Hungary had been under the control of the USSR since 1945. With the death of Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union in 1953, Hungary had anticipated a considerable change in the socio-political environment and system of administration. By October 1956, Hungarian students, workers, and people from almost all walks of life staged large-scale protests, and the uprising turned into a revolution. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (popularly referred to as the Hungarian Uprising) was however ruthlessly crushed by the Soviet Union. Estimates suggest that the Hungarians suffered over 20,000 casualties, including 3,000 deaths. Approximately 250,000 Hungarians fled the country and many more were exiled, never to return.
Hungary remained under German occupation during World War II. In 1945, when the German troops beat a hasty retreat in advance of the Soviet army, they left the country in ruins. Most of the cities were looted and destroyed. The occupation of the Soviet army did not bring the anticipated relief either. By August 1947, a three-year plan was introduced. The plan declared that it aimed at rebuilding Hungary by the end of 1949, but it became clear that the Soviet Union had planned to place the country under complete communist control. Turning Hungary into a workshop – a highly industrialized country feeding the demands of the USSR. Soviet exploitation depleted Hungary of its uranium deposits and throttled the development of agriculture.
Mátyás Rákosi, a die-hard supporter of Joseph Stalin, was deemed fit to head the country and the Soviet-backed Hungarian Communist Party came to power in 1952. In 1953, however, with the death of Stalin, the people of Hungary anticipated a loosening of the communist grip over the country. For a short while, Rákosi was replaced by Imre Nagy – a man with a broader outlook, liberal policies, and a great vision for Hungary. These ideals did not sit well with Moscow, and Rákosi was reinstated. Rákosi however, again failed to retain leadership of Hungary and was replaced by Ernő Gerő, a greatly detested communist leader in July 1956.
Earlier, in February 1956, the Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev had delivered a strong but bitter speech denouncing Stalin and his policies. This along with Nagy’s liberal policies enticed the Hungarians to aspire for liberation from Soviet dominance.
On October 23rd a number of students in Budapest joined a peaceful procession asking the government to address the nation’s concerns and challenges. Gerő responded with a bitter speech and the police opened fire on the students. This incident alone inflamed the Hungarians who rose up in large numbers. The army broke ranks and joined the revolutionaries. Political prisoners were released and armed; farmers occupied the land that had been taken away. Nagy was asked to resume power as the head of the government on October 25th, 1956.
Initially, the Kremlin seemed willing to negotiate, and Soviet troops seemed ready to withdraw from Hungary, but with a sudden change of stance, Soviet troops and tanks entered Budapest on November 4th, and crushed the revolt, and held Nagy captive. Later executing him for treason.
By January 1957 the new Soviet-backed Hungarian government had put down the sporadic protests that followed, and all discussion of this Hungarian uprising was banned for the next three decades. In 1989, when the Third Hungarian Republic was formed, October 23rd was declared a national holiday in honor of those who protested in the ‘Hungarian Uprising,’ and fought for Hungary.