THE HUNGARIAN PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC emerged in 1949 after the Hungarian Workers' Party eliminated its rivals and assumed control of the state. Soviet control of Eastern Europe after World War II had enabled a minuscule communist party lacking popular support to gain power in the country and gradually eliminate its political rivals. Under Matyas Rakosi, the party consolidated its control and radically transformed the country economically, socially, and politically.
In the mid-1950s, after the Soviet Union had somewhat relaxed its control of Eastern Europe, Hungarian society began to mobilize against the regime, culminating in the Revolution of 1956. Soviet troops crushed the rebellion, leaving power in the hands of Janos Kadar. After consolidating his authority, Kadar embarked on a program of economic reform in the mid-1960s.
Like other countries of Eastern Europe, Hungary has a history of class, religious, and ethnic conflicts that were intensified and sometimes decided by the actions of larger, more powerful neighbors. Beginning in the tenth century, German and Bohemian missionaries converted the Magyars. In the early eleventh century, Bavarian knights helped Stephen I eliminate rivals and quash peasant revolts. Suleyman the Magnificent's Ottoman armies conquered and partitioned the country with the Habsburgs in the sixteenth century, expediting the spread of Protestant faiths. Habsburg rulers colonized Hungary with non-Magyars, repressed its Protestants, stifled its economic development, and attempted to Germanize its people. The Entente powers carved up Hungary after World War I and distributed most of the land to new nation-states. Finally, dictator Joseph Stalin enforced Soviet domination over postwar Hungary.
Despite internal divisions, strong foreign influence, and outright attempts to force the Hungarians to assimilate into other cultures, Hungarian nationalism has thrived throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Nationalism drove Hungary to ally itself with Nazi Germany to regain territories lost after World War I. Nationalism also inspired Hungarians to revolt against the Stalinist political order in October 1956.
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