Imre Nagy’s re-interment, 16 June 1989, Budapest

In Budapest, on 16 June 1989, a solemn and symbolic ceremony was held. On this day, almost thirty-three years after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Imre Nagy was re-interred and, 31 years after his execution, honoured with a funeral befitting a man of his stature. Tens of thousands of people lined the routes and crowded into Heroes’ Square, paying their respects to the great man who, more than anyone, had symbolised the hope and the ultimate defeat of the Uprising.

Hungarian flagAlongside him, the coffins of four other leading participants of the Hungarian Revolution, and next to them, a sixth coffin – an empty one to commemorate all the victims of Soviet and communist repression during 1956. Shops and businesses were closed, schools given the day off. In the square, flowers and wreaths lay everywhere, Corinthian pillars were decked in black and white, Hungarian flags with the central Soviet emblem removed, and people with bowed heads, united by grief and ingrained memories.


Imre Nagy had died exactly thirty-one years previously, on 16 June 1958, less than two years after the communists, with their Soviet masters, had quashed the uprising and re-established one-party rule.

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Blood in the Water – Cold War water polo

6 December 1956 saw one of the most violent and politically-charged sporting clashes in history, an event that came to be known as ‘ Blood in the Water ’. The occasion was the Olympic water polo semi-final between Hungary and the USSR. Played against the backdrop of Cold War politics, the game was, from start to finish, fraught with tension.

Water Polo

Olympic flagHungary was the undoubted superpower of 1950s water polo. They had won gold at three of the four previous Olympic Games, and silver at the London Olympics of 1948; and were firm favourites to triumph again at the Melbourne Olympics of 1956, the first Olympics to be held in the southern hemisphere.

The Soviets, jealous of Hungary’s success in the water, had been training in Hungary in the months leading up to the Olympics, trying to learn what made the Hungarians so good at their game. Since 1949, Hungary had been a Soviet satellite and thus the Soviet team arrived, uninvited, and made use of Hungary’s pool facilities and expertise.

A ‘friendly’ match in Moscow earlier in the year had erupted in violence; the Russians having won thanks to some dubious partisan referring.

Hungarian Revolution

Hungarian Revolution 1956Then, in October 1956, came the Hungarian Revolution. The people of Hungary stood up to the oppression of a tyrannical and foreign ruler. The Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, sent in the tanks to quell the uprising and restore order. The tanks, having failed, were withdrawn. Khrushchev replaced Hungary’s hard-line communist rulers with the more populist Imre Nagy. Nagy announced his decision to withdraw Hungary from the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, introduce much-needed reform and, most alarmingly for Khrushchev, spoke of independence.

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Imre Nagy – a summary

Imre Nagy is remembered with great affection in today’s Hungary. Although a communist leader during its years of one-party rule, Nagy was the voice of liberalism and reform, advocating national communism, free from the shackles of the Soviet Union. Following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Nagy was arrested, tried in secret and executed. His rehabilitation and reburial in 1989 played a significant and symbolic role in ending communist rule in Hungary.

Imre Nagy plaqueImre Nagy was born 7 June 1896 in the town of Kaposvár in southern Hungary. He worked as a locksmith before joining the Austrian-Hungary army during the First World War. In 1915, he was captured and spent much of the war as a prisoner-of-war in Russia. He escaped and having converted to communism, joined the Red Army and fought alongside the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution of 1917.


In 1918, Nagy returned to Hungary as a committed communist and served the short-lived Soviet Republic established by Bela Kun in Hungary. Following its collapse in August 1919, after only five months, Nagy, as with other former members of Kun’s regime, lived underground, liable to arrest. Eventually, in 1928, he fled to Austria and from there, in 1930, to the Soviet Union, where he spent the next fourteen years studying agriculture.

Following the Second World War, Nagy returned again to Hungary serving as Minister of Agriculture in Hungary’s post-war communist government. Loyal to Stalin, Nagy led the charge of collectivization, redistributing the land of landowners to the peasants.

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The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 – a summary

In October 1956, the people of Hungary stood up against the oppression of Soviet rule. The subsequent uprising almost succeeded but the Soviet Union, in a full show of force, re-established its control and the revolution was quashed as quickly as it had erupted.

Slices of Salami

Budapest, II. Weltfestspiele, Festumzug, EhrentribüneFrom March 1944, during the Second World War, Hungary was occupied by the forces of Nazi Germany, being liberated by the Soviet Union’s Red Army on 4 April 1945. Backed by Joseph Stalin, Hungary’s fledging communists, led by Mátyás Rákosi (pictured), the self-styled ‘Stalin’s best pupil’, bullied their way into power. Having destroyed all political opponents by ‘cutting them off like slices of salami,’ as Rákosi later boasted, the communists consolidated their grip on power and in 1949, Hungary had officially become the People’s Republic of Hungary with Rákosi at its helm.

In just a matter of years, over 300,000 Hungarians were purged under Rákosi’s rule: exiled, imprisoned or killed. Stalin would have thoroughly approved of Rákosi’s hardline tactics but within four months of the Soviet leader’s death, on 5 March 1953, the Soviet politburo replaced Rákosi with Imre Nagy, whose softer approach gained him popular consent. Life improved, goods appeared in shops, and political prisoners were released. But Nagy became too popular for the Kremlin’s liking and in April 1955 Rákosi was put back in charge and the oppression started anew. But Nagy remained a hero.

