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The Two Sides of Regime Change – the Hungarian Experience

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I. Symbols of a transition

For me regime change, the change of the political system, started with a fair amount of crying. I started to shed tears not because of a mass event in the streets, the declaration of the republic or because of the first free elections. I was not even eight years old at the time and my father did not let my younger sister and me go swimming. We used to go to swimming lessons with Uncle Tibi, who wore a frightening beard on his face, but he had a rare gift for teaching us youngsters to swim. I started to cry together with my sister because we liked Uncle Tibi’s classes and we did not really understand the reasons why we had to stay at home. My father said something like we had to watch history in the making on television. It was 16th June 1989. This was the day when Imre Nagy, the prime minister of the 1956 Hungarian revolution, who had been sentenced to death in a showcase trial, was reburied along with his fellows in martyrdom. Since then I have watched the sequence of events several times, and my heart sank every time at the sight of the ceremony taking place on Heroes’ Square, one of the most famous places in Budapest. The crowd was dignified, the Gallery of Art, decked in black and white, was very solemn. Well-known actors were continually reading out the names of workers, students, soldiers, and intellectuals murdered during the repressions in the aftermath of the 1956 revolution.

To make the drama of the summer of 1989 perceivable for a child as well, even more complete: János Kádár died on 6th July, the very same day when the Supreme Court officially acquitted and rehabilitated Imre Nagy, whom János Kádár had sent to the gallows. The leader of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, omnipotent for decades, had lived to see the reburial of his one-time rival. During the reburial ceremony he stood confused, deserted even by his own people, fighting with his demons. He lived to see the lie tumble as a house of cards which once served as the foundation of the whole system. According to this lie, 1956 was a counter‑revolution, our Soviet brothers actually stretched out their helping hands for which we had to be eternally grateful. Luckily, thanks to our leaders – the official explanation went on – since then we had managed to stand on our two feet and our lives had improved. Sooner or later a flat was allocated to everyone and having waited for many years we might even be lucky enough to be able to buy a Trabant or Wartburg manufactured in the Democratic Republic of Germany. Also, a summer holiday at Lake Balaton was more or less everyone’s right. We could even travel to the West – once in three years – and politics more or less left us in peace. As long as you did not criticise too loudly you could go on living your own life. That was a rough summary of the Kádárian deal.

This explanation of the world around us that defined the lives of generations was particularly dangerous because it was not entirely false. Compared to the other countries of the Bloc (but only to them!) things were not that bad in Hungary. The official propaganda did not hesitate to refer to the allegedly lazy Poles, who had critical shortages of goods during the state of emergency, to the rigid Czechoslovakian system, or to the ever darker conditions in Romania.

The Hungarian system was rightly called goulash communism, only the ingredients were rotten. The meat stunk, the vegetables were withered and the potatoes were stale. The dictatorship was founded on fundamental lies: 1956 was not a counter-revolution but a revolution, the Soviets were not helping but occupying, and contrary to all the slogans we were not allowed to live free lives, to travel freely, to start a business freely, to pray freely – all the things that for any citizen of the allegedly decadent West were commonplace. But this was not the only reason why the Hungarian goulash was going off: the Kádárist economic system, falsely presented as pleasant, was also a lie. “You pretend that you are paying us we also pretend that we are working” went the cynical saying of the Hungarian workers about the socialist “economy,” in which basically everyone was lying to everyone. Workers were lying about their work, company directors were lying about the productivity of their companies, and the state was lying just about everything. Statistics at the time of the regime change was aware of about a million of unemployed people “within the gates” whose work was essentially not needed, but they could not be laid off as in the existent socialist system unemployment was not allowed to exist. During the time of regime change there was a moment rarely mentioned, but one that still defined the subsequent years and even decades of Hungary. It was when the prime minister of the last communist government, Miklós Németh, admitted that by the end of 1989 the gross foreign debt of the state had reached 20 billion dollars. He was also forced to confess that the administration was publishing false figures about the debt as early as the middle of the 80s, fearing that they might scare away foreign investors.

So, the ideological and economic foundations of the communist system were false. The description phrased by the political scientist, István Bibó, himself a democrat who was imprisoned for participation in the events of 1956, perfectly fitted the regime. He maintained that one can occasionally lie in politics, but no system can be founded on lies forever. We might add that if one still attempts to do so, one has to pay dearly for a long time for such deception.

