I was struck yesterday, May 1, by the obvious nostalgia in Hungarian society for the "idyllic" years of the Kádár regime. The morning began with TV interviews recalling those old May Day demonstrations. From TV archives came film clips, among them János Kádár speaking to his people in 1978 or 1979. The speech was dull and full of clichés. János Berecz, formerly secretary of the Central Committee, reminisced about his happy moments among the bigwigs watching the pioneers, KISZ members, Workers’ Militia members, and ordinary factory workers marching by. And there was old footage of the parade passing by the reviewing stand where Kádár and Berecz waved to the crowds. There was also an interview with an MTV reporter, Sándor Vértessy, who was the "voice" of May Day for years.
This year’s MSZP May Day celebration drew a large, enthusiastic crowd. The gathering, complete with the usual speeches, took place in Városliget, a large park near Heroes’ Square, the site of earlier May Day celebrations. One of the attractions was a restored 1964 Ikarus bus parked nearby. The proud owner, who must have put quite a bit of time and money into the project, explained that the top speed for the bus is seventy kilometers per hour and driving it is no mean feat because it still works on the old system of double clutching.
In addition to the official May Day events in Budapest, an enterprising businessman decided to organize a retro May Day demonstration with all the trimmings–red flags, red neckties, etc. He originally intended to hold it in Dunaújváros (its original name was Dunapentele, a small village, out of which Rákosi’s regime created a socialist city renamed appropriately Sztálinváros). However, in the last minute the city wouldn’t grant permission. So it was held in nearby Várpalota. The pioneers on the picture look a bit old for the role but otherwise the trappings seem accurate enough.
These strolls down memory lane obviously resonate with certain segments of the Hungarian population. An older woman at the government celebration sighed and confessed that the old May Days were much, much better than they are today. Why? Because life is very hard now: prices are going up and up and up. Most people cannot make ends meet.
This characterization of the well-being of Hungarians is inaccurate, however often repeated. The problem is that Hungarians want German salaries with a retro work ethic and an upgraded Kádár social welfare system. No May Day celebration can make this unrealistic dream come true.