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The Contemporary World

1945 to the present


After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.

The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



Eastern and Central Europe

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, BulgariaRomania, Albania


After the end of World War II, the states of Eastern and Central Europe came under the communist control of regimes loyal to the Soviet Union. After the formation of popular front governments, power was taken over by the Communist party, whose rule was secured and protected by the Red Army. The economies of these so-called vassal states were geared to the requirements of the Soviet Union as were their political decisions. When the USSR was forced to carry out reforms in its own country and the regime could no longer find support within its sphere of influence, the regimes collapsed.


Hungary, 1945 to the Present

The Hungarian revolt of 1956 was brutally suppressed. Hungary was the first Eastern bloc country to open its borders to the West in 1989.


Nazi Germany's ally Hungary, which had declared war on the Soviet Union, was occupied by the Red Army toward the end of World War II. Budapest fell after a seven-week siege. Despite the relatively low proportion of pro-Communist votes in the elections of 1945 and 1947, the People's Republic of Hungary was proclaimed on February 1,1946. Supported by the Soviet military, the Hungarian Communist party took over the administration, forced the parties into line, and united with the Social Democrats to form the Hungarian Workers' party.

Matyas Rakosi took the post of general secretary and followed a strict Stalinist course of "cleansings" and show trials, including those of Protestant and Catholic leaders.

After Stalin's death in 1953, the new prime minister, 3 Imre Nagy, attempted to relax the authoritarian system.

4 Matyas Rakosi, 1952

3 Prime Minister Imre Nagy, 1954

He ended the forced collectivization of agriculture, eased the speed of industrialization, and put a stop to state terror. His program was thwarted, however, by the Stalinist resistance led by Rakosi.

The population then 1 revolted on October 23,1956, out of discontent with the Communist party and the running of the government.

1 Destruction of the Stalin memorial in Budapest during the public uprising in Hungary, 1956

Nagy formed a coalition government and announced Hungary's resignation from the Warsaw Pact. He paid for his commitment with his life in 1958 when he was executed.

Following the suppression of the revolt by the 5 Soviet military, the new party leader 6 Janos Kadar took control of the government in 1956.

5 Soviet tanks in Budapest, 1956

6 Janos Kadar, 1956

He eliminated internal party opposition and leaned heavily on the support of the Soviets. Individual economic initiatives were allowed at the beginning of the 1960s. This "Goulash Communism" brought about a certain economic rebound.

Following Kadar's resignation as party chief in 1988, reforms could no longer be halted.

The opening of the Hungarian-Austrian 2 border in September 1989 punched a hole in the Iron Curtain that had divided East and West and increased the pressure for reform in the entire Eastern bloc.

After the first free elections in Hungary, the Democratic Forum took over the reins of government in 1990. Soviet troops left the country in 1991, and Hungary joined NATO in 1999. In 2004, the country was taken into the European Union along with nine other states.

2 Dismantling the border fence between Austria
and Hungary, May 2, 1989



Hungarian Revolution of 1956

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (Hungarian: 1956-os forradalom) was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the Stalinist government of the People's Republic of Hungary and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956.

The revolt began as a student demonstration which attracted thousands as it marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building. A student delegation entering the radio building in an attempt to broadcast its demands was detained. When the delegation's release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. The news spread quickly and disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.

The revolt spread quickly across Hungary, and the government fell. Thousands organized into militias, battling the State Security Police (ÁVH) and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned, as former prisoners were released and armed. Impromptu councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People's Party and demanded political changes. The new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped and a sense of normality began to return.

After announcing a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to crush the revolution. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions alienated many Western Marxists, yet strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe, reinforcing perceptions[attribution needed] that communism was both irreversible and monolithic.

Public discussion about this revolution was suppressed in Hungary for over 30 years, but since the thaw of the 1980s it has been a subject of intense study and debate. At the inauguration of the Third Hungarian Republic in 1989, October 23 was declared a national holiday.

After World War II, the Soviet military occupied Hungary and gradually replaced the elected coalition government led by the Independent Smallholders, Agrarian Workers and Civic Party with a Hungarian Communist Party dominated government. Radical nationalization of the economy based on the Soviet model produced economic stagnation, lower standards of living and a deep malaise. Writers and journalists were the first to voice open criticism, publishing critical articles in 1955. By 22 October 1956, Technical University students had resurrected the banned MEFESZ student union, and staged a demonstration on 23 October which set off a chain of events leading directly to the revolution.

Postwar occupation
After World War II, Hungary fell under the Soviet sphere of influence and was occupied by the Red Army. By 1949, the Soviets had concluded a mutual assistance treaty with Hungary which granted the Soviet Union rights to a continued military presence, assuring ultimate political control.

Hungary began the postwar period as a free multiparty democracy, and elections in 1945 produced a coalition government under Prime Minister Zoltán Tildy. However, the Soviet-supported Communist Party, which had received only 17% of the vote, constantly wrested small concessions in a process named "salami tactics", which sliced away the elected government's influence.

After the elections of 1945, the portfolio of the Interior Ministry, under which the Hungarian State Security Police (Államvédelmi Hatóság, later known as the ÁVH), was forcibly transferred from the Independent Smallholders Party to a nominee of the Communist Party. The ÁVH employed methods of intimidation, false accusations, imprisonment and torture, to suppress political opposition. The brief period of multiparty democracy came to an end when the Communist Party merged with the Social Democratic Party to become the Hungarian Working People's Party, which stood its candidate list unopposed in 1949. The People's Republic of Hungary was then declared.

Political repression and economic decline
Hungary became a communist state under the severely authoritarian leadership of Mátyás Rákosi. The Security Police (ÁVH) began a series of purges of more than 7000 dissidents, who were denounced as "Titoists" or "western agents", and forced to confess in show trials, after which they were relocated to a camp in eastern Hungary.

From 1950 to 1952, the Security Police forcibly relocated thousands of people to obtain property and housing for the Working People's Party members, and to remove the threat of the intellectual and 'bourgeois' class. Thousands were arrested, tortured, tried, and imprisoned in concentration camps, deported to the east, or were executed, including ÁVH founder László Rajk. In a single year, more than 26,000 people were forcibly relocated from Budapest. As a consequence, jobs and housing were very difficult to obtain. The deportees generally experienced terrible living conditions and were impressed as slave labor on collective farms. Many died as a result of the poor living conditions and malnutrition.

The Rákosi government thoroughly politicized Hungary's educational system in order to supplant the educated classes with a "toiling intelligentsia". Russian language study and Communist political instruction were made mandatory in schools and universities nationwide. Religious schools were nationalized and church leaders were replaced by those loyal to the government. In 1949 the leader of the Hungarian Catholic Church, Cardinal József Mindszenty, was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason. Under Rákosi, Hungary's government was among the most repressive in Europe.

The postwar Hungarian economy suffered from multiple challenges. Hungary agreed to pay war reparations approximating US$300 million, to the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, and to support Soviet garrisons. The Hungarian National Bank in 1946 estimated the cost of reparations as "between 19 and 22 per cent of the annual national income." In 1946, the Hungarian currency experienced marked depreciation, resulting in the highest historic rates of hyperinflation known. Hungary's participation in the Soviet-sponsored COMECON (Council Of Mutual Economic Assistance), prevented it from trading with the West or receiving Marshall Plan aid. Although national income per capita rose in the first third of the 1950s, the standard of living fell. Huge income deductions to finance industrial investment reduced disposable personal income; mismanagement created chronic shortages in basic foodstuffs resulting in rationing of bread, sugar, flour and meat. Compulsory subscriptions to state bonds further reduced personal income. The net result was that disposable real income of workers and employees in 1952 was only two-thirds of what it had been in 1938, whereas in 1949, the proportion had been 90 per cent. These policies had a cumulative negative effect, and fueled discontent as foreign debt grew and the population experienced shortages of goods.

International events
On 5 March 1953, Joseph Stalin died, ushering in a period of moderate liberalization during which most European communist parties developed a reform wing. In Hungary, the reformist Imre Nagy replaced Mátyás Rákosi, "Stalin's Best Hungarian Disciple", as Prime Minister. However, Rákosi remained General Secretary of the Party, and was able to undermine most of Nagy's reforms. By April 1955, he had Nagy discredited and removed from office. After Khrushchev's "secret speech" of February 1956, which denounced Stalin and his protégés, Rákosi was deposed as General Secretary of the Party and replaced by Ernő Gerő on 18 July 1956.

On 14 May 1955, the Soviet Union created the Warsaw Pact, binding Hungary to the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe. Among the principles of this alliance were "respect for the independence and sovereignty of states" and "noninterference in their internal affairs".

In 1955, the Austrian State Treaty and ensuing declaration of neutrality established Austria as a demilitarized and neutral country. This raised Hungarian hopes of also becoming neutral and in 1955 Nagy had considered "...the possibility of Hungary adopting a neutral status on the Austrian pattern".

