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The Malta Summit of 1989 from Hungarian Perspective: Related Sources after 25 Years

The Malta Summit of 1989 from Hungarian Perspective:  Related Sources after 25 Years
The Malta Summit of 1989 from Hungarian Perspective:  Related Sources after 25 Years

CWIHP e-Dossier No. 63 


Edited by: 
Csaba Békés, Centre for Social Sciences, Institute for Political Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Corvinus University of Budapest, Institute of International Studies; Cold War History Research Center, Budapest
Béla Révész, Szeged University
Barnabás Vajda, Selye János University, Komarno

Co-editors: Laura Deal, Karl P. Benziger

List of Documents  

I. Rezső Nyers’s Files


Document 1

4 December 1989 - Rezső on Gorbachev’s Briefing on the Malta Summit at the Meeting of the Warsaw Pact Leaders in Moscow on December 4, 1989

Source: Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (MNL OL), [Hungarian National Archive–State Archive], „A Varsói Szerződés párt- és állami vezetők tanácskozása Moszkvában 1989. december. 4. Nyers Rezső iratai. Kéziratos jegyzet. MNL OL M-KS 288. f. 66. d. 28. ő. e.” Obtained by Béla Révész; transcribed by Renáta Marosi; translation and editing by Barnabás Vajda and Laura Deal.


Document 2

6 December 1989 - Rezső Nyers’s Typed Notes to Miklós Németh on Gorbachev’s Briefing on the Malta Summit on December 6, 1989 [Edited full-text English transcription]

Source: Hungarian National Archive (Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára) Hungarian National Archive–State Archive, MNL OL: Files of Miklós Németh, Chairman of the Council of Ministers (MT), XIX-A-2-at. 2. d. Obtained by Béla Révész; transcribed by Renáta Marosi; translated and edited by Barnabás Vajda and Laura Deal.

II. Files of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Document 3

6 December 1989 - Report of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs [F. Somogyi] for the Council of Ministers about the Meeting of the leaders of the Warsaw Pact on December 6, 1989 [Edited full-text English transcription]

Source: Obtained by Béla Révész; translated and edited by Barnabás Vajd, Laura Deal, and Karl P. Benziger.


Document 4

11 December 1989 - Telegram of the Hungarian Embassy in Moscow about V. M. Falin’s [Head of the International Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU] Briefing on the Malta Summit on December 11, 1989 [Edited English transcription]

Source: Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, MNL OL, MOL XIX-J-1-j 1989 Szovjetunió 2-00831/3.

1989: Hungary and the changes in Eastern Europe 

Csaba Békés

Up until 1989, vitally no one had expected that the developments in Eastern Europe could lead to the total collapse of communism in the foreseeable future. The fate of this region was routinely subordinated to Western relations with Moscow, and the main consideration for Western politicians interested in the success of perestroika was ensuring the security interests of the Soviet Union, and they viewed the maintenance of the Eastern European status quo as its primary guarantee. Although on moral grounds they did support developments pointing toward a democratic transition in these countries and the opposition movements fighting for this course, maintaining stability at any cost was of primary importance. This position was not only motivated by concern about the potential Soviet reaction, but also by the worry that the total collapse of the Eastern European countries on the verge of economic bankruptcy might result in social explosions, ethnic conflicts, etc., which would have a negative influence on Western Europe as well. Such conflicts would endanger the process of integration, and more importantly, they would jeopardize the stability of the entire continent.

In the spring of 1989, when President George H.W. Bush took office, a turn of historical importance was beginning to emerge in Eastern Europe. At the beginning of February, roundtable talks between the government and the now legally-acknowledged Solidarity movement began in Poland. By April they came to an agreement, and the first “semi-free” elections could be held in June, resulting in a sweeping victory for the opposition, which won most of the open seats. In Hungary, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party accepted at its February 10-11 meeting the introduction of a multiparty system, and it also adopted the position that the 1956 events in Hungary constituted a popular uprising and not a counter-revolution.

