April 29 - May 5, 1919. Red May

Barkóczi Janka

The grandiose 1919 May 1st celebrations were one of the biggest events of the decade.

Footages of parades, performances, competitions and other spectacles remained in surprisingly good conditions, thanks to the film industry's active contribution. At least 10 cameramen were following the events of Budapest for Vörös Riport film news - those who had the gears were definitely shooting somewhere around the city that day. Vörös Film newspaper allegedly preordered 2000 meters of materials and the reports were screened in 6 Budapest cinemas for an entire week. And not only Hungarians were watching the footages as they were sent to Russia after the Hungarian premier.  

Symbolically strengthening the system – Triumphal arch on the corner of Fürdő utca and Vilmos császár út 

The project to somehow eternalize the ceremony dedicated to symbolically strengthen the system for present and future generations was a crucial program point for the central propaganda. Finding a fittingly attractive theme was relatively easy, as for the special occasion they decorated the entire city with amazing creativity, and the crowd and revelry really was more than worthy to be recorded on film with this setting.  


Berlini square

The city's most well known areas were covered with giant flags, statues and installations, walls were plastered with propaganda posters, the Buda side of the Chain bridge was guarded by Marx and Engels' statues, memorials incompatible with the regime were covered up and public buildings and the Millenium Memorial on Heroes' Square were covered with red cloth. Furthermore, the Governing Council included instructions for the public in Az Est newspaper: „The May 1st decoration committee asks all comrades to cover their balconies and windows with red rugs and garments on the 1st of May. Women shall also be dressed in red or at least wear a red hat that day.”

The black and white footage does not really do it justice, but the intense spectacle must have been unforgettable for those who had the chance to be there in person, although it was also frightening and worrisome. Some were questioning why such unnecessary spending was made in such a poor city, while some associated the red garments with blood, and Miklós Horthy was also referencing this day when he was talking about Budapest "dressed in red rags". The order mentioned also included restrictions, threatening those with the monster of the Revolutionary Court, who would break off blooming tree branches for the sake of petty ad hoc decoration.

This Thursday was of course a non-working holiday, partly because they wanted as many people on the streets as possible.  


According to preliminary plans, residents of Buda were celebrating around Vérmező, and Pest residents headed towards Heroes' Square. The departure of each group from different districts was carefully choreographed so that they would meet at the main locations. Several footages remained of those moments. We can see Vérmező and Városliget, where leaders of the Soviet Republic, Béla Kun, Jenő Landler and Dezső Bokányi spoke, we can enjoy the running competition on Andrássy út and the parks of Margaret Island, which was opened for children of the working class for the special occasion. Attendees were welcomed by a giant statue of a woman, "the proletarian mother", with a gigantic triumphal arch in the background and the caption „Children, the future is yours!”. People spent the day in the spirit of sport and culture, took part in competitions or listened to performances at the usual locations and temporary stages. In the afternoon, funny contests a dance took place, bands were playing, boats were cruising down the Danube and the food ban was temporarily lifted. Restaurants could announce their needs in advance, a kifli eating contest took place at the Alagút entrance and people were handing out almond biscuits and cakes for the younglings.  

Marching in Pest

One of the most interesting episodes of the film news - especially for the industry - was the marc of filmmakers. They were proud to be chosen as the first industry to be nationalized, and they really excelled that day. Hundreds were gathering at the Parliament from early morning and marched through the city in costumes and armed with props. The red reel on the carriage drawn by 6 white horses was probably pretty complicated to be made but it was fairly spectacular. The concept was István Szirontai Lhotka's, a famous set designer of Hungarian silent films, and artists Imre Földes' and Lipót Sátori's. Materials were provided by Corvin, Phönix and Hungária film factories.  


Statue of the "Red man" at Berlin square

Filmmakers, public servants and actors marched together on the selected route, then arrived to Városliget where they listened to speeches by political trustee Béla Paulik, Dezső Adler and Oszkár Damó. After that, many of them continued celebrating at Gundel. Every Budapest cinema prepared a special program for the afternoon, where movie actors made inspiring speeches in front of the audience. 

Many people thought it was not a coincidence that the day ended with a giant storm, causing serious damages around the entire city. An eyewitness, Jolán Kelen remembers the event as such: „A devastating storm arrived at night and destroyed our beautiful symbols: tore apart the giant red globes of Körönd, tore off the red garment from the king statues, and ruthlessly beat around all decorations. They were wrestled to the ground and laid there in mockery. Our thoughts were even more shadowed by the news coming from the front. The enormous May 1st storm destroyed a lot of hope.” Although not much of the decorations survived that day, photographs and the Vörös Riport news' priceless footages are still able to give back how the celebrations went.