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1956 1.11: Gone But Nagy Forgotten

When Diplomacy Fails Podcast

15-02-2024 • 36 minutos

1956 Episode 1.11 looks at what happened when Moscow decided it’d be a good idea to force Rakosi, the avowed Stalinist, to share power with Imre Nagy, his opposite in almost every respect.


Rakosi wished to maintain the status quo even as his favourite weapons like the secret police were taken away, yet Nagy recognised and appreciated from an early stage that much would have to change. Hungary couldn’t continue on in the manner of a repressed, unhappy vassal, especially if Moscow wished to guarantee the support of all Hungarian people. Nagy proposed limited reforms, but after 1953 it began to become apparent that with Stalin gone and Pandora’s Box opened, it was immensely difficult to keep that box closed.


Every concession granted to the Hungarians provoked calls for greater concessions – every bit of freedom given permitted Hungarians to become braver and more willing to question the apparatus which held them low. Every time Nagy said yes, the Hungarian people seemed to say more, and Rakosi tattled on him to the Soviet leadership. Since this Soviet leadership was undergoing great changes of its own at this stage – as Khrushchev attempted to manoeuvre his way past his rivals – the signals from Moscow were not always clear. Yet after a year it became largely certain that Nagy was on borrowed time.


As we’ll discover in this episode though, while Nagy hadn't done enough to ensure he remained in power, he had done enough to ensure that the Hungarian people did not forget him once he was removed. In a sea of sycophants, the courageous but otherwise bland Nagy stood out, and soon it was his name and his principles, regardless of his political persuasions, that positioned Nagy atop another pole – that of the public affections. As we’ll come to appreciate, this position was to be both a blessing and a fatal curse for Imre Nagy...

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