Widespread protests in 1988 calling for democracy saw multi-party elections announced in February 1989. Along with that came freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and the right to form competitive trade unions. In April 1989, the USSR agreed to withdraw all Soviet troops from Hungary by 1991.
However it was the removal of barbed wire between Hungary and Austria, and the "shoot to kill" policy of border guards on 6 May 1989, that saw the Iron Curtain pulled to one corner, and the light of the West draw thousands.
You see passport holders in the Warsaw Pact countries had freedom of movement between those countries. East Germans notably could travel freely to (then) Czechoslovakia and onto Hungary, and now onto the West. 30,000 did so between May and September 1989, before the geriatric thugs in the dying German Democratic Republic (GDR) put up their own restrictions on travel to Hungary. East Germans kept fleeing to Czechoslovakia, which had its own border closed in October before protests by hundreds of thousands in the streets saw Erich Honecker himself deposed by his own party.
Then the Wall came down.
Today I am in Budapest, by pure coincidence. It is a thriving city of free people, as it always should have been, and a city that remembers what it went through from the terror of a brief period of fascist rule in 1940, to Soviet imperialism, the 1956 uprising and its crushing and the sheer terror of never knowing from one day to the next whether the state would turn on you next.
Budapest has a Museum of Terror, dedicated not to terrorism as we know it, but the terror of the period of Hungary under dictatorship - from its own fascism to Nazi occupation. to the Soviet occupation and its socialist stooges. It includes pointedly, a long list of those who were the foot soldiers in this police state, the prison guards, the "judges" who proclaimed death sentences and the secret police men and women who bullied their own people. It was designed to name and shame those who "were only following orders" and so did what most would think was unthinkable - murdering, imprisoning and torturing in the name of "the people" and "the party" and "the revolution".
Today is a day worthy of celebrating, for it is remarkable to think that this once Marxist Leninist dictatorship is today a free member of NATO and the European Union. It is also worthy remembering that most of the former Soviet Union itself, at best has only just started really having some of that freedom, at worst is under a similar level of tyranny, with a different name. The philosophical and political battle for freedom in the former Soviet bloc is far from over.