1956: The Hungarian Revolution

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 erupted due to discontent with the Soviet-backed Hungarian government's oppressive policies. Hungarians sought political freedom and autonomy and began a peaceful protest. However, these protests turned into a violent revolution, which resulted in Soviet intervention and a violent suppression of demonstrators. 


As WW2 was ending, the Soviet "Red Army" had liberated many countries in Eastern Europe. In doing so, they tried to spread the influence of communism by placing communist leaders in key positions of government in the countries they had liberated.

Rákosi secured a one-party dictatorship in Hungary by eliminating opposition within the Hungarian Communist Party through purges, show trials, and executions. With Soviet military and political support, Rákosi and his supporters were able to exert control over key state institutions, including the government, military, and police. Rákosi had an elaborate system of propaganda which consisted of many posters and flyers that served as ideological indoctrination to gain (and then maintain) control over the population. 

Rákosi tried, jailed and executed his political opponents, ensuring Communist Party dominance. By the next elections, there were no other political parties. Rákosi's authoritarian regime was characterised by repression, surveillance, and political suppression.

Why did Hungarians hate life under Rakosi and the Soviet communist rule?

Protests and escalation

Cracks began to appear in the government after Stalin's death on 5 March 1953. For example, workers in Eastern Germany began to rebel and demanded higher pay. 

In February 1956, Khrushchev made a speech listing Stalin’s crimes. Meanwhile, members of the Hungarian Communist Party and Hungarian society began to speak out against Rákosi and call for his resignation. Rákosi was forced to resign on 18 July 1956 and leave Hungary as the abuses of his party came to light.

On October 23rd 1956, Students held an unofficial demonstration under communist rule demanding…

The peaceful protests soon turned violent. Symbols of communist power were destroyed (e.g. hammer and sickle ripped out of the Hungarian flag), statues of Stalin were smashed up and Soviet books and propaganda were burnt.

The demonstrators wanted their demands to be broadcasted to the nation through the Hungarian State Radio, and assembled outside the Magyar Radio buildings. As tensions rose, Arbo men (secret police) threw tear gas from inside the building and then began firing at demonstrators. Workers became freedom fighters, and the revolution quickly spread through Hungary. 

To appease the people, Imre Nagy was renamed as Prime Minister, but Soviet Red Army tanks were on their way to occupy Budapest. Soviet Red Army tanks came into the city to restore law and order, and a revolution started, with Hungarian policemen and children also joining in. 

When 300 unarmed protesters were killed, Arbo HQ was invaded in revenge and Arbo men were beaten to death all over Hungary.

Temporary Peace and seemingly successful Revolution

On October 28th 1956, the Red Army withdrew from Budapest, whilst protesters continued to make their demands for more freedom. They made clear their desires to replace the communist government and leave the Warsaw Pact. 

Between now and November 4th, as Soviet tanks withdrew from Hungary, Soviet diplomats and their families left, whilst prisons were opened and prisoners of repression were let out. 

On November 1st, Nagy announced that he had accepted the rebels' demands, and would hold free elections and withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. This concerned Khrushchev as free elections would surely mean the end of communist rule, and Hungary was an important member of the Eastern European Military Alliance (Warsaw Pact) controlled by the USSR.

On November 3rd, a new coalition government was created under Nagy, including anti-communist politicians. 

On November 4th, after Khrushchev's authorisation, thousands of Soviet soldiers and tanks crossed back into Hungary. Imre Nagy announced that if they were not withdrawn, the Government would proclaim Hungarian Neutrality and break away from Soviet Control. Sovet Tanks re-entered Budapest, and Imre Nagy (who was later arrested and executed) was forced to flee to Yugoslavia. 

Approximately 200,000 fled Hungary, thousands were arrested and sent to labour camps, and up to 3,000 were killed.