Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary, 1956

Article excerpt

Jeno Gyorkei and Miklos Horvath, eds. Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary, 1956. Trans Emma Roper Evans. Budapest: Central European University Press, 1999. xv, 318 pp. Tables, photographs, maps, endnotes, biographical notes. $49.95, cloth, $21.95, paper.

This volume, edited by Jeno Gyorkei of the Military History Institute in Budapest and Miklos Horvath of the Hungarian Army's Political College, is a worthy addition to a series of books by Columbia University Press (Atlantic Studies on Society in Change) surveying many aspects of East Central European society. Originally published in Hungarian in 1996, this book consists of three essays, each about one hundred pages, by Gyorkei and Horvath, Alexander Kirov, and Yevgeny Malashenko, respectively. All three selections primarily focus on Soviet and Hungarian military actions in the 1956 crisis, rather than the Soviet decision making process or the influence of other Warsaw Pact countries.

In the book's preface, Bela Kiraly, the chief editor of the series and a key participant in the 1956 events, poses-and then answers-four questions about the Hungarian crisis that have preoccupied scholars from former communist countries. First, was the 1956 uprising a revolution or counter-revolution? If it was a revolution, did it succeed or fail? Kiraly contends: "Without 1956 the radical changes of the `lawful revolution' that commenced in 1989 and is still in progress would not have happened, or if it had, it would not have been what it is today" (p. xiv). Second, was the introduction of Soviet troops an aggressive act, or did it constitute military aid to a beleaguered socialist state that had requested it? By pointing out the size of the Soviet military force used in Hungary in the November 4 intervention (17 divisional units), the number of Soviet casualties (722 men killed, 1,251 wounded), and the number of medals awarded to Soviet soldiers (26 "Hero of the Soviet Union" medals, 10,000 combat medals), Kir/ly confirms that the Soviet actions did amount to war. He argues that if the USSR had to exert such a great effort, this could not have constituted mere "aid" to Hungary. Third, was there indeed armed conflict between "socialist" states? Kiraly asserts that Hungary had no intention in 1956 of completely abandoning socialism, and therefore the Soviet Union did attack another socialist state.

Finally, was the declaration of neutrality on November I the cause, or the effect, of Soviet aggression? Kiraly states that Nagy's declaration was merely the effect; by November I Khrushchev and his colleagues were already informing other Warsaw Pact leaders in Bucharest, and on the island of Brioni the following day, of impending action. Soviet tanks were already crossing the border into Hungary. We know from the "Malin notes" that the Soviet leaders reached the decision to invade on October 30-31, well before Nagy's declaration. One should point out, however, that other Hungarian leaders and students had been calling for their country's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact much earlier, and this may indeed have influenced Soviet decision making. Certainly by October 27 and 28, the insurgents included neutrality in their demands, along with a coalition government and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary.

The book contains a wealth of new archival evidence. However, the only essay in it that cites archival documents exclusively is the one written by Alexander Kirov, a Russian military historian (born in 1956). Gyorkei's essay draws primarily on Hungarian documents published in document collections, while Malashenko's section draws on his own memory. In addition to data on divisions and casualties, Kirov provides three maps and two detailed tables. One table accounts for each division active in the October 24 operation and November 4, giving the permanent base, time of combat readiness, and time of border crossing. The second table provides the number of deaths, wounded persons, disappearances, and deaths not related to combat in each division. …