In November 1956, the director of the Hungarian News Agency, shortly before his office was flattened by artillery fire, sent a telex to the entire world with a desperate message announcing that the Russian attack against Budapest had begun. The despatch ended with these words: ‘We are going to die for Hungary and for Europe.’

What did this sentence mean? It certainly meant that the Russian tanks were endangering Hungary and with it all of Europe. But in what sense was Europe in danger? Were the Russian tanks also about to push past the Hungarian borders and into the West? No. The director of the Hungarian News Agency meant that the Russians, in attacking Hungary, were attacking Europe itself. He was ready to die so that Hungary might remain Hungary and European.

Even if the sense of the sentence seems clear, it continues to intrigue us. Actually, in France, in America, one is accustomed to thinking that what was at stake during the invasion was neither Hungary nor Europe but a political regime. One would never have said that Hungary as such had been threatened; still less would one ever understand why a Hungarian, faced with his own death, addressed Europe. When Solzhenitsyn denounces Communist oppression, does he invoke Europe as a fundamental value worth dying for?

Somewhere Behind
Outside the Whale