A British journalist on the Hungarian Uprising (1956)

Sefton Demler (1904-1979) was a British-Australian journalist, best known for his World War II efforts to undermine the Nazi regime using radio propaganda. After the war, Demler worked as a foreign correspondent for London newspaper the Daily Express. In this report, published on October 24th 1956, Demler described aspects of the Hungarian Uprising, noting that it was “anti-Soviet” but not necessarily “anti-communist” in nature:

“I have been the witness today of one of the great events of history. I have seen the people of Budapest catch the fire lit in Poznan and Warsaw and come out into the streets in open rebellion against their Soviet overlords. I have marched with them and almost wept for joy with them as the Soviet emblems in the Hungarian flags were torn out by the angry and exalted crowds. And the great point about the rebellion is that it looks like being successful.

As I telephone this dispatch, I can hear the roar of delirious crowds made up of student girls and boys, of Hungarian soldiers still wearing their Russian-type uniforms, and overalled factory workers marching through Budapest and shouting defiance against Russia. “Send the Red Army home”, they roar. “We want free and secret elections.” And then comes the ominous cry which one always seems to hear on these occasions: “Death to Rakosi”. Death to the former Soviet puppet dictator – now taking a ‘cure’ [holiday] on the Russian Black Sea Riviera – whom the crowds blame for all the ills that have befallen their country in 11 years of Soviet puppet rule.

Leaflets demanding the instant withdrawal of the Red Army and the sacking of the present government are being showered among the street crowds from trams. The leaflets have been printed secretly by students who “managed to get access”, as they put it, to a printing shop when newspapers refused to publish their political programme. On house walls all over the city, primitively stencilled sheets have been pasted up, listing the 16 demands of the rebels.

But the fantastic and to my mind super-ingenious feature of this national rising against the Hammer and Sickle is that it is being carried on under the protective red mantle of pretended Communist orthodoxy. Gigantic portraits of Lenin are being carried at the head of the marchers. The purged ex-premier, Imre Nagy, who only in the last couple of weeks has been readmitted to the Hungarian Communist Party, is the rebels’ chosen champion and the leader whom they demand must be given charge of a new free and independent Hungary.

Indeed, the socialism of this ex-premier – and this is my bet, premier to be again, is no doubt genuine enough. But the youths in the crowd, to my mind, were in the vast majority as anti-communist as they were anti-Soviet – that is, if you agree with me that calling for the removal of the Red Army is anti-Soviet.

In fact there was one tricky moment when they almost came to blows on this point. The main body of students and marchers had already assembled outside their university in front of the monument to the poet-patriot [Sandor] Petofi, who led the 1848 rebellion against the Austrians. Suddenly, a new group of students carrying red banners approached from a side street. The banners showed them to be the students of the Leninist-Marxist Institute, which trains young teachers of communist ideology and supplies many of the puppet rulers’ civil servants. The immediate reaction of the main body, I noticed, was to shout defiance and disapproval of the oncoming ideologists. But they were quickly hushed into silence and the ideologues joined in the march with the rest of them, happily singing the Marseillaise.”