The Bright Uplands of Freedom
Tucked into a valley bordered on both its north and south sides by the Zemplén Mountains, the village of Monok can best be described as quaint. Vineyards spread from the outskirts of the town up onto the hillsides.
Colorful houses in a variety of shapes, sizes and architectural styles are scattered throughout this 2,000 strong community. Besides its alluring natural setting and cuteness, Monok seems like so many other Hungarian villages of similar size.
Yet there is one big difference, Monok punches way above its weight because of two historical personages who called the village home during their childhood.
The first is Lajos Kossuth. If you have no idea who Lajos Kossuth was it will not take you long to find out. In almost every large town and city in Hungary there is a Kossuth statue of the great man standing prominently, eyes raised and body language imploring his countrymen onward toward the bright uplands of freedom.
Kossuth was the central figure of the 1848 Hungarian revolution against Habsburg rule. He became leader of the republic which he had done so much to bring about. Alas it was short lived and so was Kossuth’s leadership role. In 1849 he fled into exile, never able to return to his homeland.
In Monok you can see where it all started at his birthplace which houses a Memorial Museum. Kossuth was the oldest of four children born to lower nobility. His father was ethnically Hungarian wand was a lawyer with a small estate. His mother on the other hand was of German descent. She raised her children as strict Lutherans.
It was in this environment that Kossuth’s character was formed. Protestants were much more opposed to Habsburg rule than the Catholics of Hungary who shared ties of religion with the crown. Kossuth exhibited disdain for the Habsburgs throughout his life and opposed them all the way to his death at the age of ninety-one. It all started here.
Lesser known, but of no less importance to present day Hungary is Miklós Németh who coincidentally was also born in Monok. Németh has a unique place in the history of not only Hungary, but also Central Europe.
He was both Hungary’s last communist prime minister and the republic’s first prime minster. In the late 1980’s, Németh made the momentous decision to allow East Germans to pass through Hungary into Austria unhindered. They then made their way to West Germany which accepted them with open arms. Németh’s decision led to a deluge of people flooding westward.
The iron curtain was torn asunder. There is no museum or monument to Németh in Monok, but his decision brought about changes in Europe that have brought freedom for millions.
It is not often that the sheer randomness of history gives us two people born in the same, small village who would become intimately connected with their nation’s fight for freedom. Monok offers us the opportunity to know both Kossuth and Németh on a more intimate scale.
Here we get to ponder how the small village of Monok shaped the lives of two men who would make history on a grand scale.
written by CHRIS WILKINSON
edited by CHRIS KOVACS
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