The Spirit of Radio: Hungary 1956, Radio Free Europe, and the Shadow Public Sphere


  • Karl Brown



Hungary, 1956, revolution, Radio Free Europe, public sphere


This study explores popular responses to communist rule in Hungary and the role of Western media in the years leading up to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.  Most scholars to date have focused on the guiding role of the intelligentsia and the influence of Radio Free Europe. While these were indeed necessary ingredients in the revolutionary stew, Brown argues that the roots of the revolution are more complex. Hungarians from all social strata listened to many Western radio stations; as a result, many of them adopted critical and informed perspectives on the propaganda directed at them from both Moscow and Washington. As Hungarians listened in on the West, their discussion of news and politics generated a shadow public sphere, in which Radio Free Europe came to occupy a preeminent role despite its biased and propagandistic tone. The shadow public sphere incubated the postwar dream of an egalitarian and democratic Hungary until open political discourse became possible once more in October 1956.






General Articles