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Hungary Modern History

In communist-controlled Hungary, a people revolt erupted in 1956, but it was defeated by the Soviet military and followed by a harsh and Moscow regime. Many fled the country, but gradually the demands for reform grew. Since Hungary abolished the Communist Empire in 1989 and became a multi-party democracy, the country has been characterized by strong tensions between socialists, with roots in communism, and liberal and conservative forces.

In a relatively free and democratic parliamentary election in the fall of 1945, the bourgeois Smallholder Party prevailed, but was pressured by the Soviet occupation power to form a unifying government with the three other major parties elected in parliament: the Social Democrats, the Communists and the National Peasant Party. Over the next few years, the Communists strengthened their position and took full control of Parliament in the June 1949 elections. Two months later, a new constitution was adopted which transformed Hungary into a communist one-party state with state-governed, centralized economy. The country was brought under Moscow's control in the newly formed Soviet bloc and in 1955 became a member of the defense cooperation in the Warsaw Pact.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Hungary. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Under the leadership of Stalinist Mátyás Rákosi, the Communist Party pushed hard politics against dissent, with arrests and labor camps. After merging with the Social Democrats in 1948, the party was renamed the Hungarian Workers' Party (MDP). After the death of Soviet leader Josef Stalin in 1953, Rákosi was replaced as head of government by reformist Communist Imre Nagy and the repression was alleviated. Rákosi, however, retained control of the party leadership and got Nagy dismissed in 1955. The following year, when the Soviet Union's new leader Nikita Khrushchev officially withdrew from Stalin's policy, Rákosi himself had to resign. There was hope for more democratic development, and students and other opposites demanded Nagy again. On October 23, 1956, a spontaneous uprising broke out in Budapest and spread rapidly across the country.

The People's Rescue is knocked down in 1956

Contemporary History of HungaryNagy returned as prime minister, abolished the one-party system and promised free elections. But when he also announced a neutral foreign policy and exit from the Warsaw Pact, Moscow struck. On November 4, 1956, Soviet forces moved into Budapest and deposed Nagy. After several days of hard fighting, the resistance of the Hungarians was crushed. Of 20,000 arrested insurgents, 2,000 were executed. János Kádár, a member of Nagy's coalition government and just taking over as Communist Party leader, formed a new, Moscow-based government. Nagy was allowed free by Kádár but was seized by Soviet troops and hanged in 1958. Kádár now ruled with an iron hand. Non-Communist parties and groups were dissolved and dissenters were persecuted. Around 200,000 Hungarians fled the country in the years following the uprising.

A liberalization began in 1961 and many dissidents were granted amnesty. Hoping that higher living standards would reduce Hungarians' dissatisfaction, Kádár tried to lighten the planning economy with cautious market economy reforms. The Communist Party, reorganized in 1956 by the circle of Nagy and renamed the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party (MSzMP), retained its power monopoly but gave organizations, corporations and state and municipal bodies some autonomy. The public debate was also more open than in other eastern states.

Demands on democracy

In the 1970s, however, the economy began to stagnate and opposition to the regime intensified. The economic crisis of the 1980s and the upheavals of the Soviet Union contributed to an increasing demand for democratic reforms. In September 1987, the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) was formed and in the spring thereafter the student movement Youth Democrats (Fidesz) and a network for independent groups. It was the beginning of a free party system in Hungary. Demands for political pluralism were also raised within the Communist Party. In May 1988, Kádár was appointed party leader and succeeded by Károly Grósz. Many younger reform-minded communists replaced the "cadars" of the Central Committee and the Politburo. Censorship was abolished, strikes and demonstrations allowed. In early 1989, the Communist Party advocated a transition to multi-party systems, at the same time as a party inquiry concluded that the 1956 revolt had been a genuine uprising and no counter-revolutionary uprising. Imre Nagy was reinstated and honored in June with a new funeral ceremony that gathered over a quarter of a million people. In the summer, Hungary opened its borders to East Germans on the way west and thereby helped to demolish the iron curtain. Shortly thereafter, the Communist Party began to negotiate with the opposition. In the autumn of 1989, Parliament adopted a series of legislative proposals on Hungary's transformation into democracy with multi-party systems. From October 23, 1989, Hungary was no longer a socialist people's republic. In the summer, Hungary opened its borders to East Germans on the way west and thereby helped to demolish the iron curtain. Shortly thereafter, the Communist Party began to negotiate with the opposition. In the autumn of 1989, Parliament adopted a series of legislative proposals on Hungary's transformation into democracy with multi-party systems. From October 23, 1989, Hungary was no longer a socialist people's republic. In the summer, Hungary opened its borders to East Germans on the way west and thereby helped to demolish the iron curtain. Shortly thereafter, the Communist Party began to negotiate with the opposition. In the autumn of 1989, Parliament adopted a series of legislative proposals on Hungary's transformation into democracy with multi-party systems. From October 23, 1989, Hungary was no longer a socialist people's republic.

The Communist Party, now deeply divided over democratization, was split at its congress in October 1989. The reform supporters formed the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), while a smaller and more purely communist faction retained the old party name.

In Hungary's first free parliamentary elections in the spring of 1990, bourgeois MDF became the largest party. A government was formed by the MDF, the Smallholder Party and a small Christian Democratic party. MDF leader József Antall became prime minister.

