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Journal of Cold War Studies 5.3 (2003) 143-145

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Béla Lipták, A Testament of Revolution. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001. 206 pp. $29.95.

The Hungarian revolution of 1956 certainly cannot be regarded as a "closed issue" on which historians have said the final, or nearly final, word. Not until the 1990s did some of the key documents become available, and these have lent new fuel to a long-standing and at times polarized debate about the "nature" of the revolution, including whether it truly should be called a revolution. Such discussions started in the middle of the event itself but not among the insurgents—Béla Lipták was one of them—who, irrespective of political beliefs, never had any doubts that they were taking part in a revolution. Instead, the debate was waged by politicians and intellectuals, both inside and outside Hungary. During the forty-fifth anniversary of the revolution in 2001, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán referred to the events of 1956 as a "bourgeois revolution," thereby reigniting a debate that had never really stopped.

Lipták's book is a welcome contribution to setting the record straight. It is unique in its combination of an account by a twenty-year-old participant and an assessment, added more than four decades later, by the same person from his perspective as a grandfather. The young man witnessed nearly all of the most important parts of the revolution and scribbled his notes from a few weeks' distance in an Austrian refugee camp. The older man, a U.S.-based engineer specializing in environmental problems, looks back at his younger self with indulgence and emotion. He does not try to embellish his role or to distort what really occurred but simply enriches his earlier account with background information and data that were obviously not available at the time, thus placing his diary in the appropriate historical context.

Unfortunately the text and several footnotes in the book contain inaccuracies. These mistakes do not diminish the value of the book, but they could easily have been [End Page 143] avoided if Lipták (who stresses that he is no historian) had double-checked his information. Hungarians love to publish historical sources and reference books, and hundreds of them have appeared over the past few years, mostly devoted to the 1956 revolution.

Some mistakes also arise in the text. At the top of page 181 Lipták writes that Hungarian Communist leader Mátyás Rákosi "was forced to resign in August 1956 and fled to the Soviet Union, where it was reported that he died in 1963"; actually, his resignation occurred in July 1956 and his death in 1971. A few lines further, Lipták states that "József Szilágyi ... was ... sentenced to death in May 1958. The time of his execution is unknown." Ten pages later, however, we read that "Szilágyi was hanged in April, 1958," which is correct. On page 183 Ernó Geró is said to have died in Moscow; he actually died in Budapest in 1980. Regnum Marianum (mentioned at the top of page 184) was not a school but a church; this could have been detected simply by reading a large sign, placed quite a few years ago in Budapest, which reads: "Here stood the Regnum Marianum church. Mátyás Rákosi ordered it blown up in 1951." On page 185 Vyacheslav Molotov is said to have been "Russia's foreign minister" in 1956; in reality he had stepped down from his post as Soviet foreign minister in July 1955, replaced by Dmitrii Shepilov.

Some other inaccuracies are of a different, more interesting nature, for they echo rumors that circulated commonly among the insurgents during the revolution. Ferenc Erdei is mistakenly referred to as a reform Communist (on page 183), whereas he was actually a National Peasant Party member who became a Communist agent. On the same page Imre Nagy is said to have been "surrounded by the secret police and ... not properly informed of what was going on...