16. Despatch From the Legation in Hungary to the Department of State0

No. 413


  • Recommendations Regarding United States Policy Toward Present Hungarian Regime

In a recent survey of the course of relations between the United States and Hungary in 1958 (Legation despatch No. 383, January 7, 1959),1 the Legation came to the conclusion that there had been a worsening of relations in this period. Virtually all the major and minor issues existing between the two countries at the beginning of the year remained unresolved at year’s end. With the passage of time, world public interest in the Hungarian question has decreased; other and more pressing problems demand attention. As a result, the present regime in Hungary had been able to improve its international position. If it did not escape unscathed in the recent session of the United Nations General Assembly, it did succeed in avoiding drastic sanctions against it. Internally, also, the regime has further consolidated its position. The Hungarian people have not given up their dislike of the regime and its Soviet masters but, as prospects for outside support have receded, they have tended more and more to an attitude of helpless resignation and decreased resistance to regime pressure.

Under the circumstances, the Legation feels it imperative to re-examine the outstanding issues in United States-Hungarian relations with a view to determining what actions it should itself take or should recommend to the Department in order to improve the United States position in Hungary.

Before setting forth our observations, we should like to make certain general comments. In the first place, the Department will perceive that our present suggestions closely resemble those put forward when we made a similar survey in the early months of 1958 (Legation [Page 63] despatches No. 471, March 5, and No. 489, March 12, 1958).2 This is not surprising, in view of the similarity between the current situation and that prevailing last year. Our proposals last year bore little fruit; in fact, most of them were never translated into action because of political developments in Hungary. There is no guarantee that our initiatives will fare any better this year, but we are convinced that the deteriorating position of the United States in Hungary makes some action on our part more than ever necessary.

In the second place, the overall effect of our recommendations would be to put United States-Hungarian relations on a basis comparable to that existing for United States relations with other Communist bloc countries. We believe that movement toward such a “normalization” of relations with the present Hungarian regime is necessary not because we consider that the regime merits approval and respect, but because we believe some reconciliation with the regime is required before we will be allowed significant opportunities for projecting United States influence on the Hungarian people.

Lastly, it will be noted that our proposed initiatives are neither numerous nor extensive. Any real increase in United States activities in Hungary would require a complete change in the attitude of the regime—something that does not seem likely in the foreseeable future.

Harassment of the Legation

In the past, the chief harassment of the Legation by the Hungarian authorities has been the arrest of, or punitive action against, local Hungarian employees. At present, two local employees are under “internal deportation” orders and are living a precarious existence in remote villages. Persistent attempts by the Legation to aid them have been rebuffed; however, no new drastic actions have been taken or threatened against other employees in recent months and even cases of minor annoyances, such as revocation of driving licenses, have not recurred. The Legation sees no alternative in the coming months to continuing its efforts on behalf of the two deported employees and standing ready to defend any other employees unfairly treated. It may be that our [Page 64] vigorous protests over the cases that have occurred have helped to some extent to deter the police from more numerous persecutions.

Minor forms of harassment, such as the “guarding” of the Legation by large numbers of uniformed and secret police, the interrogation of Hungarian visitors to the Legation, etc., may be expected to continue. As in the past, the Legation will from time to time voice its dissatisfaction over such practices, without necessarily making a big issue of the matter. Any lasting solution to the harassment issue must, however, depend on a more extensive easing of relations than seems in prospect now.

Contacts with Hungarians

Since the Revolution, there has been a steady decline in Legation contact with both official and unofficial Hungarians. The regime desired to have Americans and other Westerners attend staged propaganda affairs, but hindered meaningful exchanges with citizens. Means used to accomplish this were not only the minor harassments noted above, but also the anti-American propaganda campaign which became so marked during the fall. The clear warning of this campaign was that it is dangerous for any Hungarian to have any contact with American officials. Men holding posts in various ministries who had never hesitated in the past to discuss official business with Legation officers, now expressed preference for having the Foreign Ministry act as intermediary between them and the Legation. Old friends and new acquaintances shied away from even the most innocuous meetings with Americans. The Legation will continue to try to check this trend by the judicious inviting of official or “approved” personalities to social functions, by seeking face-to-face discussions in preference to written communications whenever business matters arise with Hungarians, etc. However, the best method for expanding the Legation’s circles of acquaintances, under existing conditions, would seem to be the development of informational and cultural programs approved or tolerated by the regime.

