A fierce debate about János Kádár and 1956

On the occasion of the centennial of János Kádár’s birth a great number of articles appeared about him and his regime. For the most part they were critical. Péter Niedermüller, deputy chairman of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció, was one of the many who condemned János Kádár and his regime in no uncertain terms. He claimed that the “power of Kádár was built on the ruins of the revolution and on merciless reprisals. His rule cannot be separated from the infamous murders of the leaders of the revolution.” At the same time Niedermüller called on all people regardless of political persuasion to take a critical look at the Kádár regime and come to some kind of common understanding of the period.

It was Niedermüller’s communiqué published in the name of the Demokratikus Koalíció that prompted Attila Csernok to write an article in Népszava about Kádár and the Kádár regime entitled “Sentiments, Emotions, Facts.”

Who is Attila Csernok? He is not a historian but an economist who early in his career was involved in the implementation of the 1968 economic reforms and subsequently became one of the deputy governors of the Hungarian National Bank. Since 1982 he has been living in Brazil where he moved as a representative of Medicor, a company specializing in developing and manufacturing medical equipment.

Csernok in the last few years wrote three books, all dealing with recent Hungarian history. The first, entitled The Pontoon-bridge at Komárom and published in 2008, was a hit. The next year he published With the Force of Reality, which again became a bestseller. Csernok is a realist and therefore a critic of Hungarian nationalism and self-aggrandisement. He would like to add to “Hungarian self-examination.” His first two books were controversial. Some readers welcomed Csernok’s unsentimental and scathing criticism of the country while others hated his works and called him an anti-Hungarian who belittled the significance of Trianon. His last book, As a Brook among the Rocks, also deals with the last twenty years, with special emphasis on the dangers and causes of right-wing extremism.

In any case, Niedermüller’s assessment of Kádár’s role made Csernok sit down and “correct” his picture of Kádár. In his opinion Kádár’s power wasn’t built on the ruins of the revolution or on reprisals and murders. It was Khrushchev who made the decisions and it was the Soviet army that guaranteed that his demands were met. Kádár didn’t call in the Russians, “they were already inside ever since 1945” and they were the ones who named him to the post. According to Csernok, “when [Kádár] appeared under the protection of Soviet tanks our sentiment rejected him but our common sense suggested that under the present circumstances this was the best solution.”

Csernok criticizes Niedermüller for claiming that Kádár “gave up the country’s political and economic independence.” Hungary was not an independent country. It lost the war and remained under Soviet occupation after 1945. Surely, says Csernok, Niedermüller doesn’t think that Hungary was independent politically and economically between October 23 and November 4, 1956.

Csernok is no admirer of the Hungarian freedom fighters of 1956. According to him, the revolution “was an ill-considered uprising partially fueled from abroad.” Those who started it should have known the power relations and the hopelessness of turning against the regime supported by Soviet troops. Imre Nagy drifted with the events and couldn’t bring himself to ask for Soviet help to put an end to the disturbances. Under the circumstances János Kádár was the best choice, especially since the Stalinists in Hungary and Rákosi in the Soviet Union were there to take over at any time.

October 23, 1956, the student demonstration

Csernok justifies the murders committed by János Kádár in the first few years after the revolution by pointing to some of the extremists’ murderous activities in the last week of the revolution. He specifically mentions the events at the party headquarters in Budapest and in Miskolc. He also refers to “the massacre of soldiers at the radio station.” Throughout his description of the events he seems to be siding with the regime and looking upon the Soviet soldiers as innocent victims of murderous Hungarians. For him 1956 was no more than “chaos called revolution” which led nowhere and which had no lasting significance. In Prague in 1968 “they were just talking nonsense but they were not killing communists.” So it was understandable that the communists wanted to take revenge. Moreover, the execution of Imre Nagy and his closest associates was not Kádár’s decision but Khrushchev’s. And finally, Kádár was just continuing the reforms and the thaw that Imre Nagy began in 1953.

Surely, this article by Csernok had to be answered because the man who is so proud of his impartiality and cool head went far astray. It was László Márton, one of the organizers of the student demonstration in the afternoon of October 23, 1956 and later the editor-in-chief of  the Irodalmi Újság published in Paris, who decided to answer Csernok.

Márton took exception to Csernok’s accusation that the organizers and the leaders of the revolt were naive idiots who had no idea about the overwhelming odds in the Soviets’ favor. Instead, as he rightly points out, no one was planning an uprising against the Soviets or anyone else. Moreover, all of the available material on 1956 makes it clear that the organizers were cautious and moderate. Márton is correct in pointing out that one cannot compare what happened at the radio station with the events at the party headquarters on Köztársaság tér (thanks to István Tarlós, today Pope John Paul II Square). At the radio station 50 soldiers and 210 revolutionaries died. They were all the victims of mass hysteria and the incompetence of the officers in charge. What happened at the party headquarters was surely the darkest moment of the revolution and cannot be compared to the actual outbreak of the revolution.

