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"Free Cardinal Mindszenty!"

One of my earliest memories of the Bronx Italian-American parish in which I grew up was of a letter being read at Sunday Mass. It was from Cardinal Spellman asking parishioners to write relatives in Italy pleading with them to vote for the Christian Democrats in the crucial election of 1948. If memory serves, at about the same time, posters went up on New York City buses saying: "Free Cardinal Mindszenty!", and a new Archdiocesan high school was named "Archbishop Stepinac."Some years later, as a freshman at Fordham, I took part in a demonstration outside the Russian consulate on Park Avenue, protesting the Russian invasion of Hungary. Not long after, Fordham received a number of young Hungarian refugees as students, one of whom, Imre, was a classmate.These memories flooded back when I read, in the current New Yorker, Louis Menand's long and appreciative review of Anne Applebaum's "remarkable book:" Iron Curtain: the Crushing of Eastern Europe.Menand, drawing on Applebaum, writes:

But the main target of totalitarian remaking was not the individual dissident or nonconformist. It was civil society itself. Any organization that operated outside the purview of the Party was eliminated or nationalized. In East Germany, all hiking clubs and chess clubs were banned. Almost every restaurant in Budapest became a peoples cafeteria or a state-owned workers pub. In Poland, the Y.M.C.A. was denounced as a tool of bourgeois-fascism. All youth organizations were subsumed into a single Communist-run agency. Universities were purged. Psychoanalysis, the product of decaying capitalism and anti-state ideology, was banned.Most important for countries like Poland, the Party tried to neutralize the influence of the Catholic Church. Church schools were nationalized; monasteries and seminaries were shut down; Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, and charities were closed. Church leaders were blackmailed, persecuted, and harassed. Priests were recruited as informants on other priests: by 1953, a thousand Polish priests were in jail.
Cardinal Spellman and other Catholic leaders were sometimes accused, in certain quarters, of fomenting anti-Communist hysteria. Let them read Applebaum.


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The Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe!Of course, our government at the time allowed it to happen for a higher good: the defeat of Nazism. After the war, Winston Churchill coined the term "iron curtain," reminding us that after the exertions of hundreds of millions of people (and death of millions) and after the victories for the Common Good/the Righteous Cause, we still hadn't found peace and security and -- worse -- found ourselves in the grip of worse perils than those we had surmounted. As General Eisenhower reminds us: "War settle nothing." Cardinal Mindszenty learned that the hard way,after the "Righteous Cause" was achieved.

Though I haven't read Applebaum's new book, I will do so after reading Menand's review.Her "Gulag," I think a superb piece of work. The passages quoted above refer to the crushing of civil society, a necessary step of totalitarian reconstruction, and of course the same thing happened in China after the ascent of Mao in 1949, and only now is civil society reappearing, often to the distress of the ruling partyPerhaps Menand (echoing Applebaum?) is a bit tougher on Hannah Arendt's work on totalitarianism than he needs to be. I wonder if her views might not still fit China, particularly the China of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. I also remember all the excitement about the Italian election of 1948 -- de Gasperi's Christian Democrats vs. the Communists. One story from the time: I heard of a poor tenant family in Tuscany whose landlord promised to bring in to their village electricity and running water if they all voted to help the CD to victory. And so they did; at that point the landlord abandoned his project, leaving the ditches dug and the pipes lying in the field, with none to install them and get the system running. One wonders how the villagers voted into the next election.

I had a friend in college whose mother belonged to the Cardinal Mindszenty Society. As I recall my friend thought her mother was an anti-Communist hysteric. But that was Chicago...

The day before the election I received a package here at the Commonweal offices from a well-wisher in Phoenix (I don't know the person, but apparently he knows I'm from Arizona). It included several items, including the Vol. LII-No. 10 Mindszenty Report, published by the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation and written by William A. Borst. I'd never heard of the Mindszenty Foundation and I am embarrassed to admit I know very little about Cardinal Mindszenty himself. The Report is wingnut political propaganda sprinkled with holy water. It traces Obama's outrageous betrayals of the Constitution back to FDR and the Progressive Movement, which "set in motion a change of attitude that transformed the American people from a nation of doers and producers to one that looked first to Washington to provide their economic, social and moral protection from the cradle to the grave." In its discussion of the public-school system, it points out that, "curiously," Marx and Engels were in favor of public schools. It concludes, "The Obama regime can continue to feast on taxpayers' money, like the gargantuan plant in the Little Shop of Horrors with its ravenous appetite, but eventually it will implode from its own greed. Obama's vision like Wilson, Roosevelt and Johnson, is more akin to that of dictators, kings, emperors and pharaohsthe rulers of mankind, who view their destiny in their ability to rule over their fellow human beings." Three pages of this guff, followed by one page of information about the rosary.