In June 1956, a violent uprising by Polish workers in Poznań was put down by the government, with scores of protesters killed and wounded. Responding to popular demand, in October 1956, the government appointed the recently rehabilitated reformist communist Władysław Gomułka as First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party, with a mandate to negotiate trade concessions and troop reductions with the Soviet government. After a few tense days of negotiations, on 19 October the Soviets finally gave in to Gomułka's reformist demands. News of the concessions won by the Poles—known as Polish October—emboldened many Hungarians to hope for similar concessions for Hungary and these sentiments contributed significantly to the highly charged political climate that prevailed in Hungary in the second half of October 1956.

Social unrest builds
Rákosi's resignation in July 1956 emboldened students, writers and journalists to be more active and critical in politics. Students and journalists started a series of intellectual forums examining the problems facing Hungary. These forums, called Petõfi circles, became very popular and attracted thousands of participants. On 6 October 1956, László Rajk, who had been executed by the Rákosi government, was reburied in a moving ceremony which strengthened the party opposition, and later that month, the reformer Imre Nagy was rehabilitated to full membership in the Hungarian Working People's Party.

On 16 October 1956, university students in Szeged snubbed the official communist student union, the DISZ, by re-establishing the MEFESZ (Union of Hungarian University and Academy Students), a democratic student organization, previously banned under the Rákosi dictatorship. Within days, the student bodies of Pécs, Miskolc, and Sopron followed suit. On 22 October, students of the Technical University compiled a list of sixteen points containing several national policy demands.[39] After the students heard that the Hungarian Writers’ Union planned on the following day to express solidarity with pro-reform movements in Poland by laying a wreath at the statue of Polish-born General Bem, a hero of Hungary's War of Independence (1848–49), the students decided to organize a parallel demonstration of sympathy.

Soviet tanks in Budapest, 1956


First shots
On the afternoon of 23 October 1956, approximately 20,000 protesters convened next to the Bem statue. Péter Veres, President of the Writers’ Union, read a manifesto to the crowd, the students read their proclamation, and the crowd then chanted the censored "National Song", which refrains: "We vow, we vow, we will no longer remain slaves." Someone in the crowd cut out the communist coat of arms from the Hungarian flag, leaving a distinctive hole and others quickly followed suit. Afterwards, most of the crowd crossed the Danube to join demonstrators outside the Parliament Building. By 6 p.m., the multitude had swollen to more than 200,000 people; the demonstration was spirited, but peaceful.

At 8 p.m., First Secretary Ernő Gerő broadcast a speech condemning the writers' and students' demands. Angered by Gerő's hard-line rejection, some demonstrators decided to carry out one of their demands - the removal of Stalin's 30-foot (9.1 m) high bronze statue that was erected in 1951 on the site of a church, which was demolished to make room for the Stalin monument. By 9:30 p.m. the statue was toppled and jubilant crowds celebrated by placing Hungarian flags in Stalin's boots, which was all that was left of the statue.

At about the same time, a large crowd gathered at the Radio Budapest building, which was heavily guarded by the ÁVH. The flash point was reached as a delegation attempting to broadcast their demands was detained and the crowd grew increasingly unruly as rumors spread that the protesters had been shot. Tear gas was thrown from the upper windows and the ÁVH opened fire on the crowd, killing many. The ÁVH tried to re-supply itself by hiding arms inside an ambulance, but the crowd detected the ruse and intercepted it. Hungarian soldiers sent to relieve the ÁVH hesitated and then, tearing the red stars from their caps, sided with the crowd.[43][47] Provoked by the ÁVH attack, protesters reacted violently. Police cars were set ablaze, guns were seized from military depots and distributed to the masses and symbols of the communist regime were vandalised.

Fighting spreads, government falls
During the night of 23 October, Hungarian Working People's Party Secretary Ernő Gerő requested Soviet military intervention "to suppress a demonstration that was reaching an ever greater and unprecedented scale."[35] The Soviet leadership had formulated contingency plans for intervention in Hungary several months before.[49] By 2 a.m. on 24 October, under orders of the Soviet defence minister, Soviet tanks entered Budapest.

On 24 October, Soviet tanks were stationed outside the Parliament building and Soviet soldiers guarded key bridges and crossroads. Armed revolutionaries quickly set up barricades to defend Budapest, and were reported to have already captured some Soviet tanks by mid-morning. That day, Imre Nagy replaced András Hegedűs as Prime Minister. On the radio, Nagy called for an end to violence and promised to initiate political reforms which had been shelved three years earlier. The population continued to arm itself as sporadic violence erupted. Armed protesters seized the radio building. At the offices of the Communist newspaper Szabad Nép unarmed demonstrators were fired upon by ÁVH guards who were then driven out as armed demonstrators arrived. At this point, the revolutionaries' wrath focused on the ÁVH; Soviet military units were not yet fully engaged, and there were many reports of some Soviet troops showing open sympathy for the demonstrators.

On 25 October, a mass of protesters gathered in front of the Parliament Building. ÁVH units began shooting into the crowd from the rooftops of neighboring buildings. Some Soviet soldiers returned fire on the ÁVH, mistakenly believing that they were the targets of the shooting. Supplied by arms taken from the ÁVH or given by Hungarian soldiers who joined the uprising, some in the crowd started shooting back.

The attacks at the Parliament forced the collapse of the government. Communist First Secretary Ernő Gerő and former Prime Minister András Hegedűs fled to the Soviet Union; Imre Nagy became Prime Minister and János Kádár First Secretary of the Communist Party. Revolutionaries began an aggressive offensive against Soviet troops and the remnants of the ÁVH.

As the Hungarian resistance fought Soviet tanks using Molotov cocktails in the narrow streets of Budapest, revolutionary councils arose nationwide, assumed local governmental authority, and called for general strikes. Public Communist symbols such as red stars and Soviet war memorials were removed, and Communist books were burned. Spontaneous revolutionary militias arose, such as the 400-man group loosely led by József Dudás, which attacked or murdered Soviet sympathizers and ÁVH members. Soviet units fought primarily in Budapest; elsewhere the countryside was largely quiet. Soviet commanders often negotiated local cease-fires with the revolutionaries. In some regions, Soviet forces managed to quell revolutionary activity. In Budapest, the Soviets were eventually fought to a stand-still and hostilities began to wane. Hungarian general Béla Király, freed from a life sentence for political offenses and acting with the support of the Nagy government, sought to restore order by unifying elements of the police, army and insurgent groups into a National Guard. A ceasefire was arranged on 28 October, and by 30 October most Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest to garrisons in the Hungarian countryside.


Fighting had virtually ceased between 28 October and 4 November, as many Hungarians believed that Soviet military units were indeed withdrawing from Hungary.

The New Hungarian National Government
The rapid spread of the uprising in the streets of Budapest and the abrupt fall of the Gerő-Hegedűs government left the new national leadership surprised, and at first disorganized. Nagy, a loyal Party reformer described as possessing "only modest political skills", initially appealed to the public for calm and a return to the old order. Yet Nagy, the only remaining Hungarian leader with credibility in both the eyes of the public and the Soviets, "at long last concluded that a popular uprising rather than a counter-revolution was taking place". Calling the ongoing insurgency "a broad democratic mass movement" in a radio address on 27 October, Nagy formed a government which included some non-communist ministers. This new National Government abolished both the ÁVH and the one-party system. Because it held office only ten days, the National Government had little chance to clarify its policies in detail. However, newspaper editorials at the time stressed that Hungary should be a neutral, multiparty social democracy. Many political prisoners were released, most notably Cardinal József Mindszenty. Political parties which were previously banned, such as the Independent Smallholders and the National Peasants' Party, reappeared to join the coalition.

Local revolutionary councils formed throughout Hungary, generally without involvement from the preoccupied National Government in Budapest, and assumed various responsibilities of local government from the defunct communist party. By 30 October, these councils had been officially sanctioned by the Hungarian Working People's Party, and the Nagy government asked for their support as "autonomous, democratic local organs formed during the Revolution". Likewise, workers' councils were established at industrial plants and mines, and many unpopular regulations such as production norms were eliminated. The workers' councils strove to manage the enterprise whilst protecting workers' interests; thus establishing a socialist economy free of rigid party control. Local control by the councils was not always bloodless; in Debrecen, Győr, Sopron, Mosonmagyaróvár and other cities, crowds of demonstrators were fired upon by the ÁVH, with many lives lost. The ÁVH were disarmed, often by force, in many cases assisted by the local police.

Soviet perspective
On 24 October, the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (the Politburo) discussed the political upheavals in Poland and Hungary. A hard-line faction led by Molotov was pushing for intervention, but Khrushchev and Marshal Zhukov were initially opposed. A delegation in Budapest reported that the situation was not as dire as had been portrayed. Khrushchev stated that he believed that Party Secretary Ernő Gerő's request for intervention on 23 October indicated that the Hungarian Party still held the confidence of the Hungarian public. In addition, he saw the protests not as an ideological struggle, but as popular discontent over unresolved basic economic and social issues.