Assessing this from the American viewpoint, the most important factor was that these events, which would have seemed unbelievable even a year before, took place without any Soviet retribution, or even any sign of disapproval. In the spring of 1989, the Bush administration began to accustom itself to the idea that the old American dream originated by President Eisenhower was about to come true: the peaceful self-liberation of Eastern Europe under Soviet approval. All that was needed for success was for the United States, and Western Europe in general, to give the Soviet Union – as far as it was possible – the opportunity for a dignified withdrawal from the region.[1] In reality, in 1989–90 US policy vis-à-vis the transition was not just neutral, but time to time Washington explicitly urged leaders – especially those of Poland and Hungary – to be moderate and slow down the process of political transition. All this was meant to support Gorbachev’s reforms and his position in the Soviet Union by not exacerbating his situation in the Warsaw Pact states.  

At the December 1989 summit in Malta, Bush outlined the essence of his policy to Gorbachev in very clear terms:

“I hope you noticed that while the changes in Eastern Europe have been going on, the United States has not engaged in condescending declarations aimed at damaging [the prestige of] the Soviet Union. There are people in the United States who accuse me of being too cautious. It is true, I am a prudent man, but I’m not a coward, and my Administration will seek to avoid doing anything that would damage your position in the world. But I was insistently advised to do something of that sort – to climb the Berlin Wall and to make broad declarations. My Administration, however is avoiding these steps, we are in favor of reserved behavior.”[2]

Looking at the same issue from a non-superpower view, since the end of the 1970s Hungarian foreign policy had enjoyed a kind of special, relatively independent status. One important aspect of this special status was that it enabled Hungary to develop intensive economic and political relations with Western states precisely during those years when, due in part to the gradual alienation in the late 1970s and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, East-West relations at the superpower level were at a low unprecedented since the early 1960s.

Hungary’s increasing use of Western credit initially appeared advantageous to the Soviet Union as well, since it indirectly removed burdens from the Soviet economy while János Kádár himself guaranteed unquestionable political loyalty to Moscow. Thus in the beginning of the 1980s Hungary gradually became the number one favorite in the eyes of the West as the most presentable country of the Eastern bloc.

After Gorbachev entered the scene, the situation changed in as much as the Soviet leadership took over the role as the primary promoter of dialogue between East and West. Nevertheless, a new turn in the Hungarian foreign policy – just as in the transition within the country – took place in 1988. This turn had nothing to do with the removal of Kádár or with the party conference in May, however, but rather with the significant positive changes taking place on the international political stage. This was the time when a new concept was being outlined which could possibly give Hungary the role as a bridge in East–West relations based on a new world order of cooperation. This was the context Hungary found itself in during the years of the transition of international politics.[3]

[1] On US policy concerning Eastern Europe, see: M.R. Beschloss, S. Talbott: At the Highest Levels, Boston, Little, Brown, 1993; Robert L. Hutchings: American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold War. An Insider’s Account of US Policy in Europe, 1989-1992, The Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Washington DC, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, London, 1997; George Bush, Brent Scowcroft: A World Transformed. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1998; Tom Blanton: US policies and the revolutions of 1989. In: Tom Blanton, Svetlana Savranskaya, Vladimir Zubok (Eds.) Masterpieces of history. The peaceful end of the Cold War in Europe, 1989, Budapest–NewYork, CEU Press, 2010.

[2] Soviet transcript of the Malta meeting, December 2 and 3, 1989. In: Ibid. 627.

[3] For a detailed analysis see my study Back to Europe. The International Context of the Political Transition in Hungary, 1988–1990 In: Andras Bozóki [ed.], The Roundtable Talks of 1989: The Genesis of Hungarian Democracy. Budapest–New York: CEU Press, 2002. 237–272.

See also: on which this introduction is also based on. For an updated comprehensive history of the political transition in Hungary see: Csaba Békés–Melinda Kalmár: Political transition in Hungary and the end of the Cold War, 1988 – 1991. In: Mark Kramer (ed.) The Fate of Communist Regimes, 1989–1991. The Harvard Cold War Book Series. (forthcoming: 2015).

