On the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the 1956 revolution, the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade in partnership with the British Association for Slavonic and Eastern European Studies (BASEES) organized a two-day long international conference on the 8th and 9th of December, 2016.
The two-day long conference’s opening speech was held by Amb. Márton Schőberl, the director-general of the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade. The keynote speech was held by Dr. Sándor M. Kiss, professor emeritus of Pázmány Péter Catholic University. During his speech he spoke about the international aspects of the Revolution of 1956, and the debates on provocation during the War of Independence in 1956. According to the professor, the essence of 1956 is the return to traditions.
The two-day long conference’s first roundtable discussion’s theme was oral history. The invited guests were the 94 years old Mr. László Regéczy-Nagy, a 1956 freedom fighter and political prisoner, the president of the Historical Justice Committee, Mr. György Markó, historian and director of the Research Institute for History of Communism and the roundtable discussion was moderated by Mr. Miklós Horváth, military historian of Pázmány Péter Catholic University. In this session, the invited guests agreed on the importance of oral history and the authentic history as well. László Regéczy-Nagy called himself a treasury of memories and shared some very fascinating stories with the public. Dr. Miklós Horváth and Mr. György Markó held an interesting lecture with some pictures from the revolution of 1956 that told personal stories.
In the first scientific session panel Mr. Zoltán Balázs Tóth from the National University of Public Service and the Ministry of Human Capacities held a lecture about Hungary’s international room for manoeuvre in the year of 1956. Following this, Mr. Zsolt Máté, from the University of Pécs explained the results of his research to the audience. The theme of the research was the reactions on the revolution of 1956 from the American embassies. Dr. Nikolett Takács, PhD student at the University of Miskolc, presented the international environment of the revolution of 1956 from the refugees’ legal aspects. The scientific session was moderated by Mr. Máté Szalai, research fellow at the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade
The second scientific session was opened by Dr. Szilvia Bába, University of Pécs. She held a lecture about the Hungarian refugees’ destinations, for example Canada and Australia. Mr. Ádám Osváth, a historian at the museum of Sopron and a PhD student at Pázmány Péter Catholic University, held an intensive lecture about the interesting relation of the border city and the Hungarian revolution. Mr. Dániel Ferenc Domján, a historian and a PhD student at Pázmány Péter Catholic University, presented a lecture about the relationship of the Hungarian revolution and Yugoslavia. Mr. Kristóf Jorge Asqui , a PhD student at the National University of Public Service, held a presentation about the relationship of the Franco-regime and the Hungarian revolution. The second scientific session was moderated by Mr. Bence Attila Németh.
In the third scientific session three young researchers were given the opportunity to present their research. Ms. Beatrix Tölgyesi, from the University of Glasgow, held a fascinating lecture on the relationship of Lithuania and Hungary in 1956. Mr. Bence Attila Németh, a historian and a PhD student at Pázmány Péter Catholic University and a research fellow for the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade, held a lecture about the Hungarian revolution and the significance of the year 1956 in the Vietnamese-Hungarian relationship. Mr. Lukács Krajcsír, a PhD student at the University of Szeged, presented the relationship between the Hungarian revolution and the Arab world. The third scientific session was moderated by Mr. Tamás Péter Baranyi, a historian and the head of research at Antall József Knowledge Centre.
Closing the conference programs held in Hungarian, the scientific sessions were followed by a roundtable discussion. The participants of the discussion were Dr. András Balogh, professor emeritus at Eötvös Loránd University, Dr. István Ötvös, the head of the Department of Modern History at Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Attila Vági, the head of office at the Institute of National Remembrance and Tamás Péter Baranyi, head of research at the Antall József Knowledge Centre. The topic of the experts’ discussion was the significance of written and oral sources on the events of 1956. Prof. András Balogh explained that although the exploration of objective historical facts is a thankless task, because not every important event was recorded in a written document, however, it is the key to understand what happened in 1956, as almost all the participants of the 1956 revolution had some kind of international connections. Dr. István Ötvös drew attention to the fact that written sources can also be unreliable and pointed out that it is important not to project our present-day knowledge to the events of the past. Attila Vági emphasized that not only new pieces of information can be important but also the re-interpretation of the existing ones from a new perspective. The participants also analyzed the international effects of the 1956 revolution on the communist movements in Western Europe and the Soviet Union-China relationship.
Closing the program of the first day of the conference, the president of BASEES, Judith Palloth, professor at the University of Oxford welcomed the participants and opened the official program of the next day of the conference. After the opening speech, János M. Rainer, head of department at the 1956 Institute at National Széchényi Library held a scientific lecture.