After some debate, the Presidium on 30 October decided not to remove the new Hungarian government. Even Marshal Georgy Zhukov said: "We should withdraw troops from Budapest, and if necessary withdraw from Hungary as a whole. This is a lesson for us in the military-political sphere." They adopted a Declaration of the Government of the USSR on the Principles of Development and Further Strengthening of Friendship and Cooperation between the Soviet Union and other Socialist States, which was issued the next day. This document proclaimed: "The Soviet Government is prepared to enter into the appropriate negotiations with the government of the Hungarian People's Republic and other members of the Warsaw Treaty on the question of the presence of Soviet troops on the territory of Hungary." Thus for a brief moment it looked like there could be a peaceful solution.

On 30 October, armed protestors attacked the ÁVH detachment guarding the Budapest Hungarian Working People's Party headquarters on Köztársaság tér (Republic Square), incited by rumors of prisoners held there, and the earlier shootings of demonstrators by the ÁVH in the city of Mosonmagyaróvár. Over 20 AVH officers were killed, some of them lynched by the mob. Hungarian army tanks sent to rescue the party headquarters mistakenly bombarded the building. The head of the Budapest party committee, Imre Mező, was wounded and later died. Scenes from Republic Square were shown on Soviet newsreels a few hours later. Revolutionary leaders in Hungary condemned the incident and appealed for calm, and the mob violence soon died down, but images of the victims were nevertheless used as propaganda by various Communist organs.

On 31 October the Soviet leaders decided to reverse their decision from the previous day. There is disagreement among historians whether Hungary's declaration to exit the Warsaw Pact caused the second Soviet intervention. Minutes of the 31 October meeting of the Presidium record that the decision to intervene militarily was taken one day before Hungary declared its neutrality and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. However, some Russian historians who are not advocates of the Communist era maintain that the Hungarian declaration of neutrality caused the Kremlin to intervene a second time. Two days earlier, on 30 October, when Soviet Politburo representatives Anastas Mikoyan and Mikhail Suslov were in Budapest, Nagy had hinted that neutrality was a long-term objective for Hungary, and that he was hoping to discuss this matter with the leaders in the Kremlin. This information was passed on to Moscow by Mikoyan and Suslov. At that same time, Khrushchev was in Stalin's dacha, considering his options regarding Hungary. One of his speechwriters later said that the declaration of neutrality was an important factor in his subsequent decision to support intervention. In addition, some Hungarian leaders of the revolution as well as students had called for their country's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact much earlier, and this may have influenced Soviet decision making.

Several other key events alarmed the Presidium and cemented the interventionists' position:

Simultaneous movements towards multiparty parliamentary democracy, and a democratic national council of workers, which could "lead towards a capitalist state." Both movements challenged the pre-eminence of the Soviet Communist Party in Eastern Europe and perhaps Soviet hegemony itself. For the majority of the Presidium, the workers' direct control over their councils without Communist Party leadership was incompatible with their idea of socialism. At the time, these councils were, in the words of Hannah Arendt, "the only free and acting soviets (councils) in existence anywhere in the world".
The Presidium was concerned lest the West might perceive Soviet weakness if it did not deal firmly with Hungary. On 1956-10-29, Israeli, British and French forces invaded Egypt. Khrushchev reportedly remarked "We should reexamine our assessment and should not withdraw our troops from Hungary and Budapest. We should take the initiative in restoring order in Hungary. If we depart from Hungary, it will give a great boost to the Americans, English, and French—the imperialists. They will perceive it as weakness on our part and will go onto the offensive... To Egypt they will then add Hungary. We have no other choice."
Khrushchev stated that many in the communist party would not understand a failure to respond with force in Hungary. De-Stalinization had alienated the more conservative elements of the Party, who were alarmed at threats to Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. On 17 June 1953, workers in East Berlin had staged an uprising, demanding the resignation of the government of the German Democratic Republic. This was quickly and violently put down with the help of the Soviet military, with 84 killed and wounded and 700 arrested. In June 1956, in Poznań, Poland, an anti-government workers' revolt had been suppressed by the Polish security forces with between 57 and 78 deaths and led to the installation of a less Soviet-controlled government. Additionally, by late October, unrest was noticed in some regional areas of the Soviet Union: while this unrest was minor, it was intolerable.
Hungarian neutrality and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact represented a breach in the Soviet defensive buffer zone of satellite nations. Soviet fear of invasion from the West made a defensive buffer of allied states in Eastern Europe an essential security objective.
The Presidium decided to break the de facto ceasefire and crush the Hungarian revolution. The plan was to declare a "Provisional Revolutionary Government" under János Kádár, who would appeal for Soviet assistance to restore order. According to witnesses, Kádár was in Moscow in early November, and he was in contact with the Soviet embassy while still a member of the Nagy government. Delegations were sent to other Communist governments in Eastern Europe and China, seeking to avoid a regional conflict, and propaganda messages prepared for broadcast as soon as the second Soviet intervention had begun. To disguise these intentions, Soviet diplomats were to engage the Nagy government in talks discussing the withdrawal of Soviet forces.

According to some sources, the Chinese leader Mao Zedong played an important role in Khrushchev's decision to suppress the Hungarian uprising. Chinese Communist Party Deputy Chairman Liu Shaoqi put pressure on Khrushchev to send in troops to put down the revolt by force. Although the relations between China and the Soviet Union had deteriorated during the recent years, Mao's words still carried great weight in the Kremlin, and they were frequently in contact during the crisis. Initially Mao opposed a second intervention and this information was passed on to Khrushchev on 30 October, before the Presidium met and decided against intervention. Mao then changed his mind in favor of intervention, but according to William Taubman it remains unclear when and how Khrushchev learned of this and thus if it influenced his decision on 31 October.

On 1 November to 3 November, Khrushchev left Moscow to meet with his East-European allies and inform them of the decision to intervene. At the first such meeting, he met with Władysław Gomułka in Brest. Then he had talks with the Romanian, Czechoslovak, and Bulgarian leaders in Bucharest. Finally Khrushchev flew with Malenkov to Yugoslavia, where they met with Tito, who was vacationing on his island Brioni in the Adriatic. The Yugoslavs also persuaded Khrushchev to choose János Kádár instead of Ferenc Münnich as the new leader of Hungary.

International reaction
Although the United States Secretary of State recommended on 24 October that the United Nations Security Council convene to discuss the situation in Hungary, little immediate action was taken to introduce a resolution. Responding to the plea by Nagy at the time of the second massive Soviet intervention on 4 November, the Security Council resolution critical of Soviet actions was vetoed by the Soviet Union. The General Assembly, by a vote of 50 in favor, 8 against and 15 abstentions, called on the Soviet Union to end its Hungarian intervention, but the newly constituted Kádár government rejected UN observers.

The U.S. President, Dwight Eisenhower, was aware of a detailed study of Hungarian resistance which recommended against U.S. military intervention, and of earlier policy discussions within the National Security Council which focused upon encouraging discontent in Soviet satellite nations only by economic policies and political rhetoric. In a 1998 interview, Hungarian Ambassador Géza Jeszenszky was critical of Western inaction in 1956, citing the influence of the United Nations at that time and giving the example of UN intervention in Korea from 1950 to 1953.

During the uprising, the Radio Free Europe (RFE) Hungarian-language programs broadcast news of the political and military situation, as well as appealing to Hungarians to fight the Soviet forces, including tactical advice on resistance methods. After the Soviet suppression of the revolution, RFE was criticized for having misled the Hungarian people that NATO or United Nations would intervene if the citizens continued to resist.

Soviet intervention of 4 November
On 1 November, Imre Nagy received reports that Soviet forces had entered Hungary from the east and were moving towards Budapest. Nagy sought and received assurances from Soviet ambassador Yuri Andropov that the Soviet Union would not invade, although Andropov knew otherwise. The Cabinet, with János Kádár in agreement, declared Hungary's neutrality, withdrew from the Warsaw Pact, and requested assistance from the diplomatic corps in Budapest and the UN Secretary-General to defend Hungary's neutrality. Ambassador Andropov was asked to inform his government that Hungary would begin negotiations on the removal of Soviet forces immediately.

On 3 November, a Hungarian delegation led by the Minister of Defense Pál Maléter were invited to attend negotiations on Soviet withdrawal at the Soviet Military Command at Tököl, near Budapest. At around midnight that evening, General Ivan Serov, Chief of the Soviet Security Police (NKVD) ordered the arrest of the Hungarian delegation, and the next day, the Soviet army again attacked Budapest.