This is true even if we already know that without the geopolitical constellation the collapse of the dictatorship would not have taken place in Hungary nor elsewhere in the region. The Soviet Union simply collapsed under the weight of its own internal problems, its economy – except for the military industry – failed to function in almost all areas. It still might have had the strength to intervene in Central Europe, but it no longer had the will to do so. The most dangerous opposition in world history – because it threatened the deployment of nuclear weapons – ended in the Visegrád countries without a bullet being fired. In the period that followed, similarly to other countries of the region, Hungary first joined NATO and later the European Union. The most aching failure of regime change in Hungary was that despite the success of the process on a historical scale, according to every study not only do many people feel nostalgic for the “jolliest barrack,” but also a stunningly high number of citizens are dissatisfied with the performance of the post-Soviet administrations and the general support for the institutions of the democratic system of government is remarkably low. This situation is further worsened by the struggle among the elite that erupted in 1989–1990, manifesting itself in cultural-symbolic matters, and which stunned the observer by its fierce and, at the same time, hopeless nature. It looked as if Hungary in many aspects could not cope with “freedom regained” and its politicians and smaller and larger communities were unable to find common ground even on the most fundamental issues. What is the function of government in the economy? When and how should it intervene? What happened during the process of privatization? What is to happen with the education and the health systems? And in general, what happened to us in the 20th century? In what ways should we remember and think about the Trianon peace resolutions, about World War II, about the Holocaust, about 1956, or about regime change? There are so many controversial issues in which we seem to be even farther from a common ground than we were at the start of the process in 1989–1990.

Without trying to bore the reader with Hungarian internal political developments, it is my contention that the governance of Fidesz (who was given an unprecedented electoral mandate in 2010 since the change of the political system by having gained two thirds of the votes in the parliamentary elections) could be described as an attempt to solve this complex heap of Hungarian problems. The leaders of Fidesz (active student leaders during the period of transition) can be characterized by their occasionally distasteful (ab)use of power, an almost exclusive preference for voluntarism as opposed to compromise, the use of simplifications in their rhetoric wherever possible, and their tendency for arguments of the kind of the “fight of good against evil.” They understood that by 2010 the system, created with regime change, simply used up its own reserves. This was signalled not only by the forward thrust of the far-right, which by riding the waves of hopelessness and despair gained 17 per cent of the votes. The political credibility of the system of regime change was also eaten away by corruption and incompetence, which essentially ruined the social liberal government in power between 2002 and 2010. Ideological capital ran out completely because of the almost civil war-like opposition of the right and the left following the leaking of the “lie speech” given by the Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, in 2006. By that time the opposing sides could not even agree on the meaning of words and their strength was enough only to render those in power untrustworthy, but not to have a decisive victory over them. This only aggravated and intensified a very dangerous feeling, the complete lack of trust on the part of a significant segment of the Hungarian population in all sorts of institutions, specifically in the governments in power.

This kind of attitude was present already before the time of the regime change, and it was not by accident that the first freely elected prime minister, József Antall, addressed the citizens of the country when introducing the government program of 1990 by saying, “I call for the Hungarian nation from this place to get rid of the lack of trust that has been engrained in our psyche for decades, and even centuries, to regard the institutions of the country as their own, as institutions that work in their interests, in their protection and in their service.” It is not a coincidence that one of the new buildings of the European Union in Brussels bears the name of this very same prime minister who passed away in 1993. Despite all attempts to prove to the contrary, he was a man of immaculate democratic credentials, and a statesman of European calibre who understood what could poison the public and social relations, as well as the economy of the country that just recently regained its independence.

2. The lack of peaceful disagreement

In Hungary, lack of trust has roots going back farther than communism, but the four decades of dictatorship amplified this phenomenon tremendously. According to the leaders of Fidesz, who regained victory in 2010, which greatly contributed to the prevalence of this lack of trust was that during its first term the freely elected parliament was not able to complete regime change with a symbolic act of jurisdiction, the adoption of a new constitution. They believed that by such a symbolic act it would have been possible to say that “these institutions are already yours, they were set up by the authorization of the Hungarian people, therefore they will work in the service of the Hungarian people.” This lack of completion was also symbolised by the fact that in Hungary communist leaders were not held responsible in the aftermath of 1989. It is also of symbolic importance that it was not until 2013 that the district attorney charged a former minister of the interior, Béla Biszku, of war crimes and other criminal activities for the key role he played in the repressions that followed 1956. After the crushing of the revolution, the accused was a member with voting and decision-making rights of the innermost party leadership, the Provisional Executive Committee, which was the central governing and decision-making body of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and was established in early November 1956. This committee set up a special police force with the aim that in the aftermath of the revolution and war of independence it could function as an organ both securing the peace and assisting in repression, as well as acting against the civilian population. The units of this police force working under the Provisional Executive Committee, with Biszku among its ranks, opened fire with the aim of deterrence against the unarmed civilian population in several major cities and towns in Hungary, killing children and women alike. The fact that Biszku was left unharmed and unaccountable for so long also became a symbol of the unsettled nature of the past, which many ascribe to the accounts of the 1989 constitutional system.

