Where gunfire transformed a protest into a revolution

Why was the radio building so important? At the time Hungary did not yet have television broadcasts, with the first experimental transmission occurring only in 1957, after the revolution. Therefore, whoever controlled the radio also controlled the dissemination of information. In the 1950s, it was a primary source of news for most people.

On that fateful day, Kossuth Rádió interrupted its regular programming at 12:53 pm to announce the Ministry of the Interior’s decree banning public gatherings and the march. The station once again interrupted its broadcast at 2:23 pm to announce that Minister of the Interior László Piros had reversed himself and now permitted the protests. At this time approximately 300 secret police guarded the building. Around 5 pm, the first protesters arriving at the building wanted to read the students’ 16 Points, but the head of the radio refused.

Ten protesters who forced their way inside the building around 6:30 PM were arrested. Consequently, the building’s military protection was increased. Communist leader Ernő Gerő’s radio speech in the evening, in which he denounced the protesters as scum, only fanned the flames, and the siege of the radio building began soon after.

What remains unknown to this day is who fired first? According to the latest research, the first shots came from the building. They fired warning shots fired at the crowd at 8:15 pm during Gerő’s address. Volunteer and conscript troops were ordered to the building at 9 pm, but some of them elected to join the protestors instead, meaning that the crowd now also had weapons.

Some of the people who went to the Radio Building went there because of word spreading on the streets that “the secret police are firing on the crowd.” Taking guns that they had obtained along the way, people went to the radio to support the revolution. The following morning at dawn on October 24th, despite Soviet troops also being dispatched to defend the building, it was captured by the crowd.

During the days of the revolution, the radio repeatedly played Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, which is how this piece of classical music came to be known as the revolution’s symbolic anthem. A self-critical proclamation was also read on the air, in which the radio staff acknowledged that during the 1950s they had served the dictatorship and did not broadcast the truth. “We lied during the day, we lied during the night,” the text stated. This declaration also came to symbolize that it is not too late to see the errors of one’s ways and to try and set right things that had been wrong.

The events at the Hungarian Radio Building are considered the moment that peaceful protests transformed into an armed struggle, and where the events of October 23rd became the Hungarian Revolution.

Eszter Zsófia Tóth