Crushed by the Warsaw Pact’s invasion in 1956 and decimated by the subsequent exodus of some 200,000 refugees, Hungary’s opposition, buoyed by perestroika, began to regain its legs in the 1980s. By mid-1988, Janos Kadar, the hard-line Communist leader who had ruled Hungary since the invasion, was removed from his post and succeeded by a more reform-minded leader. The following January, the Communist-led parliament adopted a series of policies that expanded Hungarians’ democratic rights. Mass demonstrations began in March, followed by the dismantling of some border fortifications with Austria in May that opened a door to the West. In June, against the backdrop of historic roundtable talks between opposition groups and Communist authorities, a state funeral was held to rehabilitate and rebury Imre Nagy, the leader of the 1956 uprising against the Soviet Union who was hanged in 1958 for treason. Nagy’s funeral effectively buried the Communist regime. At the ceremony, opposition leader Viktor Orban joined a crowd of tens of thousands and called for free elections and the withdrawal of Soviet troops.
Laszlo Kasza was among the refugees who fled Hungary in 1956 before embarking on a 30-year career with RFE that included the deputy directorship of the Hungarian Service. As elsewhere, the Service provided its audiences with a broad range of news and cultural coverage, while connecting them with events and people on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Its Western pop and jazz music programming was legendary. Under Kasza’s direction, the Service also paid special attention to the country’s dissidents, who, he told RFE/RL, “wanted more publicity because it protected them.” Kasza also reported on the dissident movements in Czechoslovakia and Poland to ensure that Hungarians knew about opposition activities taking place elsewhere in the region. Indeed, Hungary’s roundtable talks followed Poland’s example. His broadcasts of the samizdat sermons of persecuted ethnic Hungarian pastor Laszlo Tokes are credited with contributing to the downfall of Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania. According to Kasza, “…[T]he revolution against Ceausescu started from there.”