Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Foreign Non-Intervention: Soviet Invasion of Hungary, 1956

on February 25, 2022

In light of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, it seems appropriate to remind people that Russian Premier Nikita Krushchev invaded Hungary in 1956 in a similar way when the Imre Nagy regime began to institute democratic reforms and pull away from the Soviet Union.

On October 22, 1956, student protests began in Budapest, and a list of sixteen demands were adopted which included the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary, free elections, free speech, workers’ rights, and a multi-party political system. By 6:00 pm, 200,000 to 300,000 people had joined the protest. At 9:30 pm, the statue of Stalin was overturned.

The next night, around 9:00 pm, tear gas bombs were thrown into the crowd of protestors, and State Security Police (AVH) began firing into the crowd. A number of people were killed and wounded. The infuriated crowd attacked other AVH police who arrived wearing white doctors’ coats. At first, Hungarian forces came to the aid of the AVH and then sided with the protestors.

In other parts of Budapest, workers drove through the city, snatching up weapons and firearms wherever they could find them. Many soldiers voluntarily gave over their firearms to the protestors.

In the early hours of October 24th, protestors seized and occupied the Radio Building and then were driven out. Again, AVH police fired into a crowd of unarmed protestors, further infuriating the people. Armed protestors fought back against the AVH and seized the newspaper building. At 2:00 am, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest.

The important thing to understand is that the Soviet Union had already been planning to invade Hungary before the protests began. The invasion was intended to overthrow Premier Imre Nagy’s government and to install a more cooperative Soviet puppet in his place.

Neither the United Nations nor the United States intervened to help the people of Hungary, before, during, or after the invasion. And, so far, this is holding true for the people of Ukraine.

~

Immanuel Kant, the United Nations, and International Law

Philosopher Immanuel Kant, who despaired in his lifetime that “there [was] no reliable or effective international authority” to prevent war, could not foresee that in the future there would exist the League of Nations and then the United Nations. These organizations arose in the aftermath of World War I and World War II to provide a forum for nations to come together and discuss their differences in order to prevent world war.  The United Nations, in my opinion, has not been very effective in dealing with international conflicts. It does, however, have a good track record of attempting to provide humanitarian aid to countries wracked by internal conflict and natural disasters.

“The UN Charter recognizes self-defense as the only legitimate use of force (although only until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to ensure international peace and security, Article 51)” (Brown, 2018, pg. 209). And since the time of Kant, we have established “the Law of Armed Conflict (also known as International Humanitarian Law), that is, the Geneva and Hague Treaties and the accompanying Protocols” (Brown, 2018, pg. 209). The international community has come together to set rules to limit and prevent war. But, the United Nations and other organizations seem very ineffective. Conflicts never seem to get resolved, and human rights abuses continue without redress. Situations drag on for years with no resolution, leading to a different kind of war – prolonged conflict.

Michael Walzer’s Arguments against Foreign Intervention

Just war theorist Michael Walzer believes that nations have autonomy to decide for themselves, regardless of the form of government they have embraced. “Outsiders are obliged to assume that whatever form of government exists reflects the wishes of the people concerned; even if pro-democracy movements are suppressed, as long as the society has not collapsed into civil war and insurrection, it has to be presumed that there is a ‘fit’ between government and people . . . the only real circumstances in which outsiders would be entitled (although not obliged) to intervene would be in the case of genocide or mass enslavement” (Brown, 2018, pg.211).

Clearly, the Hungarian people wanted their freedom and were prepared to fight and die to get it. Clearly, Premier Imre Nagy tried to institute reforms, limit the Soviet Union’s influence in Hungary, and create a free Hungarian State. Clearly, there was no “fit” between the Hungarian people and their Soviet oppressors. From Walzer’s point of view, then, the Hungarian people were exercising their right to autonomy, and the United States should have offered assistance if our leaders were sincere about fighting totalitarianism and helping oppressed people to gain their freedom. Since the Voice of America had been broadcasting this message to the Hungarian people and “approximately 30,000 Hungarian refugees were allowed to enter the United States” (History, 2021, pg. 3), President Dwight D. Eisenhower should have offered some sort of assistance. To just stand by and offer sympathy was hypocritical.

And where was the United Nations in all of this? I have found no indication that the United Nations tried to intervene. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1957 that the UN compiled a report on the Soviet invasion of Hungary and its causes. According to the report, “Consideration of the Hungarian question by the United Nations was legally proper and paragraph 7 of Article 2 of the Charter does not justify objections to such consideration. A massive armed intervention by one Power on the territory of another with the avowed intention of interfering in its internal affairs must, by the Soviet Union’s own definition of aggression, be a matter of international concern” (United Nations, 1957, pg. 31).

