The Antall government of Hungary, 1990-1993

A couple of days ago I mentioned a book I had read at the time of its publication in 1993. If I recall, I received it as a gift from relatives when I visited Hungary in December of that year. I’m sure that they gave it to me "to open my eyes" about the real nature of the government of József Antall. The author is Kata Beke, a high school teacher and author, and the title of her book is Jézusmária, győztünk! [God help us, we won!]. Kata Beke was one of the founders of Magyar Demokrata Fórum [MDF], and the only thing that remained with me over the years about her and the book was that "she sure didn’t like József Antall." Most likely I didn’t understand half of the book because I lacked the necessary background. I didn’t know the cast of characters. Anyway, I decided to reread it. It was worth my time.

Beke’s political career in the MDF was short-lived. She spent about a year in the MDF caucus as a member of parliament, after which she decided to leave the caucus and sit with the growing number of independent members. She lasted about four months as undersecretary in the ministry of education: she claims that the minister, Bertalan Andrásfalvy, also a museum director like Antall, was totally unfit for the post. The ministry was actually run by a certain István Timkó, a busybody, also ignorant of the problems of Hungarian education.

After rereading the book one has the distinct feeling that Kata Beke was in the wrong party. Although at the beginning she admired the writers-poets who helped the MDF come into being, soon enough she found them unfit to play any role in politics. She has some harsh words to say about Sándor Csoóri, who made an awful mess at the World Federation of Hungarians (which in my opinion should have been abolished because after all it was created by the Kádár regime to serve as a propaganda tool), and even harsher words about István Csurka when she discovered that Csurka was an antisemite and that his ideas bore a suspicious resemblance to the Hungarian variant of national socialism.

She criticizes Antall for his arrogance and haughtiness. She is certain that Antall basically looked down on ordinary folks. Beke’s other complaint, shared by the majority of Hungarians at the time, was that Antall, because of his family background, tried to continue politics where his own father, József Antall, Sr., a smallholder, left off before the communist takeover. As Beke says: "As if he didn’t live in this country most of his life." She thinks that the growing anticommunist rhetoric was actually damaging to the MDF and to the country. She criticizes Antall for his decision to turn to the Smallholders when the necessity of a coalition government surfaced. If I understand it correctly, Beke thinks that a grand coalition with the SZDSZ or a coalition with the Fidesz would have been preferable. One thing is sure: the smallholder ministers were even worse than the average level of the Antall government. She is against the "compensation" of people who lost property as a result of the communist takeover of 1948. She thinks that there were important tasks at hand and, instead of handling these, the parliament spent precious months arguing over the exact method of compensation. She criticizes the smallholders who insisted on breaking up the collective farms and basically ruining Hungarian agriculture.

She has equally harsh words for the "media war." It is true that the Antall government managed to alienate the whole journalistic profession, which was not a smart move. Antall realized that most of the people in the media were disappointed in the victory of the right. However, according to Beke what Antall should have done was to ask for the help of the media in those very hard times. Another idea that Beke floats is that perhaps Antall should have asked some of the seasoned politicians of the old regime (Gyula Horn, Imre Pozsgay, Miklós Németh) to help as advisors.

Some of these suggestions sound a bit naive to me. Almost as if Kata Beke didn’t quite understand the working of parliamentary democracy and was still thinking in terms of the Patriotic People’s Front (Hazafias Népfront). Lately I haven’t seen Kata Beke’s name anywhere in the Hungarian media. The last piece of news that reached me was that in 1996 (that is, during the Horn government) she received the Imre Nagy commemorative plaque. When in 1993 people asked her how she would vote in 1994, she answered:  "The same as in 1990, a moderate democratic central party committed to the national ideal but by then the name of that party will not be MDF." I really would like to know what party received her vote in 1994.

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Your 2 entries in resonse to my small question are impressing. If we disregard the /possible/ bribes and that some of the people coming into Government at least on a executive and not ministerial level, were sometimes shady businessmen comming back to Hungary after 1990. All this can have been mostly election propaganda from MSZP before the 1994 election. The situation remainds me of when Sweden got for the first time after close to 60 years a non-SocialDemocratic (SAP) Government. In 4 years, with all good intention, a Government manned with politicians that never had a real-life job in their life and knew nothing about running a Government, but everything about political party infighting. They did not understand that a Government does not say YES to everything, it has to say NO sometimes, pissing off special interest groups. After 4 years Sweden’s economy was totally run down and it took a decade of hard SAP Government to restore the country’s finance again. Only SAP can contain the strong Swedish Trade Unions, so SAP must always do the austerity measures. Now Sweden have a non-SAP Government again. The main difference is that some ministers have experience from the previous period and… Read more »