A year after his re-appointment, Rákosi was replaced by fellow hard-line Stalinist, Erno Gero. (The Kremlin, finally realising how unpopular Rákosi was, told him to resign on grounds of ill health and fly to Moscow for treatment. He did, never to return to his home country. He was not missed). But under Erno Gero, nothing changed – arrests continued, the AVO, the Hungarian secret police, was busier than ever, while discontent simmered and people longed for the return of Imre Nagy.

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Jan Palach – a summary

On 16 January 1969, a 20-year-old Czechoslovakian student, Jan Palach, staged a one-man protest on Prague’s Wenceslas Square by dousing himself in petrol then setting himself on fire. Three days later, on 19 January, he died of his injuries. Palach’s protest was against Czechoslovakia’s authoritarian rule, re-imposed after the brief but significant period of liberalization, the Prague Spring, of the previous year.

Prague Spring

Leonid BrezhnevThe Prague Spring had been led by Czechoslovakia’s new communist party chairman, Alexander Dubcek, appointed in January 1968. Although claiming to be loyal to his Soviet masters in Moscow, Dubcek ushered in a period of political and cultural freedom unheard of in the previous twenty years of Czechoslovakian communist rule. The Soviet leadership, under Leonid Brezhnev (pictured), became increasingly concerned with what they considered Dubcek’s treachery and Czechoslovakia’s counterrevolution and demanded he reversed the reforms.

While outwardly agreeing and promising to compromise, Dubcek did nothing to halt the growing movement of liberalisation. Dubcek had gone too far, and so Brezhnev decided to act. On 21 August 1968, Soviet troops appeared in Czechoslovakia and on the streets of Prague to quash the ‘Prague Spring’ and to reassert stricter communist rule. Dubcek was initially arrested, restored briefly to power, albeit heavily monitored, before being replaced by Gustav Husak, a hardline alternative, loyal to Brezhnev and the communist cause. The Prague Spring was over.

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The Prague Spring – a summary

On the night of 20-21 August 1968, Soviet troops appeared in Czechoslovakia and on the streets of Prague to quell the growing movement of liberalisation, a movement known as the ‘Prague Spring’. Here, History In An Hour summarizes the events of the Prague Spring, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and its aftermath.

Socialism with a Human Face

On 5 January 1968, amongst growing discontent of economic failure, the Czechoslovakian communist party appointed Alexander Dubcek as its new chairman. Dubcek promised reform, democratisation and, using Nikita Khrushchev‘s phrase, ‘socialism with a human face’. He eased press censorship, allowed greater artistic and cultural freedom, pardoned victims of political purges, eased travel restrictions, promised to guarantee civil rights and liberties and permitted a degree of democratic reform.

Leonid BrezhnevBut while urging democratic communism, Dubcek remained loyal to Moscow and at no point was he advocating the dismissal of his or the country’s socialist principles. The Soviet leadership, under Leonid Brezhnev (pictured), saw it otherwise, becoming increasingly concerned with what they considered Dubcek’s treachery and Czechoslovakia’s counterrevolution.

Evidence of the transformation was immediately apparent – young men grew their hair, women wore mini skirts, anti-state newspapers appeared, films and plays long since banned by the regime reappeared, including the work of dissident playright, Vaclav Havel.

In July 1968, Brezhnev, fearing Czechoslovakian independence, met with Dubcek and demanded that he re-imposed strict communist control over his people and ordered Dubcek to reign in his ‘counter-revolutionary’ methods. Dubcek promised to compromise but over the coming weeks, it came clear to Moscow that nothing was being done. Brezhnev applied greater pressure, often ringing Dubcek and bellowing at him down the telephone.

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The Assassination of John F Kennedy – a summary

It’s become a cliche but people who remember John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, can usually say exactly what they were doing when they first heard the shocking news. It was a defining moment of the second half of the twentieth century.

On 21 November 1963, President Kennedy, accompanied by the First Lady, travelled to Texas, where he was scheduled to make a number of appearances in a bid to drum up support for the Democratic Party prior to the 1964 general election.

Not everyone, however, was convinced of the wisdom of such a journey. Some White House officials, worried that the President would receive a hostile reception from voters in what was a staunchly Republican State, advised against it.  But characteristically, Kennedy rebuffed their concerns, insisting that a trip to ‘nut country’ was necessary. He reportedly said to Jackie: ‘if somebody wants to shoot me, […] nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?’

22 November 1963

The following day, 22 November 1963, at 12.30pm, President Kennedy was travelling in an open top car through the streets of Dallas when three loud rifle shots rang through the air, apparently shot from the sixth floor of the nearby Book Depository building. According to official reports, the first of these bullets missed its mark, while the second penetrated the back of the President’s neck. Kennedy’s steel-boned back brace which he wore to alleviate his constant pain held Kennedy in a upright position, despite his wound – allowing the final, fatal shot to strike the back of his head. (Pictured, President Kennedy with the First Lady, shortly before his assassination, 22 November 1963. Click on image to enlarge).

