János Kádár

The native form of this personal name is Kádár János. This article uses the Western name order.
János Kádár
General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party
In office
25 October 1956  22 May 1988
Preceded by Ernő Gerő
Succeeded by Károly Grósz
Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the People's Republic of Hungary
In office
4 November 1956  28 January 1958
Preceded by Imre Nagy
Succeeded by Ferenc Münnich
In office
13 September 1961  30 June 1965
Preceded by Ferenc Münnich
Succeeded by Gyula Kállai
Minister of the Interior of Hungary
In office
5 August 1948  23 June 1950
Preceded by László Rajk
Succeeded by Sándor Zöld
Personal details
Born János József Csermanek
(1912-05-26)26 May 1912
Fiume, Austria-Hungary
Died 6 July 1989(1989-07-06) (aged 77)
Budapest, Hungary
Nationality Hungarian
Political party Hungarian Communist Party, Hungarian Working People's Party, Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party
Spouse(s) Mária Tamáska
Religion Roman Catholicism[1][2]

János Kádár (/ˈkɑːdɑːr/; Hungarian: [ˈjaːnoʃ ˈkaːdaːr]; 26 May 1912 – 6 July 1989) was a Hungarian communist leader and the General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, presiding over the country from 1956 until his retirement in 1988. His 32-year term as General Secretary covered most of the period the People's Republic of Hungary existed. Due to Kádár's age, declining health, and declining political mastery, he retired as General Secretary of the party in 1988, and a younger generation consisting mostly of reformers took over.

Kádár was born in Fiume to a poor family. He never met his father, who left his mother when he was young. After living in the countryside for some years, Kádár and his mother moved to Budapest. After quitting school, Kádár joined the Communist Party of Hungary's youth organisation, KIMSZ. Kádár would go on to become a prominent figure in the pre-World War II communist party, even becoming First Secretary. As leader he dissolved the party, and reorganised it as the Peace Party. This new party failed to win any popular support for the communist cause, and he would later be accused of dissolving the Hungarian communist party. With the German invasion of Hungary, the Peace Party tried again to win support from the Hungarian populace, but failed. At the time of the Soviet occupation, the communist movement led by Kádár was small.

As leader of Hungary, Kádár was a team player, and took care to consult his colleagues before acting or making decisions, and his tenure saw an attempt at liberalising the economic system to put greater effort to build up industries aimed at consumers. His rule was marked by what later became known as 'Goulash Communism'. A significant increase in consumer expenditures because of the New Economic Mechanism (NEM), a major economic reform, reintroduced certain market mechanisms into Hungary. As a result of the relatively high standard of living, and more relaxed travel restrictions than those present in other Eastern Bloc countries, Hungary was generally considered the best country to live in Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War, also expressed in the informal term "the happiest barrack". On 6 July 1989, an ill Kádár died, after having been forced to retire. Kádár was succeeded by Károly Grósz as General Secretary on 22 May 1988.[3]

While at the helm of the People's Republic of Hungary, Kádár pushed for an improvement in the standard of living. Kádár engaged in increased international trade with non-communist countries, in particular those of Western Europe. However, his policies could not overcome the inherent limitations of the communist system and were viewed with distrust by the conservative leadership of Leonid Brezhnev in the Soviet Union. Kádár's legacy remains disputed, but he was voted in a survey carried out by Median in Hungary in 2007, as the third most competent politician behind István Széchenyi and Lajos Kossuth who could solve the problems of Hungary.[4]

Early life


Kádár was born out of wedlock as János József Czermanik[5] as the son of the soldier János Krezinger and Borbála Czermanik.[6] Krezinger came from a peasant family in a remote village (Pusztaszemes) in Western Hungary.[5] While his surname suggests his father had German origins, Kádár was "Hungarian by language and culture".[5] During his military service his father met with Borbála. She was born in Ógyalla (today: Hurbanovo, Slovakia) to a landless Slovak father and Hungarian mother.[6] The story however on how they met is unknown. Abandoned, Borbála gave birth to János in Fiume's Santo Spirito Hospital on 26 May 1912.[5] Having given birth in the middle of the holiday season, no one wanted to employ a single mother with a child. His mother, Borbála went to look for Krezinger, but his family wanted nothing to do with them. She walked ten kilometres to the city of Kapoly, she was able to persuade a family by the name of Bálint to care for her child. For this however, they wanted pay. In the meantime Borbála looked for work in the nation's capital, Budapest.[7]

