Budapest, Hungary October 23 Background

October 23 is a holiday in Hungary, and commemorates more than one (though connected) historical event.

On October 23, 1956, a huge outpouring of resistance to the system and to Soviet presence erupted in Hungary. Across the country, citizens were dismantling Soviet tanks and feeling confident that the Iron Curitain had been torn. In fact, this sentence appeared in the Soviet newspaper, Pravda: “[T]he Soviet Government is prepared to enter into the appropriate negotiations with the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic and other members of the Warsaw Treaty on the question of the presence of Soviet troops on the territory of Hungary.” (The 1956 Hungarian Revolution:  A History in Documents)

An important symbol of this uprising represents the removal of the communist government’s emblem in the center of the flag, resulting in a flag with a hole in it.

Twelve days later, however, the Soviets reversed course and quelled the uprising with tanks.  More than 2,000 people were killed through either fighting or executions, many others tortured, and more than 200,000 fled the country. Imre Nagy, who had once been premier of Hungary but ostracized by communist authorities, was premier again during the uprisings. But the crackdown also resulted in his execution.

In Budapest’s Museum of Terror, you can view a videotaped interview with one of the 1956 protesters. A feisty woman, she casually referred to this event as a “revolution” to a police officer, who responded “What do you mean? It wasn’t a revolution. It was a counter-revolution.” Her insistence at calling it a revolution won her a year in solitary confinement and at least one beating.

On October, 23, 1989, Hungarians publicly reburied Imre in a ceremony attended by thousands and televised publicly. A memorial to Imre Nagy sits near the parliament building in Budapest. 

On the 50th anniversary of the 1956 events, in 2006, right-wing protesters took over the day’s events, resulting in quite aggressive vandalism of buildings and cars, setting cars on fire and filling the city with smoke.

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