Parliaments in Ottawa, Budapest and Islamabad
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse, Islamabad September 21, 2007
A tour of the Parliament Hill - The Canadian Parliament or the grand parliament building in Budapest or the Hungarian capital for a Pakistani, invariably works as a trigger for drawing comparisons; perched on a hill that overlooks Ottawa as well as the picturesque city of Hull in the Quebec province. The view from the top is a spectacular panorama of the city, the Gastineau Hills in Quebec, and the Ottawa River. It is also the best place to see the four monstrous gargoyles that stick out from the corners of the tower.
Parliament Hill is open to all and sundry, the people it representatives. Scores of guided tours throughout the day, essentially a demonstration of the masses-inclusive democracy and as a mark of respect to those who send their representatives to the House of Commons. In Islamabad, the parliament house represents the house of the mighty, where usually selected sections of the society i.e. those with contacts and of course the media persons would find their way into the labyrinth of straight, rectangular corridors and committee rooms that surround the main hall. The parliament house in Islamabad boasts little cultural and historical heritage with little to inspire or impress the visitors. But the Parliament Hill in Ottawa appears and comes through as a majestic piece of architecture – a combination of heritage architecture and the modern day facilities.The Parliament Hill symbolizes the Canadian nations resolve to protect, promote and uphold fundamentals of democracy. It has always been a place where Canadians have gathered to mourn, to celebrate, to rally and to protest. It stretches back to 1865 when Queen Victoria's birthday was celebrated there, with the public huddled on boardwalks to avoid the mud.
The library here is the figurative centerpiece of the building, if one were to put knowledge and research at the heart of the democracy the way it has evolved in the icy-cold Canada and elsewhere.
The Library of Parliament holds a special place in Canadian history. It is the last remaining part of the original parliament building, the Centre Block, on Parliament Hill—and the only to have survived the devastating fire of 1916. Yet it is more than an architectural treasure, a beautiful example of the Victorian Gothic style. It is a fully functioning library whose collection and services support the activities and decisions of Canada's democratic parliament.
All of the buildings of the Parliament Hill complex are built of the same three colours of stone, worked into wonderful details of carved moldings, foliage, real and imagined animals and plants, as well as emblems of the French, English, Irish and Scottish settlers who were, at the time, the most prominent groups in the population. From every nook and cranny the faces of little figures peer down. Some of them are rumoured to belong to workmen, politicians, the architects and others.
The colourful patterns in stone create a very lively appearance. The many shapes and sizes of pointed windows in different groupings, towers, turrets, finials and grotesques added to the effect. The original roof was grey slate, with patterns of green. All around the tops of the roofs was intricate iron cresting, painted china blue and gilded at the tips. On a fine summer day the effect would be magical.
In 1967, Canada's 100th anniversary was a huge birthday party, and on July 1st the same year, thousands gathered on Parliament Hill to celebrate. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was there, along with other dignitaries, politicians, and celebrities. It was a an exciting time for Canada. Canadians were discovering their rich history, celebrating their accomplishments and looking forward to a bright future.
Over the years there have been many great events marked on the Hill: the funerals of statesmen, like Sir John A Macdonald, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Georges P Vanier, and Lester B Pearson, the deaths of a queen and kings, coronations and Royal visits. jubilees, remembrances, declarations of war and peace and moments of uncertainty such as the October Crisis and the Quebec Referendum have brought Canadians to Parliament Hill. Events of great national pride, e.g. Newfoundland's entry into the Confederation and the Patriation of the Constitution have all been celebrated on the Hill.
The Senate – the upper house - in Islamabad’s Parliament House represents provinces but is mostly occupied by technocrats and politicians the credentials of many of whom are questionable; many of them sit in Senate as a reward, or for being affluent or connected to the powerful military or political elite. This statement is not meant to belittle the stature of the likes of Reza Rabbani or Prof. Khursheed Ahmed, or Asfandyar Wali.
The Canadian Senate inside the Parliament Hill also boasts people like Senator Mubina Jaffar, 60, who represents the multiculturalism that Canadians take pride in. Daughter of an opponent of the Ugandan dictator Idi Ameen, Ms Jaffar entered Canada as a Ugandan refugee. She holds a prestigious position within the 100-member Senate – the upper house of the parliament, a forum to which people of immaculate reputation and caliber are nominated. In this forum, all the nominate people work as the permanent heart and mind of the nation – working continuously – day and night – on issues of national concern until reaching the age of retirement.
Thousands of kilometers away from Ottawa, the Hungarian Parliament Building (Hungarian: Országház) also represents a blend of national pride and historical, cultural heritage .It is one of the Europe's oldest legislative buildings, a notable landmark of Hungary and a popular tourist destination of Budapest on the bank of the Danube, in Budapest.
Similar to the Palace of Westminster, it was built in Gothic Revival style; it has a symmetrical facade and a central dome. Its interior includes 10 courtyards, 13 passenger and freight elevators, 27 gates, 29 staircases and 691 rooms (including more than 200 offices). With its height of 96 m, it is one of the tallest buildings in Budapest, along with Saint Stephen's Basilica. The number 96 refers to the nation's millennium, 1896, and the conquest of the later Kingdom of Hungary in 896.
One of the famous parts of the building is the hexadecagonal (sixteen-sided) central hall, with huge chambers adjoining it: the Lower House (today the National Assembly meets here) and the Upper House (until 1945).
This building, too, is open to public, with regularly conducted visits almost each day, a smart way of familiarizing students and citizens with the political and architectural history of the country.
In Hungary’s neighbourhood, on one hand, the colossal Parliament Building that Nikolai Ceausescu had conceived remains a white elephant and devoid of any national historical symbolism. The huge structure, comprising a couple of thousand rooms and chambers, is monolithic but hardly does any citizen associate him or herself with it. Launched in 1992, technically it is still under construction. This building also reminds one of the whimsical and autocratic nature of the rulers that many East European countries and Asian and African nations suffered at the hands of civilian and military dictators – all in the name of national pride and glory. That is why the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Budapest, Berlin, and London, for instance, remain far apart from the rectangular parliament House in Islamabad, Alma Aty, Tashkent, Abuja (Nigeria) or many other countries which have suffered long spells of dictatorships.
(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.