Friday, 8 October 2010

Remembering the 1956 Hungarian uprising

I’ve just finished reading “Revolution 1956”, a book by the excellent writer Victor Sebestyen on the failed Hungarian revolution of that year. Written like a thriller, working through the events day by day, it describes how the Hungarian people emerged from a period of intense Stalin-like repression in the early 1950s and, encouraged by a CIA-funded radio station beaming ‘revolutionary’ messages to eastern Europe, started to demand more freedoms. A student demonstration in October 1956 escalated over the course of a few days into a national uprising, and the fuse was well and truly lit when shots were fired into a crowd in the Parliament Square on the 25th October, killing perhaps a hundred or so people.

Bullet holes from that day are discretely marked to this day, and there is a memorial to the people who died. 

A Hungarian flag with a hole cut out of the middle flaps over it, a reminder that the excision of the hammer and sickle from the national flag of that time was used as the symbol of the uprising.

Over the course of the next 12 days several thousand people died, some killed as representatives of the regime, but most by the Soviet invasion in early November which destroyed large parts of Budapest, just a few years after they had been rebuilt in the aftermath of the 1945 siege. Some 200,000 people were allowed to leave Hungary in the months that followed, with the new regime keen to allow potential troublemakers out of the country.

Historians often say that had Britain and France not invaded Egypt to regain control of the Suez Canal at exactly the same time that the outcome would have been different, but given that both the United States and the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons at that time it is arguable as to whether America would have been prepared to stand up for Hungarian rights at the risk of a nuclear war.

So once again the spirit of the Hungarian people was crushed by overwhelming external powers, contributing to the commonly-held perception of eternal victimhood.


  1. Thank you very much for that short review. My father-in-law was active in the revolution, too, and forbidden to attend university afterwards for some years. I think that will be an interesting book to read.

  2. I enjoyed your blog very much. I just recently posted my own blog about how as a child I experienced the 1956 Hungarian revolution. It actually began infront of my House in Budapest.