A public opinion survey about János Kádár and the Kádár regime from 1989

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on public opinion research in the Kádár regime. There was little reader response to it, most likely because a few hours later on the same day I published the speeches of Péter Feldmájer and Ronald S. Lauder at the Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress in Budapest. I suggest that you take a look at it because today I’m returning to the subject.

If I were living in Budapest I would have access to the Open Society Archives at the Central European University where these old  public opinion poll results are stored. But since I don’t live there I have to rely on a summary of one of these sociological studies that appeared in Origo. The study is from 1989; it seeks to understand the reasons for the popularity of the Kádár regime. The Origo journalist picked this particular year because by then, very close to the anticipated regime change, people had little reason to worry about any possible consequences of their answers.

As a point of reference, in 2001 53% of Hungarian adults thought that the years between World War II and the change of regime in 1989 were the happiest time in Hungarian history. By 2008 62% thought so.

According to a study right after the death of János Kádár (July 1989), 50-60% of adults judged Kádár’s role in Hungarian history in a positive light. Moreover, this was the opinion not only of people with minimal educational attainment but of highly educated people as well. When asked what they liked about Kádár they pointed to his modest, puritanic lifestyle and his informality. 87% declared that their impression of him was always positive. They considered him “one of the great benefactors of the Hungarian people” and “the greatest personality in Hungarian politics.”

What did people appreciate in the old regime? That education and health care were “free” and that the state provided pensions for everybody. People insisted that all these benefits should remain even after the regime change “despite the demand for a multi-party system and a market economy.”

Fortepan 1985

Photo of new prefab houses in Budapest, 1985 / Fortepan.hu

The respondents appreciated the steadily rising living standards, especially noticeable in the 1970s after the introduction of the 1968 economic reform (New Economic Mechanism). In 1987 the sociologists asked people what conveniences they expected to be part of their everyday lives. Well over 90% of the population took it for granted that they would have bathrooms, ready hot water, and a refrigerator. 71% lived in apartments with central heating; almost 60% had automatic washing machines and record players and took family holidays. But only 44% of the families had a car or a colored television set. And getting a telephone line was close to impossible. Only 37% of the families had telephones.

When the Horn government was forced to introduce an austerity program in 1995 (the so-called Bokros-csomag, named after Lajos Bokros, minister of finance) it cost the socialists dearly. In 1998 they lost the election. Viktor Orbán, the new prime minister, promptly announced that every family should have “three rooms, three children, and four wheels,” meaning a car. He was appealing to the Hungarian yearning for a better, more comfortable life.

The later Kádár years were marked by an understanding between the rulers and the ruled. MSZMP and the state would leave the population more or less alone; in exchange for that privilege, the population would give up its ability to exercise political rights. “This compromise for twenty years was a success,” the authors of the study concluded.

In December 1989, that is, after the establishment of the Third Republic on October 23, the team of sociologists asked the respondents what issues would determine which political party they would vote for. They had to list these issues in order of importance. This is the list the group as a whole ended up with: (1) living standards, (2) freedom, (3) independence,(4) democracy, (5) equality, (6) socialism, and (7) capitalism.

The compromise between the rulers and the ruled in the Kádár era made a lasting impression on the Hungarian population. Nostalgia for the Kádár regime is not only growing among those who experienced it firsthand but is being “inherited” by those who were either small children before 1990 or not even born by then. And their priorities are not all that different from the priorities of the respondents in 1989.

Freedom was never the centerpiece of their demands. That pretty well explains the fact that, although the current government has severely limited the democratic rights of the people, there is no great resistance. Fidesz’s popularity in the last two years or so hasn’t dropped  all that much. But if the Orbán government is unable to raise living standards it might find itself in trouble. And if people wake up to the widespread corruption and visible signs of ill-gotten wealth, there might be a change in public sentiment. Kádár won the hearts and minds of the people in part by not being ostentatious. So, if I were Viktor Orbán I might dial back some of those projects that set the prime minister and his coterie of friends apart from the rest of the population. A private football stadium might be too much. Or those tobacconist shops that can make families millionaires. The “have-nots” rarely believe that the “haves” deserve all their toys.