This second Soviet intervention, codenamed "Operation Whirlwind", was launched by Marshal Ivan Konev. The five Soviet divisions stationed in Hungary before 23 October were augmented to a total strength of 17 divisions. The 8th Mechanized Army under command of Lieutenant General Hamazasp Babadzhanian and the 38th Army under command of Lieutenant General Hadzhi-Umar Mamsurov from the nearby Carpathian Military District were deployed to Hungary for the operation. Some rank-and-file Soviet soldiers reportedly believed they were being sent to Berlin to fight German fascists. By 9:30 p.m. on 3 November, the Soviet Army had completely encircled Budapest.

At 3:00 a.m. on 4 November, Soviet tanks penetrated Budapest along the Pest side of the Danube in two thrusts: one up the Soroksári road from the south and the other down the Váci road from the north. Thus before a single shot was fired, the Soviets had effectively split the city in half, controlled all bridgeheads, and were shielded to the rear by the wide Danube river. Armored units crossed into Buda and at 4:25 a.m. fired the first shots at the army barracks on Budaõrsi road. Soon after, Soviet artillery and tank fire was heard in all districts of Budapest. Operation Whirlwind combined air strikes, artillery, and the coordinated tank-infantry action of 17 divisions. The Hungarian Army put up sporadic and uncoordinated resistance. Although some very senior officers were openly pro-Soviet, the rank and file soldiers were overwhelmingly loyal to the revolution and either fought against the invasion or deserted. The United Nations reported that there were no recorded incidents of Hungarian Army units fighting on the side of the Soviets.

At 5:20 a.m. on 4 November, Imre Nagy broadcast his final plea to the nation and the world, announcing that Soviet Forces were attacking Budapest and that the Government remained at its post. The radio station, Free Kossuth Rádió, stopped broadcasting at 8:07 a.m. An emergency Cabinet meeting was held in the Parliament building, but was attended by only three Ministers. As Soviet troops arrived to occupy the building, a negotiated evacuation ensued, leaving Minister of State István Bibó as the last representative of the National Government remaining at post. He wrote For Freedom and Truth, a stirring proclamation to the nation and the world.

At 6:00 am on 4 November, in the town of Szolnok, János Kádár proclaimed the "Hungarian Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government". His statement declared "We must put an end to the excesses of the counter-revolutionary elements. The hour for action has sounded. We are going to defend the interest of the workers and peasants and the achievements of the people's democracy." Later that evening, Kádár called upon "the faithful fighters of the true cause of socialism" to come out of hiding and take up arms. However, Hungarian support did not materialize; the fighting did not take on the character of an internally divisive civil war, but rather, in the words of a United Nations report, that of "a well-equipped foreign army crushing by overwhelming force a national movement and eliminating the Government."

By 8:00 am organised defence of the city evaporated after the radio station was seized, and many defenders fell back to fortified positions. Hungarian civilians bore the brunt of the fighting, as Soviet troops spared little effort to differentiate military from civilian targets. For this reason, Soviet tanks often crept along main roads firing indiscriminately into buildings. Hungarian resistance was strongest in the industrial areas of Budapest, which were heavily targeted by Soviet artillery and air strikes. The last pocket of resistance called for ceasefire on 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 722 Soviet troops had been killed and thousands more were wounded.

Soviet version of the events
Soviet reports of the events surrounding, during, and after were remarkably consistent in their accounts, more so after the Second Soviet intervention cemented support for the Soviet position amongst international Communist Parties. Pravda published an account 36 hours after the outbreak of violence, which set the tone for all further reports and subsequent Soviet historiography:

On 23 October, the "honest" socialist Hungarians demonstrated against mistakes made by the Rákosi and Gerő governments.
Fascist, Hitlerite, reactionary, counter-revolutionary hooligans financed by the imperialist west took advantage of the unrest to stage a counter-revolution.
The honest Hungarian people under Nagy appealed to Soviet (Warsaw Pact) forces stationed in Hungary to assist in restoring order.
The Nagy government was ineffective, allowing itself to be penetrated by counter-revolutionary influences, weakening then disintegrating, as proven by Nagy's culminating denouncement of the Warsaw Pact.
Hungarian patriots under Kádár broke with the Nagy government and formed a government of honest Hungarian revolutionary workers and peasants; this genuinely popular government petitioned the Soviet command to help put down the counter-revolution.
Hungarian patriots, with Soviet assistance, smashed the counter-revolution.
The first Soviet report came out 24 hours after the first Western report. Nagy's appeal to the United Nations was not reported. After Nagy was arrested outside of the Yugoslav embassy, his arrest was not reported. Nor did accounts explain how Nagy went from patriot to traitor. The Soviet press reported calm in Budapest while the Western press reported a revolutionary crisis was breaking out. According to the Soviet account, Hungarians never wanted a revolution at all.

In January 1957, representatives of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania met in Budapest to review internal developments in Hungary since the establishment of the Soviet-imposed government. A communiqué on the meeting "unanimously concluded" that Hungarian workers, with the leadership of the Kádár government and support of the Soviet army, defeated attempts "to eliminate the socialist achievements of the Hungarian people".

Soviet, Chinese and other Warsaw Pact governments urged Kádár to proceed with interrogation and trial of former Nagy government ministers, and asked for punitive measures against the“counter-revolutionists”. In addition the Kádár government published an extensive series of "white books" (The Counter-Revolutionary Forces in the October Events in Hungary) documenting real incidents of violence against Communist Party and AVH members, and the confessions of Nagy supporters. These white books were widely distributed in several languages in most of the socialist countries and, while based in fact, present factual evidence with a colouring and narrative not generally supported by non-Soviet aligned historians.



In the immediate aftermath,many thousands of Hungarians were arrested. Eventually, 26,000 of these were brought before the Hungarian courts, 22,000 were sentenced, 13,000 imprisoned, and several hundreds executed. Hundreds were also deported to the Soviet Union, many without evidence. Approximately 200,000 fled Hungary as refugees. Former Hungarian Foreign Minister Géza Jeszenszky estimated 350 were executed. Sporadic armed resistance and strikes by workers' councils continued until mid-1957, causing substantial economic disruption. By 1963, most political prisoners from the 1956 Hungarian revolution had been released.

With most of Budapest under Soviet control by 8 November, Kádár became Prime Minister of the "Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government" and General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. Few Hungarians rejoined the reorganized Party, its leadership having been purged under the supervision of the Soviet Presidium, led by Georgy Malenkov and Mikhail Suslov. Although Party membership declined from 800,000 before the uprising to 100,000 by December 1956, Kádár steadily increased his control over Hungary and neutralized dissenters. The new government attempted to enlist support by espousing popular principles of Hungarian self-determination voiced during the uprising, but Soviet troops remained. After 1956 the Soviet Union severely purged the Hungarian Army and reinstituted political indoctrination in the units that remained. In May 1957, the Soviet Union increased its troop levels in Hungary and by treaty Hungary accepted the Soviet presence on a permanent basis.

The Red Cross and the Austrian Army established refugee camps in Traiskirchen and Graz. Imre Nagy along with Georg Lukács, Géza Losonczy, and László Rajk's widow, Júlia, took refuge in the Embassy of Yugoslavia as Soviet forces overran Budapest. Despite assurances of safe passage out of Hungary by the Soviets and the Kádár government, Nagy and his group were arrested when attempting to leave the embassy on 22 November and taken to Romania. Losonczy died while on a hunger strike in prison awaiting trial when his jailers "carelessly pushed a feeding tube down his windpipe." The remainder of the group was returned to Budapest in 1958. Nagy was executed, along with Pál Maléter and Miklós Gimes, after secret trials in June 1958. Their bodies were placed in unmarked graves in the Municipal Cemetery outside Budapest.

During the November 1956 Soviet assault on Budapest, Cardinal Mindszenty was granted political asylum at the United States embassy, where he lived for the next 15 years, refusing to leave Hungary unless the government reversed his 1949 conviction for treason. Because of poor health and a request from the Vatican, he finally left the embassy for Austria in September 1971.

Despite Cold War rhetoric by the West espousing a rollback of the domination of Eastern Europe by the USSR, and Soviet promises of the imminent triumph of socialism, national leaders of this period as well as later historians saw the failure of the uprising in Hungary as evidence that the Cold War in Europe had become a stalemate. The Foreign Minister of West Germany recommended that the people of Eastern Europe be discouraged from "taking dramatic action which might have disastrous consequences for themselves." The Secretary-General of NATO called the Hungarian revolt "the collective suicide of a whole people". In a newspaper interview in 1957, Khrushchev commented "support by United States ... is rather in the nature of the support that the rope gives to a hanged man."

