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From Junior Scholastic Magazine


Randa Bishop

It has been only seven years since democracy came to Hungary. Before that, Hungary was under Communist rule, as was most of Eastern Europe. Most Hungarian teens are too young to remember the 1989 changeover from Communist to democratic rule. But they do understand the value of freedom.

Daniel Ne 'Medi, 14 lives in Budapest (BOO-duh-pehst), the capital of Hungary. "When the Russians were here, we had a Communist country, and everyone had jobs," he says. "My father drove a Russian car, a Lada. He never thought we could have a Western car. Now that Hungary is a democratic republic, a lot of people don't have jobs. But anyone who has the money can buy big cars like a Mercedes or a Chrysler."

Daniel's father, Gyorgy, has no question about which kind of government is best. "Even the worst democracy," he says, "is better than the best dictatorship. We lived through history. Normally, people learn it in school.

A Turbulent History

Hungary's history in this century has been, in a word, turbulent. After Hungary's defeat in World War I (1914-1918), it lost two thirds of its land. The peace treaty gave this land, and 10 million Hungarians, to Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Hungary also fought on the losing side in World War II (1939-1945). When Soviet troops occupied most of Eastern Europe after that war, they put Communist governments in every country.

Under the Communist system, the government runs almost everything, including farms, factories, and stores. The government decides where people can live, what jobs they can have, and what they can say. People who oppose the government system are jailed.

Hungarians became increasingly unhappy with Communism. In 1956, discontent boiled over into a revolution. A new government took power. But within a few days, Soviet troops rolled into Hungary and crushed the revolution.

Communist rule returned. But as the years went by, a slow process of change took place. Many hard-line Communist policies were relaxed. Some privately owned businesses were permitted. Because of these changes, Hungary's rule was called Goulash Communism, named after a Hungarian stew.

End of Communism

Despite the changes, Goulash Communism did not work. "By 1989, [Hungary's Communist rules] realized their system was not working. Hungary needed to adjust to the changing world in a peaceful, quiet and smooth process," says Gyorgy Ne 'Medi. The Hungarian parliament amended (changed) its constitution to allow multiparty elections, and proclaimed itself a free democratic republic. Hungary opened its frontiers by removing the barbed wire that formed the Iron Curtain. (To keep people from fleeing to the West, the Communist countries of Eastern Europe had erected barriers on their borders.) Soon after the barbed wire came down, Communist governments fell.

Gyorgy says that Hungary's new republic created many pluses: "Free elections, free enterprise, free trade, and many political parties. But these new freedoms also brought problems. Before the change, unemployment was unknown in Hungary. No one realized that the change would also mean great sacrifice, that factories would close and people would lose their jobs."

New Freedom

Adam Papai, 13, benefits from the new freedom. His hobby is making models, and most of the model kits he uses are manufactured in other countries. Now he can buy whatever he needs. "I made a model of one of the characters from the American movie Aliens. It is just one of the 18 models I have made, including everything from dinosaurs to airplanes and ships."

Adam, who lives in an apartment in Budapest, visits his grandparents almost every afternoon. They retired several years ago on a good pension. Now, because of high inflation (rising prices), they have a difficult time making ends meet. Prices have been rising almost 30 percent a year.

Adam's mother, Marianna, says, "Hungary was never a typically Communist country, everyone knows that. "We had a better supply of goods and more democracy that did other Eastern-bloc countries. Under the old system, we had money but couldn't buy fashionable articles like blue jeans, French perfumes, or Coca-Cola. Now we are just like the rest of the world. We have McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, the kids love it. It's good to have a choice. But now, because of very high inflation, it's a problem finding the money for all these goods."

The new freedom affects nearly every part of daily life. The government no longer controls radio and TV broadcasting or postal, telephone, and telegraph services. Newspapers are in private hands; there is complete religious, artistic, and cultural freedom; and land is privately owned.

"Now we can go a lot of places without a visa [official permit]," says Daniel Ne 'Medi. "I have been to England and Germany. I am learning English and German in school, and I will go to England in the summer to live with a family and learn English better. I also study Hungarian, which is very difficult," he says. "It has many accents and the grammar is hard." Hungarians speak a language that is very different from the languages spoken in neighboring countries. Hungarian was introduced by the Magyar tribes, who swept into Hungary from the east in about A.D. 896. The language is distantly related to Finnish.

Enigma and Fun Factory

Daniel loves living in Budapest, one of the largest and most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe. Pollution is a problem, however. "Our city is very dirty," he says. "I've never been in America, but my friends, living in Chicago say their city is cleaner." The government has started a campaign to keep the city clean.

Daniel likes to ride his bicycle in Budapest. He also loves music. "A lot of people think we are all gypsies in Hungary, because of our gypsy music," he says. Hungary is famous for its concerts and musicians, especially classical artists such as Bela Bartok and Franz Liszt. But Daniel prefers the music of modern groups, such as Enigma or Fun Factory.

Adam Papai also enjoys cycling. He competes in the triathlon, and event comprised of cycling, running, and swimming. At school, he likes drawing and English best, but he also studies math, Latin, and other subjects. Hungarian students take technical classes, too. "I am learning about materials, how paper is made, and how to make a plastic knife," says Adam. "The girls learn how to cook and equip a kitchen."

When students in Hungary reach the age of 14 or 15, they choose between an academic or technical school. Adam will continue academic studies. Attila Zolnai, who lives about an hour's drive outside of Budapest, chose a technical school. "I want to be a chef," says Attila. He goes to a trade school to learn the restaurant business. "I attend school one week, and work the following week in a restaurant."

Looking to the Future

Adam, Daniel, and their parents have high hopes for the future. "People will have to learn to have initiative and to get along without government support," says Marianna Papai. "Hopefully, inflation will come under control. Nobody wants Communism, [with] only one political party and empty shops. The fact that we [now] have the possibility to choose is very important."

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