His mother was able to visit during the holidays, meaning only a few times a year. His foster father, Imre Bálint took care of him. But it was Bálint's brother, Sándor Bálint, Kádár would remember as his "true" foster father. While Imre had joined the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I, Sándor was left to take care of Kádár. Sándor clearly showed much interest in the boy, and seems to be the only man Kádár had a good relationship with throughout his early childhood.[7] Due to the great strain put on the family because of World War I, Kádár started working at an early age and helped Sándor take care of his sick wife.[8] Kádár, as an old man, noted how early experiences in his childhood moved him towards Marxist-Leninism, the most notable one being when he was accused of setting a building on fire instead of catching the true culprit, the inspector's son. Suddenly in 1918, at the age of six, Borbála reclaimed him, moved him to Budapest and enrolled him in school. In school he got bullied by classmates and his teacher for his bumpkin manners and his peasant terms. At the same time as his troubles at school, it took time before he and Borbála became "friends". His mother being a devoted Catholic, was surprised to find out that Kádár was not brought up as one.[9]

In addition to being an assistant caretaker, Borbála delivered newspapers in the morning. She did all this to ensure that Kádár would be getting a better education than she did. Piroska Döme, who met Borbála much later to life, notes that her hands were disfigured because of manual work. In the summer time, Kádár would find work in the countryside. As Kádár later said, he was seen as "alien" by his contemporaries, in the countryside they would call him a "city boy" while in the city they would call him a "country boy". Living in Városház street gave him a good start at life, but the family's poverty and his illegitimacy made him stand out, this made normal social development for a boy of his age difficult. Then in 1920, Borbála got pregnant again, with the man impregnating her leaving soon. Kádár had to help Borbála take care of her new son, and his half-brother, Jenő. Because of the pregnancy Borbála lost her job, and they moved to 13th District of the Angyalföld area.[10] Borbála refused to talk about Kádár's father, something which left Kádár bewildered.[11]

Kádár attended and passed the admission exam to the Cukor Street Elementary School. It offered what Borbála always wanted for him, and Kádár proved to be a bright student. However his discontent regarding his current situation manifested in him skipping school on various occasions. Endangering Borbála's future hopes of him, she usually hit him many times when it became known to her that he skipped class. He proved to be an able student in most subjects on only moderate efforts. Yet he saw no reason to study too hard, and usually skipped school to play football or other sports. He did read often however,[11] but his mother was unimpressed by this and ironically asked him if he was a "gentleman of leisure". Kádár left school at the age of fourteen in 1926. His education gave him a promising opportunity in light industry, it did however, take a year for him to find a job after being turned down as a car mechanic. In 1927, he became a typewriter mechanic, a profession which had a high standing among the Hungarian working class, there were only 160 of them in the country.[12]

Party work

His first meeting with Marxist literature came in 1928 after he won a junior chess competition organised by the Barbers Trade Union. His prize was Friedrich Engels's Anti-Dühring. The tournament organiser explained to Kádár that if he didn't understand it after his first reading, he should re-read it until he understood it. Kádár followed his advice, even if his friends were "unimpressed" by his reading. As he later noted later in his life, he did not understand the reading but it got him thinking: "Immutable laws and connections in the world which I had not suspected." While it may be true that as Kádár comments that the book had great influence over him, it was in 1929 when he was fired after he flared up at his employer after he talked condescendingly towards Kádár. When the Great Depression hit Hungary, Kádár was the first to be fired. What ensued was low paid jobs and poverty.[13] He later became unemployed, and it was this experience which brought him into contact with the Communist Party of Hungary. According to Kádár he became a member of the party in 1931.[14]

In September 1930, Kádár took part in an organised trade union strike. The strike was crushed by the authorities, and many of his fellow communists were arrested. In the aftermath of the failed strike, he supported the party by gathering signatures for candidates of the Socialist Workers' Bloc, an attempt by the Communist Party to create a front which would win over new supporters. This attempt was thwarted by the authorities, and new arrests ensued. In June 1931, he joined the communist youth organization, the Communist Young Workers' Association (KIMSZ). He joined the Sverdlov party cell, named after Soviet Yakov Sverdlov. His alias within the party became János Barna. During his early membership, the party was illegal, following the crushing of the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic.[14] In December 1931, the authorities had been able to track him down, and Kádár was arrested on charges of spreading communism, and being a communist. He denied the charges, and because of lack of evidence, was released. He was however under constant police surveillance, and after some days, he was back in contact with KIMSZ. He was given new responsibilities, and by May 1933 he became a member of the KIMSZ Budapest committee. Because of his promotion in the communist hierarchy, he was given a new alias, Róna. The party suggested, but Kádár rejected, the offer of studying at the Lenin Institute in Moscow, claiming that he could not leave his family alone. His advance up the hierarchy came to an end when he was arrested on 21 June 1931 with other communist activists. Kádár cracked because of police brutality, when he later confronted his fellow arrested communists, he realised he had made a mistake and denied and retracted all his confessions. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Because of his confessions to the police, he was suspended from KIMSZ.[15]

