Swinging to Stability in Hungary

BUDAPEST: Since 1989, Hungary has conducted three general elections. All have been free, fair, and without corruption under an electoral law drawn up, surprisingly, by the country’s last Bolshevik-style parliament.

On June 18th Viktor Orban, the leader of FIDESZ (the association of young democrats), the surprise winners of last month’s parliamentary elections, will become Hungary’s prime minister; at 34 years of age he is the youngest in the country’s history. In the decade since Orban first appeared on the scene - as a student leader at the reburial of Imre Nagy in June 1989 he defiantly called for the removal of all Soviet troops from Hungary - he has recast FIDESZ from a motley group of postgraduate liberal intellectuals into a disciplined (if more conservative) party. FIDESZ’s victory, however, is not Orban’s or his party’s alone; for Hungarian politics now appears to be emerging into a stable two party or party/bloc system.

This course was not at all predictable. In 1990 at the time of the first postcommunist elections, Hungarians had lost faith in government, all government. They did not believe in any of the new or existing parties, nor did they immediately place their faith in parties from Hungary’s past (like the Smallholders) who had reemerged from communist oppression. People entertained the illusion that the transition from communism would be fast and relatively painless. Still, they gave their early support to the MDF, a conservative party led by the historian Joszef Antal. Obsessed more with the past than the future, bereft of practical policies, the MDF failed miserably and faded quickly.

The surprise here was not Antal’s failure but the responsible behavior of the former communists, the MSZP, both as an opposition party and after their return to power. Out of office, they did not try to scuttle reforms but were a "loyal," western style opposition. Back in office after 1994, the postcommunists were moderate, left of center realists - cynics, some say.