Title Photo: Gabor B. Racz Hungarian Revolution. Photo: Gabor B. Racz/Wikimedia Commons. No changes made. View the license here.
By: Bailey Campbell
The events of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe left a lasting impact in the region. As they affected several countries, many felt the impacts of these events in distinct ways. Contrary to popular belief, some scholars argue that globalization in Central and Eastern Europe did not start after 1989 but before. According to Vladimir Tismaneanu, the causes of 1989 can be attributed to insurmountable inner tensions. The Leninist systems were not working properly within the region, and this led to a solution that did not involve a communist regime. It is evident that there are many causes for the revolutions of 1989, given the fact that each country has a unique history of its own.
In the case of Hungary, there are intriguing events in its history that happened prior to 1989. Much before 1989, Hungary had already created a new culture that introduced globalization to the nation, specifically to the younger citizens in the country. This strategy became known as “global socialism. This approach, along with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, is what makes the situation leading up to 1989 in Hungary unique when comparing it to the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. James Mark and Péter Apor argue that “global socialism” was used by the Hungarian state in an attempt to influence the younger generation that had not experienced the hardships of pre-socialist life.The goal was to create a “second generation of socialist citizens to develop new political subjectivities at home.” The state made use of methods such as mass media, intellectual journals, solidarity movements, etc., to accomplish this. The government also relied on utilizing ongoing conflicts from the Third World as examples—specifically countries from Africa and Latin America—to expose the struggles that were encountered in non-socialist and revolutionary states, in hopes that the Hungarian citizens would think of how much better they had it in their home country.
Victoria Harms argues that the revolutions of 1956 and 1989 were “inextricably entangled.”Harms partly bases this argument on the ceremonial funeral held on June 16th, 1989 for Imre Nagy, the leader of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Nagy passed away on June 16th, 1958, after being executed for fighting for the Hungarian cause. Harms emphasizes the fact that these two revolutionary moments, in 1956 and 1989, can be associated with one another due to the way they were represented and connected on that particular day at Nagy’s funeral.In 1989, exactly 31 years after the Hungarian revolution, Prime Minister Imre Nagy was finally able to be celebrated for his battle along with other important figures. Thus, this moment brought together the revolutions of 1956 and 1989, demonstrating how the collapse of communism in 1989 had been on the agenda of Hungarian civil society and dissidents for quite some time. We must therefore ask ourselves whether the revolution of 1956, along with other factors, such as the globalization encouraged by the Hungarian government, had an influence on the events that took place in Hungary in 1989.
Mark Beissinger argues that one must take into consideration factors such as nationalism when analyzing the events of 1989 and the collapse of communism. If not taken into consideration, he states that various critical issues will be missed when forming an analysis. For instance, Beissinger explains that a “critical mobilizational dimension of politics” will be overlooked if nationalism is not studied, as nationalist sentiments are what provoked citizens to mobilize, by either attempting to flee from their native country or revolt against the state. However, this paper will not focus on a nationalist point of view, but rather on a more progressive and anti-regime standpoint of Hungarian reformers.
The question this paper aims to answer is how the new decolonized and globalized younger generation of Hungarians and the revolution of 1956 contributed to the events in the year 1989. This article will analyze the causes of 1989, focusing on the Hungarian case and what contributed to these events. It will also analyze the effects of “global socialism,” or “socialist internationalism,” brought on by the state in the 1950s, and how these state-led initiatives could have influenced 1989. The paper will further examine whether there is a correlation between these two events in Hungarian history, given their peculiar timing: the implementation of socialist internationalism by the state and the 1956 revolution being approximately 30 years prior to 1989. Finally, I will also take into consideration the effects of the 1956 revolution, and the possibilities of it being intertwined with the internationalism brought on by the state given the proximity in years.
The paper will be divided into three sections in order to properly demonstrate the various factors that are involved in how the events of 1989 unfolded, and then to analyze how they have come into play in the Hungarian situation. The first section will analyze the specifics of “global socialism” in Hungary, how it has affected different aspects of its history, and what it essentially entailed. The second part will give an overview on how the 1956 revolution affected the outcome of 1989, and will also touch upon how “global socialism” was taking place during the Hungarian revolution. Finally, the last section of this research paper will look in depth at the history of 1989 and the specifics of the Hungarian context, particularly analyzing how “global socialism” in Hungary affected the events in 1989.
