91. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Chargé in Hungary (Barnes) and the Yugoslav Minister (Soldatić), Budapest, October 12, 19561

The subject conversation lasted for about an hour and covered a number of topics, primarily general. It opened with a remark on the recent Crimea meetings of Marshal Tito, Gero and the Soviet leaders,2 in which Mr. Barnes expressed interest in any facts connected with these meetings but added that he was perhaps more interested in Mr. Soldatic’s appraisal of the broader trends affecting Hungary over the past few months.

The Yugoslav Minister then observed that, in contrast to earlier developments which might have seemed to point in the direction of liberalism, for the first time the policies expressed in the July Party Resolution3 had been adopted due to pressure from the masses of lower and middle level Party members rather than dictated from the top. He added that he did not think that public opinion, in terms of that held by the broad masses of the population, yet plays a very important role in this country; but he felt that majority opinion within the Party has recently come to exert an influence which is being felt.

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He went on to say that, in his opinion, Imre Nagy has for practical purposes already been rehabilitated through adoption of the most of his policies, even though not yet restored to a position of personal power.4 He added that if his advice were asked (which he said it was not) he would advise the Hungarian regime to leave Mr. Gero as Party chief—which would tend to satisfy the Kremlin—and put Imre Nagy in as Prime Minister. He said he felt, however, that a move of this kind would take more courage than there was at hand, if put into effect at one time, and that he considered a comeback in stages more likely. He clearly felt, in any event, that a comeback was in the cards. In this connection he observed that the mass ceremony held in connection with the Rajk reburial5 represented a calculated risk; one which had worked out successfully but which might have brought on demonstrations that would not have been palatable to the regime.

He felt that the Soviets were genuinely apprehensive that developments might move too fast and too far here. He added, though, that there were so many cross currents at work that it was hard to disentangle the factors involved. He felt, as he had for a long time, that rivalry exists among the Soviet leaders. He said that Stalinism could return here, and in the U.S.S.R.—though he implied that he doubted this would happen. He agreed that Bulganin and Khrushchev now have a vested interest in their own policies, that they genuinely favor a continuation of present trends within Eastern Europe, up to some point or other, as being in the long-run favorable to themselves. The logic here was that less discontented satellite peoples would give a sounder basis for the “co-operation” of these countries with the U.S.S.R. He left no doubt that in his opinion the Yugoslav Government is not dissatisfied with present trends in the satellites, and would like to have these trends go somewhat farther; in which connection its long-run objective still appeared to be that of greater independence of the other socialist states from Moscow. He said that there were differences in attitude between the U.S.S.R. and the Yugoslav Governments—this in answer to a question as to whether any real identity of views now exists between the two—but added here that this point was not discussed in the Crimea. He said there were ideological differences as well as practical, but that perhaps there had been some slight tendency toward the two growing together. In this connection “growing together” seemed to mean in his mind the Soviet view approaching the Yugoslav, rather than the reverse. On the whole, he considered it likely that present trends would continue over a considerable period, towards [Page 250] greater liberalism and independence for Hungary, but that there would be periodic interruptions in the major trends such as had taken place for a period in the middle of this year. He cited the case of Poland, where the Soviet press had emphasized imperialist interference over internal dissatisfaction as a reason for the Poznan riots, and where Bulganin had said that the U.S.S.R. was not satisfied with everything; but where the Poles had reversed the emphasis on Poznan on their own initiative, and had apparently introduced no changes in answer to Bulganin’s criticism.

Mr. Soldatic remarked that the Hungarians have little knowledge of how things are done in Yugoslavia, but that they have recently been showing more interest. He said here that the regime has so far stuck stubbornly to their principle of agricultural collectivization, but that even in this field he had lately noticed some tendency on their part to begin to think critically—a good sign.

In referring again to Imre Nagy, Mr. Soldatic said that not only the United States and other Western countries but also Yugoslavia had made a mistake in taking a too critical attitude toward him when he was Prime Minister. He volunteered the opinion, as he has in previous conversations, that we should all avoid putting obstacles in the way of “Nagyism”, and that he thought it would be perhaps well to meet positive or conciliatory moves by the Hungarians with equally positive reciprocation, even though it might not be advisable to take too much initiative in this direction. Here he added the advice that he thought the United States official position could profitably be one of “noting the present trend toward liberalism with satisfaction, while recognizing that the matter was still one of purely internal concern within Hungary”. He claimed that such an attitude would strengthen the position of liberal groups here, as well as undercut Soviet arguments for resisting such liberal trends. He obviously felt that the Soviets still maintain the major part of their control system intact, and are hardly prepared to let their control diminish greatly in the foreseeable future; but felt that, nevertheless, some diminishment would come in the long-run. He considered that present developments were being kept fairly well under control, and thought a sharp clamp-down would be likely only if such developments tended to get out of hand.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 764.00/10–556. Confidential. Enclosure to despatch 199 from Budapest, October 16.
  2. Tito met Gerö on September 30 in what was, according to Yugoslav Ambassador to the Soviet Union Veljko Mićunović, an unexpected encounter. See Moscow Diary, pp. 116–117.
  3. See Documents 82 and 83.
  4. Nagy petitioned to be readmitted to the Hungarian Workers’ Party on October 4, and the Politburo approved this step on October 13.
  5. Làszlo Rajk and other victims of the 1949 purge trials were symbolically reinterred and given a State funeral on October 6 in a ceremony attended by some 200,000 persons including Nagy.