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HUNGARY’1956: The last echo of the WWII

HUNGARY’1956: The last echo of the WWII

Hungary has been building socialism for 33 more years after suppressing the uprising in 1956. János Kádár, however, is understandably considered the greatest democrat of all socialist leaders. There was no country with more freedoms than in Hungary; it was dubbed "the liveliest barrack" not without a reason. Yes, Magyars actually wished to leave the Soviet auspice, but close cooperation with it hasn’t been entirely negative. Numerous industrial objects have been constructed with the help from the USSR; after events of 1956 the Soviet Union granted Hungary a multi-billion ruble aid free of charge. Hungarian goods had a stable outlet in the USSR.

First battles

On 23 Oct 1956 rallies started in Budapest — its participants carried the banners with the mottos of Soviet-Hungarian friendship. Soon enough the nature of the march changed. By the evening the situation has become explosive. The crowd burst into the engineering battalion barracks and occupied them. Soon enough the first victims appeared: militants of the anti-communist underground have attacked the Radio House, protected by the AVS officers (state security service). Chief of the Budapest police ordered not to shoot at the crowd. On the evening of the same day Imre Nagy was appointed the Prime Minister, although the uprising (or the revolt) has already become unstoppable.

Mottos about the elimination of socialism in Hungary were becoming all the louder. In these condition Marshal Vasiliy Sokolovsky, Head of the Soviet General Staff, ordered Soviet troops to restore law and order in Budapest. Their first attempt to do that has failed. Many Hungarian soldiers joined the protesters and some Soviet warriors have done the same. During the next two days real war was waged in Budapest. Magyars have been setting the Soviet tanks on fire, while the tanks have been shooting at the crowd. Victims were counted in hundreds.

Meanwhile, Hungarian leadership has split: head of the Workers Party Erno Gero supported the troops’ entry, Nagy objected that flatly. On 24 Sep Politburo member Anastas Mikoyan and Mikhail Suslov arrived to Budapest. Soviet Ambassador to Hungary Yuri Andropov also reported the situation to Moscow. Soon after their arrival the General Secretary was replaced: János Kádár succeeded Erno Gero. He opposed collectivization, supported Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito and suffered from repressions in the end of 90s. He was the man who ruled Hungary up until 1989. At the moment though...

At the moment anti-Stalinist Kádár was clearly overshadowed by anti-Stalinist Imre Nagy. Since 27 Oct the latter one negotiated the withdrawal of Soviet troops, simultaneously calling for both sides to cease fire. In the end, by 30 Oct our soldiers and officers returned to the places of their permanent deployment. For some time Budapest was silent again. This, however, was a silence before a violent storm...

Hungary in the middle of bloody chaos

Withdrawal of the Soviet troops signaled anti-communists to start the further actions. We may say that Imre Nagy himself has blessed them, saying "The government condemns the views, presenting the current anti-national movement as a counter-revolution". Besides, head of the government decided to abolish AVH. Instead of democratization he got a blood bath, however. At that, more often than not Szálasi banner was raised over the opponents of the ruling regime.

Radical anti-communists kept seizing weapons. Then they headed to the district and city committees of the Workers Party. Party functionaries and special service officers have been hung at the trees and lampposts. Some of them have been hammered to floor with huge nails, putting Lenin’s portraits into their hands. Inveterate criminals have been set at large along with political prisoners. On Soviet quarters have been shot repeatedly — many people have been murdered there. On 29 Oct editorial house of the Hungarian Workers Party Népszabadság was seized and then used to publish anti-communist propaganda.

Little by little the war has spread onto the entire country. And that was the moment when the former NKVD employee turned into a...democrat. On 30 Oct 1956 he stood up for imposition of a multi-partisan system, holding free election and forming the governments not just from communists alone. Two days later he exclaimed the Hungarian withdrawal from the Warsaw Treaty and addressed the UN asking to protect the Hungarian neutrality. The West, however, was entirely preoccupied with the recently started war of Great Britain, France and Israel against Egypt, had no time for Hungary. But that wasn’t the case with the Soviet Union.