Hungary at the time of the Bush-Gorbachev meeting on Malta 

Béla Révész

1989 was a year of transformation. The collapse of communism shook not only the Eastern European countries but had a significant influence on world politics as a whole. While assessing the extremely rapid pace of historical events in Europe and in the wider world, it seems that less attention has been directed to the summit of the Presidents of the two world powers, George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev which took place in December 1989. It has been said that this is due to a lack of proper information, and this is also the reason for the speculation about certain ‘secret agreements’ and false reports over ‘concealed protocols’ which have spread since then in increasing number. Others regard Malta simply as a social event, or a friendly meeting since participating parties indeed stressed the ‘unofficial’ character of the negotiations that took place on Saturday and Sunday, December 2 and 3. In his opening sentences Gorbachev even noted to his counterpart, “This meeting is perhaps a prelude to an official conference with you.” Yet, there are others who have regarded Malta as a final break with the so called Brezhnev Doctrine and the slogan ‘Yalta – Malta’ sounded good. Finally, there are opinions according to which Moscow simply got rid of its satellites, hurling its former allies to the West.

Almost the only specific information heard at the joint press conference on Sunday noon was the instruction of the Presidents to their state secretaries as leaders of the arms limitation talks, in which the ministers were called upon to speed up the negotiations. It was decided that in June 1990 they would sign the strategic arms limitation START treaty. Reflecting upon a question regarding the Brezhnev Doctrine, Gorbachev replied that every country would independently decide on its own fate. “The changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe,” he stressed, “are results of historical changes, and the course of these changes has to be welcomed.” In this respect the headline of the next day’s Daily Telegraph has often been quoted: “The Cold War ended yesterday at 12:45 P.M.” But it was already suspected that the two Presidents were discussing more serious questions during their negotiations which lasted for some eight hours. It cannot be by accident that the American President flew immediately to Brussels from Malta, where he briefed the leaders of the NATO countries. Likewise, Gorbachev was also expected on the very next day to arrive in Moscow for a meeting with the representatives of the Warsaw Pact member countries.

Despite much vagueness, written sources published in the last two decades do document with increasing reliability the events at Malta. The total historical picture, however, which needs to be put together from many sources, is still fragmented. In relation to Hungary and the history of the Warsaw Pact leaders’ summit on 4 December, 1989, this e-Dossier contains some interesting documents which came to light from Rezső Nyers’ papers handed over to the Hungarian National Archives (Magyar Országos Levéltár) in 2005. Throughout the decades prior to 1989, Nyers’ name had been linked to the reform struggles within the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party (HSWP). In 1987 he was elected chair the Reform Committee of the Hungarian Parliament, and in 1988 became the member of the Politburo of the HSWP and a state minister. On top of that, in June 1989 he was elected as head of the HSWP and became a member of its newly set up four-member Political Executive Committee. When in October, 1989 the HSWP declared its own dissolution and the birth of the Hungarian Socialist Party (HSP) was announced, he was elected as the head of the new party. It was in this latter role that he travelled to Moscow to participate at the summit of the leaders of the Warsaw Pact members states on 4 December, 1989, along with Prime Minister Miklós Németh and Under Secretary of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ferenc Somogyi. This e-Dossier features three accounts from the direct participants of the Moscow event: Nyers’s own handwritten account, his typed records for Prime Minister Németh, and Ferenc Somogyi’s written briefing for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Another source is Mátyás Szűrös’s contemporary letter which is worth noting in relation to the actual composition of the Hungarian delegation in Moscow. Szűrös, a long-standing party member was elected President of the Hungarian Parliament in March 1989. Since the country lacked a President, he became the provisional President of the republic when it was declared on 23 October, 1989. In those days he was a member of the HSP, the successor party of the HSWP. Dated 30 November, 1989, Szűrös sent a letter to Prime Minister Miklós Németh in which he complained about a ‘bad conciliation.’ In his letter, among others, he referred to not being sufficiently informed regarding the Warsaw Pact, because as the President he was supposed to be the supreme commander of the Army. He wrote that “it was not proper either that in the ‘diplomacys’ of the Warsaw Pact, the competencies of the Hungarian state and party are mixed up once again.” As an example he mentioned those who would be participating at the scheduled Moscow briefing in December 1989. Being less relevant to our main topic, Mátyás Szűrös’s letter is not published here, but it is an interesting nuance that, according to the evidence, provisional President Szűrös would have liked to swap places with the HSP party chief Nyers in the delegation.

