Janos Kadar

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János Kádár
Janos Kadar

General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party
In office
October 25, 1956 – May 27, 1988
Preceded by Ernő Gerő
Succeeded by Károly Grósz

Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the People's Republic of Hungary
In office
November 4, 1956 – January 28, 1958
Preceded by Imre Nagy
Succeeded by Ferenc Münnich
In office
September 13, 1961 – June 30, 1965
Preceded by Ferenc Münnich
Succeeded by Gyula Kállai

Born May 26 1912(1912-05-26)
Fiume, Austria-Hungary
Died July 6 1989 (aged 77)
Budapest, Hungary
Political party Hungarian Communist Party,
Hungarian Workers' Party,
Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party
Spouse Mária Tamáska

János Kádár, né Giovanni Czermanik (his Italian first name was due to the laws of Fiume; his father, a soldier named János Kressinger, denied paternity and refused to support his mother, Borbála Czermanik (May 26, 1912–July 6, 1989), was a Hungarian politician, the communist leader of Hungary from 1956 to 1988, and twice served as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, from 1956 to 1958 and again from 1961 to 1965.

Kadar ruled Hungary in the aftermath the failure of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Convinced by the Soviets that the revolution could not be allowed to stand, he played the role of pragmatic politician, both viciously treating the revolutionaries while attempting to improve the standard of living of his country, making small incremental changes rather than achieving the larger political goals of the revolutionaries.

Early life

János Kádár was born as Giovanni Czermanik in Fiume, Hungary (today Rijeka, Croatia) as illegitimate son of the soldier János Kressinger and the Slovak - Hungarian worker Borbála Czermanik, who was from the little town Ógyalla, Hungary (today Hurbanovo, Slovakia). He had Hungarian and Slovak from his mother's side and German roots from his father's side.

Kádár spent his first six years with foster parents in Kapoly, Somogy County, until reunited in Budapest with his mother, who worked occasionally as a washerwoman and sent him to school until he was 14. (He met his biological father, who lived as a small landowner, and his three half-brothers only in 1960).

Political activity before and during WWII

Kádár apprenticed as a typewriter mechanic, joined the trade union's youth group at 17, and joined the illegal Hungarian Communist Party in 1931, and was subsequently arrested several times for unlawful political activities. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment in 1933.[1]

Later, to cover his illegal communist activities, János Csermanek joined the Hungarian Social Democratic Party and sat on its Budapest branch committee.

He was arrested in 1937 by the Horthy regime and sent to prison for three years. On his release he did not go to the Soviet Union, but together with his friend László Rajk ran the underground communist movement during the Second World War, adopting the pseudonym János Kádár in 1943. (In Hungarian kádár means cooper) In 1944 while trying to cross the border into Serbia, in order to make secret contacts with Tito's partisans, he was arrested and dispatched with a transport of Jews to Mauthausen concentration camp. On the way at Komarno while temporarily transferred to the town's prison, he managed to escape and went back to Budapest.

Between 1943 and 1945 he was the first secretary of the Communist party, and between 1943 and 1944 he led its legal cover organization, the Peace Party.

1945 - 1956: From leadership to show trial

After the occupation of Hungary by the Soviet Union and the rise of the Moscow branch of the leadership of the Communist Party, Kádár was appointed deputy head of Budapest's new police.

In 1946, he was elected Deputy Secretary-General of the Hungarian Communist Party. In 1949, he succeeded László Rajk as Minister of the Interior. Rajk was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs by the Communist Party leader Mátyás Rákosi, although he had already been secretly chosen as the chief defendant of a "show trial" to be staged by Rákosi in Hungary in replication of the show trials initiated by Stalin in the Soviet Union. Rajk and "his spy ring" were accused of conspiring with Marshal Tito, President of Yugoslavia and were executed.

In a Machiavellian scheme, Rákosi put Kádár, who was friends with both Rajk and his wife Julia, in the Interior Minister's position to make sure Kádár was visibly involved in Rajk's trial. In fact, the State Protection Authority (ÁVH), which was in charge of the investigation, took its orders directly from Rákosi; but as interior minister, Kádár condemned Rajk's "crimes," tried to force a confession out of him and attended his execution.

Only a year later, Kádár found himself the defendant in a show trial of his own on the false charges of having been a spy of Horthy's police. This time it was Kádár who was beaten by the security police and urged to "confess." He was found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment. His incarceration included three years of solitary confinement, conditions far worse than he suffered while imprisoned under the Horthy regime.

He was released in July 1954 after the death of Stalin and the appointment of Imre Nagy as Prime Minister in 1953.

Kádár accepted the offer to act as party secretary in the heavily industrialized 13th district of Budapest. He rose to prominence quickly, building up a large following among workers who demanded increased freedom for trade unions.

