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Sylvia Dowling's Student Activism and the Hungarian Revolt

Sylvia's Student Activism and the Hungarian Revolt

Artistic rendition of the slips of paper reading 'Remember Hungary' tied to a door

14 November 1956

Student Activism is by no means a contemporary phenomenon. For example, Sylvia Dowling contributed to the Hungarian Relief Campaign, where students tied hundreds of little straps of paper saying 'Remember Hungary' to doors, windows and walls all across campus.

The revolt began in June of 1956 as a student protest, voicing their discontent at the lack of democratic government and the oppressive poverty which had swept Hungary under communist rule. The groups attracted thousands of supporters as they marched through Budapest to Parliament, where a small group attempted to enter a radio station and broadcast their manifesto. These protestors were detained and executed by the AVH. Word of this injustice spread, catalysing further violence throughout the capital, quickly toppling the government. Militias formed to fight the Soviet troops and AVH who remained in the city, and radical workers’ councils took control from the ruling government. A new leader was appointed, who promptly disbanded the AVH and pledged to withdraw Hungary from the Warsaw Pact, allowing free elections.

While Moscow initially appeared willing to make this concession, the Soviets unexpectedly moved to violently crush the revolution. The Hungarian resistance continued until November 10th, 1956, resulting in the deaths of 2,500 Hungarians, 700 Soviet troops and 200,000 displaced Hungarian refugees. While the UK and US initially considered intervening to support the revolutionaries, threats from Moscow prevented any official action. Instead, students like Sylvia kept the message alive across the UK with their own acts of protest, urging their peers to remember the sacrifices made by students in Hungary. They supported the revolutionaries who sought free speech and liberation, while decrying their own government for failing to stand against oppression. Though their work was comparatively small, they speak to the spirit of young people who understood that a community does not end at a country’s border.

Accompanying this section is an artistic rendition of what this student relief campaign at the university may have looked like. The result would have been a simple, yet powerful symbol of solidarity and support from the student body at the University of Leicester to the Hungarian people in 1956.

Do you know of any forms of student activism occurring at your school? Have you ever taken part in an activist campaign?


Györkei, J.; Kirov, A.; Horvath, M. (1999). Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary, 1956. New York: Central European University Press

Tőkés, Rudolf L. (1998). Hungary's Negotiated Revolution: Economic Reform, Social Change and Political Succession, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

Sylvia Dowling's Student Activism and the Hungarian Revolt