Tag Archives: Communism

Imre Nagy

The execution of Hungarian Communist leader Imre Nagy

On June 16th 1958, Hungarian Communist politician Imre Nagy was executed. Arrested after Soviet forces brought the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 to an end, Nagy was found guilty of treason in a secret trial and executed by hanging.

Nagy had been sacked from his position as Chairman of the Council of Ministers in April 1955 due to his independent attitude that favoured a “New Course” in Socialism. Although his moderate reforms were met with hostility from the USSR, they garnered significant support within Hungary where opposition to the hard-line government of Mátyás Rákosi had grown since the death of Stalin in 1953. Nagy’s popular support led to him being appointed Prime Minister on October 24th 1956, the day after the Revolution began.

After a week of violence, Nagy recognised the crowd’s desire for political change. Despite being an ardent Marxist he began moves towards introducing a multiparty political system and, on November 1st, announced Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and its status as a neutral country. This proved too much for Khrushchev in the USSR, who moved his troops into Budapest and seized control of most of the city by the 8th November. Nagy took refuge in the Yugoslavian embassy, but was arrested when he was given false promises of safe passage to leave Hungary on the 22nd November.  He, and other leading members of the deposed government, were imprisoned in Romania until 1958 when they were returned to Hungary for trial.

News of Nagy’s trial and execution were only made public after the sentence had been carried out.

Prague Spring

The origin and start of the Prague Spring

On the 5th January 1968, the Prague Spring began when Alexander Dubček became the new First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. The Prague Spring lasted for just over seven months before the Soviet Union, along with other members of the Warsaw Pact, invaded Czechoslovakia to bring the reforms to a halt.

Dubček was a committed Communist, and had been First Secretary of the regional Communist Party of Slovakia since 1963. However he struggled to work with Antonín Novotný, the President of Czechoslovakia, under whose control the country experienced a slow and uneasy move towards destalinization while suffering a huge economic downturn. Frustrated by Novotný’s failure to effectively restructure the country, Dubček and other reformists challenged him at a meeting of the Central Committee in October 1967. In response Novotný secretly invited the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to visit Czechoslovakia to secure his support. However, this plan backfired when Brezhnev learned just how unpopular Novotný was and instead lent his support to remove him from power.

Consequently Dubček replaced Novotný as First Secretary on the 5th January 1968, and quickly began to introduce a series of political reforms. Known as “socialism with a human face” this political programme was intended to maintain Communist control of the government while allowing mild democratisation and political liberalisation. However, as the reforms took hold the government was faced with public demands to go even further. At the same time, the USSR and other Warsaw Pact countries began pressuring Dubček to bring the Prague Spring under control. On the 20th August they took matters in to their own hands and invaded Czechoslovakia.

Prague Spring Dubcek

Czechoslovakia and the Prague Spring 1968

The Berlin Wall

The construction of the Berlin Wall

A short film documenting the construction of the Berlin Wall, featuring interviews with people who were affected by it.

Berlin wall memorial on street

Interpretations of the Berlin Wall

This video compares the West’s and East’s interpretations of the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall during the Cold War

US break relations with Cuba

Why the USA cut diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961

On the 3rd January 1961, the United States of America severed its diplomatic relationship with Cuba and closed the American embassy in Havana. The move came in the wake of the nationalisation of industries in Cuba that were owned by US citizens, which increased as the American government gradually introduced a trade embargo.

The overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement heralded a dramatic change in US-Cuban relations. American President Dwight D. Eisenhower initially recognised the new socialist government, but the situation quickly deteriorated as Cuba introduced agrarian reforms and the nationalisation of US-owned interests.

In response the USA stopped buying Cuban sugar and banned the sale of oil, so Castro’s government turned to the USSR for assistance. This led to a further deterioration of relations with America. However, a complete trade embargo only came about after Cuba nationalised the three American-owned oil refineries in the country in October 1960.

Further nationalisations over the next three months – including that of private property owned by Americans – led the Eisenhower administration to cut all diplomatic ties with Cuba on the 3rd January. Meanwhile, a group of Cuban exiles in the USA, known as Brigade 2506, were being trained by the CIA to overthrow Castro’s government. This plan, which resulted in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, was followed through by John F. Kennedy after he became the 35th President of the USA less than three weeks after the closure the embassy.

Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States were finally restored on the 20th July 2015, although a trade embargo still exists.

Cuban Missile Crisis – Mr Kennedy and Mr Khrushchev

The Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1962 the world came closer than it had come before to a ‘hot war’ in the nuclear age.  Cuba, a small island about 90 miles from the coast of Florida in the USA, was the focus of the world’s attention for 13 nerve-wracking days in October.

This podcast begins with an overview of Cuba’s revolution led by socialist rebel Fidel Castro against the right-wing Batista and explains how the USA’s subsequent trade embargo led Cuba to begin a relationship with the USSR.  The episode then goes on to describe the failed Bay of Pigs invasion a year before a U2 spy plane revealed that the USSR was helping Cuba to develop bases for nuclear missiles.

The second part of the podcast presents the different options offered to President Kennedy, and how his decision to mount a naval blockade against any more Russian ships coming to Cuba led to both sides settling the dispute via a series of telgrams.

The episode concludes with a consideration of whether either side ‘won’ the crisis.  Evidence is presented on both sides of the argument.

     

Ich bin ein Berliner

Overview of JFK’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech, 26th June 1963

On the 26th June 1963 American President John F. Kennedy declared US support for West Berlin with the phrase, “Ich bin ein Berliner” – I am a Berliner – 22 months after the Soviet-supported DDR, more commonly known as East Germany, built the Berlin Wall.

Berlin had been a focal point for Cold War tensions ever since the Yalta and Potsdam conferences in 1945 divided the city – and the rest of Germany – between the four victorious powers at the end of the Second World War. When the USSR imposed the Berlin Blockade from 1948-49, the Western allies made it clear that they were not willing to back down in their support for West Berlin by airlifting supplies into the city.

Although the airlift secured West Berlin’s survival, it further increased tensions between the USSR and its former allies as East Germans crossed the border in order to defect to the West. This placed an enormous economic strain on the East, which began suffering labour shortages. In response, the government of East Germany erected a barbed wire fence around West Berlin that eventually developed into the imposing Berlin Wall, although the government claimed that it was to keep out spies and agitators rather than stop people from leaving.

It was against this background of heightened tension that Kennedy delivered his rousing speech on the steps of the Rathaus Schöneberg, the seat of the state senate of West Berlin. While the speech effectively recognised East Berlin as part of the Soviet Bloc, it also reaffirmed America’s commitment  to defend West Berlin against Communist expansion.