Role in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956

Nagy began a process of liberalization, removing state controls over the press, releasing many political prisoners, and expressing wishes to withdraw Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. He formed a coalition government. Although the Soviet leaders issued a statement asserting their desire to establish a new relationship with Hungary on the basis of mutual respect and equality, in the first days of November, the Presidium of the Soviet Communist Party took a decision to crush the revolution by force.

In the meantime, the Hungarian Communist Party decided to dissolve itself and to reorganize the party under the name of Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party. On October 25, 1956 Kádár was elected Secretary-General. He was also a member of the Imre Nagy Government as Minister of State. On the 1st of November, Kádár, together with Ferenc Münnich left Hungary for Moscow with the support of the Soviet Embassy in Budapest. There the Soviet leaders tried to convince him that a "counter-revolution" was unfolding in Hungary that must be put to an end at any cost. Despite his opposition to Nagy's stated objective to leave the Warsaw Pact, Kadar allegedly resisted the pressure from Moscow, arguing that the Nagy government did not wish to abolish the Socialist system. He yielded to the pressure only when the Soviet leaders informed him that the decision had already been taken to crush the revolution with the help of the Soviet troops stationed in Hungary and that the old Communist leadership would be sent back to Hungary were he not willing to assume the post of Prime Minister in the new government. The Soviet tanks moved into Budapest to crush the revolution at dawn on November 4. The proclamation of the so-called Provisional Revolutionary Government of Workers and Peasants, headed by Kádár, was broadcast from Szolnok the same day.

He announced a "Fifteen Point Programme" for this new government:

  1. To secure Hungary's national independence and sovereignty
  2. To protect the people's democratic and socialist system from all attacks
  3. To end fratricidal fighting and to restore order
  4. To establish close fraternal relations with other socialist countries on the basis of complete equality and non-interference
  5. To cooperate peacefully with all nations irrespective of form of government
  6. To quickly and substantially raise the standard of living for all in Hungary
  7. Modification of the Five Year Plan, to allow for this increase in the standard of living
  8. Elimination of bureaucracy and the broadening of democracy, in the workers' interest
  9. On the basis of the broadened democracy, management by the workers must be implemented in factories and enterprises
  10. To develop agricultural production, abolish compulsory deliveries and grant assistance to individual farmers
  11. To guarantee democratic elections in the already existing administrative bodies and Revolutionary Councils
  12. Support for artisans and retail trade
  13. Development of Hungarian culture in the spirit of Hungary's progressive traditions
  14. The Hungarian Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government, acting in the interest of our people, requested the Red Army to help our nation smash the sinister forces of reaction and restore order and calm in Hungary
  15. To negotiate with the forces of the Warsaw Pact on the withdrawal of troops from Hungary following the end of the crisis

The 15th point was withdrawn after pressure from the USSR to garrison a 200,000 strong Soviet detachment in Hungary. This development allowed Kádár to divert huge defense funds to welfare.

Nagy, along with Georg Lukács, Géza Losonczy, and László Rajk's widow, Julia, fled to the Yugoslav Embassy. Kádár promised them safe return home at their request but failed to keep this promise as the Soviet party leaders decided that Imre Nagy and the other members of the government who had sought asylum at the Yugoslav Embassy should be deported to Romania. Later on, a trial began to establish the responsibility of the Imre Nagy Government in the 1956 events. Although it was adjourned several times, the defendants were eventually convicted of treason and conspiracy to overthrow the "democratic state order." Imre Nagy, Pál Maléter and Miklós Gimes were sentenced to death and executed for these crimes on June 16, 1958. Geza Losonczy and Attila Szigethy both died in prison under suspicious circumstances during the court proceedings.

The Kádár era

Kádár assumed power in a critical situation. The country was under Soviet military administration for several months. The fallen leaders of the Communist Party took refuge in the Soviet Union and were conspiring to regain power in Hungary. The Chinese, East German, and Czechoslovak leaders demanded severe reprisals against the perpetrators of the "counter-revolution." Despite the distrust surrounding the new leadership and the economic difficulties, Kádár was able to normalize the situation in a remarkably short time. This was due to the realization that, under the circumstances, it was impossible to break away from the Communist bloc. The people realized that the promises of the West to help the Hungarian revolution were unfounded and that the logic of the Cold War had determined the outcome. Hungary remained part of the Soviet sphere of influence with the tacit agreement of the West. The people feared the return of the old Communist leadership and gradually realized that Kádár's government was intent on improving the quality of life but the conditions would not allow for a change in the political system. Though influenced strongly by the Soviet Union, the policies enacted by Kádár were not exactly those of his sponsors in the Soviet Union. For example, Kadar's government allowed considerably large private plots for farmers of collective farms.

