Utrecht TJDI team in Budapest, Hungary

Posted by: Elizabeth Rhoads

5th August 2015

From July 13 to July 18, 2015, the Utrecht TJDI PI Anja Mihr and Research Fellow Sandra Rios did their ORA field visit to Budapest, where they met with key observers and experts on the Hungarian transition to democracy and transitional justice.

The interviews and conversations revealed that more than 25 years after the democratic transition began in 1989-1990, it continues to be a heated topic in everyday politics – particularly in the aftermath of a new constitution that aims to deal with the communist legacy. Hungary was one of the first countries in the communist block that opened its borders to the West and aimed for democratic transition.

Figure 1 The Memorial to the Victims of the German Occupation installed in 2014 has generated public controversy over the role of Hungary during the war, (credit: Sandra Rios).

Hungary has officially denied its responsibility in the Hungarian Holocaust from 1944-1945. After that, the Soviet occupation and the Communist regime presided over a period of terror until the 1956 revolution, which is remembered as a fundamental stepping stone for Hungary’s values of autonomy and democracy. The 1956 revolution contributed to essential changes in the way the communist system was implemented in the country, which differentiated Hungary from other communist countries due to their experience of softer measures and less control over private life. After the 1989 transition, several attempts to implement transitional justice mechanisms such as trials, lustration and reparations have proved to be insufficient in overcoming the political compromises that made a peaceful transition possible in the first place, such as legal continuity and the continuous participation of some communist actors in the public life.