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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 18, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 3
Gati of SAIS Publishes Book on 1956 Hungarian Revolt

By Felisa Neuringer Klubes

Charles Gati, a senior adjunct professor in the European Studies Program at SAIS, has published Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt. Stanford University Press and Woodrow Wilson Center Press released the book last week.

On Tuesday, Sept. 19, SAIS will host a forum where Gati will discuss his book and address the question, "Did the U.S. abandon Hungary in 1956?" Mark Kramer, director of the Cold War Studies Project at Harvard University, also will participate in the forum, which will take place at 5 p.m. in the Rome Building's first-floor auditorium.

As the 50th anniversary of the October 1956 Hungarian revolt approaches, Gati examines the revolution and its suppression by the Soviet Union as a key event in the Cold War. He goes beyond the simplicity of this David and Goliath story in his new history of the revolt. The Hungarian uprising began on Oct. 23, and by Nov. 4 Soviet tanks and troops had moved into the city, defeating the revolutionaries, who had hoped that the United States would come to their assistance.

Denying neither Hungarian heroism nor Soviet brutality, Failed Illusions fundamentally modifies our picture of what happened during this 13-day period. Gati, who was a 22-year-old reporter in Budapest during the uprising, analyzes the brave, idealistic yet unrealistic revolutionaries and their reform communist leader, Imre Nagy. He suggests that had the Hungarians coupled their valor with pragmatism, some of the revolution's goals could have been achieved.

According to Gati, the United States was all talk and no action, and offered mixed signals at best. It encouraged the revolutionaries with promises of "liberation" and the "rollback" of Soviet power from Eastern Europe, while American-run Radio Free Europe simultaneously backed the insurgents' excessive demands and opposed Nagy.

Failed Illusions poses the question as to why the United States and its allies did not encourage the Hungarian revolutionaries to pursue more constructive options that were available, such as the more limited goal of Titoism, as a first step toward freedom. NATO could have pressed the issue with the United Nations before, and not after, the Soviet crackdown, he said.

There are valuable lessons here for the United States' efforts to "democratize" or reshape distant lands, Gati said.

As he wrote in a recent op-ed, "The Hungarians need to hear what happened 50 years ago — and Americans need to hear that in the future we will not say we seek clearly unattainable goals abroad for political ends at home."

The book is based on extensive archival research, including the CIA's operational files and transcripts of Radio Free Europe's broadcasts, as well as interviews with participants in Budapest, Moscow and Washington.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. national security adviser and a professor of international relations at SAIS, said, "Failed Illusions casts incisively a new perspective on three key dimensions of the historic drama that was the Hungarian revolution: the unsavory background and the heroic epiphany of Imre Nagy, the revolution's tragic leader; the confused, disruptive and ultimately devious Soviet efforts to manipulate the Hungarian communists; and the impotent futility of U.S. posturing which masqueraded as 'the policy of liberation.' Riveting as a story, significant as a history."

Gati, who fled his native Hungary during the 1956 revolt, is also the author of The Bloc That Failed: Soviet-East European Relations in Transition (1990) and Hungary and the Soviet Bloc (1986). He has taught at Union College and Columbia University and served as a senior adviser on the Department of State's policy planning staff in the early 1990s.


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