Zoltan Tildy was born in Hungary in 1889. He became involved in politics and as a member of the Smallholders Party and in 1936 was elected to Parliament. The Smallholders drew most of its support from the peasants who formed more than 50 per cent of the country. However, until 1939, the ballot had been open in rural constituencies, and therefore large landowners were able to force most peasants to vote for the government party. The leaders of the Smallholders Party were mainly members of the middle class and their political views varied from liberals to socialists.
The Soviet Army invaded Hungary in September 1944. It set up an alternative government in Debrecen on 21st December 1944 but did not capture Budapest until 18th January 1945. Soon afterwards Tildy became the provisional prime minister.
In elections held in November, 1945, the Smallholders Party won 57% of the vote. The Hungarian Workers Party, now under the leadership of Matyas Rakosi and Erno Gero, received support from only 17% of the population. The Soviet commander in Hungary, Marshal Voroshilov, refused to allow the Smallholders to form a government. Instead Voroshilov established a coalition government with the communists holding all the key posts. Tildy now became president and he held the post for two years.
The Hungarian Communist Party became the largest single party in the elections in 1947 and served in the coalition People's Independence Front government. The communists gradually gained control of the government and by 1948 the Smallholders Party ceased to exist as an independent organization and Tildy was placed under house-arrest.
Rakosi also demanded complete obedience from fellow members of the Hungarian Workers Party. When Laszlo Rajk, the foreign secretary, criticised attempts by Joseph Stalin to impose Stalinist policies on Hungary he was arrested and in September 1949 he was executed. Janos Kadar and other dissidents were also purged from the party during this period.
Matyas Rakosi now attempted to impose authoritarian rule on Hungary. An estimated 2,000 people were executed and over 100,000 were imprisoned. These policies were opposed by some members of the Hungarian Workers Party and around 200,000 were expelled by Rakosi from the organization.
The Hungarian Uprising began on 23rd October by a peaceful manifestation of students in Budapest. The students demanded an end to Soviet occupation and the implementation of "true socialism". The following day commissioned officers and soldiers joined the students on the streets of Budapest. Stalin's statue was brought down and the protesters chanted "Russians go home", "Away with Gero" and "Long Live Nagy".
On 25th October Soviet tanks opened fire on protesters in Parliament Square. One journalist at the scene saw 12 dead bodies and estimated that 170 had been wounded. Shocked by these events the Central Committee of the Communist Party forced Erno Gero to resign from office and replaced him with Janos Kadar.
Imre Nagy now went on Radio Kossuth and promised the "the far-reaching democratization of Hungarian public life, the realisation of a Hungarian road to socialism in accord with our own national characteristics, and the realisation of our lofty national aim: the radical improvement of the workers' living conditions." Tildy, as leader of the Smallholders Party, now joined Nagy's coalition government.
On 3rd November, 1956, Nagy announced details of his coalition government. It included communists (Janos Kadar, George Lukacs, Geza Lodonczy), three members of the Smallholders Party (Zolton Tildy, Bela Kovacs and Istvan Szabo), three Social Democrats (Anna Kethly, Gyula Keleman, Joseph Fischer), and two Petofi Peasants (Istvan Bibo and Ferenc Farkas). Major-General Maleter was appointed minister of defence.
Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, became increasingly concerned about these developments and on 4th November 1956 he sent the Red Army into Hungary. Soviet tanks immediately captured Hungary's airfields, highway junctions and bridges. Fighting took place all over the country but the Hungarian forces were quickly defeated.
Zoltan Tildy died in 1961.