BUDAPEST, Hungary -- In a symbolic gesture to remove what he termed a 'stain on Russia,' Russian President Boris Yeltsin Wednesday visited the monument to the Hungarian martyrs who died in the 1956 revolution that was crushed by Soviet tanks.
During a historic first visit by a Russian leader, Yeltsin paid his respects to then-Prime Minister Imre Nagy and the others who were executed after the revolution. Until a memorial was erected in 1989, the dead lay in an unmarked grave at plot 301 of the Kerepesi cemetery.
Yeltsin said he felt 'spiritual pain' as he laid the wreath. 'But I also experienced a sense of relief that those dreadful times belong to the past and that communism will never return,' he said at a news conference later.
'At last our hand-cuffs have been removed and I was able to offer my hand as a token of peace to the Russian president,' Hungarian Prime Minister Jozsef Antall said, calling the visit 'an historic turning point in Hungarian-Russian relations.'
Earlier Yeltsin addressed the Hungarian Parliament, saying it was 'sad that Russian soldiers were sent to crush the revolution only a decade after they had liberated Hungary from the fascist plague.'
The Russian president handed over some documents from the KGB and Communist Party archives that related to the post-revolution shootings and said other archive material would be released soon.
'The national uprising was not in vain because it showed that the Communist dictatorship had to be abolished otherwise there was no future,' Yeltsin told parliamentary deputies. 'As president I can state that we have done with communism once and for all in Russia.'
In a snide reference to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin said that no Soviet leaders had felt the need to bow their heads to the Hungarian martyrs, 'even during perestroika.'
Yeltsin also stressed that Hungary had beem an example in 'pragmatism and pluralism' long before the Soviet Union began to change, and he praised the calm with which Hungary has managed the transition to democracy.
The Russian president also spoke highly of Hungarian-Russian relations, calling them 'an exception to the rule' in the region. He also recalled that Antall was the first state leader to make a telephone call to him on the first day of coup in August 1991.
Earlier the Hungarian and Russian delegations agreed to drop their respective claims relating to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary in 1991.
Originally the Soviet side wanted Hungary to pay $760 million to compensate for real estate vacated by the troops. Hungary, however, insisted that the Soviets compensate for the environmental damage they caused during the 46-year occupation.
An agreement on regional security cooperation was also signed between Defense Minister Lajos Fur and his Russian counterpart, Pavel Grachev.
Hungary has offered humanitarian aid to Russia in the form of a $10 million shipment of medicine to the Russian army. It has also agreed to study ways in which it could help build new housing for the troops that have been withdrawn.
A joint declaration to protect the rights of ethnic minorities was also signed, along with a cultural agreement that outlines how Hungarian art treasures confiscated by the Soviets during World War II will be returned. In a token gesture, the Russian president Wednesday handed over two valuable 19th century paintings taken after the war.
The only outstanding stumbling block between the two countries is the $1.75 billion trade debt left after the Soviet Union collapsed.
During talks Wednesday Russia agreed to deliver military technology and spare parts worth $800 million to the Hungarian army, which is equipped with Soviet-made armaments.