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Árpád Göncz buried in a rare political lull

November 9th, 2015

As the first president of post-Communist Hungary was buried in a private ceremony, but in the presence of a large crowd on Friday, commentators offer conflicting interpretations of such an unusual procedure. They basically agree that although Göncz was a hero of the Left, his funeral carried a message of moderation.

On HVG online, András Hont suggests that the funeral reflected “the failure of our past 25 years.” Nothing would have been more natural in fact, he argues, than to lay the first President of democratic Hungary to rest in a solemn and official ceremony. But since he believes the current political system is no longer the one presided over by Göncz during his 10 years in office from 1990 to 2000, he feels the choice of a private ceremony was fully justified.

Despite the private character of the ceremony requested by Árpád  Göncz himself, several notable figures were seated near the grave, including President János Áder. Prime Minister Orbán also attended, but as a private citizen. Later on the same day, he praised Árpád Göncz for what he had done for Hungary. 

In Magyar Idők, János Csontos thinks it was the family’s wish that the Prime Minister should attend in private in order to prevent the ceremony from taking a political character. Árpád Göncz, in fact always considered himself a private citizen and wanted to be buried as such. Csontos believes that he even  exaggerated his role as an ordinary citizen, but approves of his wish to emphasize this in this last ‘message’ to his fellow-countrymen – his own funeral. The pro-government commentator thinks the family was right to ask the main speaker, Imre Mécs, a long-time personal and political friend to avoid political remarks in his speech. He did so, but afterwards he read his original political diatribe against the government addressing a small audience in front of the parliament building. By doing so, Csontos writes, Mécs eventually “brought down the lofty event to the level of everyday politics.”

On his Internet page, Péter Béndek the founder of a small Conservative party, bids farewell to a man he callsthe last hero of the left’. He remarks that even after his death, Árpád Göncz could mobilise more people that any left-wing politician among the living. He was one of the few who consistently stood on the right side throughout Hungary’s tormented 20th century history and opposed consecutive dictatorial regimes, whether right-wing or left-wing. As President of the Republic, Göncz stood far above the liberal and right-wing politicians who agreed to elect him in 1990, Béndek suggests.

Népszabadság devotes its full front page to the funeral with an editorial under a large picture of the coffin, praising the largely anti-government crowd for not using the event to express their anti-government feelings. Many of them must be critical of the whole parliamentary elite and must have interpreted the private character of the funeral as expressing the rejection of the current political setup. Many must have been eager to express their anger with those in power, but managed to heed the  message of gentleness required by the occasion, and keep their anger to themselves. “Because rather than what divides us, his funeral represented what unites us,” Népszabadság concludes.