Information Program

The Legation continues to be dissatisfied with its lack of anything that could properly be called an information program. Nevertheless, the reasons that have in the past argued against such a program remain strong today: the presence of Cardinal Mindszenty in the Legation, the police surveillance of the building, and the impossibility of asking local employees to do any kind of informational work. We have been able to dispose of a certain number of American magazines and other publications of a non-political nature. In the future, we hope to increase the number of such presentations to ministries, libraries, museums, and other institutions. A more ambitious program remains contingent on future developments.

[Page 65]

Cultural Exchange

The visit of a limited number of top-flight American artists, lecturers, and sportsmen in 1958 was one bright spot in the year’s rather gloomy picture of Hungarian-American relations. The Legation strongly urges that the number of such visits be increased this year because they are warmly desired by the Hungarian people and because they enable the Legation to expand its circle of acquaintances in the Hungarian cultural field.

In the past, these tours have been arranged through private channels, largely to avoid the necessity of dealing with the regime and to forestall regime demands for reciprocity. While wishing to expand tours under private sponsorship, the Legation would also like to recommend reconsideration of the United States position on official exchanges with Hungary. Dealing with Hungarian authorities on the matter of cultural exchanges certainly signifies little in the way of approval of the regime. The Hungarians have not yet demanded reciprocal visits, but even if they should do so now, we see little objection to having Hungarian cultural figures come to the United States. So far as we know, the few Hungarian performers appearing there in 1958 (the runner Roszavolgyi and the fencing team) did not encounter hostile receptions. We see definite benefits in having as many Hungarians as possible familiarize themselves with the United States. At the same time, our readiness to admit Hungarians should have some influence in persuading the authorities here to accept a greater number of United States artists.

In this connection, the Legation would like to call attention to the cultural operations conducted by other Western countries here (Legation despatch No. 394, January 9, 1959).3 We have learned that the British Legation has recommended to London a major expansion of their cultural program, with the ultimate objective of restoring the British Council in Budapest and that this recommendation has been accepted in principle in London. Coordination of cultural plans with the British and perhaps with other NATO countries would seem desirable at this stage.

Commercial Relations

Somewhat akin to our advocacy of expanded cultural relations, is our belief that the United States should liberalize its trade policy toward Hungary. Obviously this question is part of the general problem of East-West trade. Hungary could probably never become an important outlet for American goods, and it is clear that anything the regime buys from America will be used for the benefit of the regime. However, the Hungarians have voiced a great interest in trying to sell to the United States. Since we do not believe they could garner a large stock of dollars by such [Page 66] activities, we believe that the United States could profitably acquiesce in the Hungarian desire to try the American market.

As for trade fairs and exhibitions, we think a well-selected American display would be highly effective here and the Hungarians should be tested on their willingness (by no means certain) to accept such a thing. An obvious price for permission to exhibit here is a reciprocal invitation to have a display in the United States. Whether a Hungarian display would get an embarrassingly hostile reception in the United States is hard to say. It seems to the Legation that the matter at least deserves further study. Hungarian officials have expressed considerable interest in this topic, and a flexible United States attitude might improve our bargaining position on other points.

Aside from agreeing to mutual participation in fairs, easing visa procedures for commercial people, and perhaps raising the inspection ban on the import of Hungarian meat products, there is little we can do to boost Hungarian-American commerce. All that we can expect to do is to put ourselves in a position where we can point out to the Hungarians that they are free to compete with others for a share in American trade.

Visa and Passport Problems

During the past year, a major source of irritation in the Legation’s dealing with Hungarian authorities has been the visa policies of the two countries. On several occasions, the Legation has found it necessary to complain about Hungarian delays or failures in issuing visas, particularly to United States officials coming to Budapest on business. In turn, the Hungarians have frequently charged that the United States was too restrictive on visas to journalists, sportsmen, scientists, commercial representatives, etc. In the fall of 1958, they announced a policy of strict reciprocity on visas. The first result of this was the limitation on the exit and entry visas of United States Legation employees (See Legation despatch No. 329, November 28, 1958).4 The United States has now more than corrected any inequity that existed on this particular score (Legation despatch No. 362, December 19, 1958);5 we are watching to see what remedial steps the Hungarians will take in return. We believe that, at the very minimum, the United States should review all of its visa procedures with regard to Hungarians, to be sure that we are not more restrictive than the Hungarian regime unless such restrictions are clearly demanded by security considerations.

