The Corner

Red Star At Night

Derb, your remarks about the Soviets in Austria remind me of my only trip inside the Warsaw Pact, a visit to Hungary in the mid-1980s, when Pat Buchanan, then my boss at the White House, arranged for me to join a group of my fellow twentysomethings on a boondoggle.

In Budapest, we twentysomethings all kept looking for signs of the Soviet presence, but we could never find any-no soldiers on street corners, let alone jeeps or tanks-and our handlers, all of whom worked for the Hungarian government, assured us that, since the Soviets were present only to defend the country against the West, not to intimidate the Hungarian people, the Soviets always remained on bases outside the city.

Then one morning a member of our group joined the rest of us at the hotel breakfast table to tell us about an event the night before that had left him shaken. Unable to sleep-he was still jet-lagged-he’d stepped outside the hotel in the small hours of the morning for a smoke. At first the street had been quiet. Then he’d heard a rumbling in the distance. The sound had grown louder. And then from around a corner had come a convoy of dozens of jeeps and armored personnel carriers, all bearing the red star.

After occupying Hungary for four decades, we realized, the Soviets had refined their act, staying out of sight during the day so as not to frighten the tourists but sending a convoy rolling through Budapest every so often to remind the Hungarians who was boss.

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