Remarks by Ambassador Coleen Bell
on the occasion of an Unveiling of Statues of Hannah Arendt and Zbigniew Herbert
October 20, 2016
– as delivered –
Jó napot kívánok!
Mayor Hajdu, State Secretary Balogh, Member of Parliament, Mr. Tamás László, Deputy Mayor Alexandra Szalay-Bobrovniczky, Attaché Walpuski, Chargé Andrukonis, Mr. Bezerédi, Members of the Szilas Folk Dance Group, Ladies and Gentleman,
It is a great pleasure to join you today for the unveiling of statues of two great thinkers and authors, Hannah Arendt and Zbigniew Herbert. In their works, both reflect on their survival through turmoil and war. And their accomplishments and writings continue to inspire discussion and debate today.
Hannah Arendt, born to a German Jewish family, fled Germany in 1933 for France, where she worked to assist other Jewish refugees until confined to an internment camp under the Vichy regime. She resumed this work after she escaped to the United States in 1941, where she became an American citizen in 1950. Her own experiences – as a woman, as an academic, and as a refugee – are reflected in her insightful and intense works examining the nature of power and politics.
As you may know, Arendt added a special epilogue about the Hungarian Revolution to one of her most famous works, The Origins of Totalitarianism. In it, she states that this twelve-day-long revolution was an event of historical significance, regardless of its failure. In a letter to a friend dated December 26, 1956, Arendt declared “In any case, Hungary is the best thing that has happened for a long time. It seems to me it still isn’t over, and regardless of how it ends, it is a clear victory for freedom.”
Zbigniew Herbert also drew inspiration from adversity. He watched as his country was invaded by competing forces, first the Soviets, then the Nazis, then finally again by the Soviets. His voice was often stifled by the communist government, but he never failed to use his vast talents – whether in poems, essays, or plays – as weapons against oppression.
Both would use their intellect to teach and stimulate future generations. Hannah Arendt taught at some of America’s finest universities, including Princeton and the University of Chicago. Zbigniew Herbert toured the United States, and lectured at the University of California. Through their writing and their students, their legacies live on.
As we unveil these statues today – especially during this year, the 60th anniversary of Hungary’s 1956 Revolution — we honor these two important legacies – as well as those of the brave Hungarians who fought for political freedom and the right to determine their own fates. Thank you for inviting me to join you here today. Köszönöm szépen.