If the economy doesn’t turn around, there will be nothing to give to those who expect a visible improvement in their standard of living.  Then we might see a change in the present acceptance of Viktor Orbán’s growing dictatorial governing style. The question is when the patience of the Hungarians with their mindset inherited from the Kádár regime will run out.

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Ron
Guest

Eva I wonder why you wrote this piece. I went to the website of the picture fortepan.hu.

There are some hundred pictures. I concentrated on the seventies. I know some of the buildings, and they are exactly the same, only the roads are bad, and buildings dirty and the trees higher. Nothing else changed. Depressing.

Jano
Guest

On a related note, I always felt that even though there is a fierce debate over the Hungarian population collaborating the Nazis, there is little to no discussion over the compliance of the Kádár system after 56. Remember that Kádár managed to draw about a million people out for the following May 1st celebrations.

The parallel is especially striking as I think the same denial is prevalent about both the 44-45 and the 56-89 period. Yes, the Red army was in the country, but the people in general sold their attempts at freedom for some social security. You can say probably rightly that it was the only realistic option, but this is also the argument in defense of why most of the Hungarians stood by and watched their Jewish compatriots disappearing. I think one of Fidesz’s biggest appeal that it offers to bring back the Kádár regime while maintaining the illusion that yes, we hated Kádár and his system.

Many on this blog claim that we never really faced the part we played during the holocaust. I say, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

tappanch
Guest

Stand-up comedian Hofi imitates, slightly ridicules Kadar’s accent.
(Sometimes Kadar was also in the audience in the Mikroszkop Theatre)

petofi
Guest

‘How long?’

Well, there are shops closing down all over Pest. It’s starting to look depression era.
A friend told me a surprising story: she knew a chinese family in her neighbourhood who
were closing up their little restaurant and going….back to China. The Chinese are somewhat more perceptive than the sheep-like herd of Magyars; but now a report is out that Lazar is downsizing his department by 20%. Nothing focuses a Hungarian mind like the wholesale loss of jobs of friends and the preferred members (read Fidesz) of the government. Can panic be far behind?

Of course, with Matolcsy to the rescue, the loosening of central bank funds can give a temporary boost to the economy…until atleast the next elections. Doomsday scenario #45.

Member

Yes and No. The thing that Fidesz does best and what they mastered all above any other Hungarian political party or political movement is Public Relations and Marketing. Not a single group was able or willing to follow Fidesz on perfecting the way to guide (manipulate) public opinion. If anyone thinks that Fidesz will fail because they cannot show results will be gravely surprised. The non-results is not the fault of Fidesz but the previous government, the MSZP, and the EU who tries to take away all the money from the Hungarian people, and only Orban the saviour of all Hungarians is able to stand up against everyone who conspired to bring Hungary down. THis is what Fidesz preaches and although some political or civil movements are out there to show better, not a single one is picking up the glow and try to beat Fidesz in their own game.

petofi
Guest

@Some 1

Let me understand this: Fidesz lies and lies and lies…day and night…and you want the other political parties to do the same!?? Sorry, but I find that suggestion repulsive.

It’s for the Hungarian populace to wake up from the nationalism-fantasy, and breathe the fresh air of reality. And it’s for the Catholic Church of Hungary to reform itself, and get their asses out of politics.

Member

petofi :
@Some 1
Let me understand this: Fidesz lies and lies and lies…day and night…and you want the other political parties to do the same!?? Sorry, but I find that suggestion repulsive.
It’s for the Hungarian populace to wake up from the nationalism-fantasy, and breathe the fresh air of reality. And it’s for the Catholic Church of Hungary to reform itself, and get their asses out of politics.

As usual, but not surprising, you deliberately twisting what I am saying. So at least we find each other repulsive.
What hey mastered is marketing and PR. They supposedly guide public opinion, but in reality they manipulate it. (Hence I put in bracket “manipulate”. Sorry that irony is lost in you!) WHat I am saying is and said over and over with others is that the other parties must get better in their PR and marketing campaign, and beat Fidesz. Not beat them in lying, but beat them in PR and marketing.

