József Ántáll

(b. 1932)

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János Kádár (1912—1989) Hungarian statesman


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(b. Budapest, 8 Apr. 1932; d. Budapest, 12 Dec. 1993)

Hungarian; President of the Hungarian Democratic Forum 1989–93, Prime Minister 1990–3 During the Second World War Ántáll's father, also named József, was government commissioner for refugees. He became famous for his role in saving the lives of hundreds of Jews. The father's heroism was later an advantage to the son. The younger József Ántáll worked as historian and archivist in Budapest in the early 1950s. He led a revolutionary committee during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, and was active in the short-lived revival of the Smallholders' Party. Kádár's regime arrested him in 1957 and banned him from teaching until 1963. Ántáll played no role in politics until the late 1980s when the Kádár regime began to crumble. In 1989 he became President of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), a broad-based party which drew much of its support from the countryside. It appealed to Hungarian nationalist feeling. By a narrow margin, the MDF did best of Hungary's three main parties in the elections of 1990 and Ántáll became the Prime Minister of a coalition government.

Ántáll was opposed to economic shock therapy on the lines of Poland's Balcerowicz Plan. But he had no clear alternative policies and during his leadership, Hungarian GNP declined. In the summer of 1990, Ántáll and the MDF supported the introduction of a Catholic religious education into the national curriculum. This led to conflict with the other coalition parties, since only three-quarters of the Hungarian population were Catholics. By 1991 Ántáll was receiving criticism for his authoritarian style, though this contrasted with his uncharismatic presence. Conflict over their powers erupted between him and Hungary's President, Árpád Göncz, who belonged to the opposing party, the Alliance of Free Democrats.

Despite failing health, Ántáll skilfully dealt with the problem of the extreme nationalist wing of the MDF, which had taken up the issue of the Hungarian minorities in Romania and Slovakia. In January 1993 he was re-elected party chairman of the MDF. In June 1993 he brought about the expulsion from the party of his nationalist rival, István Csurka.

Subjects: Politics.

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