The United Nations Special Committee determined, after the fact, that the Hungarian national uprising was spontaneous in nature, with Hungarians wanting to be free of Soviet oppression and rule; the protestors demanded an independent, democratic socialist government; the protest occurred in reaction to Poland’s efforts to gain independence from the Soviet Union; the Soviets were already making plans for an armed invasion as early as October 20, 1956; the initial protests of October 23, 1956 were peaceful until the AVH (State Security Police) opened fire onto the crowds; rumors circulated that Nagy had requested help from the Soviets, which turned out to be false; rumors also circulated that Kadar had requested Soviet troop intervention during the second round of protests, which turned out to be false; the real power was in the hands of the Revolutionary and Workers’ Councils – not Nagy; after the first few days of freedom, freedom of speech was established, with the support of the people; reported lynchings and beatings were carried out by members of the AVH (State Security Police); negotiations were conducted between the Nagy government and the Soviet Union for full withdrawal; the Workers’ Councils began initiating the reforms demanded by the people and life was returning to normal; the Hungarian people’s human rights “were violated by the Hungarian Governments before 23 October, especially up to the autumn of 1955, and such violations have been resumed since 4 November” (United Nations, 1957, pg. 31); Hungarian citizens were deported to the U.S.S.R. in order to suppress the uprising; Hungarians showed no support for the Kadar government, which reinstated Soviet-style repression and totalitarianism and put elections on hold; negotiations on Soviet troop withdrawals were suspended; and 190,000 Hungarians sought asylum in other countries, with most refusing to return (United Nations, 1957, pg. 31).

The Hungarian people had chosen freedom and the kind of government they wanted, and their newly-won liberation was subverted by outsiders who would not intervene after “Budapest Radio broadcast its last message before going off the air . . . an appeal to the writers and scientists of the world to help the people of Hungary” (United Nations, 1957, pg. 26). But this aligns with Walzer’s philosophy of limitations on foreign intervention, to the detriment of the Hungarian people.  And that means that I cannot agree with him.

What Role could the U.S. have Played in Hungary

It is clear from the United Nations report that the Soviet Union was preparing for the invasion as early as October 20, 1956. And it is possible, although not proven, that the Soviets had planned for Kadar to replace Nagy from the beginning. I believe Nagy and the members of the Revolutionary and Workers’ Councils were naive in thinking that the Soviets would give up Hungary without a fight. As soon as the Hungarians achieved their liberation, they should have consulted the United Nations, and the leaders of the United States and Europe, for help in keeping it. Instead, Nagy waited until November 1, 1956, when Soviet troops had already crossed the border into Hungary, to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and to notify embassies located in Budapest and the United Nations of the situation. He specifically requested “the aid of the four Great Powers in defense of Hungary’s Neutrality . . . [and appealed] to our neighbors, countries near and far, to respect the unalterable decision of our people” (United Nations, 1957, pg. 25). By this time, there was no time for either the United Nations or the United States to stop the Soviet invasion (United Nations, 1957, pg. 18-31).

The Risks of War with the Soviet Union

If the United Nations and the United States (and the “four Great Powers”) had been involved in the negotiations with the Soviet Union, urging a complete troop withdrawal from Hungary, the Soviet Union might have backed down or delayed taking any action against Hungary. But this also risked getting the “four Great Powers” involved in another major conflict, one few could afford after World War II.

What Measures, if any, could have been Aimed at the Soviet Union?

Economic sanctions and isolation are about the only measures the United Nations could have taken to pressure the Soviet Union into leaving Hungary. Under pressure from the United States, the United Nations General Assembly passed several resolutions early in 1957, demanding the Soviets avoid all military offensives against the Hungarian people; withdrawal of  all troops from Hungarian soil; restoration of the legitimate government chosen by the Hungarian people; establishment of free elections; the end of deportations to the U.S.S.R.; and permission for UN officials to go into Hungary to assess and observe the situation (Harrison, 2012, pg. 3).

Unfortunately, the resolutions could not be enforced, but Soviet expansion was stalled by public pressure, Kadar’s government was not given official recognition, and Hungary lost its membership in the United Nations. Ultimately, the non-compliance of the Soviet Union with these UN resolutions led to the creation of the United Nations Special Committee that compiled the report. This Special Committee submitted public protests against the execution of Nagy in 1958 and kept the Hungary issue on the UN agenda because of its continued maltreatment and human rights abuses of the Hungarian people (Harrison, 2012, pg. 3).

At the same time, the United States and the Soviet Union were attempting to improve relations, and the Hungarian situation became less important as the Soviets convinced other countries to look the other way. On December 20, 1962, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to drop the Hungary situation altogether (Harrison, 2012, pg. 4).

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

November 29, 2021; updated February 24, 2022

Copyright 2021-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Brown, C. (2018). Michael walzer (1935-present). In D.R. Brunstetter & C. O’Driscoll (Eds.),

       Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (205-215). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

Harrison. (2012). United nations report on the hungarian uprising 1956. Libcom. Retrieved from

       http://www.libcom.org/history/united-nations-report-hungarian-uprising-1956

History, The Editors. (2019). This day in history: Soviets put a brutal end to hungarian

       revolution. History. Retrieved from

       http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soviets-put-brutal-end-to-hungarian-revolution

United Nations Special Committee. (1957). Report of the un special committee on the

       problem of hungary (compiled 1957). Libcom. Retrieved from http://www.libcom.org


23 responses to “Foreign Non-Intervention: Soviet Invasion of Hungary, 1956

  1. kvbclarke says:

    Thank you for this. I was a tiny child when this happened and of course, I didn’t get this in any of my history classes. With appreciation. Kathryn

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Well written and very informative.Thanks.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. markone1blog says:

    Likewise, don’t forget about Putin’s actions against Georgia and Crimea during the Obama administration.

