An editor attempting a comprehensive survey of how Hungary's 1956 Revolution and Struggle for Freedom featured in the international press of its time faces a task that seems simple but proves very difficult. First, the process, like any act of selection, is subjective. Secondly, there may be no constraints of size as such, but even on the internet, a site cannot cover everything and remain manageable. Then there have to be time limits, which could stretch in this case from 1956 right up to the present.
Here the time limits are the year 1956; the selection does not go further in either direction. I hope that as editor I have chosen well enough to provide a readable and instructive account.
The intention, with this drop from the ocean, has been to present the world press coverage of Hungary in all its variety, for instance from weak Western interest right up to articles on the revolution that extend over several pages.
The material has been taken from the press of just ten countries, with the American press providing the bulk. Most of it comes from daily papers, so that coverage can be followed from day to day. Also included alongside the Western newspapers are several from other communist countries. The Hungarian-language papers abroad (in Romania and Czechoslovakia, and in Yugoslavia, which was in a special position in those days) had the double function, of conveying the official view of the majority state while catering to an ethnic minority readership. That I think makes the selection complete.
As for the structure, each chapter is devoted to the press on a particular day of the revolution, except for the first and the last, which cover longer periods. The first is a kind of build-up to October 23, 1956, and the last tells of the early weeks after the revolution's defeat, including reports on the Hungarian refugees. Each day begins with extracts from the foreign articles, followed by articles from the Hungarian press abroad, and finally writings in other foreign papers.
The selection is also intended to span the genres: news agency reports alternate with stories filed by correspondents on the scene, editorial summaries, longer or shorter background analyses, even readers' letters.
The underlying principle was to show what picture of the Hungarian Revolution was presented half a century ago to American, British, French, German, Swiss, Yugoslav, or Soviet Russian, Polish, Czechoslovakian and Romanian readers, what they might have learnt of events along the Danube. Equally important was the chance to know what reactions the Hungarian Revolution caused in each country's domestic political affairs (including solidarity with the Hungarians' struggle for freedom and protest against the Soviet aggression) or in some cases its foreign policy. Starting from these criteria, I did not annotate the texts, so as not to reduce their momentum, but it has to be said that even the best-intentioned articles contain errors or misapprehensions; some of the "eye-witness" reports are unfounded or obvious exaggerations. It should not be forgotten how few of the correspondents arriving from the West via Vienna or directly from there had any ground knowledge, let alone any familiarity with the Hungarian language. The vast majority of them had to rely on sometimes dubious verbal accounts and their own sometimes superficial experiences, at a time when the situation in Hungary was changing rapidly. (The expressly sensational Western accounts have been omitted.) Then there was the tendentiousness of the articles in the communist press, except in Poland. All I have corrected are the names of Hungarian persons, places, streets, organizations and parties. No corrections or augmentations of content have been made.
Some of the correspondents are represented by several reports, so that a deeper picture of their activity can be gained. Several articles concern the effect of the Hungarian Revolution on a third country, for instance pieces in the American press about Austria, Yugoslavia, Romania, or the Hungarian minorities there, or about East and West Germany, and so on.
The selection from the press is tied closely to other menu items that augment it or provide important background information:
- János Molnár's study in Hungarian entitled "Foreign Correspondents in the 1956 Revolution".
The web pages have been based on a book published by the 1956 Institute, entitled, Budapestről jelentjük. Az 1956-os forradalom az egykorú nemzetközi sajtóban (Budapest Reporting. The 1956 Revolution in the International Press of the Time), where full Hungarian texts of the articles are given.
This compilation is the result of two years' teamwork. I would like to express thanks here to everybody-gatherers of material, translators, typists, copy editors, proofreaders, web page editors etc.-who contributed to it.