After being released for parole, he was politically in limbo. The hope of rejoining the Communist Party was shattered by the Comintern's decision to dissolve the national communist party in Hungary. The few remaining members of the party were told to infiltrate and work co-operatively with the Social Democratic Party of Hungary and trade unions.[16] Kádár had in the meantime been able to persuade himself that it was because of changes within the party, and not his confessions, which had led to none of his associates making contact with him. He did, at the same time, have four more months of his prison sentence to serve before being released. In prison Kádár met with Mátyás Rákosi, a commissar of the Hungarian Soviet Republic and a renowned political prisoner. While Kádár later claimed that there grew a father-son like bond between them, the more plausible truth is that there grew a "somewhat adolescent cheekiness" between the two. In prison, Rákosi interrogated Kádár, and came to the conclusion that his confessions were due to his "shortcomings". After being released from prison for good, some former party activists made contact with him and instructed Kádár to infiltrate the Social Democratic Party with them. Within the party, Kádár and his associates made no secret of their Marxist views, frequently talking about the struggles of the working class and their gaze, which was directed towards the Soviet Union.[17]

Kádár still lived in poverty, and found it hard to blend in with the upper working class and the intelligentsia. Paradoxically, his main Communist contact in the Social Democratic Party was a sculptor named György Goldmann. Kádár evolved into an effective speaker on "bread and butter issues", but failed at having any success on more serious and complex topics.[18] In 1940 he was recalled to the party's ranks. At the beginning of its refounding, the party liked to use members without any police records, therefore Kádár was given more responsibilities within the infiltration of the Social Democratic Party.[19] During May and June the police arrested and rounded up several party activists, including Goldman, but Kádár had managed to go into hiding. As early as May 1942, Kádár became a member of the newly formed Central Committee of the Communist Party, mostly due to the lack of personnel, seeing that the majority of them had been sent to prison. István Kovács, the acting party leader from December 1942, said; "he [Kádár] was extremely modest, a clever man but not then theoretically trained". Kovács brought Kádár into the party leadership and gave him a seat in the Secretariat of the Central Committee.[20] By January 1943, had been able to get in touch with some seventy to eighty members, but this effort was torn apart by a new round of mass arrests, with Kovács being among them.[21]

First Secretaryship

The new leadership after the last mass arrest consisted of Kádár as First Secretary, Gábor Péter, István Szirmai and Pál Tonhauser. During Kádár's first tenure as leader of the party, he faced many problems, the most important being that the communists were becoming increasingly irrelevant in a fast-changing situation, mostly because of the Hungarian government's continuing interference. In a meeting with Árpád Szakasits, a left-leaning Social Democrat, Kádár was asked to stop the party's illegal infiltration of his party. This meeting led to criticism being mounted against him during a Central Committee plenum meeting. In February 1936, Peter came up with an idea; his idea was to dissolve the party so that party members independently could spread communism, while a small secret leadership structure could keep itself together for some years. This, he said, would stop the continuing mass arrest of the communist party personnel and in turn strengthen the party for the future. While at the beginning Kádár was against such an idea, the idea grew on him and came to the conclusion that instead of dissolving the party, he would pretend to dissolve it and rename the party which would effectively throw the Hungarian authorities off their trail.[22] The so-called "new party" was formed in August under the name, Peace Party.[23] This decision was not supported by all, and the Moscow-based Hungarian Communists led by Mátyás Rákosi condemned the decision and domestic militants. Kádár disagreed with the criticism laid against him, claiming it was a "tactical retreat" which led to the renaming of the party, but with no changes to either the party's principals or structures. His attempted plan to fool the police failed, and the police continued arresting Hungarian Communists. Later in his life, this would be one of the few topics of his life Kádár would refuse to discuss.[24]

After the German invasion of Hungary, the Peace Party, with other parties, established the Hungarian Front, the party's potential allies were still very wary of them. Therefore, the Popular Front was never able to win much support amongst the populace. In the aftermath of the invasion, the party under Kádár's leadership started partistan operations and created their own Military Committee.[25] Kádár tried to cross the border into Yugoslavia in hope of making contact with the Yugoslav partisans and their leader, Josip Broz Tito.[26] At the same time, Kádár probably hoped to establish better, and stronger, relations with the USSR; something they had been trying to do since 1942. Kádár was given a new identity as an army corporal trying to cross the Hungarian-Yugoslav border. This attempt failed, and he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The authorities never figured out his real identity therefore members such as Rákosi thought he was a secret agent for the police. There is however no hard proof for these accusations, and incompetence remains the sole plausible reason. It was later proven, when SS officer Otto Winckelmann reported to Berlin that Kádár had been arrested, they had mistakenly confused Kádár for another communist.[27]