As for the executions, the truth is that the decision to execute Imre Nagy didn’t come from Moscow. In fact, the Soviets, thinking about the foreign reaction, tried to talk Kádár out of it. As for Kádár continuing Imre Nagy’s program, Márton has a low opinion of. The immediate price was at least 500 people dead and 200,000 refugees. Kádár’s regime as it developed was deeply immoral and economically unsustainable with its Trabants, its $20 every three years for foreign travel, and its small plots to build a weekend house. At least Sándor Károlyi, who laid down arms after the Rákóczi Rebellion, and Artúr Görgey, who did the same in 1849, did not take part in their comrades’ execution.

It’s unlikely that there will be any agreement over the role of János Kádár in the foreseeable future. Especially if opinions are so far apart.

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Jano
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Jano
July 8, 2012 6:31 pm
This is truly disgusting, I agree that there should be a discussion on both Kádár and Horthy, but not by an economist, who admittedly had been involved with the system to great extent. You might say that he’s a realist but after resisting to temptation to refer to my bottom part I have to say that this guy is further from reality than a Hungarian space empire conquering the galaxy. (also what do you mean he’s against Hungarian nationalism, is he fine with other nations version?) “In his opinion Kádár’s power wasn’t built on the ruins of the revolution or on reprisals and murders. It was Khrushchev who made the decisions and it was the Soviet army that guaranteed that his demands were met. Kádár didn’t call in the Russians, “they were already inside ever since 1945″ and they were the ones who named him to the post. According to Csernok, “when [Kádár] appeared under the protection of Soviet tanks our sentiment rejected him but our common sense suggested that under the present circumstances this was the best solution.” Truly disgusting… if anybody needs to see why just replace Khrushchev with Hitler any Kádár with Horthy above and watch your… Read more »
Jano
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Jano
July 8, 2012 6:49 pm

“500 people dead and 200,000 refugees”

This one actually makes me wonder why when talking about homicidal regimes, we only measure the extent of victimization by the number of deaths. There are so many ways to ruin lives, dreams and to take away what we call a normal life from the people (just watch e.g. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405094/ for a very very intelligent and good movie on this)

Yes the Kádár regime “became domesticated” in the 60s and after but it wasn’t for free (as the Horthy system wasn’t exactly a liberal democracy either…)

latenight
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latenight
July 8, 2012 7:15 pm

IMHO the defeat of the 1956 uprising was caused by the political decision of the silent majority in Hungary. Mindszenthy demanded publicly over the radio the restitution of the land owned by the church before the war. By this he turned the peasants, than still the largest fairly united social strata, against the uprising, towards Kadar. The vendetta, Kadar conducted, was not instrumental, it came long after he consolidated his power, what he did surprisingly swiftly. This speed is explained by the above.

Frank T. Csongos
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Frank T. Csongos
July 8, 2012 7:51 pm

Previously secret Soviet documents indicate that it was Janos Kadar who wanted to have Imre Nagy and his top associates executed — not the Kremlin. That decision was Kadar’s historic mistake. He later lamented that the Nagy affair was not just a national tragedy but his personal tragedy as well. Just like Francis Joseph a century before him, Kadar began his rule with a harsh crackdown. And not unlike the Autro-Hungarian emperor, Kadar became accepted by a large portion of the Hungarian population, and even loved.

petofi
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petofi
July 8, 2012 8:02 pm

Anyone who believes ‘secret Soviet documents…released” needs their oil and water checked.

Sure, Kadar wanted Nagy killed; the Germans bbq-ed hitler for lack of kindling; Wallenberg was kidnapped by the Finns who were angry at the Swedes; and the Polish army officers
committed mass suicide. Oh yes, and that plane with the Polish government?….The pilot
was drunk and couldn’t find the landing sprint. We’re certain of this because President Putin, himself, was in charge of the investigation…

Frank T. Csongos
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Frank T. Csongos
July 8, 2012 8:17 pm

Mr. Petofi, I’ve covered the Kremlin during my 40-year plus career as an American reporter and editor and was there with James Baker when Boris Yeltsin pronounced the end of the Soviet Union. Believe me, my oil and water have been checked. A journalist’s rule is: if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out. I think most historians dealing with this issue have now come to believe that the Kremlin did not insist on the executions — it was left up to Kadar.

Frank T. Csongos
Guest
Frank T. Csongos
July 8, 2012 8:36 pm

But, of course, I am willing to concede that we are not in the possession of absolute truth here. Legend has it that when Chinese Prime Minister Chu En Lai (Zhou Enlai) visited Paris, journalists asked him what he thought of the French Revolution. His answer: it is too early to say. Well, perhaps the same goes for the 1956 Hungarian revolt and its aftermath.