In January 1957, United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, acting in response to UN General Assembly resolutions requesting investigation and observation of the events in Soviet-occupied Hungary, established the Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary. The Committee, with representatives from Australia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Denmark, Tunisia and Uruguay, conducted hearings in New York, Geneva, Rome, Vienna and London. Over five months, 111 refugees were interviewed including ministers, military commanders and other officials of the Nagy government, workers, revolutionary council members, factory managers and technicians, communists and non-communists, students, writers, teachers, medical personnel and Hungarian soldiers. Documents, newspapers, radio transcripts, photos, film footage and other records from Hungary were also reviewed, as well as written testimony of 200 other Hungarians. The governments of Hungary and Romania refused the UN officials of the Committee entry, and the government of the Soviet Union did not respond to requests for information. The 268-page Committee Report was presented to the General Assembly in June 1957, documenting the course of the uprising and Soviet intervention, and concluding that the Kádár government and Soviet occupation were in violation of the human rights of the Hungarian people. A General Assembly resolution was approved, deploring the repression of the Hungarian people and the Soviet occupation, but no other action was taken.

Time magazine named the Hungarian Freedom Fighter its Man of the Year for 1956. The accompanying Time article comments that this choice could not have been anticipated until the explosive events of the revolution, almost at the end of 1956. The magazine cover and accompanying text displayed an artist's depiction of a Hungarian freedom fighter, and used pseudonyms for the three participants whose stories are the subject of the article. Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány referred to this famous Time Man of the Year cover as "the faces of free Hungary" in a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1956 uprising. Prime Minister Gyurcsány, in a joint appearance with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, commented specifically on the TIME cover itself, that "It is an idealised image but the faces of the figures are really the face of the revolutionaries"

At the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, the Soviet handling of the Hungarian uprising led to a boycott by Spain, the Netherlands and Switzerland. At the Olympic Village, the Hungarian delegation tore down the Communist Hungarian flag and raised the flag of Free Hungary in its place. A confrontation between Soviet and Hungarian teams occurred in the semi-final match of the water polo tournament. The match was extremely violent, and was halted in the final minute to quell fighting amongst spectators. This match, now known as the "blood in the water match", became the subject of several films. The Hungarian team won the game 4-0 and later was awarded the Olympic gold medal. Several members of the Hungarian Olympic delegation defected after the games.

The events in Hungary produced ideological fractures within the Communist parties of Western Europe. Within the Italian Communist Party (PCI) a split ensued: most ordinary members and the Party leadership, including Palmiro Togliatti and Giorgio Napolitano, regarded the Hungarian insurgents as counter-revolutionaries, as reported in l'Unità, the official PCI newspaper. However Giuseppe Di Vittorio, chief of the Communist trade union CGIL, repudiated the leadership position, as did the prominent party members Antonio Giolitti, Loris Fortuna and many other influential Communist intellectuals, who later were expelled or left the party. Pietro Nenni, the national secretary of the Italian Socialist Party, a close ally of the PCI, opposed the Soviet intervention as well. Napolitano, elected in 2006 as President of the Italian Republic, wrote in his 2005 political autobiography that he regretted his justification of Soviet action in Hungary, and that at the time he believed in Party unity and the international leadership of Soviet communism. Within the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), dissent that began with the repudiation of Stalinism by John Saville and E.P. Thompson, influential historians and members of the Communist Party Historians Group, culminated in a loss of thousands of party members as events unfolded in Hungary. Peter Fryer, correspondent for the CPGB newspaper The Daily Worker, reported accurately on the violent suppression of the uprising, but his dispatches were heavily censored; Fryer resigned from the paper upon his return, and was later expelled from the communist party. In France, moderate communists, such as historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, resigned, questioning the policy of supporting Soviet actions by the French Communist Party. The French philosopher and writer Albert Camus wrote an open letter, The Blood of the Hungarians, criticizing the West's lack of action. Even Jean-Paul Sartre, still a determined communist, criticised the Soviets in his article Le Fantôme de Staline, in Situations VII.


In December, 1991, the preamble of the treaties with the dismembered Soviet Union, under Mikhail Gorbachev, and Russia, represented by Boris Yeltsin, apologized officially for the 1956 Soviet actions in Hungary. This apology was repeated by Yeltsin in 1992 during a speech to the Hungarian parliament.

On 13 February 2006, the US State Department commemorated the Fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. US Secretary of State Rice commented on the contributions made by 1956 Hungarian refugees to the United States and other host countries, as well as the role of Hungary in providing refuge to East Germans during the 1989 protests against communist rule. US President George W. Bush also visited Hungary on 22 June 2006, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary.

On June 16, 1989, the 30th anniversary of his execution, Imre Nagy's body was reburied with full honors. The Republic of Hungary was declared in 1989 on the 33rd anniversary of the Revolution, and 23 October is now a Hungarian national holiday.



Poland, 1945 to the Present


Poland's population repeatedly forced reforms and government change. The country was the first Eastern bloc nation to succeed in changing its political system.


Poland was forced to make especially great sacrifices in World War II: six million Poles died—including 90 percent of the Jewish population—and 38 percent of the national wealth was lost. After the war, in which the Polish government in exile continued the struggle from London, the Allies decided to place Germany's eastern territories under Polish administration, while at the same time Poland was forced to relinquish its eastern territories to the USSR. As Russian troops advanced into Poland, the Communist Party formed the Committee of National Liberation in Lublin. From 1944 onwards, this body held power in those areas not directly incorporated into Russia. The result was a massive resettlement that greatly changed the makeup of the population.

After the first elections in 1947, the government led by 9 Wladyslaw Gomulka tried to pursue a path to 8 socialism in accordance with Poland's political and social distinctions, but the system was compelled to conform to the Soviet Union's guidelines in December 1948.

9 Wladyslaw Gomulka (right) talking with Leonid Brezhnev and Walter Ulbricht (left), ca. 1968

8 The Palace of Culture in Warsaw, Poland
in the socialist style of the Stalinist era,
modeled on the "Seven Sisters" in Moscow,
built 1952-1955

The Polish Catholic Church was persecuted. After Stalin's death in 1953, unrest forced repeated attempts at reform and changes in leadership. Gomulka returned to power from 1956 to 1970.

In December 1970, Poland and the West German government under Chancellor Willy Brandt signed the Warsaw Treaty. This milestone in the history of reconciliation between Germany and Poland involved a nonaggression treaty and the recognition of the Oder-Neisse line as Poland's western border.

In 1978, Karol Jozef Wojtyla, the Catholic cardinal of Krakow, was elected pope.

His return to 10 Poland as John Paul II in 1979 became a triumphal procession.

10 Pope John Paul II is welcomed by the public in Warsaw, 1979

It demonstrated the identification of the Polish nation with Catholicism, and accelerated the loss of power of the state party.

Poland's economic situation became increasingly critical in 1980. The rise in meat prices triggered a nationwide wave of strikes in July. The most significant demand of the interplant strike committee was to permit the existence of free, party-independent unions, and the government finally acquiesced.

In October 1980, the independent trade union "Solidarity," under the leadership of 11 Lech Walesa, was officially registered. It soon represented 90 percent of the organized workers.

In the summer of 1981, the Soviet Union threatened the Polish government with an invasion if it could not control the situation.

In response, Prime Minister 12 General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law on December 13,1981, which lasted until July 1983.

11 Lech Walesa, leader of Solidarity, 1981

12 Prime Minister General
Wojciech Jaruzelski, 1984

Solidarity was banned and its leading members interned. The Church could not be neutralized, nor could the union be intimidated over the long term.

In 1988, the government was compelled to hold 13 round table talks with the opposition to negotiate reforms.

One of these was permission for private enterprises and opposition groups. The first free elections in 1989 brought a victory for Solidarity.

Poland thus became a parliamentary democracy, joining 7 NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

13 Representatives of government and opposition at the round table in Warsaw, 1989

7 The Polish president Alexander Kwasniewski (right)
and US president George W. Bush at the NATO summit,
June 27, 2004



Lech Walesa

Lech Walesa

president of Poland

born Sept. 29, 1943, Popowo, near Włocławek, Pol.

labour activist who helped form and led (1980–90) communist Poland’s first independent trade union, Solidarity. The charismatic leader of millions of Polish workers, he went on to become the president of Poland (1990–95). He received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1983.

Wałęsa, the son of a carpenter, received only primary and vocational education and in 1967 began work as an electrician at the huge Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk. He witnessed the 1970 food riots in Gdańsk in which police killed a number of demonstrators. When new protests against Poland’s communist government erupted in 1976, Wałęsa emerged as an antigovernment union activist and lost his job as a result. On Aug. 14, 1980, during protests at the Lenin shipyards caused by an increase in food prices, Wałęsa climbed over the shipyard fence and joined the workers inside, who elected him head of a strike committee to negotiate with management. Three days later the strikers’ demands were conceded, but when strikers in other Gdańsk enterprises asked Wałęsa to continue his strike out of solidarity, he immediately agreed. Wałęsa took charge of an Interfactory Strike Committee that united the enterprises of the Gdańsk-Sopot-Gdynia area. This committee issued a set of bold political demands, including the right to strike and form free trade unions, and it proclaimed a general strike. Fearing a national revolt, the communist authorities yielded to the workers’ principal demands, and on August 31 Wałęsa and Mieczysław Jagielski, Poland’s first deputy premier, signed an agreement conceding to the workers the right to organize freely and independently.

