Trusting the Government

May 25, 2009

I am currently skimming a copy of the book Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. One of the interesting themes in the book is government credibility, which is of course very important in negotiations. After the revolution was put down with the help of Soviet tanks, the Communist government of Hungary explicitly and publicly promised the leader of the revolution, Imre Nagy, that they had no intention of putting him on trial for his actions. As he left the Yugoslavian embassy where he had been given asylum, Hungarian officials promptly kidnapped him, put him on trial, and had him executed.

Also interesting is the role of the United States in the attempted revolution, which is to say its lack of a role. Apparently dissidents in the post-Gulf War Iraq didn’t know their US History, because then they might have been familiar with the support that the United States provides to groups it incites to revolt. In the 1950s, the United States used Radio Free Europe to encourage Hungarians to rise up against the communist government, and then did nothing to help when the Soviets came in to crush them. Hungarian intellectual Jósef Köböl had this to say:

When … America finally spoke… it was a message of condolence. Of course no Hungarians expected a nuclear war on their behalf but probably we believed too deeply political rhetoric in elections campaigns that we weren’t supposed to take seriously. The wrong was partly our fault for twisting words. It was partly America’s fault for thinking that words can be used loosely. Words like ‘freedom’, ‘struggle for national independence’, ‘rollback’, ‘liberation’ have meanings. If America wants to flood Eastern and Central Europe with these words it must acknowledge a responsibility for them. Otherwise you are inciting nations to commit suicide. (p. 296)

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