My record about suggesting clear political games, and equality is clear. You only wish you could say the same, so you know what, spare me.

petofi
Guest

@Some1

First off, when you blow hot, you forget your verbs: “…you-(are)-deliberately..”

Second, get in some work on your prepositions: it is, “…lost ON you..” not ” IN you”.

Third, keep your ad hominem attacks for your Magyar buddies: I wrote that “the SUGGESTION was repulsive” not that you were. What’s that you wrote about ‘twisting’ things?

Member

Jano: I think you raise a very important point. Many Hungarians seem to conform to any situation, stand back, and watch until it doe not personally affect them. Although many Hungarian stood by at WWII, watching their jewish neighbours dragged to certain death, we must recognize that most Hungarians (including Hungarian jews) stood by in compliance with the Kadar system. Many current Jobbik members were serving the Kadar regime too.
THe same can be said for current Hungary, as many people are very unhappy with the Orban regime, but there are a very few who take firm actions.

Member
petofi : @Some1 First off, when you blow hot, you forget your verbs: “…you-(are)-deliberately..” Second, get in some work on your prepositions: it is, “…lost ON you..” not ” IN you”. Third, keep your ad hominem attacks for your Magyar buddies: I wrote that “the SUGGESTION was repulsive” not that you were. What’s that you wrote about ‘twisting’ things? This is Eva’s blog. Not yours. I am not corresponding with you. I could care less about what you think of my English but I am happy that it entertains you. Please, enjoy yourself. petofi, you are a racist. At many time you expressed your opinion about gypsies (let’s not forget how you called the “Felcsutian”), you went on to express your opinion about all Hungarians, as they were all guilty and fascists. I understand that you feel very offended that I did not support you in this, and for the contrary I asked you to step back. That is life. There are many things I agree with you, and I never failed to support your comments in those instances . You do not like me, that is fine, and there is a not a thing that I can write here… Read more »
Charles Gati
Guest
It’s very true, as Eva convincingly shows, that there’s considerable nostalgia for some, maybe most, features of the Kadar era in today’s Hungary. It was a time when Hungarians were proud of their relative well-being and their relative independence. In addition, it was a time when others in Eastern and Central Europe looked up to Kadar’s Hungary; the country was the envy of its neighbors. The problem with this interpretation is that there’s nostalgia in several other countries of the old Soviet bloc, including even the former East Germany and Romania. There’s little or no nostalgia in the three Baltic states and only some in Poland. Elsewhere huge minorities or even majorities long for the meager benefits of the welfare state. I find it especially hard to understand how the majority of Romanians could say that they preferred to live in Ceausescu’s Romania rather than in today’s corrupt but still pluralistic political and economic order. I don’t have a good explanation for this, except to say, and I’m pained to say so, that Western-style democracy doesn’t fall on fertile soil in all too many countries in the region. Those of us who have lived in Western democracies for many decades… Read more »
Member

OT: Why the forint gained strength today? Bloomberg http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-28/hungary-may-win-eu-reward-for-budget-cuts.html

Here is an English language video from Channel4 about Jobbik (The rise of far-right politics in Hungary) http://www.channel4.com/news/the-rise-of-far-right-politics-in-hungary-video

