The Hungarian Revolution
February 1949: Hungary becomes a Socialist Republic under the leadership of Rakosi.
March 1953: Stalin dies.
July 1953: Imre Nagy appointed Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
April 1955: Nagy removed from position and expelled from the Communist Party for having liberal policies.
February 1956: Khrushchev denounces Stalin, raising hopes of reforms.
October 23rd 1956: Some 200,000 take to the streets of Budapest demanding independence and the withdrawal of Soviet Troops.
October 24th 1956: Rioting throughout Budapest. Nagy reinstated as Prime Minister.
October 25th 1956: Soviet Tanks open fire on protesters.
October 26th 1956: Unrest spreads to the countryside. Nagy calls for the withdrawal of Soviet Troops.
October 28th 1956: Nagy makes a broadcast promising widespread reforms.
October 30th 1956: Soviet troops withdraw from Hungary. The Catholic leader of Hungary is released from prison.
November 1st 1956: The Hungarian Government announces its intention to leave the Warsaw Pact. Soviet troops re-enter Hungary.
November 4th 1956: In the region of 1000 tanks enter Budapest. The United Nations calls for a Soviet withdrawal.
November 11th 1956: The Soviets claim victory over the revolutionaries. Nagy seeks refuge in the Yugoslav embassy.
June 1958: Despite being promised safe passage by the new Hungarian Government, Nagy is arrested, tried and secretly executed by the Soviets for his role in the uprising.
Nagy and his demands
When Nagy was reinstalled as Prime Minister in 1956 he was faced with a country in turmoil. His appointment though was one which demonstrated that the government was aware of the wishes of the people: though not those of all of the people. Nagy constructed a government that included members of non communist parties, ending the one party state in Hungary. He also authorised the immediate release of many political prisoners. Nagy asked Khrushchev to withdraw Soviet troops from Hungary, which Khrushchev agreed to. Nagy’s goal here was to create a multi-party state which was independent. This in itself was not of a major concern to the Soviet Union, otherwise they would not have withdrawn their troops or permitted his new government to be formed. Nagy then announced that Hungary was going to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and become a Neutral, social democracy. This attempt at leaving the Warsaw Pact and the fight to attempt it is known as the Hungarian Revolution.
Soviet reaction and uprising
“Soviet tanks rolled in and started to shoot at every centre of resistance which had defied them during our first battle for freedom.
This time, the Russians shot the buildings to smithereens. Freedom fighters were trapped in the various barracks, public buildings and blocks of flats. The Russians were going to kill them off to the last man. And they knew it. They fought on till death claimed them.
The Russians bombarded to rubble every house from which a single shot was fired. The fighting groups realized that further battles would mean the annihilation of the capital. So they stopped fighting.” Hungarian journalist, George Paloczi-Horvath.
To have an independent nation with a semi democratic system within the sphere of Soviet Influence was one thing. For it to state neutrality and severe its ties with Moscow was an entirely different matter. The Soviets could not countenance this, nor could they be seen to allow it to happen. The response was swift. Troops re-entered Hungary and began fighting their way back towards Budapest. When faced with resistance they responded with sheer brute force. The quotation above illustrates the manner in which Soviet forces reasserted their control. Once the Soviets had established control they imposed their own choice of leader and reestablished a soviet military presence.
Why did the Soviet Union act in this way?
A Socialist republic with elections including members of other socialist groups was broadly in line with the destalinisation of Eastern Europe. When it became clear that Nagy wanted a fully democratic system and independence this posed a serious threat to the Soviet Union. If Hungary was able to do this, would other Eastern European nations attempt the same thing? A firm message needed to be given to the whole of the Eastern Bloc that they remained under Soviet influence. The Soviets also viewed this as a possible expansion of West Europe which would eradicate the sought after buffer zone of satellite states between the USSR and the Western Powers.
The death of Nagy
When it became clear that Soviet forces were going to gain control of Budapest, Nagy and several members of his cabinet sought refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy. The new leader of Hungary, Janos Kadar, promised Nagy that he and his followers could have safe passage out of the embassy and into exile. When the group left, Soviet agents kidnapped them. In July, 1958, the Hungarian Government announced that a number of people who led and orchestrated the 1956 Revolution had been tried and executed. Nagy was amongst those who were executed.
The re-establishment of Soviet control in Hungary
Following the suppression of the Revolution the government of Hungary was essentially a “puppet” government. It reflected the will of Moscow. Soviet forces remained in Hungary until after the fall of the Soviet Union. Opposition was dealt with in a Soviet style, through use of a secret police and imprisonment of dissenters. The reforms that may have been able to remain had Nagy not withdrawn from the Warsaw Pact were quickly repealed.
International reaction to the Hungarian Revolution
Newsreel footage showing how the Hungarian Revolution was reported at the time.
International responses to the Hungarian Revolution were relatively muted as it occured at the same time as the Suez Crisis. The Western Powers could hardly condemn the Soviet Union whilst doing similar in Egypt! The United Nations did condemn the Soviet response to the Revolution but took no action. Soviet rule in Hungary was reasserted despite international disapproval.