If we want to understand why some considered the issue of the new constitution so central, we have to know that the new democratic constitution, which was accepted at the round table talks of the opposition and ratified by the last parliament of the Party State, was originally also considered temporary by the participants of the 1989 “negotiation revolution.” This was evident by the wording in the preamble to the constitution “to facilitate the peaceful transition into a rule of law that is to establish a multi-party system, parliamentary democracy, and a social market economy.” By 2010 this became a strange anachronism, not only because the first free elections had already taken place in the spring of 1990, but also because by then all the former socialist countries – with the exception of Hungary – had adopted their new constitutions. The fact that the new institutional system still remained operational for two decades is largely due to the Constitutional Court. In 2010, however, the adoption of a new constitution suddenly came within reach, which had been attempted since 1990 by all governing forces in one way or another, proving the need for correction. Voting for a new constitution between 1994 and 1998 – although the necessary parliamentary majority did exist – could never take place due to the disputes between the governing socialists and the liberals. Later, however, the plans could not materialize because of the ever deepening lack of trust among the participants of the Hungarian political scene.

According to the debatable, although strongly supported right–wing evaluation of the situation, the ambivalent nature of the regime change stemmed from the fact that in Hungary the change of the system, the transition from dictatorship to democracy, and the adoption of the new constitution did not go hand in hand. We need to know all this to be able to understand why Fidesz, obtaining on its own the majority necessary for the creation of a constitution, insisted so much in 2010–2011 on drawing up and adopting a new constitution even though the opposition parties, initially cooperating in the work of the parliamentary committee, finally withdrew from the process. Moreover, in their rhetoric they clearly equated the adoption of the constitution and, later the constitution itself, with the current political interests of the government and promised to modify it as soon as the opportunity presented itself. It is not difficult to see that the whole constitutional process, carried out by the governing party and lacking not only consensus but also parliamentary compromise, as well as the attitude of the opposition who viewed even their intentions with suspicion and “welcomed” the outcome with fierce criticism, further strengthened the ideological conflicts already present in Hungarian society, and intensified the lack of trust in institutions as well as in the constitution. Of course, it cannot be excluded that with the passage of time Hungary will also follow the model of the French Fifth Republic. The public system, hallmarked by the 1958 constitution and tailored to Charles de Gaulle, was fiercely attacked by the left and initially criticised by François Mitterand himself, who wrote a book about it entitled “Le coup d’état permanent.” However, upon coming to power in 1981, Mitterand took advantage, perhaps even more than his president-predecessor, of its framework, which provided almost unprecedented power in Western democracies for a head of government in a “republican monarchy.” It is possible that such a scenario may evolve in Hungary because, despite the contradictory government and opposition rhetoric, the new constitution is 80 per cent similar to the old one. This is to say that even the current governmental majority, which proclaimed a complete new beginning, did not distance itself from the main directions of the governmental system and the division of power. Its amendments were, primarily, ideological in nature, or can be traced back to the practice of the Constitutional Court during the past two decades: It could also be considered as an attempt to level out the unevenness of the previous constitution. Still, in case of a political turn to the left, chances are very slim for reasonableness, which can only partially be explained by the politics of power of the right. We are probably talking about something much deeper here. As the English conservative philosopher, Roger Scruton, who often visits Hungary, recently perspicaciously noted: “People here somehow seem to be incapable of peaceful disagreement.” What a precise formulation!