Forced interference of the USSR

At the background of the Western attack on Egypt, Hungarian events have come as an especially painful blow to Nikita Khrushchev. "If we leave Hungary, this will encourage Americans and imperial Englishmen and Frenchmen. They will treat it as our weakness and start advancing" — he claimed at the Politburo sitting on 31 Oct 1956. Marshal Georgy Zhukov, Soviet Minister of Defense, had worked out a "Vihr" (Vortex) operation plan for suppressing the rebellion that was brought to life as soon as in November. And were there any other options, while Soviet quarters have been under fire constantly?

Under the Soviet pressure János Kádár created the new peasant-workers government and "agreed to the repeated entry of Soviet troops into Budapest". On 3 Nov Hungarian Minister of Defense Pal Maleter was arrested during the negotiations. A day later Soviet tanks advanced at the capital and Imre Nagy went on air with a radio-message of the following content: "Today in the early morning Soviet troops have attacked our country in order to depose the legitimate democratic government of Hungary. Our army is fighting. All the members of government stay at their places".

Troops that remained loyal to Nagy and numerous radical anti-communists could resist the Soviet tank attack, but were unable to stop it. Soviet army was forced to use artillery at the streets of Budapest outskirts. The shooting has stopped by 11 Nov. By that time Nagy hide in the Yugoslavian embassy. Some time afterwards he was baited to Romania, which passed him to the new Hungarian authorities. In June of 1959 the trial found him guilty of high treason and Nagy was executed.

Long-term consequences

As a result of mini-war in Hungary at least 2.652 Hungarians and 661 Soviet soldiers died. 26 thousand people were oppressed. Hundreds of thousand Magyars have fled from their Motherland — adjacent Austria alone has hosted 200 thousand people and even a special refugee camp has been settled by the city of Graz. Refugees included the players of the famous Hungarian national football team of the 50s (Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis). Many of them have never returned home.
Soviet Union, on its part managed to hold the unity of the socialist bloc for 30 more years. Khrushchev’s conclusion that other countries might follow Hungary was quite reasonable. It only takes to remember the GDR events of 1953, Czechoslovakian turmoil of 1968 and Polish revolts of 1956, 1970 and 1981. Had at least a single "screw" fallen out of the socialist machine, and Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia would’ve been inevitably included into the Western orbit, while the FRG takeover of the GDR would’ve taken place earlier.

Hungary has been building socialism for 33 more years after suppressing the uprising in 1956. János Kádár, however, is understandably considered the greatest democrat of all socialist leaders. There was no country with more freedoms than in Hungary; it was dubbed "the liveliest barrack" not without a reason. Yes, Magyars actually wished to leave the Soviet auspice, but close cooperation with it hasn’t been entirely negative. Numerous industrial objects have been constructed with the help from the USSR; after events of 1956 the Soviet Union granted Hungary a multi-billion ruble aid free of charge. Hungarian goods had a stable outlet in the USSR.

In the modern Hungary Imre Nagy is believed to be a national hero, while the USSR (and Russia for a good measure) is believed to be the "club" that brought the "strive for freedom" to an end. Officially this historical paged is seemingly done and dusted. In 2006, during Vladimir Putin’s visit to Budapest, he and then Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány called to look into the future. Then Russian President admitted the Soviet responsibility for the interference into Hungarian affairs, albeit fairly denying to repent them.

Yet, it’s not the universal point of view. Last year, Prime Minister Viktor Orban instigated the Hungarian parliament to ban the communist symbols. Five years ago pogroms took place in Budapest and the monument to Soviet warriors at the Szabadsag square (Freedom Square) was desecrated. Thus, the tragic events of autumn of 1956 still echo in the Hungarian society. There’s apparently no way to find the common points of the Soviet and Hungarian "truths", although we surely have to try conciliating them.

By Vadim Truhachev

 

 

 

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