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

No. 5


  • Legation’s Despatch No. 413, January 23, 19591


  • Relations Between Hungary and the West

With the completion of action on the Hungarian Question at the 14th Session of the General Assembly in December and the elapse of the year 1959, the Legation undertook a review and reexamination of United States policy toward the existing Hungarian regime. This review was never forwarded to the Department since the conclusions and recommendations resulting therefrom were found to be not essentially different from those contained in the despatch under reference. In view of the forthcoming 15th Session of the General Assembly, however, some reconsideration of our position and of our policy is perhaps appropriate.

With respect to United States-Hungarian relations, there has been little fundamental change since the exchange of Notes which took place in the late months of 1958. The Legation felt (and continues to feel) that the Department’s Note of November 21, 1958,2 “set the record straight” with respect to the regime’s failures to meet its international obligations and placed full responsibility for an improvement in its international situation squarely on the regime. The Hungarian Government, in the following months, sought by various means to foist this responsibility [Page 110] on the United States, but these efforts were unavailing and, except for some sporadic and desultory conversations on the subject between United States and Hungarian officials in both capitals and an exchange of Notes in Washington in May and June 1959 on the matter of the ILO Conference of that year,3 the regime has done little more than to reiterate its innocence through whatever propaganda means have been available to it.

The regime’s quest for respectability has, however, not been entirely unattended by some measure of success. A number of Western and neutralist governments have begun to weary of the battle on the “Hungarian Question” and the voting with respect to the credentials of Hungarian delegations at successive meetings of United Nations bodies has tended to become less [more?] favorable to the Hungarians4—not, however, to a degree which has by any means satisfied the regime, which seeks full recognition and respectability without making the slightest concession to the numerous Resolutions of censorship which are still outstanding in the General Assembly. The speeches made by both Kadar and Khrushchev at the Congress of the Hungarian Communist Party toward the end of 1959 were bitter and slighting about the 14th General Assembly and, while some effort was made to play upon the “spirit of Camp David” as an indication of improvement in East-West relations which might be expected to extend to Hungary and the Hungarian Question, the continued stationing of Soviet troops within the country was confirmed and a “hard line” toward any opposition to the regime was clearly manifested (Despatches 312 and 317, December 3 and 4, 1959).5

There is no evidence that this hard line has been modified or abandoned since the Party Congress at the end of last year. On the contrary, there is abundant evidence that it was put into effect and that it is being followed ruthlessly and thoroughly at the present time. The following are some of the manifestations of this harsh policy:

The Soviet forces continue to be better equipped and better trained than were those which occupied Hungary at the time of the 1956 [Page 111] outbreak. While some slight reduction in numbers of occupying forces, as announced, may have occurred over the past year or eighteen months, there has been no reduction in effectiveness and no impairment of the capacity of these forces to repress quickly, effectively, and ruthlessly any disturbance which might manifest itself within the country.
The para-military forces (Frontier Guards, Workers’ Militia, AVH) of the Ministry of Interior, which is itself under direct Soviet control, have been recreated and are clearly repressive organs of great power and complete ruthlessness. The promises made by Kadar and others of the regime shortly after the Revolution that these organizations would not again come into being have long since been forgotten and discarded.
Arrests, secret trials, internal deportations, and executions for participation (or, often, alleged participation) in the “events” of 1956 continue. It is not easy to get hard information on these occurrences, but enough confirmed examples have come to the Legation’s attention (and been reported to the Department) to lead one to believe that many of the other reports (which cannot be entirely confirmed) are probably true. The regime is highly sensitive on this score and, probably as a result of the publicity which these developments received abroad and at the U.N., has again tightened up on security in an effort to prevent reports of this nature from leaking out. There is no reason to believe that the arrests, trials, and executions have ceased or even diminished; on the contrary, there is still, despite the measures taken by the regime, sufficient evidence to confirm that they are continuing. (Legtels 237 and 248, March 14 and 31; Despatches 553 and 619, April 6 and May 12, 1960)6
While still proceeding against individuals (both those who participated in 1956 and others), the regime is now engaged in an intensive and extensive class war, as manifested by the following developments:
Forced re-collectivization of the peasants over the past two years (years collectives having very largely disintegrated during the Revolution). This process continues, as is made manifestly clear by the statements of regime officials and by the press, as well as by reports received from peasants calling at the Consular Section of the Legation. (Despatch 322, December 8, 1959)7
Suppression of artisans and small business enterprises. (Despatch 360, December 31, 1959)8
Increasing demands on workers through socialist labor competitions (competitions.e., “speed-ups”), which are written about extensively in the press on the theory that they are manifestations of “voluntary” contributions to socialized production.
The enforcement of total submission on all of the churches. Any semblance of an entente between church and state has been [Page 112] completely abandoned and the communist goal of total abolition of religion is apparently considered possible of attainment. (Despatches 554 and 611, April 6 and May 5, 1960)9
Attacks still continue—but most of the “dirty work” has now been accomplished—against writers and lawyers; teachers; actors, musicians, artists; doctors; any other groups having similar bourgeois propensities and which the regime may consider dangerous as foci of attack against the socialist society. (Despatches 566 and 621, April 12 and May 12, 1960)10

