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Hungary and the Soviet Union’s Intervention

Matyas Rakosi, the leader of the Hungarian Communist Party, was a strict leader during a time of fierce political repression and economic turmoil. His supporters maintained strengthen even after his resignation in 1953. Due to their political maneuverings, they were able to strip power away from the the new popular prime minister, Imre Nagy in 1955. Growing tensions within Hungary, especially from the country’s youth, had simmered since the instillation of the Hungarian Communist Party into governance and their anger began to spill out onto the streets in an attempted revolution.

Soviet Tanks in Budapest.

Soviet Tanks in Budapest.

In a rally held by university students in the center of Budapest to commemorate the popular poet Sandor Petofi, calls for greater freedoms and political rights were echoed among the participants. Eventually, the rally grew violent with shots being fired in the streets and an uprising against the establishment started to gain steam. The young militant activists sacked the newspaper of the Hungarian Communist Party and, in the face of emergency, Nagy was reappointed to power to quell the growing insurgency. However, the movement continued to grow in support as members of Hungary’s military and workers from around the country joined the movement and began seizing factories and organizing militia movements. Having lost control of the country, nearby contingents of Soviet troops attempted to end the uprising claiming invitation to stop the uprising by the Hungarian government, only to be forced to retreat proclaiming that Hungary was falling victim to foreign and reactionary influence undermining the government. The uprising in Hungary seemed to done the unthinkable, force fundamental change in the country as Nagy called for non-Communist party members to enter and play major roles in government, as well as starting to meet the demands of the protesters.

Upon seeing the Hungarian uprisings as well as the similar events occurring in Poland as a threat to Soviet rule throughout the region, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev sent a large contingent of additional soldiers into Hungary. Seeing the battle lines become drawn between the Soviet Union and Hungary, Nagy put himself as a leader of the Hungarian resistance, declaring the withdrawal of his state from the bonds of the Warsaw Pact. Janos Kadar, the new head of the Hungarian Communist Party, sided with the Soviets and declared Nagy a traiter while making himself the new head of a new Hungarian government. On the day that Soviet forces overwhelmed the Hungarian defenses, Nagy issued a statement by radio, telling the world that Hungary’s lawful democratic government was under attack. No help from the West or Hungary’s neighbors came however, due to a false understanding between the Hungarian government and Radio Free Europe. The Soviets quickly seized back control of Hungary, giving power to Kadar, arresting and executing Nagy, and preserving the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Bloc. Despite the threat of Hungary’s counter-revolution marking the beginning of the end for the Soviet Bloc, the Communist powers were able to regain control of Hungary and Eastern Europe, preserving the land’s close obedience to Soviet rule.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Hungarian Crisis.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.
Imre Nagy, Radio Announcement. November 4, 1956
Department of State Bulletin. Vol. 35, no. 907 (12 November 1956), pp. 745-746
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History, 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 418-419.
Soviet Tanks in Budapest (1956).

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3 Responses to “Hungary and the Soviet Union’s Intervention”

  1. Tom Ewing says:

    This post effectively recounts the narrative of the uprising in Hungary. Two key issues need more attention: the challenge to the Hungarian communist party’s rule was stimulated in part by Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalinist excesses which prompted communist leaders to question how far they could go in liberalizing their societies (and the Soviet invasion defined the limits of this tendency); and the fact that the United States was not willing to risk nuclear war to follow through on its promises to liberate Eastern Europe (thus the role of Radio Free Liberty was minor, as the larger issue of military confrontation was most important).

  2. Matthew Moser says:

    We had nearly identical posts! It was shocking to me that Nagy stood up against Khrushchev so quickly and with almost no real support to back him up when the Soviets intervened. No doubt a tricky situation for all parties involved.

  3. Hunter Thompson says:

    interesting post, i was not surprised to see that yet again the youth of a country was rejecting the social norm and speaking out against authority. It was also interesting to see Kagy stand against the Soviets when he knew that it meant almost certain death.

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