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Remembering József Antall

April 10th, 2012

A moderate right-wing columnist and a renowned sociologist believe that the former Prime Minister – who would have turned 80 this weekend – was the last old style Hungarian gentleman, while a liberal author remembers him as a dull speaker and a basically inept politician.

József Antall was the first democratically-elected Prime Minister of Hungary after the fall of communism. He appeared on the political scene during the National Roundtable (triangular) Talks in 1989, and was elected Prime Minister after his party, the MDF (Hungarian Democratic Forum) and its allies won the Parliamentary elections in April 1990. József Antall fell ill with cancer soon afterwards, and died on 12th December 1993. During his time in office the opposition parties attacked him fiercely, but more recently he has been remembered by most as a politician of European calibre. Left wing pundits often contrast him as a moderate politician to Prime Minister Orbán whom they consider a radical.

In Heti Válasz, Bálint Ablonczy believes that even at the age of 80, József Antall would be able to play an important part in Hungarian politics, perhaps even as a potential successor to Pál Schmitt who resigned last week as President of Hungary (see BudaPost April 3rd and 4th).

The centre-right columnist emphasizes that József Antall was a real gentleman, and one of the last representatives of the old Hungarian middle class, who emerged as a significant European politician after 40 years of communist bureaucratic rule.

In a reaction to Ablonczy’s article, György C. Kálmán in Magyar Narancs retorts that Antall was a great politician “only in comparison with former communist officials and today’s Nazis.” He remembers the late Prime Minister as a man of lengthy, haughty and empty speeches who tolerated extreme right wing leader István Csurka for too long in his party. “His heritage is far from a treasure-trove,” Kálmán suggests, and calls upon potential heirs to “handle it with care.”

In an interview in Népszabadság, sociologist Elemér Hankiss says Antall has proven to be perhaps the only politician of great stature in post-communist Hungary.

Elemér Hankiss, who himself endured serious conflicts with the Antall government while he was President of Hungarian public service television, MTV, at the beginning of the 1990s, suggests that while after the Second World War the Germans found excellent politicians in Adenauer, Erhard, Schmidt, Brandt and Kohl, and were able to come to terms with the French, the Hungarians by contrast have not even been able to achieve reconciliation among themselves.

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