JUNE 16, 1958: Hungary’s former Prime Minister Imre Nagy and two other leaders of the country’s crushed popular revolt against Soviet domination were executed on this day in 1958.
Colonel Pal Maleter, who was the rebels’ military commander, and journalist Miklos Gimes, were also killed after secret trials.
They all had their bodies buried in unmarked graves in a vain bid to stop them being turned into political martyrs.
Each had been instrumental in the October 1956 Hungarian Uprising, which was brutally crushed by Red Army and led to the deaths of 3,000 civilians.
The rebellion, which was the first threat to Moscow’s control of Eastern Europe, began with a spontaneous protest in capital Budapest.
The demonstrators were demanding that Nagy, who was a liberal communist, be returned to power after his ousting a year earlier following popular reforms.
Students marched through the streets with loudspeakers on a van broadcasting Radio Free Europe, a banned American-funded news service.
Violence began when they tried to storm the state radio building to broadcast to the people after communist party Chairman Ernö Gerö vowed to maintain Soviet ties.
Police opened fire on the demonstrators, who by then were also calling free elections, freedom of the press and a withdrawal of Soviet troops.
Gerö ordered Red Army tanks onto the streets to disperse the crowds, who were also angered by the massive economic decline since communists took power in 1945.
But in spite of the bloodshed and terror, by 9.30pm, 200,000 protesters were on the streets and had toppled a 30ft statue of the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
They planted Hungarian flags with the communist shield cut out of the centre into the boots of the deceased strongman, who had imposed stringent reparations on Hungary because it had sided with the Nazis during World War II.
Shocked by the revolt, the country’s ruling Working People’s Party held an emergency meeting the same night in and re-instated Nagy as premier.
But Soviet tanks remained on the streets and the uprising continued.
Two days later, Red Army tanks opened fire on a crowd in Parliament Square at point-blank range and killed hundreds of people.
It shocked both the local communists and the Kremlin – prompting the Hungarians to sack Gerö and the Soviets to pull their troops out of Budapest on October 30.
Nagy formed a government, which was dedicated to lifting the Moscow’s shackles by exiting the Warsaw Pact, introducing liberal economic and electoral reforms.
But USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev changed his mind – fearing the changes could undermine Soviet influence elsewhere – and sent the tanks back in on November 4.
Thousands died in the ruthless crackdown, whose brutality shocked the world, and another 200,000 fled the country.
Nagy took refuge in the embassy of Yugoslavia, which although communist was not aligned with the USSR, but was abducted by KGB agents.
A U.S. News of the Day newsreel showed the revolt’s final days of the revolt, which it mournfully dubbed ‘Hungary’s last days of freedom’.
The failed uprising deterred reform elsewhere in Eastern Europe, until the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968, which again was brutally crushed by the Soviets.
Communism did not end in Hungary and the other satellite states until reformist Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev vowed not to intervene in 1989.
Beginning with Poland and Hungary – and ending with Bulgaria – they all collapsed within a year.