the most important uprising in Hungary since the anti-Habsburg revolution of 1848. Decades later, October 23rd became the Hungarian national holiday. Congratulations to all Hungarian readers.
Much like other revolutions including the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution in 1989, it was started by students. Students who loved freedom. Students who wanted the public radio to broadcast their demands - such as freedom and the removal of a Stalin's statue built on the place of a church ;-) - but who were instantly arrested, sparking a truly national movement.
A week later, the Soviet army stopped the uprising and killed 2,500 people or so while it lost 700 soldiers or secret policemen. 13,000 civilians were wounded and the moderate communist leader Imre Nagy was among the 350 citizens who were executed. About 200,000 Hungarians fled the country as refugees.
The action of the communists was so disgraceful that 700,000 out of 800,000 members of the Hungarian communist party canceled their membership within a month or so. That couldn't stop János Kádár, the newly installed leader, to gain a full control over the country. I suspect that this experience showing the Hungarians that communism can be really evil was one of the reasons why Hungary became an example of the moderate "goulash socialism" in the 1980s. Twenty years ago or so, we would visit Hungary that exhibited a sort of a mixed economic system. Mikhail Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader who apologized for the intervention.
From a strategic viewpoint, it was obvious that the communists - including the Soviet ones - had to suppress this uprising if they wanted their favorite regime to have a chance to survive in the long term. They had all the necessary requisites to do so. The message was also rather clear for the Czechoslovak reformers during the Prague Spring of 1968: it is useless to fight against the Soviet Union. Give it up. Well, I don't want to claim that the Czechoslovaks would fight if there had been no bloody experience with the Hungarian uprising but who knows. ;-)
The suppression of the Hungarian revolution has had many international consequences. The Time magazine declared the Hungarian freedom fighter to be the Man of 1956. More importantly, the Western European communist parties were divided. Most of their members and leaders considered the revolutionaries to be a reactionary mob: however not all of them.
Some people who love freedom will always be born. The defenders of communism and other totalitarian ideologies face a choice: either they allow freedom which means that they allow their favorite system to be marginalized and to evaporate, or they impose tough rules that eliminate all the people who actively prefer freedom over these rules. Most communists are able to solve elementary exercises in strategy which is why they choose the second option. Communism and every other extreme left-wing or extreme right-wing ideology that wants to mold the society according to a template is an unhuman monstrosity, and if it is not an unhuman monstrosity, it cannot be an extreme left-wing or extreme right-wing ideology with plans about the whole society.
The United Nations have passed a resolution that the intervention had violated the human rights of the Hungarian people and that was it. The United Nations were as useless in these important matters 50 years ago as they are useless today. Albert Camus wrote a letter protesting against the West's inaction but the power of a single Camus's letter has its limitations.
Today, we often want to complain that Iraq is a mess, and all these things. I still feel that these problems are less serious than the problems that the world had to swallow 50 years ago. Today, the Hungarian society seems sharply divided politically. Still, the divisions seem less bloody than the divisions that existed 50 years ago.
Despite the divisions, nearly everyone seems to agree: the freedom fighters in 1956 were heroes.
And that's the memo.