Parliament’s First Order of Business: Recasting Hungary’s History : Government: Deputies open session today. Before choosing a leader, they will set the record straight about the 1956 uprising against Soviet domination.
When Hungary’s newly elected Parliament convenes for the first time today, it will attempt to set the record straight on 40 years of thwarted history and point the nation on a course that heads directly West.
By unanimous agreement among the six main parties represented in Parliament, its first action will be to rewrite history so that the failed 1956 Hungarian uprising against Soviet domination will henceforth be portrayed as a “war of independence.”’
Only then will the 386 deputies who constitute Hungary’s first democratically elected legislature since the 1940s take up the question of who will lead the nation next.
Joszef Antall, head of the Hungarian Democratic Forum, is the virtual winner. As the top vote-getter in the two rounds of balloting on March 25 and April 8, the center-right Forum has been able to direct the government-building effort through its coalition with two conservative groups, the Independent Smallholders and the Christian Democrats.
While a full Cabinet is not expected to be named before mid-May, Forum candidates are reported to have a lock on the most important posts. Even the state-run MTI news agency has been identifying Geza Jeszenszky, Forum’s chief foreign policy expert, as the likely successor to Foreign Minister Gyula Horn, and party economics adviser Istvan Bethlen is reported to be Antall’s choice to head the Finance Ministry.
Antall said in an interview last week that the number of Cabinet members will likely stay at 14, as in the current caretaker government, but that some reorganization is to be carried out. Finance-related ministries and agencies will be combined to ensure a coordinated economic policy, he said, and responsibility for energy production and environmental protection will be separated. The sometimes conflicting issues are both currently handled by the Energy Ministry.
Antall’s official nomination as prime minister may not come until Thursday, since the deputies have made clear that they will first bring up the matter of how the events of 1956 should be portrayed.
Under the socialist system that will formally end with the opening of the Parliament, the workers’ revolt against Soviet occupation was branded a “counterrevolution.” The Kremlin sent in tanks to crush the uprising, and thousands died in the fighting before Hungary was again brought under Soviet control.
After addressing the historical issue, the Parliament will choose a new Speaker, who will succeed Socialist Matyas Szuros as interim head of state pending presidential elections expected later this year.
Zoltan Kiraly, a 42-year-old television journalist and active reform advocate, is reported to be the favorite among the Parliament’s 386 deputies.
Socialist Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth will then submit the resignation of his government. Draft laws to encourage but regulate foreign investment, to privatize industry and to restructure the costly yet ineffective social security system are already being drafted by party delegations for proposal to the Parliament in an effort to speed the transition to market economics once the government is in place.
Hungary suffers from inflation that has already reached 30% this year, and massive layoffs are expected as the nation attempts to pay off nearly $21 billion in foreign debts accumulated under the socialist system.
Breaking with the secrecy that shrouded the privileged lifestyles of past leaders, the parliamentary delegation representatives who met last week to prepare the first session announced the salary they agreed to propose for each of the new deputies and government ministers.
If the pay scale is endorsed by the full Parliament, the Cabinet members are to receive 65,000 forints monthly, which is about eight times the national income average, although only slightly more than $1,000 at the official exchange rate. Parliament deputies would get half that sum.
Among the guests invited to observe the first session will be Otto von Hapsburg, who was Hungary’s last crown prince, and Bela Varga, parliamentary Speaker before the 1948 Communist takeover, who now lives in the United States.
Only 33 Parliament deputies, less than 10%, are members of the Hungarian Socialist Party, successor of the Communist Party that was dissolved last October. Despite the strong anti-Communist tone of the campaign, voters reelected 21 members of the last Parliament, in which 70% of the deputies were Communists and the rest had the dominant party’s backing.