The People's Republic of Hungary or Hungarian People's Republic (Magyar Népköztársaság) was the official state name of Hungary from 1949 to 1989 during its Communist period under the guidance of the Soviet Union. It was in this communist regime that the first major opposition movement to the eastern bloc communism was formed during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 in which Hungarians demanded freedom, democracy, and an end to political oppression, but they were forced into submission when the Soviet Red Army invaded Hungary and forcibly crushed the revolution and killed the revolution's leadership. The state remained in existence until 1989 when opposition forces consolidated in forcing the regime to abandon communism. The communist state considered itself the heir of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, which was formed in 1919 and was the second communist state formed after Soviet Russia.
By signing the Peace Treaty of Paris, Hungary again lost all the territories it had gained between 1938 and 1941. Neither the Western Allies nor the Soviet Union supported any changes to Hungary's pre-1938 borders.
The Soviet Union itself annexed Sub-Carpathia, having been a part of Czechoslovakia before 1938, which is now part of Ukraine.
The Treaty of Peace with Hungary signed on 10 February 1947 declared that "The decisions of the Vienna Award of 2 November 1938 are declared null and void" and Hungarian boundaries were fixed along the former frontiers as they existed on 1 January 1938, except a minor loss of territory on the Czechoslovakian border. Half of the ethnic German minority (240,000 people) was deported to Germany in 1946-48, and there was a forced "exchange of population" between Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
The Soviets set up an alternative government in Debrecen on December 21, 1944 but did not capture Budapest until January 18, 1945. Soon afterwards, Zoltán Tildy became the provisional prime minister. In elections held in November 1945, the Independent Smallholders' Party won 57% of the vote. The Hungarian Communist Party, now under the leadership of Mátyás Rákosi and Ernő Gerő, received support from only 17% of the population. The Soviet commander in Hungary, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, refused to allow the Smallholders Party to form a government. Instead Voroshilov established a coalition government with the communists holding some of the key posts. Under Parliament, the leader of the Smallholders, Zoltán Tildy, was named president and Ferenc Nagy prime minister in February 1946. Mátyás Rákosi became deputy prime minister.
László Rajk became minister of the interior and in this post established the security police (ÁVH). In February 1947 the police began arresting leaders of the Smallholders Party and the National Peasant Party. Several prominent figures in both parties escaped abroad. Later Mátyás Rákosi boasted that he had dealt with his partners in the government, one by one, "cutting them off like slices of salami."
The Hungarian Workers Party (Magyar Dolgozók Pártja) (formed by a merger of the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party) became the largest single party in the elections in 1947 and served in the coalition People's Independence Front government. The communists gradually gained control of the government and by 1948 the Social Democratic Party ceased to exist as an independent organization. Its leader, Béla Kovács was arrested and sent to Siberia. Other opposition leaders such as Anna Kéthly, Ferenc Nagy and István Szabó were imprisoned or sent into exile.
On 18 August, 1949, the Parliament passed the new constitution of Hungary (1949/XX.) modelled after the 1936 constitution of the Soviet Union. The name of the country became the People's Republic of Hungary, "the country of the workers and peasants" where "every authority is held by the working people". Socialism was declared as the main goal of the nation. A new and much-hated coat of arms was adopted with Communist symbols, such as the red star, a hammer, and an ear of wheat.
Mátyás Rákosi now attempted to impose authoritarian rule on Hungary. An estimated 2,000 people were executed and over 100,000 were imprisoned. These policies were opposed by some members of the Hungarian Workers Party and around 200,000 were expelled by Rákosi from the organization.
Rákosi rapidly expanded the education system in Hungary. This was an attempt to replace the educated class of the past by what Rákosi called a new "working intelligentsia". In addition to effects such as better education for the poor, more opportunities for working class children and increased literacy in general, this measure also included the dissemination of communist ideology in schools and universities. Also, as part of an effort to separate the Church from the State, religious instruction was denounced as propaganda and was gradually eliminated from schools. The government used coercion and brutality to collectivize agriculture, and it squeezed profits from the country's farms to finance rapid expansion of heavy industry, which attracted more than 90% of total industrial investment. At first Hungary concentrated on producing primarily the same assortment of goods it had produced before the war, including locomotives and railroad cars. Despite its poor resource base and its favorable opportunities to specialize in other forms of production, Hungary developed new heavy industry in order to bolster further domestic growth and produce exports to pay for raw-material import.
