BUDAPEST, Hungary — Thirty-one years after he was hanged as a traitor to communism, Imre Nagy, premier for 13 dramatic days during the 1956 Hungarian revolt, was given a patriot's burial here Friday.
A crowd of perhaps 100,000 flocked to Heroes Square, not only to pay tribute to Nagy and other martyrs of the only full-blown armed rebellion against communism since the division of Europe, but to mark what one speaker called "the border between two great epochs."
Until a little more than a year ago, the name of Nagy and other figures associated with the revolt were taboo to the Communist authorities who took over after Nagy was deposed by Soviet tanks. But Hungary is now embarked on some of the same reforms, including a multi-party system, that Nagy envisioned.
"We want this day to begin work toward a new world to realize the aims that these people died for," said Imre Mecs, a longtime dissident who, himself, had been sentenced to death by a Communist court after the 1956 revolt. "We want a free, independent and sovereign Hungary."
The crowd ranged from children to the elderly and sometimes tearful men and women who remembered vividly the tumultuous days of October, 1956, when secret policemen were hanged from lampposts and Soviet tanks on Budapest's squares blasted away at suspected rebel strongholds.
The throng was solemn throughout the proceedings, bursting into prolonged applause for only one of a parade of speakers, Viktor Orban, a student leader who declared, "The Communists took away our future."
He drew still more applause when he added, "A lot of politicians are saying now they are the inheritors of Imre Nagy's inspiration. Two years ago, they were blaming him for counterrevolution. Today, they want to touch his coffin as a talisman."
By and large, however, the Communist officials of Hungary realized that this was not their day, and kept clear of the proceedings. Premier Miklos Nemeth and Parliament Speaker Matyas Szuros attended the Heroes Square ceremonies and laid a wreath before six coffins arrayed against a white backdrop on the steps of the national museum. But not even Nemeth, one of the government's leading reformers, was invited to speak.
'The Unknown Revolutionary'
In the coffins were the remains of Nagy and four associates--his chief of staff, Jozsef Szilagyi; defense minister Pal Maleter; journalist Miklos Gimes; and minister of state Geza Losonczy. The sixth coffin was empty, a symbol to represent "the unknown revolutionary."
Nagy and his associates had been buried in unmarked graves in Plot 301 of the sprawling Kozma Street Cemetery in Budapest. Until recently, the plot had been allowed to go untended, with even its exact location an official secret. However, dissidents and Nagy's family located the graves years ago.
Nagy had served as Hungary's premier from 1953 to 1955, but his reformist notions, including a multi-party system and an end to one-sided economic arrangements with the Soviet Union, led to his replacement. He was called back to office, however, on the second day of the 1956 rebellion.
Less than two weeks later, after he announced that Hungary was withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact, Soviet tanks invaded Budapest, putting down the revolt in two days. At Soviet direction, Nagy was replaced by Janos Kadar, who held power here until May, 1988.
Kadar's replacement by Karoly Grosz and a team of reformers triggered an official re-evaluation of the 1956 events, and a special Communist Party subcommittee on history set out to decide whether the revolt should be redefined as a "popular uprising" rather than a "counterrevolution" as the Communists had designated it officially for 32 years.
This raised pressure for a re-evaluation of Nagy, long a hero to Hungarian dissidents and opposition groups. Still more pressure was added by a decision to allow the re-emergence of political parties, which are now preparing for the first postwar, multi-party elections, probably early next year.
Although Grosz himself has said he does not believe that Nagy should be "rehabilitated," he said the party would review its position if new facts emerged.
The Hungarian government, as opposed to the Communist Party, has been more forthcoming. On Wednesday, the government, in the most outspoken official statement on the issue, declared that Nagy was a "prominent statesman" and said that "the ideas of democratic humanitarian and national-minded endeavors of Imre Nagy and his followers are major constituents of the present government policy."
However, Nagy's daughter, Erzsebet, may have reflected the views of most Hungarians when she said she does not consider the Communist Party worthy of rehabilitating her father. "I am not even asking this party to do it," she said on the day her father's unmarked grave was opened.