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Hungary-Reaction to Political Dissent

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Hungary Index

As with the constitutions of the other Warsaw Pact countries, Hungary's Constitution grants rights to citizens but qualifies these rights so that they are meaningless (see Constitutional Development , ch. 4). For example, Chapter VII, Article 64 of the Constitution gives citizens freedom of speech, press, and assembly, yet Section 54 states that citizens' rights "shall be exercised in accordance with the interests of socialism and the people" and that these rights "shall be inseparable from the fulfillment of the duties of citizens."

Nevertheless, from the 1970s well into the 1980s Hungarians had a wider latitude to criticize their government than did other East Europeans. But most Hungarians developed a "self-censorship" in which they avoided publicly discussing such sensitive topics as one-party rule and Hungary's relations with the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact countries. Hungarians thus generally avoided problems with the state, while the state gave the appearance of tolerating dissent.

The development of samizdat in the early 1980s provoked a severe government reaction. In June 1982, several samizdat editors were subjected to police surveillance, and later in the year one was fined 4,000 forints (for value of the forint--see Glossary), about the average wage for one month at that time, for publishing without official permission. In the following months, the police began to subject others associated with samizdat to both "light" measures (denial of permission to travel abroad, periodic house searches, detention, fines, or employment difficulties) to those of outright oppression (beatings or imprisonment). The regime even used psychiatric methods such as closed wards and electric shock therapy against dissidents. In 1987 dissidents were still subject to house searches, and in 1988 they were still denied passports.

To stop the tide of unofficial publishing, the government passed Decree 49/1984 (XI.21), which required that all duplicating machines and photocopiers be registered with the state, and Decree 4/1985 (VII20), which allowed police surveillance and even expulsion from the country for those persons whose political beliefs the government considered a danger to the Hungarian People's Republic, its social order, or public security. The authorities also punished official publishers when magazines touched upon taboo subjects. For example, in in 1983 the editor of Mozgo Vilag (World in Motion) lost his job for defying parlty directives. In 1986 the editors of Tiszataj (Tisza Country) were ordered to resign because of articles in their journal describing the horrible situation of Hungarians living in Romania (see Mass Media , ch. 4).

Rock musicians also felt the state's wrath when their music did not meet official approval. During the mid-1980s, the Committee of Hungarian Radio censored records and songs because they were not "optimistic enough" or because they referred to drugs or to "red, white, and green" (the colors of the precommunist Hungarian flag).

Unauthorized street demonstrations were also harshly punished in the mid-1980s. In 1986 the police brutally broke up a demonstration held on March 15 to commemorate Hungary's declaration of independence from the Habsburg Empire in 1848. Unofficial peace and environmental groups were also harassed when attempting to meet publicly.

However, political reforms of the late 1980s softened the government's view of dissent, although its behavior remained ambiguous. In October 1988, street demonstrations commemorating the revolution were tolerated, and a relatively free press arose. The government spoke openly about liberalizing its passport law. Yet a Miskolc court in 1988 handed an elderly, disabled pensioner a one-and-a-half-year suspended sentence for writing an open letter to the HSWP in which he criticized "domestic conditions and certain leaders." Legal sanctions resulting from involvement in the Revolution of 1956 were lifted for twelve people but remained for another fifty-four.

Hence, as of 1989 the government's record on dissent, as with other aspects of the reform of the national security system, was mixed. To be sure, regime leaders repeatedly announced their intent to reform, and, indeed, many important steps were taken in that direction. But as Hungarian dissident Miklos Haraszti reminded his audience in 1989, Hungary was still "a country with powerful bureaucrats, with the same armed forces, and with a political police."

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Unfortunately, few English-language sources deal with the past and present Hungarian military. English-language sources for Hungarian military history are almost nonexistent outside of the few standard surveys of Hungarian history, such as Denis Sinor's History of Hungary. A notable exception is Bela K. Kiraly's Hungary in the Late Eighteenth Century, which sets forth detailed information about the Hungarian-Habsburg military structure of that time. Peter Weiss's "The Hungarian Armed Forces Today" provided the most current information at the time of this writing. An excellent overview of the HPA since World War II is given by Ivan Volgyes in his article "Hungary." F. Rubin's "The Hungarian People's Army" is also useful but dated. For information about the HPA's force strengths and weaponry, no source is better than the International Institute for Strategic Studies annual The Military Balance. Radio Free Europe occasionally produces articles that treat Hungarian military matters. Some translations produced by the Joint Publications Research Service and the Foreign Broadcast Information Service concern questions of Hungary's national security. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of September 1989

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