'Democrats' rewrite their history

October 23, 1991

By Angela Matheson

BUDAPEST — The Cafe Hungaria is renowned for serving the best coffee in the city. For most of this century, waiters have pushed mahogany cake trolleys around the art nouveau interior to expectant customers' tables. But these days it's not easy to find.

That's because it's now called the New York Cafe.

An added problem is the address. For over 40 years it used to sit one block down Lenin Korut. But since early this year, Lenin Korut hasn't existed. It's been renamed Terez Korut, after a Hapsburg noblewoman.

All over Budapest, the names, they are a-changing.

In the aftermath of the 1989 revolution, travellers must arm themselves with the latest map and a copy of the Budapest Weekly, which gives a regular update on the latest name changes. In some places the old street name remains, scored through with a thick red line, with the new name mounted above. Elsewhere, the old name simply disappears and you must navigate as best you can.

All through the city, streets, squares and historic buildings named after personalities and events associated with the Stalinist past are being redubbed with acceptable names.

But what exactly, do Hungarians find more acceptable?

Many streets have simply had their pre-Communist names restored. The Avenue of the Red Army, for example, has been reinstated with its original down market name — the Avenue of the Tobacco Merchants.

A quirkier group of streets are those retaining their Communist names. Some owe their survival to a certain ambiguity of meaning. The Avenue of the Martyrs was meant to commemorate Communists who died in the party's cause. Now its supposed to commemorate those martyred under Communist rule.

More suggestive are a number of streets named after foreign writers which have been left intact. Balzac utca and Victor Hugo utca remain because of the different meanings which can be attached to the authors' texts. The Budapest Weekly says, "To Marxists, these literary figures may well have been important and progressive critics of the bourgeois world, but for millions of others they are simply an enjoyable read".

But you know left politics is completely off the agenda when you read the Weekly's report of a street named after the leader of the 1514 Hungarian peasant revolt:

"This street has been retained because it can be interpreted either as a manifestation of the class struggle or as ordinary people ing conditions in a poor economic situation."

Accost a passing Budapestians and ask what they think about the name changes and they sneer or wrinkle their nose. For many locals, there is a certain irony in the new democracy repeating the practices of the Stalinist past by rewriting history.

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