chapter  5
23 Pages

Confrontation

The Nagy ‘affair’ In the early hours of 4 November, immediately after the commencement of Soviet military operations, Imre Nagy and fifty-two of his associates and members of their families fled to the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest where they were granted asylum. During the following three weeks, the Yugoslav Government, first through its Ambassador Soldatić and then its Deputy Foreign Minister, Dobrivoje Vidić, who was dispatched from Belgrade on 18 November, worked hard to negotiate an exit out of this situation with the Kádár Government. Finally, on 22 November, after Vidić had received a written undertaking from Kádár the previous evening guaranteeing their safe passage home, Nagy and his entourage left the Yugoslav Embassy. Several hundred yards outside the Yugoslav compound, however, they were abducted by Soviet intelligence officers. Nagy’s asylum in the Yugoslav Embassy was a result of a failed and bungled attempt by the Yugoslavs and the Soviets to neutralize Nagy in order to facilitate the instalment of the Kádár Government and secure the success of the Soviet

intervention. During the afternoon of 3 November, after Khrushchev had left Brioni, Belgrade instructed its Ambassador in Budapest, Soldatić, to respond positively to the request for asylum submitted a day earlier by Zoltán Szántó on behalf of Nagy and his associates.1 The Yugoslav leaders believed they were acting in accordance with the agreement reached only hours earlier with the Soviets in Brioni, the aim of which was to ‘isolate’ Nagy from the ‘reactionaries’.2 As Ranković’s instructive cable to Soldatić of 4 November suggested, the Yugoslav plan was to evacuate the whole Nagy group to Yugoslavia before the start of the Soviet military operations. As had been agreed during the previous day with Szántó, the Yugoslavs were expecting Nagy’s final response during the morning of 4 November. However, the beginning of the Soviet operation in the early hours of 4 November foiled the evacuation plans.3 This confirms that the Yugoslav leadership had no prior knowledge of the precise timing of the intervention. The Soviet reluctance to inform the Yugoslavs in advance of the timing and the lack of coordination between the two sides once the intervention had started triggered a chain of events that left both parties with the least expected and desired outcome – Nagy being granted asylum in the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest. On the morning of 4 November, Kardelj called in Firyubin, the Soviet Ambassador in Belgrade, and informed him that Nagy, twelve other Hungarian officials, and their families had been granted asylum in the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest, ‘as has been agreed with comrade Khrushchev’. Kardelj also asked for instructions from the Soviet leadership on whether a statement from Nagy, as discussed in Brioni, was still necessary.4 Moscow replied on the same day that ‘there was no further need for any statement [from Nagy]’. It also requested that the Yugoslavs hand Nagy over to Soviet troops.5 On 5 November, Khrushchev sent a euphoric cable to Tito informing him that the ‘counterrevolution was crushed on 4 November, at noon’. He underlined that Tito’s endorsement of the intervention had been well received in the Soviet Presidium.6 In light of developments involving Nagy, this served as a reminder to Tito that Moscow expected his continued cooperation. On 5 November, Tito sent a telegram to Moscow asking that Nagy and his group be given free passage to Yugoslavia.7 Khrushchev’s response, two days later, caused consternation and anger among Tito and his aides for its complete disregard of Yugoslavia’s predicament and its ‘vulgar and crude’ language.8 Openly threatening and in a tone devoid of diplomatic niceties, Khrushchev implied that by providing shelter to Nagy and his group, Belgrade admitted that Nagy had been its agent all along. He stated that while the Brioni agreement had for the time being dispelled suspicions about Yugoslavia’s role in the Hungarian events,

now that Nagy and his cohorts have found refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy, our assessment of the causes of the developments in Hungary would require a revision. This fact would certainly introduce suspicion into our relations and would inflict an irreparable damage upon them.