In notable contrast to Rákosi, Kádár declared that "he who is not against us is with us." Hungarians had much more freedom than their Eastern Bloc counterparts to go about their daily lives. They were by no means free by Western standards. Some of the draconian measures against free speech, culture and movement were gradually lifted during the Kádár era, but the ruling MSZMP party still maintained absolute control and high levels of state surveillance, laying pressure on opposition groups and encouraging citizens to join party organizations. The secret police, while operating with somewhat more restraint than in other Eastern Bloc countries (and certainly in comparison to the Rákosi era) were nonetheless a feared tool of repression. Overt opposition to the regime was not tolerated.

As a result of the relatively high standard of living, and more relaxed travel restrictions than that of other Eastern Bloc countries, Hungary was generally considered one of the better countries in which to live in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. (See also Goulash Communism for a discussion of the Hungarian variety of socialism.) Many Hungarians are nostalgic about the Kádár era, due to the dramatic fall in living standards caused by the adjustments to a capitalist economy in the 1990s. This point of view was expressed by Gyula Horn, a former communist politician elected Prime Minister in 1994. However, the relatively high living standards had their price in the form of a considerable amount of state debt left behind by the Kádár régime. As mentioned above, the regime's cultural and social policies were still quite authoritarian; their impact on contemporary Hungarian culture is still a matter of considerable debate.

During Kádár's rule, tourism increased dramatically, with many tourists from Canada, the USA, and Western Europe bringing much needed Western currency into Hungary. Hungary built strong relations with developing countries and many foreign students arrived. The "Holy Crown" (referred to in the media as the "Hungarian Crown," so as to prevent it carrying a political symbolism of the Horthy régime or an allusion to Christianity) and regalia of Hungarian kings was returned to Budapest by the United States in 1978.

Kádár was known for his simple and modest lifestyle and had a strong aversion against corruption or ill-doing. His only real hobby was chess.[2] He was often perceived as a convinced Communist who retained his beliefs throughout his life.

Deposition and death

János Kádár held power in Hungary until 1988, when he resigned as General Secretary mainly due to mounting economic difficulties and his own ill-health. At a party conference in May 1988, he was replaced as General Secretary by Prime Minister Károly Grósz who strove to continue Kádár's policies in a modified and adjusted form adapted to the new circumstances. Kádár was named instead to the rather ceremonial position of Party President. He did not wish to be re-elected to the Political Committee, the most important decision-making body of the party. In early 1989, as Grósz and his associates in turn were being sidelined by a faction of "radical reformers" who set out to dismantle the socialist system, Kádár, now visibly senile, was removed completely from political office, dying not long afterwards.


Kádár was generally known as one of the more moderate East European Communist leaders. While he remained loyal to the Soviet Union in foreign policy, based on the hard lessons of the 1956 uprising, his intent was to establish a national consensus around his policies at home. He was the first East European leader to develop closer links with the Social Democratic parties of Western Europe. He tried to mediate between the leaders of the Czechoslovak reform movement of 1968 and the Soviet leadership to avert the danger of a military intervention. When, however, the decision was taken by the Soviet leaders to intervene in order to suppress the Prague Spring, Kádár decided to participate in the Warsaw Pact operation.

Kádár's grave at the Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest was vandalized on May 2, 2007; a number of his bones, including his skull, were stolen, along with his wife Mária Tamáska's urn. A message reading "murderers and traitors may not rest in holy ground 1956-2006" was written nearby.[3][4] The two dates refer to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the 2006 protests in Hungary. This act was greeted with universal revulsion across the political and societal spectrum in Hungary. Police investigations focused on extremist groups which had been aspiring to "carry out an act that would create a big bang."[5]

Kádár was also awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union on April 3, 1964. He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize (1975-1976).


  1. János Kádár The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Retrieved October 7, 2021.
  2. Victor Sebestyen, Twelve Days - The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 2007, ISBN 9780375424588), 141.
  3. Ex-Hungary ruler's remains stolen BBC News, May 3, 2007. Retrieved October 7, 2021.
  4. Hungarian leader's grave robbed The Guardian May 3, 2007. Retrieved October 7, 2021.
  5. Kádár grave robbery investigation leads outside Budapest Hungary Around the Clock, May 4, 2007. Retrieved October 7, 2021.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Crampton, R.J. Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century–and After. London: Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0415164222
  • Gough, Roger. A Good Comrade: Janos Kadar, Communism and Hungary. I.B.Tauris, 2006. ISBN 978-1845110581
  • Sebestyen, Victor. Twelve Days - The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. New York: Vintage Books, 2007. ISBN 9780375424588

Preceded by:
Ernő Gerő
General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party
Succeeded by:
Károly Grósz
Preceded by:
Imre Nagy
Prime Minister of Hungary
Succeeded by:
Ferenc Münnich
Preceded by:
Ferenc Münnich
Prime Minister of Hungary
Succeeded by:
Gyula Kállai


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