Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi came to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland yesterday, to pay tribute to the liberating art form that he says gave a gust of wind behind the sails of the anti-communism movement in Central Europe.
"It was like a window to the free world," Simonyi, 51, said in an interview [with The Plain Dealer] before he spoke to a private group last night at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
"Most Hungarians didn't understand what these guys were singing about," Simonyi said. "The real power was in the music. Hungarians embraced the West much more than others." [?]
"You had four or five guys up on the stage with so much power," Simonyi said. "It was a breath of fresh air."
Unlike in the United States, where the 1960s culture wars are still being played out, Central Europe's hippies and music fanatics basically won, after two decades of the commie-allied squares driving them into the illegal underground. So that generation will never be shy about paying tribute to the Rock -- Vaclav Havel marked the 1991 expulsion of the last Soviet soldier from Czechoslovak soil by inviting an ailing Frank Zappa to perform in a celebratory rock concert, and made a serious priority out of drinking beers with visiting rock stars, especially the Rolling Stones.
Simonyi, now an economist, said he and his friends were into British blues-revival bands like Traffic and Cream. The Slovaks adored Queen -- there's a large statue of Freddie Mercury in a small town outside Bratislava. And the Czechs, famously, loved the Velvet Underground. As the late bass player Milan Hlavsa of the Plastic People of the Universe told me in 1991, "It brought us America in a real way. [Before] there was a big vacuum. It was good to see that in the States there were normal people who had problems like us."