Summary

The years after 1945 in Hungary were characterised by indifference and passivity towards the communist system rather than any strong expression of collectively organised and armed resistance. A review of the history of the country and its political culture shows that revolts never primarily started for internal reasons. Rebellions involving mass popular movements were always triggered from outside, as exemplified by 1848, 1918, 1919, 1956 and 1989, years in which Hungarians were not the only ones to rebel. Hence, the Hungarian tradition of opposition involved not active and armed resistance but political opposition and the passive removal of support from the rulers and the state. The rural masses, who made up more than 50% of the population, could not be mobilised for political goals. Even after 1948/49 and the imposition of new norms, nationalisation and collectivisation there was no active armed and violent resistance. Even the sporadic, minor acts of sabotage and civil disobedience did not lead to the overthrow of the Communist regime and were more the actions of people concerned with survival and their very existence. According to James C. Scott, such self-protective responses to the actions of the Communist dictatorship in the early 1950s were expressed by the rural population and workers through various forms of “everyday resistance” that were recorded in the files of the state security service under the generic term “sabotage”. The Hungarian justice system passed roughly 400,000 “administrative sentences”, while the “people’s tribunals” recorded a further 24,000 guilty verdicts prior to 1956. At all events, the Communist dictatorship gradually eliminated all possible leaders of any active resistance, forcing into exile or imprisoning all potential candidates from the opposition parties or the church. The political and economic elite of the years before 1945 had successively been replaced and disempowered. However, with the reform course that he set between 1953 and 1955, the convinced Communist Imre Nagy personified a sense of hope for broad sections of the population. With regards to social cohesion in Hungary in the late 1940s and early 1950s, society was fragmented and there was no strong sense of solidarity. Due to the ‘roll-back’ propaganda of the Eisenhower/Dulles administration in the US that was broadcast by Radio Free Europe, people in Budapest then started an uprising, which also involved the use of violence. Between 2,500 and 3,000 were killed and roughly 13,000 injured during the fighting in autumn 1956. This was a rebellion by workers and young people and around 2,600 victims were under 30. Roughly 20,000 prison sentences were passed and 230 executions carried out. The majority of the disaffected – about 200,000 people, many of whom were young workers – chose the path of passive resistance and emigrated. The belief that the Communist dictatorship could be forced to change ended with the suppression of the uprising in the autumn of 1956.

In: Violent Resistance
From the Baltics to Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe 1944–1956
The end of the Second World war did not mean the end of violence for many regions in Eastern Europe. The establishment of Communist-led governments often met not only civil but also armed resistance. These actions were taken by partisan groups and paramilitary forces which in some cases had been formed already during the war to support axis forces. In other cases – like Poland’s Armia Krajowa – they fought Nazi and Soviet occupiers with the same fervour. The aims of the fighters were the end of Communist rule and – like in the Baltic region – independence from the Soviet Union. Difficulties in accessing sources and research taboos as well as a focus on other aspects of the Cold War are reasons why violent resistance in Europe after the Second World War is a topic yet rather underestimated and comparably little investigated by historiography. This book gives a comprehensive first overview of the ultimately futile attempts to end the rule of Moscow and her proxies.