Effects of “Global Socialism” in Hungary
We must first begin by understanding how “global socialism” in Hungary affected the state and its citizens. Fred Halliday states that three main elements need to be analyzed when looking into the factors, causes, consequences, etc., of 1989. He explains that, firstly, one must establish a historical record, taking into consideration the global context and “national specificity of the events of  and adjacent years.” Halliday’s second element is identifying international and transnational points of connection, such as environmental influences, international war, economic crisis, or ideological upheaval. The final aspect one must consider is recognizing “the degree to which systemic crisis had contradictory effects, and of how far.” Halliday explains how there are key causes that have been deeply studied in regards to why the Soviet Union collapsed and the events of 1989 happened. However, in his article, Halliday concerns himself mostly with the role of the Third World in the collapse of the Soviet Union. He states that this particular dimension, associated with economic burdens, is a large factor that explains 1989, despite it being far less studied.
In James Mark and Péter Apor’s article, “Socialism Goes Global: Decolonization and the Making of a New Culture of Internationalism in Socialist Hungary, 1956–1989,” the authors go into detail about the global context described by Halliday, also touching upon the Third World. The Hungarian government relied greatly on Third World revolutions to demonstrate to the younger generation that there was a “bright global future for socialism,” where not only the state but the youth as well could interact with the world.However, what is peculiar about this introduction to the Third World in Hungary in the 1950s is that approximately ten years after its launch, the state was forced to take a step back in their strategy of the promotion globalization to the younger population. Mark and Apor state in their article that:
Internationalism and solidarity with the Third World that at the beginning of the decade had been seen as a cure for the ideological ills of Hungarian youth now appeared to elites to have become a problem in itself. In the late 1960s, party leaders professed themselves concerned with the growing fascination for “revolutionary romanticism” stoked by the struggle in Vietnam, the expansion of guerrilla warfare in Latin America, and increasing Western radicalism.
The government felt forced to take a different approach in an attempt to circumvent the fascination with the revolutionary causes in the Third World. The state did this by using different models from their nationalist past. For instance, in 1965 they began holding a week-long event of revolutionary youth days. This was a new holiday which celebrated socialist patriotism, moving away from its international connections and tendencies from the past. The state attempted to demonstrate to the youth that it saw the importance of revolutions, but in a way that deterred the youth from revolting in their own country. Therefore, this illustrates how the government was aware of the influence their global socialist policy had on the youth and the possible damage that could come out of this situation. The policies that the state implemented were what introduced the young people of Hungary to radical protests in the first place.
Hungary 1989 university Protest. Photo: FOTO:FORTEPAN / tm. No changes made. View the license here.
Despite Hungary’s failed attempt to globalize their youth to promote the support of socialism within the country, the Hungarian state continued to engage in foreign interactions later on. Nonetheless, these relations were only between governments and did not involve any citizens. For example, in the 1970s, Hungary passed a legislation to further the country’s foreign direct investments. This allowed Hungary to become the largest per capita beneficiary of foreign direct investment in the Eastern European region during the 1990s. Therefore, from the 1950s to the collapse of communism in 1989, Hungary continuously opened its country to different types of globalization and foreign connections. Regardless of the fact that this attempt at globalization did not accomplish what the state had hoped for, these interactions had a lasting impact on the country’s future.
The 1956 Revolution
The following section will analyze the impact of the 1956 revolution on the events of 1989 in Hungary. Given that this revolution is unique to Hungary, it had a specific impact on the country and the events that followed post-revolution in 1956. Events such as this demonstrate how in spite of the fact that the revolutions of 1989 were experienced throughout Central and Eastern Europe, there are still elements that are unique to a particular state that come into play.