Kádár, while in prison, was able to send out messages to Péter, and other high-ranking party members, they were able to orchestrate a scheme to free him. In the meantime, the leader of Hungary Miklós Horthy was conspiring against the German occupiers. There were rumours that claim that Horthy tried to get in contact with Kádár, but did not know that he was in prison.[27] Horthy was deposed by the German government and replaced by Arrow Cross Party leader Ferenc Szálasi. Szálasi's policies had an immediate effect on Kádár; he had emptied the prison Kádár lived in and sent them to Nazi concentration camps. Kádár was able to escape and made his way back to Budapest.[28] Immediately after his return to Budapest, Kádár headed the communist party's military committee. The committee tried to persuade workers to help the Soviet forces, but was not able to muster much support from the populace, therefore its effect were marginal at best. After the Soviet victory in Budapest, he changed his name from Csermanek to Kádár, literally meaning "cobber" or "barrel-maker".[29]

From leadership to show trials

Post–World War II career

After the Soviet liberation of Hungary, the Soviet-Hungarian Communist leadership sent Zoltán Vas and the new Soviet approved Central Committee of the Communist Party of Hungary; Kádár became a member of this so-called "new" committee. At first, Kádár would rise up the ranks, not because of ideology, or knowledge of economy and agriculture, but instead for his organisational skills. Kádár helped form the Communist Party's headquarters in Hungary, and later, designed the party's membership card. The Soviet troops stationed in Hungary committed mass rapes and pillaged Budapest and the countryside, Kádár, when writing a letter to the Ministry of the Interior, he wrote; "the Soviet command caused really big difficulties in our work, especially in the beginning, and they still do". In these conditions Kádár was appointed deputy chief of police.[30] Nonetheless his rise in the communist hierarchy was not an easy one, Rákosi's party deputy Ernő Gerő felt his decision to dissolve the party during the war was a rash decision, and others, who worked alongside Kádár during the war felt he had been over-promoted and were keen to put an end to it. His political eclipse did not last long, and when Rákosi returned he became a member of the newly formed Politburo of the Communist Party of Hungary. Later on, in February 1945, Rákosi was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of Hungary.[31]

Rákosi's leadership consisted of Mihály Farkas the Minister of Defence. Kádár and Béla Kovács noted with puzzlement the leadership's total lack of interest in the domestic Communist's experience and outlook. As head of cadres, Kádár supervised membership appointments to the party. This position gave him contacts, some of whom would become very important to him in his later life.[32] After failing to secure a majority in Parliament after the 1945 election, the Communist leadership started the divide and conquer strategy known as salami tactics. Kádár became a prominent figure during the period between the 1945 and the 1947 Hungarian parliamentary elections.[33] Kádár had evolved a sense of rivalry with the Social Democratic Party of Hungary, claiming the party was "thrashing" them in government, and that they made it impossible for the Communists to negotiate policy with the Hungarian trade unions.[34]

In 1946, Kádár campaigned for the communist party in workers districts and factories. These areas were heavily contested between the Communists and the Social Democrats. The Communists were able to persuade the Social Democrats to hold elections in factories where the communists held the majority. The clear majority results gained by the Communists during this election prompted the Social Democrats to postpone the rest of the election. At the 3rd Congress of the Communist Party of Hungary, Kádár was appointed one of Rákosi's two deputies. He was appointed deputy because of social and ethnic background, the majority of the leadership were of Jewish origins and were intellectuals, Kádár was however a Hungarian worker.[34] In the aftermath of his appointment, he enrolled himself in Russian lessons and grew fond of reading, his favorite being The Good Soldier Švejk.[35]

