József Antall


This is indeed a solemn moment as I stand here before the Hungarian National Assembly and before the nation. It is a moment preceded by seemingly endless waiting, a moment we often thought might never come, or if it ever came, most of us would not be around to see it. At this moment I bow to the memory of our comrades, whether known or anonymous, who did not live to see this much-longed-for day.

I emphasise the solemnity of the moment because all of us, politicians and the general public alike, are sometimes weary and impatient. Some of our fellow citizens have not been able to fully comprehend (for circumstances have not facilitated comprehension) that the hour of momentous change has struck, that a revolution has taken place in Hungary, a revolution which, while continuing to demand sacrifice and patience, has brought us all the unrestricted freedom of human rights, is promising the restoration of individual and national self-respect, bodes well for the development of human capabilities and aspirations, and puts an end to four decades of double-talk, lies and suppressed truths. Some of our fellow citizens have fully comprehended the significance of recent developments and have taken an active part in the peaceful revolution over the past two years, but, although they believe in it, still find it too slow, too hesitant sometimes. That peaceful revolution required clear-sightedness and a joint effort by both the ruling establishment and the opposition to avoid extremities.

What has been taking place over the past two years is unprecedented in modern Hungarian history, but it has few parallels even in the history of the whole continent. We have been going through a revolution with extraordinary determination, and yet without bloodshed, setting a precedent for the entire region. And the world recognises it as such.

The government I am about to introduce will be a coalition government of the Hungarian Democratic Forum, the Independent Smallholders’ Party and the Christian Democratic People’s Party, and is determined to be a government of the centre. The government whose policies I am about to set forth will operate on the basis of four principles, if it obtains the confidence of the National Assembly. Our government will consider these principles as historic requirements to be fulfilled if we are to stand before the judgement seat of our own conscience and of posterity.


The second principle to be laid down is that our new government intends to be a government of the people. It is for the first time in forty-three years that a parliament freely elected by the Hungarian people is about to vote for a new government. For this reason if I obtain the confidence of the House, and if the new government obtains confidence, it will truly be the government of the Hungarian people. We are well aware that the principle of the sovereignty of the people is a notion brought into the greatest disrepute by the governments of the one-party system. Except for that beautiful but short-lived interlude in 1956, this notion was degraded to the state of a phoney slogan. Our new government will breathe new life into the notion of the sovereignty of the people.

We rely on the elements of moral regeneration lying dormant in the Hungarian people: the wish for inner and external renewal, the avoidance of extremities, tolerance, a calm but determined inclination to progress.

If the new government is truly the government of the people displacing for good the system of oppression and carrying out the transition to a system of freedom, then the government and its organs will no longer deserve to be looked upon with suspicion as the instruments of oppression did. Therefore I call upon the Hungarian people to discard deep-seated attitudes of distrust and to regard our institutions as their own, as instruments serving the benefit of the people. With this in mind, may I encourage the Hungarian people to support its new state, its National Assembly and its government, exercising trust and criticism.

In accordance with our third principle, and being aware that this is the area where it will have to confront the greatest difficulties, this government intends to be the government of economic transformation. It is commonplace to talk of the economic crisis; but the full extent of the predicament facing us still remains to be examined, and whatever we find out will be made public.

It is well known that the annual rate of inflation is over twenty per cent. It is also common knowledge that our national debt exceeds twenty-one billion dollars, amounting to the highest per capita debt in Central and Eastern Europe. Fake employment, or hidden unemployment, accounts for a great deal of our nominal employment rate. The state of the infrastructure is poor, which is one of the greatest obstacles to opening our economy. The state of the public health system is appalling, schools are worn out and neglected; I’d rather not continue. It is our objective to establish a social market economy, or, in other words, an economy where the open market is coupled with social and, let me hasten to add, environmental considerations of a caring and forward-looking society.


This address was read on 8 June 1990 at the unveiling of a memorial to the Jewish martyrs of Hungary. The first memorial in East- Central Europe to be erected by the Emanuel Foundation, it is the work of sculptor Imre Varga and stands by the synagogue in Dohány Street, Budapest. Those attending the dedication included President of the Republic Árpád Göncz; Zevulum Hammer, the Israeli Minister of Culture and Education; Edgar Bronfman, President of the World Jewish Congress; and László Keller, President of the Emanuel Foundation. The address was published in the 27 July 1990 issue of the weekly paper Élet és Irodalom (Life and Literature).

We remember one of the most tragic periods of Hungarian history and the history of Budapest, a period that was a disgrace to the 1000-year-old course and traditions of Hungarian history. Remembering it is especially heart-rending and sad for all those who feel strongly about Hungarian history. This heart-rending sadness is at the same time an unforgettable personal tragedy for those who lost children, parents and relatives. No decent person of goodwill, no upholder of human and national values, can, I believe, do other than reject this despicable political act and view it as a disgrace to mankind. All Hungarians, all Europeans and everyone else should be aware that what happened to the Jews was a shameful chapter in history.

