THE HUNGARIAN REVOLUTION IN BRIEF
The Some Key Hungarian Players
The Soviet invasion of Hungary came at a climax in the rebellion of the Hungarian people to what they saw as government rule run amuck. The country was suffering from food shortages, high prices, an economy in tatters and a complete disinterest in communism. The ethos of Communism was totally opposite to the Hungarian belief structure. A proud and independent people, the rule of Communism was oppressive and degrading to Hungarians. The idea of collectivism was not a welcome concept, and the Soviet ideal that people worked for the benefit of the state rather than for themselves chafed the people and pushed them to the edge. The Soviet practice of taking resources on the cheap, and then selling a finished product back to the people at over inflated prices was one premise that did not serve to endear the Soviet communistic ideology to the Hungarians. Rather, this served as the beginning of a tide of rebellion that would sweep through the country and cast a worrying climate over the Soviet hierarchy and their ability to retain their presence and stranglehold over Eastern Europe.
THE CAUSES OF THE HUNGARIAN REVOLUTION IN 1956
- The basic cause of the Hungarian revolution was that the Hungarians hated Russian communism:
- Hungarians were poor, yet much of the food and industrial goods they produced was sent to Russia.
- The Hungarians were very patriotic, and they hated Russian control – which included censorship, the vicious secret police (called the AVH after 1948) and Russian control of what the schools taught.
- The Hungarians were religious, but the Communist Party had banned religion, and put the leader of the Catholic Church in prison.
- Hungarians thought that the United Nations or the new US president, Eisenhower, would help them.
- When the Communist Party tried to destalinise Hungary, things got out of control. The Hungarian leader Rakosi asked for permission to arrest 400 trouble-makers, but Khrushchev would not let him.
On 24 October, Imre Nagy took over as Prime Minister. He asked Khrushchev to take out the Russian troops.
On 28 October, Khrushchev agreed, and the Russian army pulled out of Budapest.
29 October – 3 November: The new Hungarian government introduced democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion (the leader of the Catholic Church was freed from prison). Nagy also announced that Hungary was going to leave the Warsaw Pact.
On 4 November, at dawn, 1000 Russian tanks rolled into Budapest. By 8.10 am they had destroyed the Hungarian army and captured Hungarian Radio – its last words broadcast were ‘Help! Help! Help”!’ Hungarian people – even children – fought them with machine guns. Some 4000 Hungarians killed fighting the Russians.
We are quiet, not afraid. Send the news to the world and say it should condemn the Russians. The fighting is very close now and we haven’t enough guns.
What is the United Nations doing? Give us a little help. We will hold out to our last drop of blood. The tanks are firing now. . .
The last message – a telex from a newspaper journalist – from Hungary.
WHY DID KRUSHCHEV ACT AGAINST HUNGARY IN 1956?
2. China asked Russia to act to stop Communism being damaged.
3. Nagy had obviously lost control; Hungary was not destalinising – it was turning capitalist.
4. Hard-liners in Russia forced Khrushchev to act.
5. Khrushchev thought, correctly, that the West would not help Hungary.
WHY DID THE WEST DID NOT HELP HUNGARIANS?
2. Eisenhower did not think Hungary worth a world war.
SOME HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
These countries were part of the vast Soviet machine in terms of ideology and dogma but remained independent of the Soviet Union itself. The British did not hinder Stalin in his actions either by the Americans or, as it was determined that allowing Stalin his 'buffer' countries would keep him and the threat of communism out of the way. Stalin was not worried about taking over the Western countries; he was preoccupied by taking over the whole of Eastern Europe, under the noses of the Americans and the British. Stalin's actions gave the Hungarians a vehement dislike of Soviet style government and their inclusion into the Soviet system of control. In 1945, the Hungarians held free elections, and the Communist part received less than one fifth of the vote. This enraged Stalin and he set about forcing a reshuffle of the elected government and giving many of the key positions to Communists who were sympathetic to or in line with the Soviet policy. Elections were again held in 1947 and this time Stalin took no chance of the Communist party facing any sort of defeat. He rigged the election to make sure that the Communist party was in power. From that point onward until 1953, the Hungarian nation was treated as a criminal who needed to be handled in the harshest manner, so that they always remembered who was in control of their destiny.
SOME BACKGROUND (CONTD.)
