A short history of Hungary II.

"1100 years in the heart of Europe"

1956 revolution hungary

Part Two




In 1919, World War I. was finished with an agreement in France which divided Hungary into parts, and the newly formed states of the surrounding countries got most of the land. Hungary was left with only 92963 square kilometres out of the original quarter a million square kilometres of the Holy Crown. Millions of Hungarian people became a national minority in other countries. Of course, all the new railways, all the new factories have been given to the surrounding countries.

Reforms introduced by the deeply conservative Horthy regime - which retained essential parliamentary elements - did little to modernize the backward social structure. Some particularly outstanding politicians - Pál Teleki, István Bethlen - thanks to their personal proficiency managed to achieve domestic consolidation, slight economic growth, a breakthrough in foreign policy isolation, and the faint hope of a partial peaceful revision by the late 1920s.
On the threshold of the 1930s, however, the world economic depression restricted Hungary's opportunities. The recession concluded the process started by the Versailles peace process, with the break-up of the economic, social and cultural unity of the Danube states: by encouraging national seclusion it aided political extremists, and in the resulting power vacuum it facilitated the penetration of those major powers interested in the region. As for Hungary which blamed Trianon for its difficulties and yearned for a revision of the Treaty, this meant closer ties with Germany and Italy.

Hungary's reward for joining the Axis powers was to have the Hungarian-inhabited areas in Czechoslovakia and Romania re-annexed after the start of Nazi aggression (1938-1940). Those favors, however, prevented it from staying out of World War II, and from rejecting in 1941 its involvement in the invasion of Yugoslavia. The Hungarian government showed more readiness in the war against the Soviet Union while, particularly after suffering massive defeats on the eastern front, the traditional elite which had harbored mixed feelings about the Nazi movement, sought an agreement with the Western powers. On learning about the true feelings of this "involuntary satellite" German troops occupied the country on March 19, 1944.

After manipulating a puppet government to carry out the mass deportation of the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian Jewry it foiled Horthy's attempt to quit the war, and unleashed a rule of terror by the Hungarian Nazis, the Arrow Cross. Meantime the Red Army was surging ahead and the entire country was transformed into a military theater by the spring of 1945, as a result of total defeat, the old system and state sovereignty itself collapsed: a million-strong army was stationed in the shattered country. Its leaders made promises to guarantee self-rule - although as became known later on the 1945 Yalta conference grouping the great powers had already decided among themselves that Hungary, together with its neighbors, would belong to the Soviet sphere of influence.


In four years, the communists took over the power by the "help" of the Soviet Union, and then, a new era began. 1956 was the year of the next trial to reach freedom, this time the revolution led by Nagy Imre was against communism and the Soviet Union. As it could be expected, the revolution was suppressed by the Red Army. The natural flow of history let Hungary to be free only in 1989. Then, it can be asked:
1956 revolution"Was Rákóczi's battle for liberty in vain? Were the Hungarian freedom fights in 1848 or in October 1956 useless? For Hungarians, Rákóczi - as later Kossuth, too - is not associated with national defeat and collapse. The Rákóczi freedom fight awakened powerful forces among the people. Within a few years it brought about an amazing national renaissance, a reconciliation of the classes, rich forms of art, music and poetry which evoked the Hungarian outlook and spirit."

However, the experience of the 1956 revolution made clear for the communist power that there was no return to the methods of governing and state of the "fifties". Thus the new regime, having restored "law and order", consolidated its position by granting an amnesty and launching reforms in the 1960s, obtaining for Hungary the dubious title of "happiest barracks" among the countries of the Soviet bloc. In addition, as industrialization and collectivization were carried out peacefully and gradually more attention was paid to the manufacture of consumer items, which was only encouraged by the so-called "new economic mechanism", that is reforms introduced from 1968 granting greater scope of operation to private enterprises. However, there was a political price to pay for the rise in living standards: the power monopoly of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party and its relationship with the Soviet Union - that is the country's limited sovereignty - remained taboo. The increasingly flexible censorship narrowed the sphere of banned, and expanded that of supported and tolerated intellectual works, and the "soft dictatorship" while continuing to impose strict checks opened the western gates of the country to incoming foreigners as well as to Hungarians seeking to travel abroad.

Although these concessions - particularly when comparing Hungary's fate to that of neighboring countries - afforded a certain legitimacy to the Kádár regime which had taken power through brutal force, by the 1980s their limitations were apparent. The reforms proved insufficient to ensure economic growth, and so the semblance of prosperity was maintained from foreign loans and at the cost of pilling up massive debts for the country, and even then only with great difficulty. The unstated deal appeared ever more unjustified: surrender political rights in exchange for material welfare. Finally, on Mikhail Gorbachev taking control of the communist party in Moscow, the external pressure also eased.


hungary euThese developments brought about the terms for starting to transform the system of political institutions and the economy, terms which were conceived by the "reform communists" who dismissed Kádár in May 1988 after his resistance to any further change and who still thought they could maintain control of events. Shortly afterwards opposition groups that had operated for years organized themselves into political parties; their activities received ever greater publicity and in 1988 and 1989 encouraged mass demonstrations throughout a reviving civil society. The Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) came forward with a program criticizing the communist system on the basis of national traditions, and from the autumn of 1987 it organized public debates on the state of the country. The "democratic opposition" that had operated an underground press ("Samizdat") since the early 1980s established the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), while the independent organization of university students, the Federation of Young Democrats (FIDESZ), also defined itself as a liberal party. At the end of 1988, beginning of 1989, parties defining the democratic era immediately after World War II were revived, thus the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP), the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) and the Social Democratic Party (SZDP). The frameworks for a peaceful change of regime were established at the "trilateral negotiations" comprising the Opposition Round Table, the mass organizations, and the party-state leaders in March 1989. An agreement and codification of the agreement laying the basis of a constitutional state ruled by law took place in the autumn of 1989, and shortly afterwards the Republic of Hungary was proclaimed on October 23, 1989, changing the country's official old name (Hungarian People's Republic), a move which symbolically expressed the essence of the change of regime: the regaining of the country's sovereignty, and the replacement of the central plan command management and state-party system with a market economy and a multi-party democracy.


During the 1100 years that have elapsed since Hungarian tribes settled down in the Carpathian Basin, Hungary has on several occasions felt that its adjustment and catching up were successful. Today, meeting the strict demands of economic growth, stabilization and European integration, the country once again trusts that its "re-entry" into the community of European countries will prove to be final this time.





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