The United States passport regulations limiting travel to Hungary are another irritant—and, the Legation believes, an unnecessary one—in Hungarian-American relations. The regulations do not seem [Page 67] necessary as protection for United States citizens; in recent years, those Americans who have come here have not experienced serious trouble with the police, nor have any of our local employees been arrested since the early part of 1957. We still have two local employees under deportation and, if there were the slightest indication that keeping the passport restrictions would exert pressure on their behalf, the Legation would favor continuing the regulation. It does not appear, however, that their status is negotiable with any means presently available; therefore, the Legation advocates lifting the passport limitation without directly seeking any Hungarian concession in return. There is, of course, no assurance that this will markedly improve the climate of our relations, but there would appear to be no United States interest which is protected by the maintenance of this travel restriction. The Hungarians have made the point that it is the passport restrictions which prevent a great increase in the number of tourists from the United States. We doubt that this is true, but would favor an experiment which might promote contacts between Americans and the Hungarian people.

Legation Staff Ceiling

The United States has never accepted the concept that the Hungarian Government can fix the size or composition of the Legation’s staff. Nevertheless we have in practice kept even below the limits stated in the Foreign Ministry’s note of May 25, 1957.6 With the severe curtailment of the Legation’s activities, the staff ceiling has worked no particular hardship. This situation could change if an easing of the atmosphere produced such things as the regime’s granting of passports to intending emigrants, a regular influx of large numbers of American tourists, a major cultural exchange program, or the re-opening of informational activities. Such developments do not seem likely in the near future and, in any event, the requisite easing of the atmosphere would probably also result in the falling away of the staff limitations without the necessity of direct negotiation on the point.

The Hungarian Item in the United Nations

While the United Nations has not been able to provide a solution to the Hungarian question, its continued consideration of the question has placed the Hungarian and Soviet regimes at great psychological disadvantage and has damaged Hungary’s position domestically and internationally. This has naturally provoked bitter reaction on the part of the regime; as was evidenced in the last United Nations General Assembly, the anger of the authorities has been concentrated more and more on the [Page 68] United States as the recognized leader of the fight against the Hungarian regimen in the United Nations.

The Legation believes that the United States stand in the United Nations has been based on principle, and that we could not in conscience have done less than we did; we see no occasion for apology or retraction of our position. As for the future, it is still some months before the next regular session of the General Assembly and events in the meantime will influence our policy then. Nevertheless, if our arguments in favor of moving toward normalization of relations are valid, they will require that the United States adopt at least a tentative position now that we will let the United Nations record stand but will not take the initiative to force the issue from here on out. In this connection, we should mention that, while our opportunities for sampling public opinion are slight, we have found a discouraging lack of interest among Hungarians in the recent United Nations debate and its outcome. Regime propaganda is not particularly effective, but it may eventually get some popular response to its theme that the United States and other Western powers are “ganging up” on Hungary while trying to conciliate the USSR because of its “proven” technical and military superiority.

Designation of Minister

Up until the middle of 1958, there were frequent indications that the regime strongly desired an exchange of ministers between the two countries as a sign of finally restored relations. In the latter half of the year, hints and statements of regime officials to this effect began to disappear. Nevertheless, it seems certain that the Hungarians would be glad to have a United States minister in Budapest. In view, however, of the United States attitude toward the regime and of the recent history of relations between the two countries, the designation of a minister does not seem likely in the immediate future. When the time is ripe for such a step, it can probably be used as a bargaining point to procure important concessions from the Hungarians.

