Tito and the Nagy Affair in 1956

By Granville, Johanna | East European Quarterly, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Tito and the Nagy Affair in 1956


Granville, Johanna, East European Quarterly


Four decades ago, the first major anti-Soviet uprising in Eastern Europe -- the 1956 revolution in Hungary -- took place. Many scholars writing about this event during the Cold War have operated more or less on the implicit assumption that the Soviet leaders were the key aggressors and all the East European leaders the reluctant and passivist allies.(2) To use a trite metaphor: the dog (USSR) wagged the tail (East Europe). The end of the Cold War and opening of Soviet bloc archives now permit scholars to gain a better understanding, not simply of Soviet behavior, but also of the behavior and motivation of the other communist states, and of the deeper nuances of intrabloc relations. We can see that, although the Soviet leaders were the prime movers in 1956, they were not the only ones who feared the possible unraveling of the Warsaw Pact and "spillover" of anti-communist ideas across their own borders. Leaders in Czechoslovakia and Romania, for example, reported popular unrest in their own countries during the Hungarian conflict. Even Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia ended up supporting the Soviet use of military force against Hungary. Yugoslavia was the only independent communist state since the 1948 Moscow-Belgrade rift, aloof from the Warsaw Pact or Soviet bloc, courted in the 1950s both by the United States and Soviet Union, admired by the increasingly independent Asian and African countries, and vehemently critical of Soviet great power chauvinism. This article seeks to illuminate the unique, zigzagging behavior of Josip Broz Tito(3) and his subordinates in the 1956 events, drawing on newly released documents from four of Moscow's major archives, including the secret notes of key CPSU Presidium meetings taken by Vladimir Malin.(4) It will also explain the hitherto murky circumstances surrounding Tito's decision to grant Imre Nagy political refuge in his Budapest embassy on the day of the invasion (November 4, 1956). Tito's reluctance to surrender Nagy -- and the later Soviet abduction of him -- chilled Soviet-Yugoslav relations once again.

Despite the Soviet-Yugoslav rapprochement in July, 1955, when Tito was lavishly feted in Moscow, Tito's relations with Khrushchev, his colleagues, and the East European leaders had remained tense beneath the surface in the months preceding the Hungarian conflict. Normalization of ties with Rakosi's Hungary, in particular, dragged. Tito's representatives focused on obstacles to full reconciliation between the two Balkan countries, including Rakosi's reluctance to rehabilitate Laszlo Rajk, to grant amnesty to all Yugoslav political prisoners in Hungary, to treat fairly the Yugoslav minority living in Hungary, and to pay reparations to Yugoslavia. Although Tito wished to improve relations with Soviet bloc members, he was equally determined not to get pulled back into the Soviet sphere of influence. Soviet leaders, in turn, grew increasingly suspicious of Tito's overt support -- mainly through his diplomats and journalists stationed in Budapest -- of Imre Nagy's national communist movement. Like his press and diplomatic corps, Tito took keen interest in overcoming the concrete obstacles to full reconciliation mentioned above. At the same time, however, more fundamental values and memories compelled him. To fully understand Tito's behavior in the 1956 Hungarian conflict, it is first necessary to explore these deeper values.

To Tito destalinization entailed much more than simply the replacement of Stalinist leaders with national communists in the East European communist countries, or simply the resolution of issues like financial reparations. Rather, Tito sought a fundamental recognition that Yugoslavia was just as important as the Soviet Union in the international communist movement. He valued Yugoslavia's unique brand of national communism, which had emerged from indigenous Yugoslav soil and the experiences of World War H. From Tito's perspective, Yugoslavia's historical achievements were hard-earned and thus needed to be cherished. …

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