Imre Nagy

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Imre Nagy
Imre Nagy 1945.jpg
Full Name: Imre Nagy
Alias: Kulak
Origin: Kaposvár, Hungary
Goals: Dispose of the German-Hungarian population (succeeded)
Become the Hungarian Head of State (succeeded)
Reform the Hungarian government (failed)
Crimes: Soviet collaboration
Mass murder
Ethnic cleansing
Type of Villain: Corrupt official

Imre Nagy (June 7, 1896 - June 16, 1958) was a Hungarian communist politician who served as the de facto Prime Minister (Chairman of the Council of Ministers) of the Hungarian People's Republic from 1953 to 1955. In 1956, Nagy became leader of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which was against the Soviet-backed government. As a result, he was executed two years later.

Despite being seen as an anti-Soviet hero in Hungary due to his role in the Hungarian Revolution, Nagy was in fact ardently pro-Soviet, even serving as an NKVD informer from 1933 until 1944, during which time he betrayed over 200 comrades to the Soviets. Due to his role as a denouncer, Nagy received the backing of the Soviet leadership post-World War II.

During the early days of Soviet rule in Hungary post-war, Nagy oversaw the deportation of Hungarian Germans, an act of ethnic cleansing. He also participated in the purges of supposedly disloyal officials. He signed the order for János Kádár's arrest and torture (although he would later release him while in power).

Early life

Imre Nagy was born on 7 June 1896 in the town of Kaposvár in the Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary, to a small-town family of peasant origin. His father, József Nagy (1869–1929), was a Lutheran and a carriage driver for the lieutenant-general of Somogy County. His mother, Rozália Szabó (1877–1969), served as a maid for the lieutenant-general's wife.[1] They both had left the countryside in their youth to work in Kaposvár. Nagy and Szabó married in January 1896. In 1902, József became a postal worker and began building a house for the family in 1907 but lost his job in 1911 and had to sell the house. He was an unskilled laborer for the rest of his life.

In 1904, Nagy's family moved to Pécs before returning to Kaposvár the following year. Nagy attended a gymnasium in Kaposvár from 1907 to 1912, performing poorly.[3] The gymnasium cancelled his tuition due to his lack of accomplishment and funding. He apprenticed as a locksmith in a small metalworking firm in Kaposvár, before moving to a factory for agricultural machinery in Losonc in northern Hungary in 1912. He returned to Kaposvár in 1913 and was given a journeyman's certificate as a metal fitter in 1914. He abandoned the job in the summer of 1914 and became a clerk at a lawyer's office, while simultaneously attending a commercial high school in Kaposvár, where his student performance was good.[3]

After the outbreak of the First World War in July 1914, Nagy was called up for military service in the Austro-Hungarian Army in December 1914 and was found fit to serve. He reported for duty at the 17th Royal Hungarian Honvéd Infantry Regiment in May 1915, after the end of the school year and before he had graduated.[4] After three months of basic training in Székesfehérvár, his unit was sent to the Italian Front in August 1915, where he was wounded in his leg at the Third Battle of the Isonzo. After convalescing in a field hospital, he was trained as a machine gunner in the 19th Machine Gun Battalion, promoted to corporal and sent to the Eastern Front in the summer of 1916.[5]

Nagy was wounded in the leg by shrapnel and taken prisoner by the Imperial Russian Army during the Brusilov Offensive in Galicia on 29 July 1916. After healing his leg wound in a field hospital, he was taken first to Darnitsa, then to Ryazan and finally on a train transport to Siberia.

Hungarian Communist Revolution

Following Nikita Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" denouncing the crimes of Stalin on 25 February 1956, dissent began to grow in Eastern Bloc against the ruling Stalinist-era party leaders. In Hungary, Mátyás Rákosi, "Stalin's greatest disciple, came under intense criticism for his policies from both the Party and general population, with increasing calls for his resignation. This public criticism often took the form of the Petőfi Circle—a debating club established by the DISZ student youth union to discuss Communist policy, which soon became one of the foremost outlets of dissent against the regime. While Nagy himself never attended a Petőfi Circle meeting, he was kept well informed of events by his close associates Miklós Vásárhelyi and Géza Losonczy, who informed him of the vast popular support expressed for him at the meetings and the widespread desire for his restoration to the leadership.

In the face of widespread public pressure on Rákosi, the Soviets forced the unpopular leader to resign from power on 18 July 1956 and leave for the Soviet Union. However, they replaced him with his equally hard-line second in command Ernő Gerő, a change which did little to mollify public dissent. Nagy was a prominent guest at the 6 October reburial of former secret police chief László Rajk, who had been purged by the Rákosi regime and later rehabilitated. He was readmitted to the Party on 13 October in the midst of growing revolutionary fervor. On 22 October, students from the Technical University in Budapest compiled a list of sixteen national policy demands, the third of which was Nagy's restoration to the premiership.

In the afternoon of 23 October, students and workers gathered in Budapest for a massive opposition demonstration arranged by the Technical University students, chanting—among other things—slogans of support for Imre Nagy. While the ex-premier sympathized with their reformist demands, he was hesitant to support the movement, believing it to be too radical in its demands. While he was in favor of changes to the system, he preferred those to be made within the framework of his "New Course" of 1953–55 and not a revolutionary upheaval. He also feared that the demonstration was a provocation by Gerő and Hegedüs to frame him as inciting rebellion and to crack down on the opposition.

