Crisis of the Cold War – Hungary, 1956

Crisis of the Cold War – Hungary, 1956

Remember the Eastern European countries behind the Iron Curtain? Well by the mid- 1950s they had settled down into being Communist states. Technically they were independent of the Soviet Union, and had their own governments that were led by national communist parties. But in reality, the Soviet Union cast a long shadow over these nations. And when the local governments did things that the Soviet Union didn’t agree with, trouble would follow.


GCSE History Revision - De-StalinizationHungary had been quite enthusiastic about Khruschev’s De-Stalinization policy, and in the summer of 1956 its Stalinist leader, Matyas Rakosi, fell from power following widespread protests by anti-Stalinist groups. However, the anti-Stalinist movement continued to build, and protests spread. To many the protests were about more than de-Stalinization: they were a way to fight against aspects of the Soviet Union and the communist regime that they despised, such as its repression of religion and its habit of keeping Hungarians poor by sending all their resources to the Soviet Union and banning Hungary from accepting aid under the Marshall Plan. Above all, they were the result of patriotic Hungarians rejecting foreign control.

Imre Nagy

In October 1956 a new government was formed, led by the liberal figure of Imre Nagy. He convinced Khrushchev to let the Soviet forces that had occupied Hungary since the War withdraw. As soon as they did, on 28 October, he announced sweeping reforms, such as multi-party elections, freedom of speech and Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. All very Western things, which were seen by the Soviet Union as a threat.

Invasion of Hungary

GCSE History Revision - Invasion of HungaryThe Soviet Union quickly re-sent its forces to Hungary, with the invasion beginning on 4th November. Supporters of the new, liberal regime took up arms to try and fight off the invaders. Thousands of Hungarians (estimates range from 3000 to over 10000) were killed during the fighting. By 10th November the Soviet forces had full control, and installed a government that was loyal to Moscow.

The invasion had a number of consequences:

1) It created international outrage in the West, against the fact that the Soviet Union had invaded another country and overthrown its government. Even Communists in Western Europe were angry, and some started to reject the Soviet Union.

2) It demonstrated that the Soviet Union did not really view the other Warsaw Pact countries as independent, and just as importantly that the Soviet Union was firmly in control of Eastern Europe.

3) With the USA and NATO not intervening, it showed that the West could not intervene directly in Eastern Europe. Doing so would have certainly triggered an all-out war.