In his book, Árpád von Klimó highlights a very relevant quote by the Finnish historian Heino Nyyssönen who states that “1956 was resurrected in 1989 and was part of the change of system.” This can be clearly seen through the memorial ceremonies in 1989 for Imre Nagy, who was the prime minster of Hungary during the 1956 revolution. The ceremony was the most important and biggest rally of the year 1989. Nagy quickly became deemed a “national martyr.” The revolution of 1956, which at the time was seen as a counterrevolutionary act, is now a revolution, a moment in history that was seen as a fight for the people of Hungary and their freedom. Although the revolution of 1956 was perceived differently by every person who experienced it within the region, a brief general overview of events will be provided for better context. The first demonstration of the revolution started on October 23rd, 1956, where students gathered to protest the Soviet regime.On this day, a large Stalin memorial was sent toppling down in an act of opposition. On the 31st of October, Prime Minister Imre Nagy announced that there would no longer be a single-party system. However, this did not last long, since on the 4th of November of that same year, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary to put an end to the demonstrations and uprisings. Although the revolution officially ended within twelve days, it was not until 1963 that the violence ended and a general amnesty was announced, finally bringing some peace to the country.
Civilians in 1956 around a Soviet assault cannon on Fecske Street. Photo:FORTEPAN / Nagy Gyula. No changes made. View license here
On November 7th, 1956, János Kádár officially took over power and became Hungary’s Prime Minister. He was responsible for re-establishing communist authority within the country and rebuilding the broken Hungarian economy. These undertakings proved quite difficult for Kádár as there was heavy opposition within civil society. One of the largest resistance groups in Hungary at the time was the Hungarian Writer’s Union, which included associations such as the Academy of Sciences, the Union of Musicians, and the Hungarian Press Agency. On November 12th, 1956, the Union published a formal statement declaring their opposition to the Soviet regime and the recent Soviet intervention.
This opposition within civil society demonstrates how the citizens were determined to gain freedom and democracy within the country. Despite not gaining it in 1956, they persevered to finally gain these rights in 1989. Paul Lendvai states that “[o]ver the unforgettable scene [of 1956] hung an air of mourning. But there was also a menacing determination never to give up the freedoms now being gained.” It is quite evident that during the events of 1989, the 1956 revolution was not forgotten. Those who hoped for democracy and a multiparty system in 1956 would be even more eager for this in 1989. We also must not forget that the youth who were targeted by the government in the 1950s would have experienced the revolution of 1956 in their youth and 1989 in their adulthood. Thus, it is important to recognize that the 1956 revolution and “global socialism” brought on by the Hungarian state worked in tandem to create an opposing civil society to support the democratic transition in 1989.
History of 1989 in Hungary
This final section will explain the factors that came into play during 1989 in the Hungarian context, focusing on how the causes of the events of 1989 and “global socialism” go hand in hand. There are major reasons as to why 1989 happened in Central and Eastern Europe. Vladimir Tismaneanu outlines these causes in his article “The Revolutions of 1989: Causes, Meanings, Consequences.” There are events that were felt all over the region, regardless of the country. For instance, the “Gorbachev effect,” named after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was felt throughout Central and Eastern Europe. His implementation of new policies such as glasnost and perestroika were a large part of this effect. Glasnost was known as “openness to criticism” and perestroika as a hope for “deep renewal of all aspects of national life.” These policies were put in place by Gorbachev as he hoped to deeply reorganize almost all aspects of Soviet social, political, and economic life, including changes to the ideology. As Gorbachev allowed for criticism within the media, and public and private spheres of life, this opened up a large possibility for dissidence within not only Russia, but all of the Soviet Union. Therefore, Tismaneanu argues that due to the increase in dissidence, civil society had a significant impact in the events leading up to 1989 revolutions.
Hungary, Budapest, 1989 Fortepan. Photo: FOTO:FORTEPAN / tm/Wikimedia Commons. No changes made. View the license here.
It is obvious that these policies would have been well received in Hungary, due to the revolution in 1956, which clearly demonstrates that dissidence existed even before glasnost and perestroika. Tismaneanu also highlights how 1989 was not just a simple revolution seeking a change in leadership, but something much deeper than that, as it “attacked the very foundations of the existing systems and proposed a complete reorganization of society.” The author also quotes one of the works of Timothy Garton Ash who believes that the revolutions of 1989 can be seen as “moral resurrections,” stating that public intellectuals, such as Václav Havel and Adam Michnik, were key players in the fall of communism. However, it is important to stress that it was not only this higher intellectual elite that had an influence on these events, but Hungarians that belonged to lower levels of society as well.
