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Reflections on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution


Demonstrators clashed with police this week in Budapest on the 50th anniversary of Hungary’s uprising against Soviet domination. But this time they are protesting the Socialist government’s economic policies and fact that current Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany lied about the dire economic situation of the country to win re-election earlier this year.

Eighty-one-year-old Hungarian journalist Andras Biro was a witness to those events, which began on October 23rd in Budapest’s Bem Square where thousands of students gathered to hear the list of demands for reform by Hungary’s Communist government. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Biro says he had been attending an editorial meeting where the topic was the freedom of the press. Despite warnings from the crowd about the dangers posed by photographers covering the event, he stood up and yelled, “Let them take our pictures,” and his photo ended up in a Life magazine story on the Hungarian Revolution. Looking back, Andras Biro says, those days in ’56 were “probably the most beautiful days” of his life.

After Stalin’s death in 1953, most European communist parties began to develop a reformist wing. Hungarian dictator Matyas Rakosi was forced to yield his position as Prime Minister to Imre Nagy, who later declared his intention to withdraw Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. The 1956 uprising, which lasted less than two weeks, was ultimately crushed by Soviet tanks. Another political revolutionary, Andras Zsoter, says he and many other Hungarian freedom fighters fled for their lives to neighboring Austria after the defeat. He says they had hoped for help from the “outside world,” but none came. Moreover, Mr. Zsoter says, many members of Hungary’s next generation knew very little about the 1956 uprising, which was viewed with disapproval by the pro-Soviet government installed after Nagy’s ouster and subsequent execution. However, Hungarian journalist, Jeno Thassy, says he looks back on the events 50 years ago “as a success, not a failure,” even though he thinks that the West “behaved rather shamefully” to Hungary. He believes Hungarians should be “given more credit” for their role in launching the “first revolt against communism.”

Although Hungary is a free country today, the ruling Socialist Party and the right-wing opposition Fidesz are struggling for dominance. And, as Andras Biro says, on the 50th anniversary of the 1956 uprising, each one of them tries to portray the event as “closer to its own philosophy.”

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