The 1956 Revolution’s symbol: the hole with a flag in the center

If you know ‘56, you know that strange flag, the red, white and green with the hole in the middle. Here’s how it became the symbol of the revolution.

The tricolor, featuring the crowned coat of arms in its center, became Hungary’s official flag during the 1848-1849 Revolution and War of Independence. In 1946, the country’s form of government changed from a monarchy to a republic, and the crowned coat of arms was replaced with the crownless Kossuth coat of arms, a reference to the heritage of 1848.

With the communist takeover of power in 1949, both the coat of arms and the flag changed. A new coat of arms, without any grounding in Hungarian tradition or history, was unveiled. It featured a hammer and a stalk of wheat to symbolize the workers and peasants, along with a red star crudely imposed for good measure.

In the 1950s, communist symbols appeared everywhere: they appeared on the walls of state institutions and offices, on stamps, on the hats of security organizations and on uniform buttons. The Rákosi coat of arms became associated with state terror under the dictatorship, and the physical and mental suffering that it caused.

But the year 1956 would become a revolution also in symbols. The youth who took to the streets used brute force to rip, cut or knock down every symbol that represented Soviet oppression and Rákosi’s dictatorship.

Using hammers and saws they removed the red stars from atop buildings, knocked statues over and broke them into pieces, placed national-colored ribbons or Kossuth coats of arms onto military and civilian hats, and drew the Kossuth coat of arms onto captured Soviet tanks as well. The first such daring act, however, was on October 23rd during the protest at Bem Square, where the Rákosi coat of arms was cut from the center of the Hungarian flag with scissors. Nobody knows today who first cut that hole in the flag, but the act of defiance quickly spread throughout the country.

That’s how the torn flags with a hole in the center became the revolution’s symbol. For Hungarians, the flag was more honorable with a gaping hole in the middle than with the hated symbol of the regime.

Ajtony Virágh