It should be noted, however, that the bargaining value of a ministerial designation could be reduced if in the meantime other Western countries, particularly the NATO nations, had accredited envoys here. During the past year, the Dutch and Belgian ministers departed, leaving charges d’Affaires to act for their countries. On the other hand, the British Minister, Sir Leslie Fry, left this month and in line with standard British practice is being replaced by another minister, due to arrive shortly. Similarly, a new Israeli minister is slated to arrive in February, replacing Minister Touval. The present charge d’Affaires of Greece has indicated he is hoping for an appointment as minister here this year. Hungary may be expected to urge a “regularization” of the relations upon other countries now represented here by charges; thus, new Hungarian [Page 69] ministers have already been accredited to Brussels and The Hague. While it would probably have been impossible to dissuade the British from sending a new minister, it is believed that the question of accreditation by other NATO countries should be kept under close review in the NATO Council in order to avoid having the United States placed in an embarrassingly isolated position in this matter.

Cardinal Mindszenty

The question of the future of Cardinal Mindszenty remains one of the most difficult problems of United States-Hungarian relations. This matter has been discussed at length in the Legation’s despatch No. 471 of March 5, 1958, and in numerous other messages to the Department. We have at the moment little to add to these communications.

In October of last year, the Hungarian authorities flatly refused the request of the Sacred College of Cardinals, conveyed through the Legation, that Cardinal Mindszenty be permitted to attend the Conclave in Rome. This action put an end to speculation that the regime would be interested in a face-saving device for removing the Cardinal from Hungary. At the same time, the Cardinal’s manifest reluctance even to consider departing except on the most specific instructions of the Vatican underlined the fact that in considering solutions to the question his attitude, as well as that of the Vatican, must be taken fully into account. Finally, this episode gave the regime a chance to say for the first time that the Hungarian authorities have been officially “notified” of the whereabouts of the Cardinal. The implications of this position are not clear; at the very least, it would seem that the regime now considers itself free to press at any time its charge that the Legation is harboring a fugitive from justice, contrary to international law and practice.

It should not be overlooked that the question of the Cardinal may involve such deep feelings of personal enmity and vengeance on both sides as to be virtually non-negotiable while the present leaders remain in power. The Legation is inclined to believe, however, that a settlement could be arranged, but that the price would be high. We continue to think the whole question of normalization of relations would be involved, including particularly the exchange of ministers between the two countries, and an express or implied understanding about future United States policy in the United Nations.


It is apparent from the above review that normalization of relations with the present regime in Hungary (even on a purely Curtain basis) is unlikely so long as (1) Cardinal Mindszenty remains a refugee in the Legation, (2) an exchange of ministers is not effected, and (3) the United States continues to spearhead the attacks on the regime in the United Nations. The Legation certainly does not recommend that the [Page 70] United States attempt to resolve all of these problems at the present time, but it does believe that these matters should be kept actively in mind and that all possible preparations should be made and actions taken to ameliorate and eventually to overcome these impediments to improved relations. There are, however, a few things which might be done immediately, in an effort to put ourselves in a better position to establish more intensive contact with government officials and with other Hungarians whose point of view might be affected by closer relations with the West. The Legation, therefore, recommends that the policy of the United States toward the present regime in Hungary be considered in the following sequence, with Phase I to be instituted immediately.


Phase I

That the passport restriction on travel of American citizens to Hungary be immediately rescinded, without any attempt to negotiate a quid pro quo therefor. The Legation believes that the small degree of thawing in our relations with Hungarian officials which would result from such action would be sufficient quid pro quo.
That our visa procedures with Hungary be carefully reviewed in detail, to be sure that our procedures are at least as liberal as those of the Hungarian regime. The Legation, for its part, contemplates raising with the Foreign Office the question of resuming a more liberal policy toward members of this Legation in return for the recent liberalization of United States visa policy toward members of the Hungarian Legation in Washington. (We shall do this about the middle of March, which will be approximately three months after the notification of our new procedures to the Foreign Office.)
That the United States officially facilitate, rather than restrict, the visits of Hungarians to the United States—particularly those engaged in cultural, information, sport, and commercial activities. The Hungarians have already been more liberal in this regard than has the United States, but this situation can hardly be expected to continue indefinitely on a one-sided basis.

Phase II

(The timing of this Phase would depend upon developments not only in Hungary, but in our general relations with the Communist bloc. However, the Legation believes that the matter should now be under active consideration in Washington; that the preliminary steps, which do not require discussion with the Hungarians, should be initiated; and that we should be ready to act if and when the situation appears propitious.)

