the diplomatic representations of UNR to be closed.
Remember: never again!
Only in 1991 did Ukraine regain its independence (and Hungary was among the first countries to acknowledge it) after enduring not only the atrocities of the WWII, but the destruction of the Ukrainian intellectuals by the Stalinist regime and Holodomor (Famine-genocide) of 1932-33, which took the lives of 10 million Ukrainians. Last year, we honoured the memory of the victims of this terrible crime all over the world. We had commemoration ceremony here in Budapest as well, at the monument to the victims of the Holodomor in Ukraine. This monument can be found if we head to the Pest side, crossing the famous Chain bridge, walking along the Danube, in the public park on Sándor Petőfi square, by the side of the Budapest Marriott Hotel. It is worth mentioning that the Hungarian National Assembly recognised the Holodomor as a genocide of the Ukrainian people in 2003. Besides this monument on Sándor Petőfi square, there is the memorial plaque, reminding us of this tragic event, in Csömör, to the northeast of Budapest.
In November last year, another monument to the victims of Holodomor was inaugurated in the city of Szeged, on Dóm Square, in the park of the central cathedral. Why is it so important to remember such terrible things? To never let them happen again. For Ukrainians, this is also a reminder of how important it is to preserve our statehood, because its loss, as our history proves, leads to the extermination of our people.
Ukrainian almanac in Budapest
When returning to the Buda side and walking along the ancient streets of the Buda Castle, we find another mention of Ukraine. The house at 6 Országház street, where the Hungarian royal printing house was located, has the memorial plaque in honour of the publication of the first Western-Ukrainian almanac ‘Rusalka Dnistorva’, published in 1873 in the Ukrainian language in this Buda building. Because of being banned by the Viennese censorship, the almanac was published three years later than was planned. As the censor of the almanac, Jerney Kopitar, wrote, the collection was "decent, successful and inspiring" but supported the idea that the Ukrainians were a separate nation, and this contradicted the interests of Austria. The almanac and its publishers were persecuted by the local church and secular authorities. The edition printed in Budapest was immediately confiscated; only 200 of the 1,000 printed copies were saved. Thanks to this, the almanac became well known among intellectuals of different countries. Today, the community of Ukrainians in Hungary possesses one copy of the original. I personally was lucky enough to hold it in my hands when we were celebrating, with the local Ukrainians, the 180th anniversary of the almanac’s publication.
By the way, there is one more monument which serves as a reminder of the outset of Ukrainian literature and philosophy. This monument, however, is not located in Budapest, but in Tokaj. This is a memorial plaque to the Ukrainian poet and philosopher Hrihorii Skovoroda, who stayed in the town of ‘vineyards and wines’ in 1745-1750 as a member of the so-called commission of purchasing wines. The memorial plaque is placed on the wall of the former Greek Catholic Church that belonged to the commission at that time.
Returning in our thoughts from Tokaj to Budapest, we go back to the place where we started our journey, the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Let’s go to the square next to the Ministry, where the monument to the famous Ukrainian writer, artist and politician Taras Shevchenko is located, the square is named after him as well.
By the way, it is believed that the largest number of the monuments in the world are to Taras Shevchenko, there are almost 1,400 of them around the world. The monument in Budapest is one of the most beautiful.
Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), considered to be the founder of a new Ukrainian literature, means the same for Ukrainians as Sándor Petőfi means for Hungarians. However, his significance for the people is much greater, because his art work symbolizes the centuries-old aspiration of Ukrainians to restore their independence and statehood.
In 2013, when the Ukrainians broke out in EuroMaidan protests to protect the Association Agreement with the European Union and their right for the European future, many of them took the "Kobzar" of Shevchenko (his main work) with them. The figure of the great poet is among the so-called ‘Icons of the Revolution’ – the modern graffities that depict the representatives of great moral authorities for Ukrainians.
Connected by dynastic marriage
And today, when fighting against Russian aggression that lasts since 2014 Ukrainian Crimea remains occupied, battles are going on in the East of Ukraine and have taken more than 13,000 Ukrainian lives, and Ukrainian political prisoners remain in captivity in Russia and temporarily occupied territories, the Ukrainians still remember Shevchenko's will "Bury me, be done with me, rise and break your chain”, his call to struggle for our country and its freedom, for the country with the centuries old history, that was one of the most powerful European countries during the era of Kyiv Rus. In the 11th century when Kyiv Rus was under the rule of powerful Grande Prince Yaroslav the Wise, our two countries – Ukraine and Hungary - were united by the symbolic dynastic marriage of the Hungarian king András I and the older Yaroslav’s daughter Anastasia (other two daughters married the French and the Norwegian kings accordingly).
King Andras I and his wife Anastasia founded the abbey in Tihany, where one can see the monument to this royal couple as a reminder of this bright page of our common historical past. By the way, there are data saying that after the death of Andras I, Anastasia asked her sister Anna, the Queen of France, to help preserve Christianity in Hungary after the devastation of large number of the Christian priests; her sister sent a Christian mission to Hungary to assist.
I do believe that the Ukrainian-Hungarian relations, which have so many common memories as assets, from the depth of centuries, from times when Hungarian tribes travelled through Europe looking for a new homeland and passed the territory of modern Ukraine, have considerable potential and a great future.