Phantom Voices from the Past: Memory of the 1956 Revolution and Hungarian Audiences of Radio Free Europe
Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
Following the short period of consolidation under János Kádár in the immediate aftermath of the 1956 revolution, expressions of the legacy and memory of the uprising were no longer permitted in the public sphere and had to be confined to the private sphere. The activity of émigré actors and institutions, including the broadcasts of Western radio stations, played a crucial role in sustaining the memory and the mentality of the revolution. In 1986, thirty years after the national trauma of 1956, Radio Free Europe broadcasted an array of programs commemorating the revolution, while the official socialist media in Hungary contended again that what had happened in 1956 had been a counterrevolution. This study primarily investigates two questions. Firstly, it casts light on the importance of the RFE’s archival machinery, which recorded on magnetic tape the broadcasts of the Hungarian radio stations during the revolution in 1956. Sharing these audio-documents with audiences 30 years later, RFE could replay the revolution, significantly strengthening the interpretation of the events as a revolution. The idiosyncratic voices of the key figures of the revolution guaranteed the authenticity of the commemoration programs even for members of the younger generation among the audiences. Secondly, this study sheds light on the counter-cultural practices through which listeners tried to reconstruct the “body” of the “specters” of the suppressed cultural heritage and eliminate the asymmetry between the radio’s accessible voice and its non-accessible physical vehicle.