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The Russians in Hungary, 1849

The circumstances in which the Emperor Nicholas decided to send troops into Hungary in 1849, writes Ian Young, were remarkably similar to those which brought Soviet tanks swarming over the Carpathians in November 1956.

The first occasion on which Russian troops intervened in Hungary was in April 1849; and, however much the map of Europe may have changed during the last hundred years, the circumstances in which the Emperor Nicholas of Russia then decided to send troops into Hungary were remarkably similar to those which brought Soviet tanks swarming over the Carpathians last November.

In the 1840s there was no independent state of Poland. The central and eastern provinces of Poland, the greater part of the country, in fact, were incorporated as a separate kingdom within the Russian Empire. The western lands, including the city of Poznan, belonged to Prussia, while the southernmost province of Poland, Galicia, which stretches for some two hundred miles along the foothills of the Carpathians and includes the cities of Cracov and Lvov, formed a part of the Austrian Empire.

Immediately south of Galicia lay the Kingdom of Hungary, one of the dominions of the house of Habsburg. So the three great powers of central and eastern Europe—Prussia, Austria and Russia—between them contained the whole of present-day Poland and Hungary; and these three powers were themselves linked together in a long-standing alliance which had been reinforced at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Then, as now, from the Russian standpoint at least, the main divisions in Europe were ideological. The Emperor Nicholas looked upon himself as Europe’s main bulwark of absolute monarchy and conservatism against the forces of revolution which had been spreading eastwards from France since the end of the eighteenth century.

Austria and Prussia, in his view, were nothing more than his forward defence posts. “The true and permanent interest of Russia,” said one of his leading diplomats, “is to maintain between ourselves and France this moral barrier, formed by friendly powers and monarchies, solidly based on principles analogous to our own.”

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