The 16 Points that Demanded a Democratic Hungary
Regarding the events of the 1956 Revolution, the youth undeniably set the whole thing in motion. One of their remarkable achievements was getting the Communist Party to back off on certain points. Sometimes they did so for tactical reasons, gaining time, and other times because they were left with no choice. The college and university students used the tension in the air resulting from widespread discontent to organize the first democratic student organization during the communist period, the Association of Hungarian University and College Unions (Magyar Egyetemisták és Főiskolai Egyesületek Szövetsége – MEFESZ). This organization was formed on October 16th in Szeged, but news of its founding quickly spread as more and more universities formed their own branches, which the communist regime struggled to control.
The students did not sit around uncertain of what steps to take next because together with teachers who shared their democratic disposition they worked out their demands. These were the points that the crowds protesting on October 23rd also adopted. The demands were quite bold for the time, but it was characteristic of the revolutionary situation that these were adopted almost without exception by Imre Nagy’s government after the revolution’s victory on October 28th. Among these were the demands to hold free and democratic parliamentary elections and an end to the one-party state, or rather that the democratic parties would be permitted to reform. Other points were the release of political prisoners, as well the re-establishment of the freedom of expression and a free press.
The sharpest criticism of the communist system was the demand for the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the territory of Hungary, which was vocalized by the chants of “Ruszkik haza!” (“Russians go home!”) that began on October 23rd. This was tightly intertwined with the desire for a completely independent Hungary, so that the Soviet Union could not dictate to Hungary but would treat it as an equal partner. Among the economic demands were the regulation of production quotas and the introduction of a minimum wage, as well as support for individual farms. The revolutionary crowd also adopted from the 16 points the demand that the communist coat of arms be replaced with the Kossuth coat of arms, as well as that March 15th (the anniversary of the 1848 Revolution) and October 6th (the anniversary of the execution of the 13 martyrs of Arad in 1849 following the Failed War of Independence) be made into national holidays. The demands for the removal of the Stalin statue were not an issue for long since the statue was toppled on the first day of the revolution.
After the revolution was suppressed the MEFESZ leaders were imprisoned and their intellectual leader, the law professor József Perbíró was sentenced to life in prison but released under the general amnesty in 1963. Since 2000, however, the foundation of MEFESZ has been celebrated annually by the University of Szeged.