By Laszlo Andor
BUDAPEST — Following persistent attempts by the ruling Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) to concentrate more power in its own hands, key figures in the Hungarian liberal intelligentsia signed a Democratic Charter summarising government threats to basic civil rights.
The charter might have received less response had not Prime Minister Jozsef Antall sacked the president of the National Bank, Gyärgy Suranyi, for signing it. Antall's move proved a great advertisement for the charter, which within a few weeks was signed by 4000 people.
In another move, two long-standing deputy state secretaries in the foreign ministry were replaced, and in response the state secretary, Ferenc Somogyi, resigned. MDF hardliner and writer Istvan Csurka brushed off the loss of this professional diplomat, saying "expertise is just a bolshevik trick".
The MDF coalition is demanding even greater retaliation against former Communists and officials of the old regime at a time when the economy is collapsing under the weight of the IMF-led privatisation process and living standards are falling.
The government has set up legal machinery of retaliation in the form of the so-called justice law, which removes the statute of limitations for crimes committed under the former regime.
Among those targeted are some former AVH soldiers (the equivalent of the KGB) and former politicians like 83-year-old Gyärgy Marosan, who was a Social Democratic trade unionist before 1948, participated in the unification with the Communist Party, spent six years in Rakosi's prisons, became vice-leader in Kadar's party, and retired in 1962.
Independent MP Janos Denes said he wanted to see Marosan hanged. Denes also announced he will introduce a bill to outlaw the Hungarian Socialist Party, one of the successors of the former CP, and to nationalise the party's property. But the party is legal under the constitution, as even the MDF chairman was constrained to point out.
In a television debate with opposition Free Democrat MP Ivan Peto, MDF leader Imre Konya — who previously launched a campaign against the independence of the press — argued that communists should be treated like fascists. Konya's attack echoes legislative amendments in Czechoslovakia that make it illegal to propagate communism or fascism.
Almost at the same time, Antall announced there was no shame in Hungary's role in World War II, when it supported the Axis powers.
The economic situation is deteriorating. National output fell by 5-6% in 1991, with industrial output falling 10%. Inflation reached 40%, while the number of unemployed grew to 400,000, a four-fold increase of 8%. A sharp decline in real wages and the collapse of purchasing power meant a 20% fall in the real value of retail trade. Black market activity has increased.
The government continues its program of enriching its real or potential voting base. Privatisation is proceeding at a faster pace than other countries in the region, and compensation for property nationalised by the former regime has now been claimed by 535,000 people. The Compensation Office is to get 1.6 billion forints in budget allocations, while employment gets only 1.2 billion.
The increasing social dislocation prompted the major trade union federations to hold a two-hour strike in mid-December, mainly in response to rank-and-file pressures but also as a warning to the government to take collective bargaining more seriously.
The strike, supported strongly by steelworkers, transport workers and miners, also indicated the regained self-confidence of the unions following last July's forced membership reregistration, which failed to achieve the government's aim of taming the unions.
At its December conference, the major union federation (MSZOSZ) re-elected Sandor Nagy, who had been attacked in the media over his leadership of the Communist Youth in the 1970s. Nagy has emerged with greater support and authority.
Nearly a quarter of a million unionists participated in the December strike and simultaneous rallies. Retired workers organised meetings to express solidarity, and buses and trams ran free for the day.
At a meeting of the Trade Union Forum of the Left Alternative, workers called for harder action and Socialist Party MPs warned that the government had adopted a divide and rule strategy in the trade unions and was attempting to create a union-free zone in Hungary.