Hungary – history

Hungary’s history is one of consistent evolution and struggle. A wide range of elements contributed to the restoration of Democracy in Hungary in 1989. Hungary has a history of continued friction and conflict since the beginning of World War 1 due to the internal and external factors that have affected this country. To analyse what internal factors aided the long awaited collapse of Communism in 1989 and how Hungary’s barrier with the west was removed, to allow movement from the east to the west, we must look at the build-up and what external as well as internal factors contributed to this.
Prior to the end of World War 1, Hungary was part of an Empire with Austria, formally known as Austria-Hungary, the leader of this empire was Francis Josef 1. After the split people looked back on the period as the ‘good old days’ the people of Hungary saw the dual monarchy as peaceful and prosperous however it had not always been a peaceful time, as the Magyars tried to remove the restrictions of the Habsburg empire but this uprising was silenced swiftly. In 1867 a delegation of Hungarians led by Ferenc Deak ‘finally came to an agreement with the Habsburgs and so the dualistic system of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy was born and peace descended across the land’ the era that followed before the assassination in Sarajevo, was seen as hugely successful for Hungary as King Josef 1 led his nation into the modern era with the increase of industrialisation, nonetheless Agriculture remained the main industry of this flourishing state. This could be seen as a minor internal reason as to why Communism collapsed in 1989. Due to the fact that many Hungarians reminisced about those times.
Hungary’s economy has been volatile ever since the separation of the Austro-Hungarian nation after the First World War Before 1918, Hungary had made big strides with its economy, although after the war it all but stagnated. Sugar P argued that the focal factor for the failure of the economic system was ‘the lack of most raw materials and the disappearance of the large market of the Dual Monarchy’ on the other hand another key point for the failure as discussed by Hanak P was the increased density of Hungary’s population after the spilt from Austria, as well as the sluggishness of Agriculture industry, ‘the yield of wheat per acre did not increase and livestock production, even as late as 1938, was behind that of 1911’ Hungary was slowly going into an inactive period and reverting to the early 18th century. The bethelan government had to keep balance of payments for reparations from the war, on top of paying loans from foreign countries, which ended up requiring further loans to pay them. This suggests that the economy leading up to the crash in 1929 was in a dire situation, when the depression hit its peak in 1931. Molnar argued that Hungary had ‘one of the weakest’ economy’s in Europe at the time due the fact that its growth rate was only 1.5%. From the mid 1930’s Hungary was aided by Fascist Germany and Italy, an example of this was the trade treaty signed in 1934 by Gyula Gömbös, it gave Hungarians a better price for their wheat and crops, but all of the money made by the increased price of crops had to be spent on German industrial goods, unfortunately for Hungary however it led to them being tied to Germany throughout the war. Hitler felt that Hungary had a destiny with the 3rd Reich to be superior over other races, mainly because ‘6% of the Hungarian population were German speaking’ which linked into Hitler’s ideology of uniting all German speaking people, along with the history of Hungary and Germanys alliance, which had been strong throughout both world wars. This could be one of the main reasons as to why the Fuhrer decided to intervene. After the war, when Hungary was ‘liberated’ by the Soviets, the economic state was in complete disregard. After a tough time in the War Hungary was forced to pay reparations of ‘200 million dollars’ which were seen as impossible to pay and led Hungary into a dire state which wasn’t helped by the Russians forcing the population to begin to plant the bases of communism ,as collectivisation and industrialization was put into action, this provoked the economy to fail to a larger extent as trade along with market places were demolished, as well as the Soviets dismantling whole factory’s to take back to Russia as part of reparations that the Russians felt they were owed, despite the deprived condition of the country they in a sense taking over . ‘food shortages were caused by collectivisation’ Molnar suggests that Russians defiance to defend and consistently use collectivization would ‘counter all other acts to allow the growth of the economy’ This implies that Russians stubbornness to their economic ideology would eventually lead to the collapse of communism in the bloc-states. All of these factors created a rife atmosphere for revolution and uprising against their communist rulers. In 1968 the NEM (New Economic Mechanism) was introduced by the central committee of the Hungarian Socialist workers party, its objective was to overhaul the Hungarian economy, it allowed workers on collective farms to work after hours to produce and sell their own goods, Hoesnch suggests that there were many flaws with this policy such as lack of capital which in the end caused ‘arguments over areas of competence’ such flaws were then cemented as in 1972 the regime began restricting marketing mechanisms, which Hoesnch thought that it showed ‘that collectivisation and industrial combines would receive unwavering support, no matter how it affected the economy’ as it was too bigger part of the ideology to remove or restructure. So was therefore protected heavily, meaning one of the biggest weakness in the economic system was underlined and protected by the state. Lowe stated that the economy in Hungary was ‘Inefficient, over centralized and subject to too many restrictions’ this was shown by the constraints on the New Economic Mechanism which after the first year was becoming widely successful for Hungary and for other Bloc States, until the Soviets introduced limits to