The Poznań protests of 1956, also known as Poznań June (Polish: Poznański Czerwiec), were the first of several massive protests against the communist government of the Polish People's Republic. Demonstrations by workers demanding better working conditions began on 28 June 1956 at Poznań's Cegielski Factories and were met with violent repression.
A crowd of approximately 100,000 people gathered in the city centre near the local Ministry of Public Security building. About 400 tanks and 10,000 soldiers of the Polish People's Army and the Internal Security Corps under Polish-Soviet general Stanislav Poplavsky were ordered to suppress the demonstration and during the pacification fired at the protesting civilians.
The death toll was estimated to be between 57 and over a hundred people, including a 13-year-old boy, Romek Strzałkowski. Hundreds of people sustained injuries. The Poznań protests were an important milestone on the way to the Polish October, the installation of a less Soviet-controlled government.
|Part of the Cold War|
The sign reads "We demand bread!"
|Casualties and losses|
After Joseph Stalin's death, the process of de-Stalinization prompted debates about fundamental issues throughout the entire Eastern Bloc. Nikita Khrushchev's speech On the Personality Cult and its Consequences had wide implications outside the Soviet Union and in other communist countries. In Poland, in addition to the criticism of the cult of personality, popular topics of debate centered on the right to steer a more independent course of "local, national socialism" instead of following the Soviet model down to every little detail; such views were seen in discussion and critique by many Polish United Workers' Party members of Stalin's execution of older Polish communists from Communist Party of Poland during the Great Purge.
Anti-communist resistance in Poland was also bolstered, and a group of opposition leaders and cultural figures founded the Klub Krzywego Koła (Skewed Wheel Club) in Warsaw. It promoted discussions about Polish independence, questioned the efficiency of the state controlled economy, and government disdain and even persecution of veterans of the Polish Armed Forces in the West and the Armia Krajowa resistance during World War II. While the intelligentsia expressed their dissatisfaction with discussions and publications (bibuła), workers took to the streets. The living conditions in Poland did not improve, contrary to government propaganda, and workers increasingly found that they had little power compared to bureaucracy of the Party (nomenklatura).
The city of Poznań was one of the largest urban and industrial centers of the Polish People's Republic. Tensions were growing there, particularly since autumn of 1955. Workers in the largest factory in the city, Joseph Stalin's (or 'Cegielski's) Metal Industries, were complaining about higher taxes for most productive workers (udarnik), which affected several thousands of workers. Local directors were unable to make any significant decisions due to micromanagement by the higher officials; over several months, petitions, letters and delegations were sent to the Polish Ministry of Machine Industry and Central Committee of Polish United Workers' Party, to no avail.
Finally, a delegation of about 27 workers was sent to Warsaw around 23 June. On the night of 26 June, the delegation returned to Poznań, confident that some of their demands had been considered in a favourable light. The Minister of Machine Industry met with the workers next morning and withdrew several promises that their delegation was given in Warsaw.
A spontaneous strike started at 6 a.m. at the multifactory complex of Joseph Stalin's (or 'Cegielski's) Metal Industries. Around 80% of its workers, most of whom had lost bonus pay in June as the government suddenly raised the required work quota, took to the streets demanding pay compensation and some freedom concessions, marching towards the city centre. Workers at other plants, institutions and students joined the procession.
Between 9 and 11 a.m., about 100,000 people gathered on the Adam Mickiewicz Square in front of the Imperial Castle in Poznań, surrounded by buildings occupied by the city and Party authorities and police headquarters. The demonstrators demanded lower food prices, wage increases and the revocation of some recent changes in the law that had eroded workers' conditions. They further requested a visit from Polish Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz, as the local government declared that they had no authority to solve the problems. Some police officers also joined the crowd.
After 10 a.m., the situation rapidly deteriorated when provocateurs came into action, claiming that members of the negotiating delegation had been arrested. The local units of the regular police (Milicja Obywatelska) were unable to contain the crowd and the situation turned into a violent uprising as the crowds stormed the prison at Młyńska Street, where some protesters believed the members of the delegation to have been imprisoned; hundreds of prisoners were released around 10:50 am. At 11:30 am, the arms depot at the prison building was seized and the firearms were distributed among the demonstrators.
The crowd ransacked the Communist Party's local headquarters and then at around 11 a.m. attacked the office of the Ministry of Public Security on Kochanowskiego Street, but were repulsed when the first shots were fired from its windows into the crowd. From then until 6:00 pm, they seized or besieged many government buildings and institutions in and around Poznań, including the district courthouse and the prosecutor's office, radio jamming station in Dąbrowskiego Street, police stations in Junikowo, Wilda, Swarzędz, Puszczykowo and Mosina. The prison camp in Mrowino and the military school at the Poznań University of Technology were seized and weapons were taken. The police documents at local police station, procurature and court were destroyed.
In the meantime, at about 11:00 am, 16 tanks, 2 armored personnel carriers and 30 cars had been sent from the Officer School of Armored and Mechanized Formations, a Poznań garrison, to protect the designated buildings, but no shots were exchanged between them and the insurgents. These soldiers engaged in friendly conversation with the protesters; some reports state that two tanks were seized and some troops disarmed. Then the Soviet General Konstantin Rokossovsky, the Minister of National Defense, who was then in command of all armed forces in Poland, decided to take personal control, and the situation changed dramatically.
