The 1956 Uprising and its Cultural Implications
All of my family grew up in Hungary. They were used to traditions and culture being constant in their life as their ideals were shown through these. However in 1945, the Soviets occupied the territory of Hungary and thus implemented techniques to control the Hungarian people. This included the alteration of culture, yet in 1956, the Hungarians spoke up against this change.
A counter revolution broke out in Hungary against the communist regime present in the country at the time. Also known as the 1956-os forradalom or 1956-os felkelés, the uprising started on October 23rd, now a national holiday as student protesters marched to the Parliament to demand a freedom of speech and an opposition to the government led by Rákosi Mátyáas and Gerő Ernő and were met with gunfire. After the first death this developed into a national uprising. Nagy Imre and Maléter Pál became the leaders of this revolution as symbols of the opposition against the USSR. It was suppressed on November 10th by Soviet troops around the country.
Life in Hungary 1945 — 1956
After World War II Soviet Troops invaded Hungary and expanded their control around the country. A communist government was set up and thus means of production was municipalized. As people’s properties were taken over by the Soviet government, social unrest was inevitable; yet, intimidation and public humiliation was often used to deter villagers from resisting this interference. Sometimes villagers would kill their livestock instead of handing it over to the government as a sign of protest against municipalization.
Another aspect of this new regime was a strong drive towards industrialization and increased production. Propaganda urged workers to work in factories which were newly built. To urge this industrialization, the government built new housing complexes which housed factory workers during the week in order to promote efficiency in their workplaces. The Stakhanov rewards in factories were a system where workers received medals for surpassing their quotas. This increase incentives but caused workers to become over exhausted. Also it didn’t come with any monetary gain so their aim to incentivize was often a failure.
Another aspect of life that was grandly altered was the role of religion in everyday life. Communism is against the support of religion thus it confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Religious weddings were banned and to practice religion was dangerous due to the strict Stalinist regime. The regime changed major holiday’s names and names of religious figures that couldn’t be abolished from everyday life. The changing of the name of Santa Claus (Szent Miklós or Mikulás) to Father Winter (Télapó) was the most ingrained change made and is still present in Hungary even after the fall of the USSR.
Due to this alteration of culture and ideals present before World War II, a lot of protest that was done was silent through the means of rejection of culture at home.
The most prominent influencers of these ideals was the AVH (Államvedelmi Hatóság), the Hungarian secret police. This was composed of a network of informants which limited the freedom of people’s everyday lives. Pre-1956 under the strict Stalinist regimes, they were involved in series of purges (1948–1953). This installed fear in the Hungarian people and limited opposition to the communist regime.
Life in Hungary 1956–1989
After the uprising of 1965, the Soviet regime loosened their grip on the Hungarian people and instated a new ruler, Kádár János. The slogan of Hungary changed from “If you are not with us, then your are against us” to “If you are not against us, you are with us”. There was a liberalization of regime.
Many couples got married in churches and baptized their children in secret as they wanted to avoid prosecution from the government, yet after 1956, there was less worry about that as the government feared another uprising. Religion was more criticized on the social scale as the government sent priests to collectivize land. For example, the author’s grandparents, who used to be in the private sector and owned a pastry shop had to answer to the government and thus used their marriage as a form of protest and divergence from the expected societal norms.
There was further a shift from the strict Rákosy regime to a more laid-back view of communism. Thus a substantial amount of freedom was granted to Hungarians in comparison to other communist states.
The most prominent aspect of life that was changed was the abolition of the AVH, the secret police. The purges present earlier were ended, yet the Workers’ Militia was established who observed order in the workplace. Yet the true intention behind this was to limit interaction and thoughts of uprising within workers.
Economically the state started allowing some forms of private property. In this period, 40% of agriculture was owned by private profiters. However the economy was in turmoil with inflation and further the USSR demanding payment for the buildings they built. However, due to the new lenient mindset of the government, and more exposure to western media, the product base became more diverse and recreations of Western brands were created.
Another freedom introduced by the Kádár era was the opening of travel to other countries in the world. There were two types of passports available, the Red or the Blue. With the red, citizens were allowed to travel to any satellite state while with the blue, they could also travel to non-USSR countries once every 3 years.
Furthermore, with a more lenient government more criticizing the past mistakes of the communist regime. At the same time, this was masked in the form of comedy as parodies were made of events. This gave a career to Hofi Géza who helped this cult of humor and created a way to deal with the previously oppressive system.
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