Member
July 8, 2012 10:38 pm

I don’t think it matters if Kadar wanted or not the execution of Imre Nagy. As Frank said he wanted to start with a crackdown to instill fear and Nagy was an obvious choice. He became the symbol of freedom (“our troops engaged the enemy” – “csapataink harcban allnak”) despite of his past. I’m not a historian, but I found pretty logical everything Kadar did after 56. I mean logical to strengthen your power as the leader of the puppet government of the Soviets. Just because he was better the The Genius of the Carpathians (Nick Ceausescu) he was still the biggest scum of the 20th century Hungarian history.

Frank T. Csongos
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Frank T. Csongos
July 8, 2012 11:19 pm

Mr. Damon — of course the Hungarian army, for the most part, did not engage the enemy, that is the Soviet troops. Needless to say, Nagy was a hero for nor willing to stamp legitimacy on the Red Army’s invasion. But let’s face it — Kadar was a much better alternative to run Hungary than Rakosi’s restoration would have been. Or Gero’s.

petofi
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petofi
July 9, 2012 1:12 am

Frank T. Csongos :
Mr. Petofi, I’ve covered the Kremlin during my 40-year plus career as an American reporter and editor and was there with James Baker when Boris Yeltsin pronounced the end of the Soviet Union. Believe me, my oil and water have been checked. A journalist’s rule is: if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out. I think most historians dealing with this issue have now come to believe that the Kremlin did not insist on the executions — it was left up to Kadar.

Ok. Let’s take this with baby steps. It may just have been–no surprise–that the Russians already knew that Kadar wanted Nagy executed, in which case…how good does it look on paper when the Russians demure?

Odin's Lost Eye
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Odin's Lost Eye
July 9, 2012 3:17 am
Professor your latest article opens a whole new can of worms, especially in the matter of Imre Nagy and the succession of Kador. In one book I read about the 1956 affair there is a reference to Khrushchev flying to see Tito. The author remarks that the pilot had difficulty landing on the Island of Vis were Tito’s was. Vis was Tito’s favorite. I have always had problems with this as I have never found either the aerodrome/airfield or the traces of one. I am certain that the meeting must have happened in Belgrade. (The Adriatic can get stormy and rough in October so Joe Broz almost certainly not have been at Vis). The author reported that the discussion resolved around firstly which of the three sects (Moscow sect, the local home grown sect, or the international sect -or what was left of it-) should take over. Tito put forward the idea that the local Hungarian sect of the Communist party should do the job. There were two candidates the Hungarian ambassador to Moscow, whose name escapes me, and Janos Kadar. Rakosi had the AVH rough up Kadar and jail him as he was part of the ’Local sect’ of… Read more »
Guest
July 9, 2012 4:54 am
I was too young at the time to really understand the things that happened in 56, but in the later discussions in West Germany everybody was sure that the Soviets wanted to “ein exempel statuieren” – comparable to the beastly killings of traitors in the Middle Ages (in Britain e g …). By doing this they showed everyone that they knew no limits at all. A bit OT: I just remembered my trip with the Gymnasium (high school) to Berlin by bus. I had forgotten which year it was, but I remembered that on that sunday night (the bus was overnight – no motorway then so it took a long time from the Black Forest to Berlin) East Germany introduced new banknotes. Wiki says that this “Operation Blitz” was on October 13. in 1957 – people who had more than 300 Marks had to pay in that money to special accounts which were checked … The teachers and some pupils on that bus were really angry – they had collected some money on the black market and had hoped to do some cheap shopping in East Berlin … I was only 15 years old – the youngest (the headmaster seemed… Read more »
latenight
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latenight
July 9, 2012 6:01 am

Despite of mourning all who were executed and jailed back then, TODAY I can be interested only for the question, what the MILLIONS of Hungarians, who stayed put, wanted and did 1957-6x.

GW
Guest
GW
July 9, 2012 6:04 am

Odin’s Lost Eye: There was an airfield on Vis used by the Allies in WWII, but it’s unclear if it was used after the war, but in the region small planes and helicopters are in frequent use today, particularly for emergency medical lifts and firefighting. Tito could well have travelled by helicopter to the island. Some documentation is here: http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?176906-B-24-Liberator-wreck-found-near-Vis-Croatia

Jano
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Jano
July 9, 2012 8:53 am

Eva: My bad, my browser tricked me a little, thanks!

Jano
Guest
Jano
July 9, 2012 8:55 am

Btw, the link is already dead, at least for now. Also, I could have guessed, Népszava has always been the same trash as MN and MH on the other side.

Louis Kovach
Guest
July 9, 2012 9:40 am

Petrovics; “Anyone who believes ‘secret Soviet documents…released” needs their oil and water checked.”
The more you post about history,the more it becomes evident that you know very little about it.

