Republic Day in Hungary is celebrated every 23 October and to commemorate the 1956 uprising against Soviet domination.
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The Hungarian Uprising of 1956 was a spontaneous movement of the Hungarian people that at first succeeded but was later crushed by a Soviet invasion. It was banned from being publicly discussed in Hungary for three decades, but this ban was lifted in the 1980s. When Hungary again became a free country in 1989, the new republic was officially declared on 23 October as well.
The historical background of Republic Day occurred as follows. After Russian forces drove out the Nazis during World War II, an “Iron Curtain” divided the European continent into Communist and Capitalist sections. Hungary, located on the “wrong side” of that curtain, came to be dominated by Soviet-supported local Communists from 1945 until 1956.
On 23 October 1956, however, a student demonstration began in Budapest that soon saw many thousands of protesters join and march on the Hungarian parliament building. They also blasted out radio broadcasts from Radio Free Europe and attempted to take over a radio station to get their message out.
State police then made arrests and fired on protesters who demanded their release. A student who was killed by state police bullets was then swaddled in the Hungarian flag and symbolically lifted up over the crowd. Before very long, word of the revolution spread across the land, and militias formed and overthrew the Hungarian Communist government. Briefly, a free government was established, and there was a lull in the conflict.
Though initially suggesting they might withdraw their remaining armed forces and leave Hungary to steer its own course, the Soviet Union suddenly launched an all-out invasion on 4 November. Over 30,000 Russian soldiers and 1,100 tanks took back Budapest and fanned out to subdue the countryside. By 10 November, the uprising had been completely crushed.
Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. Despite the initial success and the heroic toppling of Stalin’s statue in Heroes’ Square, everything ended very badly. Over 3,000 revolutionaries were killed and 13,000 wounded, while only 722 Soviet soldiers died and 1,251 were wounded. In 1991 and again in 1992, Russia – specifically Boris Yeltsin – officially apologised to Hungary for the brutal subjugation of 1956.
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