Hungary has recently commemorated the sixtieth anniversary of the 1956 Revolution, which lasted for a few dramatic weeks in October and November of that year. As a contribution to this national reflection, the British Embassy in Budapest pulled together a history of the, what was then, British Legation and have shared this with a wide and diverse audience through social media, a website and exhibition.
The initiative uniquely re-tells the story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution through the recollections of former staff of the British Legation and telegrams sent to London. Over only a few weeks, the Embassy team collated a wealth of resources, from the personal testimony of former Legation driver, László Régeczy-Nagy, now 92, to the formerly ’Classified’ telegrams stored at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office National Archives.
To launch the website and commemorate the anniversary, we held a reception and transformed the public space of the Embassy into the ’56 Legation, complete with contemporaneous artifacts and some young revolutionaries borrowed from a British International School Budapest.
The Revolution unwraps in front of our eyes on the commemorative website via an interactive timeline, starting from its outbreak on 23 October 1956 until its defeat by Soviet troops. Formerly ’Classified’ telegrams sent to the Foreign Office in London reported about the escalating situation in Budapest and offered comments on the course of action the British should take in response to the events unfolding in Hungary. Besides offering insights into political developments, we can further learn about the day-to-day life and functioning of the British Legation of 1956.
Recollections are even more compelling as Hungarian members of staff, - who by day lived in a Western democracy and by night returned to their home in a communist country - shared their experiences, including former driver, László Regéczy-Nagy. Staff at the Legation themselves lived through intense fighting and food shortages and part of the British community had been evacuated. Nevertheless, regular telegrams were sent to London using the only functional radio connection of the Legation to all of the Great Powers.
The reaction to an innovative and engaging piece of digital and historic diplomacy has been outstanding. Conservative weekly Heti Válasz called the website, “the most beautiful virtual commemoration” and offered “heartfelt thanks to members of the British Embassy”. Other publications said versions of the same, while the website itself has attracted over 12,000 views.
In addition, the national broadcaster (MTVA), inspired by the website, has begun screening a 15 part series on the Legation’s reporting during the Revolution starting 7 November. Broadcast across four national television channels daily for 15 weeks, it could reach daily audiences of around two million.
Since its launch on the 20 October, the story of the Hungarian Revolution through the eyes of the British Legation reached thousands in Hungary and overseas, offering a unique perspective into a nation’s fight for freedom and democracy.
Visit our website to learn about or re-live the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.