In fact, in Moscow Miklós Németh’s preference was something else than participating at the Warsaw Pact leaders’ meeting. The WP conference offered the Hungarian Prime Minister a good opportunity to have bilateral discussions on the most urgent economic issues with his Soviet counterpart. During his negotiations with Nikolai Ryzhkov he reminded the Soviet side (not for the first time) that in the system of the Hungarian–Soviet economic cooperation a quick recovery of the balance of payment was needed. This was an urgent issue for him due to Hungary’s switch-over to the Dollar clearing system. This is why the Prime Minister focused on the economic issues during the press conference held after the Hungarian delegation returned home, while it was Nyers who summed up the events that happened at the meeting of the Warsaw Pact leaders. Nyers said that Gorbachev had informed the representatives of the WP countries about his trip to Italy, as well as about the topics raised at Malta, and the essence of their negotiations with President Bush. He also mentioned that since the Soviet Union had sent a note earlier to member states on its own position at Malta, the results of the summit can be compared with these earlier positions.[1] The head of the HSP sensed that Gorbachev was satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations as they facilitated the exchange of political views and endorsed learning how the other side thought. The continuity of dialogue was maintained and mutual contacts would continue in the future. The fact that Prime Minister Németh was mostly involved in economic negotiations while in Moscow explains why Nyers sent him a short written note on 6 December about Gorbachev’s briefing for the Warsaw Pact leaders.

The press – not only in Hungary – did not find many interesting features in the information given by Gorbachev in Moscow. They much preferred Gorbachev and his wife’s four-day-long visit to Italy prior to the meeting at Malta which resulted in signing of some 21 bilateral and inter-governmental treaties. The Gorbachevs’ visit to the Vatican was indeed a sort of a sensation. Especially popular was Pope John Paul’s promise that the Holy See would endorse the reform efforts of perestroika with its tools. Beyond this, however, what really drew the attention of the press after the December 4 meeting in Moscow was the news that the Warsaw Pact member state representatives issued a joint declaration condemning their 1968 Czechoslovakian intervention. As their communiqué stated: “The intervention of our armies in Czechoslovakia in 1968 was an interference in the country’s inner policy which should be condemned. This unlawful act had broken the process of the democratic development in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and had permanent negative consequences.” The Soviet government drafted a separate condemnation, in Hungary this had already happened in the middle of August. Romania, however, which in 1968 had not joined the action, did not participate among the signatories of the joint declaration.

Many minutes, notes, official reports and documents with quite a high degree of accuracy are now available regarding the agenda of the negotiations at Malta. One important topic, however, was not mentioned at the time: the question of the European nuclear systems. Apparently it was not due to secretiveness, but this question was consciously avoided at the meeting by the presidents. According to a seemingly reliable account by Anatoly S. Chernyaev, an adviser to Gorbachev on foreign affairs, the word ‘atom’ was raised during the Malta meeting only in one single context, namely when President Bush mentioned it in relation of Lybia saying that chemical weapons made there ‘are the atomic bomb of the poor.’ Ignoring this topic is all the more apparent in that German Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl was explicitly referring to this question on November 18, 1989 when he wrote a letter to President Bush over the situation in Eastern Europe and on the prospects of the Malta meeting:

“On the NATO summit [on29–30 May, 1989], which dealt with the control of the military forces and the general roadmap of disarmament, we took a clear position both on nuclear deterrence and the short range nuclear systems of the land forces. There we outlined an exact line for the negotiations regarding this matter. We must repeatedly signal to General Secretary Gorbachev that the existing great superiority of the East [Block] in this field should be unilaterally abolished, for later this decision would make negotiations easier.”[2]

In Eastern Europe, the absence of the nuclear question at Malta went unnoticed, for the matter of stationing nuclear warheads in the region was known only from certain unconfirmed rumors. Even the political leaders of the countries involved had barely any reliable information about this issue. Then what is the explanation that neither Western leaders nor Chancellor Kohl himself were forcing this question? Probably some intelligence reports came in with the news that, not long before the Malta meeting, nuclear warheads were transferred from Eastern Europe to Soviet bases. If this had been semi-official or leaked information, then President Bush would have surely signaled his positive attitude to the matter, at least in a short reference. The fact that neither President Bush raised this question nor was Chancellor Kohl’s demand passed on points to the ‘talkative silence’ between the two presidents. The rather secretive nature of nuclear warheads in Eastern Europe gives the documents published in this e-Dossier an exciting historical context.

