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1989 in Hungary: The Hidden Threads of History

April 7th, 2014 in the fourth lecture of Visiting Fulbright Professor Laszlo Borhi’s series, he discussed the “hidden threads” in Hungary that contributed to the end of the Cold War.  This year marks the 25th anniversary of 1989, a crucial year in world history when the Cold War ended and Europe was re-unified.  This, however, was not a top-down process, even if the 1989 transformation was made possible by Gorbachev’s 1987 and 1988 perestroika policies.  Instead, the key to national independence was the dismantling of the single-party system.  Poland and Hungary were key players in this process, as well as the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. 

            In Hungary, communism and the single-party system was dismantled through four “hidden threads of history”:

1)      Hungary’s perceived collective memory of rebellion against external oppression, which undermined the single party system and its legitimizing myth

2)      The question of national heritage: due to the Treaty of Trianon, a sizeable population of ethnic Hungarians live abroad, which brought up issues of demography and the fear of “national death” or the loss of national identity

3)      The re-emergence of civil society, where civil society institutions organized gatherings and demonstrations that helped raise awareness and undermined state-controlled media

4)      The collapse of the Kadar deal, or the unwritten social contract that Hungarians gave political consent to the Communist single party system in exchange for a higher standard of living.  It was hoped that the use of foreign loans to ‘modernize’ the country would then allow a ‘modernized’ Hungary to pay the loans off, but this did not happen. 

These national Communist ideologies harmed the economics which then undermined the political power of the Communist party in Hungary.  This loss of control led the Communist party in Hungary to agree to free elections in 1990, anticipating that they could retain their control by creating a majority out the forming factions.  This did not happen however, and as Hungary became more open its neighbors saw a peaceful model of transition to a multi-party democracy.  These events in Eastern Europe then influenced the Soviet Union and its dissolution, reversing the fall of the Iron Curtain.  The chronology of 1989 shows that history in the making often has little planning and many unforeseen consequences and that many actors are involved.


You can listen to the full lecture here