It is November 4, 1956, and the city of Budapest is being invaded. "In the early hours of the morning, Soviet troops started an attack against the Hungarian capital with the apparent purpose of overthrowing the lawful democratic government of the country. Our troops are engaged in battle with the Soviet forces. The government is in its place," said embattled Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy.
"I would say that one of the most important messages of '56 outside of Hungary was that it definitely proved that communism itself couldn't be reformed." -- analyst
After the Soviet troops crushed the resistance, Nagy was arrested and, two years later, executed by hanging. On June 22, Bush will pay tribute to Nagy and all those who died for their cause in the 1956 Hungarian Uprising against communism (October 23 to November 4, 1956). Remembering The Uprising
After meeting with Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom and other top officials, Bush will use the opportunity to commemorate the uprising's 50th anniversary, which will officially be celebrated in October.
"To lay a wreath at the eternal flame to pay respect to those who lost their lives during the 1956 revolt against communism," U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley said in describing some of the highlights of Bush's agenda ahead of the trip.
"Later that day, the President [Bush] will deliver remarks commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian revolution. He will also highlight the inspiration and lessons offered from Hungary's remarkable transition and will welcome efforts to further advance reform in the region today," Hadley added.
Bodies on a Budapest street after the suppression of the Hungarian Uprising (TASS)
A sagging economy, worker discontent, and a worsening standard of living were some of the causes behind the 1956 uprising. The death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin three years earlier encouraged some Communist parties in Eastern Europe to develop reformist wings and publics saw a window for change.
Although the uprising against communist control was eventually defeated, analysts say it marked several important milestones in Eastern Europeans' struggle for freedom from Soviet power.
"I would say in the long term, 1956 definitely weakened the Soviet power, not only in Hungary, but in general," says Attila Lengyel of the Balassi Balint
Institute for Hungarian Studies in Budapest.End Of Illusions Of Reform
"I would say that one of the most important messages of '56 outside of Hungary was that it definitely proved that communism itself couldn't be reformed," he adds. "And it also destroyed an illusion that perhaps the Stalinist system was not as bad as its reputation showed sometimes after the 1930s."
Lengyel believes this, in turn, provided ideological motivation for later revolts against the communist system, such as Poland's Solidarity movement.
"Because the illusion of reformable communism was probably destroyed forever, I think the later anticommunism movements could count on the fact that it was a leftist illusion -- how to reform [communism], how to make it human-faced," he says. "This is why I would say that [the 1956 uprising] was not only a Hungarian revolutionary event, but it is much more, because its message went beyond the borders [of Hungary]."
For Hungary itself, Lengyel says, the 1956 uprising has a special, national meaning as well. He says that much of Hungarian history can be described as wars of independence through the centuries.
And he notes that "there were only few [events] when the whole nation could unite as one against something, and one of them was 1956."