By Floro L. Mercene
It is a measure of Rizal’s greatness that 121 years after his death, his Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell) continues to move listeners and to be translated into foreign languages.
The latest translation, the 36th, is from Hungarian Ambassador and poet Jossef Bencze.
“I read it before my embassy staff and tears were flowing down their faces as I finished reading,” he said at the unveiling of the historical marker for the Hungarian translation of Mi Ultimo Adios at the Rizal Shrine in Intramuros, Manila, last December 27.
The marker finds its rightful place among other translations in English, Japanese, Chinese, and Czech. There’s also a Braille translation for the blind.
Ambassador Bencze marvels at the similarity between their Hungarian hero Sándor Petőfi and Rizal. He said Petőfi died young fighting during the Hungarian Revolution.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1848 was one of the many European revolutions in the Habsburg areas that grew into a war for independence from the Austrian Empire, then ruled by the Habsburg dynasty.
“Petőfi died in 1849, he was 29. Rizal died at 34. Both died fighting to free their country,” he said. And like Rizal, who had produced a prodigious amount of poems and letters, “Petőfi had more than 800 poems.”
Bencze said he is dedicating his translation to the Filipino people, whom he find to be always smiling.
“Filipinos are very friendly; that shows they are not depressed and everybody speaks English from children to old folks!”
This facility with English enables him to work closely with Filipinos and also for him to travel across the country without encountering the language barrier.
“Hungary used to be part of the Russian Empire and when I was a child, we had to learn the Russian language,” he said.
Ambassador Bencze has befriended the novelist F. Sionil Jose, an icon of Filipino writers in English, and the founder of the Philippine Center of International PEN (Poets and Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists).
José, one of the guests at the unveiling that included beauty queen Gemma Cruz Araneta, said of Rizal: “No country in the world has produced someone like him.”