protect their own Marxist and Leninist ideology. Another flaw in the consistently dwindling economic system was that bloc states were only allowed to trade with each other and not outside of Soviet jurisdiction. On the other hand though ‘in the mid-1970’s, Hungary’s standard of living continued to rise as ar result of an annual increase of as much as 6 per cent in real incomes’ Hoesch argues that although the NEM was fruitful it was limited in creating support for the communists in Hungary, as poverty was still rampant and hadn’t seen much modernization since the 1930’s. This was shown by the disgruntlement seen in the 1980’s when the population saw how well western Europe was thriving, and how far behind the east was in comparison to the rest of the first world. When Hungarians saw the contrast in their severely handicapped living standards compared to the west, it drove them further to create a brighter future for themselves . In the 1980’s inflation rose by ‘7%’ and widespread poverty spread across the whole of Hungary, Lendvai argued that ‘this ultimately led to the fall of Kadar’s reign in 1985’ although he was seen as doing all he could argued by Sugar ‘Following the 1985 congress, measures were introduced aimed at creating a more flexible economic mechanism’ however ‘These changes were important but they did not go far enough’ . This shows that the economy in Hungary in the 1900’s was an internal factor that was partly culpable for the eventual fall of communism several years later. Economics played a crucial part of the soviets ideology which could be seen as their downfall, as with more modifications towards capitalism such as continuing with NEM and allowing more free trade and trade between other states rather than just country’s in the eastern bloc, it could’ve shaped a modern and settled Hungary. In 1985 Gorbachev is announced as General secretary Hoesnch suggests that he was ‘looking for ways to stimulate and improve efficiency of the stultified Soviet economy’ this is seen as the turning point for Hungary towards capitalism economically.
On the contrary to Hungary’s economics Gorbachev’s influence on the collapse in 1989 is external. Gorbachev became general secretary of the central committee in March 1985. From the very start of his reign as General Secretary, things in the bloc states were altered, Nemeth asked him to remove the 300km fence with Austria, Gorbachev was extremely new in his approach to foreign affairs and agreed. Sebestyen showed that Gorbachev was a different leader compared to his predecessors as the Iron Curtain had been the most powerful symbol of Soviet strength’ another way that Sebestyen suggests this is Gorbachev ‘said “We have a strict regime on our borders , but we are also becoming more open”’ After the fence was cut down a mass emigration began from East Germany to Austria by passing through Hungary, but to the surprise of the world Gorbachev did not prevent the mass emigration. Sebstyen presents a similar argument ‘”For years we told the entire world that these countries were free… but this was not the case’ he had a reformist attitude towards communism. Gorbachev was seen by many as a main catalyst as to why communism collapsed in 1989.Sebstyens argument is supported by Sugar who stated that he ‘speeded up further changes’ this suggests that Gorbachev was the driving force behind what he thought was renewing communism, but would actually inspire the end. He was seen as different from his predecessors due to the fact he was part of a younger generation. Others high up in the party were aging and had ideologys similar to the ones used when the bloc states were first introduced. He introduced a reform program, one of most crucial ideas was Perestroika; which was a restructuring concept, which focused on the overhaul of high members of the Communist Party, however it was also aimed at fixing the economic problems that faced the bloc states, these deviations from the past created a more capitalist communism in the satellite states, which gave people behind the Iron Curtain hope that, perhaps there was an end to communism. Another policy was Glasnost, which was on the whole a more social program and aimed to ease the strict controls of government, its targets were to lessen censorship and gave greater freedom to religious groups and allowed citizens more independence of speech. By 1988, Gorbachev had nearly shifted Hungary to capitalism he had expanded his reforms to include democratization, moving the USSR towards an elected form of government. Steven Morewood believed that ‘he failed to understand or control the forces he unleashed’ this view is widely regarded as Gorbachev was just a reformist communist not a capitalist however it can be argued that he was transpiring to draw a close to communism as he laid the foundations for revolution and change with his policy’s and intended to do so. His reign as Lowe described can be saw as the ‘process which lead to collapse’ All of these new radical policy’s had been instrumental in the beginning of an end in creating politically aware Hungarians and were received gratefully after the end of Kadars reign became sour. The collapse of the socialist economy were not solved effectively as Kadar was still using his old techniques, this began the turn of favour as in a survey in 1986 a survey showed that ‘61%’ of Hungarians described their situation as hopeless or worsening. Gorbachev’s effect on Hungary was substantial and is without a doubt one of the core aspects as to why communism collapsed in Hungary which suggests that not all the elements which lead to the demise were internal. However his speech in Denmark in 1985 at the United Nations can be seen as a landmark throughout not just his time as general secretary of the central committee or leader of the USSR but for Soviet history as well ‘he declared that all nations should be free to choose their own cause without outside interference’ . These transformations that he brought to the eastern bloc countries are unquestionably one of the significant reasons as to why communism failed in Hungary in 1989, which makes me question the validity of my argument.