Kádár, as in 1946, was a Communist Party campaigner, and was described by historian Robert Gough as "a great success". The Communist Party won a majority in parliament in 1947, and because of the escalation of the Cold War, the Soviet leadership ordered them to create a one-party state.[36] Kádár played an active role in the creation of the Hungarian Working People's Party; created by a merger of the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party. At the unification congress Kádár made a speech which made little impact on the Communist movement in Hungary.[37] In May 1948 Kádár visited the Soviet Union, and for the first and last time in his life he saw Joseph Stalin with his own eyes. During his visit to the USSR, Kádár's brother, Jenő died. On 5 August 1948 László Rajk was appointed to the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Kádár took his place as Minister of the Interior.[38] As Interior Minister, he did not have real power as the most important organizations of internal state security operated under the direct control of Rákosi and his closest associates. In 1949, Borbála died, and Kádár married Mária Tamáska.[39] Just as Stalin had launched a Great Purge against those with knowledge of the pre-Stalin party, Rákosi launched a purge against those who had worked in Hungary, and not in the Soviet Union, during World War II and before. In retrospect, it is clear that Kádár was appointed Minister of the Interior with the deliberate aim to involve him in the "show trial" of Laszlo Rajk, although the investigations and proceedings were handled by the State Security Agency with the active participation of the Soviet Secret Police. Rákosi later boasted of "spending many a sleepless night" in unraveling the threads of the "anti-party conspiracy" led by Rajk and his "gang." During the public trial, Rákosi personally gave instructions to the judge over the phone. Rákosi would later attempt to blame Kádár for Rajk's death.[40] Later in his life Rákosi said that Rajk died screaming "Long live Stalin! Long live Rákosi!" while Tibor Szönyi died without saying a word and András Szalai crying. Farkas and Gábor Péter, upon the death of Rajk and the others, said "provocateurs to their last breaths". This event didn't assure Kádár; making him doubt if any of the accusation leveled against his co-workers were true. It is believed that after Rajk's death Kádár was seen vomiting; these rumours have not been confirmed by any sources from that time.[41] Rákosi contacted him the following the day, asking him why he was in such a bad mood, and continued, saying; "Did the executions affect you that much?". According to certain rumours, which are probably not reliable, Kádár visited Rákosi to tell him about his reaction to the execution. Later, during a party presentation to a college, Kádár emphasised party austerity. This presentation might reflect on Kádár's reaction to Rajk's execution and his revelation that he might become the next victim of government repression. When holding his presentation, he was described by his audience as a "haggard", "distressed" and as a man under a lot of "strain".[42]

Show trial and rehabilitation

Rákosi told Kádár, in late August 1950, that former Social Democratic party leader Árpád Szakasits had confessed to being a spy for the capitalistic countries. Szakasits' imprisonment would be the start of a long purge against former social democrats, trade union officials, and high-standing communist party members. The purge would last until 1953, the extent of the purge went so far that the ÁVH held files on around one million, literally one tenth of Hungary's population at that time. The purges were enacted when Rákosi and his associates were in the middle of the country's collectivising agriculture and the rapid industrialisation efforts. Ernő Gerő's ambition to make Hungary a land made out of "steel and iron" led to a decline in the national standards of living.[43] At this point Rákosi had started distrusting Kádár, leading Kádár to resign as Ministry of the Interior citing health and stress reasons for his choice. Kádár believed the longer down the ladder he climbed there was a bigger chance of not being purged. In this he was wrong, and he along with new Minister of the Interior Sándor Zöld, were criticised for not doing a proper enough job to remove the anti-socialist movement within the country.[44] Kádár would later refute most of the allegations the Rákosi leadership put against, but to no avail, and for every letter he wrote to refute an allegation another allegation was put against him. He eventually gave up and in one letter Kádár even admitted to his faults; claiming that he was still "politically backward" and "ideologically untrained" when he headed the pre-war Communist Party as First Secretary. Kádár concluded that he had been fooled by the capitalists and therefore offered his resignation from active politics. Instead of resigning, and losing his seats in the Central Committee and the Politburo, his membership in these organs were renewed at the party congress. Believing that his position was secure and that Rákosi had given him another chance, thought nothing more of it. This proved to be wrong, and by the end of March 1951, Rákosi informed the Soviets that Kádár along with Zöld and Gyula Kállai were to be imprisoned.[45]

On 18 April 1951, Zöld had killed his whole family and committed suicide after finding out that Rákosi and his associates had decided to purge him from the party. When the authorities found their bodies, they decided to quickly gather the remaining two before they did something rash too. Kádár, who did not know what had just taken place, was at home taking care of his wife Maria, who had been in and out of the hospital.[46] The Hungarian leadership decided to call him, asking Kádár to meet them at the party headquarters, when leaving his home he was stopped by ÁVH officers and the ÁVH head Gábor Péter.[47]

Only a year later, Kádár found himself the defendant in a show trial of his own – on false charges of having been a spy of Horthy's police. This time it was Kádár who was beaten by the security police and urged to "confess". During Kádár's interrogation, the ÁVH reportedly beat him, smeared him with mercury to prevent his skin pores from breathing, and had his questioner urinate into his pried-open mouth.[48] However, at the 1954 rehearing of his trial, when asked if he had been maltreated, he answered "Physically no", a denial he repeated in later interviews towards the end of his life. It is thought by some that the stories of brutality were intended to portray him as a victim of Stalinist torture in order to counter his image at home and abroad as a Soviet stooge.[49]

Kádár was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. His incarceration included three years of solitary confinement, conditions far worse than he suffered while imprisoned under the Horthy regime. He was released from prison in July 1954, after the death of Stalin and the appointment of Imre Nagy as Prime Minister in 1953.

