Why Did the Soviet Union Intervene in Hungary and Not Poland in 1956?

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Why did the Soviet Union intervene in Hungary and not Poland in 1956? ‘Given the growing sense of national euphoria sweeping eastern Europe in 1955-1956, a full-scale decolonisation of the Soviet Empire was not considered beyond the bounds of geopolitical possibility’. The decision of the Soviet Union to invade Hungary in 1956, whilst acknowledging the need to control events in Poland, came about through a myriad of complex reasons as well as the collapse of the old Hegemony, following Krushchev’s ‘secret speech’ (denouncing the policies adopted by Stalin, during his tenure). Traditionally historians identify three theories to explain the Soviet invasion of Hungary and not Poland in 1956. The initial ‘historical theses’, recognises inherent differences in the historical background of these two communist satellite states. Supporters of this theory suggest that due to the large scale damage inflicted upon Poland in World War II, compared with the relatively minor necessary disruption of Hungary during the war, the Hungarian state would approach 1956 in a much more stable position from which to counter Soviet advances. Historical support of this theory suggests that the opportunity for the Soviet Union to Invade Hungary allowed for a somewhat ‘novel experience’. The Second theory, ‘personality thesis’, looks into the roles of different individuals, specifically Edward Ochab in Poland and Mátyás Rákosi in Hungary, in facilitating potential anti-Soviet uprisings in their respective citizenries. The final argument, the ‘neutrality thesis’, suggests that the Soviet Union reacted more fervently to the actions of the Hungarians, following their declaration of neutrality and subsequent withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. In this essay I shall argue that whilst the above theses’ reflect traditional viewpoints on the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, as well as the decision of the Soviet Union not to intervene in Poland, they do not fully explain these events. Therefore further discussion is necessary, for example it is worth noting the economic hardships that befell Hungary in the build-up to the 1956 uprising. The initial ‘historical theses’, that soviet involvement in Hungary represented a ‘novel experience’ when compared with a potential invasion of Poland, fails to recognise that this was not in fact a new experience for the Soviets, considering the assistance the Tsarist regime had given to Austria in the suppression of the 1849 Hungarian revolution. It’s important also to consider the alternate argument that the Soviet Union may have found an invasion of Hungary comparatively less attractive when compared with Poland, due to a fear of the ‘unknown’. ‘Krushchev and his colleagues had always taken the view that, in Hungary – as earlier in Poland – they would have to intervene only if the counterrevolution got out of control. Despite these claims, the Soviet Union appeared initially hesitant to carry out this promise. This is clearly represented by the Presidum of the Central Committee releasing a statement as late as 30th October 1956, declaring its willingness to ‘enter appropriate negotiations’ over the removal of Soviet troops from Hungary. In saying this, the offer of a removal of Soviet troops from Hungary would be short lived, with Krushchev advising the Presidum the following day that a withdrawal from Hungary would not benefit the Soviet Union, as it had done in Poland. Krushchev regarded any withdrawal from Hungary as a sign of Soviet weakness, and an admittance of a diminishing Soviet sphere of influence over Eastern Europe. The Second ‘traditional’ theory in need of consideration is the ‘Personality theses’, which suggests that the invasion of Hungary occurred as a result of unstable leadership. It can be implied also that the comparatively effective administration that Poland had in place, acted as a deterrent for soviet intervention in 1956. It’s important to consider the context under which the leaders of these alternate...
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