In 1993, the Socialist Party's popularity grew, partly as a result of the internal divisions of the ruling parties. In the 1994 parliamentary elections, the Socialist Party, which won its own majority in parliament, nevertheless chose to form a government with the Liberal Peace Democratic Alliance (SZDSZ). In this way, it was hoped to broaden the support for the deficit policy that was deemed necessary to reduce the budget deficit and attract investors to the country. In June 1994, the new government joined with Socialist leader Gyula Horn as prime minister.

"Black Sunday" 1995

On March 12, 1995 - later referred to as "Black Sunday" - the government proposed drastic cuts in welfare, redundancies in the public sector, tax increases and currency devaluation, the forint. The savings faced harsh domestic criticism and mass demonstrations. After a couple of years, the economy began to recover and the government parties hoped it would give them wind of the sails ahead of the 1998 elections. But the hopes were shameful; The Socialist Party lost more than a quarter of its mandate and the Peace Democrats lost over half. The winner of the election instead became the right-wing party Fidesz.

The leader of Fidesz, Viktor Orbán, formed government with the MDF and the Small Farmers Party. The government soon faced a delicate situation in connection with NATO's bombings in Serbia in 1999, which began shortly after Hungary became a member of the defense alliance. Although the air strikes also affected the large Hungarian minority in Vojvodina, the part of Serbia bordering Hungary, the Budapest government had to support the campaign.

EU membership 2004

After the parliamentary elections in the spring of 2002, the Socialist Party formed a government together with the Peace Democratic Alliance. They had a scarce majority, nine mandates more than the right alliance between Fidesz and MDF. The politically independent former banker and finance minister Péter Medgyessy became prime minister. It was an important priority to speed up ongoing EU membership negotiations and already at the end of the same year Hungary got EU sign-up to become a member in 2004. However, as several times before, Hungary was invited to stop discrimination against the Roma minority and to get covert with the large budget deficit. In a referendum on EU membership in the spring of 2003, the Yes side won 84 percent of the vote.

After a government crisis in the same year, Medgyessy resigned and was succeeded by Ferenc Gyurcsány, a former member of the old Communist Party Youth League who created a fortune in the privatization of state property and real estate deals.

Violent protests in 2006

The parliamentary elections in April 2006 became the first since the fall of communism when a government could remain in a second term. The coalition with the Socialist Party and the Peace Democrats took 210 seats against 175 for the opposition. Gyurcsány gained renewed confidence as prime minister. But his popularity dwindled when it was discovered that his government had lied about the economic situation before the election in order to retain power. The government had promised tax cuts, but in fact planned tax increases and cuts in government spending. In Budapest, violent protests erupted against the government and against the planned austerity measures. Fidesz party leader Viktor Orbán demanded Gyurcsany's departure. Kravall police were deployed, but protests continued during the fall. High gasoline prices and more expensive transport contributed to dissatisfaction.

A commission of inquiry found that the police used violence against protesters and that both government and opposition blamed the chaos on the streets. The Minister of Justice, the Chief of Police and Budapest's Chief of Police resigned.

The fees in health care were challenged in a referendum in the spring of 2008, propelled by the opposition. Four-fifths voted against the charges and the government was forced to withdraw them. The conflict over health care policy caused the Peace Democrats to leave the government, and the Socialist Party continued to govern on its own.

Financial crisis

In the autumn of 2008, the global financial crisis hit hard on Hungary. The value of the forint fell, and the government was forced to borrow € 20 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the EU and the World Bank. This meant strict conditions for reducing the budget deficit. The government was pressured to tighten up more, at the same time as resistance at home grew against cuts in the welfare system. In April 2009, Gyurcsány resigned.

Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai has been appointed as Prime Minister. He announced new austerity measures, including freezing of public wages, and tax increases, which were met by new demonstrations in Budapest.

By the time of the 2010 parliamentary elections, the economy had begun to recover. But the population did not forget the unpopular cuts and more than half of the voters joined Fidesz in the election. Party leader Viktor Orbán promised to stimulate growth and create one million jobs in ten years. Fidesz received 262 of 386 seats, against 59 for the Socialist Party. The right-wing extremist and racist Jobbik took his seat in Parliament for the first time with 47 seats. A government with Fidesz and its alliance partners the right-wing party KDNP was formed under the leadership of Orbán. The government parties controlled two-thirds of the parliament, which meant that they could, by their own power, change the constitution of the country.

The great election successes in 2010 for Fidesz and Jobbik testified to strong nationalist trends in Hungary with increasingly open anti-Semitic outcomes and rising violence against Roma.

New constitution is introduced

At the New Year 2010/2011, Hungary took over the EU Presidency. In the middle of the presidency, Parliament adopted a new constitution that was considered, in many respects, contrary to basic democratic norms. Opposition and the outside world came warnings of reduced independence for the central bank, media governance, limited religious freedom, unfair electoral system, reduced legal security, politicized state administration and social discrimination. When the Constitution came into force in January 2012, major protests were held in the streets of Budapest by opposition and activists.

Prime Minister Orbán's emphasis on Hungarian identity and self-sufficiency in combination with aggressive rhetoric against the EU and the international banking system has won favor among many Hungarians.

With the help of the large majority in Parliament, the government parties were able to implement constitutional amendments that transformed Hungary's political, economic and social system from the ground up. From the outset, there was an ambition behind the transformation of society with Hungary's communist past and the elitist networks that remained influential even in the first decade of the 21st century. But the result, according to the critics, was that Fidesz created a similar system characterized by corruption.

Despite criticism from the EU and the outside world, in March 2013 Parliament voted for new controversial changes to the Constitution, including the Constitutional Court's influence on legislation (see Political system). The opposition boycotted the vote.

 
 

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