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National Exhibit
National Exhibit
Hungary Under Communism

Several show trials followed, called unofficially in Hungarian "conceptual trials" [koncepcios perek] since they were supposed to illustrate, and elucidate specific political goals and policies and teach the population applications of the party-line. The most important among these trials were those of Cardinal Mindszenty in late 1948 and of Laszlo Rajk and his "accomplices" in 1949. In all these trials the accused confessed without fail and were sentenced either to death or long prison terms. Soviet advisers assisted the Hungarian operatives and techniques similar to those used in the Soviet show trials of the 1930s were used.

Political repression entailed the arrest and internment of tens of thousands of people on vague and poorly substantiated charges such as "anti-people" or "anti-party attitudes". A new form of punishment was introduced (also modeled on the Soviet example): exile (via deportation) from the capital to small villages in Eastern Hungary which were declared "compulsory places of residence" [kenyszerlakhely]. Military service (conscription) was supplemented by service in "building battalions ["epito zaszloalj"] for those deemed politically unreliable or their descendants. A new branch of political administration [kader osztaly] was set up at places of work and institutions of higher education, devoted to the accumulation and scrutiny of information about of the social and political background and attitudes of the population.

Detailed files were kept and consulted frequently to determine the political reliability and loyalty of the citizens. Internal passports (or an identity document [szemelyazonossagi igazolvany] were issued for all those over 16. This document was to be carried at all times and contained detailed information about the biography and activities of the citizens including employment, education, permanent and temporary residence (testified to by the police at each change of address) among others.

After 1948 one-party elections replaced multi-party ones in which voting for the official candidates did not require any written endorsement of the ballot; it sufficed to drop it in the ballot box in the presence of the committee supervising the voting. Voting against the official candidate required crossing his or her name out. As a rule the Party got at least 98% of the votes. These elections were orchestrated as joyous popular endorsements of the Party in power and great pressure was put on everybody to vote. Food supplies usually improved on these occasions.

The economic policies of the government also faithfully mirrored those of the Soviet Union. All enterprises employing over ten workers were nationalized, and a program of rapid, ideologically determined policy of industrialization was introduced that disregarded the resources available in Hungary. Heavy industry, including steel mills were built which used iron ore imported from the Soviet Union since none was available in Hungary. Agriculture was forcibly collectivized leading to substantial decline in productivity and discontent among the peasants who had earlier been beneficiaries of land reform. The production of consumer goods was downgraded and there were food shortages; the standard of living substantially declined while ubiquitous political propaganda assured the population that it lived better than ever.

The death of Stalin in March 1953 led to less repressive policies in the Soviet Union and corresponding reforms in Hungary. Imre Nagy, a moderate, replaced Rakosi as prime minister until the spring 1955 when he was succeded by Andras Hegedus, a young functionary loyal to the orthodox party leadership. As in the Soviet Union many political prisoners were released between in 1953-55 and "rehabilitated". There was also a relaxation of forced industrialization and collectivization and greater freedom of expression. De-Stalinization accelerated after the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in early 1956 at which Khrushchev revealed and condemned the widespread repression that prevailed under Stalin and his "cult of personality." These revelations stimulated unrest and the rise of political expectations in Eastern Europe, and further undermined the legitimacy of the communist political systems, Hungary included.

Popular discontent with the system had several sources. It included nationalistic resentment over slavish subservience to the Soviet model and Soviet interests; the falling standards of living resulting from doctrinaire economic policies (such as collectivization of agriculture) and overall mismanagement; thirdly, political repression was widely experienced and bitterly resented. These sources of discontent were further inflamed by the routine denial of their presence; that is to say, pervasive political propaganda was contradicted by the daily experience of the citizens.

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Location:  Eastern Europe
Capital:  Budapest
Communist Rule:  1949-1989
Status:  Dissolved - 23.10.1989
Victims of Communism:
27 000