|Detail of Istvan Mate's statue of Ronald Reagan in Budapest. Photo by Stefan van Drake (2011)|
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan took his first steps in Budapest on 29 June 100 years after his birth.
It was pomp and political circumstance, a GOP (U.S. Republican Party) junket that proceeded without incident as only nine people showed up for what was billed as a protest by Hungarian leftists.
Caught permanently in mid-stride, the bigger than life bronze likeness of Reagan by Hungarian master sculptor Istvan Mate weighs 400 pounds and stretches to 2.18 meters (7 ft. 2 in.).
The 40th U.S. president enjoyed a warm reception by Hungary's ruling elite, notably by its Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, a conservative who commands a majority in parliament.
|"Walking with Reagan" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)|
Orban joined former U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, ex-U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese (age 79) and current Republican House majority whip Kevin McCarthy of California.
Each cast Reagan as the Cold Warrior who liberated Hungary from Soviet communism, a beacon of world freedom.
|Condolezza Rice, center, flanked by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right). Photograph by Stefan van Drake|
If you believed everything you heard at Reagan's unveiling, Reagan single-handedly collapsed the Iron Curtain.
As though Gorbachev was merely an American aparchik having little or no role in the USSR's implosion.
|"Tear Down This Wall" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)|
But those in power re-write history and the ceremony did nothing to dispel this axiom.
"I thought I would never see Reagan wearing a burka," one visiting American told me, noting Reagan's statue shrouded in a white sheet.
|Tight security prevailed as Viktor Orban spoke. Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)|
When the bronze Reagan was unveiled, I could only see the back of his head facing the Soviet memorial located about 70 meters away, which recognizes the Red Army's role in liberating Hungary from Nazi occupation, the only Soviet-era monument remaining in Budapest.
|The 40th U.S. president appears walking to the Soviet WWII memorial monument. Photograph by Stefan van Drake|
Hungarian honor guard, its band along with a handful of U.S. Embassy Marines managed to block nearly all sight lines to the politicos.
|"Pomp and Politics" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)|
Instead, the crowd of about 300 onlookers viewed two huge video screens seeing and hearing speakers extoll the virtues of Reagan, including a 10-minute video summary of his life and times in English (no Hungarian sub-titles), featuring his famous sound bite: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Two Hungarians, well placed and likely on the government's payroll, waved American flag in rhythmic unison as Orban, Rice, Meese and McCarthy spoke.
|"Striking the Set" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)|
|"Spanish life stilled," photograph by Stefan van Drake (2009)|