Nonetheless internal elements did play an integral part in the end of communism in Hungary. Nationalism was rampant throughout Hungary in the 19th and 20th. Hungary until the end of World War 1 was a country ran by a dual monarchy, where then it became a republic, however it kept extremely nationalist views as shown by the 1956 revolution ,where Hungary as a nation rose up and rebelled against the soviets. University students created the 12 points that were all peaceful demands that they would have like to see change in Hungary, including the departure of the Soviets. This was followed by intense street fighting against the ARVO and eventually the Russian military when they re-invaded Budapest. This suggests that from an early stage in Russia’s inhabitation of Hungary that nationalism was still a key piece in the internal factors that brought communism to its knees. Although nationalism had not been birthed under Soviet rule, it had also featured in the interwar period, Horthys revisionist plans could be argued to have drove the public towards nationalism. Molnar supports this view and implies that the motive for nationalism to increase was due to the fact that ‘they were refused a hearing at the peace conference’ this would’ve only created a stronger sense of patriotism, which can be seen as a fundamental reason as to why communism collapsed in Hungary due to the nations willingness to resist communist control and there disgruntlement to the peace settlements and the treaty of Versailles, which they felt that they had been unfairly treated by. The treaty of Trianon, in which Hungary lost ’31.59%’ of their territory leaving 3,250,000 Hungarians outside of the country. Hoensch states that ‘Every section of the Hungarian population felt disappointment at the scale of losses demanded by the peace treaty’ this presents the argument that not only was the lower classes effected, but also the higher class that were involved in the country wide upsurge of nationalism, which suggests that Hungary would unite as one during challenging times, which is shown by the 1956 revolution and also shows that nationalism is an essential internal reason as to why communism was over thrown in Hungary in 1989.
However the death of Stalin in 1953 is a pivotal issue that further pressed the pressure on communism in Hungary. In the last few months of his life, Stalin an increased amount of politicians and so called ‘enemies of the state’, although this onslaught did not reach Hungry or any other satellite state as he realized that he couldn’t use terror as much in the ‘bloc’ as he needed them to conform to the economic plans he was introducing, such as the 5 year plans and industrialization. Stalin was seen across the globe as the figure of communism and with his death the whole of east Europe began destalinization, this was the beginning of a more lenient time as it could be argued that some of the least favourable parts of the Stalin regime began to fall, for example gulags as well as the cult of personality. Sugar argued that ‘Hungary also experienced a period of “thaw”- a gradual relaxation of the totalitarian controls’ this supports the fact that the USSR was weakened by the death of Stalin and communism across the satellite states became mildly less enforced. His death seemed to threaten the security of communism as people saw it as a possibility to end it, Hanak claimed that it was a ‘increasingly hopeful era’ showing that the fall of Stalin gave renewed optimism to Hungary and is one of the central forces behind the 1956 revolution, presenting the argument that Stalin’s death was one of the undoubtedly main reasons that communism collapsed 36 years later. This argument is furthermore supported by Hoensch ‘the new Soviet leaders were obliged to leave the leading party officials in fellow socialist countries more to themselves’ this idea reveals that Stalin’s death brought around a slightly diminished role of the USSR in Hungary’s government, so they could enjoy a loosened noose from communism, which enabled them to create a reformed view on their country. Khrushchev was his replacement as the leader of a collective, and this already spelled weakness. From the very start some might argue his reign was more lenient than Stalin’s as Hoensch further argued they ‘didn’t dare intervene in the internal affairs of European Peoples Democracies’ giving the Hungarians relief from the constant oppression they were familiarised with off Stalin. The appointment of ‘Imre Nagy, a little known member of the Politburo’ as prime minister was seen as a beacon of light for Hungarians and shows the extent that Stalin’s death had had, as they introduced a new leader of Hungary who was notoriously lenient towards the peoples demands and soon became popular amongst Hungarians but not the USSR. However Hoensch argues that this was perhaps the reason he was promoted to the head of the country ‘at a point when the agrarian policy and an economic crisis was seriously shaking the stability of Communist power’ this creates the argument that perhaps the Soviets only promoted Nagy in case the country fell into a deeper depression, they would not be saw as responsible. Suggesting that even very early after his death the Soviets were trying to seem more progressive to the satellite states, showing they realised there weakening with the death of Stalin. This shows the damage that Stalin’s death had to done to communism, they had installed a soft leader in Hungary and become less authoritarian which ultimately led up to the 1956 revolution which is seen as one of the main elements of cause for the collapse in 1989, meaning ironically that Stalin was the catalyst of his creations demise.
