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In the summer of 1989, the Soviet Union was beginning to falter, and its grasp on Eastern Europe was slipping. But in Hungary, the Soviets were hardly gone yet: Moscow still maintained around 70,000 soldiers, 1,000 tanks, and 1,500 armored vehicles there. Janos Kadar, who had built and led the repressive, Soviet-aligned regime that had run the country for the past three decades, had resigned the previous year, as the economy sputtered and Kadar himself struggled with cancer. But the regime centered on Kadar’s Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party remained intact and still presided over an immense security apparatus and a network of armed militias.
The momentum, however, was with the opposition groups that sought to take advantage of the Soviet decline. On June 16, they organized a massive demonstration in Heroes’ Square, which includes a monument to the founders of the Hungarian state, in central Budapest. Part memorial service and part protest, the gathering