Tuesday, December 20, 2016

TOP STORY >> Retracing history to Budapest

Leader executive editor

“The past is not dead. It’s not even past.”
— William Faulkner, “Requiem for a Nun”

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” — George Orwell

Yuri Andropov, the former Soviet leader who made Vladimir Putin a lieutenant colonel in the KGB back in the 1970s, called in the Red Army tanks through my hometown in northeast Hungary in November 1956. Andropov, who was the Soviet ambassador to Budapest, was putting down a popular uprising that started a month earlier.

On Nov. 4, hundreds of Red Army tanks and thousands of troops stormed back into Hungary, many of them through Nyiregyhaza, our hometown, not far from the Ukrainian border where they crossed into Hungary.

I watched those tanks and soldiers as a little boy, many of them Mongolians who were told they were going to the Suez Canal.

Andropov had called for the Soviet troops as he looked out his embassy window in Budapest and saw communist secret service agents hanging from lampposts. Andropov pleaded with his superiors in Moscow for more troops and not to withdraw from Hungary.

The Kremlin appeared ready to abandon Hungary and its puppet government, but Andropov convinced his bosses back home that other captive nations in eastern Europe would also rise up against the Soviet occupiers just as they did in East Berlin and Poland before.

The Red Army quickly crushed the Hungarian uprising and preserved the Soviet empire for another 35 years.

Six weeks after those tanks rolled into Hungary — exactly 60 years ago this week — my parents, my little brother and I and a group of frightened refugees traveled west across Hungary as the fighting ended, and we made it across the border to freedom in Austria.

Andropov, the butcher of Budapest, helped postpone the inevitable and briefly led the Soviet Union after a long run as head of the dreaded KGB. Putin, his most famous recruit, rose quickly through the ranks and eventually headed the FSB, the KGB’s successor following the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

The man who hired Putin is long gone — he died of kidney failure at the age of 69 in 1984 — but Putin put a statue of Andropov in front of the old KBG building, a reminder of the glory days of the Soviet empire.

But there is a price to pay for invading Ukraine and meddling in foreign wars and U.S. elections. Monday’s assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey is just the latest blowback over the Kremlin’s interference. There will be others.

Russia is a Third World country with oil and gas and nuclear weapons, but Putin thinks he could bring back his nation’s lost empire and prestige and win back the world’s respect despite all the blood on his hands.

Putin is not just a killer, like Andropov, but also a thief who gets a 40 percent cut of all major transactions in Russia, such as oil deals made with Exxon, whose chief executive, Rex Tillerson, has just been nominated as Donald Trump’s secretary of state.

Putin, who is said to have stolen $40 billion from the Russian people, heads a post-communist Mafia state who runs the risk of provoking more terrorist attacks against Russian officials and targets at home and abroad. He’ll have to fight an expensive war on several fronts while facing congressional investigations in the U.S. over hacked Democratic emails in the last election.

Many of the findings will prove embarrassing even to a hoodlum like Putin, who has poisoned and assassinated his enemies across Europe.

Putin is said to have ordered the bombings of apartment buildings in 1999 in Russia, where nearly 300 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

He blamed Chechen rebels for the bombings, although local police arrested his own FSB agents at the scene before they were released.

Putin, the butcher of Aleppo, may not appreciate comparisons to Yuri Andropov, whose tanks passed in front of our home 60 years ago. Those early memories prepared me to speak out against Russian imperialism, even when they’re attacking us in cyberspace.