The Party Office on the former Köztársaság Square does not allow the past to be sealed off
Hungarian version of the article: Nem engedi lezárni a múltat a pártház az egykori Köztársaság téren
October 22, 2022 at 9:00 AM
Many houses in Budapest are surrounded by some kind of mysterious atmosphere: residences of bloody leaders, sites of tragedies, where you can almost feel the history. These include the former party office at 26 II. János Pál pápa Square. Although the badly remembered building itself has been continuously deteriorating since the socialist party moved out in 2007, its environment has changed so much over the past years that it is hardly recognisable to those who visit it after a long time. Between 1946 and 2011, the square bearing the name of Köztársaság was transformed into a beautiful green park, where Pestbuda met a lot of people during our weekday afternoon visit.
The beautifully renovated park, which is quiet during the day, usually comes alive and fills with people on weekday afternoons (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
Many of them just stroll through the area on the pavements: they hurry to the wedge-shaped exit of Metro 4, reminiscent of a theatre prompt box, or in the opposite direction, by bicycle, electric scooter, or on foot. Dogs run on the green grassy areas, and the people sitting on the benches represent quite a few social strata. Here we can see a guy in his mid-twenties wearing branded sports shoes in the outdoor fitness park, children and mothers on playgrounds designed for different age groups, and well-dressed and less well-dressed elderly couples. In the middle of the square, near the circular flower bed, two groups of homeless people are hanging out: one of them has a plastic bottle of suspiciously yellow wine, and the other, a group of three people, is just talking quietly. "Come too, it's warm and couples are welcome too!" - one of the figures in a baseball cap encourages the others, referring to the homeless shelter.
A well-kept flower bed, the party house in the background (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
A little further away, on the pavement leading to the former party office, next to the Erkel Theatre, an elderly couple is hanging out: "Next time, we'll leave earlier and not be late for the church!" - says the old man to the lady with a friendly smile. He must be a witness of great times, just like the party office on the opposite side.
The party office in 1956: it is clear that the facade has not changed much in the last seventy years. The flag of the revolution is already flying on the occupied building (Photo: Fortepan/Reference No.: 39909)
On the spectacularly decaying socialist realism style building, there is only one intact window left, on the top floor in the corner, its ground floor entrances have been walled up one by one, with graffiti on them. The spirit of the place can still be felt today, which is no wonder since it is a house with a bloody past. In the 1940s, it was used by the National Socialist Volksbund together with the neighbouring building number 27, then from 1945 it was restored and remodelled by the communists, and it experienced the Revolution of 1956 as the headquarters of the Budapest Party Committee of the Hungarian Workers' Party. Although building number 27, integrated with it, has since been demolished, number 26 standing on the corner has remained and, apart from deterioration, has preserved its original appearance to this day: the same facade once looked down on the revolutionaries. This could also be seen by those who took part in the siege of the party building on 30 October 1956, during which the revolutionaries succeeded in occupying the building amid bloody battles. After that, the people's anger turned against the members of ÁVO [Államvédelmi Osztály - State Protection Department] who defended the headquarters, several were lynched, and the pictures taken of the events were later used by the communists to smear the revolution as a whole, including in the infamous propaganda pamphlets, the White Books.
The occupation of the office was one of the symbolic events of the revolution (Photo: Fortepan/Reference No.: 39913)
After the revolution, the damaged house was restored, and a year later it served the state party again, the Hungarian Working People's Party (MDP) was replaced by the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party (MSZMP) on 1 November 1956. The Budapest organisation of the MSZMP moved back to the building on 30 October 1957, the first anniversary of the siege, and remained there until its termination in 1989. Even afterwards: the house was inherited by the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), which was established as the legal successor of the former state party, and used it as its headquarters until 2007.
The park and the headquarters of the Budapest Committee of the MSZMP in 1986 (Photo: Fortepan/Magyar Rendőr)
The headquarters, consisting of two buildings, was then sold to a private company, which first planned to convert the building complex into a hotel and then a residential building. According to the electronic documentation system supporting building permission processes, ÉTDR, demolition permits were issued for buildings under 26 and 27. Then on 16 February 2019, under the legal title "extension, construction of a multi-apartment residential building", a new permit was granted for the two plots under 26-27 which since 2018 have been included under one topographic number (34622). So far, only the smaller building under number 27 has been demolished (there is now a parking lot in its place), and the party house has been standing ever since.
House number 27 has already been demolished, and there is a temporary parking lot in its place (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
During the demolition, a large, massive concrete structure was found on the ground floor of the house (it currently closes the inner courtyard of house number 26 from the side of number 27), and some believe that this may support the old story according to which under the party building (or the square), there may be a bunker hidden in the depths of the subway tunnel, which could once have had an entrance here, in the concrete giant (the underground structures called basement prisons or dungeons were already searched for in 1956 after the building was occupied, but nothing was found). Although some go even further and talk about a system of tunnels and bunkers stretching from the party office to the Erkel Theatre, the tunnel of Metro 2, and the Labour Movement Pantheon of the Fiumei Road Cemetery, the existence of this has not yet been credibly proven.
A warning affixed with indelible Havanna-brown adhesive tape on the dirty wall of the building: it is dangerous to go to the areas between the square and Kenyérmező Street (Photo: Péter Bukovszki/pestbuda.hu)
However, certainly, the reconstruction of the former party building will not continue, for the time being, there is no sign of construction on the site, in fact: in its official decision of 4 August 2022, NAV classified the area around the remaining building as hazardous to life and accidents and the pavements in front of it were closed.
The majority of those passing by who knows the history cannot ignore the building anyway, there is hardly anyone who does not even glance at it in passing. So it seems that even if the II.János Pál pápa Square was renewed, the former party office does not want to be transformed or disappear for the time being, and continues to remind us of the past, that old sins sometimes cast a mercilessly long shadow.
Cover photo: The former party office in II. János Pál pápa Square (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)