On this date in 1947, Hungarian politician Gyorgy Donath was executed for treason as the Hungarian state came into the hands of the Communists.
Gyorgy Donath awaits hanging in the courtyard of a Budapest prison on October 23, 1947. (Source)
Donath (Hungarian Wikipedia link) stood among the ranks of Eastern European politicians purged by Soviet-directed Communist parties behind the Iron Curtain in the first years of the Cold War — years when Stalin still called the shots for the Communist bloc.
Had Hungary’s postwar direction been determined by orderly ballot-boxing rather than great power machinations, Donath would have had a voice in it — for it was a conservative party, the Independent Smallholders Party, who won a big hold on government with 57% of the votes in the 1945 elections.
Though the Communists polled just 17% (with a similar tally for the Social Democrats), the General Secretary of the postwar party, Matyas Rakosi,* predicted that the putative defeat would “not play an important role in Communist plans.” And he was right.
Rakosi named his policy in response to the Smallholders “salami tactics” — as in slicing down the opposition piece by piece.
1947 was the knife’s edge.
From their post within the ensuing governing coalition — an outsized foothold relative to their electoral returns, as compelled by the presence of the still-occupying Red Army — the minority Communists in January 1947 announced the discovery of a conspiracy of “small agrarians,” and set about reducing the Smallholders and allies through a series of police raids and show trials.** Donath’s prominence in an irredentist fraternity, the Hungarian Community organization, was denounced the ringleader of the treasonable conspiracy.
He was hanged on October 23 — just eight weeks after a heavily rigged 1947 election put Hungary formally into the Communist camp.
Over the subsequent two years, independent and opposition parties were generally reduced to irrelevance, forced to take the Communist line, or dissolved entirely.
* Rakosi was the man whom Imre Nagy would eventually displace. The more moderate Nagy willingly swept himself up in Hungary’s abortive 1956 revolution against Communist domination. Soviet tanks crushed that revolution; Nagy hanged.