By Becki Steinberg - 06/27/11 10:17 PM EDT
Though lawmakers and visitors might not notice it at first, a tribute to a late Hungarian leader stands proud at the Capitol. Tucked into an arch-shaped alcove right outside the first-floor area known as the Crypt, the bust of Hungary’s first president towers at more than 6 feet tall, watching over the bustle of the first-floor corridor.
Lajos Kossuth’s bronze torso sits atop a rectangular marble base, etched with the words “Lajos Kossuth, Father of Hungarian Democracy, Hungarian Statesman, Freedom Fighter.” With no arms or lower body, Kossuth wears a saggy suit jacket fluttered open to reveal a dress shirt and bowtie underneath. His face is impenetrable, cloaked by a moustache and thick beard that reveals only his bottom lip and chin. His nose is strong and his eyes are stern, fixed on something either in the distance or in the recesses of his mind.
This Hungarian statesman’s presence in the U.S. Capitol might seem arbitrary, but in fact Kossuth’s life was intertwined with the life — and values — of American democracy.
Born in 1802, Kossuth was a writer, editor and practicing lawyer, known and often punished for his radical political views and advocacy of a democratic government. During the 1848 war of liberation, Kossuth declared himself provisional governor of Hungary, leading his country in fighting Austria for independence.
When Russia and Austria crushed Kossuth’s government, the Hungarian president went into exile in Turkey. The U.S. assisted him in traveling to America, where he ultimately spent one year. Kossuth became one of the first foreign statesmen to address a joint session of Congress, speaking to the body in 1852 about democracy — what he called “the ruling tendency of the spirit of our age,” according to the AHF website.
Moreover, throughout his year in the U.S., Kossuth made more than 300 speeches to thousands of American citizens. It is estimated that more than half of the nation’s population at the time heard him speak, Malecki said.
The official program for the bust’s 1990 dedication ceremony noted Kossuth’s embodiment of American values, reading “his political activity before and during the Revolution was inspired by the principles of American democracy,” according to information provided by the AoC.
At the ceremony, the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) also remarked on Kossuth’s significance in American and international politics, according to the AHF website.
“Placing a bust of this father of Hungarian democracy in the United States Capitol is an appropriate recognition of Kossuth’s association with the history of our nation more than a century ago,” said Lantos, who was born in Hungary. “At the same time, it is also a timely and most fitting gesture marking the historic victory of freedom and democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, which we have witnessed in recent months.”
Other tributes to Kossuth have emerged around the country. Kossuth County in Iowa pays homage to the “Father of Hungarian democracy,” and towns in Mississippi, Ohio and Indiana also bear his name.