||U.S. Department of State, August
Bureau of European Affairs
Area: 93,030 sq. km. (35,910 sq. mi.); about the size of
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Hungarian(s).
GDP (1998): $45.5 billion.
Since its conversion to Western Christianity before AD 1000, Hungary has been an integral part of Europe. Although Hungary was a monarchy for nearly 1,000 years, its constitutional system preceded by several centuries the establishment of Western-style governments in other European countries. Following the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy (1867-1918) at the end of World War I, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and nearly as much of its population. It experienced a brief but bloody communist dictatorship and counterrevolution in 1919, followed by a 25-year regency under Adm. Miklos Horthy. Although Hungary fought in most of World War II as a German ally, it fell under German military occupation following an unsuccessful attempt to switch sides on October 15,1944. In January 1945, a provisional government concluded an armistice with the Soviet Union and established the Allied Control Commission, under which Soviet, American, and British representatives held complete sovereignty over the country. The Commission's chairman was a member of Stalin's inner circle and exercised absolute control.
The provisional government, dominated by the Hungarian Communist Party (MKP), was replaced in November 1945 after elections which gave majority control of a coalition government to the Independent Smallholders' Party. The government instituted a radical land reform and gradually nationalized mines, electric plants, heavy industries, and some large banks. The communists ultimately undermined the coalition regime by discrediting leaders of rival parties and through terror, blackmail, and framed trials. In elections tainted by fraud in 1947, the leftist bloc gained control of the government. Postwar cooperation between the U.S.S.R. and the West collapsed, and the Cold War began. With Soviet support, Moscow-trained Matyas Rakosi began to establish a communist dictatorship.
By February 1949, all opposition parties had been forced to merge with the MKP to form the Hungarian Workers' Party. In 1949, the communists held a single-list election and adopted a Soviet-style constitution which created the Hungarian People's Republic. Rakosi became Prime Minister in 1952. Between 1948 and 1953, the Hungarian economy was reorganized according to the Soviet model. In 1949, the country joined the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA, or Comecon), a Soviet-bloc economic organization. All private industrial firms with more than 10 employees were nationalized. Freedom of the press, religion, and assembly were strictly curtailed. The head of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Forced industrialization and land collectivization soon led to serious economic difficulties, which reached crisis proportions by mid-1953, the year Stalin died. The new Soviet leaders blamed Rakosi for Hungary's economic situation and began a more flexible policy called the "New Course." Imre Nagy replaced Rakosi as prime minister in 1953 and repudiated much of Rakosi's economic program of forced collectivization and heavy industry. He also ended political purges and freed thousands of political prisoners. However, the economic situation continued to deteriorate, and Rakosi succeeded in disrupting the reforms and in forcing Nagy from power in 1955 for "right-wing revisionism." Hungary joined the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization the same year. Rakosi's attempt to restore Stalinist orthodoxy then foundered as increasing opposition developed within the party and among students and other organizations after Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin. Fearing revolution, Moscow replaced Rakosi with his deputy, Erno Gero, in order to contain growing ideological and political ferment.
Pressure for change reached a climax on October 23, 1956, when security forces fired on Budapest students marching in support of Poland's confrontation with the Soviet Union. The ensuing battle quickly grew into a massive popular uprising. Gero called on Soviet troops to restore order on October 24. Fighting did not abate until the Central Committee named Imre Nagy as prime minister on October 25, and the next day Janos Kadar replaced Gero as party first secretary. Nagy dissolved the state security police, abolished the one-party system, promised free elections, and negotiated with the U.S.S.R. to withdraw its troops. Faced with reports of new Soviet troops pouring into Hungary despite Soviet Ambassador Andropov's assurances to the contrary, on November 1 Nagy announced Hungary's neutrality and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. He appealed to the United Nations and the Western powers for protection of its neutrality. Preoccupied with the Suez Crisis, the UN and the West failed to respond, and the Soviet Union launched a massive military attack on Hungary on November 3. Some 200,000 Hungarians fled to the West. Nagy and his colleagues took refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy. Kadar, after delivering an impassioned radio address on November 1 in support of "our glorious revolution" and vowing to fight the Russians with his bare hands if they attacked Hungary, defected from the Nagy cabinet; he fled to the Soviet Union and on November 4 announced the formation of a new government. He returned to Budapest and, with Soviet support, carried out severe reprisals; thousands of people were executed or imprisoned. Despite a guarantee of safe conduct, Nagy was arrested and deported to Romania. In June 1958, the government announced that Nagy and other former officials had been executed.
