Hungary was the most reform-minded Communist state in Eastern Europe and so its revolution was the least dramatic. Many intellectuals remained despite the defeating of the 1956 revolt and the repression that followed. In the 1960s, Hungary experimented with free-market reforms, known as “goulash Communism”. In the 1980s a more relaxed political atmosphere permitted the growth of a limited independent sector and the re-emergence of reformers in the party.
In June 1985 the first multi-party elections were held. There were some prominent defeats and 43 independent candidates were elected. It was not yet democracy but it was a big step forward.
Behind the Iron Curtain, culture from the capitalist world was denounced as immoral but behind closed doors Hungarian communist leaders loved what they condemned in public.
Leaders of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, or MSZMP, which ruled Hungary between 1956 and 1989, had a wide-ranging library of movies from the West, a recently discovered movie archive shows. Hungarian film maker and trader Mokep-Pannonia Kft. discovered the archive of some 6,000 movie titles, which was available for private screenings for MSZMP’s Central Committee and Janos Kadar, the party’s general secretary of 32 years.
Churches were allowed to exist in the former Soviet bloc but the communist regimes were hostile to religion.
Kádár came to power in 1956, following the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union and the Soviet invasion to restore communist rule. He died on July 6, 1989, on the day that Hungary’s Supreme Court rehabilitated Imre Nagy, Hungary’s prime minister during the uprising who was hanged in 1958.
The Hungarian Revolution or Uprising of 1956 was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the government of the People’s Republic of Hungary and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956. It was the first major threat to Soviet control since the USSR forces drove out the Nazis at the end of World War II and occupied Eastern Europe. Despite the failure of the uprising, it was highly influential, and came to play a role in the downfall of the Soviet Union decades later.
The revolt began as a student demonstration, which attracted thousands as they marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building, calling out on the streets using a van with loudspeakers via Radio Free Europe. A student delegation entering the radio building to try to broadcast the students’ demands was detained. When the delegation’s release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. As the news spread, disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.
The revolt spread quickly across Hungary and the government collapsed. Thousands organized into militias, battling the State Security Police (ÁVH) and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned and former prisoners were released and armed. Radical impromptu workers’ councils gained municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People’s Party and demanded political changes. A new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped and a sense of normality began to return.