October 23rd is an important day in Hungary. Every year, Hungarians celebrate and commemorate the famous Hungarian Revolution on 1956, one of their country’s greatest tragedies and a key-moment in the history of European communism. It was an almost spontaneous revolt directed against the Communist Party’s numerous abuses, but also against the soviet influence, blamed for brining Hungary on the verge of economic disaster.
The Hungarian Revolution began with a peaceful student protest in Budapest, on October 23rd, which grew into a workers’ revolt. It ended almost 3 weeks later, on November 11th, after the soviets had invaded the country, arrested thousands of people and placed their trustworthy man, Janos Kadar, at the head of a new government.
The peaceful student demonstration on October 23rd was meant a support gesture towards the anticommunist protests that were taking place, at the time, in Poland. Because of its anticommunist tone, the demonstration quickly gathered thousands of new supporters, on its march through central Budapest, and it transformed into a strong movement against stalinism. People started heading towards the Radio’s building, where they wanted to use the station to address the nation and make their demands public. However, the radio’s headquarters was guarded by the AVH (the Secret Police), which opened fire the moment the protesters tried to force their way into the building. Soon, all over the capital and the country people started destroying symbols of communism;one of the first to go was Stalin’s statue in Budapest.
That night, Erno Gero, general secretary of the Communist Party, called the soviet authorities and asked for a military intervention.
While the soviets were deciding what to do, in Budapest a new government was formed and former Prime Minister Imre Nagy was called lead it. The new national government (which also had non-communist members) had a short life, of only 10 days. However, it managed to draw up a firm new policy for Hungary. The secret police was dissolved, and Nagy announced in public the intention to withdraw his country from the Warsaw Pact. Many political prisoners were released from jail and old political parties that the communists had banned resurfaced to join Nagy’s administration.
Imre Nagy could have succeeded in avoiding a soviet invasion, like Gomulka had done in Poland, if he had been more moderate. But in the year that had passed since his fall from power, Nagy had realised that internal reforms were not enough to bring Hungary back on a floating line. He no longer believed in a perfect compatibility between soviet and Hungarian interests and realised that Hungary’s status as a soviet satellite would compromise an efficient socialist administration of a truly independent country. This idea would be fatal...
By the end of October, the fighting against the communist forces had almost ended. But after it had already announced the possibility of withdrawing soviet troops from Hungary, the Political Bureau of the USSR changed its mind and decided to put an end to the revolution. On November 4th, soviet soldiers invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. Khruschev believed that if the Soviet Union didn't intervene, it would be perceived as weak by the West, and he couldn't accept that. Therefore, he called for an immediate military intervention. The Russians might have accepted a reform plan to calm the population, but they would never accept Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. So they decided that an invasion was the only way they could bring Hungary ‘back on the right track’.
In the following days, thousands of Hungarians were arrested. 13.000 would go to prison, and several hundred, Nagy included, would be executed. Hundreds of others were deported to the Soviet Union, many of them without proof or a fair trial. However, 200.000 Hungarians managed to escape to the West.
The UN Report of the Special Committee on the problem of Hungary
‘A survey of the movement of Soviet forces in Hungary during the period from 29 October to 4 November shows that, irrespective of the assurances given to Premier Nagy by Soviet political personalities, there existed a definite plan for the re-conquest and military subjugation of Hungary. This plan in fact was carried through fully. Contrary to the contentions of the Soviet Government that the Hungarian revolution was inspired by capitalist elements residing outside Hungary, the Committee cannot but conclude that the Hungarian resistance to the second Soviet intervention was a heroic demonstration of the will of the Hungarian people to fight for their national independence.’