Louis Kovach
Guest
July 9, 2012 9:46 am

Odin: The Soviets preferred Ferenc Munnich, Tito swayed them toward Kadar. Please note also that it was Munnich who steared Kadar into the Soviet hands near the end of the revolution.

Louis Kovach
Guest
July 9, 2012 9:53 am

Dr Balogh: I presume that you are familiar also with other writings of Csernok. There are balatant historical mistakes in all of his writings. It appears that he has a “journalistic” knowledge of recent and minimal, if any, of earlier history. There were numerous rebuttals of his statements before this article (even by historians!). He seems to ignore all criticism and repeat obviously incorrect facts.His writings indicate to me that he learned history from blogs.
But birds of a feather…and I draw my consequences from those also who are promoting him.

Guest
July 9, 2012 10:55 am

Louis is acting funny again …

Csernok (born in 1929) learned history from blogs ? Must have started late in his life …

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
Odin's Lost Eye
July 9, 2012 12:05 pm
G.W. Thanks for that data it confirms something I found near the village of Plisko Polje. This is a 3500 Ft grass strip starting at some 200 Ft wide and opening out to 4-500 Ft at its southern most end. The approach would have been on 230T from the Northern end. It would have been in use from 1943 onwards as a supply and emergency landing strip. My problem is ‘would it have still been usable in late 1956’? Joe Broz would have to had it maintained. If airstrip was serviceable could Khrushchev have flown from Moscow to Vis which is about 1200 Nm (a 2400 Nm round trip) in the Russian equivalent of the ‘Goony Bird’. If so then the author’s words are ‘Kosher’. If not then that part of the account is also suspect. It also seems that Tito (Joe Broz) and the Yugoslavs may have given Nagy asylum. It seems that Nagy was in a Yugoslav embassy transport when it was stopped by the Russians who took Nagy away without a word of protest from the Yugoslav ambassador who was with him. There is more to the death of Nagy (who became a martyr) and to the… Read more »
Louis Kovach
Guest
July 9, 2012 12:59 pm

wolfi: Show me his pre 2000 writings about historical events.

Louis Kovach
Guest
July 9, 2012 1:00 pm

Dr Balogh: I consider all those folks who uncritically publicise him in magazins, newspapers and blogs.

Louis Kovach
Guest
July 9, 2012 1:16 pm

Odins: They did not fly to Brioni!
“On the evening of 2 November 1956, a Soviet IL-14 landed in strict secrecy at
the small airport of Pula on Yugoslavia’s Adriatic coast, having just completed
a special charter flight from Romania. Aside from the few who had come to
meet the plane, no one suspected that it carried Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev,
first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet
Union (CC CPSU), and Grigorii Maksimilianovich Malenkov, CC CPSU
Presidium member and deputy chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers.
A car with a security guard was waiting to take them to the quay, where they
were transferred to a launch that, the violently choppy seas notwithstanding,
promptly set out for the island of Brijuni, where the president of Yugoslavia and
general secretary of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (Savez Komunista
Jugoslavije, SKJ), Josip Broz Tito, had a residence”

Furthermore, yoy have to watch who was considered what by the Stalinists. Both Gero and Munnich were activ in Spain and both were also considered good Muscovites.

Frank T. Csongos
Guest
Frank T. Csongos
July 9, 2012 3:00 pm

The internationally respected Hungarian historian Janos Rainer says it was not the Kremlin that wished to see Imre Nagy executed. Rainer says it was János Kádár who wanted him dead because as long as Nagy was alive he represented a challenge to the legitimacy of the Kadar regime. Nagy never formally resigned as prime minister. The Kremlin could have, however, prevented the execution by “pulling a Rakosi solution” — asking Kadar to turn Nagy over and exiling him deep inside the Soviet Union. That, however, did not happen.

Petofi1
Guest
Petofi1
July 9, 2012 4:05 pm

Louis Kovach :
Petrovics; “Anyone who believes ‘secret Soviet documents…released” needs their oil and water checked.”
The more you post about history,the more it becomes evident that you know very little about it.

Mr. Kovach/Kovacs….another perfect non sequitur: what was it about my post re Russia that made you think I know nothing of History? Sounds like one of your opinions posted
in the Hungarian fashion of an accusation.

I’m afraid I’ve accessed your facebook site (an error on your part), and I found your picture with the donkey as particularly telling….ahem.

Louis Kovach
Guest
July 9, 2012 4:32 pm

Petrovics: Re the Soviet originally secret data:
See:http://www.rev.hu/portal/page/portal/rev/tanulmanyok/1956/rmj2
Yeltsin brought the documents as a gift to Hungary.

I have always said that I am who I am. I do not hide behind false names, disguises or other misleading faces.

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