Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Árpád Göncz

Today brings the very sad news that Árpád Göncz has died. He was Hungary's first post-Soviet president. Some people describe him as Hungary's Vaclav Havel, which is probably not far off the truth. For an account of his life and achievements, there will be many obituaries, such as this one, and so I will only tell the story I find most memorable about him. It concerns something that happened when he was in Australia on a state visit as Hungary's President. 

I was lucky enough to travel around the country with him and his wife on that trip, and they were both completely without airs or pomposity and always, unfailingly, goodnatured. I knew already that they were popular among Hungarians, but I only realised how much they were a genuine part of what you might call the Hungarian family, how they had really been taken to people's hearts, when we arrived one day at Bondi Beach. 

As the bus we were travelling in drew up, I saw through the window a couple of blokes in tattered straw hats, brightly patterned Hawaian shirts, baggy shorts and flip flops, standing at the curb. Each had a stubby of beer in his hand. They were about to cross the street in front of us, but then they saw the bus door open and President Göncz emerge. The two men's faces lit up in the way children's faces light up when they see the presents under the tree at Christmas.

"Uncle Arpi", they yelled, in Hungarian, and threw their arms around the old man. A genial conversation ensued. It turned out that, for all their gone-native attire, they were merely on vacation from Budapest. The affection they clearly felt for their president would be the envy of any other politician - especially these days. I think it was an affection shared by most of their countrymen. A good, wise man has left the world. 

No comments:

Post a Comment