Can the last reporter in Budapest make sure the lights stay on?
Western journalists arrived to Hungary looking for a story and threw themselves into the middle of the maelstrom that was the 1956 Revolution. In Budapest, they discovered that their ability to remain emotionally detached from what they saw was tested again and again. Russell Jones of United Press wrote in one of his articles that it was during the Hungarian Revolution that he cried for the first time since he was a child.
Jones arrived to Budapest October 29, 1956 from Vienna with a rented car. Crossing the border proved no problem since by that time it was open, and unlike the first few days of the revolution when westerners had to first apply for visas, that was no longer the case. According to Jones, as they drove to Budapest, the car had to cross checkpoints alternately manned by the Soviets and the revolutionaries. After taking a circuitous route he finally arrived to the Hungarian capital, where together with his journalist colleagues he reported on the siege of the Budapest Communist Party headquarters at Köztársaság Square. In addition to this, Jones reported on the reshuffling of the Nagy Government so that now all important democratic parties were included.
It was in light of this encouraging news that the Soviet invasion of November 4th rained down like a cold torrent. Unlike his colleagues who made plans to leave the country, Jones decided to stay in Budapest. At first he took refuge at the U.S. Embassy, and it was under his leadership that a group of American reporters left the embassy by foot on November 6th. He remained in Budapest even after his American colleagues left for Vienna in a convoy on November 10th.
The western reporters who stayed in Hungary became important sources of news to the wider world in their reports on the Soviet aggression and what was going on inside Hungary. A significant part of the local population learned of what was going on in their own country via the Hungarian-language radio broadcasts from the West, which were assembled from the reports dispatched by the western journalists still in Budapest.
During his stay in Budapest, Jones also met with K. P. S. Menon, India’s ambassador to the Soviet Union who happened to be in Hungary at the time, with whom he discussed the situation for several hours. In the meantime, on December 1st, the Americans asked the Hungarian Foreign Ministry to extend Jones’s visa, but they only extended it by three days. Consequently, Jones immediately contacted the secretariat of Ferenc Münnich, who was number two in the new regime, saying that the Hungarian Foreign Ministry had sent him in regards to extending his visa. This resulted in a six-day extension, but the game was up when the British complained that their reporter did not receive an extension similarly to Jones. The foreign ministry withdrew Jones’s extension but let him stay for the time being.
That is how Jones became one of the last western reporters to remain in Hungary in 1956. Since he was limited to six-minute phone calls per number so that it would be difficult to file his reports, Jones would call the United Press offices in Vienna, Frankfurt, Belgrade and Stockholm to file his dispatches, which were later assembled in Vienna. Jones also reported on the women’s march to Heroes’ Square on December 4th, after which he was expelled from the country. His work was not in vain, however, since in addition to keeping the world informed of what was going on in Hungary after most other foreign reporters had left, he also won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for this very reason.