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Document No. 78: Report from Rezső Nyers and Károly Grósz on Negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev, July 24-25, 1989

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1During this visit to Moscow, the Hungarian communists are no longer quite the supplicants of the previous year, but they are still probing Moscow’s reactions, still working to ascertain the limits of Gorbachev’s tolerance, still uncertain themselves of how far to go—and receiving very little direction from their Big Brothers in the Kremlin. This document from the Hungarian archives provides the delegation’s report back to the comrades in Budapest about their surreal experience in the Soviet capital. At one level, the talks provided yet another warning to the Kremlin of how far the situation had disintegrated among the “fraternal allies.” The new leadership of the Hungarian party, prominent among them the reform economist Rezső Nyers, told Gorbachev that the Hungarian party was in tatters, its legitimacy gone, the cadres paralyzed, and disintegration imminent. Among the political factors that “can defeat the party,” Nyers lists first of all “the past, if we let ourselves [be] smeared with it.” Indeed, the Soviet repression of 1956 was, as Timothy Garton Ash put it later, like Banquo’s ghost, destroying the legitimacy of the Hungarian party, just as the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, martial law in Poland in 1981, and all the other communist “blank spots” of history did to communist ideology in 1989. For their part, of course, Soviet party reformers (including Gorbachev) did not quite know how to respond as events accelerated in 1989—except not to repeat 1956. They did not know what to do, only what not to do.

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Report to the Political Executive Committee

2Invited by the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, comrades Rezső Nyers and Karóly Grósz visited the Soviet Union on 24 and 25 July 1989. They took part in a two-hour negotiation with Comrade Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. The Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party invited the delegates for dinner, with the participation of several Soviet leaders. Comrades Nyers and Grósz negotiated with leaders of the Soviet-Hungarian Friendship Society. Comrade Nyers met Soviet social scientists; Comrade Grósz met leading officials of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party.

I.

  • 1 The 14th Congress of the MSZMP was held on October 6-10, 1989. During the congress the party disso (...)

3Comrade Nyers described the situation of Hungary and the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party. He said that the party is preparing for a working congress.1 A decision has not been made on every issue yet but it is quite definite that internal issues of the party will be on the agenda. A task set for the congress is to render the unity of the party. Comrade Nyers pointed out that the party is already becoming active, and new platforms are being formed. The basic concept of the congress is democratic socialism, self-government, parliamentary democracy, and economic democracy. Comrade Nyers emphasized that property reform is considered the primary element of the reforms. We wish to democratize public property, indeed making it available for the public. We are considering a new system that utilizes available capital more efficiently. We are planning to increase the ratio of private capital in the economy and the investment of foreign capital.

  • 2 On July 22, 1989, parliamentary by-elections were held in four constituencies but the first round (...)

4Comrade Nyers mentioned the experiences of parliamentary by-elections.2 He emphasized that one should not jump to immediate conclusions from the results. We consider the elections neither a success nor a complete failure. The present state of paralysis within the party, however, has become apparent. He referred to the fact that in one constituency the opposition united their forces in the campaign against the MSZMP, but this is not expected to be a broad tendency when it comes to the general elections. Comrade Nyers stressed that there are three factors that can defeat the party. First: the past, if we let ourselves get smeared with it. Second: the disintegration of the party. The third factor that can defeat us is the paralysis of party membership.

  • 3 The aging Janós Kádár, holding the honorary title of party president since the party conference in (...)

5Speaking about Hungary, Comrade Gorbachev said that Hungarian events are followed with much interest in the Soviet Union. The leadership of the Soviet Communist Party refers to our policy with understanding. In the course of negotiations they understood our intention to find our way on the path of democratic socialism. At the same time, Comrade Gorbachev posed several questions relating to Hungary’s situation and the policy of the MSZMP. Among other things, he inquired about our orientation in foreign policy, the role of private property and foreign capital, the experiences of by-elections, the goals of the party congress, and about the unity of the party. Comrade Gorbachev put special emphasis on the fact that Soviet leaders interpret the mass sympathy towards the MSZMP demonstrated at the funeral of Janós Kádár3 as an important political resource to rely upon. […]

IV.

  • 4 On July 27, just a few days after the return of the two MSZMP leaders from Moscow, József Antall, (...)

