Dedicated to the 100 million victims of communism worldwide.
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National Exhibit
National Exhibit
Hungary Under Communism

In early October of 1956 Rajk was officially rehabilitated and reburied with huge crowds attending. A few weeks later on October 23rd students of the University of Budapest took to the streets in a demonstration of solidarity with protestors in Poznan, Poland and to air various grievances. The demonstration was transformed into armed uprising after the state security (AVH) troops fired on demonstrators at the headquarters of the radio station in Budapest. Subsequently several units of the Hungarian army and industrial workers joined the revolutionaries confronting the Soviet troops garrisoned in Hungary and the Hungarian state security forces.

The Revolution was a spontaneous popular uprising unplanned and without strong leadership. Imre Nagy formed a new government and withdrew Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. On November 4th huge Soviet reinforcements were sent and crushed the Revolution in a few days. The military leader of the Revolution, General Pal Maleter was arrested when he went to negotiate at the Soviet military headquarters the supposed withdrawal of Soviet forces from Hungary. Imre Nagy and his associates were arrested upon leaving the Yugoslav Embassy where they were given asylum and promised free passage. A reign of terror followed with hundreds executed and thousands imprisoned. Janos Kadar, earlier a victim of repression under Rakosi, became the new head of the reconstituted and renamed communist party ("Hungarian Socialist Workers Party").

An amnesty for political prisoners followed in 1963 and the regime in Hungary embarked on a policy of relative moderation and reconciliation with the population. Unlike the earlier totalitarian period under Rakosi, Kadar defined his policies by proposing that "whoever is not against us is with us." He conveyed that passive acceptance of the system was sufficient and the authorities were willing to tolerate apolitical attitudes and preoccupation with private pleasures and consumption. Under the decades of Kadar's rule that endured until 1987 the standard of living improved, the freedom of expression expanded as did the freedom of travel. Dissidents were treated more gently: fired from their jobs rather than jailed; often their writings were published abroad without being punished for this. Kadar managed to appeal to Hungarian nationalism by creating a semblance of independence from Soviet interference in domestic affairs. He signaled to the population that while there was no alternative to accepting Soviet domination and determination of basic Hungarian institutions and foreign policies, a degree of autonomy and loyalty to Hungarian traditional cultural values was within reach. The expression that Hungary was "the most cheerful barrack in the socialist camp" captured the certain aspects of the Kadar era.

The peaceful collapse of the communist system in 1989 has several explanations. Most important was the policies of Gorbachev which made clear that the Soviet Union would not prop up by force communist systems in Eastern Europe. Second, discontent with the regime in Hungary increased during the 1980s due to growing economic difficulties. Third, Karoly Grosz succeeding Kadar in 1987 (for less than two years) did not possess any of the positive attributes of Kadar and could not legitimate the system. Fourth, under Kadar's relatively permissive policies a dissident subculture developed while the political-ideological commitment of the ruling elite greatly diminished leading to a weakened will to power and its peaceful abandonment, to what Rudolf Tokes called "the negotiated revolution."

Almost twenty years after Hungary became a pluralistic society new political and economic problem and conflicts emerged. But Hungary as member of NATO and the European Union is embarked on a policy of Westernization and surprisingly few remnants of the communist past remain in the new political institutions and popular awareness.



Author Bio:

Paul Hollander is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and an associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. He grew up in Hungary which he left after the Revolution of 1956. Educated at the London School of Economic (B.A.) and Princeton University (Ph.D.) he is the author or editor of 14 books.

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Location:  Eastern Europe
Capital:  Budapest
Communist Rule:  1949-1989
Status:  Dissolved - 23.10.1989
Victims of Communism:
27 000