When some 10 million Polish workers and farmers joined semiautonomous unions in response to this momentous agreement, the Interfactory Strike Committee was transformed into a national federation of unions under the name Solidarity (Solidarność), with Wałęsa as its chairman and chief spokesman. Solidarity was officially recognized by the Polish government in October, and Wałęsa steered the federation on a course of carefully limited confrontations with the government in order to avert the possibility of Soviet military intervention in Poland. The federation’s gains proved ephemeral, however; on Dec. 13, 1981, the Polish government imposed martial law, Solidarity was outlawed, and most of the leaders of Solidarity were arrested, including Wałęsa, who was detained for nearly a year. The awarding of the Nobel Prize for Peace to Wałęsa in 1983 was criticized by the Polish government; fearing involuntary exile, he remained in Poland while his wife, Danuta, traveled to Oslo, Nor., to accept the prize on his behalf.

As the leader of the now-underground Solidarity movement, Wałęsa was subjected to constant harassment until collapsing economic conditions and a new wave of labour unrest in 1988 forced Poland’s government to negotiate with him and other Solidarity leaders. These negotiations led to an agreement that restored Solidarity to legal status and sanctioned free elections for a limited number of seats in the newly restored upper house of the Sejm (Parliament). Solidarity won an overwhelming majority of those seats in June 1989, and after Wałęsa refused to form a coalition government with the communists, the Parliament was forced to accept a Solidarity-led government, though Wałęsa himself refused to serve as premier.

Wałęsa helped his Solidarity colleague Tadeusz Mazowiecki become premier of this government in 1989, but he ran against Mazowiecki for president in 1990 and won Poland’s first direct presidential election by a landslide. As president, Wałęsa helped guide Poland through its first free parliamentary elections (1991) and watched as successive ministries converted Poland’s state-run economy into a free-market system. Wałęsa had displayed remarkable political skills as the leader of Solidarity, but his plain speech, his confrontational style, and his refusal to approve a relaxation of Poland’s strict new prohibitions on abortion eroded his popularity late in his term as president. In 1995 he sought reelection but was narrowly defeated by the former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, head of the Democratic Left Alliance. Wałęsa ran for president once again in 2000 but carried only a tiny fraction of the vote.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




John Paul II

John Paul II

Latin Johannes Paulus, original name Karol Józef Wojtyła

born May 18, 1920, Wadowice, Poland
died April 2, 2005, Vatican City

the bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic church (1978–2005), the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the first from a Slavic country. His pontificate of more than 26 years was the third longest in history. As part of his effort to promote greater understanding between nations and between religions, he undertook numerous trips abroad, traveling far greater distances than had all other popes combined, and he extended his influence beyond the church by campaigning against political oppression and criticizing the materialism of the West. He also issued several unprecedented apologies to groups that historically had been wronged by Catholics, most notably Jews and Muslims. His unabashed Polish nationalism and his emphasis on nonviolent political activism aided the Solidarity movement in communist Poland in the 1980s and ultimately contributed to the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. More generally, John Paul used his influence among Catholics and throughout the world to advance the recognition of human dignity and to deter the use of violence. His centralized style of church governance, however, dismayed some members of the clergy, who found it autocratic and stifling. He failed to reverse an overall decline in the numbers of priests and nuns, and his traditional interpretations of church teachings on personal and sexual morality alienated some segments of the laity.

Early life and influences
Wojtyła’s childhood coincided with the only period of freedom that Poland would know between 1772 and 1989: the two decades between Marshal Józef Piłsudski’s defeat of the Soviet Red Army in 1920 and the German invasion in 1939. Wojtyła thus grew up experiencing national freedom but also understanding its vulnerability. Although Wadowice, a town of about 8,000 Catholics and 2,000 Jews, lay only 15 miles (24 km) from the future site of Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp, there was apparently little anti-Semitism in the town before the war. One of Wojtyła’s close boyhood friends was a son of the leader of Wadowice’s Jewish community.

Wojtyła’s father, Karol senior, was a lieutenant in the Polish army. His mother, Emilia Kaczorowska, died when he was eight years old; his brother, Edmund, who had become a physician, died less than four years later. Wojtyła was an outgoing youth, though always with a serious side. He excelled in academics and dramatics, played football (soccer), and, under his father’s guidance, lived a disciplined life of routine religious observance. He regularly assisted Father Kazimierz Figlewicz, his confessor and first teacher in Catholicism, in Wadowice’s main church, which was next door to the Wojtyła family’s tiny apartment.

After graduating from secondary school as valedictorian, Wojtyła moved with his father to Kraków, where he attended the Jagiellonian University. His studies ended abruptly when Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. In the months that followed, Jews as well as non-Jewish cultural and political leaders, including professors and priests, were killed or deported to concentration camps by the Nazis, who considered the Slavs an inferior race.

Wojtyła and his father fled with thousands to the east but soon returned after learning that the Russians had also invaded Poland. Back in Kraków, Wojtyła continued his studies in clandestine classes. For the next four years, in order to avoid arrest and deportation, he worked in a factory owned by Solvay, a chemical firm that the Nazis considered essential to their war effort. Wojtyła was thus the only pope, at least in modern times, to have been a labourer.

During these years Wojtyła began to write nationalistic plays, and he joined the Rhapsodic Theatre, an underground resistance group that aimed to sustain Polish culture and morale through covert readings of poetry and drama. Through Jan Tyranowski, a tailor who conducted a youth ministry for the local church, Wojtyła was introduced to the teachings of St. John of the Cross, a Carmelite mystic who held that redemption could be gained through suffering and a “spirituality of abandonment.” Tyranowski’s example helped to convince Wojtyła that the church, even more than a renewed Polish theatre, might improve the world. Wojtyła’s confessor continued to be his childhood mentor, Figlewicz, who had transferred to Wawel Cathedral in Kraków.

Decision to join the priesthood
In February 1941 Wojtyła returned from work one day to discover that his father had died alone; he prayed by the body all night. By the autumn of 1942 he had decided to enter the priesthood. For two years, while still working at the chemical factory, he attended illegal seminary classes run by Kraków’s cardinal archbishop, Prince Adam Sapieha. After narrowly escaping a Nazi roundup of able-bodied men and boys in 1944, Wojtyła spent the rest of the war in the archbishop’s palace, disguised as a cleric. As pope, Wojtyła recalled that witnessing Nazi horrors, including the murder of many priests, showed him the real meaning of the priesthood.

In 1945 the Soviets replaced the Germans as occupiers of Poland. In November 1946 Wojtyła was ordained by Sapieha into the Catholic priesthood. He chose to say his first mass, assisted by Figlewicz, in Wawel Cathedral’s crypt chapel amid the sarcophagi of Polish monarchs and heroes, including those who had defended national freedom and European Christendom. He then began two years of study in Rome, where he completed his first doctorate, an examination of the theology of St. John of the Cross. Assigned to Kraków’s St. Florian’s parish in 1949, he studied, wrote, and lectured on philosophy and social and sexual ethics. During the next decade he completed a second doctorate, taught theology and ethics at the Jagiellonian University, and eventually was appointed to a full professorship at the Catholic University of Lublin.

The young priest wrote poetry, published anonymously, on a variety of religious, social, and personal themes. He also became the spiritual leader and mentor of a circle of young adult friends whom he joined on kayaking and camping trips. Together, they celebrated mass in the open at a time when unapproved worship outside of churches was forbidden by the communist regime. Experiences with these friends contributed to the ideas in his first book of nonfiction, Love and Responsibility (1960), an exploration of the several graces available in conjugal sexual relationships. The work was considered radical by those who held the traditional church view that sex was solely for the purpose of procreation.

Church leaders were impressed by Wojtyła’s ability to operate a dynamic pastorate despite communist restrictions. In 1958 Pope Pius XII appointed him an auxiliary bishop of Kraków. At the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) Wojtyła so distinguished himself that halfway through the council, in December 1963, Pope Paul VI named him archbishop of Kraków.

The Second Vatican Council introduced Wojtyła to issues including the role of the laity, the church’s relations with other religions, and its relations with the secular world. After the council’s conclusion in 1965, Wojtyła was appointed to Pope Paul VI’s Commission for the Study of Problems of the Family, Population, and Birth Rate. His work appears to have influenced Humanae vitae (1968; “Of Human Life”), Paul VI’s encyclical rejecting artificial contraception, which became one of the church’s most ignored teachings. Some bishops also disagreed with it, saying privately that, on this issue, Wojtyła may have made basic theological mistakes.