Rokossovsky sent his deputy, the Polish-Soviet general Stanislav Poplavsky and a group of lower Soviet officers, with orders to put down the protest in a manner consistent with Russian standards, intending to end the demonstrations as soon as possible to prevent an occurrence similar to the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany, when a similar protest, not quelled in time, spread to many other regions. The Russian officers arrived at 2 p.m. at Ławica Airport and took command. Poplavsky did not bother to use local regulars from Poznań garrisons, instead taking other troops from Silesian Military District and recalling special troops from the Biedrusko military base north of Poznań. The troops were told that the protesters were led and organized by "German provocateurs" who were attempting to darken Poland's image during the ongoing Poznań International Fair.
Between 4 p.m. and 5 a.m. the following day, the Polish 10th Armored Division, Polish 19th Armored Division, Polish 4th Infantry Division and Polish 5th Infantry Division, totaling about 10,300 troops and the Internal Security Corps under the command of Poplavsky entered Poznań. A two-hour long procession of tanks, armored cars, field guns, and lorries full of troops went through the city and surrounded it. At 9 p.m. a wave of detentions began. The detainees were taken to Ławica airport, where they were subjected to brutal interrogation; 746 persons were detained until 8 August. The protests continued until 30 June, when the troops finally pacified the city, after exchanging fire with some violent demonstrators. At 7:30 a.m. on 29 June the Prime Minister arrived and infamously declared on the local radio station that "any provocateur or lunatic who raises his hand against the people's government may be sure that this hand will be chopped off."
The number of casualties is currently a subject of academic dispute. The historian Łukasz Jastrząb from the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) estimates it to be 57 dead and about 600 wounded (including eight on the side of the government), noting that larger estimates, such as that by another IPN scholar, Stanisław Jankowiak, who places the figure at slightly over 100, are not fully supported by available data. Estimates of a similar range, such as the "over 70 deaths", can be found in media reports.
About 250 people were arrested in the first few days, including 196 workers; several hundred others were arrested in the following weeks. Stanisław Hejmowski, the lawyer who defended them, was later repressed for his statement that the government's actions had led to the death of innocent civilians. The government failed in its attempts to coerce the detainees into stating that they were provoked by foreign (Western) secret services; nonetheless, this became the official line of the government for years to come.
Soon the ideologues realized that they had lost the support of the Soviet Union, and the regime turned to conciliation by announced wage rises and other reforms. Realizing the need for a change in leadership, the Polish communists chose a new leader, Władysław Gomułka, who was considered a moderate; this transition is known as Polish October (or "Gomułka Thaw"). In spite of this, the communist authorities censored all information on the Poznań events for a quarter of a century.
Historians were denied source materials for research, and the campaign was effective in eliminating any mention of the events of June 1956 from publicly available sources. Persecution of the most active participants would be carried out for many years. The memory of the events was preserved by the participants and members of opposition. After the Gdańsk Agreement in 1980, the Independent Self-governing Trade Union "Solidarity" as one of its first actions decided to raise a monument in the memory of the Poznań June 1956 events.
Many historians consider the Poznań 1956 protests to be an important milestone in modern history of Poland, and one of the events that precipitated the fall of communism in Poland. Nonetheless, the protests of 1956 were not motivated by anti-communist ideology; the workers' demands were mostly of an economic nature, centering around better work conditions rather than any political objectives. The workers sang "The Internationale" and their banners read "We demand bread." It was the government's consistent failure to fulfil the first demand which eventually led to the demands for political change, but even during the history of Solidarity few demanded wide political reforms.
On 21 June 2006, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the events, the Polish parliament Sejm declared 28 June to be a national holiday in Poland; the Day of Remembrance of the Poznań June 1956. It is celebrated by all.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (Hungarian: 1956-os forradalom), or the Hungarian Uprising, was a nationwide revolution against the Hungarian People's Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956. Leaderless when it first began, it was the first major threat to Soviet control since the Red Army drove Nazi Germany from its territory at the End of World War II in Europe.
The revolt began as a student protest, which attracted thousands as they marched through central Budapest to the Hungarian Parliament building, calling out on the streets using a van with loudspeakers. A student delegation, entering the radio building to try to broadcast the students' demands, was detained. When the delegation's release was demanded by the protesters outside, they were fired upon from within the building by the State Security Police, known as the ÁVH (acronym for Állam Védelmi Hatóság, literally "State Protection Authority"). One student died and was wrapped in a flag and held above the crowd. This was the start of the revolution. As the news spread, disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.
The revolt spread quickly across Hungary, and the government collapsed. Thousands organised into militias, battling the ÁVH and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned, and former political prisoners were released and armed. Radical impromptu workers' councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People's Party and demanded political changes. A new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped, and a sense of normality began to return.
Initially appearing open to negotiating a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to crush the revolution. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. The Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions, while strengthening control over the Eastern Bloc, alienated many Western Marxists, leading to splits and/or considerable losses of membership for communist parties in capitalist states.
Public discussion about the revolution was suppressed in Hungary for more than 30 years. Since the thaw of the 1980s, it has been a subject of intense study and debate. At the inauguration of the Third Hungarian Republic in 1989, 23 October was declared a national holiday.