Monday, July 5, 2010

Week 27: Freedom!

This holiday weekend began with a wonderful dinner with a few friends, one of whom is Canadian. My cultural ignorance shone through when I asked why she had prepared Canadadian-flag themed cupcakes to accompany the American-flag cupcakes... I was completely oblivious to the fact that July 1 is Canada Day! Upon reflection it hit me that outside of the U.S. and perhaps France and Hungary, I know next to nothing of the road to independence for other countries.

It is a holiday weekend, so I will spare readers with the full histories, but I looked up a few countries and have given a very brief overview of their respective independence days (or lack thereof!). I purposely chose nations about which I'm curious but have little existing knowledge.

So, Happy Independence Day. Here's to America, and here's to all those around the world who have the courage to challenge injustice, the tenacity to fight oppression, and the ingenuity and capacity to inspire others.


Ghana: On March 6, 1957 Ghana gained its independence from the British, thereby becoming the first black African country to become independent (according to the BBC's standards of independence, that is). The newly created flag features a black star representing the African struggle against colonialism, a green stripe representing the natural beauty of the country, a gold stripe representing the country's mineral wealth and a red stripe representing the blood shed for those who struggled for the country's independence.

South Korea: While this one is a bit more controversial given the ongoing split between North and South Korea, I am including it because I learned something new here. I somehow had no idea the Japanese controlled the Korean peninsula until the end of World War II. Independence day is officially recognized as August 15, 1945, in accordance with the Japanese surrender. The deal was brokered by the USSR and the U.S.; to the north of the 38th parallel the Japanese surrendered to the USSR, and to the south they surrendered to the US. This has marked the dividing line between North and South Korea ever since.

New Zealand: After the British experienced the fiasco that was the American Revolution, they were keen to avoid a redux. So the colonies housing relatively large British populations, among them Canada, Australia and New Zealand, were given proressively more autonomy. The New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852 gave the colony's settlers the right to self-government. The country's independence was cemented by its inclusion in the League of Nations in 1919.

Peru: The Peruvians declared their independence from Spain on July 28, 1821, although they did not have full freedom until after a three year war with the Spaniards. If you think fireworks are over the top in the US, go to Peru on July 28th: in addition to fireworks, they celebrate with bull fights and greased-pole-climbing contests!

Thailand: Thailand has no official independence day; rather, they have a "national day", celebrated each year on the king's birthday! The current king's birthday is December 5, for those inquiring minds...


  1. On this sete de setembro Carioca muses about two extreme versions of freedom fights and independence day celebrations:

    Brazilians, including cariocas – Portuguese for residents of Rio de Janeiro – celebrated the country’s 187th year of independence with a Feriadão. This year September 7th fell on a Tuesday, which means that most Brazilians called in sick (or didn’t even bother calling in...) to celebrate the four-day holiday…only very occasionally will a normal holiday or feriado turn into a four-day Feriadão.

    As I understand it, Brazil’s independence was won through one of the most peaceful and bloodless events anywhere. On September 7, 1822, Prince Pedro, the 23-year-old son of Portugal’s monarch Dom João, was returning with a group of friends and officers on horseback from São Paulo to Rio. Just before crossing the Ipiranga River, they were met by a Portuguese delegation with a message from his father: return to Lisbon immediately. Apparently Dom Pedro knew this would mean that Brazil would revert to becoming a Portuguese colony and immediately rejected his father’s request. History records that he drew his sword and proclaimed Brazil’s independence with the famous words “Independência ou Morte” (Idependence or Death !). According to one historian “tearing the Portuguese blue-and-white insignia from his uniform” (…) Pedro added “By my blood, by my honor, and by God: I will make Brazil free.” Fortunately not much blood had to be shed. One of the best-known renditions of this event is Pedro Americo’s 1888 oil “Independência ou Morte” which for decades embellished a very popular box of fine chocolates.