6In the course of the visit, several issues of the bilateral relationship were discussed. Negotiators mutually agreed that we should widen the scope of relations between the MSZMP and the CPSU, and increase the exchange of experiences. In this way the recently aggravated laxity that has been hindering the cooperation of Soviet and Hungarian party organizations can be effectively eradicated. Hungarian negotiators suggested that the CPSU and other Soviet social organizations begin collaborating with Hungarian democratic organizations and newly forming parties as well.4

7The negotiations proved that it is our mutual intention to maintain the friendship of the Hungarian and Soviet nations, and create a new basis for reinforcing the friendship movement, winning over the best professionals and the youth for the friendship of the two nations.

8In the course of negotiations, Hungarian and Soviet leaders examined the most urgent issues regarding the stationing of Soviet troops in Hungary. Comrade Nyers reminded the negotiators that at the meeting between Comrades Grósz and Gorbachev in Moscow in March, they agreed in principle that troops would continue to be withdrawn. At that time, Soviet negotiators asked that this agreement not be publicized. This time, Comrade Nyers suggested that the March agreement be reinforced, and the question of withdrawing Soviet troops further considered and publicized in one way or another. Speaking for the Soviet leadership, Comrade Gorbachev agreed with the idea. His suggestion was that when dealing with the issue, one should start from what the Soviet press release says about the subject: “In the course of negotiations, the issue of Soviet troops stationed in Hungary was brought up, and the parties decided that steps will be made to further reduce the number of Soviet troops in accordance with the European disarmament process and with the continuation of the Vienna talks.” Comrades Nyers and Grósz agreed with the suggestion.

9In the course of the negotiations, we reaffirmed our mutual political intent to seek the possibility of establishing a new basis for Hungarian-Soviet economic cooperation. Comrade Nyers indicated that the Hungarian government is presently working on a new fiscal system, and that the proposals might be submitted this autumn.

10The president of the MSZMP emphasized that the situation of Hungarian minorities in the Sub-Carpathian region is improving, which is of great importance for us in terms of domestic and foreign affairs alike. Comrade Gorbachev indicated that they are determined to head in this direction.

11Another subject was raised: many Hungarian soldiers died in action on the Soviet front or in POW camps in World War II. Hungarian public opinion is exerting pressure to preserve the memory of these victims in an appropriate fashion. Comrade Gorbachev emphasized that the Soviet Union is ready to cooperate in this field as well. They said that mass graves on battlefields are virtually impossible to find now. However, they are ready to specify cemeteries where Hungarian prisoners of war were buried. They would preserve the tombs, memorial monuments could be installed, and Hungarian citizens could visit these sites. The same practice is working well with the Federal Republic of Germany. […]

12[Source: A Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt Központi Bizottágának 1989. évi je-gyzokönyvei. [Minutes of the 1989 meetings of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party Central Committee] Editors: Anna S. Kosztricz, János Lakos, Karola Vágyi, Mrs. Németh, Látszló Soós, György T. Varga. Magyar Országos Levéltár [Hungarian National Archives], Bp. 1993, Vols. I-II. Translation provided by the Cold War History Research Center, Budapest.]

Notes

1 The 14th Congress of the MSZMP was held on October 6-10, 1989. During the congress the party dissolved itself and on October 7 formed a new entity, the Hungarian Socialist Party.

2 On July 22, 1989, parliamentary by-elections were held in four constituencies but the first round brought a final result in only one of them, where the opposition parties formed a coalition and won. The second round of elections was held on August 5 when candidates of the Hungarian Democratic Forum acquired two of the seats while in one constituency the election was void. [Footnote in the original.]

3 The aging Janós Kádár, holding the honorary title of party president since the party conference in May 1988, died on July 6, 1989; his funeral on July 14 was attended by tens of thousands of people.

4 On July 27, just a few days after the return of the two MSZMP leaders from Moscow, József Antall, Hungarian Democratic Forum representative, made a proposal to the Opposition Roundtable to invite the Soviet ambassador in Budapest and inform him of the opposition’s ideas. This move strengthened the probability that a secret communications link existed between the MSZMP and certain opposition representatives, as was commonly believed (but never proved) at the time.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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