Keeping a distance and reflecting upon ourselves and our environment is probably more important and necessary in Hungarian public life than anywhere else. Public life is ruled on a daily basis by decade-long grievances, unforgivable personal animosities, unfortunate half-sentences uttered 15 years ago that are used as reference points, as well as taboos and excommunications that make rational debates impossible. Whereas if we allowed for the contrasting of interests, the emergence of a multitude of opinions, heated debates or – God forbid – even a negative campaign that would by no means spell the end of democracy or a national tragedy. Hungarian public life, despite all rumours to the contrary, is no more evil than the French, German – or let us be more modest – the Slovak, Polish or the Romanian one. My biggest cause for concern is that empathy disappeared from decisive segments of the Hungarian public in relation to different opinions, perspectives, and even narratives. We seem to have an inability to place ourselves into other people’s frames of mind, to understand the motives of the ones standing against us, and to accept the validity of experiences that are fundamentally different from ours. Although our politicians have undoubtedly played their parts in the development of the current situation, only the smaller part of the responsibility can be ascribed to them. Although it may feel good for many to divide the nation into a corrupt and irresponsible political elite that is busy digging trenches and stirring up hatred on the one hand, and unfortunate, deceived voters and citizens yearning for peace on the other, I believe it is a highly misleading attitude. The Hungarian political elite are neither better nor worse than the country they come from. If you like, our representatives and party leaders are reflections of our society. They are like Hungarian football, Hungarian gastronomy or the Hungarian traffic culture. Yes, our politicians throw mud, they are petty and egotistical but do we, citizens, workers of the press, push them in the direction of a different kind of attitude? Despite the continual bashing of politics and the state, in Hungary everyone expects everything from the state: the director making films that nobody cares about as well as the pensioner criticising the local store operated by the local government. Internal conflicts among intellectuals evolve into battles of big politics because the party logo functions as an excellent way of distinguishing between friend and foe, and with a bit of luck, it may also secure us favours, membership on a board of trustees, or may bring us business orders for our enterprise.

This sort of behaviour makes it impossible to conduct constructive debates about the directions of the economy or of foreign policy, as well as about the evaluation of our past. This almost constant phenomenon since the regime change destroys not only the morale of the country, but its competitiveness as well. In Hungary, the majority of those with strong political preferences perceive taking account of or understanding anything that differs from the line – or the perceived line – of their favourite party as a betrayal. This attitude is obvious if one watches the call-in programmes of any television channel, and listens to the arguments of the callers that are ripe with hatred. Hungarian public life and the Hungarian public per se tend to think in a weird winner–loser frame of mind. According to this perception, acknowledging or accepting any comment phrased “on the other side,” however legitimate it may be, weakens the camp of one’s own and its chances at elections. One may accept this way of thinking from a politician, but much less from rational people considering themselves intellectuals.

3. The economic transition and its social implications

One of the longest lasting impacts of regime change from an economic point of view is that while the relatively low, but at least equal, standard of living of Kádárism disappeared, considerable differences of wealth emerged in Hungarian society which came to tolerate them with increasing difficulty. In the first few years following the regime change of 1989–1990, one million jobs disappeared and a stunningly large number of people (typically miners and workers of former state factories representing heavy industries that produced hazardous, but still not competitive products) fled to various kinds of social programs. According to astonishing data, while the number of unemployed in 1990 hardly exceeded 20,000, in 1993 it was almost 700,000. Although this number dropped during the following years, one may imagine the tensions created in Hungarian society by the thirty-fold increase in unemployment.

Moreover, for a segment of the middle class to stay afloat and not hit rock bottom came to be an everyday experience. However, with the passage of time, this became a frustrating experience for an increasingly wider section of the society. It was not only their own lives that took an unwelcome turn, they also had to realise that despite all their efforts, their children were also unlikely to fare any better.

This situation inevitably led to major frustration and was coupled by another kind of dissatisfaction that had political consequences. Similarly to other former socialist countries, Hungary also had to face a clear contradiction in 1989–1990. As described by the co-authors Tamás Kolosi and Ákos Róna Tas, the logic of the political regime change necessitated an extensive change of elite. However, because of the change of the economic system, the importance of market automatisms increased, which, in turn, favoured the previous elite in their retention of power. The political right which formed the first government of the regime change had to face a strange dilemma in 1990: to the extent that they insisted on the change of the elite, to the same extent they hampered the economic regime change as well as the expansion of market conditions, and vice versa. The stronger the power of privatization and market automatisms became, the more likely the economic elite of the previous system was to be successful amidst the new conditions as well.