The Eastern European ‘atom scandal’ broke at the beginning of the 1990s in the midst of withdrawal of the Soviet troops from the region. Some information became public that, in sharp contrast to the semi-official standpoint, the Soviet Army was stationing its nuclear arsenal not only in Czechoslovakia and the GDR but in Poland and Hungary too. “The Soviet troops stationed in Poland do not possess nuclear weaponry.” This was how the Polish government commissioner in charge of the Soviet troops’ withdrawal attempted to deny the news in April 1991.This was, however, disproved by Victor P. Dubynin, the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Northern Group of Forces in Poland when he admitted: the Soviet Union had indeed stationed nuclear warheads in Poland up until mid-1990. In Eastern Europe, there were rocket units, and thus there were nuclear warheads too. But in the first half of 1990 they were all transferred back to the Soviet Union – as the general added. The news from Poland stirred up the Hungarian public, and voices demanding a clarification of the situation in Hungary strengthened.

Some clear confirmation comes from Miklós Németh’s papers, in particular from some of his Russian language documents that were discovered recently. These papers – which are undated but with high probability were written in early December 1989 – confirm what had earlier been suspected by researchers: (i) the Soviet Union between 1969/1970 and 1989 was indeed stationing nuclear warheads on the territory of Hungary; (ii) the locality of that ‘independent maintenance-technical base’ where the nuclear gear was stationed was situated at the Upper Balaton region, nearby Tótvázsony; (iii) the nuclear warheads were removed from this base between 22 and 24 November, 1989, i.e. indeed just a few days before the Presidents’ meeting at Malta. The relevant part of the original Russian-language memorandum that was handed over to Prime Minister Németh by the Soviet ambassador Boris I. Stukalin reads as follows below (in brackets you can find Miklós Németh’s own written remarks on the document, while abbreviation ‘IMTB’ stands for ‘independent maintenance-technical base’):

3. About the nuclear warheads. In accordance with the intergovernmental agreement between the USSR and Hungary, in the years of 1969/1970 nuclear warheads were deployed at the independent maintenance-technical base [IMTB] [number] 1542 (Tótvázsony – area of Lake Balaton) for the Hungarian Peoples’ Army and the Southern Group of Soviet Armed Forces. The same agreement had stated that all IMTB facilities and buildings as the property of Hungary would be put at the temporary disposal of the Soviet military units which are responsible for the completeness of these projects. In 1989 a decision was made on the removal of the nuclear warheads from the IMTB No 1542 to the territory of the USSR. Tasks related to the removal of the warheads were accomplished between November 24 and 26 of the current year. Presently, there are no nuclear warheads at the IMTB. (“1989: withdrawn (resolution!) withdrawn on Nov. 24-26! Presently there are no warheads there.” Note by Miklós Németh) Specifically as IMTB No 1542 is concerned, in case of an agreement with the Hungarian side it could be withdrawn from the territory of Hungary in the 1990s. (Handwritten note here by Miklós Németh:”Unit No 15-42 will be withdrawn in 1990. I agree.” [3]

The 1989 decision over transferring nuclear warheads back to the Soviet Union obviously affected not only Hungary but other bases with similar function in the Warsaw Pact countries too. Thus what chancellor Kohl had not known on November 28, 1989 that may have been shared with him a week later – perhaps by President Bush. Gorbachev, however, considered the conveyed nukes as such a confident matter that he did not intend to share it even with the members of the leading body of the Warsaw Pact. Mainly because these representatives of the WP countries were not at all those representatives he used to meet before, i.e. not the earlier faithful communist leadership was present in Moscow. For instance, in the Polish delegation, Tadeusz Mazowiecki sat next to President Wojciech Jaruzelski; in fact, Mazowiecki as leader of the expert group of the Solidarity trade union movement had been interned for one year by General Jaruzelski during the state of emergency in Poland. Yet during the WP meeting in Moscow, there was one single reference to the nuclear warheads when at a certain point Gorbachev referred to the “Akhromeyev formula.” In the 19 April, 1989 issue of the Soviet Pravda, Marshal Sergey F. Akhromeyev, earlier the Soviet chief of the General Staff and later military adviser to Gorbachev, proposed a radical reduction of all sorts of theater nuclear weapons and consequently their total liquidation. By December 1989, however, political decisions went beyond earlier theoretical considerations.

