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Friday. Octpber 22, 1976 The Daily Tar Heel 5
Professor recalls Hungarian Revolution
by Doug Clark
Tomorrow marks the 20th
anniversary of revolution in Hungary,
but Hungarians are not celebrating. On
Nov. 4 of the same year, thousands of
Russian tanks and troops overwhelmed
insurgent Freedom Fighters and dashed
the nation's hope of independence.
Paul Debreczeny was one of 200,000
Hungarians to flee to Austria after the
short-lived revolution that began
spontaneously the night of Oct. 23,
1956. He barely made it.
Debreczeny was 24-years-old then
and working in the Slavic literature
department of the university in
Budapest. Today he is the chairman of
the UNC Slavic languages department.
On the 23rd, crowds demonstrated
throughout Budapest, angry after 11
years of Soviet domination. One group,
mostly students, gathered outside the
radio station requesting that its list of 16
political demands be broadcast. Among
the demands were: withdrawal of Soviet
troops from Hungary; free elections and
the establishment of a multi-party
system; freedom of speech and press;
and the removal from the city of a statue
of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, a
symbol of Russian oppression.
The crowd was encouraged by the
success of similar demonstrations in
Poland earlier in the month. Although
Nikita Khruschev threatened the use of
force to restore order in Poland, the
Soviets had backed down.
Nevertheless, the radio station
refused the crowd's request. When the
demonstrators did not disperse,
members of the AVH, Hungary's secret
police, opened fire and killed many. .
Debreczeny was with demonstrators
in another part of the city when news of
fighting came. Some people went to get
weapons. Most were confused.
"You get that feeling of uncertainty,"
he said with a slight accent. "You only
know somebody is shooting
The radio station was stormed and
captured. Crowds demanded the return
of Imre Nagy, the liberal former
premiere ousted in 1953, to head the
government in place of Stalinist Erno
The next day Gero was dismissed and
Nagy was appointed prime minister.
Units of the Hungarian army joined the
insurgents, who called themselves
The Russians responded with force.
Looking out the window of his
apartment before dawn on the 24th,
Debreczeny saw "tanks rolling in, one
after another. Huge Russian T-34's.
"We were all in the streets," he said. "I
talked to Russian soldiers and told them
they were fighting workers and students,
not fascists. A lot of these Russians
simply put down their weapons and
came over to our side."
For Debreczeny the most dramatic
moment came during a confrontation
between a Hungarian tank and a
Russian armored vehicle. The tank was
"The Russians were virtually defeated
or dissolved," Debreczeny said. "They
didn't have much choice but to
withdraw and negotiate"
When the Russians did withdraw
from Budapest on Oct. 29, the city
rejoiced, Debreczeny said.
"There was such a feeling of victory, a
communal feeling. We were so friendly,
joking, embracing each other, so happy.
I've never felt so much a part of a group
It didn't last. While negotiations were
being held and a social-democratic
government was forming, the Russians
assembled in Hungary an estimated
force of 2,500 tanks and 75,000 troops,
larger than Rommel's and
Montgomery's combined forces at El
"After one day we realized there was no hope.
We had rifles against tanks."
blocking the Margaret Bridge
connecting Buda and Pest across the
Neither 'knew quite what to do,
Debreczeny said. A crowd gathered.
Finally, since he spoke fluent Russian,
Debreczeny climbed on the vehicle and
convinced the Russians to put down
their weapons and , abandon their
"They had.no desire to shoot into a
crowd," he said. "They didn't know
what was going on or why."
Those Russians who did fight met
resistance from Freedom Fighters with
captured weapons and young boys with
The Freedom Fighters liberated the
jails and released thousands of political
prisoners. Debreczeny's brother, Peter,
who now lives in London, had been
serving a five-year term for attempting
to escape from Hungary. He showed up
at Debreczeny's apartment on the
second day of fighting.
At first, the revolution seemed a
"Khrushchev was under attack for his
liberal policies," Debreczeny said. "He
wanted to prove he was a strong leader.
They did not negotiate in good faith."
On Nov. 4, the Russians re-entered
Budapest. Debreczeny and his brother
obtained weapons from Freedom
Fighters and joined in the resistance.
"After one day we realized there was
no hope," he said. "We had rifles against
tanks. Fighting on meant only more
bloodshed. We put our weapons down."
Major resistance was over by the
ninth, although sporadic fighting
continued for several weeks. Russian
tanks destroyed rows of apartments and
Through this crisis, Hungary received
no aid from the West, despite Nagy's
request for United Nations intervention.
The Suez crisis in the Mideast coincided
and attracted world attention away
Debreczeny's brother, still under a
prison sentence, fled the country, while
Debreczeny remained. Then he realized
his name and address was on a list for
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having received a rifle. He didn't know
who had the list.
"That was one of the things that drove
me out of Hungary " he said, "that they
would find me.
I didn't decide to leave until Nov. 23.
A couple of friends got arrested that
day. I figured (arrest) was getting
An estimated 16,000 Hungarians
were arrested and deported to Siberia.
Nagy was arrested and later shot, as was
Paul Maleter, Nagy's minister of
defense and a hero of the uprising.
Debreczeny and four friends took a
trian from Budapest to Gyor, in western
Hungary. From there they took a bus to
a village near the Austrian border.
"One of my friends knew somebody
who had been a border guard,"
Debreczeny said. "We gave all our
money over to him. After sunset he took
us quite a bit of the way to the border.
Then the Russians started shooting. He
left us with rough directions and went
back to the village.
"We didn't know where we were," he
said, but they could see spotlights on
"The Russians started shooting in
earnest. We lay down on the ground,
and that was when we realized we were
on the border," from a strip of sandy
ground separating the two countries, he
Still, they were not safe. Russian
soldiers made forays into Austria,
Debreczeny said. He said he saw one
Russian leading a woman and her baby
back into Hungary.
"We didn't know where we were," he
said. "There was firing on both sides.
We hid in a haystack, then set out again.
We might have stumbled back into
Hungary but an Austrian picked us up
and put all five of us in his Volkswagen.
"We knew we were safe when we saw
the first road sign in German. It was
such a relief."
Debreczeny has returned twice to
Hungary, in 1973 and again this
summer. Since a general amnesty was
declared during the '60s for all
participants in the revolution, he had no
trouble obtaining a visa. But his wife is
English and his two children American,
so he has no desire to return
permanently, although his mother still
lives in Hungary.
Ironically, Debreczeny noted that
most of the objectives of the revolution
have been realized, except independence
"Friends were discussing politics at
the top of their voices in public places,"
Debreczeny said of his last visit. I tried
to quiet them."
From the revolution, he said, "The
Russians could see that if they were
going to occupy these countries they
should give some concessions."
But memories in Hungary of the
revolution itself are fading, Debreczeny
"They didn't like the Russians
suppresssing it but they're not proud of
what happened. It was a bloody affair
and better to forget is the attitude."
pio taew oft
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"The Shape of the Future: Science as
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Thursday, October 28, 1976
University of North Carolina
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