Only a strong middle class could have been able to come to terms with this contradiction and the tensions stemming from it. A middle class, however, evolved only partially due to the reasons described above. The process of transition of positions by the previous elite led to the phenomenon called “clotted structures” by sociologist Gyula Tellér. This scenario took place not only in the economy but also elsewhere starting from government offices, to trade unions, and security services. Although it was impossible not to recognise the aspiration for positions in the criticism on the part of the political right, in general, this sort of power-transition still deteriorated the chances for the establishment of democratic pluralism, as well as a real parliamentary rotation system. The social historian, Tibor Valuch, stated that in approximately half a decade following regime change and amid increasingly market-type conditions, the role of education, professional skills and expertise, especially convertible knowledge, came to be more highly appreciated. The value of symbolic capital such as relationships, creativity, entrepreneurship and adaptability significantly increased during the social position-transfer. Despite all strategies to the contrary, the increase in disparity of income and wealth was constant and of an accelerating rate ever since the beginning of the 90s. A highly numerous stratum of entrepreneurs, large and small, developed rapidly. In 1997 in every 10 Hungarian households there was one entrepreneur. The number of individual and corporate business people exceeded one million, however, every third one was a member of an enterprise that did not carry out any real activities. This means that there was no direct correlation between the entrepreneurial spirit, self-care, risk-taking and competition that was so much desired and the seemingly large number of entrepreneurs. These processes, taking place in the labour force and the economy, struck the Roma segment of Hungarian society much harder than the general population. Although their partial modernization and integration did take place during socialism, it mostly happened by way of sweeping the problems under the carpet. The Roma workers of low educational background were absorbed by the Hungarian industry as simple labourers, but no further efforts were made at their real integration and education. It was even considered a taboo to discuss their situation. According to studies, during the period following regime change, approximately 70 per cent of Roma heads of households were poor, and this figure in essence has not changed ever since.

When analysing the process of disillusionment we must mention the following: parallel with the economic changes, in effect – using the jargon of journalism – the big story was gone. The dream, although not worked out in all its details but shared universally, dissipated. But what was it all about? Hungary from the beginning of the 90s posed in the role of the “top student.” Building on its previous relative openness it actually carried out everything that foreign advisors recommended or that was useful for foreign enterprises. Among these were many things necessary for the setting up of a market economy, just like a significant part of foreign businesses also contributed to the creation of the new economic system by bringing useful technological expertise and capital to the country. Other companies, however, without even concealing it, were only interested in buying a market in Hungary and acquired the companies, offered at very reduced prices, but otherwise requiring only minimal investment to make them competitive (for example in the food industry, which was profitable even during the dictatorship) only to phase them out in order to make way for their own products and services. With time this economic policy concentrating only on liberalization, deregulation, and privatization – that is exclusively on things that attract capital – caused major social disillusionment and frustration and was less and less capable of mobilizing imagination and setting up new goals.

Not to mention that there was something disturbing in the compliments for being a good student that the first post-regime change governments received from international financial organizations or Western governments. This sort of mentality considered it just natural that the nature of the relationship could be perceived exclusively in the dissymmetrical system of relations between “teachers” (developed countries and international organizations) and “students” (Hungary and the other countries of Central Europe). The representatives of this attitude, initially quite gracious, with time watched with a certain degree of impatience that the “students” were not progressing fast enough with their “homework” and were still not living – and even more annoying – still not thinking the way it was accepted in the West. This sort of attitude simply did not take account of the burdened legacy of communism or of the even deeper historical, economic, and social determining factors. In Hungary, in the first decade after regime change – except for a few marginal and feeble attempts – it was not even conceivable that there might be a different narrative other than the fast process doing away with the state and that in certain cases there is a clear need for a more decisive representation of our national interests. Neither left nor right posed basic questions: the right out of gratitude for winning over oppressive communism and the left for fear of losing its “reformist” legitimacy in the eyes of the West, as well as losing and the social capital that it acquired still as a State party and in its immediate aftermath during the 80s.

As stated by the political scientist of the left, Balázs Böcskei, owing to its deficits of origin, the post-party left governing the country between 1994–1998 and 2002–2010 (pre-party: CMEA, post-party: European Economic Community) wished so much to be compatible with Europe that because of its aspirations to adopt to European patterns it was unable to offer contemporary, let alone left-wing answers for current social conflicts. They managed society (or at least they tried) but did not analyze it. This situation could best be described by the term cognitive dissonance: the country was not perceived in the framework of a world order but instead it was suggested that it was enough to follow European patterns and the country would prosper automatically. This approach does not take note of the fact that European politics itself is also the scene of power games therefore it can be characterized by a lack of balance, uncertainty and a geographical market-based division of labour. Roger Scruton’s criticism of Europe is also received by the technocratic practice of force and inertia: “If a problem pops up we solve it by way of a regulation. However, the solution of one problem leads to another one but that one – just because it belongs to a different part of the machinery or because it is engrained in the future – it is overlooked by the machinery of jurisdiction. What makes things worse, nothing can be reversed that has already been approved by the plan. Under such circumstances, with determining factors of foreign and domestic politics there was not even a chance to discuss, let alone, reach a consensus between right and left in issues of fundamental importance. These issues include: Can the state really be only a bad proprietor? What consequences can the swift liberalization of strategic fields such as the energy sector have? Why is it a taboo to bring up the issue of confining the economic power dominance that stifles the layers of small enterprises and “family capitalism”? This economic power dominance could be controlled by setting up institutions that keep a functioning free market capitalism in check and – where needed – establishing balance between the state and the market, which has been functioning well in most Western countries since the end of World War II or even earlier.

