Communists put their knowledge of political craftsmanship to great use, while political amateurs prevailed on the side of the former anti-communist opposition. Already in 1994, post-communists returned to power in Hungary. In Poland, however, it was different.
In 1980, I worked in the editorial office of a Hungarian journal dedicated to foreign literature and had access to Polish press. Those newspapers allowed me to observe how the situation would unfold. Nevertheless, the outbreak of the “Solidarity” protests came as no big surprise to me. I expected a similar development from the very moment I had come to Poland in 1978, the day after Karol Wojtyła was elected pope. Even then I noticed that it had become a different country than before. So when I heard in July 1980 about the strikes in the Lublin region, I immediately felt that this could be the beginning of something important.
Hungarians reacted in a similar fashion. In my country, during the “goulash communist” era, the strikes that broke out in Poland were initially a surprise. But that feeling of surprise quickly evolved into hope that something was finally happening. The emergence of “Solidarity” in Poland was treated by the Hungarian intelligentsia as a phenomenon similar to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Ever since then, we had carefully watched what was happening in Poland. I remember what a lively reaction in intellectual circles in Hungary was sparked by the TV debate between Lech Wałęsa and Alfred Miodowicz in November 1988.
Our countries were united by a tradition of resistance against communist authorities that began in 1956, in spite of the increasing amount of differences between Poland and Hungary that would later take form. One of those differences was the manner how authorities reacted to the events of 1956. In Budapest, terror and persecution of protesters began. In Warsaw, a political compromise was sought that would calm the society down. In the years to come, these differences began to deepen. Cultural life, for instance, in both our countries was completely different.
There were more differences, be it even in the structure of our societies. For example, while private agriculture in Poland remained, in Hungary, as a result of the land reform implemented in the years 1959–1961, collectivisation was completed, thus effectively eliminating individual crop production. As of 1961, as much as 95% of farmland in the country was incorporated to collective farms.
Now, one could remark that it was the greatest social tragedy in Hungary throughout the communist period, because in Poland, which resisted collectivisation, a social continuity was clearly visible, it became one of the foundations for the rebellion against communism. Meanwhile, Hungary lacked this, and the Hungarian opposition as a result had none of the backing that the opposition in Poland did. This also caused the anti-communist activity in the country on the banks of the Danube to start much later than in the country on the riverbanks of Vistula. The opposition in Hungary only began to take shape in 1985 as a matter of fact. It was rather civil disobedience against the communist regime instead of organised opposition activity that had its own structures. Nonetheless, it is also a fact that the anti-communist opposition in Hungary was developed to a much larger extent than in other countries of our region, such as Romania, Bulgaria or today’s Slovakia.
During the fall of communism in 1989, I was a member of the opposition party Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF – Magyar Demokrata Fórum). It was I who suggested that the name should include the word “forum”. Opposition parties in Hungary supposedly took over the country as a result of the “Velvet Revolution”, but from the very beginning, it was obvious that the communists were not going to give up. Very quickly, they transformed into social democracy. They established relations with social democratic parties in Western Europe and gradually rebuilt their influence within the country.
They put their knowledge of political craftsmanship to great use, while political amateurs prevailed on our side – the side of the former anti-communist opposition. It was therefore no wonder that post-communists returned to power in Hungary already in 1994.
I am aware that the takeover of power in 1989 could have been managed much better. Still I have no doubt that the changes of that time mark the most important time mark since the end of World War II. The fall of the totalitarian system that was communism was the most significant event in world history in the 2nd half of the 20th century. The emergence of “Solidarity” in 1980 was an important step in this direction.
Professor Csaba György Kiss