The regime change in the former Eastern Bloc may rarely be connected to one specific date. It is rather considered a process which took place between 1989 and 1990. Of course,there were several important events. In Hungary, it was the reburial of Nagy Imre and his fellows on June 16, 1989, or the first free parliamentary elections on March 25, 1990. But none of these could be identified solely as “the” one that signifies the change of a regime.
It is a common occurrence in the post-socialist countries of the region that commemorating the change of a regime is not as celebrated as other national holidays. This is true also for Hungary.
There are several events which are about the remembrance. At first glance, this lack of celebration seems utterly inexplicable. With the regime change, Hungary put an end to decades of foreign ruling and oppression, while it was about to build modern democracy.
What other event should we celebrate if not this? After many bloody and lost revolutions, a peaceful revolution ocurred at last.
This article s an attempt to give some possible explanations as to why Hungarians do not emphasize the importance of the regime change – unlike in the case of other national holidays.
In short, there are 10 possible reasons which may explain the lack of holidays celebrating the change of a regime.
1. The COVID-19 pandemic
The first and maybe most reasonable explanation might be the fact that, currently, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Therefore, most countries do not have any intention to organize commemorations of any kind.
Nevertheless, the change of a regime had a 20th and 25th anniversary, and the commemoration could have begun last year together with other ’89 events, but this did not happen.
Therefore, the current unusual situation may be a reason to remain silent about the commemoration, but this is still not a full explanation.
2. When should it be celebrated?
As mentioned above, the change of the regime could be celebrated on more than one date. The biggest Hungarian national holidays are connected to specific dates – Hungarian Revolution of 1956 to October 23, revolution of 1848 to March 15.
But the regime change could be connected to a period instead of a specific date. Celebrating this anniversary could happen whenever.
3. The change of a regime has not lived up to the expectations
People thought that with the introduction of democracy and capitalism, their well-being would quickly improve. They expected significant changes in the quality of life to appear much faster.
However, after the change of the regime, an economic recession followed almost immediately. In 1989, the rate of unemployment was at the level of 0.5%, while the inflation reached 17%. Until 1993, the unemployment rate increased to 11.3% (indexmundi.com, 2017).
The growing inflation reached 35% in 1991 (ksh.hu, 2020). It is important to mention that experts claimed the the socialist economy system became unsustainable between the 1970-80s, and so a change in the economic model was necessary and inevitable.
But people have expected quick results from the new system. Although average and minimal wages have multiplied in a few years, a large number of people who lost their jobs during this period did not find the new economic system convincing enough.
Essentially, an economical disappointment has emerged in the country, which for a lot of people still symbolizes not the liberation, but a job loss.
4. It was an elitist change of a regime
In Hungary, only people who belonged to elite circles participated in the political changes. It was a revolution limited to one social class. Only 20-30,000 people attended the biggest mass event in Hungary (the reburial of Imre Nagy), while the neighboring countries were having demonstrations attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
A mass experience of the change of a regime did not take place. In practice, the intellectuals were the ones who did most of the work. In comparison, when it comes to earlier national revolutions, a wider part of society was involved.
5. There weren’t any iconic leaders
Although there were several leaders during the period of changes in 1989-1990, they did not enjoy a wide popular support, as did the leaders in earlier revolutions.
The change of the regime did not produce its own Lajos Kossuth (the leader of the Revolution of 1848-49) or II. Ferenc Rákóczi (the leader of the War of Independence in 1703-11).
Maybe this could be a premonitory sign of democracy, because it emphasized the change, not one person. Nevertheless, role models play a big part in stimulating mobilization – which did not happenat that time.
6. As if it were yesterday
It is conceivable that people do not view the events from 30 years ago with the seriousness and in a historical perspective that they deserve.
The past is easily forgotten. In 50 years, the change of the regime may, however, be an event that would gain its well-deserved place in our collective memory.
7. Positive opinions about the regime changers have changed
Many leaders of the change of the regime later became active in two political parties, MDF and SZDSZ. These two parties defined the first two terms of the change – between 1990-94, MDF, and between 1994-98, SZDSZ were members of a coalition – and people could link the then experienced economic and social issues to those parties.
It is possible that their earlier achievements have been viewed differently as a result of their later political activity. People may have been associating regime-change politicians with the economic recession and a negative mood, instead of focusing on their role in bringing about a change.
Thus, the change of the regime is evaluated rather negatively. Yet, it was an inevitable process, because regime-change politicians had to live up to a lot of different expectations. Meeting all of them would have been impossible.
8. It was bloodless
People associate bloodshed with many significant historical events. The change of the Hungarian regime was peaceful, which is one of its greatest achievements, but this fact could have been one of the reasons why it lacks due recognition.
9. People might not have wanted serious changes
Iván Pető, a former president of SZDSZ and one of the leaders of the change of the regime, argued in a video interview that after the change “major parts of Hungarian society wanted a socialist system without communists, with a welfare state, which gives social benefits to people, and where not much personal responsibility is required”.
According to Mr Pető’s , this could be a reason for the lack of a real, constant, and inheritable experience of the change of the regime.
10. The government
According to Erzsébet Pusztai, a former regime-change MDF politician, the current Hungarian
government is one of the reaosns why the commemoration of the change of the regime has not been emphasized enough.
Ms Pusztai sait in a video interview that since 2010, the whole change has remained chiefly unrecognized, as governmental politicians have been speaking about a new change of the regime in a way that neglected its merits, and the current situation is its direct result.
Although the abovementioned possible explanations may not paint a full picture, they may have contributed to the fact that the celebration of the change has been, until now, negected.
The article was written in connection with the videointerview-series organized and published by Republikon Institute for the 30th anniversary of the first free, “regime change” parliamentary elections.
indexmundi.com (2017) Hungary Unemployment rate – Economy.
ksh.hu (2020) A fogyasztóiár-index (1985–)
Republikon Intézet (2020) Harminc év múlva: akkor és most. Rendszerváltó politikusok az első szabad választás harmincadik évfordulójáról. Available [online]: http://republikon.hu/esemenyek/200401-harminc-ev-mulva-1.aspx