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Remembering the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

Published by Foreign Affairs Bulletin by IDSA on

“From Vac to Beijing, the prisoners whisper…”


On the eve of the 23rd of October, 1956, there was nothing suggesting that a group of student protests across Hungary would collapse into revolution. Embodied by the ideas of citizens as free men; independent of foreign power and cemented with democratic socialism, the students and intellectuals of the day were harmonized into a song that all could sing to. The demonstrations have swelled to upwards of 200,000, and pressure was beginning to weigh on the government of Hungary.

At the same time a crowd had been gathering out front of the Radio Budapest building, as a group of students inspired by the Hungarian writers of the age demanded to be let in to broadcast their demands to all of the nation. The building was heavily guarded by ÁVH, a Hungarian secret police force characterized by its brutal purges and close-ties to its Soviet Equivalent. Following the detainment of some demonstrators, a staunch attitude of defiance and disobedience had dawned upon the crowd; and when rumors struck that shots have been fired, chaos ensued. From the upper windows of the Radio building, tear gas rained down on the demonstrators, and the ÁVH opened fire on the crowd, killing many. The first stone was cast.


Fighting raged on for days. The first Soviet tanks arrived in Budapest in the early hours of the 24th of October. Workers from Csepel to Újpest learned the news of revolution by phone, and seized automobiles and arms from local police forces and military men on their way to the capital. Nagy Imre was declared new Prime Minister, and despite his calls for an end to the violence, Hungarians continued to arm themselves due to the sporadic ferocity of the ÁVH.


On November 1st Nagy Imre would legitimize his position in an address to the Hungarian people that Hungary would formally leave the Warsaw pact. It was agreed upon that on November 5th, the rubble and broken glass shall be swept clean, and the citizens of Hungary would return to work under the new government. The ÁVH was disbanded and called upon prosecutors to report to authorities, political prisoners were released by the people, and following a November 3rd government reconstitution assembly, a pluralist government was to be instituted in Hungary.


Yet, the story of the perceived success of the revolution never came to true fruition.

The story of the Hungarian Freedom fighter does not end as a successful boisterous tale of freedom and democracy.


Shortly after 20:00 the night of November the 4th, Nagy Imre would deliver the last broadcast on Budapest Radio before it went off-air. He stated that Soviet troops have entered  once again- “with the obvious intention of overthrowing the legal Hungarian democratic Government”. He declared that the Hungarian Army was in open war. In the hours to come, Kádár János would form his own government, declaring that the revolutionary anti-socialist elements, being voiced through Imre and other opposition members, is only to reinstate the fascistic regimes that plagued Hungary before and during WWII.


The Hungarian Army in the days to come would put up sporadic resistance to the invading Soviet forces, but within days would run out of not only ammunition- but will.
The aftermath saw tens of thousands of Hungarians tried and imprisoned by the Kádár government. 350 were executed. Following 1956, 200,000 Hungarians had fled. Imre Nagy was abducted and tried- eventually being executed by hanging in 1958. On the international stage, the USSR would successfully propagate the “triumph of socialism in Europe”. In the West, the Hungarian Freedom Fighter became a face of democracy, an embodiment of the hardships and suffering faced under a Soviet regime.


This article was originally posted on the Cold War History Research Centre’s official Facebook page.

— Written by Gyecsek Kalman, Head Coordinator and Editor-in-chief of Foreign Affairs Bulletin by IDSA —