Hungarian society was in a sense chasing a mirage, a fata morgana, the well–known fixture of the Hungarian puszta. When the dream – so widely shared around the time of regime change in Hungary concerning a quick catch-up with the West (by this Hungarians meant catching up with the standard of living of the Austrians with whom they used to live together in a common empire and who also functioned as an eternal reference point for Hungarians) – dissipated, people switched to hope that the accession to the European Union would bring about this brave new world. Then on 2 May 2004 Canaan still did not come and politicians did not do much to help a more realistic evaluation of the situation. It is enough to mention only one renowned item of the billboard campaign of the government about European accession which portrayed one of the privileges of EU membership by suggesting that the one-time Hungarian citizen could also open a coffee house in Vienna. In reality, though, this ideal is much farther from the actual reality of Hungarians than the Hungarian capital is from the Austrian one. After joining the European Union we started to hope that having warmed up a little bit and learned the rules, we would finally be able to catch up with the so much desired object of our dreams – the West. The remnants of this illusion were smashed to pieces by the crisis that started at the end of 2008 and since then we are not even sure what the “Western model” is all about. Is it something epitomized by Germany, France, England, or Scandinavia? Unfortunately, the years of daydreaming were spent in the worst possible way. Just to top off our woes, blinded by the glow of shop windows that we yearned for, we were busy not with the values that the European Union was founded and grew big on (the establishment of clear relations, accumulation of wealth by way of hard work, selfdiscipline, moderation, investments and planning) but above all we wanted to join the happy ranks of consumers. Since we stretched ourselves more than our blankets would have allowed us to do we were forced to apply for loans. From the beginning of the year 2000, the Hungarian state was taking out loans to finance investments and their operations, local governments were applying for credit, aimed at developments, and citizens also became indebted because of their pursuit of products of consumer society. It all amounted to absurd political irresponsibility. This led to a situation when the socialist-liberal government, handing out portions of the budget in the hope of winning the elections of 2006, worked up the budget deficit to 9.2 per cent, a world record at the time. The end result came to be a lethal cocktail: large state debt and budget deficit, indebtedness of both local governments and citizens, which are outstanding even in a European comparison, coupled with weak growth. So by now it is understandable why Hungary was the first country to resort to the IMF for help in the fall of 2008, and why Budapest is known in the news primarily for the tools it tries to use in fighting state debt, budget deficit, and indebtedness.

During the five years since the outbreak of the economic crisis, the social– economic heap of problems came back to haunt us with overwhelming force. We have been carrying all the problems described above ever since the time of regime change although they were somewhat masked by the “top student” success stories of the 90s and the early 2000s. The economic hardships were amplified by the near pathological nature of the conflicts of Hungarian public life that was further worsened by the fundamentally differing assessments of the Hungarian past of the 20th century, a century bringing tragedies one after the other. (For some time, the right has been defining itself against the economic and intellectual mainstream as the preserver of values seemingly abandoned by the West, such as nation, work, family, faith, merit, effort, and enterprise.)

It would undoubtedly be beneficial for the economic performance of the country as well if this state of warlike preparedness subdued so that at the time of the 25th anniversary of regime change at least in a few key issues we would not need to conduct polemics in Hungary.


Bálint Ablonczy. Born in 1981. He graduated as a historian at ELTE Faculty of Humanities in Budapest. As a scholarship-holder he studied in France at University of Marne la Vallée, and also took a degree in modern history at Matthias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest. He has been writing a diary since the age of 18. He has been working for the influential weekly Heti Válasz since 2005, and he is also a regular participant in TV and radio programmes analysing the current Hungarian political scene. Balint Ablonczy is also the executive editor of the bi-monthly cultural review Kommentár. Currently, he is the domestic affairs editor of Heti Válasz. In 2010, he was awarded the Junior Prima prize in the media category.


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This article has been published in the third issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies dedicated to the consequences and commemorations of 1989 in Central Europe .

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