Reform Under Kadar
In the early 1960s, Kadar announced a new policy under the motto of "He who is not against us is with us." He declared a general amnesty, gradually curbed some of the excesses of the secret police, and introduced a relatively liberal cultural and economic course aimed at overcoming the post-1956 hostility toward him and his regime. In 1966, the Central Committee approved the "New Economic Mechanism," through which it sought to overcome the inefficiencies of central planning, increase productivity, make Hungary more competitive in world markets, and create prosperity to ensure political stability. However, the reform was not as comprehensive as planned, and basic flaws of central planning produced economic stagnation. Over the next two decades of relative domestic quiet, Kadar's government responded to pressure for political and economic reform and to counterpressures from reform opponents, By the early 1980s, it had achieved some lasting economic reforms and limited political liberalization and pursued a foreign policy which encouraged more trade with the West. Nevertheless, the New Economic Mechanism led to mounting foreign debt incurred to share up unprofitable industries.
Transition to Democracy
Hungary's transition to a Western-style parliamentary democracy was the first and the smoothest among the former Soviet bloc, inspired by a nationalism that long had encouraged Hungarians to control their own destiny. By 1987, activists within the party and bureaucracy and Budapest-based intellectuals were increasing pressure for change. Some of these became reform socialists, while others began movements which were to develop into parties. Young liberals formed the Federation of Young Democrats (Fidesz); a core from the so-called Democratic Opposition formed the Association of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), and the neopopulist national opposition established the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF). Civic activism intensified to a level not seen since the 1956 revolution.
In 1988, Kadar was replaced as General Secretary of the Communist Party, and reform communist leader Imre Pozsgay was admitted to the Politburo. That same year, the Parliament adopted a "democracy package," which included trade union pluralism; freedom of association, assembly, and the press; a new electoral law; and a radical revision of the constitution, among others. A Central Committee plenum in February 1989 endorsed in principle the multiparty political system and the characterization of the October 1956 revolution as a "popular uprising," in the words of Pozsgay, whose reform movement had been gathering strength as Communist Party membership declined dramatically. Kadar's major political rivals then cooperated to move the country gradually to democracy. The Soviet Union reduced its involvement by signing an agreement in April 1989 to withdraw Soviet forces by June 1991.
National unity culminated in June 1989 as the country reburied Imre Nagy, his associates, and, symbolically, all other victims of the 1956 revolution. A national roundtable, comprising representatives of the new parties and some recreated old parties--such as the Smallholders and Social Democrats--the Communist Party, and different social groups, met in the late summer of 1989 to discuss major changes to the Hungarian constitution in preparation for free elections and the transition to a fully free and democratic political system.
In October 1989, the communist party convened its last congress and re-established itself as the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP). In a historic session an October 16-20, 1989, the Parliament adopted legislation providing for multiparty parliamentary elections and a direct presidential election. The legislation transformed Hungary from a people's republic into the Republic of Hungary, guaranteed human and civil rights, and created an institutional structure that ensures separation of powers among the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government. But because the national roundtable agreement was the result of a compromise between communist and noncommunist parties and societal forces, the revised constitution still retained vestiges of the old order. It championed the "values of bourgeois democracy and democratic socialism" and gave equal status to public and private property. Such provisions were erased in 1990 as the need for compromise solutions was obviated by the poor performance of the MSZP in the first free elections.
