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A Chink in the Armor: Revolution in Hungary

Budapest post-Soviet invasion 1956 Budapest, capital of Hungary, following invasion of the Soviet Army, 1956.


When examining the history of the Soviet Union, it is easy forget the U.S.S.R. was technically just a conglomerate of multiple ‘autonomous’ nations, bound together by the Warsaw Pact. While Stalin was largely able to manage this large union of multiple nations and different ethnic groups, he did so in such a brutal fashion that the power vacuum created upon his death inspired dissenters in Poland and Hungary. With the sudden move to a more liberal agenda pushed by Khrushchev, citizens of these nations felt they were able to voice their anger at the on-going economic hardships they faced. The situation in Poland was dealt with rather rapidly, leaving Hungary as the main area of conflict going forward.

In Hungary, protests were begun by a group of students who organized in order to commemorate famous poet Sandor Petofi as well as voice nationalist opinions against the hardships they continued to face. These protests soon became violent, and escalated quickly once the Soviet military stationed in the country entered the fray. By this point the Hungary government was in crisis mode. Imre Nagy, the recently disposed Prime Minister of Hungary, was put back in charge of the government in an attempt to crack down on the protest. Nagy was initially unsuccessful and changed course to try and appease the protesters desires rather than quell them. Nagy met several of the demands of the Workers’ Council of Miskolc, with the inclusion of non-Communists in the government being one of their principle goals. This concession by the Hungarian government largely played off the new position from the Kremlin, which was denouncing much of the Stalinist era in order to fix the economic problems Stalin had ignored for so long (Freeze, 416-417).

Imre Nagy Imre Nagy

On October 30th of 1956, the Soviet government issued an official statement on the situation in Hungary.  On the surface this statement appears to be a calm and calculated acceptance of the violence in Hungary. It notes the issues created by having Soviet forces stationed in all Warsaw Pact countries and promises this issue will be addressed through discussions with all Warsaw Pact nations. However this statement was just another ruse cooked up by the Soviet government. Rather than call the kettle black, the Soviet government called the movement a counter-revolution, claiming the original protests were well founded but had been taken over by people seeking to return to old capitalist ways. This falsification of the Hungarian situation proved the Soviet government could not truly relinquish their power over their member nations even as they tried to de-Stalinize. Only a few days after this statement, on November 4th the Soviet’s intervened militarily in Hungary in an attempt to overthrow the government they claimed had strayed too far from the party line in an attempt to appease the nationalist movement. Nagy was subsequently arrested, tried, and executed while hundreds of thousands of Hungarians choose to flee for Austria.

Interestingly, a search of the East View Information Services database (which contains copies of several Soviet newspaper sources throughout the U.S.S.R.’s history), yields only one source from all of October and November of 1956 that even deals with Hungary at all. This article was written on November 14th, ten days after the invasion, yet no mention of the Hungarian Crisis exists. It appears the Soviets feared this revolution would inspire others throughout the U.S.S.R. and therefore did not publicize the insurrection that was occurring in their backyard. While Khrushchev and other Communist Party leaders were busy promoting anti-Stalin rhetoric, it seems to have been done to garner support within the Politburo, not as an actual move to liberate those who had been overlooked during the years of collectivization and Stalinist policies. The Hungarian Crisis showed the 30 plus years of rule under Stalin had not tied the U.S.S.R. together into a strong and coherent nation, but rather the Warsaw Pact was more vulnerable to Western economic and social influences than the party leaders would like to admit.










Russia: A History by David Freeze, 3rd Edition. Chapter 13.


  1. The 1956 revolution in Hungary was so complicated and heart-breaking. Thanks for these good insights! Let’s talk in class about searching in the Current Digest. The article you found is fascinating, but are you sure this was the only mention of Hungary in those months? Also, a quick clarification: The Soviet Union included Republics (Union republics like Ukraine, Kazakhstan). The Warsaw Pact was a military alliance of Eastern European countries (including Poland and Hungary) controlled by the Soviet Union. The Hungarian crisis in 1956 came to a head when Nagy included non-Communists in the government and the Hungarians tried to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact.

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