The Hungarian revolution begins – archive, October 1956

Police open fire in Budapest: anti-Russian crowds in street disorders

24 October 1956

Budapest, 24 October (2am)
One person is reported to have been killed and several others injured when Hungarian police opened fire on thousands of Hungarians demonstrating here a few hours ago. The demonstrators, demanding the removal of Russian troops from the country, attempted to overturn a 26ft-high statue of Stalin.

The demonstrators – workers, students, and soldiers –shouted ‘‘Ruskies (Russians) go home,” “Down with Gero” (the Hungarian Communist leader), and “We want a Government with Nagy” (the former Premier who was dismissed by the Stalinists).

The trouble began yesterday when ten thousand students staged two demonstrations to demand the removal of the Russian troops and also a public trial for the former Communist party leader, Rakosi. They also demanded the formation of a freely elected Government.

Telephones cut
The fighting began as the Central Committee of the Communist party went into an emergency session, presumably to consider the mounting disturbances. After the announcement of the meeting was made over Budapest radio, all telephone communications between Budapest and the west was cut off. Lines to Prague remained open, however.

As the party leaders met, thousands of demonstrators in overalls began to converge on the Stalin statue in Stalin Square with shouts that it was a symbol of tyranny. Efforts to pull down the monument with cables failed. By now the crowd had swelled to some hundred thousand people. The huge red star that decorated the roof of a trade union building just opposite the Stalin statue was knocked down.

The demonstrations reached their climax after Mr Gero had made a surprise broadcast calling “lies and rumours” reports that Hungary wanted to loosen its ties with the Soviet Union. At this the crowd forced its way towards the State radio building, and the police began to use teargas.
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Liberalisation in Hungary: background to the disturbances

From Victor Zorza
25 October 1956

Munich, 24 October
The ferment of liberalisation in Hungary has been surging constantly higher during the last few weeks. Within the last week the Hungarian Radio and Szabad Nep, the Hungarian Communist party paper, have come completely under the control of the liberalisation group. A wave of meetings of political and non-political organisations swept the country as the days went on with their resolutions calling for ever greater extent of liberalisation. Last week the university students, first in Szeged and then in Pecs and Budapest, joined in calling for detailed lists of reforms. These stressed relationships of equality with the Soviet Union, the final purge of all Stalinists, the return of Nagy to power, and the convocation of a Hungarian party congress.
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Editorial: revolution

25 October 1956

Russian troops have been called in to crush the Hungarian revolution of 23 and 24 October 1956, just as Russian troops were called in to crush the Hungarian revolution of 1849. The wheel has come full circle; Mr Khrushchev is here. Soviet communism inherits from the Tsars the unenvied role of the empire against whose dead hand groups of students rise and carry the flag down the street, demonstrators die on bridges and city squares, and shots ring out in factories and government offices, while tottering ministers – now as in the 19th-century – cry out for “peace, discipline, and order.” The end of it all is force – Russian force to prop up governments whose own resources have melted away. So it has been in Hungary.

What next? A land like Hungary, its frontiers sealed, its communications cut off, its population under martial law with Soviet troops in their midst and over their eastern borders, cannot hope to do other than fail in such a revolution. Yet as we write shots are still being fired; and in Poland thunderclouds seem to be gathering again. The fortunes of eastern Europe hang by a thread. The choice is not, alas between total liberation and total repression; it is between a partial, guarded, tricky improvement – a political tightrope walk – and a Russian blood bath. The best hope for these countries that have suffered too much is to keep their feelings just enough in leash to go on prodding the communists towards freedom without prodding them so far that they fall back on brutal repression.
This is an edited extract. Read the full article.

A group of men hold a flag on top of a tank in front of the Parliament building during the Hungarian Revolt, Budapest, 1956.
A group of men hold a flag on top of a tank in front of the Parliament building during the Hungarian Revolt, Budapest, 1956. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Soviet tanks crush resistance

5 November 1956

At 8am yesterday the Soviet High Command in Hungary ordered Mr Nagy’s Government to surrender by noon “or Budapest will be bombed.” Soviet armoured forces then went into action. Just after 1pm Moscow radio announced, “The Hungarian counter-revolution has been crushed.”
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