The screw is, of course, not tightened in all directions and on all elements of the population at one and the same time. (The regime has learned from the “salami tactics” of Rakosi, as evidenced by carrying out its policy of collectivization of agriculture over a period of years and in separate sections of the country, rather than in all parts of the state at one and the same time.) The following recent developments, seemingly “on the other side of the ledger”, have led some observers outside Hungary (but certainly few if any inside) to conclude that there has been a “relaxation of controls” and the adoption of a “more liberal domestic policy” (quotations from an article by M.S. Handler of the New York Times from Vienna, published in the Los Angeles Times of June 5, 1960):


Consumer Goods. The Soviets found it expedient—indeed, necessary—to accord a measure of economic relief to this country after the destruction which had been wrought in 1956. This was done not only through loans (and perhaps even grants), but by means of a letting up on the rapid socialization of the economy. This new turn made itself particularly manifest in the frantic effort to efface all outward evidence of destruction in the streets of Budapest (albeit that the scars of World War II remain) and in the increase in consumer goods made available on the internal market. Some of these were goods which could not be marketed in the restricted international markets of 1958 and early 1959, but others were produced or imported for the specific purpose of bolstering the new regime and of appeasing the people who had made so manifest their feelings of despair during the events of 1956.

It is, however, a mistake to exaggerate (as some foreign observers seem inclined to do) the extent of this amelioration. Prices are still extremely high in relation to average income and the quantity (not to speak of the quality) of goods available does not begin to meet the potential demand. Even stable agricultural products, natural to the land and of which this country is normally a large exporter, are periodically in short supply.

Increase in Travel. A number of Western missions in Budapest have observed, in recent months, a considerable increase in the number [Page 113] of Hungarians being granted passports for travel (but not for emigration) to the West. This is particularly true for certain favored groups (groups, musicians, sports teams), whose return to Hungary is considered a reasonable risk because the economic position of those to whom these passports are given is enough of an attraction to ensure their return. The regime also seems prepared to take a certain amount of loss through defection in return for the favorable international publicity which this more liberal policy brings the regime. It remains true, however, that many thousands of passports are refused and that emigration is still a mere trickle. This Legation, for instance, receives many more applications for U.S. immigration visas than there are applicants with the necessary passports. Emigration to Israel is likewise at the same vanishing point at which it has stood for the past two years. (Despatch 598, April 28, 1960)11
Amnesty. The regime announced an amnesty, effective the first days of April. The provisions of this amnesty were not very broad (Despatch 551, April 1, 1960)12 and, since the regime has maintained (and continues to maintain) such close secrecy with respect to the numbers of people under arrest, it is difficult to know the extent to which this amnesty has brought relief. The Foreign Ministry itself has given two estimates—”around 500” in one case and 4,000 in another (Legation’s Despatch 571, April 14, 1960).13 In view of the meager news given in the press and the vague claims made by regime spokesmen, it may be assumed that the effect has not been broad or deep. It should likewise be borne in mind that the fate of those who have been pardoned is frequently not a rosy one. In the few cases known to the Legation, the amnestied persons are finding all work and all sources of income closed to them, so that they may again become liable to arrest or to internal deportation for having no visible means of support.

