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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 65: Transcript of Opening Full Session of Hungarian National Roundtable Negotiations June 13, 1989

Texte intégral

1This remarkable document, transcribed from previously unpublished video recordings of the Hungarian Roundtable process, points to the unwritten “rules” of mutual civility that arose in the nonviolent dissident movements of Eastern Europe and found an echo among the communist reformers during the negotiated revolutions of 1989. For example, here Dr. Istvdn Kukorelli from the Patriotic People’s Front (part of the “informal” opposition, but formerly allied with the communists) proposes to “refrain from questioning each other’s legitimacy … since the legitimacy of each of us is debatable. Who will be given credit by history and who will be forgotten is a question which belongs to the future.” Communist party secretary Kdroly Grósz begins the negotiation process on his side by announcing the party’s intention to “separate ourselves from the remnants of the Stalinist model;” in fact, the party “has begun to transform from a bureaucratic state-party into a left-wing socialist reform party.” (Formal dissolution of the Hungarian party would take place in the fall.) We have obligations towards our allies, Grósz says, but we are striving to create a Europe without blocs. The formal opposition, in the person of Imre Kónya, declares that “the goal of the negotiations is to assure a peaceful transition from the existing dictatorial ruling system to a representative democracy that genuinely asserts the will of the people.” The communists would succeed in delaying free elections until 1990, but would nonetheless lose badly. Ironically, their reform candidates would have had a better chance if they had opted for elections right away in the fall of 1989.


2Kdroly Grósz: Ladies and Gentlemen, my Honorable Compatriots, there are few positive events unfolding in our hectic world nowadays. A lot of people are facing the future with anxiety and uncertainty. Against this background, let me greet with confidence and optimism the participants of this meeting and those who are going to follow the beginning of real political negotiations in front of their TV screens in Hungary and abroad.

3[…] Just a few months ago, at the February meeting of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, we arrived at the conclusion that we must find a peaceful transition to representative democracy based on party pluralism and presupposing competition between the parties. Our resolution met with the political goals of all those, whose representatives are seated at this table together. We are responsible for the success of this undertaking not only to the Hungarian people, but also to the community of nations. The public is looking forward to, and is concerned about, the outcome of this attempt at the same time. […]

4Let me stress that we do not intend to exaggerate or appropriate the results of building a democratic constitutional state which have been attained so far. In our opinion, apart from the political realism of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, these results were due to the social organizations and movements present and the constructive efforts of the evolving parties. It is our solid determination to separate ourselves from the remnants of the Stalinist model. The Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, together with other political forces, strives to build a democratic and socialist constitutional state which asserts the intention of the people. We expect economic and political reforms based on public consensus to help us overcome the economic crisis and to enable us to approach the most developed regions of the world instead of being irreversibly pushed to the periphery. Apart from the universal values of peace and humanism, we are trying to find socialist solutions that are particularly Hungarian. We observe our obligations towards our allies; at the same time, we are striving to create a Europe without blocs. […]

5The stakes are high. The negotiations entering a new phase should provide programs based on a consensus on as many issues as possible. This is the precondition for forming a viable coalition and for avoiding the paralyzing of party pluralism in Hungary through petty party disputes. For this reason we must concentrate on the common points instead of the differences between us. I am convinced that these negotiations can foster the development of a viable coalition and of future political alliances. It would be too early to predict the content of these. Reviewing interests and programs properly, however, can guarantee lucrative political cooperation.

6The Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party has begun to transform from a bureaucratic state-party into a left-wing socialist reform party. It urges, for example, differentiation based on performance; at the same time it aims to reduce social differences that cannot be accounted for by performance. It strives for economic efficiency without disregarding social solidarity. Its goal is to ensure that private property stimulates economic performance while it insists on the determining role of efficiently operating public property. […]

7Imre Kónya: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Hungary has belonged to the Hungarian people de jure for a thousand years. This is so notwithstanding the fact that during its history the people could hardly dispose of their property as owners or free citizens, in spite of trying to take possession of it from time to time.

8Assuming our historical responsibility and in accordance with our agreement with the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, we, the delegates of the Opposition Roundtable organizations, have appeared today at the Parliament in order to begin negotiations with the representatives of the ruling Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and the delegates of other organizations it has invited. We wish to put it on record that the goal of the negotiations is to assure a peaceful transition from the existing dictatorial ruling system to a representative democracy that genuinely asserts the will of the people. In the course of the negotiations we do not wish to divide power between ourselves and those who are holding it now. We do not wish to exercise power above the people’s heads, without being entitled to it by the people. Our aim is to enable Hungarian citizens to decide whom, which political forces, they commission to exercise power during the periods extending from election to election. […]

9After thirty years of numbness, our society has finally arisen. The formation of independent organizations and of large-scale demonstrations is an indication that it wants to control its own fate. It is not only our moral obligation to facilitate that, but also our common interest; moreover, many of us believe that it has already become a precondition for our nation’s survival. A reliable and already tested form of the continuous assertion of the will of the people is representative democracy. The peaceful method of its creation is free elections.

10We are convinced that free elections will not only lead to the significant revival of public life and policy-making, they can also affect the fate and history of our nation. We must be aware that free elections can only be held in a society which has been freed from its fears and suspicions. And fears and suspicions take time to fade. Burying the martyrs of the Revolution and commencing these talks can mark the beginning of a national reconciliation. Real reconciliation, however, can only be achieved by burying the existing dictatorial power system. That can only be done by depoliticizing repressive organizations and through free elections.

