Hungary in the Soviet Empire, 1945-1956: New Evidence, New Interpretations
Laszlo Borhi, Currently Holder of the Hungarian Chair, Indiana University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Hope M. Harrison, Director, Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies and Associate Professor of History and International Affairs, The George Washington University
Hungarian historian Laszlo Borhi presented some of the major conclusions of his recent book, Hungary in the Cold War, 1945-1956, published last year by the Central European University Press. The research in American archives that forms part of the base of this book was conducted while Borhi was a fellow of the Cold War International History Project in 1994. Drawing also on research in Hungarian, Russian, and French archives, Borhi's book marks the first scholarly account of the incorporation of Hungary into the Soviet empire that examines this process simultaneously from the Hungarian, Russian, and American perspectives. It therefore represents a significant advance in historical scholarship.
Borhi emphasized that he found no support for the argument some scholars have advanced that Soviet control of Hungary was a response to American aggressive actions such as the Marshall Plan. He asserted that Hungarian archives contain voluminous evidence that Hungary became a closed zone as soon as the Red Army entered. In contrast to their flexible approach to East Germany, the Soviet leadership viewed Hungary as a war trophy to be exploited fully for economic and strategic advantage. Borhi emphasized the vast scale of the economic extractions from Hungary—the factories dismantled and shipped to the Soviet Union, the costs Hungarians bore for maintenance of Soviet occupation troops, the outright reparations payments, and the appropriation of the property of Hungarian Jews by declaring it to be German property. Combined with the strategic advantage of control of the Danubian delta, the economic value of expropriating Hungarian wealth prompted the Soviets to regard control of Hungary as more important than whatever political advantage would have followed from continued cooperation with the US. The initial moderation of the communist party was thus purely tactical—a policy intended to last only as long as cooperation with the West continued.
Besides the extractions, beginning in 1951 the Soviets insisted that Hungary follow a course of hyper-industrialization in order to prepare for a coming war with the Western powers. The resulting economic distress led to the uprising of 1956, after which Moscow moderated both its political and economic policies toward Hungary. Discussant Hope Harrison noted that the Hungarian records Borhi uses provide better documentation of Soviet actions than those available for East Germany, and that his book shows in concrete detail the actual process of the incorporation of Hungary into the Soviet Empire. In response to a question from the audience, Borhi agreed that the harshness of Soviet occupation policy was in part retaliation for atrocities Hungarian troops committed in the Soviet Union. He also noted that there were times when Soviet officials restrained Hungarian communist party officials from pursuing even harsher policies.
Drafted by: Kathryn Weathersby, Senior Associate, Cold War International History