But tragically, and unbeknownst to anyone outside the Kremlin, the very day the declaration appeared in Pravda the Soviet leadership completely reversed itself and decided to put a final, violent end to the rebellion. From declassified documents, it is now clear that several factors influenced their decision, including: the belief that the rebellion directly threatened Communist rule in Hungary (unlike the challenge posed by Wladyslaw Gomulka and the Polish Communists just days before, which had targeted Kremlin rule but not the Communist system); that the West would see a lack of response by Moscow as a sign of weakness, especially after the British, French and Israeli strike against Suez that had begun on October 29; that the spread of anti-Communist feelings in Hungary threatened the rule of neighboring satellite leaders; and that members of the Soviet party would not understand a failure to respond with force in Hungary.
Developments within the Hungarian leadership also undoubtedly played a part in Moscow's decision. Imre Nagy, who had suddently been thrust into the leadership role after it became clear that the old Stalinist leaders had been completely discredited, had stumbled at first. He failed to connect with the crowds that had massed in front of the Parliament building beginning on October 23 and seemed himself to be on the verge of being swept aside by popular currents that were entirely beyond the authorities' control. But over the course of the next week, Nagy apparently underwent a remarkable transformation, from a more or less dutiful pro-Moscow Communist to a politician willing to sanction unprecedented political, economic and social reform, including the establishment of a multi-party state in Hungary, and insistent on the withdrawal of all Soviet forces from the country. By November 1, Nagy took the dramatic step of declaring Hungary's rejection of the Warsaw Pact and appealing to the United Nations for help in establishing the country's neutrality.
Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. officials observed the tidal wave of events with shock and no small degree of ambivalence as to how to respond. The main line of President Eisenhower's policy was to promote the independence of the so-called captive nations, but only over the longer-term. There is little doubt that he was deeply upset by the crushing of the revolt, and he was not deaf to public pressure or the emotional lobbying of activists within his own administration. But he had also determined, and internal studies backed him up, that there was little the United States could do short of risking global war to help the rebels. And he was not prepared to go that far, nor even, for that matter, to jeopardize the atmosphere of improving relations with Moscow that had characterized the previous period.
Yet Washington's role in the Hungarian revolution soon became mired in controversy. One of the most successful weapons in the East-West battle for the hearts and minds of Eastern Europe was the CIA-administered Radio Free Europe. But in the wake of the uprising, RFE's broadcasts into Hungary sometimes took on a much more aggressive tone, encouraging the rebels to believe that Western support was imminent, and even giving tactical advice on how to fight the Soviets. The hopes that were raised, then dashed, by these broadcasts cast an even darker shadow over the Hungarian tragedy that leaves many Hungarians embittered to this day.
The Soviet air force has bombed part of the Hungarian capital, Budapest, and Russian troops have poured into the city in a massive dawn offensive.
At least 1,000 Soviet tanks are reported to have entered Budapest and troops deployed throughout the country are battling with Hungarian forces for strategic positions.
The Soviet invasion is a response to the national uprising led by Prime Minister Imre Nagy, who has promised the Hungarian people independence and political freedom.
Mr Nagy's anti-Soviet policies, which include withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, have been worrying Eastern Bloc countries and Moscow has demanded his government's capitulation.
News of the attack came at 0515 local time on Radio Budapest in an urgent appeal by Mr Nagy himself for help from the West.
Despite an apparent withdrawal only last week, Soviet troops deployed outside Budapest swept back into the capital with Russian and Romanian reinforcements between 0400 and 0800 local time.
The Times newspaper reports that artillery units pounded Budapest from the surrounding hills as Soviet MIG fighters bombarded the capital from the air.
Sources say Soviet infantry units stormed the Parliament building, a key strategic and symbolic target, early this morning.
Reports that Mr Nagy and other members of his cabinet were captured in the attack have not been confirmed.
But in an unscheduled newscast on Moscow radio shortly after 1200GMT, Russia claimed to have "crushed the forces of reactionary conspiracy against the Hungarian people".
Despite Moscow's claims, heavy fighting is reported to be continuing throughout the country for key installations such as railway stations and major bridges across the River Danube.
Moscow is now backing a new breakaway Hungarian government led by Janos Kadar, whose stated purpose is to destroy Mr Nagy's "counter-revolution".
Related: Soviet Invasion Of Czechoslovakia.