Free Elections and a Democratic Hungary
The first free parliamentary election, held in May 1990, was a plebiscite of sorts on the communist past. The revitalized and reformed communists performed poorly despite having more than the usual advantages of an "incumbent" party. Populist, center-right, and liberal parties fared best, with the Democratic Forum (MDF) winning 43% of the vote and the Free Democrats (SZDSZ) capturing 24%. Under Prime Minister Jozsef Antall, the MDF formed a center-right coalition government with the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) and the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) to command a 60% majority in the parliament. Parliamentary opposition parties included SZDSZ, the Socialists (MSZP), and the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz). Peter Boross succeeded as Prime Minister after Antall died in December 1993. Thc Antall/Boross coalition governments achieved a reasonably well-functioning parliamentary democracy and laid the foundation for a free market economy.
In May 1994, the socialists came back to win a plurality of votes and
54% of the seats after an election campaign focused largely on economic
issues and the substantial decline in living standards since 1990. A heavy
turnout of voters swept away the right-of-center coalition but soundly
rejected extremists on both right and left. Despite its neocommunist
pedigree, the MSZP continued economic reforms and privatization, adopting
a painful but necessary policy of fiscal austerity (the "Bokros plan") in
1995. The government pursued a foreign policy of integration with
Euro-Atlantic institutions and reconciliation with neighboring countries.
But neither an invitation to join NATO nor improving economic indicators
guaranteed the MSZP's re-election; dissatisfaction with the pace of
economic recovery, rising crime, and cases of government corruption
convinced voters to propel center-right parties into power following
national elections in May 1998. The Federation of Young Democrats (renamed
Fidcsz-Hungarian Civic Party (MPP) in 1995) captured a plurality of
parliamentary seats and forged a coalition with the Smallholders and the
Democratic Forum. The new government, headed by 35-year-old Prime Minister
Viktor Orban, promised to stimulate faster growth, curb inflation, and
lower taxes. Although the Orban administration also pledged continuity in
foreign policy, and has continued to pursue Euro-Atlantic integration as
its first priority, it has been a more vocal advocate of minority rights
for ethnic Hungarians abroad than the previous government.
The President of the Republic, elected by the National Assembly every 5 years, has a largely ceremonial role but powers also include appointing the prime minister. The prime minister selects cabinet ministers and has the exclusive right to dismiss them. Each cabinet nominee appears before one or more parliamentary committees in consultative open hearings and must be formally approved by the president. The unicameral, 386-member National Assembly is the highest organ of state authority and initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the prime minister. A party must win at least 5% of the national vote to form a parliamentary faction. National parliamentary elections are held every 4 years (the last in May 1998). A 15-member Constitutional Court has power to challenge legislation on grounds of unconstitutionality.
Principal Government Officials
The Hungarian Embassy is located at 3910 Shoemaker St. NW, Washington,
DC 20008 (tel. 202-362-6730). Hungary has consulates in New York City and
Hungary spearheaded the movement to dissolve the Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization in 1990 and has since worked to modernize and Westernize its armed forces. The prospect of imminent NATO membership has led the government to focus on assuring the interoperability of the Hungarian Home Defense Forces (Honvedseg) with those of its future allies. This requires not only a slow, expensive overhaul of military hardware but also a major restructuring of organization, military doctrine, and training. Hungary has been an active participant in the Partnership for Peace since 1994, as well as the NATO-led IFOR/SFOR operations in Bosnia, and regularly contributes to UN peacekeeping missions.
The Honvedseg's largest service is the army, followed by the air force
and a small naval contingent that patrols the Danube River. The size of
the armed forces is now 58,000, down from over 130,000 in 1989. The
current mandatory conscription period for Hungarian males is 9 months,
although the new government has declared that it wants to reduce this to 6
months as part of a plan to professionalize the army. The Orban
administration also has pledged to increase defense spending by 0.1% of
GDP for the next 4 years to bring Hungary's military budget in line with
those of NATO countries. In 1997, Hungary spent about 123 billion HUF
($560 million) on defense. Hungary became a member of NATO on March 12,
1999. Hungary provided airbases and support for NATO's air campaign
against Serbia and has provided military units to serve in Kosovo as part
of the NATO-led KFOR operation.
