BYU performers, Hungarians celebrate present while remembering horrific past

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Nestled in the heart of a former Soviet Union military base, a group of BYU dancers and musicians last week shared their message of peace, unity and hope.

Hungary, the first to split the Iron Curtain along with Poland in 1989, has enjoyed a relatively short period of democracy. The military base is indicative of the continued presence of this painful legacy. However, ever-resilient Hungarians have created beauty out of what was once horrific. One such place is the Elizabeth Park Theatre, which is part of the Corvin Community Centre.  This performing arts venue is a drastic departure from its dark origins.

The BYU International Folk Dance Ensemble performed in this venue Thursday to a sold-out audience during its tour of European countries. This performance displayed greater depth because of the preparation of those BYU students performing. Not only had they put countless hours into practicing, but they also attended a culture class before they left the United States.

They were able to utilize their knowledge while visiting several locations discussed in their culture class: the Rock Chapel, the Liberation Monument and the famed Hungarian thermal baths.  In one of the more poignant stops on the tour the group visited the House of Terror, located in Budapest.  This museum features exhibits detailing events from Hungary during Nazi, Arrow Cross and AVH rule.

The BYU students somberly passed from room to room, pausing every so often to listen to former Hungarian radio broadcasts on black rotary phones, view clips in a documentary about life in the Gulag or read subtitles on a documentary of former Hungarian prisoners.

In light of this visit, Alina Geslison, fiddler for the band, said she was impressed by the fact the dancers have been able to tour this country, which would not have been possible during Soviet times.  Because of the progress that has occurred since the early 1990s, Geslison and others had the opportunity to further the healing for those who live in a country that still bears prominent scars from recent communism.

“What we’re doing is bringing something that is a joy in our lives to the people here,” Geslison said.

That the audience received the joy was evident in its unison clapping at the end of each piece, which is the equivalent of a standing ovation in other areas of the world. The audience’s delight was in sharp contrast to the details rehashed in the Terror museum. One of the exhibition rooms was dedicated solely to the effects of nazism and communism on religion. An informational pamphlet dispersed at the museum discussed the government’s intentional replacement of God with political and other leaders. Members of churches throughout Hungary were oppressed and persecuted and their leaders jailed, intimidated into retirement or forced to leave the country.

Hungary now enjoys expanded religious freedom, with several denominations recognized by the Hungarian government, which at present requires the denomination to have more than 100 members in its congregation.

Because of this increased religious freedom, the International Folk Dance Ensemble was able to attend a Young Single Adult activity for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, share their talents and testimonies in a Friday night fireside and attend LDS church services on Sunday.

While reflecting on the visit to the House of Terror, Tim Krumwiede, the band’s bassist, said while the museum was not necessarily an enjoyable experience, it caused him to reflect on his day-to-day actions.

“It’s good to remind ourselves that you have to live Christlike every day to avoid that kind of stuff,” Krumwiede said.

The “stuff” to which Krumwiede referred were the actions of those Hungarian citizens and leaders responsible for the imprisonment, torture or brutal murder of their fellow citizens.

As part of the tour of the House of Terror, visitors were allowed to go down to the basement of the museum to see examples of the prison cells. The atmosphere was tangibly oppressive in the dimly lit, closet-sized cells. In this setting it was easy to imagine cries from prisoners, unjustly held for arbitrary charges.

The folk dance ensemble left the museum and stepped out into a sunny day in Budapest having experienced a taste of former conditions that make modern Hungary seem so sweet to its natives.

During their performance at the Elizabeth Park Theatre, the group brought further light to the lives of its Hungarian audience. Jay Tibbitts, drummer for the band, said in light of the former tragedies in Hungary, his goal is to help people see the goodness in the world through his music.

“With music in general, people come to see it and hear it because it helps you feel a certain way, makes you forget about your problems,” Tibbitts said. “It’s not about you really. It’s more to uplift other people.”

 

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