Robert,Where have you been? Curious that you should surface right after the election.

Hungary incured about 120,00 military deaths on the Easten front in World War II, fighting as an ally of Nazi Germany, most of them in the destruction of the 2nd Hungarian Army (about 210,00 troops) near Voronezh, Russia, some 900 miles from Hungary, in January 1943. ( Since in general the the Nazis inflicted about 2 Russian military deaths for every 1 German death, it's likely the Hungarians managed to inflict at least 1 military death per Russian, assuming they were at least half as deadly as the Nazi's. In addition, the Hungarian Army inflicted numerous atrocities against the Jews during the war (see Wikipedia). Consequently, it's not entirely unreasonable that the Russians had some suspicion against and antipathy toward Cardinal Mindszenty, at a time when the U.S. was closely allied with the Germans.

My parents have had a book about Mindszenty, or possibly an autobiography, on their bookshelves since I was a child. Presumably it's still sitting there.

Jim Pauwels, the book is almost undoubtedly In Silence I Speak by George Shuster, president of Hunter College at the time, later a very active assistant to the president art the University of Notre Dame. I probably saw his name the second time in Commonweal. The book was published in 1956, about the time I met my wife. It sold very well at the time, I believe. I gave a copy to my wife-to-be as a present. I don't think she ever read it, but I did.

I am rereading Vaclav Havel for a project I'm pursuing. In his "open" letter (April 1975) to Gustav Husak, head of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, and "Power of the Powerless," (October 1978), Havel honed in on all that was corrosive of Soviet domination. At the same time, he also spoke of all those ways in which the Czechs, Slovaks, and Poles were learning to resist that corrosion and the domination. Perhaps Applebaum's book deal with this, but in many ways the Eastern Europeans cultivated as Havel calls it, "a parallel culture," that may have done more to bring down the Soviet Empire than all the anti-communist ravings in the United States.

"...'a parallel culture,' that may have done more to bring down the Soviet Union...."Margaret,Makes sense! When I was in Lithuania a few year ago, an elderly woman, whose husband was sent to Siberia (along with thousands of other "delinquent" Lithuanians) told me that their suffering under Communism made them truthful to themselves. They had to develop a sub-culture among themselves to keep their values/beliefs in tack.

Robert, we probably brushed up against each other during the protests at the Russian consulate. I distinctly remember marching and shouting, "Butchers of Budapest, go home."

Tom B, I will be seeing my parents during Thanksgiving, so I'll try to check it out and see if that's what it is.

Here is a passage from the review that I find particularly thought-provoking:"Between 1945 and 1953, the year that Stalin died, the societies of Eastern Europe were remade from top to bottom. The goal was not to force people to serve a new political system. The goal was to produce a new kind of human being, a human being who would not need to be forced to serve the system. The creation of that new human being was the end that justified every means, and those means are the subject of Applebaums book: how the Soviets and their local apparatchiks attempted to build the perfect socialist world."I've often thought it would be fascinating to write a piece that traced the various 20th century co-optations of the Gospel promise, and its manipulation for ideological purposes: novus homo sovieticus/sinensis/cubanus etc.

Applebaum was on NPR's "Fresh Air" yesterday (Thurs.) talking about her book, and though I didn't hear the whole broadcast, one of her points was that the Soviets at first didn't see any need for strong action because a) they thought communism would be welcome in war-torn Europe, and b) as good Marxist-Leninists, they believed what they preached, which was that History was on their side, and that they "perfect socialist world" would evolve naturally. Only after the shock of the first post-war elections showed them that their predictions were not coming true, did they start to resort to measures that would enforce the kind of social development that History, apparently, was not ready to bring about. As to the "homo sinensis" -- back in Mao's day, and particularly during the Cultural Revolution (c. 1966-76), there was all kinds of talk about the "new socialist man," whom Maoist society was bringing about (by then they considered Khruschev's USSR to be hopelessly backsliding, reverting to capitalism, imperialism, and "feudalism" -- in the Marxist sense of that word).Like the communist leaders of the USSR after the war, the leaders of Mao's China, for all their blather about "listening to the masses," in fact spent much of their time in a bubble of their own creation, talking only to one another and assuming that what they heard from one another was Truth. A dangerous practice, and in China's case, enormously costly, both in terms of human lives and much else. I wonder if there are any governing bodies that still behave the same way today?