Throughout the 1980s, Hungary did not find itself in the best economic position. By 1989, it was very difficult for the majority of Hungarians to make ends meet, gaining on average a monthly wage of 160 dollars.Not only were they not earning enough money, there was also a housing shortage. Despite the state’s efforts to build new housing complexes, they failed to place citizens in new buildings and did not invest in a sufficient amount of new constructions to keep up with the demand. As there was a lack of economic output during this period, due to the fact that Hungarians had little to no money to spend, the government felt the consequences as they lost parts of their income as well. In order to try to counterbalance the loss of state funds, they began to decrease spending on welfare programs, such as public health services. This is an important element to consider when taking into account the influence of Hungary’s younger generation during the 1980s. Minton Goldman proves this statement in the following quotation:
Social stratification increased popular pessimism about the future. Hungarian youth for several decades had been virtually frozen in the class of their parents, unable to move upward, and were frustrated in their dreams of a better life. With poor living conditions and a bleak outlook for the future, the suicide rate, alcoholism, and drug abuse soared. Disillusionment eventually turned into hard-line opposition to communism.
Civil society cannot be overlooked when taking into consideration the causes of 1989 in Hungary. In fact, in their book 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe, James Mark, Bogdan C. Iacob, Tobias Rupprecht, and Ljubica Spaskovska argue that 1989 was not the beginning of a new globalized Central and Eastern Europe but rather the continuation of its path of globalization that it had previously already seen historically. They state how in many countries there were several attempts at globalization before 1989. Thus, in lieu of being seen as a new revolution, 1989 can also be viewed as the continuation of an event that had been attempted in years past, specifically from around the 1960s. If one analyzes Hungarian history, it is evident that several different events influenced the Hungarian fall of communism in 1989, particularly the revolution of 1956 and the state-led “global socialism” which took place throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. The authors continue by stating the following:
Too often the role of the West in the transition has been overplayed to the detriment of other global connections that shaped Eastern Europe before and after 1989. The failure to remember earlier linkages with the Global South may have been in part because of their association with a socialist internationalism demonised after 1989. Yet they were indeed important. The global interconnectedness of socialist culture, at the level of everyday interactions and elite contacts, had been to a large extent a result of the global processes unleashed by postwar decolonisation.
Hence, it is crucial that Hungary’s past not be forgotten when discussing the topic of 1989. Many who participated in “global socialism” still felt those effects years later, allowing their legacy to live on in the 1970s and 1980s. Hungarians were making connections with other world regions much before 1989 and not only with Europe and North America. For instance, this type of globalization and introduction to other regions of the world can be seen especially in the case of the Chilean revolution. Mark and Apor explain how the Hungarian government encountered difficulties in their attempts to properly portray a message regarding the Chilean revolution to the Hungarian youth during their implementation of the global socialist policies. Hungarian elites became intrigued by many aspects of the revolution in Chile. The revolution had a unique relationship with the global political and economic system. In the 1960s, Hungary began to see the benefits of opening their market to the Western world, believing that socialist and capitalist systems could work together. However, it was difficult to explain to the youth that it could be beneficial to open the economy to capitalism while still promoting socialism.
The Hungarian youth interpreted the events in Chile differently than the Hungarian state did. According to Mark and Apor, the Chilean revolution reactivated the “hopes of a progressive wing of a younger generation” in Hungary. The youth of Hungary had begun movements in the past. Between 1968 and 1973, the Communist Youth League protested in various cities, such as Budapest, Debrecen, and Szeged, for democratization in universities and to end the stagnation in social mobility. Although the Communist Youth League had protested in the past, the Chilean revolution was the first foreign event that the members took interest in. In December 1971, at the Eighth Communist Youth congress, they encouraged new learning activities to be incorporated in their organization throughout the country, hoping to promote a peaceful way to transition from socialism. Mark and Apor give a testimony of a student, Ferenc Redő, who was a member of the Eötvös Loránd University Communist Youth reform movement. He said the following:
It was very interesting for us. Because then I imagined that there wouldn’t have to be “world revolution”—this was clear for everyone! [laughs]. That a majority of [the Chilean] people had voted for change … and had been able to create their socialist change of direction in this way—that was very inspiring, and it brought out the fight in me, that perhaps you could do something successfully “by the rules.”