Cardinal József Mindszenty, who had opposed the German Nazis and the Hungarian Fascists during the Second World War, was arrested in December 1948 and accused of treason. After five weeks under arrest (which may have included torture), he confessed to the charges made against him and he was condemned to life imprisonment. The protestant churches were also purged and their leaders were replaced by those willing to remain loyal to Rákosi's government.
The new Hungarian military hastily staged public, pre-arranged trials to purge "Nazi remnants and imperialist saboteurs". Several officers were sentenced to death and executed in 1951, including Lajos Toth, a 28 victory-scoring fighter ace of the World War II Royal Hungarian Air Force, who had voluntarily returned from US captivity to help revive Hungarian aviation. The victims were cleared posthumously following the fall of communism.
Rákosi had difficulty managing the economy and the people of Hungary saw living standards fall. His government became increasingly unpopular, and when Joseph Stalin died in 1953, Mátyás Rákosi was replaced as prime minister by Imre Nagy. However, he retained his position as general secretary of the Hungarian Workers Party and over the next three years the two men became involved in a bitter struggle for power.
As Hungary's new leader, Imre Nagy removed state control of the mass media and encouraged public discussion on political and economic reform. This included a promise to increase the production and distribution of consumer goods. Nagy also released anti-communists from prison and talked about holding free elections and withdrawing Hungary from the Warsaw Pact.
Mátyás Rákosi led the attacks on Nagy. On 9 March 1955, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers Party condemned Nagy for "rightist deviation". Hungarian newspapers joined the attacks and Nagy was accused of being responsible for the country's economic problems and on 18 April he was dismissed from his post by a unanimous vote of the National Assembly. Rákosi once again became the leader of Hungary.
Rákosi's power was undermined by a speech made by Nikita Khrushchev in February 1956. He denounced the policies of Joseph Stalin and his followers in Eastern Europe. He also claimed that the trial of László Rajk had been a "miscarriage of justice". On 18 July 1956, Rákosi was forced from power as a result of orders from the Soviet Union. However, he did manage to secure the appointment of his close friend, Ernő Gerő, as his successor.
On 3 October 1956, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers Party announced that it had decided that László Rajk, György Pálffy, Tibor Szőnyi and András Szalai had wrongly been convicted of treason in 1949. At the same time it was announced that Imre Nagy had been reinstated as a member of the party.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 began on October 23 as a peaceful demonstration of students in Budapest. The students protested for the implementation of several demands including an end to Soviet occupation. The police made some arrests and tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas. When the protesters attempted to free those who had been arrested, the police opened fire on the crowd, provoking rioting throughout the capital.
Early the following morning, Soviet military units entered Budapest and seized key positions. Citizens and soldiers joined the protesters chanting "Russians go home" and defacing communist party symbols. The Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers Party responded to the pressure by appointing the reformer Imre Nagy as the new Prime Minister.
On October 25, a mass of protesters gathered in front of the Parliament Building. ÁVH units began shooting into the crowd from the rooftops of neighboring buildings. Some Soviet soldiers returned fire on the ÁVH, mistakenly believing that they were the targets of the shooting. Supplied by arms taken from the ÁVH or given by Hungarian soldiers who joined the uprising, some in the crowd started shooting back.
Imre Nagy now went on Radio Kossuth and announced he had taken over the leadership of the Government as Chairman of the Council of Ministers. He also promised "the far-reaching democratization of Hungarian public life, the realisation of a Hungarian road to socialism in accord with our own national characteristics, and the realisation of our lofty national aim: the radical improvement of the workers' living conditions."
On October 28, Nagy and a group of his supporters, including János Kádár, Géza Losonczy, Antal Apró, Károly Kiss, Ferenc Münnich and Zoltán Szabó, managed to take control of the Hungarian Workers Party. At the same time revolutionary workers' councils and local national committees were formed all over Hungary.
The change of leadership in the party was reflected in the articles of the government newspaper, Szabad Nép (i.e. Free People). On 29 October the newspaper welcomed the new government and openly criticised Soviet attempts to influence the political situation in Hungary. This view was supported by Radio Miskolc that called for the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country.
On October 30, Imre Nagy announced that he was freeing Cardinal József Mindszenty and other political prisoners. He also informed the people that his government intended to abolish the one-party state. This was followed by statements of Zoltán Tildy, Anna Kéthly and Ferenc Farkas concerning the restitution of the Smallholders Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Petőfi (former Peasants) Party.
Nagy's most controversial decision took place on 1 November when he announced that Hungary intended to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and proclaim Hungarian neutrality. He asked the United Nations to become involved in the country's dispute with the Soviet Union.