    Pedro de Alcântara Francisco António João Carlos Xavier de Paula Miguel Rafael Joaquim José Gonzaga Pascoal Cipriano Serafim de Braganca e Bourbom, became Dom Pedro I, the first Emperor of Brazil and ruled for nine years. His five-year-old son inherited the empire in 1831 and was formally crowned Brazil’s second (and last) emperor in 1841. Dom Pedro II (short for Pedro de Alcântara João Carlos Leopoldo Salvador Bibiano Francisco Xavier de Paula Leocádio Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Braganca e Bourbom) was deposed 58 years later, with the proclamation of the Republic on November 15, 1849.

    Brazilians claim that their country’s flag is one of very few without red in it because no blood was shed to obtain their independence. Instead, they say, it includes the green of rainforests, the blue of its skies and waters and the golden-yellow of their perennial sunshine.

    (The other extreme – the Magyars’ many battles for their freedom and, of course, the concomitant blood-letting and other consequences – will have to wait for another post…)

  2. Carioca blushes while trying to correct: Brazil's Dia da Republica is November 15, to commemorate the proclamation in 1889 and not 1849. (1849 is connected to the other extreme -- not yet posted -- related to one of the Magyars' fights for freedom; the one that celebrates March 15, 1848, before the sad and bloody events that ended it in 1849...)

  3. On 9/11 Carioca observes:

    Continuing the glorious but too often sad and bloody leit motif of freedom – as, on this 2010 9/11, we observe and participate in the many memorial services -- we remember that today is also the National Day of Catalunya, the Diada Nacional.

    From Wikipedia: “On September 11, Catalonia, an autonomous community of Spain, commemorates the 1714 Siege of Barcelona defeat during the War of the Spanish Succession. As a punishment for their support to the claim of Habsburg Archduke Charles to the throne of Spain, institutions and rights of the territories of the Crown of Aragon were abolished by the victorious Bourbon monarchy in line with the political evolution occurring in other parts of Europe at the same time.” And: (…) “In 1980, the restored Generalitat de Catalunya (autonomous Government of Catalonia), as its first public act proclaimed 11 September, La Diada, the Catalan National holiday. (…) Organizations and political parties traditionally lay floral offerings at the monuments of Rafael Casanova and General Moragues for their fight against the Bourbon army. Catalan nationalists also meet in the Fossar de les Moreres, where they pay homage to the defenders of city who died during the siege and were buried there.”

    In other words, unlike Brazil’s Grito do Ipiranga but very much along the lines of the numerous Hungarian struggles for freedom, Catalunya’s Diada marks a very bloody day:
    “Todos saben que la Diada --el día que, desde mucho tiempo atrás, los catalanes declararon emblemático de su lucha histórica-- conmemora una derrota: el feroz y despiadado asalto a la ciudad de Barcelona por las tropas borbónicas, al mando del mercenario inglés Mariscal-Duque de Berwick, el 11 de septiembre de 1714.”

    And, further continuing the same leit motif of bloody defeats, this September 11 ( in Camp Nou !) Hercules Club de Futbol – just promoted to first division status – defeated La Liga defending champions Barcelona FC, 2-0, a side many praise as the planet’s best soccer team ! Much blood was shed when, in a horrible accident, Barcelona’s Pique head-collided with Hercules keeper Calatayud.
    At least they’re from Alicante, in the Comunitat Valenciana, and have the same vexillological symbol: the red-and-gold Senyera from the Thalassocracy of Aragon…

  4. More on Freedom and The Road to Independence:

    More than a month ago I made a reference to 1849: “(…) 1849 is connected to the other extreme – not yet posted – related to one of the Magyars’ many fights for freedom; the one that celebrates March 15, 1848, before the sad and bloody events that ended it in 1849 (…)”

    At some point I still mean to post a short comment celebrating March 15. However, at this time, today, the events in memoriam October 6, 1949, take precedence. Very much along the twin paths of freedom and the road to independence, today is the day when Hungarians remember the 13 martyrs of Arad – known as a National Day of Mourning ( “nemzeti gya’sznap”) it reminds us of the day the Aradi ve’rtanuk were executed by representatives of the Austrian Empire and Imperial Russia, as they re-established Habsburg rule over Central Europe. Lajos Kossuth had declared independence on April 19, 1849, but soon Russia joined Austria against the vastly outnumbered Hungarians, appeals to the rest of Europe went without any response, Kossuth abdicated on August 11, and the Hungarians surrendered to the Russians at Vilagos. The Russians promptly turned over to the Austrians what was left of the Hungarian army. The 13 Hungarian senior officers and generals were executed in Arad on October 6.

