Oct 22, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

Freedom First: Commemorating the heroes of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956

It began on a Tuesday afternoon, a beautiful autumn day on the 23rd of October 1956. Students gathered in peaceful protest with their manifesto calling for Hungary’s independence from all foreign powers, particularly the Soviet troops occupying the country. They demanded freedom of opinion and expression, the rights of free people in a democratic system.

Their numbers grew as they moved through the city. Some say that there were as many as 20 thousand in the rally around the statue of József Bem. It was there, according to historical accounts, that someone cut the Soviet coat of arms from the middle of the Hungarian flag, creating the iconic symbol of the revolution that remains to this day.

The protesters then moved on to Kossuth Square in front of the Parliament and then to the state radio building to broadcast their list of demands. There, later that evening, security forces opened fire on the crowd of unarmed demonstrators.

Events escalated and soon the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was underway. Against impossible odds, the revolutionaries seemed to be winning control, but Moscow soon sent more Red Army troops to reinforce those forces already in country, bringing the total force to some 17 divisions. The siege of Budapest began November 4. Despite their courage and determination, the freedom fighters would not prevail against the overwhelming force of the Soviet military.

Their heroic stand, however, marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union by setting in motion a process that would unravel communism’s oppressive grip on the freedom-loving people of Eastern Europe. Hungary’s freedom fighters were not reform communists or an intellectual elite seeking to improve the system but regular folks who mustered the courage to take to the street.

They were first and foremost the nation’s youth. They were students and teachers, factory workers and craftsmen, men and women, people who were born into the siege of an earlier decade. They grew up with deprivation and under dictatorship. Their visceral hatred of the oppressive regime and immense desire for freedom moulded them into impassioned heroes who understood what the nation demanded, and who knew that now was the time to protect the homeland. The revolution they bravely started October 23, 1956 would eventually lead to freedom’s victory in 1989.

We owe the true heroes of 1956 – the youth of October – a debt of gratitude for the heroism and self-sacrificing struggle with which they achieved the victory of the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight.

October 23rd is our nation’s moment to proclaim our personal heroes of 1956 and to honour their memory in dignified manner, so that their names and faces may be known throughout the country. We must remember and we must remind. It is they we have to thank for the freedom we currently enjoy: they who fought and resisted; they, who, in a moment of history, gave their lives for our freedom.

1956 was an event that defined not only Hungarian history but world history. The quarter of a century which has passed since the fall of communism provides a perspective that enables the heroes of 1956 to occupy their rightful place in the national memory. It also enables us – sixty years after the Revolution and Freedom Fight – to finally return the glory of the Revolution to the people to whom it belongs: our everyday heroes.

Read more about the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and Freedom Fight at