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Given the symbol's history in Hungary, it would be hard to claim that the red star is - as the Strasbourg court has ruled - a symbol with "many layers of meaning".


Stalin and Mao
"We drafted a Kossuth shield with a double cross and red star on top of that," Janos Kadar told a meeting of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party's central committee on 7 May 1957. He was responding to a complaint from Sandor Jakab, first secretary of the party in Nograd county, who was concerned that the planned new state shield "did not reflect the power of the workers," and that he would "prefer to see a machine gun" alongside an "indispensable" red star.

"It's not about being radical on our shield," said Kadar. He added that many citizens had expressed opposition to the "counterrevolutionary Kossuth shield" and supported the adoption of the new symbol, which was in the national colours and bore a red star.

He asked those present to vote in favour of the proposed symbol that was to be adopted at the first seating of parliament following the

1956 revolution. This decision allowed him to go back on a promise he had made six months before that the Kossuth shield would stay and that the red cross would be removed from the list of national symbols.

In the excitement of the 1956 revolution, many protested against the red cross, which was thought to be "alien to the nation." MPs bowed down to the people's wishes - the 3m-wide red star was taken down from parliament's cupola at around half past seven in the evening.

Nobody has written a serious study of the red cross in Hungary, which was banned as a symbol of dictatorship alongside the swastika by Jozsef Antall's government in 1993. This makes it hard to argue with the Strasbourg court's claim that the symbol's history has "many layers of meaning". The historian Ivan Harsanyi links the symbol's first use to the left-wing of the Social Democrats, but the only evidence of this he was able to provide was the fact that Endre Ady's 1907 poem "The Red Star Will Never Fall" was first published in Nepszava, the social democrats' daily paper. He added, however, that the Third International of the communist and workers' parties chose the red star as its symbol in 1919, adopting a symbol that was already in widespread use.

Pentagrams and witches' spikes (Oldaltörés)

This almost certainly is why it was also adopted by the Republic of Councils in Hungary, although it did not then serve as an official emblem. But, for 1 May 1919, the graphic artist and sculptor Mihaly Biro, who dreamed up a notorious image of a worker with a hammer, was given the go-ahead to completely remodel Budapest's streets. He set about concealing statues behind red stars, including Gabor Baross's statue at Keleti station. He also placed a 2.5m red star above the entrance to the tunnel behind the Chain Bridge.

But it wasn't in daily use. When the proletarian state's martyrs were buried on 29 June 1919, the guard of honour wore red roses on their caps, not red stars. And the Kremlin only bore a red star from 1937 onwards.

The five-pointed star - often referred to in Hungarian as the "witch's spike" is an ancient sign for warding of evil. Guides to symbols say the shape represents "flourishing", "new beginnings" and "life". It is harder to explain its more recent usage. Some claim it goes right back to Marx and Engels. Another claims Trotsky adopted the star as the symbol of the Esperanto-speaking movement, which is a green five-pointed star.

However it happened, the star was later adopted as the symbol of the Hungarian Communist Party in 1944, and six months later the new constitution elevated it to the rank of state symbol. From that moment, it became an omnipresent image at state occasions, on factory gates, on party buildings, on cinemas and theatres, as well as on locomotives. It was there at every formal decoration - including on the Kossuth Prize, the highest state medal.

It was absent briefly after 1956 but four years later, a report made to the central committee complained that its use was more that of a "general decorative figure" and that it was being used in places where it was inappropriate. No record of the ensuing debate survives, but it must have been a heated discussion, because an initial strict ruling was softened into a general set of guidelines. It was "not recommended" to use the red star on school and hospital buildings, nor at the gates of smaller shops and factories and public transport vehicles. A further passage stated that the star should not be used on buildings in a state of disrepair.

The central committee's 1961 ruling brought about few changes. In 1989 and 1990, however, tens of thousands of red stars were taken down.


GÁBOR MURÁNYI

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