Budapest 1956 - Locations of Drama

Budapest 1956

This coming week marks the 50th anniversary of Hungary's 1956 revolution. The heroism and tragedy of that time has been captured in a new book by British writer and researcher, Bob Dent.

Mr Dent has lived in Hungary since 1986 and is author of guidebooks, including the Blue Guide Budapest and Blue Guide Hungary. We talked to Bob Dent about his book "Budapest 1956 - Locations of Drama".

"The basic idea was to try and answer a very simple question: What happened in Budapest in 1956, where did it happen, and why did it happen? But the reason why I wanted to look at the different places in Budapest was because I have found over the years, particularly at the time of the political changes of 1989-1990 when everybody was talking about 1956 and at least the new parties were claiming to be the inheritors of 1956, that people treat the whole matter almost purely ideologically and nobody actually talks about what actually happened."

Bob covers 48 locations in the capital. Each place tells its own story - the Radio Building or Republic Square. But what exactly happened on Parliament Square on Bloody Thursday, 1956, has remained a mystery until today.

"Let's recall again for the listeners. What happened on the morning of October 23, two days into the uprising, crowds at different points in Pest actually started to fraternise with Soviet tank crews. 'What are you doing here? We are not fascists'. They were producing leaflets in Russian saying 'why are we fighting each other?'. Historians agree on this now and there are eye-witnesses who remember this. So, there was an interaction in a number of places - outside the Astoria, for example - where the tank crews opened up the turrets, came out, and started to talk with the people. They invited Hungarians onto the tanks, Soviet tanks draped in the Hungarian flag, and then the crowd started to move with tanks towards Parliament. So far, this is agreed.

"When the crowd reached Parliament, they were faced with a line of four or five other Soviet tanks in front of the main entrance to Parliament. The crowd moved further forward, gingerly obviously, and then all of a sudden shots rang out and people were hit on the ground..."

Where the shots coming from the roofs?

"Well, at the time, almost all the eye-witnesses believed that the shots were coming from the roof of the ministry of agriculture, which is directly across from Parliament. Even the Kadar regime believed that the shots were coming from the roof. Most of the people it was again the AVH on the roof."

AVH is the abbreviation for the state security body until 1956.

"The Kadar explanation - the post 1956 explanation - for many years was that it was provocateurs, demonstrators. But what demonstrators were doing firing into the demonstrators I don't know, equally, what the AVH were doing, firing. But one of the difficulties with this belief is that as far as I'm aware, even up to today, nobody has ever found a concrete piece of evidence, of shells, or eye-witnesses. Nobody has ever come forward and said 'I was one the people up there firing or my brother was' or somebody! In what limited documentary evidence there is, in terms of photographic evidence, some of the bodies appear to have fallen beneath the arches of the ministry of agriculture."

So this means that it couldn't have been that the shots came from the same roof...

"Well, we know that Hungarians are very clever but I don't think they invented the curving, moving bullet in 1956."