Kádár accepted the offer to act as party secretary in the heavily industrialised 13th district of Budapest. He rose to prominence quickly, building up a large following amongst workers who demanded increased freedom for trade unions.

Role in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956

János Kádár (fourth in the first row) in the 8th Congress of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (East Berlin, 1971).

Nagy began a process of liberalisation, removing state controls over the press, releasing many political prisoners, and expressing wishes to withdraw Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. He formed a coalition government. Although the Soviet leaders issued a statement that they strove to establish a new relationship with Hungary on the basis of mutual respect and equality, in the first days of November, the Presidium of the Soviet Communist Party took a decision to crush the revolution by force.

In the meantime, the Hungarian Working People's Party decided to dissolve itself and to reorganize the party under the name of Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party. On 25 October 1956, Kádár was elected General Secretary. He was also a member of the Imre Nagy Government as Minister of State. On 1 November 1956, Kádár, together with Ferenc Münnich, left Hungary for Moscow with the support of the Soviet Embassy in Budapest. There the Soviet leaders tried to convince him that a "counter-revolution" was unfolding in Hungary that must be put to an end at any cost. He only agreed to change sides when the Soviet leaders informed him that the decision had already been taken to crush the revolution with the help of the Soviet troops stationed in Hungary. He was also told that unless he accepted the offer to become prime minister in the new government, the Rákosi-Gerő leadership would be reinstalled. Although he was under duress, he did not, by his own admission, resist as much as he could have. In a speech given on 12 April 1989, he confessed to having played a role in the execution of Imre Nagy, calling it his "own personal tragedy."[50] Writing in 1961, American journalist John Gunther said that "Kadar today looks like a man pursued by shadows, a walking corpse."[51]

The Soviet tank divisions moved into Budapest with the purpose of crushing the revolution at dawn on 4 November 1956. The proclamation of the so-called Revolutionary Workers'-Peasants' Government of Hungary, headed by Kádár, was broadcast from Szolnok the same day.

He announced a "Fifteen Point Programme" for this new government:

  1. To secure Hungary's national independence and sovereignty
  2. To protect the people's democratic and socialist system from all attacks
  3. To end fratricidal fighting and to restore order
  4. To establish close fraternal relations with other socialist countries on the basis of complete equality and non-interference
  5. To cooperate peacefully with all nations irrespective of form of government
  6. To quickly and substantially raise the standard of living for all in Hungary
  7. Modification of the Five Year Plan, to allow for this increase in the standard of living
  8. Elimination of bureaucracy and the broadening of democracy, in the workers' interest
  9. On the basis of the broadened democracy, management by the workers must be implemented in factories and enterprises
  10. To develop agricultural production, abolish compulsory deliveries and grant assistance to individual farmers
  11. To guarantee democratic elections in the already existing administrative bodies and Revolutionary Councils
  12. Support for artisans and retail trade
  13. Development of Hungarian culture in the spirit of Hungary's progressive traditions
  14. The Hungarian Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government, acting in the interest of our people, requested the Red Army to help our nation smash the sinister forces of reaction and restore order and calm in Hungary
  15. To negotiate with the forces of the Warsaw Pact on the withdrawal of troops from Hungary following the end of the crisis

The 15th point was withdrawn after pressure from the USSR that a 200,000 strong Soviet detachment be garrisoned in Hungary. This development allowed Kádár to divert huge defence funds to welfare.

Nagy, along with Georg Lukács, Géza Losonczy and László Rajk's widow, Júlia, fled to the Yugoslav Embassy. Kádár promised them safe return home at their request but failed to keep this promise as the Soviet party leaders decided that Imre Nagy and the other members of the government who had sought asylum at the Yugoslav Embassy should be deported to Romania. Later on, a trial was instituted to establish the responsibility of the Imre Nagy Government in the 1956 events. Although it was adjourned several times, the defendants were eventually convicted of treason and conspiracy to overthrow the "democratic state order". Imre Nagy, Pál Maléter and Miklós Gimes were sentenced to death and executed on 16 June 1958. Géza Losonczy and Attila Szigethyboth died in prison under suspicious circumstances during the court proceedings.

The Kádár era

Willi Stoph and János Kádár in East Berlin, 1958.

