On this day when we remember the people who sacrificed for our freedom take some time to read about the people in other countries that benefited so greatly from that sacrifice.
I’ve always enjoyed visiting countries formerly in the Soviet Bloc. The contrast between how people live there today – compared to just twenty years ago – inevitably provides a fascinating lesson in the difference between a free economy and a government-controlled system. We observed that lesson in previous excursions to Prague, Berlin, and Poland, and this year we traveled to Budapest to see how the people there have adapted to the changes.
Hungarians suffered less than a decade of Nazi rule, but with the Soviet iron boot on their necks, they were not able to rebuild what the Nazis destroyed. The garbage constructed by the Communists – soulless mausoleums that drained the character and creativity from a forward-looking people – is readily discernible not only from the new construction in modern Budapest, but also those structures from hundreds of years ago that have been carefully restored.
Budapest, split down the middle by the Danube (Buda is on one side and Pest on the other) is truly one of the beautiful cities of the world; and Hungary, once a nucleus of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is now a landlocked country of ten million people. One can see the struggles of a country trying to return to prosperity and an equal place amongst Western nations. There are some questions about the rightward slant of its current government (along with the charge of resurgence of anti-Semitism), but the people we spoke to provided us no sense of foreboding. Having lived under communism, they want their government as far removed from it as possible.
You can see signs of a cultured society beginning to thrive. Fine restaurants are sprouting up and gaining recognition (and customers). Their wine industry, whose products during communist rule were acknowledged to be poor at best, now is comprised of 1,500 wineries whose quality is reaching levels competitive with other world producers. Hungarians are buying nicer cars, working diligently to improve their lot, and seem to be enjoying the fruits of economic freedom.