Hungary's 1956 uprising against the USSR and its aftermath.
Updated: Oct 23, 2022
On 23rd of October 1956, Hungarian students and young workers staged a peaceful demonstration in Budapest, protesting against the ruthless Communist dictatorship forced onto the country by the Soviet Union since the end of the Second World War. By the evening of the 23rd, the demonstration had reached 200,000 in number. ‘Russians go home!’ they shouted. Red stars were torn down from buildings. A 30-foot bronze statue of Stalin in the city’s Hero Square was pulled down, leaving only his boots on the plinth. At 2 am, martial law was imposed. What had began as a peaceful demonstration had turned very quickly into a fullscale revolution.
The Kremlin responded by putting Imre Nagy back in charge believing that ‘limited concessions’ were necessary to satisfy the Hungarian people. Nagy promised his people reform in return for an end to the violence. On 28 October, Khrushchev, Soviet Russia's leader, withdrew his troops from Hungary – but only as far as over the border. The Hungarians sensed for the first time since 1945 a faint glimmer of hope and freedom.
Hungarians on top of a Soviet tank outside parliament during the Hungarian Uprising. For five days, there was freedom in Hungary. The new Hungarian government introduced democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Political parties, long since band, reformed; new newspapers sprung up, most only a side long, plastered up on shop fronts, trees and street lamps. In retribution for the Soviet occupation, hundreds of Hungary’s secret police were lynched – punishment for their years of torture and oppression of the Hungary people. The Hungarian freedom-fighters hoped and expected support and aid from the West, but the aid never materialised. On 3 November 1956, Nagy announced that Hungary was going to leave the Warsaw Pact, but Khrushchev was not going to allow this. On 4 November, a large Soviet force which comprised of 1,000 tanks invaded Budapest and other regions of the country.
Soviet Tanks in Budapest.
The Hungarian fought back against this Soviet invasion as best as they could. Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November. Over 4,000 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the ensuing battles and fighting. Over 200,000 Hungarians fled across the border into Austria and to western Europe until that escape route was sealed off. Thousands were executed or imprisoned. Many, including Imre Nagy, were executed by the reinstated brutal Soviet regime in reprisal.
Public discussion about this revolution was suppressed in Hungary for more than 30 years. Despite the tragic outcome and the re-installed Communist dictatorship, the revolution of 1956 has become an euphoric moment in Hungarian history, setting an everlasting example and moral basis for the country’s democratic transition in 1989-1990. It also served as an example and an inspiration for other nations under Soviet occupation in Europe, which in turn led to their own protest movements against the USSR and the subsequent end of the totalitarian Communist rule in central and eastern Europe.