American anti-communist propaganda in Hungary (1955)

In March 1955 American diplomats in Vienna, Austria sent the following report to the US State Department in Washington. They describe recent efforts to disseminate anti-communist propaganda in Hungary – by dropping leaflets from balloons. This propaganda contributed to unrest that led to the 1956 Hungarian Uprising:

From: US Ambassador, Richard H. Davis.

To: Department of State, Washington.

Subject: Comments of Hungarian escapees concerning balloons and leaflets sent to Hungary.

Five Hungarian escapees who left Hungary separately between November 11th 1954 and January 30th 1955 agreed that the release of balloons with anti-communist propaganda material for Hungary was a clever manoeuvre because:

1. It reminded the people of Hungary that they had not been forgotten nor abandoned to their oppressors.

2. It delivered into Hungarian hands valuable material which was read and retained.

3. It embarrassed the Communist authorities by forcing them to maintain constant watch for arrival of balloons and for anti-Communist propaganda material, which the authorities were unable to stop.

4. It added to the Communists’ chores by requiring them to collect such material and to prevent the population from obtaining possession of it.

5. It forced the Communists into a defensive position in their efforts to combat “this insidious means of propaganda directed against the welfare of the people of the Hungarian People’s Republic”.

6. It created a ‘balloon psychosis’.

The leaflets and the manner of their delivery constituted an inexhaustible and interesting topic of conversation. Information concerning leaflets dropped in remote parts of the country spread rapidly by word of mouth…

The ‘leaflet war’ placed the Hungarian authorities in an awkward situation. The AVH did its best to stop the distribution of leaflets by announcing that distributors would be arrested as reactionaries and enemies of the people. The authorities, however, had not announced the penalties awaiting violators. In actual practice, apprehended violators received jail sentences of varying length depending upon their age and social standing. One source had heard that a two-year jail sentence had been imposed on a kulak boy and that a 16-year-old schoolboy had been banned from attending any school in Hungary. Sources had not heard of the police searching private homes for leaflets. Persons in the vicinity of balloon landings had, in some cases, been searched but not arrested, even though suspected of having hidden such leaflets…

Juveniles were the most active distributors of leaflets. The AVH had occasionally asked for assistance of school-children in collecting leaflets strewn over a large area. While doing so, some children secreted a number of these in their pockets…

The material which reached western Hungary [contained] a Rakosi caricature, pictures of American scenes, helicopters, Churchill, etc., were especially appreciated. Many persons were anxious to obtain them.

[Police efforts to destroy balloons in flight] have not been a success. Lajos Kantor, 19 years of age, and Joseph Karoos… who escaped from Hungary on January 30th 1955, saw a number of balloons floating over Sopronk√∂vesd in an easterly direction at an altitude of about 150 meters. The AVH, which was alerted at once, marched out to a field ‘in battle formation’ and fired at the balloons with rifles and machine guns. Much to the joy of the population of Sopronk√∂vesd, which watched the manoeuvre, the AVH fire did not bring down a single balloon. Most of them floated freely on. The police obtained possession only of those balloons which settled there or in the vicinity…”