Only Rock 'n' Roll?

Radio killed the Soviet star


The fall of communism has been attributed to many factors, from the system's economic failings to the hard line taken by Ronald Reagan. Hungarian ambassador András Simonyi, who in November spoke at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, believes at least some credit is due to the influence of bloc-rocking beats.

Simonyi first encountered rock 'n' roll in Denmark in the 1960s, a time when Hungary was in the middle of nearly half a century of Communist rule. "Rock music represented freedom to me," Simonyi says,"freedom I first experienced in Denmark and missed very much after returning to Hungary."

One of few young people on his block who spoke English, he embraced the message of rock culture. "Given that rock already carried a revolutionary message in the free West," he says, "you can imagine what effect that music had in the un-free East."

The message of rock was heard even by those who didn't understand English. "Nonspeakers instinctively felt that rock music was about freedom—the freedom to form your own band, the freedom to create your own music, the freedom to choose and listen to songs you like best," Simonyi says. He believes it was only natural for those ideas to "spill over into politics, reinforcing the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the free dissemination of ideas," all of which, he says, "scared the hell out of the Communist establishment."

Hungarian communism collapsed in 1989, and Simonyi, now 51, still believes rock can set you free. "Today, there is criticism that rock is imperialistic," he says. "Nonsense. Only dictators are afraid of rock."