Hungary’s Anniversary and Its Refugees

hungary2Sixty years ago Hungary was in revolution against the one-party Communist state. Soviet armed forces entered Budapest to restore order, then withdrew in the face of stiff popular resistance. Prime Minister Imre Nagy announced a multi-party government and declared the country’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact alliance. This prompted a second Soviet intervention, the ouster of the Nagy government, and the flight of 200,000 Hungarians who feared the Communist crackdown and took advantage of an open border.

These many years later, post-Communist Hungary’s conservative government is inclined to celebrate the Revolution as a rejection of everything the Soviet regime represented. Meanwhile, the current government is confronting the European Union over the EU’s proposal that member countries be required to accept refugees according to a quota. On this issue, the government organized a national referendum for October 2 and is dominating the media with stories about the refugees entering Europe today and the need to reject the EU proposal. Scholars and opponents of the government are proposing different views of both the socialist character of the Revolution and the humane reception of refugees, then and now. I gave a paper (in Hungarian) at an exciting conference in Eger, Hungary on September 8-10: 1956 and Socialism: Crisis and Reconsideration.

My paper translates as The Culture of Welcome and the January, 1957 Austrian Refugee Quota Proposal. On the basis of research in the archives of the United Nations in New York and the Alexander Libraries’ excellent collection of UN and European documents, I traced the debate about the Hungarian refugees in the UN and the motives behind the decision of many Western countries to announce voluntary quotas for the number of Hungarians they would accept for resettlement. My paper and those of fellow panelists were reported in the main newspaper of the Hungarian opposition (this link is broken because the paper was recently purchased by a government-friendly owner and all content moved offline). Many of these papers, including mine, are forthcoming in Világtörténet, a journal of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

The Hungarian Academy is one of many organizations that encourage their scholars to make their research freely available. It is helped in this effort by the strong position of authors in the Hungarian publishing system: copyright transfers are not standard as in the US when publishing in a journal. Therefore, the editor of Világtörténet immediately assured me there was no obstacle to my posting the English original of my article—and the Hungarian translation when it is available—in the Rutgers institutional repository. Now the English version is available online in SOAR and accessible for readers in Hungary, with the Hungarian version soon to follow. SOAR’s ability to accommodate multiple versions of the same article is ideal for situations requiring prompt dissemination and different languages.


Jim Niessen