Zoltan Tildy

Zolton Tildy

Zoltan Tildy was born in Hungary in 1889. He became involved in politics and as a member of the Smallholders Party and in 1936 was elected to Parliament. The Smallholders drew most of its support from the peasants who formed more than 50 per cent of the country. However, until 1939, the ballot had been open in rural constituencies, and therefore large landowners were able to force most peasants to vote for the government party. The leaders of the Smallholders Party were mainly members of the middle class and their political views varied from liberals to socialists.

The Soviet Army invaded Hungary in September 1944. It set up an alternative government in Debrecen on 21st December 1944 but did not capture Budapest until 18th January 1945. Soon afterwards Tildy became the provisional prime minister.

In elections held in November, 1945, the Smallholders Party won 57% of the vote. The Hungarian Workers Party, now under the leadership of Matyas Rakosi and Erno Gero, received support from only 17% of the population. The Soviet commander in Hungary, Marshal Voroshilov, refused to allow the Smallholders to form a government. Instead Voroshilov established a coalition government with the communists holding all the key posts. Tildy now became president and he held the post for two years.

The Hungarian Communist Party became the largest single party in the elections in 1947 and served in the coalition People's Independence Front government. The communists gradually gained control of the government and by 1948 the Smallholders Party ceased to exist as an independent organization and Tildy was placed under house-arrest.

Rakosi also demanded complete obedience from fellow members of the Hungarian Workers Party. When Laszlo Rajk, the foreign secretary, criticised attempts by Joseph Stalin to impose Stalinist policies on Hungary he was arrested and in September 1949 he was executed. Janos Kadar and other dissidents were also purged from the party during this period.

Matyas Rakosi now attempted to impose authoritarian rule on Hungary. An estimated 2,000 people were executed and over 100,000 were imprisoned. These policies were opposed by some members of the Hungarian Workers Party and around 200,000 were expelled by Rakosi from the organization.

The Hungarian Uprising began on 23rd October by a peaceful manifestation of students in Budapest. The students demanded an end to Soviet occupation and the implementation of "true socialism". The following day commissioned officers and soldiers joined the students on the streets of Budapest. Stalin's statue was brought down and the protesters chanted "Russians go home", "Away with Gero" and "Long Live Nagy".

On 25th October Soviet tanks opened fire on protesters in Parliament Square. One journalist at the scene saw 12 dead bodies and estimated that 170 had been wounded. Shocked by these events the Central Committee of the Communist Party forced Erno Gero to resign from office and replaced him with Janos Kadar.

Imre Nagy now went on Radio Kossuth and promised the "the far-reaching democratization of Hungarian public life, the realisation of a Hungarian road to socialism in accord with our own national characteristics, and the realisation of our lofty national aim: the radical improvement of the workers' living conditions." Tildy, as leader of the Smallholders Party, now joined Nagy's coalition government.

On 3rd November, 1956, Nagy announced details of his coalition government. It included communists (Janos Kadar, George Lukacs, Geza Lodonczy), three members of the Smallholders Party (Zolton Tildy, Bela Kovacs and Istvan Szabo), three Social Democrats (Anna Kethly, Gyula Keleman, Joseph Fischer), and two Petofi Peasants (Istvan Bibo and Ferenc Farkas). Major-General Maleter was appointed minister of defence.

Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, became increasingly concerned about these developments and on 4th November 1956 he sent the Red Army into Hungary. Soviet tanks immediately captured Hungary's airfields, highway junctions and bridges. Fighting took place all over the country but the Hungarian forces were quickly defeated.

Zoltan Tildy died in 1961.

Primary Sources

(1) (1)New York Times (3rd November, 1956)

Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty appealed to the West today for political support in Hungary's fight against Soviet domination. He said his appeal was addressed especially to the "great powers" in the West, presumably the United States, Britain and France. He asked also for gifts to relieve the suffering here.

Speaking in German in a strong vibrant voice, the Cardinal told correspondents who crowded his small, almost" bare study that "the whole Hungarian people wish and demand that Russian troops leave Hungarian territory." "The people," he added, "want to work for themselves and for the life of the nation."

The Cardinal said he had received a telegram of blessings from Pope Pius. He said the telegram had contained nothing else. This was taken to mean that he had no political instructions from the Vatican.

As he did just after his release, he avoided a direct answer to the question whether he would take part in a government. He answered that he had not had time to get the full picture of political conditions in Hungary.

Cardinal Mindszenty resumed his role as leader of Hungary's Roman Catholics by receiving (1 November) a delegation headed by Vice-Premier Zoltan Tildy, one of two non-Communists in the Imre Nagy Cabinet. Informed sources said Cardinal Mindszenty told the delegation that he wants the formation of a Christian Democratic party with a voice in the Cabinet and cannot consider supporting the present regime unless this is accomplished. These sources said the Cardinal envisages a party "on the Adenauer line," referring to the West German CDU. But they added that the Hungarian party should embrace "all Christians," including the nation's Protestant Lutheran population. The sources said

they believe Cardinal Mindszenty is willing to accept a coalition government including Hungary's "Tito Communists."

(2) Seftan Delmer, Daily Express (3rd November, 1956)

The Soviet Government tonight agreed that a joint Soviet-Hungarian commission shall meet in Budapest tomorrow at noon to discuss Hungarian complaints that Russian troops are still rolling in. It will discuss too the ultimate withdrawal of Soviet armour from Hungary ... But in Budapest, however, the news has caused remarkably little reaction ... The main reason is that the members of the new inner Cabinet have their misgivings that this Russian move is just another manoeuvre.

That was the fear of Zoltan Tildy, the silver-haired Minister of State, leader of the Smallholder Party ... "The only real chance of success for these talks," Tildy told me rather sadly, "is that Soviet troop movements pouring fresh armour into Hungary, and their operations inside our country, should stop - at least until the talks begin. The bad, sad news is that the movements have not ceased. According to our incontrovertible information, they are still going on."

Even while we were talking, the new Defence Minister, Colonel Pal Maleter, pulled himself up to his 6ft. 4in. and asked Tildy to step into the corner so that he could give him the latest military report.

During our talk, Mr. Tildy said the Hungarian Government would be prepared to withdraw its appeal to UNO on one condition. "We are prepared," he said, "to withdraw our protest to UNO provided that Soviet troops will immediately cease operations and leave our country."

Tildy, only recently released from eight years house arrest to which he was submitted with his white-haired wife, received me in the very same room in which I had talked with him in 1946, when he was the deputy Prime Minister in the Hungarian Government.