In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev totally denounced Stalin (following his death in 1953) at the Soviet Communist Party’s Twentieth Congress in February. This condemnation led to multiple crises in Europe, particularly in Hungary and Poland. In particular, Poland and Hungary had communist parties with little footing and strong Catholic church roots, which provided plenty of dissent to the weaker communist parties. Therefore, they were the more obvious targets for the Eastern European crises.
In Poland, there were demonstrations held in 1956 to protest against wage cuts and other problems felt by local workers, but those actions were dealt with rather quickly, leaving Poland considerably better off than Hungary.
For several years, Hungarians had suffered “economic hardship and political repression” (Siegelbaum) under Matyas Rakosi, the leader of the Hungarian Communist Party. He was forced to resign in 1953, but a mere two years later, supporters of his lineage took claim of the position once again after forcing his successor, the more liberal Imre Nagy, out of business. The actual protests and revolts in Hungary were started when university students saw what happened in Poland. They gathered in Budapest with the intent to commemorate the poet Sandor Petofi and voice their nationalist opinions about their ongoing adversities and hardships. The protesters also desired a greater freedom of expression. However, these demonstrations soon turned violent and riotous, particularly after the Soviet army came onto the scene. In fact, Nagy was even reappointed to serve as Prime Minister to try to quell protesters. Nothing seemed to work. Khrushchev sent in more troops to Hungary in late October, and as a result, Nagy declared that Hungary was withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact. However, the new Communist party chief, Janos Kadar, sided with the Soviets and said Hungary was forming a new government, with him as leader. Nagy was seen as a counter-revolutionary since he did not side with Kadar, and took refuge in the Yugoslav embassy. On November 4, on top of the Russian invasion into Hungary, Nagy was lured out of the Yugoslav embassy, arrested, and secretly tried. He was executed in 1958. Ultimately, around 200,000 Hungarians fled to the West. According to Siegelbaum, “The Hungarian uprising–dubbed a counter-revolution in Soviet accounts but widely regarded elsewhere and in Hungary as a revolution–constituted the greatest crisis within the Soviet bloc before the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968” (Siegelbaum).
Something else I found interesting surrounding this topic came from The Current Digest of the Russian Press, published on November 28, 1956. There was a quote from the newspaper Szabad Nep, published on the same day, that stated: “Toiling peasantry! The capital needs food. Budapest children, babies, mothers, hospitals and the people of Budapest need bread, milk, vegetables and potatoes. In accordance with the desire of the people the new national government, relying on the people, has actively started to solve the country’s problems. Let us show confidence in our government in the implementation of its programs. Deliver to the capital bread, milk, vegetables and potatoes as quickly as possible.” This is similar to what Russian peasants experienced before and during their own revolution, and sadly but truly proves that there were people going hungry in Hungary.