But everyone should also be aware that it was not a crime committed by everyone, and that it was not all who had a share in it. It is especially tragic in history that fear paralyses people. It often paralysed decent people also; it turned them silent, as other dictatorships, too, turned decent people silent. Dictatorships are similar. They do not make allowance for human rights, for the duties that follow from humanity, and for laws. Therefore, in this tragedy, in this common remembrance, all discords that divide Jews and Christians should melt away. We must remember what is common in our roots, what is common in creating human values and in religion, just as our pains are shared here and now.

Our pains are intensified by individual tragedies on one side and by a sense of responsibility on the other. Our remembrance at this memorial, in the shape of a weeping willow, is also shared in that Jews and non-Jews remember here, together. They must realise that Hungarians regard this as a common tragedy. The artist has given expression to remembrance by the other side as well.

This common tragedy poisoned the air for decades, and perhaps we may say that it still does. This must be ended. I want all of you to know that the Hungarian Government, which has decided to lead the country in these hard times and to lead it out of the crisis into which it was pushed during the decades of the dictatorship, acknowledges its responsibility also for the Jewish community living in Hungary. The Government considers it its duty to defend the Jewish community that has remained in Hungary. I do hope there will never be a need to do so. However, we shall protect the Jewish community from all aggressive ideologies, from all thoughts that remind it of the past.

Everyone should also be aware that this country was the scene not only of persecution. Our great men, the great generation of the Age of Reforms, of whom we are proud and whose successors we claim to be, were – from Kölcsey, author of our National Anthem, through Széchenyi to Kossuth, Ferenc Deák and Eötvös – all pioneers of Jewish emancipation, as were our poets, among them János Arany(1), who com-memorated Jewry and the tragedy of the Jewish people in his poem “The Eternal Jew”. This generation played a decisive role in Hungary’s becoming, we may safely say, a haven in East-Central Europe for Jews, who arrived here in hundreds of thousands, fleeing pogroms elsewhere in the second half of the 19th century. Hungary is a country where, before the First World War, one million Jews lived, a country in whose capital, Budapest, Jews made up the largest denomination after the Roman Catholics.

And Jews and non-Jews should also remember that although afflicted with humiliations, insults and tribulations, amid the horror and the terrible tragedies of the Second World War, the largest Jewish community of Europe could remain in place here up to 19 March 1944(2). And there were people who knew what their duty was, and who took a stand in defence of Hungarian Jewry. Not that this can excuse the culprits or ease the tragedy; still, this, too, is a part of the historical truth.

Today, close to the turn of the new millennium, we must declare that this Government will never place hindrances in the way of those Jewish people in Hungary who feel that they ought to live abroad, in Israel. And it will grant the freedom to do so, along with all legal safeguards, to all those who wish to be Jews in this country and want to live as Jews in the first place. And those who feel they should live here as Hungarian citizens and as Hungarians in the first place should, whether they are believers or not, enjoy their full rights and the acknowledgement of society. No one should do anything against this, for those who do will find themselves up against the lawful Hungarian Government.

This is what we profess and whoever might inform you otherwise is telling the untruth. And we shall take a stand on this, because we, the political parties which make up this Government (just as the other parliamentary parties), consider ourselves to be the successors of those political parties, those ideas, which stood in opposition to Nazism even during the Second World War, despite Hungary being an ally of Germany. Our parties are united in their commitment to liberal and social ideas, whether they profess national, European, Christian, or any other ideology, and they reject barbarism and despise everything that reminds us of the sins of Nazism. And the Government and the parties wish to ensure in the future equality, liberty and peaceful conditions for life and work for all Hungarian citizens, including Hungary’s Jews. Let all those who are present here and who live here feel that we look upon your martyrs as our martyrs.


On 7 July 1990, barely over two weeks after the Government entered office, the Political Consultative Committee of the Warsaw Treaty met in the Kremlin in Moscow. In line with the rotating presidency, it was the turn of the Hungarian Prime Minister to chair the meeting. József Antall was accompanied by President of the Republic Árpád Göncz and Minister of Defence Lajos Für, on the trip to Moscow, where he put forward the proposal to dissolve the Warsaw Treaty. […]


Hungary is actively engaged in studying the proposals pertaining to a broad European military, security and political structure, including the Polish, Czechoslovak and Soviet proposals. We advocate the creation of a new, broad, pan-European security system that reflects the new reality, fits into the Helsinki process, supplements the radically transforming and disintegrating bloc structure and then gradually replaces it.