All things considered, reinforcement of goodwill took place at Malta. No formal agreements were born there, thus there was no decision ‘over the new partitioning of the world’ either. Nothing of the sort was even needed. The announcement about “the end of the Cold War” itself meant an indirect admission that the Soviet Union had lost it – although in reality, the Cold War ended only in 1991with the dissolution of the Soviet Bloc and the Soviet Union.

[Translated by Barnabás Vajda and Karl P. Benziger]

[1] Unfortunately, no document relating to this pre-Malta Soviet position has been found in Hungarian archives so far.

[2] Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s letter to President George Bush on the situaton in Estern Europe and the prospects of the Malta meeting (November 28, 1989). Special collection of the German Federal Achives. Papers of the Office of the Federal Chancellor 212-30101 B 136/29806 Bd. 22.

[3] Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (MNL OL), [Hungarian National Archive–State Archive], XIX-A-2-at. Box 7.

Hungary and international politics in 1989: A selected Chronology[1]


25 January: Ferenc Kárpáti, Minister of Defense, says one Soviet armored division and one training regiment will be withdrawn from Hungary in the first half of the year, and in the second half a vertical assault battalion and a fighter plane regiment will be removed.

3 March: Vladimir Shemyatjenko, Ambassador of the Soviet Union to the European Economic Commission, says in his interview given to the paper Le Soir in Brussels: the Soviet measures taken in 1956 and 1968 rested on legal grounds. He expresses his hopes, however, that such events and situations will not occur in the future again.

5 March: Foreign minister Péter Várkonyi conducts negotiations separately with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevarnadze and American Secretary of State James Baker.

5 June: Foreign Minister Gyula Horn states nothing can justify the bloodshed in Beijing. Many political and social organizations condemn the bloodshed in Beijing in a communiqué and warns that political conflicts should not be settled by force of arms in Hungary. There are demonstrations in front of the Chinese embassy in Budapest.

29 June: Jevgenyiy Ambarutsev publishes an essay on the occasion of the Imre Nagy funeral in Moskovskie Novosty. In it  he stresses: “Though Imre Nagy was convicted by a Hungarian court in Budapest, it is unquestionably our sin, the sin of our leader at that time, Khrushchev.”

11 July: George H.W. Bush, President of the United States of America arrives in Budapest. In the course of the day 4 Hungarian-American joint venture company contracts are signed.

12 July: George H.W. Bush makes a promise in Budapest that he will urge for effective economic help for Hungary at international forums, in the first place at the upcoming summit meeting in Paris. The US president suggests that the Congress should establish a $25 million fund to support the acceleration of private business in Hungary, and furthermore, in case the Hungarian Parliament passes the bill on emigration, trade restrictions on Hungary should be lifted.

25 July: In Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev, Rezső Nyers and Károly Grósz agree to continue negotiations on the further withdrawal of Soviet troops stationed in Hungary. They also agree that under appropriate international circumstances the reduction of troops may lead to a complete withdrawal of armed forces.

10 September: The Council of Ministers announces that as of midnight on September 11, East German citizens are allowed to leave Hungary for Western countries as well. The next three days over 12 thousand people take the best of this opportunity.

26 October: US President George H.W. Bush signs the decision on the basis of which Hungary is granted the status of a most favored nation for a longer period of time.

27 October: Gyula Horn announces at the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Warsaw Treaty Organization in Warsaw that Hungary will make even more efforts in the future to follow its own course of foreign policy independent of its membership in the organization.

