Dealing with dictatorship: The US and Hungary during the early kádár years

Borhi, László (2013) Dealing with dictatorship: The US and Hungary during the early kádár years. Hungarian Studies, 27 (1). pp. 15-66. ISSN 0236-6568


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Because of the legacy of 1956 the hardest country to engage behind the iron curtain was Hungary. The history of the Hungarian political amnesty, a milestone in the development of the most liberal system in the Soviet bloc is an anatomy of the hurdles of diplomacy in dealing with a closed dictatorship under the sway of a foreign power. The new Soviet-installed government launched massive reprisals against real and alleged participants of the revolution. For the first time the US was able to influence events in a Soviet controlled country through diplomatic efforts exerted in the UN. In 1962 after years of difficult negotiation the leaders in Budapest agreed to amnesty political prisoners in exchange for the removal of the Hungarian Question. The settlement was in the best interest of the Hungarians. The regime’s international position was an embarrassment for Moscow. Hungary was internationally isolated. That the deal was so long in themaking showed the difficulty of dealing with a client state supported by a world power. The political committee’s view of world matters was formed by the tenets of communist ideology. This and the knowledge that they would be backed by the Soviet Union through thick and thin allowed the Hungarians to adopt a rigid and uncompromising stance. They exploited domestic weakness to garner support in a conflict that Moscow was ready to settle. Kádár expected American officials to deal with Hungary as a proud independent national entity. Communist functionaries struggled to understand the motivations of American policy. American diplomats found it hard to strike the right tone when dealing with their communist counterparts. Also they did not know about the inner power struggle behind the facade of communist unity. The Kádár regime’s eventual willingness to strike a deal and put an end to domestic terror had to do with his desire to launch the country on a road to economic modernization. This required a gradual and limited opening to the West. One of the pillars of this new policy would be the normalization of relations with the US. Prudently the State Department made it known that this would not happen until political prisoners were freed.In the meantime US goals in Eastern Europe went through drastic change. This wasmatched by a new approach to the Soviet bloc. The liberation of Eastern Europe and the reunification of the continent were deemed unfeasible. Therefore a more moderate aim of “continental re-association” was adopted. In fact the restoration of the independence of states in Eastern Europe no longer seemed an unequivocally more preferable condition than the Soviet control of middle Europe. Rather than destabilizing them as in the fifties the US became interested in the consolidation of more liberal communist regimes as a prerequisite of western security. In other words as opposed to the doctrine of the 50s western security no longer required the restoration of national independence. Liberation and containment was replaced by the doctrine of bridge building. This aimed at the gradual transformation of communist regimes to more liberal and more autonomous albeit not independent or fully democratic entities within the tolerance limit of the Soviets. By the early seventies the European status quo was “not so bad” for the Americans. The East Europeans’ only hope for liberation would be change within the Soviet Union.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: H Social Sciences / társadalomtudományok > H Social Sciences (General) / társadalomtudomány általában
Depositing User: Ágnes Sallai
Date Deposited: 18 Aug 2016 08:58
Last Modified: 18 Aug 2016 08:58

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