Kádár assumed power in a critical situation. The country was under Soviet military administration for several months. The fallen leaders of the Communist Party took refuge in the Soviet Union and were planning to regain power in Hungary. The Chinese, East German, and Czechoslovak leaders demanded severe reprisals against the perpetrators of the "counter-revolution". Despite the distrust surrounding the new leadership and the economic difficulties, Kádár was able to normalize the situation in a remarkably short time. This was due to the realization that, under the circumstances, it was impossible to break away from the Communist bloc. The Hungarian people realized that the promises of the West to help the Hungarian revolution were unfounded and that the logic of the Cold War determined the outcome. Hungary remained part of the Soviet sphere of influence with the tacit agreement of the West. Though influenced strongly by the Soviet Union, Kádár enacted a policy slightly contrary to that of Moscow, for example, allowing considerably large private plots for farmers of collective farms.

Leaders of the Eastern Bloc in May 1987, East Berlin, East Germany. From left to right: Husák of Czechoslovakia, Zhivkov of Bulgaria, Honecker of East Germany, Gorbachev of the USSR, Ceaușescu of Romania, Jaruzelski of Poland, and Kádár of Hungary

In notable contrast to Rákosi, who repeadedly declared "he who is not with us is against us" in his rally speeches, Kádár declared that "he who is not against us is with us." He gradually lifted Rákosi's more draconian measures against free speech and movement, and also eased some restrictions on cultural activities. He even tolerated samizdat publications to a far greater extent than his counterparts. Hungarians had much more freedom than their Eastern Bloc counterparts to go about their daily lives. His regime was far more humane than other Communist regimes, especially so when compared to the first seven years of undisguised Communist rule in Hungary. Nonetheless, the Communists maintained absolute control over the government and also encouraged citizens to join party organizations. The National Assembly, like its counterparts in other Communist countries, was elected on the basis of a single Communist-dominated list and did little more than approve decisions already made by the MSZMP and its Politburo. The secret police, while operating with somewhat more restraint than their counterparts in other Eastern Bloc countries, were nonetheless a feared tool of government control. The Hungarian media remained under censorship that was considered fairly onerous by Western standards, but far less stringent than was the case in other Communist countries.

As a result of the relatively high standard of living, and more relaxed travel restrictions than that of other Eastern Bloc countries, Hungary was generally considered one of the better countries in which to live in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The dramatic fall in living standards after the fall of Communism led to some nostalgia about the Kádár era. However, the relatively high living standards had their price in the form of a considerable amount of state debt left behind by the Kádár régime. As mentioned above, the regime's cultural and social policies were still somewhat authoritarian; their impact on contemporary Hungarian culture is still a matter of considerable debate.

During Kádár's rule, international tourism increased dramatically, with many tourists from Canada, the USA, and Western Europe bringing much needed money into Hungary. Hungary built strong relations with developing countries and many foreign students arrived. The "Holy Crown" (referred to in the media as the "Hungarian Crown", so as to prevent it carrying a political symbolism of the Horthy régime or an allusion to Christianity) and regalia of Hungarian kings was returned to Budapest by the United States in 1978.

Kádár was known for his simple and modest lifestyle and avoided the self-indulgence persona of other Communist leaders. He also had a strong aversion and zero tolerance against corruption or ill-doing in his government. Playing chess was his only pastime.[52]

János Kádár c. 1962

Kádár was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize (1975–76). He was also awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union on 3 April 1964.[53]

Resignation and death

Kádár's grave

János Kádár held power in Hungary until the spring of 1988, when he resigned as General Secretary mainly due to mounting economic difficulties and his own ill health. At a party conference in Budapest on 27 May 1988, Kádár announced his resignation and was officially replaced as General Secretary by Prime Minister Károly Grósz, who strove to continue Kádár's policies in a modified and adjusted form adapted to the new circumstances. Kádár was named instead to the ceremonial position of Party President. He did not wish to be re-elected to the Political Committee, the most important decision-making body of the party. In early 1989, as Grósz and his associates in turn were being sidelined by a faction of young "radical reformers" who set out to dismantle Communism altogether, Kádár, his health visibly failing, was officially removed from office completely. He died of cancer on 6 July 1989 at age 77, three months before the formal end of the regime he had largely created.

In Hungary and elsewhere, Kádár was generally known as one of the more moderate East European Communist leaders. While he remained loyal to the Soviet Union in foreign policy, based on the hard lessons of the 1956 uprising, his intent was to establish a national consensus around his policies at home. He was the first East European leader to develop closer links with the Social Democratic parties of Western Europe. He tried to mediate between the leaders of the Czechoslovak reform movement of 1968 and the Soviet leadership to avert the danger of a military intervention. When, however, the decision was taken by the Soviet leaders to intervene in order to suppress the Prague Spring, Kádár decided to participate in the Warsaw Pact operation.

