Hungary:  history

Hungary 1968-Today
Janos Kadar introduced the New Economic Mechanism (NEM) to Hungary in 1968, ten years after he had been installed in place of Imre
Nagy, and roughly the same time as Alexander Dubcek was attempting to "put a human face" on Communism.  In those ten years Kadar
went about a vicious and thorough "Normalization" process.  This process came on the heels of a mass migration of Hungarians (over 200,000)
to Austria before a barbed wire wall was imposed.  Kadar's government arrested strike leaders and freedom fighters; eventually over 10,000
Hungarians were jailed.  After Khruschev's speech at the 22nd Party Congress declaring the end of the Stalinist cult of personality, Kadar
declared a general amnesty, releasing these jailed Hungarians. 

In this new and strange climate in Hungary theNEM attempted to be a consumer based approach to communism that allowed for private
shops selling western goods, a relaxing of heavy industrial production and a relaxing of some workers' requirements.  This brand of
Communism came to be known as Goulash Communism; it was a Hungarian creation distinct from the Soviet style of Communism (Borscht
Communism, if one keeps with the soup imagery), but it also kept Hungarian's bellies full (of Goulash presumably).  Under the NEM
self management was granted to collective farms, worker's were allowed greater control of the industries they worked in, consumer goods
were imported and Hungarians were allowed to develop their own private enterprises.

Janos Kadar, pointing upwards (http://www.main.cz/madarsko/Osobnosti/kadar.htm)
Hungary 1989

By the 1980s Goulash Communism took on the taste any meal does after a certain number of decades.  Not all Hungarians
(i.e. the working-class) could participate in the New Economic Mechanism and the easing of duties on heavy industrial
workers only decreased their purchasing power.  Joseph Rotschild describes the toll that Goulash Communism, and the Second
Economy were beginning to take as one that was excruciating on the nation's people, “the second economy was wrenched by
enormous and unhealthy self-exploitation, as its denizens increasingly yoked themselves to hideously long workdays at several jobs
in pursuit of high-consumption lifestyles.” (Rotschild, p.251-252).  While the NEM had in deed fallen short, a second private economy
had taken root; home repair, auto repairs, private restaurants all represented a reemergence of a conventional civil society.

Along the lines of a civil society, Hungarian intelligentsia began to develop a public opposition movement in the early 1970s.
The philosophical or Western liberals were concerned, like the Charter '77 Movement in Czechoslovakia, over the implementation
and support of human rights in these Communist Bloc nations.  By the 1980s these debates were being publicly printed, and
journals like Samizdat, while not read on popular levels, was receiving elite attention.  In addition to these philosophically oriented
opposition liberal movement, Hungarian nationalists  were reemerging since the initial crackdowns after Kadar's installation in 1956.
Finally, Communist reforms in Hungary like Imry Pozgay  wanted to create a synthesis between these reforms and the Communist
party within the Communist party.  While Pozgay never came to power,  future reformed Communists like Peter Medgyessey and
Gyula Horn have continued this legacy somewhat in the form of a reformed Hungarian Socialist Party with roots in the Hungarian
Communist Party.

Kadar himself was aging, and in 1988 with an entirely different world taking shape from the one he had come to power in after the 1956 revolt,
the Committee for Historical Justice was established.  The committee was granted the right to rebury their fallen heroes from 1956 especially Imre
Nagy.  On June 16,1989 the reburial took place, broadcast on Hungarian television.  All sides attended the burial to claim political credit
and tack their legitimacy to that of Nagy (who was, lest we forget, still a Communist).  Kadar though was conspicuously absent, Timothy Garton
Ash summed up the Shakespearean quality to the reburial of Nagy at the end of Kadar’s life, “Although the West sung his praises, and
the world had long forgotten that ancient history, Kadar remembered.  He was Macbeth, and Nagy his Banquo,” (Ash, The Green Lantern, p.48).
Secondly,  in 1989 the Hungarian government took down the barbed wire fence bordering Austria and allowed vacationing East Germans in Hungary
the ability to freely move to Austria, allowing East Germans their first breath of freedom since the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

Nagy’s reburial was the beginning of a  reawakening in Hungary, and the Hungarian Communist Party began to devolve, and in its place a
number of small parties coalesced, parties that had never completely gone away since 1956, groups that had stayed alive through the New
Economic Mechanism and now were formed into cohesive parties.  "Reform, initiated by the party itself, had turned into revolution, and
without bloodshed," wrote R.R. Palmer (Paler and Colton, p.1021), and indeed the transformation to democracy and away from totalitarianism
was largely successful in 1989 Hungary.  The Young Democrat Party led by (the still young today) Viktor Orban went to great ends to revive
Hungarian nationalism (much as Orban did as Prime Minister in the late 1990s), but its mainstream appeal has always been debatable.  The
Hungarian Democratic Forum  won the first free elections in Post-War Hungary and established a moderate-right government.  Josef Antall,
son of a chief Resistance family during World War II (the Israeli government named Antall’s father a “Righteous Gentile” for his work to save
Hungarian Jews) became Prime Minister (Rotschild, p. 244).
 

Peter Medgyessey, Hungary's new Prime Minister, presumably voting for himself on election day. (BBC News).

Hungary 2002

Hungary's Post Cold War progress has been fairly successful.  Its political parties have been in government in alternating secession,
and the transitions have always been orderly.  The Hungarian Communist party reformed itself, becoming a viable Social Democratic
party, winning national elections and enacting difficult economic reforms in order to gain credibility towards more European integration.
In deed the Social Democrats today represent the technocratic element of Hungarian politics while the rightist parties are the one's
advocating nationalist themes.  While Hungary's rightist and nationalist elements have made claims of support for Hungarians in neighboring
counties these speeches are rarely taken seriously and the political mainstream has commendably advanced honest reforms to prepare
Hungary for NATO and European Union membership (they were admitted into NATO in 1999 and should soon be admitted into the EU).
However the Orban government shortly before elections in Hungary proposed funding Hungarian language education abroad, something
neighboring countries who remember Hungarian revanchism did not look favorably on.  However, earlier this year Peter Medgyessey's
Hungarian Socialist Party defeated Victor Orban's Fidesz (Young Democrats) Party in national elections, placing Medgyessey as Prime
Minister.  The race was a close vote and while many worried about whether Orban would follow in the style of his political protégés Silvio
Burlesconni and Joerg Haider and make overtures to some unsavory Hungarian elements, these fears never came to fruition.
Medgyessey has come under some fire for workig for the Secret Police in Hungary during the late 1960s, however these criticisms have not
forced any changes within his government and he seems to have weathered the storm.  While persistent problems in its treatment of Roma
and Sinti populations within its borders, these problems are not unique to Hungary and Hungarians like George Soros have called attention to
this plight in recent years.  Perhaps because of its historically sublimated nationalist desires, Hungary has been able to rather successfully make
the transition to true independence rather well.
 

Home              HistoryHome              History Chapter One              History Chapter Two