Member
The Kadar era sucked … Ok, the free college and the 3.60 bread was good. But never going to college for shaking your fist on a Soviet military convoy after a few beers wasn’t exactly freedom. And that was still happening in the 80s. There was one advantage of the Kadar era. Hungarians were able to blame their passivity on the terror and the oppression. Kadar didn’t draw a million people to the May 1st parades. Most of them were ordered directly or were simply afraid not to go. Most workplaces organized their employees for these rallies. Even provided them with banners. It was pretty funny when they threw these banners away at the end of the marches and you could see the whole politbureau in the trash … where they belonged. So it was pretty convenient to say I just became a party member or went to the “foxy-maxi” night school to get that promotion. I was a KISZ member to avoid questions at the college admission exam. Mea maxima culpa. It was a bliss: we were no cowards. We just had the AK47s in our butt. But today there’s no excuse. We can still go and beat the… Read more »
gybognarjr
Guest
Let’s try to understand and acknowledge that socialism has may good humanistic values, which we would be happy to have and enjoy. As with everything, it has it’s price. There is no free lunch. I was born in 1951 and I was educated in the Kádár era, all the way to senior high school. ALL OF THOSE WERE HAPPY YEARS FOR ME! Society and the value system had a lot of positive and humanist values, some of which we dearly miss today even with the relative freedom we enjoy in the USA. People cared about each other and each other’s children, without filing a lawsuit if the neighbor or a teacher slapped an unruly kid for some major mishap, so a child knew, that the eyes of adults were on him/her, even when the parents were not around. While everybody wished to live better and envied the life style and living standards of the west, the society as a whole was less materialistic and more culture oriented, since culture was valued and widely available even free. As with everything there was and is a price to pay. The value system carried through and most people in Hungary, who are my… Read more »
petofi
Guest
@Some1 You’ve obviously received a Hungarian education: you lose your cool in a nano second and then all logic leaves your mind. Hence, ‘you’re not talking to me’ but proceed to address me in the rest of your missive. You call me a racist, which I’m not (some of my best friends are jewish) but I don’t mouth political correctness either. I’ve worked with gypsies and lived with them, too. What you probably don’t know is that Roma who are hard-working and extricate themselves from the usual gypsy lifestyle have nothing to do witht heir former brethren; and they, in turn, are often black-balled by the community. Those are facts, not opinions. Now, about Hungarians being ‘guilty and fascists’….Fascists? No question about that or why the great tolerance for anti-semitism? Guilty? You damn right: every single person should feel the guilt of a war criminal living among them and not doing something–daily–about it. Their should be a massive outcry, and, in fact, there is nothing but a deafening silence. “Csatary? Oh, he didn’t do anything TO ME.” As for your wet dream imaginings about me being disappointed by not receiving YOUR support….whaaa? Who are YOU? Did I ever ask for… Read more »
Jano
Guest

Petőfi: I wouldn’t try to give Some1 a lesson about cools if I were you. Just saying…

petofi
Guest

@Jano

I presume you haven’t followed the argument. It seems like it.

There’s a small but significant difference between righteous indignation, and blowing
smoke out your ears…if you know what I mean.

Guest

The exchange between Petöfi and Some1 is depressing.

Peter
Guest

Just a small remark: The photo in the article seems to be from Salgotarjan rather than Budapest.

Joe Simon
Guest

It is very sad, nostalgia for a mass murderer. Also, ‘gulyás-communism’ had a huge price. The Kadár regime neglected everything in order to provide that minimum level of welfare. Look at the railway stations like Keleti. Many parts of Bp look as if WWII just ended. Diósgyőr, Ózd, ‘rozsdatemetők’, the list could go and on. And donot forget, this is what VO is up against. A daunting task.

jacksmith
Guest

Your comments would be more convincing, petofi, if they weren’t couched in such vehement expression of disdain for the Hungarian people. It makes it seem like you have some personal axe to grind rather than big ideas on what is going wrong in Hungary . . The photo is definitely of Salgótarján, not Bp.

tappanch
Guest

@Joe Simon
What VO is against is decency and democracy.

Kadar was a dictator by circumstance, but a modest, puritanical man,
1. who did not tolerate corruption and
2. under his regime, the country had been turning, very slowly, more democratic and
3. who knew he was not the smartest man in the country.

Orban, on the contrary,
1. has elevated corruption into a form of government.
2. has turned Hungary, within 3 years, from a democracy into a tyranny.
3. is smart only in the Machiavellian sense, in intrigue like Rakosi.
He is not smart enough to know that he is not smart enough.

******************

At Fidesz initiative, the anti-Semitic writer Cecile Tormay was honored by the Budapest municipality today with a public space named after her in district 2.