Actions as cardinal
Wojtyła was made a cardinal in June 1967. As cardinal archbishop of Kraków, he worked closely with Poland’s powerful primate cardinal, Stefan Wyszyński, archbishop of Warsaw, who declared that Christianity, not communism, was the true protector of the poor and oppressed. In an effort that spanned two decades, Wojtyła lobbied for permission to build a church in Kraków’s new industrial suburb, Nowa Huta. He planted a cross in the field where the church was to stand and defied communist authorities by holding masses there. He also applied for permission to hold traditional religious processions in the streets, though he was often turned down. Eventually Wojtyła prevailed, and he consecrated Nowa Huta’s new Ark Church in 1977. Meanwhile, he had written his major philosophical work, The Acting Person (1969), which argues that moral actions—not simply thoughts or statements—create authentic personality and define what a person truly stands for.

Ironically, the authorities forced Wojtyła to develop a public speaking style that would eventually work against them: denied access to the media, he and fellow church leaders traveled ceaselessly among the people and grew skilled at communicating with large crowds. This ability would enhance the impact of the messages he delivered as pope to the faithful around the world, especially during his trips, when his ability to appeal to the millions who gathered to see him was captured in global television broadcasts.

Election as pope
When Pope Paul VI died in August 1978, the College of Cardinals, split between two powerful Italians, elected the Venetian Albino Luciani as Pope John Paul I. He died only 33 days later. When the cardinals entered the second conclave of 1978, the world did not know that Wojtyła had received votes in the first conclave. Wojtyła seemed in some ways a good compromise candidate who could hold together a divided church. Liberal interpretations of religious life that followed the Second Vatican Council had created rifts and defections; religious conservatives were digging in, claiming that the council had betrayed the church. Wojtyła appeared to be traditional in church discipline but forward-looking in his acceptance of Vatican Council reforms. The cardinals also hoped that his relative youthfulness would attract young people to the church. Wojtyła’s election on October 16, 1978, made him the first non-Italian pope since the Dutch Adrian VI (reigned 1522–23).

In taking the name John Paul II—which his predecessor, John Paul I, had said honoured the two popes of the Second Vatican Council—he signaled his intention to continue with the council’s reforms. His homily at an installation mass on October 22, 1978, repeated the refrain “Be not afraid!”—a Biblical phrase announcing the presence of God and Jesus Christ and calling for Christian courage. It also presaged the bold but nonviolent human rights campaigns that John Paul would conduct around the world.

First year of travels
John Paul’s characteristic mixture of religion and politics—and its deep roots in Poland—became evident during the first year of his pontificate in his first four trips abroad. He went first to Mexico (January 1979), where he reaffirmed for the bishops of Latin America, leaders of half the world’s Catholics, that politics—especially as it concerns human rights, personal dignity, and religious freedom—is an area of human life in which priests as well as laity must be involved. While there, he attracted what was called the largest crowd ever assembled—estimated at some five million people.

His second trip (June 1979) was to Poland, where he declared to his audiences that their Catholic faith dictated that they had a right to be free. Many Poles said later that the sight of themselves assembled in enormous but orderly gatherings made them realize their own political strength and encouraged their subsequent defiance of the communist regime. John Paul’s speeches and activities served as models for the Polish priests who would carry out his independence campaigns in the country after he returned to Rome.

John Paul’s third trip (October 1979) took him to Ireland, where he condemned violence done in the name of religion, and to the United States, where he was given a Wall Street ticker-tape parade. To the chagrin of some Americans, John Paul used his U.S. visit to express serious disagreements with the West, including aspects of American capitalism. In particular, he decried the neglect of the poor and denounced the exploitation of poor nations by wealthy ones.

On his fourth trip (November 1979) he visited Turkey to meet with the titular head of the Eastern Orthodox church, which included most of the state-allied churches of what was then the Soviet Union. He thereby indicated a possible intention to pressure Soviet leaders by means of church congregations across eastern Europe. Although such an eastern arm of his anti-Soviet campaign never materialized, the Soviet government viewed it as a serious threat.

Political and cultural messages
In travels during the next 10 years, John Paul preached to the world his messages of religious freedom, national independence, and human rights. He declared that all of Europe—“from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains” (east of Moscow)—should be reunited through its common Christian heritage. Some Vatican clergy said privately that the new pope was traveling too much, giving a triumphalist face to Catholicism when he should have been concentrating more on rebuilding the church from behind his desk in the Vatican. John Paul kept traveling.

From the start of his papacy, John Paul strictly reasserted the canon law banning priests from any active participation in party politics. His intention was not to weaken Catholicism’s political impact but to unify the church and to strengthen its moral authority. He wanted Catholic social doctrine—developed in part from Pope Leo XIII’s seminal encyclical on workers’ rights, Rerum novarum (1891; “Of New Things”)—to be delivered with the singular political authority of the Vatican, unaltered by local politics.

On May 13, 1981, John Paul was shot and nearly killed by a 23-year-old Turkish man, Mehmet Ali Agca. Meanwhile, the Poles’ other spiritual leader, Primate Cardinal Wyszyński, lay dying of cancer. The sudden prospect of losing both men unsettled the Solidarity movement. Although no conspiracy in the assassination attempt was ever proved in court, the widespread suspicion that the Soviets were involved (in the hope of demoralizing Solidarity) did much to diminish world opinion of the Soviet Union at the time. John Paul later publicly forgave his would-be assassin, who had shot him on the feast day of the Virgin of Fátima. John Paul said the Virgin had saved his life by guiding the bullet away from vital organs. He made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin in Fátima, Portugal, on the first anniversary of the assassination attempt, but, during a ceremony in which John Paul consecrated the modern world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a priest ordained by (and subsequently disowned by) the dissident French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre lunged at the pope with a bayonet, narrowly missing him.

As the Polish Solidarity movement gained momentum, John Paul repeatedly emphasized to his fellow Poles the importance of pressing for change peacefully, so as not to give the communist regime a justification for using force and dismantling the trade union. In December 1981 Poland’s premier, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, declared martial law. Despite the arrest of thousands of Solidarity members and years of uncertainty, the movement persevered. In April 1989 the communists legalized the trade union, and in June of that year Solidarity made a strong showing in free elections. In December 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader to visit the Vatican. The collapse of the Soviet Union occurred two years later. Throughout the 1980s John Paul’s continuing private discussions with Polish and Soviet leaders, and his persistent success in keeping Solidarity a nonviolent movement, helped inspire similar movements in other Soviet-bloc countries and eventually led Gorbachev to write that John Paul’s approach had made a new kind of thinking possible.

John Paul’s visits to other countries ruled by nondemocratic regimes, especially in Latin America, raised the political expectations of the people and thus contributed, in the opinion of some analysts, to the eventual emergence of democratic governments in those regions. In a 1995 address to the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), he said that universal moral law could help the world move from “a century of violent coercion” to “a century of persuasion.” His intervention in a territorial dispute between Chile and Argentina during the first year of his pontificate was credited with preventing a war between the two countries. Not all his political initiatives were successful, however. His fierce criticism of some U.S. actions, such as the First and Second Persian Gulf wars against Iraq and the economic embargo against Cuba, had little visible effect. His popular visit to communist Cuba in 1998, however—where he was openly welcomed by President Fidel Castro, who admired John Paul’s criticisms of unbridled American capitalism—did lead to greater acceptance and freedom for the Roman Catholic church there.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, John Paul continued to criticize what he considered the pernicious effects of materialism in the West, including consumerism and pornography. Western societies, he believed, were falling prey to a “culture of death” characterized by acceptance of abortion and euthanasia; he also chided their indifference to the suffering of the poor and the widely held belief that modern technologies can assure fundamental happiness. In the later years of his papacy, he strongly emphasized the message of nonviolence, reflecting a concern borne of his experience of the German and Soviet occupations of his homeland. He frequently made personal appeals for clemency in cases of prisoners sentenced to death, and he repeatedly insisted that religion should never be used as an excuse for violence of any kind.