On the level of principles, it is important that this system should build on the active participation of all thirty-five OSCE member states. The responsible involvement of the United States and of Canada is indispensable, as is that of the Soviet Union. Here I would like to emphasise that Hungary welcomes the new Soviet stance acknowledging the importance of American military commitments in Europe. We believe the military presence of the United States to be a stabilising factor that will continue to have a definitive positive influence even after German reunification.

During the process of forging European unity, it is expedient to rely on stable Atlantic cooperation, which proved in the course of two world wars that Europe and North America are inseparable, regardless of which nation stands on which side. We do not wish to exclude the peoples of the Soviet Union from the unified Europe. We oppose merely shifting the line that divides Europe eastwards. The only credible alternative is the complete elimination of such divisions. When we emphasise the Atlantic idea in the broad sense, we do not follow Kissinger’s way of thinking. On the contrary, the Soviet Union must be part of the process of European integration and North America must also be included in it.

The Hungarian government’s and the Hungarian Parliament’s view on the future of the Warsaw Treaty and Hungary’s membership therein are rooted in our evaluation of the new situation in Europe. In 1956, the revolutionary government led by Imre Nagy adopted a resolute stance and unilaterally decided that Hungary should leave the Warsaw Pact.

Today – and we agree on this matter – the Warsaw Treaty, one of the remnants of European division, is in need of revision. Under current circumstances, the military organisation of the Warsaw Treaty is devoid of purpose. We believe that its future existence is no longer necessary and its gradual liquidation by the end of 1991 would be expedient. Naturally, this should come about as a result of coordinated meetings and efforts, and it would be unwise for any party to take unilateral steps in the course of the process.

We are convinced that we should not waste our efforts trying to reform this organisation, which has not yielded any notable results for years, but rather we should be engaged in establishing a new, joint European structure for security and cooperation and fit the Warsaw Treaty into such a framework. According to our position, our security should be based on European and regional cooperation rather than the balance of power and the rivalry between military and political alliances. We do not advocate less security. On the contrary, we want more security. We wish to be the allies not only of Eastern Europe but of the whole of Europe.

The Republic of Hungary wishes to initiate talks in order to review the nature, the function and the activities of the Warsaw Treaty, especially with a view to establishing a collective European system of security and cooperation, and the tasks of fitting into such a structure. In the meantime, until these negotiations yield results, we should identify those elements of the Warsaw Treaty that violate the sovereignty of member states and invalidate them. We, on our part, are intent on regaining sovereign control over the Hungarian Armed Forces. Our Parliament has taken the first steps to this end.

At the same time, the restoration of Hungarian sovereignty does not entail the unilateral termination on our part of our relations with the member states of the Warsaw Treaty. During the drafting of our proposals, we shall naturally take as our starting position the condition that neither the security of the Republic of Hungary, nor the security of her allies, thus of the Soviet Union, too, should be diminished and that cooperation between our nations should improve harmoniously, just as with the other European nations. In the course of realising our plans, we seek to create accord with pan-European processes and the tasks ahead. The elements of confrontation must be eliminated from the Warsaw Treaty.

The aim of Hungarian foreign policy is to provide for the complete enforcement of the ten Helsinki principles and extensive cooperation between equal democratic nations. We insist on adherence to the principles of the OSCE and to all West European norms that have been or are about to be accepted on a voluntary basis by the nations represented here today. We shall thrive to ensure that the recommendations worked out jointly during the Helsinki process should be gradually enforced as valid international norms. Such obligations must include the treatment of national minorities as well.

We are convinced that democracy cannot exist without respect for the rights of national minorities. On account of our dedication to democracy, we urge the establishment of the institutional framework required for the exercising of the individual and collective rights of national minorities as soon as possible. The right of ethnic self-organisation must be ensured and autonomous ethnic institutional structures must be created on a proportionate basis with the sharing of public funds, so that national minorities are able to decide autonomously about the key questions concerning their ethnic existence. It is important to ensure that ethnic minority groups are able to cultivate relationships with friends and family unhindered, to preserve their colourful cultural and folk traditions and their history, and to be able to use and cultivate their mother tongue in private and in public life, including all levels of education. We believe that all this requires the establishment of an institutional framework as soon as possible, and the provision of bilateral assurances that are also accepted on a regional and an all-European level as well.

1   János Arany (1817–1882), considered to be the greatest Hungarian lyric poet of the 19th century. Translated Shakespeare into Hungarian. Member and general secretary of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences between 1865–1879.

2   The date when Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Hungary, “the unwilling satellite”, as it was called by J. F. Montgomery, the US Minister to Hungary in the late 1930s and WW II.

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