Address by Ms Judit Burda Storkyrkan, 22 October 2006
Mr. Speaker, Ministers, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
I am very grateful to be here today in this beautiful Cathedral, representing the west coast of Sweden, not only as Swedish spare-time politician, but also as a Hungarian who, leaving a communist dictatorship behind sought and found refuge in Sweden.
I see many friends here, and I’m especially honoured, that with us this afternoon are also many proud Hungarians who witnessed and shaped the events of 1956.
This 50th anniversary gives us the opportunity to remember the past as well as to demonstrate how our two nations have had a common journey in our history. We have already heard about the history, I would better like to talk about you and me, Swedes and Hungarians.
During my years in Sweden, partly due to the line of my work and partly through my different roles in various Hungarian associations, I have had ample opportunities to meet my fellow Hungarians and their sons and daughters, brought up here in Sweden. I have no personal experiences of 1956 because I wasn’t born yet at that time. But I have learned a lot about ’56 during my 2-decade long residence in Sweden from those who had direct personal memories of those times, Hungarians and Swedes alike.
The very first refugees arrived by busses on 12th November via Copenhagen and Malmö to Ystad. Many Hungarians came to Gothenburg and immediately started to work at companies like Volvo, SKF or started studying at the Universities of Gothenburg. The Swedes opened their doors and hearts to the driven sons and daughters of Hungary, by helping 8-10 000 Hungarians to find a new home on Swedish soil. The hospitality of the Swedish authorities and families, the opportunities offered for their integration into the Swedish society, helped them tremendously in starting a new life. There has hardly been any other group of refugees – before or after- treated so benevolently like the Hungarians at the time of their arrival.
The refugees enjoyed many privileges regarding immediate work and general education. Many young people at the age of 15-18 were among the refugees, and in order to make it possible for them to continue their studies the Labour Department established a Hungarian High School in Gothenburg in 1957-1961. The Hungarian students could use their own language while also acquiring Swedish in the meantime: many of them intended to continue their studies in Swedish speaking Universities.
Among the large number of Hungarians, several hundreds of students were given refugee status in Sweden. On their arrival they were received with compassion by the staff and students of universities and other higher education institutions. They offered them the chance to complete their studies in this country. They were taught Swedish and allowed to enter courses, often without proof of their previous studies. Hundreds of students received their first degrees here and many of them were encouraged and supported in completing postgraduate studies.
The Hungarians were privileged at that time; they even received study-social benefits (loans without interest). With all the help and support from Sweden the Hungarian immigrants have become proud and successful citizens of the country. Few immigrant groups have become so well integrated into Swedish society as the Hungarian community. Currently some 25-30 000 Hungarians or persons of Hungarian origin, first, second and third generations live in Sweden. In and around Gothenburg there are approximately 3000 Hungarians living.
Preserving the mother tongue and the community’s national identity represent such values and goals, that worth every effort. The Hungarians very soon established their own clubs, associations and organizations, which still exist and cherish and maintain the heritage after the Hungarian revolution in 1956. The umbrella organization is the National Federation of Hungarians in Sweden. Among their fundamental objectives they consider as key factors of their activities the preservation and development of Hungarian traditions and culture on the one hand and the maintenance of regular contacts with the official Swedish authorities and the development of cultural and other ties between Hungarians and Swedes. Due to the diverse and widespread activities of Hungarian organizations here, over 1300 events of different kind are organized annually.
This group of well-integrated ’56-ers helped and supported the integration of later waves of my fellow countrymen who arrived in Sweden in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of the second generation Hungarians are rediscovering their roots in Hungary and elsewhere in the Carpathian basin and participate in the economic development of the region. I’m confident that their presence and work offers us as an extremely valuable source for developing our bilateral relationship further in the coming years.
During my election campaign, last month, I noted with disappointment that all the official information about the Swedish elections was translated into 18 foreign languages, but no Hungarian translation was provided. Similarly, my party colleagues translated their folders into a lot of languages except to Hungarian. I felt it fairly unfair and I asked my party colleague Jan Hallberg, the vice chairman of the City Executive Board, why was this so. Then he told me: “The reason is that you Hungarians, have during the last decades more and more grown into, and some of you even assimilated into the society so well, that there is no need to translate any information into Hungarian, everybody speaks and understands Swedish very well.”
As Hungarians we should be proud of this. Because I speak Swedish with a strange foreign accent (which is not necessarily recognizable Hungarian) the Swedes usually ask me, where I’m coming from. When they hear the answer, the magic formula: that I’m Hungarian, almost everybody tells me proudly that she or he knows somebody of Hungarian origin. I don’t have to tell you what I feel in these situations.
There is a special bond between us, Swedes and Hungarians.
Here is an example of how our destinies weave together, a story told by Ben Olander, a Swedish artist: “In 1957, I was only seven years old. After my grandfather died in 1953, my grandmother kept up the tradition of helping refugees in their glamorous apartment in Gothenburg, where they had a cozy, but effective, “transition camp”. Starting in 1956, she housed Hungarian women who had escaped from their homeland. One of them was always especially sad, when I met her during my daily visits. I saw the constant pain in her eyes, and it was hard for my seven-year-old brain to understand what she had gone through. But in my heart I always shared her grief. One day she told me about her escape and her earlier experiences. It was scary for a seven-year-old boy to stand face to face with tales of total, naked violence. But in her story she suddenly started to tell about her hero who, only twelve years earlier, had come to her hometown as a savior. He had saved her life and the lives of thousands of other people. For the first time I saw a gleam of hope in her eyes. Her sad expression vanished and I saw her become glowingly happy while telling her story. The man she was talking about was named … Raoul Wallenberg”
Representing my countrymen living in Sweden at this commemorative event, which brings together those Hungarians who sought and Swedes who offered shelter in the difficult periods, I would like to take the opportunity to express our gratitude to Sweden in general, and the Swedish people in particular, for the wholehearted help that was extended to us. Thank you very much.