11 November: The Italian, Yugoslav, Austrian and Hungarian foreign ministers negotiate in Budapest on the possibility of more intensive cooperation in the Alps-Adriatic-Danube region.

29 November: Prime Minister Miklós Németh assures the defense ministers of the Warsaw Treaty Organization in Budapest that Hungary will continue to be a member of the Eastern European military alliance, but he also stresses that the alliance needs to be modernized.

2-3 December: President George H.W. Bush and Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet Mikhail Gorbachev meet aboard a ship on the shores of Malta.

3-4 December: President H.W. Bush briefs NATO Heads of State and Governments on the US–Soviet summit. Among others, he meets Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Laeken, near Brussels. During the talks the Chancellor has an impression, as he states in his diary, that a “turning point had taken place” in the US policy regarding the German reunification.

4 December: The Hungarian State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance says, in the presence of members of the Parliament, that the reserves of the country have reached a minimum which would result in declaring insolvency of the country if the Parliament fails to pass the act on the budget. The International Monetary Fund expects Hungary to radically reduce its deficit in the balance of trade in 1990, otherwise it will not grant further credits to the country.

21 December: The Parliament pronounces its dissolution effective of 16 January, 1990. The representatives pass the 1990 budget act. On the same day defense minister Ferenc Kárpáti announces further withdrawal of Soviet troops.

[1] This chronology is an excerpt from the following publication: Political Transition in Hungary, 1987-1990. Chronology of Events Compiled by Tibor BECK, Edited by Csaba BÉKÉS and Miklós VÖRÖS. Contributions to the chronology were made by Sándor HORVÁTH, Pál GERMUSKA, Balázs MAJTÉNYI, Karola VÁGYI mrs NÉMETH, István SIMON, Eszter Zsófia TÓTH, © National Security Archive, Washington DC Cold War History Research Center, Budapest, 1956 Institute, Budapest, 1999. The complete chronology is available at:

Introduction to the documents

Béla Révész, 

The following brief collection of primary sources, that are published here for the first time, shed light on the reactions of the top Hungarian political leaders right after the summit of President George H.W. Bush and Chairman M. Gorbachev off the shores of Malta, on December 2-3, 1989.

In the first part of this e-Dossier, readers will find two letters by Rezső Nyers, then President of the Hungarian Socialist Party. First, the unofficial hand-written notes he took during a briefing by M. Gorbachev at a Soviet Bloc summit in Moscow on 4 December, just a day after the meeting with President Bush. The second document by Nyers is an official report he compiled about the Malta meeting some time later, on 6 December, in order to inform Prime Minister Miklós Németh. For the sake of clarity, we publish Rezső Nyers’s manuscript in three versions: as an original scan (Document I/1-A), as a line-to-line full document Hungarian transcription (Document I/1-B), and as an edited English translation text (Document I/1-C).

The second part of our collection consists of two more documents, both originating from the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is no doubt that both documents: a report written by Deputy Foreign Minister Ferenc Somogyi about the meeting of the leaders of the Warsaw Pact, as well as a telegram sent by the Hungarian Embassy in Moscow about V.M. Falin’s briefing about the Malta meeting provide valuable and almost immediate reactions inside Hungarian diplomatic circles as a consequence of the overwhelming influence of the Malta meeting.

All documents published here have been translated into English, and to our best knowledge none of them have been previously published.

Our contribution, entitled “The Malta Summit of 1989 from Hungarian Perspective: Related Sources after 25 Years” should certainly be considered in the wider context of international research that has been done so far regarding East European transitions in 1989 in general, and the Malta meeting in particular. There were several publications that served as inspirations for us:

Anatolij Chernaev’s notes on the Malta meeting were first published in parts in English in The End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989: New Thinking and New Evidence. A Compendium of Declassified Documents Prepared for a Critical Oral History Conference organized by the National Security Archive, Washington D.C., Musgrove, Georgia, (USA) May 1–3, 1998.

A longer but still not full version was published in the Cold War International History ProjectBulletin no. 12-13 (Fall/Winter 2001), pp. 229-241.

 The document was finally published in toto in Masterpieces of History: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989, ed. by Svetlana Savranskaya, Thomas S. Blanton, and V. M. Zubok (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2010).  