On the second day of the conference, the first keynote speech was given by dr. John Schwarzmantel. He was focusing on the impact of 1956 in Western Europe, as that year was a turning point not just in the history of Hungary or the Soviet Union, but also in other European countries. 1956 made the new left arise and was one of the reasons for the deepening of the divisions between the political left and the political right. Mr. Schwarzmantel mentioned the article of the famous historian, Edward Thompshon, “Through the smoke of Budapest”, where Thompson criticized Stalinism and the Soviet system and drew attention to the importance of the events in Hungary in 1956. According to Mr. Schwarzmantel, it was not just the new left that gained more and more power after the events of ’56. The lecture was also dealing with other effects of ’56, including changes in the attitudes of European communist parties.
The co-panelists were dr. Réka Földváryné Kiss, the Chair of the Institute of National Remembrance, Professor Christopher Read from the University of Warwick, dr. Endre Domaniczky, advisor at the Ministry of Justice in Hungary, Péter Dobrowiecki, Head of Office at the Antall József Knowledge Centre and dr. Ion Sucala from the University of Glasgow. The chair of the roundtable session was Professor Nigel Swain from the University of Liverpool.
Professor Christopher Read was talking about the structural problems of the communist system in connection with 1956 and about the geopolitical processes (Baghdad Pact, Indochina Wars, Warsaw Pact) that determined the international background of Soviet intervention Peter Dobrowiecki underlined the importance of understanding the Hungarian-Yugoslavian relationship regarding ’56. Endre Domaniczky drew attention to the Hungarian diaspora and to the history of tens of thousands of people who emigrated from Hungary during and after the events of 1956. Because of the revolution, many fled Hungary for the neighboring countries, large numbers of whom eventually settled overseas, among other places, in Australia. Ion Sucala introduced the political system in Romania typical to that period and the changes that Romania had to face in 1956. In the second half of the roundtable session, the co-panelists were discussing some questions coming from the audience that dealt with the importance of the Soviet intervention and the role of Tito in advocating beside Kádár as the upcoming prime minister of Hungary.
The scientific panel following the first roundtable discussion consisted of three presentations. Corina Snitar from the University of Glasgow held a presentation with the title The 1956 student movement in Timisoara, Romania giving an overview of the motivations of the demonstrations, the course of events and the ensuing repressions. The second presentation was held by Andrea Pető, professor at Central European University with the title Revisiting the Historiography of 1956: before a women's history turn? In her presentation, Prof. Pető analyzed how historiography depicts the role of women in the 1956 revolution and how revisionist and feminist history writing relate to each other. The third presentation (Violence and women in the memory of 1956), held by the researcher of the Institute and Museum of Military History Dr. Éva Tulipán, investigated the role assigned to women in the narratives concerning the violence in 1956, emphasizing that the Kádár regime selected persons and locations that were meant to become the symbols of violence.
In the third, closing section of the conference, another roundtable discussion took place with the participation of Hungarian and foreign experts. The topic of this panel was the international impact of the events in 1956. Stefano Bottoni, research fellow of the Institute of History at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, was talking about the impact of the events in 1956 on Romania. According to Bottoni, 1956 induced the rethinking of Romanian Stalinism and the formation of a new political identity. For the regimes of the Communist Bloc, it became clear that reforms are needed in order to survive, therefore a ten year long consolidation of power began. The next speaker was dr. Áron Máthé, the vice-chair of the Institute of National Remembrance. When assessing the impact of 1956, he highlighted four points. The first one was the experience of the whole Central European region that it is impossible to break free of Soviet dependence in an armed combat, using one’s own resources. The second was the international recognition of Hungary, Hungarianness or the “Magyar brand”. After losing two world wars, in 1956, the Hungarian national community again became renowned, recognized and supported. The third point was the end of Soviet-type antifascism: it turned out that those who are anti-communist or anti-Soviet are not necessarily fascist; and the pro-Soviets or communists are not necessarily democrats as well. In the last point, Áron Máthé explained that 1956 still created a kind of legend of resistance that in certain situations it is worth to try it even if does not make sense rationally - as it turned out that communist dictatorships can be overthrown and historical truth is not on their side. Another participant of the discussion, professor Nigel Swain was talking about the effects of 1956 in Hungary and internationally. The effects in Hungary included the continuation of political and systemic oppression and reforms with dubious results (in the agriculture, industry and economy). Dr. Vera Sheidan from Dublin City University presented the impact of 1956 and 1956 émigrés in Ireland. The Republic of Ireland’s path to independence was similar to that of Hungary, perhaps therefore the country – assisted by the Red Cross – showed empathy and inclusion towards Hungarian refugees even though the number of immigrants put a significant economic and social burden on Ireland.
The discussions of the panel and the two days of the conference showed that 1956 had a great role not only in Hungary but it also had significant impact on the international system and its formation. It is true regarding the examination of historical facts both now and then. The importance of the lessons learned in 1956 cannot be ignored whether examined with regard to the whole Socialist bloc or the international environment; its legacy is still tangible.