Contemporary History (HIST410)
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was the epitome of the Cold War as most of Eastern Europe was struggling under Soviet rule. Hungarians where hoping that the death of Stalin in 1953 would relinquish soviet occupation, but this did not happen. In a similar situation, Poland was granted some rights after street protests erupted. Students and workers in Hungary decided to follow Poland’s lead and organize a demonstration. As a result, the Hungarians were given some space as the Soviets withdrew. However, ten days later hundreds of Soviet tanks returned to squash the rebellion, killing 30,000 and returning Hungary to soviet control. Despite the overall failure of Hungarian revolution, this paper will demonstrate that the event contributed significantly to the fall of the Soviet Union three decades later. Additionally, the influence of external parties and events will be discussed as they relate to decisions made by both the Revolutionists and within the Kremlin.
The 1956 Hungarian Revolution’s Impact on the Fall of Communism
When the Soviets arrived in Hungary in 1945, they brought with them the promise of a regime change and new hope of freedom from terror and oppression. The reality encountered by the people of Hungary was much bleaker. In the 2007 documentary “Freedom’s Fury,” Karoly Nagy eloquently describes the nature of Soviet liberation:
“Yes, we were ‘liberated’ from one devastating; dictatorial, extremist, horrible creature called Nazis, but during that course a lot of people were also liberated from belongings. They were liberated from their rights and they were liberated from freedom and life. The women were liberated from their honor. So liberation was really a devastation after which, of course, the Soviets forgot to do one thing – they forgot to go home.”
(Tarantino & Gray, 2007)
Road to Revolution
Stalin’s post-World War II plan was to transform every country ‘liberated’ by the Red Army into a satellite Soviet state. Self-described as “Stalin’s best Hungarian disciple,” Mátyás Rákosi rose to power in Hungary and other newly claimed Soviet satellite countries and installed the standard tenants of communism. The Cold War had begun. Acting on behalf of the Kremlin, Rákosi systematically dismantled the free press, nationalized all industry, and eliminated political opponents, thereby creating a one-party system of government in Hungary. The regime created collective farms, taking land by force if needed. Freedom of assembly, religion and the press were severely restricted. Hungary’s finest intellectuals and artists were forced to become Stalinist collaborators, pumping out falsified accounts of history and Rákosi’s rhetoric of lies, which included calling Hungary “The People’s Democracy.” This new term was a total fallacy as the country was neither the peoples nor a democracy. From 1950 to 1953, the communist grip on Hungary tightened. The secret police, known as the AVO, was formed. The AVO terrorized the Hungarian countryside, planting informants in every village and town. Personal files were composed on nearly every citizen and political executions were commonplace. Betrayal could be expected from even one’s closest friends and neighbors. Citizens quickly learned to trust no one. By 1953, over 650,000 people had been arrested by Rákosi’s police; more than 200,000 deported to labor and death camps, and upwards of 2,000 citizens had been executed for political crimes (Tarantino & Gray, 2007).
The Death of Stalin After Stalin’s death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev was named First Secretary of the Soviet Community Party. He observed that the economics of the Eastern bloc countries were on the verge of collapse. Reform would be needed for the Soviets to hold onto the Eastern bloc. Khrushchev held Rákosi fully responsible for Hungary’s poor economic situation and