Hungary in 1956 seemed to sum up all that the Cold war stood for. The people of
Hungary and the rest of Eastern Europe were ruled with a rod of iron by Communist
Russia and anybody who challenged the rule of Stalin paid the price.
Despite initial hopes, Stalin’s death in 1953 did not actually weaken the grip Moscow had
on the people of Eastern Europe. Hungary, by choosing to challenge the rule of Moscow,
paid a heavy price.
From 1945 on the Hungarians were controlled by Russia. All wealth
of whatever nature was taken from Hungary by the Russians who
showed their power by putting thousands of Russian troops and
tanks into Hungary. Stalin placed the Hungarian leader, Rakosi, in
When Stalin died, all people in Eastern Europe were given hope
that they might be freed from Soviet rule – surely the United
Nations, or the new US president, Eisenhower, would help them.
In February 1956, Khrushchev made a speech that bitterly
attacked Stalin’s policies. In a gesture to the Hungarians,
Rakosi was forced to resign. The Hungarians were inspired to
revolt in a bid for change.
In October 1956, students and workers took to the streets of
Budapest and issued their Sixteen Points which included
personal freedom, more food, removal of secret police and
Russian troops etc. Poland had already been granted rights in
early 1956 through street protests, and the Hungarians were
Imre Nagy, a known moderniser, was made Hungarian Prime Minister and
Soviet forces retreated from Hungary. The Soviet Union had been
surprised by the strength of demonstrations: this was felt to be the best
way to calm the protesters and to give the Red Army time to regroup!
Nagy soon began to implement reform. Government control of press and
radio was ended; democratic elections were set up; NAGY DEMANDED
THE RIGHT FOR HUNGARY TO LEAVE THE WARSAW PACT………
Nagy had pushed Khrushchev too far. He was afraid of
losing his hold on Eastern Europe. In November, Soviet
tanks went into Budapest to restore order. They acted
with astounding brutality even killing wounded people.
Some tanks dragged bodies round the streets to warn
those still protesting. The rebels displayed desperate
bravery, but were no match for the Red Army.
30,000 Hungarians were killed and 200,000 fled to the West.
Nagy took refuge in the Yugoslavian embassy. He later emerged
when promised safe passage, but was arrested and executed
before being buried in an unmarked grave.
Protesters were imprisoned and the reform programme reversed.
A hard-line Communist government was re-established in
Hungary under Kadar.
Hungarian protesters had felt sure that they would receive support from either the United
Nations, or the US President, Eisenhower. After all, it was the Western policy to “support
peoples under threat from Communism”.
“ I feel with the Hungarian people. To all those
suffering under communist slavery, let us say you
can count on us.”
Why did Europe and America do nothing except
offer moral support and condemn Russia?
Hungarian journalists and radio broadcasters had even
begged for help in their last desperate hours.
Because of the geographic location of Hungary, how could they actually help without
resorting to war? Both sides in the Cold War were nuclear powers and the risks were too great.
Any economic boycott of the Soviet Union would have been pointless as Russia took what it
needed from the countries it occupied. Eisenhower did not think Hungary to be worth a world
The Suez Crisis, which took place at the same time, was considered far more important and
of greater relevance than the suffering of the Hungarians. Hence why Britain, France and
America concentrated their resources on the crisis…….
You are an Hungarian protester who is keen to release Hungary from the shackles of
Soviet control. You have been inspired by recent events within the USSR and feel
the time is right to gather as many supporters of the revolution as possible. You aim
to produce a propaganda leaflet that will encourage people to join you. You should
Details of the oppressed Hungarian people since 1945.
Why you believe the time is right for protest - Stalin’s death; Khrushchev in
power; his actions; Polish “victories”.
Who you believe will support your actions and why.
Why Hungarians could expect a better life following revolution – influence of
Discuss: “ The West was responsible for the deaths in Hungary, not the