'Among a considerable number of people there is a certain Kadar nostalgia,' he said, referring to the former Communist ruler Janos Kadar, who ruled Hungary from 1956 to 1988. 'Life was easier then. But the basis of this wellbeing was a lie. It was founded on Western credits, distributed in the form of price subsidies to create an illusion of prosperity. Basically, our predecessors drank in the pub and we have had to pick up the bill.'
Hungary's next elections are not due for more than a year, but Socialist activists and other opposition groups have collected about 100,000 signatures calling for a referendum to hold early elections. The Socialists fared badly in elections in March 1990, winning 9 per cent of the vote and 33 seats in the 386-member legislature. But they performed well in by-elections last year and an opinion poll in December gave them 14 per cent. By contrast the HDF, which won 165 seats and 42 per cent of the vote in 1990, was down to 8 per cent.
Mr Katona, who holds the post of Political State Secretary to Mr Antall, said the problem lay partly in public apathy towards the new political system. Last year some by-elections were repeated up to eight times because too few voters turned out to make the polls valid. 'If people don't get enough information from the government and parliament, they withdraw from politics. They hate the government, opposition and parliament. This is where we have had real problems with the press and television. Not that we wanted the media government-controlled. But sometimes there wasn't enough of a spirit of co-operation from the media.'
The government's long-running dispute with much of the media over alleged bias in favour of opposition parties caused the resignations last week of the chiefs of Hungarian television and radio, Elemer Hankiss and Csaba Gombar. For many Hungarians, the tussle proved that the country's non-Communist establishment has been obsessed with obscure quarrels and power battles rather than with practical issues such as reforming the health, education and social security systems.
Another cause of public scepticism is the frequent faction-fighting inside the main parties. The Smallholders, who won 44 seats in 1990, have split apart. The Alliance of Free Democrats, the main opposition party with 91 seats, has also been troubled by internal disputes. The HDF, a centrist party, suffered a crisis last August when one of its six vice-presidents, Istvan Csurka, issued an ideological tract with anti-Semitic undertones. The HDF holds a congress on 22-24 January, at which it hopes to avoid a damaging row over the Csurka affair.
Mr Katona said that such disputes, and Hungary's continuing economic problems, had drawn public attention away from the HDF's foreign policy successes, notably ensuring the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. 'People aren't very interested in such successes. We need to concentrate on poverty, unemployment and inflation and show that the government has an attitude of social sensitivity and caring,' he said.Reuse content