    Lajos Kossuth escaped to the Ottoman Empire and was later welcomed in Western Europe and the United States as a symbol of freedom and independence. In the United States today there are dozens of towns, streets and avenues named after him. Historians claim that as many as 16 high ranking officers were executed on October 6, but the Arad Thirteen ("Az aradi tizenha'rom") became part of folklore and, thus, history...Only five of the thirteen were ethnic Hungarians: the others were four Germans, two Armenians, one Serb and one Croat. Together all thirteen were united in leading the fight for an independent and – for its age – very liberal Hungary.

    Post scriptum: in Hungary it's still considered very bad manners to clink glasses when drinking beer. Apparently the Austrian generals were drinking beer and clinking their beer mugs as they were celebrating the executions. In response, according to legend and habit, Hungarians swore that for the following 150 years they would not clink their glasses while drinking beer. I can tell you that as late as the mid-nineties Carioca was warned by well-meaning Hungarian friends not to embarrass them by toasting with glasses of beer (wine was OK !). The accepted alternative was gently to tap the table with the bottom of the glasses. I'm told that even after October 6, 1999, it continues to be insensitive and bad manners not to choose the alternative way...

  5. Carioca remembers November 4, 1956 (Part I):

    Freedom…The history of fights and struggles for freedom and independence is long, dramatic, and, most often quite bloody. Yet, only a few revolutions and freedom fights can match the heroic David v. Goliath ups-and-downs of the 13 days in Budapest from October 23 to November 4, 1956.

    Today, November 4, Hungarians commemorate their annual Day of Mourning (“nemzeti gyasznap”). Early this morning, to the sounds of the National Anthem and in the presence of President Pal Schmitt and Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a large Hungarian flag – with its plain red, white and green stripes -- was ceremonially hoisted and then lowered to half-mast at Kossuth Square, next to the Parliament building where so many Hungarians were massacred 54 years ago. It was the beginning of a day-long schedule of events which remind us of the tragic end to this glorious forradalom (revolution) and szabadsagharc (freedom fight). By nightfall, on November 3, 1956, the Soviet Army had encircled Budapest. Around 3 a.m. on November 4, at least 1,000 Soviet tanks penetrated the capital and air strikes, combined with artillery and 17 combat-ready divisions subdued the capital. At 5:20 a.m., Prime Minister Imre Nagy broadcast his final, poignant appeal for help. Free Kossuth Radio stopped broadcasting at 8:07 a.m. Although significant (and bloody) fighting continued until November 10, effectively November 4 marked the end of the spontaneous, nationwide revolt by college students and factory workers that began 13 days earlier. It didn’t help that from October 29 most of the world was far more interested in the combined invasion of Egypt by Israeli, British and French forces…

  6. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 erupted on October 23 with a demonstration by some 20,000 students and by factory workers jogging and wielding welding tools on their way to a 30-foot-high bronze statue of Stalin to cut it down . Throughout Budapest crowds kept growing, speakers expressed their Solidarity with the Polish movement, demanded reforms and a more democratic political system as well as freedom from Soviet oppression. By the end of October 23, PM Nagy delivered a lack-luster speech to a large crowd at Kossuth Square. The events of the next few days can’t be summarized in this brief comment; please refer to Wikipedia to read about the fighting between the Soviet tanks and soldiers, the Hungarian secret police (AVH) and the Hungarian population (primarily students and factory workers) . During the following days, PM Nagy declared the end of the one-party system and announced Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. A ceasefire was arranged on October 28; by October 30 most Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest. But that was before November 4…It is estimated that, by the end of the year, more than 3,000 Hungarians and Soviet troops had been killed and more than 200,000 had left the country in exile. During the next five years, additional tens of thousands were jailed and executed, with perhaps as many as 20,000 – mostly young students and workers – deported to prisons in the Soviet Union. Around the world, thousands of articles and books were written, documentaries were filmed, and Time magazine named the Hungarian Freedom Fighter its Man-of-the-Year featuring an artist’s rendition on its January 9, 1957, cover.