Thus, while an effort has been made by the regime to make it appear that repression against the Hungarian people has ceased or materially abated, it is clear that the complaints made against the regime (and against the Kremlin) in a series of General Assembly resolutions since 1956 remain essentially valid. The imposition of the present puppet regime was effected through the armed intervention of the U.S.S.R. (and continues in power because of the same armed support); the violations of human rights and freedoms have not abated (and there are signs of their having increased in recent months); the regime continues to refuse to permit the entrance into Hungary of representatives of the United Nations in their official capacities (Prince Wan, Sir Leslie Munro, Secretary General Hammarskjold). The judicial murders of Imre Nagy, General Maleter, and their two companions in June 1958 were a manifestation [Page 114] of continuing repressive measures and defiance of the United Nations by the regime.

Despite this record, the representatives of the regime have continued (continued at the ILO meetings in 1958 and 1959) to speak and to vote at meetings of the General Assembly and other U.N. bodies. It would seem grotesque that “representatives of the very regime which has been convicted by the General Assembly of usurping power over the Hungarian people with the help of Soviet tanks, should be permitted to speak for Hungary in that Assembly” (“Hungary under Soviet Rule III” published by American Friends of the Captive Nations, September 1959). While there may have been some semblance of reason for following such a policy (although the Legation had not felt this to be the case) so long as a detente between East and West appeared to exist and the prospect of some accomplishment at a Summit Conference was at least a flickering hope, any such excuse for continuing a procedure which can only do serious harm to the standing of the United Nations in the eyes of the people of the world would seem no longer to hold any semblance of validity. The Legation therefore feels that the policy of “no decision” with respect to Hungarian credentials should be abandoned and that the credentials should be refused, until such time as this regime (or some successor government) complies with the repeated resolutions of the General Assembly.

The Legation is aware of the fact that enough support may not be mustered in the General Assembly and other United Nations bodies for the adoption of such a policy. The Legation is likewise aware that the wrath of the regime will be intensified against the Western governments and, in particular, against the United States for seeking such action, but it is felt that the integrity and good name of the United Nations are of more importance than any additional inconvenience which the Western missions in Budapest may experience as a result of the votes cast by their governments in an effort to withhold from this regime the forum of the United Nations for its propaganda and attacks.

Garret G. Ackerson, Jr.
Charge d’Affaires ad interim
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.64/7–660. Confidential.
  2. Document 16.
  3. The text of this note was quoted in telegram 129 from Budapest, November 19, 1958. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.64/11–1958)
  4. These notes have not been further identified.
  5. December 1959: 14th General Assembly—No decision on credentials continued, but Hungary made a member of Outer Space Committee.

    April 1960: Second Law of Sea Conference—No decision on credentials. (Credentials accepted at 1958 Conference.)

    June 1960: ILO Conference—No decision (decision credentials refused at two previous ILO Conferences). [Footnote in the source text.]

  6. Despatch 312 described Kadar’s speech of November 30 in which he commented at length on Hungarian foreign policy. (Department of State, Central Files, 664.00/12–359) Despatch 317 commented on Khrushchev’s visit to Budapest on November 28. (Ibid., 033.6164/12–459)
  7. These telegrams and despatches all report on the continuing executions of participants in the 1956 revolt. All are ibid., 764.00 and 764.005.
  8. Despatch 322 reported on the call for a new collectivization drive and the announcement of the Second Five-Year Plan made at the 8th Congress of the Hungarian Communist Party. (Ibid., 764.005/12–859)
  9. Despatch 360 reported that private Hungarian foreign trade representatives had recently been deprived of their licenses. (Ibid., 864.19/12–3159)
  10. Despatch 554 discussed Church-State relations in Hungary. (Ibid., 864.413/4–660) Despatch 611 described certain conflicts between the government and the Church. (Ibid., 864.413/5–560)
  11. Despatch 566 described informal conversations on March 28 between a Legation staff member and certain Hungarian intellectuals. (Ibid., 764.00/4–1260) Despatch 621 reported on Hungarian intellectual and academic trends. (Ibid., 511.643/5–1260)
  12. Despatch 598, Joint Weeka 17, surveyed political and economic developments in Hungary for the previous week. (Ibid., 764.00(W)/4–2860)
  13. Despatch 551 described the government’s March 31 decree granting a partial amnesty to participants in the 1956 revolt. (Ibid., 764.00/4–160)
  14. Despatch 571 was Joint Weeka 15. (Ibid., 764.00(W)/4–1460)