[Page 71]
Resolution of the problem of the Cardinal’s refuge in the Legation (Legation, in this connection, the Legation’s despatch No. 302, November 20, 1958).7
The exchange of ministers between the United States and Hungary. (Note: It would seem probable that these two matters should be negotiated simultaneously, in the possibility that the one might be used to offset the other.)
That we desist from any further efforts to obtain the refusal of the credentials of the Hungarian delegation to the United Nations or the adoption of new resolutions on the Hungarian Question. This would not mean, however, that we would approve the rescinding of the Resolutions which have been adopted by the General Assembly, until such time as the USSR and Hungary might comply with those Resolutions. We should, on the contrary, continue to remind these two countries and the world in general (as, presumably, would other free countries, members of the United Nations) of the failure of the USSR and of Hungary to meet their obligations in this regard.

Phase III

With the completion of Phases I and II, we would be in normal Curtain relations with the Hungarian regime and would, thereby, be on a footing similar to that already occupied by other Western missions in Budapest. It is probable that, in the process of reaching this position, certain restrictive actions of the Hungarian regime would already have been altered—such, for instance, as the close surveillance of the Chancery (Chancery is probably due, in large part, to the presence of the Cardinal) and the restrictions on the size and composition of the Legation staff. If, in fact, these things had not been done, we should then be in a better position to require that they be immediately carried out.

The United States should then, it is suggested, be prepared to propose to the Hungarian Government the establishment of such understandings or agreements as might be deemed necessary for the implementation of active programs for cultural and informational exchange and for commercial intercourse. The Legation does not feel that grandiose projects, involving large increases in personnel assigned to this Legation, would ever be justified, even under the most favorable circumstances; but it is believed that something quite effective might be done in cultural exchange and in a modest expansion of trade between the two countries. Pending, however, the arrival at this point of Phase III—which it might very well take some considerable time to reach—the Legation suggests that the Department encourage and, where possible, assist the expansion of cultural and commercial exchanges between the [Page 72] Hungarians and other Western countries—in particular, Great Britain, France, and Italy.8

Garret G. Ackerson, Jr.

Charge d’Affaires a.i.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.64/1–2359. Secret. Drafted by Pratt and Ackerson.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid., 611.64/1–759)
  3. In despatch 471, the Legation submitted the following recommendations: “(1) Continued pressure on the regime for the release of the arrested local employees of the Legation. This pressure should be in the form of diplomatic representations; publicity in the Western press should also be considered. (2) Lifting of the ban on the travel of United States citizens in Hungary as a price for easing some of the present staff restrictions on the Legation. (3) Implementation of a common NATO policy on the accreditation of new Ministers to Budapest. (4) Exploration of means of solving the question of Cardinal Mindszenty’s future position.” (Ibid., 611.64/3–558) In despatch 489, the Legation submitted certain recommendations for expanding contacts with the Hungarian people through an increase in trade, informational activities, and cultural exchanges. (Ibid., 611.64/3–1258)
  4. Not printed. (Ibid., 550.64/1–959)
  5. Not printed. (Ibid., Visa Office Files)
  6. Not printed. (Ibid.)
  7. Presumably reference is to the Foreign Ministry’s note dated May 24, the text of which was transmitted to the Department of State in despatch 589 from Budapest, May 24, 1957. (Ibid., Central Files, 611.64/5–2457)
  8. Document 13.
  9. Attached to the source text was a memorandum from Assistant Secretary of State for Security and Consular Affairs John W. Hanes, Jr., to Merchant, dated February 16, in which Hanes wrote that he would oppose any change at this time in U.S. passport policy toward Hungary, and especially those changes recommended in despatch 413 from Budapest. He noted further that he “would certainly oppose it unless there were more compelling reasons for doing it—particularly of a quid pro quo nature—than are apparent to me from reading this despatch.” In another memorandum to Assistant Secretary of State for International Affairs Francis O. Wilcox, also dated February 16, Hanes wrote that he had seen “no actions on the part of the Hungarian regime nor of the USSR to warrant our softening our attitude along any of the lines suggested by Budapest” with regard to U.S. policy on the Hungarian question at the United Nations. (Department of State, UN Files: Lot 61 D 91, Hungary)