The Hungarian economy prior to WWII was primarily oriented toward agriculture and small-scale manufacturing. Hungary's strategic position in Europe and its relative lack of natural resources also have dictated a traditional reliance on foreign trade. In the early 1950s, the communist government forced rapid industrialization after the standard Stalinist pattern in an effort to encourage a more self-sufficient economy. Most economic activity was conducted by state-owned enterprises or cooperatives and state farms. In 1968, Stalinist self-sufficiency was replaced by the "New Economic Mechanism," which reopened Hungary to foreign trade, gave limited freedom to the workings of the market, and allowed a limited number of small businesses to operate in the services sector.
Although Hungary enjoyed one of the most liberal and economically advanced economies of the former Eastern bloc, both agriculture and industry began to suffer from a lack of investment in the 1970s, and Hungary's net foreign debt rose significantly--from $1 billion in 1973 to $15 billion in 1993--due largely to consumer subsidies and unprofitable state enterprises. In the face of economic stagnation, Hungary opted to try further liberalization by passing a joint venture law, enstating an income tax, and joining the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. By 1988, Hungary had developed a two-tier banking system and had enacted significant corporate legislation which paved the way for the ambitious market-oriented reforms of the post-communist years.
The Antall government of 1990-94 began market reforms with price and trade liberation measures, a revamped tax system, and a nascent market-based banking system. By 1994, however, the costs of government overspending and hesitant privatization had become clearly visible. Cuts in consumer subsidies led to increases in the price of food, medicine, transportation services, and energy. Reduced exports to the former Soviet bloc and shrinking industrial output contributed to a sharp decline in GDP. Unemployment rose rapidly--to about 12% in 1993. The external debt burden, one of the highest in Europe, reached 250% of annual export earnings, while the budget and current account deficits approached 10% of GDP. In March 1995, the government of Prime Minister Gyula Horn implemented an austerity program, coupled with aggressive privatization of state-owned enterprises and an export-promoting exchange raw regime, to reduce indebtedness, cut the current account deficit, and shrink public spending. By the end of 1997 the consolidated public sector deficit decreased to 4.6% of GDP-- with public sector spending falling from 62% of GDP to below 50%--the current account deficit was reduced to 2% of GDP, and government debt was paid down to 94% of annual export earnings.
The Government of Hungary no longer requires IMF financial assistance and has repaid all of its debt to the fund. Consequently, Hungary enjoys favorable borrowing terms, and its sovereign foreign currency debt issuances carry investment-grade ratings with positive outlooks from all major credit-rating agencies. In 1995 Hungary's currency, the forint (HUF), became convertible for all current account transactions, and subsequent to OECD membership in 1996, for almost all capital account transactions as well. Since 1995, Hungary has pegged the forint against a basket of currencies (in which the German mark is 70% and the U.S. dollar 30%), and the central rate against the basket is devalued at a preannounced rate, currently set at 0.8% per month. The government privatization program will end on schedule in 1998: 80% of GDP is now produced by the private sector, and foreign owners control 70% of financial institutions, 66% of industry, 90% of telecommunications, and 50% of the trading sector.
After Hungary's GDP declined about 18% from 1990 to 1993 and grew only 1%-1.5% up to 1996, strong export performance has propelled GDP growth to 4.4% in 1997, with other macroeconomic indicators similarly improving. These successes allowed the government to concentrate in 1996 and 1997 on major structural reforms such as the implementation of a fully funded pension system, reform of higher education, and the creation of a national treasury. Remaining economic challenges include reducing fiscal deficits and inflation (expected to fall to 13% by the end of 1998), maintaining stable external balances, and completing structural reforms of the tax system, health care, and local government financing. The overriding goal of Hungarian economic policy, however, will be to prepare the country for accession to the European Union at the earliest possible date. Although many challenges remain, the prospects of EU membership with the next decade are excellent.
Prior to the change of regime in 1989, 65% of Hungary's trade was with Comecon countries. By the end of 1997, Hungary had shifted much of its trade to the West. Trade with EU countries and the OECD now comprises over 70% and 80% of the total, respectively. Germany is Hungary's single most important trading partner. The U.S. has become Hungary's sixth-largest export market, while Hungary is ranked as the 72d largest export market for the U.S. Bilateral trade between the two countries increased 46% in 1997 to more than $1 billion. The U.S. has extended to Hungary most-favored-nation status, the Generalized System of Preferences, Overseas Private Investment Corporation insurance, and access to the Export/Import Bank.