    In 2008, Putin invaded and occupied portions of Georgia. In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travelled to Russia with a red button labelled with a poorly-translated version of the Russian word for “reset.” So, never mind the stories about Putin wanting to reconsitute the USSR — Barack Obama’s America wants to ignore that all and “reset” relations with Mother Russia.
    You see, the Cold War was “so 1980’s.” President Skinny-Pants wanted to move on. He wanted to believe that this Russian Bear had filed his fangs (and that was good enough for him). In his mind, Vlad was no longer Vlad.Therefore, when Vlad saw that President Cool Pants was’nt tripping over the moves on the former Soviet state of Georgia, he started making plans. Likewise, when the world heard that America was cool with the Russians starting to rebuild the USSR, they fall in line with that thinking and start cozying up to Russia.Fast forward to Obama’s re-election debates against Mitt Romney. When asked what the existential threat to America is, Romney (thinking of the aggression displayed against Georgia by Putin) responds with “Russia.” Obama, who had his part in sending over that “reset” button, mocked that correct answer with “The 1980’s have called and asked for their foreign policy back.”During that same re-election campaign, Obama was caught on a hot mike talking to Russian President Medvedev saying, “Tell Vlad I’ll be more flexible after the election.”At that point, it is beyond me why our press could not ask “Why do you, Mr. President, a socialist-leaning Democrat in your last election, need more flexibility? For what? What is Vlad pressuring you on that you need flexibilty?” However, it was the 2012 election cycle and the press obviously did not want to do anything that might disadvantage Obama, since the press is not the press, but is the Communications Arm of the Democrat cult (but I digress).Then, surprise, in 2013, Vlad starts the invasion of Crimea (ultimately completing his objective in 2014). Never mind that the US, the USSR, Britian, and other countries had signed an agreement saying that Russia would not invade Ukraine if the Ukrainians gave up their 5,000 nuclear weapons. Never mind that America and the other Western countries had agreed to defend Ukraine. All that President Skinny Pants would send was blankets and food (while they begged for ammunition and munitions).
    Fast forward once more to 2021. First, Biden (#NotMyPresiden) strengthens Russia by weakening the American oil industry through numerous actions (reducing drilling on federal lands that Obama took over, stopping bids on offshore drilling, cutting piplelines, …). Next, strengthens Russia by removing sanctions against Iran and Russia. Next, he removes impediments against the Nord Stream 2. Next, he stops an Israeli pipeline to Europe.Putin again invades Ukraine. Biden does next to nothing.Biden could have opened up our drilling and supplied Europe with oil. Biden could have shut off the spigots from Russia.He could have imposed sanctions against Putin (like Trump did). He could have shut off the SWIFT banking. He could have sanctioned Neftegas (or any of Russia’s oil/gas companies).

    Liked by 1 person

    • markone1blog says:

      Sorry about the length, but the formatting dropped.

      Can you tell I am just a bit pissed about this?

      Liked by 1 person

    • I hope the American people see how desperately the Ukrainians are fighting – and willing to die – for their FREEDOM. They do not want totalitarianism, Communism, or Soviet-style repression. People in Russia and other places are protesting. PEOPLE WANT TO BE FREE. President Trump understood how to handle despots. Obama and Biden never did and still don’t.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. The essay is well done, very precise and neutral. You want to tell us something with it, don’t you?

    Liked by 4 people

  5. utahan15 says:

    hegemony and ssr s .. the past is the present how awful. to be there.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. elvira797mx says:

    Dawn thanks for share, very insteresting post.
    Have a wonderful weekend!
    Take care.
    Elvira

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Americaoncoffee says:

    I agree with your shared pov Dawn.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. cindy knoke says:

    We need to remember Nazi Germany’s attack on Checkoslokia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! There is nothing stopping Putin from attacking Poland next.

      Like

      • auntyuta says:

        I think, it is not hard to understand, that from the Russians point of view, it is of the utmost importance, that they create all around Russia sufficient buffer zones in order to secure Russian borders as much as possible.

        They are very powerful country now! this gives them the means for securing all their borders!

        I think they are not out for any wars: They just want to b e able to keep securing all their borders!

        All people, that study history objectively, should find it obvious, why the Russians, with Putin as their leader, right now act the way they do!

        Hasn’t the West fed them lie upon lie? I don’t see, why they should have any reason to trust us!

        Liked by 2 people

  9. balladeer says:

    Very timely food for thought!

    Liked by 2 people

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