When did communism end in Hungary?
Hungary, which was initially allied with Nazi Germany in World War II and was occupied by it from 1944, was liberated by the Red Army in 1945, with the heavy fighting around Budapest claiming tens of thousands of civilian casualties. From 1947 onwards, Hungary came under increasing communist and thus Soviet - and Stalinist - influence. Spectacular show trials such as the one that ended with the execution of former communist foreign minister Lázló Rajk, political trials of 650,000 people over a period of two years and four months2 and forced collectivization in agriculture fueled anger against the regime. When the communist reformer Imre Nagy, after the death of Stalin in 1953, seized the opportunity to implement an economic and social reform course, he could count on extensive support. In view of the unrest in the satellite states, the Kremlin also accepted Nagy's course, which calmed the situation in Hungary. But by the spring of 1955 the situation changed: Stalinist party colleagues intrigued against Prime Minister Nagy, initially ousted him from all political offices and finally had him expelled from the party.
The XX. The party congress of the CPSU in February 1956, at which Nikita Khrushchev dealt with Stalinism and especially the personality cult around Stalin in his now famous secret speech, was also understood as a signal of departure in the Warsaw Pact states. In Hungary, in the course of de-Stalinization, at Soviet behest in July 1956, Mátyás Rákosi, who had headed the Communist Unity Party (Party of Hungarian Working People, MDP) since 1948, was replaced. Numerous victims of Stalinism were rehabilitated and Imre Nagy was re-admitted to the communist party on October 13. Again and again there were demonstrations in Budapest that expressed solidarity with the rebellious Poles or with the Yugoslav course under Tito or were directed against the Hungarian secret police AVH.
On October 22, 1956, students at the Technical University in Budapest wrote a catalog of demands that included the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the formation of a new government under Imre Nagy. When they emphasized their demands and their support for the Polish reform course with an - initially peaceful - demonstration the next day, thousands of people joined them. This also changed the character of the demonstration: nationalist slogans came to the fore. A speech with which Imre Nagy tried to calm the angry crowd in the evening by promising reforms within the framework of the system did not have the desired effect. The monumental Stalin statue in Budapest was razed, in front of the radio building, which was besieged by angry demonstrators, the first shots were fired by AVH people at around 10.30 p.m., which finally escalated the situation. The leadership of the MDP decided on a double strategy - on the one hand, some of the protesters' demands were met by personnel changes at the party leadership and Nagy was appointed prime minister, on the other hand, Soviet help was requested to suppress the uprising branded as "counterrevolution". Soviet troops occupied Budapest as early as October 24 at around 4 a.m.
The next few days were marked by further demonstrations, which again claimed deaths, and by violent clashes within the party leadership of the MDP, in which the reform-oriented forces were able to prevail. Workers' and revolutionary councils were formed all over the country, which carried the political demands further and were recognized as legitimate bodies by Imre Nagy on October 30th. One day later, the MDP disbanded and the reform-oriented MSZMP (Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt) was founded as the new communist party. In a radio address on November 1st, Imre Nagy announced the neutrality of Hungary and the withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact.
The Soviet troops, withdrawn from Budapest on October 30th, marched back into the city on November 4th. This was preceded by a change of sides by János Kádár, a former victim of Stalinist persecution and a member of the reform-oriented wing of the Hungarian Communist Party, who now, with Soviet support, made a name for himself as the leader of a new "Hungarian Revolutionary Workers 'and Peasants' Government" against the so-called "counterrevolution". Imre Nagy and his staff were given asylum in the Yugoslav embassy, while the hopeless fighting on the streets continued for days.
From November 11, a state of emergency was declared in Hungary and the systematic persecution of the insurgents began. At the behest of the Soviet Union, the Kádár government urged Yugoslavia to extradite Nagy and assured the Yugoslav government of impunity for him and the other refugees at the embassy. A promise that was broken the next day: Nagy and 47 other people were deported to Romania. The disputes between the workers' councils that had arisen all over the country and the Hungarian government or the Soviet rulers did not end there. There were repeated strikes and demonstrations, which were responded to with brutal repression. On December 16, the first death sentence was passed against the insurgent Jószef Soltész. In the months that followed, the state's policies of repression hit insurgent workers as well as critical intellectuals.
Imre Nagy and a few other prisoners were brought back to Hungary in April 1957 under the strictest security measures. Nagy and two other defendants were sentenced to death on June 15, 1958, and the sentence was carried out the next day. It was not until July 6, 1989 - immediately after the fall of the “Iron Curtain”, which also meant the end of communist hegemony over the interpretation of history - that Imre Nagy was officially rehabilitated by a ruling by the Supreme Court, after the mortal remains of the former prime minister and some of his colleagues as well as an empty coffin in memory of the unknown victims of the revolution were buried in a solemn ceremony.
The following figures can be cited as a balance sheet for the uprising of 1956: on the part of the rebels there were around 2,500 dead and almost 20,000 wounded; 700 soldiers died on the side of the Soviet Army, 1,540 were injured and 51 were missing. As a result, around 20,000 people were interned in the course of the repression. The same number fled to Yugoslavia while around 180,000 passed the Austrian border on their way to the west3.
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