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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 31, July 24, 2010

Rehabilitation of Imre Nagy

Sunday 25 July 2010, by Subrata Sen


 Last month marked the the twentyfirst anniversary of the rehabilitation of Imre Nagy, the Hungarian PM who led a revolt against the Soviet domination of Hungary in 1956 and was hanged in disgrace. Remembering the infamous event and Nagy’s rehabilitation on June 16, 1989, we reproduce the following article that appeared in Nagpur Times on June 26, 1989. —Editor

In a sombre ceremony on June 16, the Hungarlan people could at last pay public homage to Imre Nagy and other martyrs of the 1957 uprising. Thirtyone years after he was hanged, the mortal remains of Nagy were removed from the unmarked grave and buried with full state honours in the Heroes Square at Budapest. An empty coffin symbolising the unknown heroes of the fiftyseven uprising was buried by his side. A memorlal, designed by Laszlo Rajk Jr., the son of the most prominent Hungarian victim of Stalin’s East European purges, is to be built over the tombs.

Son of poor peasants, Nagy joined the communist movement quite early. After the failure of the Communist attempt to set up a Hungarian Soviet Republic under the leadership of Bela Kunn in 1919, Nagy along with Kunn and others fled to the Soviet Union. Kunn perished in one of Stalin’s innumerable purges in the thirties. Nagy returned in the wake of the victorious Red Army, after the Second World War to become one of the two Communist Ministers in the coalition government in the “anti-Fascist democratic parties”. A decade later he was fated to become the tragic symbol of Hungarian resistance to Soviet tyranny. 

In response to the Cold War offensive of the United States, the Soviet occupation authorities ousted the democratic parties from East European governments and power was monopolised by the Communists. The “democratic parties” were forcibly dissolved. Matyas Rakosi became the Prime Minister of Hungary, with the dreaded chief of internal security, Erno Gero, as his deputy. Nagy went into relative oblivion.

In 1953, after Stalin’s death expressions of discontent made appearance in Hungary, particularly on the issue of rehabilitation of Laszio Rajk and other victims of Stalin’s East European purges of the late forties. Pushed into a tight corner, the Communist Party brought Nagy out of oblivion to become the Prime Minister. His tenure was, however, brief. He was soon replaced by the notorious Rakosi; who in his turn was replaced by the still more notorious Gero. Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU in 1956 led to a veritable upheaval in Hungary. Once again the Communist Party was compelled to call on Nagy to become the Prime Minister.

Demands Met

Nagy conceded much of the popular demands. Rajk and others were rehabilitated. Political prisoners were released. Bans on “democratic parties” were removed. Some of their leaders, recently released from prison, were inducted into Nagy’s Cabinet.

The uprising, however, did not show any sign of abetting. Spontaneously elected councils took over the running of factories and local adminis-tration. Irate mobs smashed Stalin’s statue and portraits everywhere. Some members of the dreaded special police AVO were lynched.

Panicky Khrushchev reverted back to the Stalinist tactics. The Soviet Army invaded Hungary in massive strength. Nagy announced Hungary’s unilateral withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and ordered the Soviet Army to quit. As the Army approached the capital Budapest, Nagy broadcast an appeal for help from the United Nations and then sought refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy.

Behind the Soviet lines, Yanos Kadar, a member of Nagy’s Cabinet, formed a new government and a new ruling party styled the Socialist Workers’ Party. Needless to add, all other parties, including the Communist Party, were dissolved.


After the Yugoslavs negotiated a safe conduct, Nagy attempted to return home. He was, however, arrested at the embassy gate. Months later, a statement from the Hungarian Ministry of Justice announced that Nagy has been tried for “Crimes against the State” and has been executed.

The execution of Nagy evoked sharp protests worldwide, particularly from the anti-Stalinist Left and the activists and intellectuals who had earlier left the European and American Communist Parites in protest against the Russian invasion of Hungary. Even in this country, the execution had its impact.

The Kerala State Committee of the Communist Party of India, in a resolution, requested the Central Committee to protest against the execution. They even made the resolution public without waiting for the Central Committee to act. The Maharashtra State Committee of the Revolutionary Socialist Party organised an angry demonstration before the Soviet Consulate in Bombay.

Diehard Stalinists with their hardened conscience were, however, not swayed. The Central Committee of the CPI publicy rebuked the Kerala State Committee; in a statement issued at Bombay, S.A. Dange said that he can understand certain people’s moral objection to capital punishment as such, but he cannot understand the protests against Imre Nagy’s execution. In Calcutta, the SUCI chief, Shibdas Ghosh, wrote that if in human history anybody has ever deserved capital punishment it was Imre Nagy. No honest Communist can condemn Nagy’s execution, just because the norms of popular democracy have not been observed—was Ghosh’s emphatic assertion.

With the certainty of the help from the Soviet Army not being available in a future conflict looming large, the Hungarian rulers are now busy placating the people. A pluralistic election has been promised for 1990. In a resolution on June 2, the Central Committee of the SWP has paid tribute to Nagy as an honest Communist and a symbol of reform. Two members of the CC, accused of personally participating in the torture of Nagy and other prisoners, have been removed in disgrace. The Hungarian parliament, with only one abstention, has amended the law on “Crimes against the State” to remove the provision of capital punishment.

Shibdas Ghosh is no longer with us but S.A. Dange is there and would have the opportunity of repenting at leisure. Fortunately for the disciples of Dange and Ghosh, the happenings in China have pushed the news from Hungary out of the headlines. Serious students of history would, however, take note of the news from Budapest and regard it as portent of things to come, even in China. As Abraham Lincoln said long long ago, you can fool all people for some time and some people for all time but you cannot fool all people for all time.

(Courtesy: Nagpur Times)


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