Why did both Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 rebel against Soviet Domination?
The causes for such a massive and all-captivating rebellion, which occurred both in Hungary (1956) and in Czechoslovakia (1968), originated most from deep-rooted antagonism towards Soviet domination in the Eastern Europe in the post-war era. A continuous political and cultural suppression by Soviet dictatorial policies, obviously linked with economic constraints, coalesced to provoke robust insurrections. Short-term reasons are of no less importance in the analysis of these events. In the case of Hungary, Khrushchev’s speech on the 20th Part Congress - which discredited Stalinist rule and encouraged a policy of diversion - played a significant role in the development of Hungarian resistance. While observing events in Czechoslovakia, the role of Dubcek’s government should be emphasized, since it was their new program, which raised a significant enthusiasm in Czechs, to aim for a neutral course.
One of the main reasons for the initiation of a certain alienation process in Hungary was the brink of an economic catastrophe, to which Hungary was brought by its ex-premier Matyas Rakosi in the mid-1950’s. Since Hungarian economic developments mirrored those of the Soviet Union, Rakosi also made a strong emphasis on the build-up of Hungarian heavy industry at the expense of the rest of the economy. Likewise, Rakosi’s successor, Imre Nagy, was to pursue Malenkov’s ‘new course’, which aimed to divert the country’s resources to light industry and seize the imposed collectivization of agriculture.
The economic relaxation led to a corresponding intellectual relaxation. Intellectuals began to discuss not only the nature of the changes in Hungarian communism, but also the value of a Communist system; society commenced debating on the possibility of achieving democracy in a Communist state.
Nagy’s plans were cut short by the fall of his Soviet Protector, Malenkov, in February 1955. Rakosi seized the opportunity to regain leadership over both the state and the party, re-instituting a Stalinist hard line. Nagy gave in without a fight, perhaps because he expected Rakosi would fail in his attempt to re-impose ideological conformity. His intuition has not deceived him; hatred of Rakosi’s brutal and repressive regime which executed at least 2000 people and put 200,000 other in prisons and concentration camps was enormous. Masses were enraged by the falling living standards, while hated party leaders were comfortably off. However, Nagy could hardly have expected the shake-up in the Soviet block that was to result from Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Party Congress in February 1956.