Kádár's grave at the Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest was vandalized on 2 May 2007; a number of his bones, including his skull, were dug up and stolen, along with his wife Mária Tamáska's urn. A message reading "murderers and traitors may not rest in holy ground 1956–2006" (taken from a song written by the rock band Kárpátia) was written nearby.[54][55] The two dates refer to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the 2006 protests in Hungary, respectively.[56] This act was received with widespread revulsion across the political and societal spectrum in Hungary.[57] Police investigations focused on extremist right-wing groups which had been aspiring to "carry out an act that would create a big bang."[58]

Decorations and awards

An interpretation of events in Kádár's political and personal life, beginning circa 1945, including an association with the trial, execution, reburial, atonement of László Rajk, and ending with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, are portrayed in Robert Ardrey's 1958 play, Shadow of Heroes.



  1. "Hungary: Near Death, Communist Dictator Sought a Priest". The New York Times. 23 November 2010. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  2. "Hungary's communist leader Kádár summoned priest before dying". Reuters. 23 November 2010. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  3. Savranskaya, Svetlana; Blanton, Thomas; Zubok, Vladislav, eds. (2010). Masterpices of History: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989. Central European University Press. p. xxxiii. ISBN 978-615-5053-40-5.
  4. "Széchenyi for president! – a legalkalmasabb államférfi a közvélemény szerint" (in Hungarian). Világgazdaság. 20 December 2007. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Gough 2006, p. 2.
  6. 1 2 Gough 2006, p. 1.
  7. 1 2 Gough 2006, p. 3.
  8. Gough 2006, p. 3–4.
  9. Gough 2006, p. 4.
  10. Gough 2006, p. 6.
  11. 1 2 Gough 2006, p. 7.
  12. Gough 2006, p. 8.
  13. Gough 2006, p. 10.
  14. 1 2 Gough 2006, p. 11.
  15. Gough 2006, p. 12.
  16. Gough 2006, p. 13.
  17. Gough 2006, p. 14.
  18. Gough 2006, p. 15.
  19. Gough 2006, p. 18.
  20. Gough 2006, p. 19.
  21. Gough 2006, p. 19–20.
  22. Gough 2006, p. 20.
  23. Gough 2006, p. 20–21.
  24. Gough 2006, p. 21.
  25. Gough 2006, p. 22.
  26. Gough 2006, p. 22–23.
  27. 1 2 Gough 2006, p. 23.
  28. Gough 2006, p. 24.
  29. Gough 2006, p. 25.
  30. Gough 2006, p. 27.
  31. Gough 2006, p. 28.
  32. Gough 2006, p. 29.
  33. Gough 2006, p. 30.
  34. 1 2 Gough 2006, p. 31.
  35. Gough 2006, p. 32.
  36. Gough 2006, p. 33.
  37. Gough 2006, p. 34.
  38. Gough 2006, p. 36.
  39. Gough 2006, p. 38.
  40. Gough 2006, p. 42–3.
  41. Gough 2006, p. 46.
  42. Gough 2006, p. 47.
  43. Gough 2006, pp. 48–9.
  44. Gough 2006, p. 50–1.
  45. Gough 2006, p. 52–3.
  46. Gough 2006, p. 53.
  47. Gough 2006, p. 54.
  48. Crampton, R.J. (1997). Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century – And After. Routledge. p. 264. ISBN 978-0415164238.
  49. Gough 2006, p. 55
  50. Lendvai, Paul (2003). The Hungarians: 1000 Years of Victory in Defeat. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 463. ISBN 0691114064.
  51. Gunther, John (1961). Inside Europe Today. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 337. LCCN 61-9706.
  52. Victor Sebestyen (2006) Twelve Days. Pantheon Books. ISBN 037542458X p. 141
  53. (Russian)= 2161 Biography at the website on Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia.
  54. "Ex-Hungary ruler's remains stolen", BBC News, 3 May 2007.
  55. "Grave of Hungarian Communist leader Janos Kadar vandalized", Associated Press (International Herald Tribune), 2 May 2007.
  56. (Hungarian) The message of the vandals with dates on haon.hu
  57. Former leader's grave desecrated in Budapest. caboodle.hu. 3 May 2007
  58. Kádár grave robbery investigation leads outside Budapest. caboodle.hu. 4 May 2007


Wikimedia Commons has media related to János Kádár.
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ernő Gerő
General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party
25 October 1956–22 May 1988
Succeeded by
Károly Grósz
Political offices
Preceded by
László Rajk
Minister of the Interior
5 August 1948–23 June 1950
Succeeded by
Sándor Zöld
Preceded by
Imre Nagy
Prime Minister of Hungary
4 November 1956–28 January 1958
Succeeded by
Ferenc Münnich
Preceded by
Ferenc Münnich
Prime Minister of Hungary
13 September 1961–30 June 1965
Succeeded by
Gyula Kállai
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