The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was not only a turning point in the ultimate downfall of communism and the disintegration of the USSR but also the start of Hungary’s independence. From its beginning as a student demonstration to its end less than two weeks later, it is a moment in history which signaled the people in Hungary has had enough of the Soviet occupation of Hungary and lack of political freedom. Hungarian students were getting tired of all the changes occurring at the schools in regard to their curriculum.
On October 16, 1956, in Szeged (in the Southeast part of Hungary), they formed an independent student union. Students at The Budapest Technical University were also frustrated with the situation and joined the other students in demanding a change in Hungary. They no longer wanted reforms but instead demanded a drastic change. Among their 16 demands were the following: 1. Soviet troop withdrawal in Hungary 2. Free elections 3. Dissolution of the AVH (Hungarian Secret Police 1946-1956) 4. The formation of a multi-party system 5. The removal of Stalin’s statue in Budapest 6. Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact
They voiced their concerns to no avail and then wanted to take to the streets of Budapest, the capital of Hungary, to hold a peaceful march to bring attention to their demands. At first the government prohibited the march but later the same day changed their minds and allowed the march to occur, but only under strict instructions not to use any force. On October 23rd, the students from Szeged came to Budapest to start the march on the east side of the Danube River (the west side is Buda and the east side is Pest) at a statue of Sandor Petofi, a hero-poet from the 1948 revolution.
The students marched across the Margit Bridge (which honors another 1948 hero Josef Bem) where they met up with the students from the university. Along their way to the Hungarian Parliament building they were joined by workers who were just getting off work. Soon the march swelled to thousands of demonstrators. They would yell “Russians Go Home” and “Nagy in the government Rakosi in the Danube” referring to their political leaders. They passed the statue of Joseph Bem and finally arrived at the Parliament building. The crowd continued to grow as they chanted for their political icon Imre Nagy to come out and speak with them.
Hours would go by but eventually he did address them. He asked them to allow the party to resolve the conflicts and to go home peacefully. This only angered the crowd and made the situation much worse. They felt no one was listening to them – not even the man they wanted in political office again. Soon other crowds of demonstrators were gathering at other locations around Budapest, too. One of these crowds gathered at Dozsa Gyorgy Park where the 30 foot statue of Joseph Stalin stood. Before you knew it, the statue was on the ground being torn into pieces – the head remained on the streets of Budapest for days!
If you were to visit the National Museum in Budapest you could actually see the hand from that statue. Another crowd gathered in front of a radio station on Brody Sandor Street in an attempt to gain entry to the building to express their demands over the radio waves. The management of the radio station would not allow this and detained those who trespassed until the police would arrive. The crowd became unruly and started throwing stones at the building, but by now the AVH had arrived and positioned themselves on the rooftop of buildings.
Feeling their lives were in danger, the AVH opened fire on the unarmed demonstrators below immediately killing a few demonstrators. This action greatly agitated the crowd so some went off to get whatever weapons they could find. A nearby ambulance actually had guns inside of it to be used once they gained access to the radio station. The true turning point of the Hungarian Revolution was when the Hungarian’s Army 8th Tank Regiment arrived to defend the building. They disagreed with the AVH opening fire so they joined the demonstrators. They, too, came under fire from the AVH.
Police arrived and tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas. Panic was among the streets of Budapest and word spread quickly of the AVH attacking the demonstrators. Soon cars and trams were on fire throughout Budapest as the demonstrators wanted to bring even more awareness to their plight. Eventually even the local police departments joined the demonstrators as they were also fed up with how they were being run. Others went in search of factories where guns could be obtained. The revolution had begun! What started out as a peaceful demonstration has led to bloodshed escalating into a Hungarian fight against foreign occupation.
Budapest was not the only city with a revolt in progress. In Pecs (Southwest of Budapest) and Miskolc (Northeast of Budapest), insurgents and workers gathered to protest. Leaders were appointed to represent them. These leaders were generally well educated and some were even city officials or Army officers. They appealed to the United Nations for help to establish democracy, freedom, elections, and an end to oppression, but the United Nations could not help. By the end of October there was practically no more fighting in Hungary and things were returning to normal.
As a symbol of the revolts success, the Hungarian flag had the communist motif cut out of its middle. The leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, announced the withdrawal of Soviet troops. But things were not as it seemed. On November 4th, 1956, he sent the Red Army into Hungary to crush anyone standing in their way to win back the country. 200,000 troops and 2,500 Soviet tanks immediately took control of the highways, bridges, and airfields, although the Hungarians put up a tremendous fight and still managed to hold on to a few points in Budapest.
Fighting occurred throughout Hungary and just as quick as it seemed the Hungarians had won their independence they lost it all back to Soviet rule. That same day the last words broadcast on Hungarian radio were “Help! Help! Help! ” The Hungarians are proud of their attempt to win their freedom. Estimates are approximately 20,000 died fighting for the cause. Many survivors feared what the Soviet leader would do next. Over the next few weeks and months, many Hungarians fled the country in search of a better life. They went to Austria, Germany and even to the United States.
Over 200,000 refugees left the country with an estimated 80,000 arriving in the United States. The Hungarian Revolution was a turning point for those who believed the Soviet Union was invincible. Yes, the Soviet Union did win the battle but ultimately lost the war. It demonstrated to other countries held captive by communism that it is possible to fight for your freedom. In 1989, freedom was granted to Hungarian citizens with the fall of the communist government.