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Monday, October 23, 2006

Imre Nagy and Pál Maléter

The papers are full these days of commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising. This is something quite personal for me, not due to any involvement on my part, but due to the fact that the events which took place in Hungary in 1956 and the Sharpville shooting in South Africa in 1960 (and the winds of change speech from Harold Macmillan which follwed this) probably marked my childhood more than any other events I can remember.

I was eight at the time of the uprising, and I can still remember rushing home from school and turning on the old (almost steam) B&W TV we had to try and discover what had been happening. Pál Maléter was my first real hero in life, and I would like to take this opportunity to remember him, and Imre Nagy, and all those who died in those tragic days and their aftermath.

Such a waste.

As they say: at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

Hungary's reluctant rebel

By Christopher Condon

The story of Nagy explodes any simplistic reading of '56. Born to a peasant family in 1896, he discovered Bolshevism while a prisoner of war in Russia during the first world war. He worked in the communist underground in Hungary before moving to Moscow in 1930. Much evidence suggests

he survived Josef Stalin's purges because he was an agent of the Soviet secret police.

Back in Hungary after the second world war, Nagy took various government posts, before and after the Communists seized total power in 1947. His loyalty to the party and his personal convictions became increasingly contradictory. As prime minister from 1953-55, he released political prisoners and loosened the Stalinist terror of his predecessor, Matyas Rakosi. This made him popular. But he never protested when colleagues were marked for dismissal, imprisonment or execution. Moreover, until 1956, any compromise to one-party rule was, to Nagy, unthinkable.

That revolutionaries, between their street battles with Soviet tanks, would turn to Nagy for leadership seems, at first, bizarre. They wanted independence from Moscow, the evacuation of Soviet troops from Hungary and free elections. But many historians insist that most of those fighting also favoured something resembling reformed socialism or social democracy. This made Nagy a logical ally.

He proved, however, a poor leader during the crisis. During the crucial period in which the Kremlin considered its options, he bumbled along indecisively. Badly out of step with events in the street, he was unable to moderate the rebels' demands or to persuade the Soviets against the maximum response.

In his trial two years later, Nagy refused to condemn the revolution or his actions. "He has a place as a Hungarian hero not because of his performance during the revolution," says Janos Rainer, director of Hungary's 1956 Institute. "His stubborn defence of the values of the revolution, that is the recollection that will dominate the view on Imre Nagy."

Nagy went to the gallows on June 16 1958, declaring he had "tried to save the honour and image of communism".


Guy Barry said...

No point in saving tattered image of Communism

Edward Hugh said...

"No point in saving tattered image of Communism"

Obviously Guy, but in many ways this is all now history (except if you look at the demographics these countries have inherited, then you can see that in some ways the issue is gone but the legacy continues).

I don't think that the people who gave their lives in 1956 (or were subsequently executed) were especially trying to save the tattered image of anything. They were interested in freedom, and in liberty. That was what attracted me as a child, and it still does.

All the rest you need to conceptualise within the spirit of the times.

Anonymous said...

"he survived Josef Stalin's purges because he was an agent of the Soviet secret police."
That is not true, or more precisely a fabrication made by the KGB around in 1989.
In 1945, that Rákosi (the party boss) , complained to the Soviets, that Imre Nagy follows an independent path in agricultural policy (he was not against kulaks).