His associates ultimately convinced him to travel to the Parliament Building and give a speech to the demonstrators to calm the unrest. While no accurate record of this speech exists, it did not have its intended effect; Nagy essentially told the protesters to go home and let the Party handle things. The demonstrations soon escalated into a full-scale revolt as ÁVH secret policemen opened fire on the protesting citizens. Hungarian soldiers sent to crush the demonstrators instead sided with them, and Gerő soon called in Soviet intervention.

Early in the morning of 24 October, Nagy was renamed as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Hungarian People's Republic again, in an attempt to appease the populace. However, he was initially isolated within the government, and powerless to stop the Soviet invasion of the capital that day. The decision to call in Soviet forces had already been made by Gerő and outgoing Prime Minister András Hegedüs the previous night, but many suspected that Nagy had signed the order.[32] This perception was not helped by the fact that Nagy declared martial law on that same day and offered an "amnesty" to all rebels who laid down their arms, weakening the public's trust in him. The next day (25 October) he announced he would begin negotiations on the withdrawal of Soviet troops after order was restored. On 26 October, he began to meet with delegations from the Writers' Union and student groups, as well as from the Borsod Workers' Council in Miskolc.

On 27 October, Nagy announced a major reformation of his government, to include several non-communist politicians including former president Zoltán Tildy as a Minister of State. At negotiations with Soviet representatives Anastas Mikoyan and Mikhail Suslov, Nagy and the Hungarian government delegation pushed for a ceasefire and political solution.

In the morning of 28 October, Nagy successfully prevented a massive attack on the main rebel strongholds at the Corvin Cinema and Kilián Barracks by Soviet troops and pro-regime Hungarian units. He negotiated a ceasefire with the Soviets, which came into effect at 12:15 and fighting began to die down across the city and country. Later that day, he gave a speech on the radio assessing the events as a "national democratic movement," proclaiming his full support of the Revolution and agreeing to fulfill some of the public's demands. He announced the dissolution of the ÁVH and his intention to negotiate the full withdrawal of Soviet troops from the city. Nagy also supported the creation of a National Guard, a force of combined soldiers and armed civilians to maintain order amidst the chaos of the Revolution.

On 29 October, as fighting died down across Budapest and Soviet troops began to withdraw, Nagy moved his office from the Party headquarters to the Parliament Building. He also began to meet and negotiated with several representatives of the armed groups that day, as well as the representatives of the workers' councils that had been formed over the course of the previous week.

By 30 October, Nagy's reformist faction had gained full control of the Hungarian government. Ernő Gerő and the other Stalinist hard-liners had left for the Soviet Union, and Nagy's government announced its intent to restore a multi-party system based on the coalition parties from 1945.[34] Throughout this period, Nagy remained steadfastly committed to Marxism; but his conception of Marxism was as "a science that cannot remain static", and he railed against the "rigid dogmatism" of "the Stalinist monopoly".[35] He did not intend a full return to multi-party liberal democracy but a limited one within a socialist framework, and was willing to allow the function of the pre-1948 coalition parties.[36]

Nagy was appointed to the temporary leadership committee of the newly-formed Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, which replaced the disintegrated Hungarian Working People's Party on 31 October. This was originally intended as a "national-communist" party that would preserve the gains of the Revolution. However, at a meeting of the Soviet Politburo that day, the Kremlin leaders decided that the Revolution had gone too far and needed to be crushed. On the night of 31 October – 1 November, Soviet troops began crossing back into Hungary, contrary to their declaration of 30 October expressing willingness to withdraw from the country entirely. Nagy protested this action to Soviet Ambassador Yuri Andropov; the latter replied that the new troops were only there to cover the full withdrawal and protect Soviet citizens living in Hungary. This likely prompted Nagy to make his most controversial decision. In response to a major demand of the revolutionaries, he announced Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and appealed through the UN for the great powers, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, to recognize Hungary's status as a neutral state. Late that night, General Secretary János Kádár went to the Soviet embassy, and the next day he was taken to Moscow.

Between 1–3 November, Nikita Khrushchev traveled to various Warsaw Pact countries as well as to Yugoslavia to inform them of his plans to attack Hungary. On the advice of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, he selected the then-Party General Secretary János Kádár as the country's new leader on 2 November, and was willing to let Nagy remain in the government if he cooperated. On 3 November, Nagy formed a new government, this time with a Communist minority. It included members of the Communists, Independent Smallholders' Party, Peasants' Party, and Social Democrats. However, it would only be in office for less than a day.

In the early morning hours of 4 November, the USSR launched "Operation Whirlwind," a massive military attack on Budapest and on rebel strongholds throughout the country. Nagy made a dramatic announcement to the country and the world about this operation. However, to minimize damage he ordered the Hungarian Army not to resist the invaders. soon after, he fled to the Yugoslav Embassy, where he and many of his followers were given sanctuary.

In spite of a written safe conduct of free passage by Kádár, on 22 November, Nagy was arrested by the Soviet forces as he was leaving the Yugoslav Embassy and taken to Snagov, Romania. He later taken to Hungary where he was executed, reportedly under the orders of Soviet leader Khrushchev. He was buried in a corner of the New Public Cemetery, Budapest, with his hands and feet barbed. In 1989, he was reburied as a hero.