The Cold War/Hungarian Revolution

Stalin ruled the USSR and Eastern Europe with an iron fist. Anyone who disagreed with him would either be given forced labour, jailed in a concentration camp, tortured or executed. This method of totalitarian rule came to be known as "Stalinism". When Stalin died in 1953, there was a power vacuum which was eventually filled by Nikita Krushchev.

Background to Revolution


Krushchev was a fierce anti-Stalinist and caused quite a shock when he denounced Stalin in his "Secret Speech" to the 20th Party Congress. Krushchev described Stalin as a "dictator" who "ruled through fear and terror" and a "personality cult". He also announced that he would relax some of Stalin's policies and end direct control over Eastern Europe. This came as good news to the people in Eastern Europe who hoped that they would be free of Soviet rule.

However, in June 1956, Krushchev's promises were put to the test when riots in Poland, where workers were protesting against food shortages and wage cuts, turned into a general protest against Communism. Although in the end, Krushchev sent in tanks to restore order, he did give way to some economic demands and agreed to appoint the popular Wladyslaw Gomulka as the new prime minister.

Revolution in Hungary

Statue of Stalin replaced by a Hungarian flag.

Many people in Hungary were encouraged by the recent events in Poland. In the evening of the 23 October, 20,000 protestors staged a demonstration in support of the Poles, in the capital, Budapest. It wasn't long before the march attracted thousands more people and the crowd grew to 200,000. A statue of Stalin was torn down and the Hungarian national flag was put on the remains of it

A group of students tried to get into the radio station to broadcast their demands but they were arrested by the AVH (Hungarian State Police). There were rumours that the students had been shot and the crowd of protestors started to turn restless. The AVH responded by throwing tear gas from the upper floors of the building and firing on the protestors, killing many people. This started the uprising.


Hungarian revolutionaries.

As news spread about the massacre, crowds of angry mobs throughout the capital set alight police cars, buildings, and anything else that was seen as "communist", and stole weapons from military depots, handing them out to the public. Even some Hungarian Army soldiers joined the riots. The situation was out of control.

The Hungarian leader Erno Gero asked overnight for the Soviet Army stationed in Hungary to intervene. Although reluctant at first to use force, at 2 AM the next day, Kruschchev decided to send in tanks to the capital to restore order and guard the Parliament building, and other key locations. As in Poland, he also decided to replace Erno Gero with the popular Imre Nagy as prime minister.

Former Government collapses


The rioters, however, now armed, started attacking the AVH and after some hours they seized the radio station and newspaper building. On October 25th the next day, a large group of protestors marched in front of the parliament building. The AVH opened fire on them, and the Soviet troops defending the building mistakenly thought that the AVH, were rioters and returned fire. Armed people in the crowd started firing back. This incident forced the old Communist government to collapse.

Fighting in the capital


For the next three days, armed groups fought Soviet tanks and the remaining members of the AVH using molotov cocktails (petrol bombs). All over the country, revolutionary workers' councils established local governments in their regions and called for a general strike. Communist symbols, such as red stars and Soviet war memorials, and communist books and files, were burnt and destroyed. Eventually a ceasefire was arranged on October 28th and after two days of tense negotiations, Soviet troops withdrew to the country-side.

A new government formed

Nagy Imre

A day before the ceasefire on October 27th, Nagy formed a new government, reforming the communist system in Hungary. To the alarm of the Soviet Union, he formed a coalition government which shared power with non-communists, such as the local workers' councils that had popped up throughout the country. He also abolished the AVH and the one-party system, so non-communist groups would be allowed to be represented in elections - most importantly, he made the elections free!

The last straw was placed on Krushchev's back when on November 1st, when Nagy announced that Hungary would leave the Warsaw Pact and be a neutral country. Three days later, Krushchev decided to put the country "back into line" - if Hungary withdrew, then all the other countries in Eastern Europe would do the same.

Soviet invasion

Soviet tanks in Budapest.

On November 4th, thousands of tanks invaded Hungary and advanced towards Budapest. They entered North and South of the capital at the same time, splitting it in two - before a single shot had been fired. As soon as the Hungarian Army and the armed groups realized what was happening they tried to resist the invasion, but they were no match for the bigger and more powerful Red Army.

Resistance was finally crushed on November 10th and by that time 2500 Hungarians and 722 Soviet troops had been killed and thousands more injured. 200,000 Hungarians fled the country as refugees to Western Europe, the USA, Yugoslavia and Australia. In the aftermath, thousands of Hungarians were arrested, imprisoned and deported to the Soviet Union, often without trial or evidence, and some were executed.

A total of 25-30,000 Hungarians and hundreds of Soviet troops were killed throughout the revolution. Imre Nagy was caught by the Soviet secret police as he tried to escape the Yugoslav Embassy, where he was in hiding. After a two year trial, he was executed in 1958.

The Hungarian Revolution was a clear warning to the Eastern European countries in the Warsaw Pact that any attempt to break away from the Soviet Union (ie. "defection to capitalism") would not be tolerated and would be met with force. It wasn't until 1989 that Hungary finally gained independence and became the first country in the Warsaw Pact to become a democracy.