The American records of the meeting were made available in Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinzon, The Malta Summit and US–Soviet Relations: Testing the Waters Amidst Stormy Seas. New Insights from American Archives, Cold War International History Project e-Dossier No. 40. (

We decided to publish this brief but original collection of documents because no report on this important Warsaw Pact meeting has been published to date.

No document on Gorbachev’s briefing on the Malta summit was included in the recent excellent volume publishing many international documents on the transition in the Soviet Bloc as well, c.f. Masterpieces of History: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989, ed. by Svetlana Savranskaya, Thomas S. Blanton, and V. M. Zubok (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2010).

Nor had they been included in publications concerning earlier international research programs by the National Security Archive in Washington DC.

Similarly, they had not been included in major international online publication projects like the Parallel History Project on Cooperative Security (PHP) Publication Series. (Washington D.C./Zurich.) See especially the records of the Party leaders (WP Political Consultative Committee).

We also understand that there has been a very significant output of primary sources in the Hungarian language, all partially concerning the times preceding and/or around December 1989. Just to name the most important of them is the fundamental collections of documents:

Rendszerváltozás Magyarországon 1989–1990. Dokumentumok. [Political Transition in Hungary, 1989–1990]. Békés Csaba, Malcolm Byrne, Kalmár Melinda, Ripp Zoltán, Vörös Miklós, (Eds.).National Security Archive, Hidegháború-történeti Kutatóközpont, 1956-os Intézet, Budapest, 1999;Gorbacsov tárgyalásai magyar vezetőkkel. Dokumentumok az egykori SZKP és MSZMP archívumaiból 1985–1991 (Eds. János Rainer M. and Magdolna Baráth. 1956-os Intézet, Budapest, 2000).

Sub Clausula 1989. Dokumentumok a politikai rendszerváltozás történetéhez [Documents on the history of the political transition], Gábor Máthé (et al. Eds.) Magyar Közlöny, Budapest, 2009.

A Páneurópai Piknik és határáttörés húsz év távlatából [The Pan-European picnic and the penetration of the border – Twenty years later, György Gyarmati (Ed.), L’ Harmattan Kiadó, Budapest, 2010, including contributions by Sándor Szakály, Ignác Romsics, László Borhi, Krisztina Slachta, András Oplatka, Imre Tóth, György Gyarmati, Ernő Deák, and Gert Tschögl.

The above mentioned sources, however, are all in Hungarian, thus not accessible for most researchers abroad. The documents in this e-Dossier were also not yet available for other major publications of translated documents, such as:

 Political Transition in Hungary, 1989–1990. Csaba Békés, Malcolm Byrne, Melinda Kalmár, Zoltán Ripp, and Miklós Vörös (Eds.). Documents compiled by Magda Baráth, Csaba Békés, Melinda Kalmár, Gusztáv Kecskés, Zoltán Ripp, Béla Révész, Éva Standeisky, Miklós Vörös. National Security Archive, Cold War History Research Center, 1956-os Intézet, Budapest, 1999. (available at

As both the Soviet and American minutes of the Malta meeting are now available, the documents published in this e-Dossier shed new light mostly on the Eastern perception of the event, i.e. how Gorbachev presented and interpreted his talks with Bush to the Soviet Bloc leaders. Besides discussing the summit he gave a detailed report on his recent visit to Italy and the Vatican that was “a success beyond all expectations” and evaluated the prospects of improving bilateral relations very highly: they agreed on establishing diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the Vatican, moreover, the Pope was invited to Moscow and accepted the invitation. In addition, the documents also reveal how these negotiations were seen in one of the leading reformer states of the Soviet Bloc in the midst of the transition from Communist rule to democracy.

[The documents published in this CWIHP e-Dossier have been compiled and published by Béla Révész, Csaba Békés and Barnabás Vajda, and they were translated by Karl P. Benziger, Laura Deal and Barnabás Vajda.]


Cold War International History Project

The Cold War International History Project supports the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War. Through an award winning Digital Archive, the Project allows scholars, journalists, students, and the interested public to reassess the Cold War and its many contemporary legacies. It is part of the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program.  Read more