    Time's "Man of the Year" for 1956 was the Hungarian Freedom Fighter.[168]
    It’s difficult merely to summarize such a tragic -- even if brief -- segment of history. No doubt more books will be written – rightly so -- about what happened and why. And about the consequences of this remarkable and most admirable expression of human will and aspirations. The Republic of Hungary was officially declared in 1989 and October 23 is now a Hungarian National Holiday. Soviet troops finally withdrew from Hungary in 1991. During the past twenty years free and democratic elections have been held in Hungary six times. With each result came the peaceful and legal – almost perfectly alternating -- transfer of power from one opposition party to the other (1990, MDF; 1994, MSzP; 1998, Fidesz; 2002, MSzP; 2004, MSzP; 2010, Fidesz-KDNP). Freedom and democracy !
    Carioca, November 4, 2010

  7. One of the best and most interesting works available in English is Bela Liptak's first-hand account through "A Testament of Revolution." Here's a short review:

    Liptak, a Hungarian emigre after the 1956 Hungarian revolution who has spent almost the last five decades in his adopted U.S., has given us nothing less than a little masterpiece chronicling the hour-by-hour events of that doomed and foreshortened student-led rebellion against Soviet tyranny. There is uch urgency in his reporting simply because the book is basically a translation of the author's own journal from that time, when he was one of the leaders of the student revolt. The book consists of that journal sandwiched between a contemporary prologue and postscript. What he reports on was perhaps one of the noblest of uprisings, where baskets of monetary donations left on street corners for the suffering rebels would go untouched by an honest citizenry, as did department stores, opened to all via broken plate-glass windows,yet went unlooted. Ultimately, this is a sad tale of a short-lived rebellion that fell victim to an oppressive enemy and to the inaction of perceived friends (the U.S. foremost among them, whose expected support failed to come through despite Eisenhower's lip service to liberation movements). Riveting photographs round out this gem of a book. Allen Weakland
    Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

  8. March 2, 1836: the Republic of Texas declares its independence from Mexico (added by Carioca on March 2, 2011).

    If you drive approximately 85 miles west, north, then east from Houston you’ll reach Washington-on-the-Brazos, Washington County, where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed 175 years ago today. Based primarily on the writings of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson it declared that the Mexican government’s actions and failures led to the need to declare the independence of Texians: “In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves, and a sacred obligation to their posterity, to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.” The unanimously approved declaration accused the Mexican government of failing “to protect the lives, liberty, and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived” and of “arbitrary acts of oppression and tyranny.” Based on the U.S. Declaration of Independence, it also contained many of the more important expressions of American political principles.

    A handwritten document, it was produced literally overnight, the day after 54 delegates representing each of the settlements of Texas met on March 1. While the Alamo in San Antonio was under siege by Santa Anna’s army of Mexico they drafted and approved “The Unanimous Declaration of Independence made by the Delegates of the People of Texas in General Convention at the town of Washington on the 2nd day of March 1836.” The declaration officially established the Republic of Texas.

    After the Texian victory (April 21, 1836), the Republic of Texas maintained its independence until it became a part of the United States upon admission to the Union as the 28th state, on December 29, 1845.

    After you finish celebrating in Washington, it’s just a short ride to three other fascinating, nearby Texas shrines: only 34 miles northwest, in College Station, is the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University (dedicated in 1997); the LBJ Library & Museum (dedicated 1971) is 122 miles west, in Austin, at the University of Texas; and, if you drive about 200 miles to the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas you will see the rising buildings of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Although President Dwight D. Eisenhower was born 270 miles away in Denison, Texas, the Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum is located in Abilene, Kansas.