Tags: Russia | hungary | soviet union | russia

In 1956, Hungarians Started Process of Toppling Soviet Empire

Hungarian soldiers during a ceremony to commemorate a 1956 uprising against the Soviet Union
Hungarian soldiers during a ceremony to commemorate a 1956 uprising against the Soviet Union. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images)

Thursday, 24 October 2019 07:50 AM Current | Bio | Archive

This week, the Embassy of Hungary in Washington, D.C., commemorated a date dear to the hearts of Hungarians everywhere: Oct. 23, 1956, the day their country rose up, forced its Russian slave masters out of power, and for two weeks enjoyed the sweet taste of freedom.

"And they did it without cellphones, the internet, and even telephones," said Dr. Laszlo Szabo, Ambassador of Hungary to the United States, pointing out that few in the capital city of Budapest or anywhere else in communist-ruled Hungary in 1956 owned telephones.

More than 1,000 Russian tanks would quash the uprising and snuff out the lights of freedom that burned brightly and so briefly. But the courage demonstrated by the "56ers" in making a stand for a free country kept the world's attention riveted on Hungary and unmasked Soviet Communism as the evil beast that it was.

The Hungarian uprising, in Svabo's words, "fired the first shots in the fight that ended with the end of the Soviet Union in 1991."

Szabo spoke Monday to an overflow crowd at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts honoring the freedom fighters who captured the attention of the free world 63 years ago.

Together, Hungarians and Americans sang the "Himnusz" and "The Star Bangled Banner," the anthems of their respective nations. Among the guests were such prominent Hungarian-Americans as Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Naj, Washington, D.C., attorney Paul Kammenar, and former Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin.

Finally fed up with the occupation of their country by 100,000 Russian troops and the puppet regime that ruled in Budapest, thousands of Hungarian protesters took to the streets in October 1956 and demanded an end to political oppression and the removal of Russian occupying forces.

Soon, schoolchildren and university students joined the fight. Using soap on the streets, they forced Soviet tanks to slide all over the place. The freedom fighters forged barricades out of stones and manufactured petrol bombs. Within days, they broke into prisons and freed hundreds of jailed anti-communists.

Among them was the most famous anti-communist of all: Josef Cardinal Mindzenty, the Roman Catholic primate of Hungary. Tried and convicted as an enemy of state in 1949, tortured to the limit of endurance, and filmed confessing to treason while clearly drugged, Mindzenty emerged to bless the men and women battling the Soviets and called for a free Hungary.

It happened on Oct. 28. Newly named Premier Imre Nagy, a frequent critic of Soviet heavy-handedness, persuaded the Russians to withdraw their troops. On Nov. 1, he proclaimed an end to the one-party rule of the communists, announced the coming of free elections, and said Hungary was leaving the Warsaw Pact (the pact of Eastern European nations pledging fealty to Moscow).

That was too much for the Kremlin. With Russian Ambassador to Budapest (and future Soviet strongman) Yuri Andropov calling the shots, the Soviet Union in effect declared war on the fledgling democracy. On the morning of Nov. 4, tanks and troops hit Hungary hard, and more than 2,500 Hungarians were killed and another 20,000 were injured. Eight hundred and sixty Hungarians who fought in the streets were deported to Moscow for trial. Cardinal Mindzenty fled to the U.S. embassy in Budapest for asylum (and remained there until 1971) and Prime Minister Nagy and his top associates were executed as a warning to future rebels.

But the seeds of freedom were sewn in Hungary during those two weeks in 1956. More than 30 years later, the same seeds bore fruit with the overthrow of communist governments in many Warsaw Pact countries, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Soviet Union.

"My father was a soldier who, in 1956, began releasing prisoners from jail," Assistant Secretary of State Naj told the hushed audience at the Kennedy Center. "After the uprising was put down, he was denounced as a traitor. But after the communists were overthrown and a free government came to Hungary in 1990, my father returned home for the first time since he came to the U.S. He was hailed as a hero of 1956."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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This week, the Embassy of Hungary in Washington, D.C., commemorated a date dear to the hearts of Hungarians everywhere: Oct. 23, 1956.
hungary, soviet union, russia
Thursday, 24 October 2019 07:50 AM
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