Books on Hungary
Update No: 124 - (28/09/07)
A troubled history
The Hungarians remember the events of 1956 well, even if too young to have
personal recollections of them. It is not generally recognised in the West how
bitter and violent was the fighting, in which thousands were killed. Thousands
were afterwards imprisoned and for years. It was a much more brutal affair than
the repression of the Prague Spring in 1968, sinister though that was.
Janos Kadar, the leader of the Hungarian Communist Party, who had backed the
uprising initially, turned against it when the Soviet tanks moved in, an event
that saved the day for the communists for a few more decades, but spelt the
intellectual bankruptcy of the system. He had Imre Nagy, its leader, executed,
even though Khrushchev did not request it. He mutated again into becoming a
reformer, initiating a new economic policy, tolerating private business, which
in effect admitted that capitalism was superior to socialism.
Hungarians also recall what happened in 1848, It had been the Russians who meted
out repression then too, albeit Tsarist forces rather than Soviet ones. As far
as Central Europe is concerned Russia means trouble, nowhere more so than in
Poland and Hungary.
The Hungarian Social Democrats stand out
It is doubtless for this reason that the Hungarian Social Democrats, the heirs
to the communists, are refusing to join with other social democrats in Central
and Eastern Europe in denouncing the new anti-missile defences that the US is
planning for Poland and the Czech Republic. Ostensibly they are aimed at Iran
and North Korea. But everybody in that part of the world assumes that Russia is
the real opponent.
That is fine for nearly all Hungarians, even ex-communist ones. They never want
to be dictated to by Moscow ever again.
In January, the United States asked the Czech Republic and Poland to station an
X-band radar and 10 interceptor missiles respectively for its missile shield,
that the US says is designed to protect against so called rogue states such as
Iran. The countries entered into bilateral talks despite the project's lukewarm
reception across Europe and Russia's outright hostility to it.
The Central European Social Democratic politicians, in Austria, Poland,
Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, agreed in their statement that the
deployment "has sparked tensions between the US and Russia" and
"there is a threat of a new arms race."
They also demanded that a debate on the project be held at European Union level.
"It is not possible that we sidetrack ... the idea of common European
security," said Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. "And it will be
very bad if Europe is divided on this issue as it had been in Iraq's case."
However, Hungarian Socialists, also present at the regional Social Democratic
gathering, refrained from signing the statement. The party's Deputy Chairman,
Hungarian Defence Minister Imre Szekeres, said that Europe must defend itself
from threats. "If we do it in NATO or individual members of the alliance
decide on cooperating in this area we recognize their right to do so," he
Gyurscany on the sidelines
Premier Gyurscany is non-commital about the matter. He is thankful for the
Carpathian mountains that make the issue largely irrelevant for Hungary. Who
seriously imagines that the Russians want to start lobbing missiles into Central
Gyurscany has plenty enough on his plate at home, where things are not going too
well. His Social Democrats were returned last year, but after a mendacious
campaign that he owned up to at the subsequent party conference: "We lied
morning, noon and night."
It is difficult to imagine any Western leader getting away with it. But Hungary
is not yet a full-fledged democracy, in which hypocrisy reaches truly refined
forms. For who believes any politician to be entirely truthful all the time,
except the losers.
Gyurscany the saviour?
The Hungarians are expecting Gyurscany to clear up the mess created by the
previous Social-Democratic administration, which allowed the budget deficit to
soar to nearly 10% of GDP. He is reining in the public finances, with
belt-tightening all round.
He has a good deal of business acumen to judge from his record. He made a pile
out of being leader of the Young Communists under Kadar by selling off state
assets to himself for a song and then converting them into well-run hotels at
Lake Balaton and in the mountains. He may be a rogue and a compound cheat, but
he is a clever one, who is also a genuine patriot. The Hungarians feel that they
could do worse than let him get on with it.
But the opposition party, Fidesz, is surely well-poised to win the mantle next