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The Legacy of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 ended on October 30 with full victory: the old Communist system crumbled and was gone, the Soviet troops withdrew from Budapest and started to leave the country, multi-party democracy was restored and Prime Minister Imre Nagy formed a coalition based on the parties of the 1945-47 Parliament.  Two days later that government decided to leave the Warsaw Pact, the political and military instrument of Soviet domination in Central and Eastern Europe, and, in a desperate attempt to forestall a new Soviet intervention, proclaimed the neutrality of Hungary.

The Soviet Red Army attacked Hungary on November 4, 1956, and crushed the legitimate government.  Thousands of Hungarians were killed during the fighting, or in judicial murders carried out by the puppet government of János Kádár.  For more than thirty years the Kádár regime tried to break the backbone of the nation, ruled by repression and mismanaged the economy.  Facing total bankruptcy, in the summer of 1989 the Communist government surrendered and agreed to start round-table discussions with the opposition parties.  The agreement on the peaceful transformation of the system was signed at the end of September.

(O)n October 23, 1989, a democratic republic was proclaimed from the balcony of the Parliament, where thirty-three years earlier a revolutionary crowd demanded independence and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary.  With free elections held five months later, the process was completed; Hungary became a western-type parliamentary democracy.

The bloodless revolution of 1989 in Poland and Hungary, unopposed by the Gorbachev leadership in the Soviet Union, the breakthrough of the Iron Curtain by 800 East Germans on the Austrian-Hungarian border and the subsequent opening of the border by Hungary in September led to the collapse of the East German regime and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  That in turn inspired the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia, followed by the uprising in Romania at Christmas, and the surrender of the communist leadership in Bulgaria and Albania.  By the end of 1991, the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union itself was dissolved and all the captive nations of the Soviet Empire became free.

We, Hungarians have every reason to be proud of the historic role we played in 1956 and 1989.  We should not allow it to be forgotten or overshadowed.  In the last ten years we showed that with independence restored and with a democratic constitution, Hungary became a stable, increasingly prosperous country, a good partner for other countries, while helping three million fellow-Hungarians in the neighboring states; a member of NATO and a reliable ally of the United States, while moving rapidly towards meeting all the conditions for membership in the European Union.  The centuries characterized by ill-fate and misjudgments are over, the Hungarian state enters the second millennium with bright perspectives; with perseverance Hungarians have a good chance to realize their age-old aspirations.

Géza Jeszenszky served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs after the first post-Communist parliamentary elections.  He was Hungarian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States from 1998 to 2002, and Ambassador to Norway and Iceland from 2011 to 2014.


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