The goal was to produce a new kind of human being, a human being who would not need to be forced to serve the system. The Soviets came to power opposing despotic powers, the tsars, emperors, and kings first but then the Nazis. They lost power to the new people they had created, not to new imperialists. They sought nations of revolutionaries, and got some who then revolted against them. I am not sure if that revolution is a repudiation or vindication of their goal.Mindszenty, and the Church generally at that time, sided with the traditional order, against the anti imperialists and their new people. John Paul II otoh was very much a new person, a revolutionary rather than a reactionary. The two had a common cause, opposing the despotic revolutionaries, but I think they were very different people. It would be a mistake to identify M's antccommunism with JP2 though there are similarities.

Bill Mazzella. Your comment has nothing to do with the topic of this thread. I am not sure what you are insinuating, but the tone is unpleasant. As a reminder, here is a link to the guidelines for commenting:

It is good to see that Anne Applebaum is making the heroic story of the Church's resistance to Communist tyranny better known.

Nicholas,you write:"Like the communist leaders of the USSR after the war, the leaders of Maos China, for all their blather about listening to the masses, in fact spent much of their time in a bubble of their own creation, talking only to one another and assuming that what they heard from one another was Truth."I agree, but what intrigues me is how many of the Western "fellow travelers" closed themselves in bubbles of their own, spouting the party line. Among many cases, I would point to the Italian Communist party, ever ready to deny or even justify what was happening behind the iron or bamboo curtains. Even the esteemed current President of Italy to my knowledge did not at the time condemn either the Hungarian invasion of 1956 or the Czech intervention of 1968. Bubbles abound, and Havels are relatively rare.

...ever ready to deny or even justify what was happening behind the iron or bamboo curtains.We all want to identify with some group, so when you relegate those with whom we disagree politically to be beyond contempt, theres no limit to what we might choose to embrace. The enemy of my enemy...

When Robert Imbelli mentioned Vaclav Havel, he could also have cited Ignazio Silone. One of my all-time favorite Commonweal articles was a tribute to Silone written shortly he died: "Death of a Humble Prophet, by John Ahern, Commonweal, Oct. 27, 1978, p. 682. I dont have a link. Maybe Grant can post one, so that others can get to see this wonderful piece.

Thanks, Gene, for the comment and reference. Here's the part of the article on Silone that struck a loud chord:"The cost of Silone's freedom was high: twenty years of exile in the prime of his life, and once at home ostracism from his country's cultural and political life. His life showed that fidelity to the truth and resistance to evil were possible, even though the consequences were terrifying. His life and works brought to light the secret betrayals that daily life seems to exact from men and institutions."

Robert Imbelli, do you come from OL Mt. Carmel Parish in the Bronx? I lived for awhile on Lorrillard Place. I remember many of the folks who lived along Arthur Avenue and got their pizza from the 'Mezza Luna' always saying: "You can take the boy out of the Bronx, but you can't take the Bronx out of the boy!"For what it is worth, I heard a lot of stories about Cardinal Mindszenty from the nuns at Mt. Calvary School in Forestville, MD growing up. In fact, I remember that Sister Henry (referred affectionately to behind her back as, "Sister Hank" - I don't think we were making any inferences about Sister's "preferences" but she was a great hitter to have on your softball team during lunch recess) telling us that the "Freedom Fighters" in Hungary were "real" freedom fighters unlike black youth demonstrating across the South during the Civil Rights struggle.The intention I believe was that "anti-Communism" was a greater good than civil rights - a very Catholic idea at the time when you think about it.

I don't know anything about Silone's own history, but I admired his novel "Bread and Wine" greatly. They don't write that kind any more.

Couldn't agree with you more, Ann: "Bread and Wine" was a very fine novel.