Dialogue with other faiths
World religions
In 1986 John Paul invited the leaders of all major religions to Assisi, Italy, for a universal prayer service for world peace. The meeting was scorned by the ultraconservatives of several religions, including his own. The traditionalist archbishop Lefebvre called the pope’s action a “scandal” and a betrayal of “the one true faith.” Lefebvre also cited it as one of the reasons he consecrated his own bishops (without papal approval) in 1988—the first significant schism in reaction to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and an act Lefebvre knew would result in his excommunication. Nevertheless, by the mid-1990s John Paul had orchestrated some dramatic acts of interfaith reconciliation, especially with the two other religions that stem from Abraham—Judaism and Islam. He worked to improve relations with these two faiths through frequent meetings that often garnered little public attention. Crucial to John Paul’s approach to other religions was his unprecedented campaign to involve Catholics in general apologies for the sins of Catholics against others throughout history, including those committed during the Crusades and against indigenous peoples, women, suspected heretics, non-Catholic Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

From the start of his pontificate, John Paul cultivated personal contacts with Jewish leaders and continued to assert, as he had in Poland, that the Jews are, for Christians, “our elder brothers in faith.” In 1986 he became the first pontiff known to have entered a synagogue, when he embraced the chief rabbi at the Great Synagogue of Rome. In 1990 he declared anti-Semitism a sin against God and humanity, and throughout his papacy he used his influence in efforts to help end nearly 2,000 years of oppression and violence inflicted on Jews by Christians. By the end of 1993 he had pushed the Vatican to recognize the State of Israel, overriding the objections of Vatican officials who worried about the consequences for Christian minorities in Arab countries, and on Holocaust Remembrance Day in 1994 he hosted Jews and Christians at an unprecedented memorial concert inside the Vatican. On the controversial question of Pope Pius XII’s policy of neutrality during World War II, John Paul did not criticize his silence but asserted that Pius had acted with deep conscience in a terrible situation. The Vatican document We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (1998) reviewed various aspects of Catholic anti-Jewish prejudice that contributed to the Holocaust.

A few reconciliation efforts failed. John Paul’s canonization of Jewish convert Edith Stein, a nun killed at Auschwitz because she was Jewish, offended many Jews who felt it usurped a Jewish tragedy for Catholic purposes. For them, John Paul only added to this offense by saying her new saint’s day should be a Catholic remembrance of the Holocaust’s Jewish victims. In March 2000 in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak welcomed John Paul to Yad Vashem, a memorial to Holocaust victims, with the words “Blessed are you in Israel.” Three days later the pope prayed alone at the Western Wall, into which he placed a printed prayer requesting forgiveness and citing a desire for “genuine brotherhood with the People of the Covenant.” These gestures were favourably received by most Israelis.

One month earlier, in Cairo, John Paul had become the first head of his church to meet with the Sheikh al-Azhar, one of Sunni Islam’s highest religious authorities. The next year, in May 2001, John Paul became the first pope ever to enter a mosque, the Great Mosque of Damascus (also known as the Umayyad Mosque), where, in the company of Muslim clerics, he prayed at the shrine of St. John the Baptist. From the beginning of his pontificate, he held nearly 50 substantive meetings with Muslim leaders—far more than those of all previous popes combined.

Christian ecumenism
John Paul’s highly personalized encyclical Ut unum sint (1995; “That They May Be One”) reviewed 30 years of ecumenical relations, including his visits—the first by any pope—to Canterbury Cathedral and to Lutheran churches in Germany and Sweden. Its invitation to non-Catholic churches to join John Paul in rethinking the role of the papacy in world Christianity sparked new ecumenical discussions.

Although his hopes of mending the 1,000-year rift with the Eastern Orthodox church (see Schism of 1054) were advanced with his visits to a few nations of the former Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox church remained suspicious and did not invite him to visit the country.

Ecclesiastical and theological contributions
During his long pontificate, John Paul directed the rewriting of several major church texts. The revisions included the new Codex Juris Canonici (1983), the first update of the Code of Canon Law since 1917; Pastor Bonus (1988; “Good Shepherd”), the first reform of the Roman Curia since 1967; and the new Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium (1990; “Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches”). In 1992 he promulgated the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, its first revision in more than four centuries (see catechism).

John Paul admired and encouraged the scientific search for truth but warned against the misuse of science in ways that undermine human dignity. He saw no basic contradiction between the findings of modern science and biblical accounts of the Creation, stating in a series of brief homilies (published as Original Unity of Man and Woman, 1981) that some stories in Genesis, including the story of Adam and Eve, should be understood as inspired metaphor. In 1984 the Vatican declared that the church’s condemnation of Galileo in 1633 had been in error; John Paul subsequently stated that Galileo had been “imprudently opposed” by the church. In his encyclical Fides et ratio (1998; “Faith and Reason”), he argued for the importance of reason in the development of any meaningful faith. He was also the first pope to link the protection of the natural environment firmly to Catholic theology, declaring in 1999 that destruction of the environment “can be a grave sin” and “a sign of real contempt for man.”

Final years
Beginning in the early 1990s, the once-robust John Paul was increasingly slowed by Parkinson disease and by a series of operations. Nonetheless, he maintained a rigorous schedule, insisting that his visible suffering was part of his ministry. To aides urging him to slow down, he reportedly said simply, “Si crollo, crollo” (“If I collapse, I collapse”). Although he may have considered the possibility of resignation, he remained silent on the subject (few popes had resigned, the last being Gregory XII in 1415). Even in old age he continued to attract enormous crowds; four million were estimated to have joined him at a mass in Manila in 1995, and two million assembled at a Kraków mass in 2002. After 2003, he appeared in public only when seated. By Easter 2005, following a tracheotomy, he was unable to speak to the people he blessed from his apartment window. His funeral in April 2005 drew to Rome millions of pilgrims, as well as a number of the world’s former and current political leaders. In May 2005 his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, waiving the usual five-year waiting period, allowed review to begin in the cause of John Paul II for beatification and canonization.

John Paul II was, in a real sense, the first globally oriented pope. His election coincided with the arrival of routine, worldwide, instantaneous audiovisual communications, and many of his major efforts were intended to adjust—though not to challenge—the essential tenets of Catholicism for an open, interconnected world in which nations and religions must live in daily contact with one another. By publishing unprecedented papal meditations about other faiths, he demonstrated how a Catholic may approach them with reverence. He also hoped to strengthen Catholicism in many cultures around the world by canonizing far more saints—drawn from a broader geographical and occupational spectrum—than had any of his predecessors.

In 2000 John Paul centralized ecclesiastical and theological control over Catholic educational institutions around the world, prompting renewed criticism from members of the church hierarchy who believed that the Second Vatican Council had called upon the pope to be less of an autocrat and more of a collegial moderator. John Paul also proscribed the teachings of some dissident Catholic theologians. For example, early in his pontificate he censured Hans Küng for arguing that the Catholic church was wrong to invoke papal infallibility. In the 1980s John Paul’s uneasiness with liberation theology (which he regarded as too closely allied with Marxism and Soviet communism) prompted him to withdraw bureaucratic and moral support from ecclesial base communities in parts of Latin America, a move that may have contributed to the defection of large numbers of Catholics in the region to Evangelical Protestantism.

Throughout his pontificate John Paul maintained traditional church positions on gender and sexual issues, denouncing abortion, artificial contraception, premarital sex, and—through Vatican teachings—homosexual practices (though not homosexual orientation). He continually rebuffed pleas for priests to be allowed to marry and denied requests from Catholic nuns who wanted a greater role in the church. And, though he often spoke out for full equality for women outside religious vocations, he rejected even any discussion of the ordination of women as priests—a stance that evoked sharp and continuing criticism from some quarters.

Some critics charged that John Paul’s autocratic style of governing greatly discouraged American and European bishops from seeking the Vatican’s help in responding to accusations, which began in the late 20th century, of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Even as revelations of the abuse grew into a worldwide scandal, the church did little to confront the problem, allowing it to fester without intervention or punishment. In April 2002 the U.S. cardinals received an unprecedented papal summons to Rome, during which time John Paul declared that there was “no place in the priesthood” for anyone who would abuse children. In June 2002 all American bishops met in Dallas, Texas, to adopt strict new policies for investigating any charges of clergy abuse of minors and removing proven offenders. Ultimately, however, the church’s reputation in the United States and Europe was gravely damaged. By 2005 the church in the United States had spent more than $1 billion in litigation and legal settlements.

John Paul’s emphasis on human rights and national and religious freedom suggested to some a theology that was excessively “human-centred” and insufficiently “Christ-centred.” A related criticism was that his political campaigns involved the church too directly in worldly affairs and thereby threatened to obscure its spiritual mission. His defenders argued that his humanistic Catholicism was based upon the person and inspiration of Christ and that his campaigns could be justified by the Catholic belief that it was his duty as the Vicar of Christ to help alleviate the world’s suffering. Moreover, they urged, his activism only helped the church by showing that its essential values, advanced with commitment and courage, could improve the world. Other critics claimed that his pontifical writings were often unfocused, but supporters insisted that his encyclicals and other assertions were simply so numerous, varied, and farsighted that it would take years for their impact on Catholicism to be understood.

From the start of his pontificate, John Paul tried to reassert a sense of religious challenge and discipline by making firm declarations about personal morality and the religious life. This effort generally did not reverse a dramatic decline in vocations to the priesthood and sisterhood, nor did it improve church attendance in many Catholic countries. The cardinals who elected him had asked that he end the sense of confusion among many Catholics that seemed to stem from the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, but there was no consensus that he did. Nevertheless, John Paul is generally seen as having increased the global prestige of the papacy and thus to have laid a foundation for possible future revival within the church.

William B. Blakemore

Encyclopaedia Britannica


see also: United Nations member states -
Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, BulgariaRomania, Albania



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