Oct 23, 2019

What started as a writers' and students' demonstration ended up the 1956 revolution

Dénes Albert from tells the story of the 1956 uprising.

Dénes Albert from tells the story of the 1956 uprising.

What started as a writers' and students' demonstration in the afternoon of October 23rd, 1956 rapidly escalated into a full-blown revolution, the overthrow of the Communist government and eventually a hopeless fight against the might of the Soviet Red Army.

Hungarians remember today the revolution and its fallen heroes.

The revolution began on October 23rd, 1956 and is now commemorated as one of Hungary's national holidays. The revolutionaries demanded reforms, which they wrote on a list of 16 points. Among these 16 demands, they called for the end of the one-party state and the holding of free and democratic parliamentary elections, the country joining the United Nations in leaving the recently established Warsaw Pact.

On November 1st, Soviet forces entered Hungary from the north and on November 4th, the five Soviet divisions stationed in Hungary plus another freshly arrived 17 divisions moved to quash the revolution.

The poorly equipped revolutionary army and civilian street fighters were no match for the Soviet troops, and was crushed by November 10th. The Hungarian casualties amounted to 2,500 dead and some 20,000 wounded. In the aftermath, 22,000 Hungarians were sentenced to prison - often by ad-hoc court martials - 13,000 interned in labor camps, 229 executed - including prime minister Imre Nagy - and some 200,000 fled the country.

"What if" is a largely irrelevant question in history - it won't change anything. But it has to be said that the revolution began just one day after the Suez Crisis broke out, diverting both international attention and leaving the United States and the rest of the Western world largely indifferent and/or powerless to stop the Soviet intervention.

"We couldn't on one hand, complain about the Soviets intervening in Hungary and, on the other hand, approve of the British and the French picking that particular time to intervene against (Gamel Abdel) Nasser," said then US Vice President Richard Nixon at a later date.

Moscow installed János Kádár as the new leader of Hungary, who subsequently ran the country until 1988. The freshly installed regime, afraid that Imre Nagy's grave could become a focal point for later resistance, buried him in a corner of the prison yard where he was executed, years later moving the body to a distant corner of Budapest's New Public Cemetery, where he was buried face-down, with his hands and feet tied with barbed wire.

He finally received a proper burial in 1989, when he was rehabilitated by the then still Communist regime in a reburial organized by the democratic opposition. The reburial was marked by a commemoration on June 16th, 1989 (31 years after his death), attended by a crowd of some 200,000. One of the speakers was a young opposition politician, Viktor Orbán, who rose to prominence on that day by demanding democratic elections and the departure of Soviet troops.

He is now serving his ninth consecutive and 13th year as Hungarian prime minister.

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