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Hungarians Have Mixed Feelings About Collapse of Communism

Hungarians Have Mixed Feelings About Collapse of Communism
Hungarians Have Mixed Feelings About Collapse of Communism

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The collapse of the Berlin Wall, in November, 1989, was preceded earlier that year by the opening of the Iron Curtain in Hungary. Now, 20 years later, a new survey by Ipsos - a global online research group - indicates only one Hungarian in five believes their country has changed for the better since 1989 and that 56 percent of Hungarians say their country has lost more than it gained since Communism collapsed.

Economic hardship

Hungary began dismantling the Iron Curtain in May, 1989. Nearly three months later, hundreds of East Germans who had crossed into Hungary continued on to Austria when Hungarian authorities opened the western border on August 19. For the first time, citizens of a Communist Eastern European country had escaped to the West without fear of being shot or risking their lives in mine fields that dotted the frontier.
 
Former border guard Gyula Szemerics welcomes the freedoms won by Hungary, but says life after Communism has been filled with economic hardship.

Szemerics says that now, as hardships come one after another, he feels - as a father - that things are getting worse and that the results Hungarians expected did not happen.

Freedom has its price

Zoltan Rezsnyak was 52 when the Iron Curtain collapsed. He worked as a machine fitter in a large textile mill in Budapest. Rezsnyak, a committed Communist, says he misses the security of those days. He says Hungary's new freedoms have come at the expense of the homeless and unemployed.

Rezsnyak says Hungary today no longer subscribes to the idea of an eight-hour workday, followed by eight hours of play and eight hours of rest. He says people are working instead for 12, 14 and 16 hours, if they are working at all. There are 600,000 unemployed in Hungary.

At the industrial complex where Rezsnyak worked, railroad tracks leading to the gate are overgrown with weeds. His former mill is showing signs of decay. Much of the complex has been privatized. Among those who bought a building there is 47-year-old entrepreneur Zsolt Cserhalmi. He is the owner of Plastiprint, a small business that produces signs and logos on T-shirts, cups, pens, and even beauty salon aprons.

Cserhalmi says that, from a broader perspective, perhaps it is a pity such a big factory went bankrupt, but - from his point of view - it was good, because he was able to buy a building for a good price to run his business.

Cserhalmi notes that his shop would have been impossible under Communism, which strictly prohibited private ownership of copying machines and printing presses.

Cserhalmi notes everything he does is related to duplication, an activity that became free with a change in the system. He says that enabled access to materials and the whole printing industry became liberated.

Benefits of collapse

With the collapse of Communism, freedom exploded in Hungary. Hungarians can now vote in multiparty elections, travel abroad at any time and own property.

Former border guard Gyula Szemerics says the free market system has not solved the country's social problems. Nonetheless, he welcomed the Communist collapse.

Szemerics says Hungarians thought the change of government would turn their country into a land of milk and honey, but there is no milk and honey now. He is quick to add that, in comparison with what it was once like, at least Hungarians are now free.

Most Hungarians agree. But a recent survey shows a majority of them believe they have lost more than they have gained since the Iron Curtain lifted, which means the dreams and aspirations of many Hungarians remain unfulfilled.

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