“If Hope is Sin, Then We Are All Guilty”: Romanian Students’ Reactions to the Hungarian Revolution and Soviet Intervention, 1956–1958

Johanna Granville


The events of 1956 (the Twentieth CPSU Congress, Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, and the Hungarian revolution) had a strong impact on the evolution of the Romanian communist regime, paving the way for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Romania in 1958, the stricter policy toward the Transylvanian Hungarians, and Romania’s greater independence from the USSR in the 1960s. Students complained about their living and studying conditions long before the outbreak of the Hungarian crisis. Ethnic Hungarians from Transylvania listened closely to Budapest radio stations, and Romanian students in Budapest in the summer of 1956 were especially affected by the ferment of ideas there. For the Gheorghiu-Dej regime, the Hungarian revolution and Soviet invasion provided a useful excuse to end the destalinization process and crack the whip conclusivel —carrying out mass arrests, but also granting short-term concessions to ethnic minorities and workers. Of all segments of the Romanian population, university students were the most discontented. Drawing on archival documents, published memoirs, and recent Romanian scholarship, this paper will analyze and compare the student unrest in Bucharest, Cluj, Iaşi, and Timişoara. Due to a combination of psychological, logistical, and historical factors, students in the latter city were especially vocal and organized. On October 30 over 2,000 students from the Polytechnic Institute in Timişoara met with party offi cials, demanding changes in living and study conditions, as well as the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Romania. Another 800-1,000 students convened on October 31, calling for the release of students who were arrested the day before. Obvious discrepancies between the Romanian and Hungarian media sparked their curiosity about events in Hungary, while their cramped dorm rooms actually facilitated student meetings. In the Banat region itself, a tradition of anti-communist protest had prevailed since 1945. Although arrested en masse, these students set a vital precedent—especially for the Timişoarans who launched the Romanian Revolution thirty-three years later.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/cbp.2008.142


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