|A Hungarian flag with the communist coat of arms cut out - while they were actually removed after the 1956 Uprising, it remains a potent symbol of the events of 1989 (|
János Kádár (a leader in the uprising who had switched sides when told that the old leadership would otherwise be restored, although it could be argued that he should have said no anyway) lifted many of the restrictions and while still authoritarian compared with the West, it was less so than the other COMECON countries.
Panelház, tower blocks of the sort that were widespread during this time on both sides of the Iron Curtain and are still numerous today; 17.5% of the population of Hungary lived in one in 2011. International tourism played a big role in Hungary's economy, both from the West and also from other Eastern bloc nations - in 1978, the US returned the Holy Crown of Hungary's former kings to the country, it having been held in Fort Knox since being recovered from the Nazis by US troops in Austria in 1945.
Kádár himself lived a modest lifestyle; unlike other Communist leaders.
(It is important to remember when dealing with the former Soviet bloc that the real power holder was the First or General Secretary; the President and/or Prime Minister was frequently, but by no means always a different person and had little real power)
In March, the Central Committee admitted to itself that they were going to have to go multi-party and after big demonstrations on 15 March (the day Hungary marks the 1848 Revolution, a failed attempt at independence from Austria), began meeting with a 'Round Table' of opposition groups. These largely behind the scenes negotiations would carry on for much of the year.
As well as the new PM, another leader was working behind the scenes to bring down communism - Imre Pozsgay, who worked his way up to the Central Committee. He managed to persuade (or he so he claims) the leadership not to launch a coup in April.
On 2 May 1989, Imre Pozsgay got the Hungarian Army to begin to remove the border fence with Austria; this was the first chink in the Iron Curtain. Moscow did nothing about it (and nor would they), even when the Hungarians actively encouraged holidaying East Germans to cross into Austria and thus to West Germany; including via a Peace Picnic in August where several hundred crossed over with no attempt by the army to stop them. The Austria-Hungary border was a much simpler affair to dismantle than the one between the two Germanies, which was among other things heavily mined.
In June, the Politburo admitted Nagy had been executed illegally after a show trial. He and two other victims were dug up and reburied in the same plot, but this time it was a proper grave with a memorial.
A deal was reached on the Round Table Talks in September; the opposition split over the issue of the presidency, with the moderates implicitly accepting Pozsgay as president and the radicals being against.
16-20 October saw an epic and historic session of parliament; as the Hungarian legislature voted after the agreement to completely change the system; ensuring direct presidential elections, multi-party parliamentary ones, guarantees of rights and a separation of powers. On the 23rd, the Presidential Council dissolved itself. That same month, the Communist Party became the Hungarian Socialist Party... but a majority of its MPs didn't join and Imre Pozsgay didn't become president. The Communists were pretty much done.
Free elections followed in May 1990 - the centre right Hungarian Democratic Forum won, with the former communists ending up fourth. The former ended up as leaders of a centre-right coalition.
The same year, Hungary withdrew from participation in Warsaw Pact exercise and Soviet forces left in 1991, the same year the Pact ceased to exist.
Hungary joined the EU in 2004; it is also part of the Schengen Agreement, so where before there was an electric fence with Austria, there are now not even regular border checks - Hungary also has this situation with Slovakia and Slovenia, but not yet with Croatia, Romania and of course Ukraine.
However, there have been problems in recent years. The country suffered heavily in the 2008 crash; there was a lot of borrowing that left it vulnerable. It eventually needed IMF and European Central Bank bailouts to avoid a collapse.
Then in 2010, Viktor Orban, Prime Minister from 1998-2002 (and also involved in the Round Table talks), returned to power, with his coalition Fidesz gaining a two-thirds majority; enough to impose a new constitution on Hungary. The nationalist conservative government (who were David Cameron's only allies in opposing Jean-Claude Juncker getting the EU Commission job) put in a new Fundamental Law that has been heavily criticised for reducing checks and balances, trying to impose a Christian ideology on a country not hugely religious and limiting the freedom of the press.
Orban is one of Europe's more dangerous leaders; there is also a strong far-right party in the country that doesn't like Roma or Jews very much.
Hungary, the second of the countries to escape communism, could end up going to fascism again if it is not careful.