11Therefore, we wish to enter into negotiations with the power-holders based on the following principles. The basis of power is the sovereignty of the people. None of the political forces can appropriate sovereignty and declare itself the only representative of the will of the people. The will of the people must be expressed in free elections with an open outcome, not allowing for the exclusion of any party or political organization which accepts the principles of democracy and rejects the use of repressive instruments. Until the political will of society is expressed by the election of members of parliament, no other nation-wide elections, for example the election of the president of the republic or the election of local authorities, should take place. The power-holders should also accept the results of free elections and should not try to change them by any means afterwards. A strong opposition in parliament is a basic institution of democracy, counterbalancing the operation of the government. No political party or organization can have its own armed forces. Parties and political organizations cannot exert influence on the operation of the armed forces through their members. The armed forces cannot be used for solving political conflicts under any circumstances. It is constitutionally legitimate to react to violence only to the extent that is necessary for abating violence. It is not enough to renounce using instruments of oppression, the possibility of using them must be excluded. Workers’ militias should be disbanded, the operation of political police should be contained within well-defined limits, public security police should be subordinated to local governments and the use of guns should be controlled publicly.

12This is the only way people can stop being afraid, this is the only way for—not the silent but the silenced—majority to participate in politics. We, the organizations constituting the Opposition Roundtable, see the goal of the negotiations as regulating the way political forces are going to act and be compared publicly.

13At the same time, we are ready to do anything within our own range of competence, anything that is necessary to solve the conflicts brought about by the crisis. However, we cannot take responsibility for resolving [our] economic bankruptcy until the elections, since opposition organizations—being in opposition—can and would only monitor those who have governed this country for 40 years and who have caused this situation. We are aware that the economy is about to collapse and is burying under itself the lives of several thousand people every day. There, that is to say, our situation will not be improved by any political demagogy. The precondition for halting the economic decline is to change the political system.

14Finally, we would like to emphasize that the organizations of the Opposition Roundtable did not sit down at the negotiating table in order to acquire their share of power, but in order to give rise to a situation where the people themselves can acquire power without using violence, with the help of peaceful means. Hungary is the property of the people, therefore it is not necessary for the people to take by force what is their own property. The people only have to lift up their heads, organize themselves and take possession of the country, of their own homeland with due self-consciousness. […]

15Istvdn Kukorelli: Mr. Chairman, our Honored Political Partners, we have initiated today’s Roundtable talks and we are ready to take responsibility for them, though the table, let’s face it, has turned out to be rather square. It is still very significant for peaceful social development.

16The agreement we also signed is the result of mutual and realistic compromises. These compromises, the arrangement of the seats, will not give rise to illusions, will not deceive the public. These three sides express a lot of things and conceal a lot of other things as well. Placing the power-holders and the opposition opposite each other cannot be disputed. Democracy can hardly be imagined without an opposition protected by minority rights in the future. There is no doubt that the opposition and certain other civil organizations still lack an economic infrastructure, the creation of which is a task for our negotiations and for the government.

17We also have to admit, however, that the way we are seated cannot represent all the major divisions in society. To mention just a few of them: the country has started to break into two along lines separating public figures who organize themselves into parties and become the so-called elite and people who reject the formation of parties; separating the capital from the countryside; separating the haves and the have-nots. Other dividing lines also appear in the structure of society. All those tensions shall be tackled by us here—we are able to do it since around the table we represent a horizontal cross-section of society as well.

18Organizations that make up the third side do not pretend to appear as a unified force. They are present as independent political organizations representing the interests of their memberships, and their policies are formed independently on the basis of the agenda along the way. I am well aware of the fact that few people are able to find a common characteristic in this heterogeneous group intending to participate in the negotiations as an independent force. We do not make a secret of the fact that we are not a homogeneous delegation, but we possess, we will possess, a great amount of tolerance within our group.

19We wish the same to the unified delegations as well. We are drawn together through having a common interest in tackling the social and economic crisis. […]

20In the case of most organizations of the third side the role of being a formal partner of the old power structure is a common burden. That is why a lot of people wanted our delegation to take seats on the side of the HSWP. But they do not take into account the recent developments of our accelerating times, that is, the significant modifications that have occurred in the structure of the sphere of power. […]

21To refrain from questioning each other’s legitimacy could determine the success of our Roundtable, since the legitimacy of each of us is debatable. Who will be given credit by history and who will be forgotten is a question which belongs to the future. For our part, we do not intend to apply such arguments during the negotiations and we accept that all of us are negotiating partners with full rights representing smaller or larger segments of society. […]

22We are in the year of the creation of the constitutional state; reliable professional workshops are offering various significant draft bills for us to “buy,” and the government is working hard, it does what it must. We should also pick up speed, because the sociopolitical foundations of the law, that is, the political consensus, is still missing. We have stated in our agreement that legislative work cannot precede political agreements. We agree with this and also suggest that the Parliament should only include in its agenda draft bills that have been made public already, such as the party law, after the agreements are completed. Instead of being governed by decree, Hungary needs consensus law; the rule of law is the most important feature of the constitutional state. […]

23The third side agrees that two main topics should be included in our agendas, namely, the definition of principles and roles that support the execution of the democratic political transition, and of the strategic tasks in tackling the economic and social crisis. It would be a misunderstanding of our role to pull a government-level economic and political strategy out of a hat. It cannot be the goal of the opening plenary session; its goal is that we declare to the public our intention to cooperate and to negotiate. […]

24[Source: A rendszerváltás forgatókönyve. Kerekasztal-tárgyalások 1989-ben [Scenario of the Transition. Roundtable Talks in 1989] Editor-in-chief: András Bozóki, editors: Mdrta Elbert, Melinda Kalmdr, Béla Révész, Erzsébet Ripp, Zoltdn Ripp, Magvetö Kiadó, Bp. 1999, Vols. I-IV (From: Political Transition in Hungary, 1989-1990; International Conference, June 12, 1999, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest; A Compendium of Declassified Documents and Chronology of Events). Translation provided by the Cold War History Research Center, Budapest.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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