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When Winning is Not Enough: the East German Athletes that Made a Dash for Freedom‏

The 19-year-old man had spent a week watching the guards, learning their routine, as they patrolled the beach on the Baltic seaside resort of Boltenhagen.

The area was known by the East German secret police, the Stasi, as a favoured spot from which to escape to the West. He knew that each hour the guards had to switch off their spotlights for a few minutes to allow the bulbs to cool down.

The young man, Axel Mitbauer, a champion swimmer and member of the East German national swimming team, had already suffered at the hands of the Stasi. Known for his fraternisation with West Germans, he had been locked-up in solitary confinement for seven weeks, deprived of light and beaten up. But Mitbauer was made of strong stuff. On the night of 17 August 1969, he made his move.

When the right moment came, Mitbauer, smeared with 30 tubes of Vaseline against the cold water, slipped into the icy Baltic. Once the spotlights returned, he swam underwater. Using the stars as his guide, he swam 15 miles until, after four hours, he reached a lifebuoy and climbed aboard to rest. Six hours later, at 7 am the following morning, he was picked up by a West German ship. He’d made it.

In 1984, 24-year-old East German, Ines Geipel (far left), along with her teammates, had broken the world record for the women’s 4×100 metre relay, clocking-up a time of 42.2 seconds.

It was the crowning moment of her career. Ahead of them lay the Los Angeles Olympics and the chance for further glory. But Geipel fell in love with a Mexican athlete, a walker, and dreamt of living in the West. She soon came to the attention of the Stasi and back in East Germany was made to undergo an operation to remove her appendix. There, they took the opportunity to mutilate her stomach, thus destroying her career and her dreams and leaving her with debilitating stomach cramps.

Twenty years later, Geipel, whose own father had worked for the Stasi, renounced her world record, citing that it had been gained under the influence of drugs.


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The Marshall Plan and the Cold War

The European Recovery Program, commonly known as Marshall Plan, is usually remembered for the economic support provided by the United States for the rehabilitation of European countries ravaged by the Second World War. But the US was motivated by more than just economics and today a far more important role is accredited to the Marshall Plan. By way of example, Andreas Enderlin points to two influential works dealing with the Marshall Plan and its implications for the Cold War. The publications were published in 1995 and 2005, the ten-year gap alone promising two differential points of view on the motives that lay behind the Marshall Plan.

United Europe

Published in 1995, Klaus Schwabe examines the traditional view of the Marshall Plan in his work Der Marshall-Plan und Europa. In a speech given in 1947, the then US Secretary of State, George Marshall (pictured), declared that the ‘official goal’ of the Marshall Plan was the unification of Europe. The program met with great approval in the United States. However, the future Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, realized, along with others, that the Soviet Union would render a united Europe impossible. So instead the US concentrated on forming a united Western Europe, motivated, to use Schwabe’s words, by a ‘rational utilization of Europe’s economic potential’ and an ‘alternative for Europeans against communist propaganda’.

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The Cold War: History in an Hour

History for busy people. The Cold War: History in an Hour gives a brilliant overview of the unusual and non-violent war between East and West that lasted nearly fifty years.

From the end of World War Two to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the world lived within the shadow of the Cold War. Russia and America eyed each other with suspicion and hostility. World War Two was too recent to be forgotten and a nuclear Third World War remained a distinct possibility. Post-war Europe was being rebuilt and Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt had to find a way to work together for peace.

The Cold War: History in an Hour will help you understand the dynamics of the politics of the time and how Europe and the rest of the world rebuilt themselves after World War Two.

Love your history? Find out about the world with History in an Hour…

Only 99p. Buy now from iTunesAmazonB&N and other online stores.

Also available as an audio download and an app for the iPhone / iPad
  • The End of the Second World War: Apocalypse  
  • The Beginning of the Cold War: The Freeze 
  • Three Speeches: “An iron curtain has descended.” 
  • The Marshall Plan“Communism cannot be stopped in Europe” 
  • Berlin: “You cannot abandon this city and this people” 
  • The Bomb “MAD.” 
  • The Korean War: Hot War 
  • American anti-communism‘Reds Under the Bed.’ 
  • Stalin’s Final Years: “I’m finished, I don’t even trust myself.” 
  • Khrushchev: “Different roads to socialism.” 
  • Space Wars: ‘Flopnik’ 
  • The Berlin Wall: “Berlin is the testicles of the West.” 
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis: “We’ll all meet together in Hell.” 
  • The Vietnam War: Unwinnable 
  • Rebellion: 1968 
  • Nixon: ‘Vietnamization’ 
  • China, America and the Soviet Union: ‘Ping-pong diplomacy.’ 
  • The Decline of Detente: ‘Lennonism, not Leninism.
  • Afghanistan: ‘The Soviet Vietnam.’
  • The Polish Pope and Solidarity: “The last nails in the coffin of communism.”
  • The Ex-Actor: “Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root.” 
  • Gorbachev“Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” 
  • 1989: “Time to yield power.”
  • The End of the USSR: “The threat of a world war is no more.”

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