Entries RSS Feed Share Send to Facebook Tweet This Accessible version

Imre Pozsgay remembered

March 29th, 2016

Obituaries in the Hungarian press depict a man who played a crucial role in promoting change in the late 1980s in Hungary, but who was sidelined after the first democratic election took place in 1990.

As a representative of the communist (Hungarian Socialist Workers) party, Imre Pozsgay was not an obstacle, but rather the instrument of change at the round-table talks that tore down the one-party state in Hungary, Szabolcs Szerető writes in Magyar Nemzet‘s obituary. In the early nineties, however, after quitting the Socialists in a failed attempt to set up a successful left-wing party of ‘third roaders’, Pozsgay became a political castaway, the author notes in the conservative paper. He emphasizes that, unlike many of the politician’s former comrades, Pozsgay did not capitalize on privatization either. His political career remained incomplete, Szerető maintains, because he may have missed the crucial moment in 1989 to mould the reformist wing of the communists into a new political force.

Imre Pozsgay, former minister of state during the last years of communist Hungary, once an emblematic figure of the reformist wing of the party, died last Friday at the age of 82. In the late eighties he actively helped create the conditions for a peaceful transition to democracy. In 1987 he was the only high ranking official who took part in the first meeting of the MDF (Hungarian Democratic Forum) in Lakitelek, thus assisting at the birth of a political movement that would win the first free election in 1990. In 1989 he was the first leader from the ruling party to label the 1956 revolution a ‘popular uprising’, a symbolic act that greatly accelerated the fall of the communist system. As the most popular politician in those months, Imre Pozsgay stood a high chance of becoming the first president of post-communist Hungary. However, his aspirations were thwarted by a referendum that postponed the election of the new President until after the régime change. In 1990 he was elected into Parliament as the floor leader of the Socialist Party, but later left the MSZP to form a new political party, which failed to win any seats in the 1994 parliamentary election. He practically retired from politics after that, but a decade later, in several largely symbolic roles, became a close ally to the incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

He was an atypical party functionary; a folk-tale hero of the communist political system, Judit N. Kósa depicts Imre Pozsgay in Népszabadság’s obituary. After the regime change he would in all likelihood have become the head of state, the author reckons, if the MDF, in co-operation with the SZDSZ, the liberal party, had not blocked his path to the presidency. After his failure to assemble a sort of alternative political power, he was relegated to the political sidelines, she writes, and two decades later probably took it as a kind of compensation that Viktor Orbán invited him to be part of the committee entrusted with drafting the new constitution.

‘He was not a very clever man, not a very decent man, but he happened to be a great man for a while’, Miklós Tamás Gáspár writes in hvg.hu. Pozsgay was the representative of a superstate for decades, the author emphasizes, and suggests that the communist leader was mainly motivated by careerism and conformism. Nevertheless, Tamás Gáspár acknowledges, among the politicians of the communist party, Pozsgay was the only one who played a truly active role during the régime change.

Dávid Megyeri in Magyar Idők finds it interesting that liberals who condoned many of the old-guard communists’ pasts have never done so in the case of Imre Pozsgay. It was Pozsgay’s third-way, national-minded political beliefs they could not tolerate, the author claims, and argues that this attitude united extreme left-liberals and radical right-wing populists in a weird coalition to hate Imre Pozsgay.

Tags: ,