23 October 1956: Hungarian Revolution starts

On this day in 1956, security forces in Hungary attacked protesters who were demanding reforms from the government of Matyas Rakosi.

Hungarian revolution, 1956
Hungarians were tired of Soviet rule
(Image credit: © Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

From 1928 until his death in March 1953, Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union and its satellites with ruthless brutality. When Nikita Khrushchev took over later that year, he eased up on the purges, while setting up the Warsaw Pact, binding Soviet-occupied countries in eastern and central Europe to the USSR. In February 1956, Khrushchev made a speech to top party officials criticising Stalin's methods, sparking hope of further change.

But with anti-communist feeling running high, protesters in Poland demanded the reinstatement of a less hardline leader who had previously been removed. Protests for similar reforms followed in Hungary. And on 23 October, security forces attacked protestors, killing a student. This merely inflamed the situation and the protests escalated. Many police officers switched sides.

That night Hungarian leader Matyas Rakosi requested help from Soviet troops, but was forced to resign the next day in favour of Imre Nagy. The Hungarian army united behind the protestors and Soviet troops had to withdraw from the capital. Although a communist, Nagy realised the population wanted an end to the system, so he announced that Hungary would leave the Warsaw Pact and demanded that Soviet troops withdraw from Hungary.

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The Soviet response was brutal. Tanks rolled into the country and by 11 November Hungary was back under Soviet control. At least 2,500 Hungarians were killed. Nagy was arrested and executed in June 1958, effectively ending protest in the USSR. Under communism, Hungary stagnated. By 1990, GDP per head was around 40% of the Western European average.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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