Therefore, the youth of Hungary—under the influence of the state-promoted globalization in the 1950s and 1960s—demanded a transition to a multiparty system. Approximately 30 to 40 years later, this was possible. This paper argues that there is a direct correlation between the events of 1989 and this state-led globalization. These young Hungarians were able to grow older, educate themselves, and possibly join the Hungarian elite.
One may argue that the democratic transitions in 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe were due to other external factors, as this did not happen only in Hungary but in other countries across the region. However, this argument can be challenged. Even though the events of 1989 happened in multiple countries, one key difference with the Hungarian case is how it transitioned to a multiparty system: the transition was led by the elite. Through roundtable talks, the communist elites and the opposition helped bring in a multiparty democracy. In other countries, the transition was not as democratic. For instance, Romania needed a violent revolution in order to remove their dictator from office, and other countries, such as Czechoslovakia and the GDR, transitioned only after increased social pressure. Thus, this increased participation of the elite and the desire of a multiparty system in Hungary could, without doubt, have been influenced by the state-led globalization of previous years. By trying to convince their youth that socialism was indeed a good system, the government possibly assisted in contributing to its own demise.
To conclude, it is evident that the transitions to democracy in 1989 were caused by the opposing civil society and historical national sentiments. However, in the Hungarian context, these causes can be seen as a large part of the rapid and relatively simple transition to a multiparty system—a peaceful transition that was not necessarily seen in all Central and Eastern European countries.
“Global socialism” is a complex phenomenon. Even though it was experienced in various socialist countries, the situation in Hungary was unique. While many other countries chose to promote foreign interaction between their citizens and other socialist countries—for instance Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union—Hungary allowed for interaction outside of the socialist sphere. Hungarian youth were introduced to a unique way of thinking, one that ultimately failed with regards to the state’s goals. When one looks back at Hungarian history, the fact that the youth overly embraced internationalism does not seem surprising. Nowadays, the younger generation can usually be recognized as the most progressive and forward-thinking in a society, as the older generations are less likely to embrace change.
Nonetheless, it is still important to recognize how all of civil society can have an impact on the country when it comes together as one. The revolution of 1956 is a prime example. Despite the fact that Hungary did not immediately transition to a democracy, there was still some compromise. For instance, this can be seen after the 1956 revolution, when Prime Minister Kádár negotiated with the Central Workers’ Council of Greater Budapest (KMT). The members were able to receive wage and management concessions prior to Kádár using repressive practices a month later.
As the revolution of 1956 and the implementation of state-led globalization occurred within the same period, they both had an equally large impact on the outcome of 1989 in Hungary. The 1956 revolution’s effects were far more evident and sudden, as this event occurred in a distinct timeframe and it was an event recognized worldwide. However, the influence that “global socialism” had from the 1950s to the 1960s was far less evident. It is difficult to assess the long-term impact it could have had on 1989, but given certain events that took place directly after its implementation, such as the protests for Vietnam and Chile, it is feasible to conclude that the youths who experienced this globalization could have influenced 1989 by being part of the civil society.
In the present day, Hungary finds itself in a very different state than post-1989. As Viktor Orbán begins his eleventh year as Hungarian Prime Minister, there have been significant changes in the state affairs. The country, now considered an illiberal democracy, shows similarities to an authoritarian regime. The world once again has eyes on Hungary as it did in 1956 and 1989. Many are experiencing increasing fears for what is to come in Hungary’s future as Orbán continues to implement controlling and undemocratic policies. One can only hope that the Hungarian citizens will come together once again as they did in the past to fight for their country and for their own rights and freedoms.
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