With about $18 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) since 1989,
Hungary has attracted over one-third of all FDI in central and eastern
Europe, including the former Soviet Union. Of this, about $6 billion came
from American companies. Foreign capital is attracted by skilled and
relatively inexpensive labor, tax incentives, and a good
Except for the short-lived neutrality declared by Imre Nagy in November 1956, Hungary's foreign policy generally followed the Soviet lead from 1947 to 1989. During the communist period, Hungary maintained treaties of friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance with the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Romania, and Bulgaria. It was one of the founding members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact and Comecon, and it was the first central European country to withdraw from those organizations, now defunct.
As with any country, Hungarian security attitudes are shaped largely by history and geography. For Hungary, this is a history of more than 400 years of domination by great powers--the Ottomans, the Habsburgs, the Germans during World War II, and the Soviets during the Cold War--and a geography of regional instability and separation from Hungarian minorities living in neighboring countries. Hungary's foreign policy priorities, largely consistent since 1990, represent a direct response to these factors. Since 1990, Hungary's top foreign policy goal has been achieving integration into Western economic and security organizations. Hungary joined the Partnership for Peace program in 1994 and has actively supported the IFOR and SFOR missions in Bosnia. The Horn government achieved Hungary's most important foreign policy successes of the post-communist era by securing invitations to join both NATO and the European Union in 1997.
Hungary also has improved its often-chilled neighborly relations by
signing basic treaties with Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. These renounce
all outstanding territorial claims and lay the foundation for constructive
relations. However, the issue of ethnic Hungarian minority rights in
Slovakia and Romania periodically causes bilateral tensions to flare.
Hungary was a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, has signed all
of the CSCE/OSCE follow-on documents since 1989, and served as the OSCE's
Chairman-in-Office in 1997. Hungary's record of implementing CSCE Helsinki
Final Act provisions, including those on reunification of divided
families, remains among the best in eastern Europe. Hungary has been a
member of the United Nations since December 1955.
Relations between the United States and Hungary following World War II were affected by the Soviet armed forces' occupation of Hungary. Full diplomatic relations were established at the legation level on October 12, 1945, before the signing of the Hungarian peace treaty on February 10, 1947. After the communist takeover in 1947-48, relations with Hungary became increasingly strained by the nationalization of U.S.-owned property, unacceptable treatment of U.S. citizens and personnel, and restrictions on the operations of the American legation. Though relations deteriorated further after the suppression of the Hungarian national uprising in 1956, an exchange of ambassadors in 1966 inaugurated an era of improving relations. In 1972, a consular convention was concluded to provide consular protection to U.S. citizens in Hungary.
In 1973, a bilateral agreement was reached under which Hungary settled the nationalization claims of American citizens. In January 1978, the United States returned to the people of Hungary the historic Crown of Saint Stephen, which had been safeguarded by the United States since the end of World War II. Symbolically and actually, this event marked the beginning of excellent relations between the two countries. A 1978 bilateral trade agreement included extension of most-favored-nation status to Hungary. Cultural and scientific exchanges were expanded. As Hungary began to pull away from the Soviet orbit, the United States offered assistance and expertise to help establish a constitution, a democratic political system, and a plan for a free market economy.
Between 1989 and 1993, the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act provided more than $136 million for economic restructuring and private sector development. The Hungarian-American Enterprise Fund offers loans, equity capital and technical assistance to promote private-sector development. The U.S. Government has provided expert and financial assistance for the development of modern and Western institutions in many policy areas, including national security, law enforcement, free media, environmental regulations, education, and health care. Direct investment in Hungary by American companies is rising rapidly. When Hungary acceded to NATO in April 1999, it became a formal ally of the United States. This move has been consistently supported by the 1.5 million-strong Hungarian-American community.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Peter F. Tufo
The U.S. Embassy in Hungary is located at Szabadsag Ter 12, Budapest
1054 (tel. (36) 1-475-4400).
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