The closest hungry got to defeating there over lords and casting off the chains of communism was in 1956. Despite the revolution being a failure, it found a flaw in the control of communism in its satellite states and embarrassed the soviets by managing to make the troops based in Budapest withdraw. However the revolution was swiftly ended by a ‘ruthless bombardment’ , it could be argued that the Russian’s reacted so forcefully due to being embarrassed by ‘street fighters’. However no matter how hard the Russians destroyed Budapest Lendvai argued ‘it could by no means destroy the revoulution autonomous organs or administration, especially the workers councils and the local revolutionary committees. In particular the organizations of the local workers councils soon became the strongest and most effective centres of natural resistance’ Lendvai’s argument was supported by the eventual collapse of communism in Hungary, it suggests that no matter how much the USSR pressured Hungary they couldn’t prevent nationalism spreading and inciting the country into a nationwide revolt. Which in itself can be saw as the first glimpse of the end of communism, as for 5 days there was as Hoensch described a ‘struggle for liberation’ as Hungarians saw parts of their past re-emerge, such as no secret police and freedom of speech, government powers ‘ceased to exist’ .Which under a full strength Soviet government would not be possible, showing that for this brief moment, communism had in effect collapsed in Hungary. An additional way that communism could be saw to have collapsed momentarily was the appointment of Imre Nagy, which was a request of the population, however on the other hand, Victor Sebestyen hinted that the only reason for his reinstatement was ‘buying time in order to reinforce’ suggesting that the Soviets were always in control and wanted to make an example to other ‘bloc’ states if they decided to rebel, this view can be backed up as Lendvai talked about Hungary being the ‘disciple satellite state’ and saw as the next target for mass purges but were saved by Stalins death, implying that the Soviet’s saw Hungary as a easy target to make an example out of Hungary. There was only one way that the 1956 rebellion was going to be a triumph, it needed western support as well as intervention, but was not going to happen. Imre Nagy made radio broadcasts across the world ‘Help Hungary’ appealing to western forces to aid in their struggle. However as suggested before Western involvement never occurred as foreign powers were not willing to escalate the cold war anymore. This argument is supported by Sebestyen who claimed Eisenhower didn’t want to ‘involve the US in a foreign adventure’ this view is widely shared by historians as no external western force wanted to intervene with the uprising in case war broke out between the two world super powers. Lendvai stressed that despite the failure of the revolution, it achieved in showing the weakness of Russia’s satellite states and their policing of them and displaying the resolve of Hungarian of nationalism across the globe. The Soviets expected they could crush the revolt with force but they could not prevent the insurgence of nationalism that would prevail till 1989. This nationalism is seen as one of the main internal factors of the total collapse in 1989, showing that the 1956 revolution was a catalyst in bringing an end to communism in eastern Europe as it ignited the patriotism in Hungary.
Hungary’s struggle for freedom in the 20th century has numerous attributing external as well as internal aspects as to why communism collapsed in 1989. I feel that the internal factors contributed to an extent in the demise of communism in Hungary because the nationalism that was subdued until 1956 was unleashed by the rebellion that gave the population, a sense of liberation and freedom, which was predominant consistently till the eventual fall of communism. On the contrary in could be argued that external factors played a bigger role in the ending of communism, such as Gorbachev’s role which was undeniably significant as he brought changes to Hungary with freedom of movement as well as his polices of perestroika and glasnost. Although the economy of Hungary is also seen as a decisive internal point in the fall of communism, but depending on the view point you could argue that Soviet control which is external effected the economy so the debate is challenging nevertheless internal factors such as the revolution and nationalism are extremely poignant in the argument. Despite the influence of Stalin’s death and Gorbachev’s role which both build a persuasive argument to suggest that external factors were more imperative in the fall of the Soviets, such as Gorbachev allowing the border with the Austrians to be cut down, bringing free movement around the east into west. Nevertheless I believe internal elements were definitely responsible for the collapse considerably, nationalism had featured consistently throughout 1889-1989 showing that national belief and hope lead to the eventual goal of the demise of communism. Lendvai argues that ‘radical reformers set the pace toward a multi-party system and free elections’ this supports the argument that internal factors contributed extensively to the final demise of communism in 1989 as nationalism and nationalistic Hungarians were at the fore front of returning their country to normal after nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation. In summary there are a multitude of reasons as to why the final demise of communism came in 1989, but internal factors unquestionably played an integral part of this.

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