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Kádár at 100

May 28th, 2012

Commentators from the left and right reflect on what the late communist leader meant for Hungarians during the 32 years of his rule, and what he means to them today.

In Népszabadság, Sándor Révész muses that Kádár’s general popularity among Hungarians (See BudaPost, May 21) will not be reflected in the media on the 100th anniversary of his birth. On the one hand, he has no problem with that, since he believes the Kádár regime is not something which should be emulated. On the other hand, if true public sentiment is not represented by the media, then there is no public debate. The leading liberal commentator compares the present Hungarian Prime Minister to János Kádár – and claims he finds strong similarities. He notes that it was during 2010, when Kádár nostalgia was at its peak, that Orbán’s Fidesz party scored a crushing victory at the elections, yielding a two-thirds majority in Parliament. “Kádárists” and “Orbánites” fail to see how similar they are to one another, he suggests, in a reference to core readers of Népszabadság who claim they hate Orbán as much as they loved Kádár. Kádárism and Orbánism, he asserts, are united by their anti-capitalism, etatism, insensitivity to human rights and a rather pragmatic attitude towards democratic liberties.

In Népszabadság’s weekend supplement, Endre Aczél sums up Kádár’s career as one born in fear. He says Kádár learned early that there was only one threat he had to constantly keep in mind; the Soviet Union.  He nurtured a friendly relationship with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, then found himself completely alone when the latter fell. He knew he had to deal with disgruntled communist officials, inherited from his Stalinist predecessor, Mátyás Rákosi on the one hand, and a humiliated population on the other. This is how he developed – after a period of bloody retributions following the 1956 revolution – a ‘live and let live’ attitude, expressed with his famous slogan: “whoever is not against us, is with us”.  Aczél describes his actions as having always been characterised by cautious calculation, and he eventually created an environment where most Hungarians could enjoy relative security and rising living standards. Kádár stuck to this model even at the cost of heavily indebting his country. This is how Kádár became “the hero of the people”, or “our Father”. In a bitter concluding remark Aczél criticises Hungarians for having found, more recently, another contender for that role.

In Magyar Nemzet, Ádám Tompos seeks to rebunk the myth of “our old man, Kádár”, the man of puritanical tastes and no pretensions. He proposes an utterly different description of Kádár’s character: a cowardly communist elevated to the luxury of the post of Minister of Home Affairs in the nineteen fifties, reaching the apex of his political career as a bloodthirsty dictator, after a popular revolution crushed with his consent. Kádár was far from the people’s man he is supposed to be, writes Tompos. His image has been cleverly constructed and manipulated throughout his career. His unwillingness to speak first at important meetings served to intimidate his comrades, who would resort to some kind of double speak in order to conform to whatever the outcome was supposed to be. Tompos thinks that the myth of Kádár’s popularity is rather overblown. The first great demonstration that is cited as a sign of support for his regime, the Mayday rally in 1957, was organized by the Party, which ferried people to the capital by bus. Another element of the mythical image of the man, he writes, is that Kádár kept law and order in the country. The elderly remember those years as an era of job security – but employment did not mean having a real job, Tompos warns.  There is no order without freedom of choice, he argues. The often cited motto – whoever is not against us, is with us – rather than an example of a brilliant piece of political rhetoric, expressed selfishness and indifference.  If that era of Hungarian history is looked on with damp eyed nostalgia nowadays, then “Father Kádár” may still be with us – but he is against us. The great experiment of comfort and equality cost us a lot and we are still paying the price – he concludes.

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