On 3 November, Nagy announced the details of his coalition government. It included communists (János Kádár, Georg Lukács, Géza Losonczy), three members of the Smallholders Party (Zoltán Tildy, Béla Kovács and István Szabó), three Social Democrats (Anna Kéthly, Gyula Keleman, Joseph Fischer), and two Petőfi Peasants (István Bibó and Ferenc Farkas). Pál Maléter was appointed minister of defence.
Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, became increasingly concerned about these developments and on November 4 1956 he sent the Red Army into Hungary. Soviet tanks immediately captured Hungary's airfields, highway junctions and bridges. Fighting took place all over the country but the Hungarian forces were quickly defeated.
During the Hungarian Uprising an estimated 20,000 people were killed, nearly all during the Soviet intervention. Imre Nagy was arrested and replaced by the Soviet loyalist, János Kádár, as head of the newly formed Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party (Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt). Nagy was imprisoned until being executed in 1958. Other government ministers or supporters who were either executed or died in captivity included Pál Maléter, Géza Losonczy, Attila Szigethy and Miklós Gimes.
First Kádár led retributions against the revolutionaries. 21,600 dissidents were imprisoned, 13,000 interned, and 400 killed. But in the early 1960s, Kádár announced a new policy under the motto "He who is not against us is with us", a variation of Rákosi's quote: "He who is not with us is against us". He declared a general amnesty, gradually curbed some of the excesses of the secret police, and introduced a relatively liberal cultural and economic course aimed at overcoming the post-1956 hostility toward him and his regime. In 1966, the Central Committee approved the "New Economic Mechanism", through which it sought to overhaul the economy, increase productivity, make Hungary more competitive in world markets, and create prosperity to promote political stability. Over the next two decades of relative domestic quiet, Kádár's government responded alternately to pressures for minor political and economic reforms as well as to counter-pressures from reform opponents. By the early 1980s, it had achieved some lasting economic reforms and limited political liberalization and pursued a foreign policy which encouraged more trade with the West. Nevertheless, the New Economic Mechanism led to mounting foreign debt, incurred to subsidise unprofitable industries.
Hungary's transition to a Western-style democracy was one of the smoothest among the former Soviet bloc. By late 1988, activists within the party and bureaucracy and Budapest-based intellectuals were increasing pressure for change. Some of these became reform socialists, while others began movements which were to develop into parties. Young liberals formed the Federation of Young Democrats (Fidesz); a core from the so-called Democratic Opposition formed the Association of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), and the national opposition established the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF). Civic activism intensified to a level not seen since the 1956 revolution.
In 1988, Kádár was replaced as General Secretary of the Communist Party, and reform communist leader Imre Pozsgay was admitted to the Politburo. In 1989, the Parliament adopted a "democracy package", which included trade union pluralism; freedom of association, assembly, and the press; a new electoral law; and in October 1989 a radical revision of the constitution, among others. A Central Committee plenum in February 1989 endorsed in principle the multiparty political system and the characterization of the October 1956 revolution as a "popular uprising", in the words of Pozsgay, whose reform movement had been gathering strength as Communist Party membership declined dramatically. Kádár's major political rivals then cooperated to move the country gradually to democracy. The Soviet Union reduced its involvement by signing an agreement in April 1989 to withdraw Soviet forces by June 1991.
National unity culminated in June 1989 as the country reburied Imre Nagy, his associates, and, symbolically, all other victims of the 1956 revolution. A national round table, comprising representatives of the new parties and some recreated old parties -- such as the Smallholders and Social Democrats -- the Communist Party, and different social groups, met in the late summer of 1989 to discuss major changes to the Hungarian constitution in preparation for free elections and the transition to a fully free and democratic political system.
In October 1989, the communist party convened its last congress and re-established itself as the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP). In a historic session on October 16 - October 20, 1989, the Parliament adopted legislation providing for multiparty parliamentary elections and a direct presidential election. The legislation transformed Hungary from a People's Republic into the Republic of Hungary, guaranteed human and civil rights, and created an institutional structure that ensures separation of powers among the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government. On the day of the 1956 Revolution, October 23, the Hungarian Republic was officially declared (by the provisional President of the Republic Mátyás Szűrös), replacing the Hungarian People's Republic. The revised constitution also championed the "values of bourgeois democracy and democratic socialism" and gave equal status to public and private property.
Hungary extensively reformed its economy and strengthened its ties with western Europe; in May 2004 Hungary became a member of the European Union.