Robert Imbelli: On Ignazio Silone: I also love the two paragraphs leading up to the words of his which you quoted:

. . . Silone had every qualification of the "committed" writer which Italian intellectuals admired so much after the war, yet they ignored and despised him. Many did not know his work which circulated in translation for ten years before it could be printed in Italy. Some envied him the praises of William Faulkner, Albert Camus, Czeslaw Milosc, Graham Greene, Bertrand Russell, etc. Some ex-Fascists recently converted to Communism envied him his personal integrity. But the central issue was his condemnation of Soviet Communism and Palmiro Togliatti, who led the Italian Communist party after the war. Many intellectuals learned to admire the leadership and moral courage of the PCI during the Resistance (1943-1946). After the war they looked to the party as the natural leader of lay, or non-clerical, culture. They found Silone's warnings preposterous and inopportune. Events, however, proved him right. Togliatti lost no time in denying the independence of the "committed" intellectual. One by one truly creative men like Elio Vittorini, Pasolini and Italo Calvino resigned the party. The vindication of Silone's analysis only infuriated intellectuals on all sides. They accused him of not knowing Italy, of giving it a bad name, of writing poor Italian that for some quirk translated well, of artistic incompetence, of being in the hire of foreign governments, etc. In Unita the Communist literary critic Carlo Salinari said he was "impotent" as a man and as a writer. Even liberal intellectuals like the poet Eugenio Montale, and right-wing journalists like Indro Montanelli belittled and denigrated him. Catholic intellectuals either ignored him or described his books as subtle attacks on the church. One can not help wondering whether there was not one single reason that explained the hostility of such divergent men. What was it in Silone that offended and frightened the Soviet and American governments, Catholics, Liberals, Communists, Socialists and Fascists?Silone scared others because he was a free man. He refused to sacrifice a principle or a human life to save an institution. When the church demanded high standards of private behavior, while tolerating lower standards of public behavior, he left. When Fascists destroyed public and private liberty in Italy, he resisted, eventually going into exile. When Stalin liquidated Trotsky (whose rigid dogmatism Silone loathed), he resigned from the Party. When Italian socialists sold out to the Communists after the war, he resigned again. When Russia invaded Hungary in 1956 he condemned both them and the Americans who failed to act. When Sartre tried to justify the Soviets, Silone minced no words condemning that act of cowardice, thereby losing Sartre's friendship. The cost of Silone's freedom was high: twenty years of exile in the prime of his life, and once at home ostracism from his country's cultural and political life. His life showed that fidelity to the truth and resistance to evil were possible, even though the consequences were terrifying.

Great lives are often full of contradictions. As was Silone's, as well as those of Cardinal Mindszenty and Cardinal Stepinac. (I set Cardinal Spellman aside, except to say that his espousal of Joseph McCarthy was not one of his better moments in his sounding the alarm against the evils of Communism. Among Catholic voices, Commonweal was one of the few to decry the free-wheeling tactics of the Senator from Wisconsin.)In my (too) late in life effort to learn Italian, I have just managed to make it through Pane e vino, Fontamara, Il segreto di Luca, and L'avventura d'un povero cristiano [Celestine V]. Each of them left me haunted and transfixed. At this late hour I can't put my hand on Pane e vino, but surely the retired priest-teacher who arranges for his former student's secret life in order to elude his Fascist pursuers is one of the most sympathetic treatments of the Catholic priest in 20th century literature.No one is looking for an essay in a combox, and it would be beyond me in any case. So I will limit myself to a brief paragraph from Stanislao Pugliese's "Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009)." 'I dont know if I have been successful', he confessed in a speech in Jerusalem, 'but from my first book, FONTAMARA, to my last, THE STORY OF A HUMBLE CHRISTIAN, I have tried to represent the difficult experiences of man caught in the apparatus and web of tyranny ... Our powers are limited, but our books will not be useless if they contribute to making human beings more humane'." (p.340)

John Page,You write: "Great lives are often full of contradictions." I agree, and that should give us all pause, since it seems a natural inclination (fruit of the combox bubbles we indwell?) either to celebrate or to condemn absolutely.Dante condemned "il gran rifiuto," Silone celebrated it. I wonder whether accepting high office can itself at times be a "gran rifiuto" of one's own desires? Havel? Ratzinger?

Robert Imbelli:Please translate "il gran rifiuto."

Gene,It is the Dante reference in the "Commonweal" article to which you called attention: the one "in Dante's lnferno "who made the grand refusal" = "il gran rifiuto."Most think that Dante was referring to Celestine V whose abdication paved the way to the papacy for Boniface VIII -- Dante's great enemy.Silone, of course, thought otherwise of Celestine's decision.