Two people, who were executed by the Horthy regime in 1932 (Sallai & Furst) lost their last streets today. So did Pataky, who was executed by the Arrow Cross in December 1944.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130529_Ujabb_utcanevvaltasok_Budapesten_jon_Torm

tappanch
Guest

Sorry, I left out Gy. Kulich from the list of today’s victims of the Jobbik-Fidesz municipal coalition – he died in the Dachau concentration camp in 1944.

Guest
Life under Kadar wasn’t so sweet for everybody – just take the example of my wife and her sister: Their father was a baker who had his own small bakery and shop (where his wife worked) in a small town in Eastern Hungary and was of course expropriated by the communists as a class enemy and later his daughters were not allowed to go to university but had to take some office job (after getting their Abitur in the 60s) … The communists wanted him to work as an assistant to some party boss in his own bakery – but he declined and went to work in another small town instead. Only later, after having joined the communist Youth Org (KISSZ ?) did my wife’s sister get the chance to go to university and become a teacher, my wife worked in the mayor’s office for many years – without the chance of a career, even though she had to go to “Marx-Lenin-Lectures” regularly … She told me a lot of stories about the incompetence and outright stupidity of the Nomenklatura, some of which couldn’t even read and write properly – but as long as they were party members … That… Read more »
Member

Mutt :
Ok, the free college and the 3.60 bread was good.

I still remember that too. ..and the 50 filler/gomboc ice cream…

One thing actually was not free, and it is still not free (even though Eva listed it). Healthcare. I mean on paper it was free, but in reality with the exception of going into the doctor’s office with the sniffle, you had to pay for decent “service”. THis did not change. The pay fpr healht care providers sucked under Kadar and it is still a joke.
Just recently there was an article about a doctor in Hungary who has been charged for taking money from a patient. How hypocritical, if any of you have any experience with a family member not giving money to a doctor in recent Hungary, please speak up.

Member

Jean P :
The exchange between Petöfi and Some1 is depressing.

Jean P: THanks, I feel the same way, I stopped reading petofi’s reply, so he can have the last word true or not. Te blog is way more important then making one happy.

Member
Joe Simon : It is very sad, nostalgia for a mass murderer. Also, ‘gulyás-communism’ had a huge price. The Kadár regime neglected everything in order to provide that minimum level of welfare. Look at the railway stations like Keleti. Many parts of Bp look as if WWII just ended. Diósgyőr, Ózd, ‘rozsdatemetők’, the list could go and on. And donot forget, this is what VO is up against. A daunting task. Actually, it was NOT VO who was against that. VO is doing a great job to return to the Kadar values and even further. Secret Service, the right to investigate and arrest people w/o to much legal guidance, nationalizing private assets, returning to centralized education, burning up bridges with the West, full cooperation with communist states, and the last goes on. THe restoration of Budapest can be thanked to the funds received from the European Union, and not forget that that the whole Orban regime is wages a war against the Union as well as paying for a hate campaign against. Also not forget that Fidesz has the most ex MSZMP or KISZ members from any political party, and many of them are from high places. Maybe you would… Read more »
petofi
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
Petőfi, please stop bickering and teaching others English.

Duly noted-

Member
So, why we are at the Kadar era. I help out to integrate new immigrant Hungarian Roma families in Toronto. Some of the conversation with them is very sweet, some are sad, and some are challenging. Most of the problem rises about the misconceptions about authority (police), healthcare, and school. Many of the new immigrants scare to go to the doctor as they do not have the money to pay! (They think you have to pay for healthcare.) They fear of approaching the police, even when they are lost. THey worried to send their kids to school as they think they will be singled out, and when the teacher tries to talk to them they afraid it is bad news. Many of the families have nostalgic feelings for the Kadar era (although I do not think any of them were alive), because their grandparents had jobs, and generally it was very jolly. THey feel that people were more accepting. Some of the grandparents worked in car repairs, bakeries, or simply as street sweepers. Now, they cannot find a job in Hungary. One woman told me how when she was giving birth her newborn was given all the old, shredded stuff… Read more »
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