First freely elected President of Hungary dies

Árpád Göncz [Wikipedia]

Árpád Göncz, the former dissident, and the first post-Communist President of Hungary, died on Tuesday (6 October) aged 93. He enjoyed widespread public support and was regularly polled as the most popular Hungarian politician of his time.

The liberal politician served two terms, from 1990 until 2000. Göncz participated in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and he was also a founding member and vice chairman of the now defunct Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), as well as Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary before becoming president.

A lawyer by training and a writer, Göncz published several novels, plays and essays, and also translated a great number of prose works from English to Hungarian, most famously parts of J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga Lord of the Rings.

The Budapest Business Journal reprised the highlights of his life. In World War II, Göncz was conscripted and ordered to Germany, but deserted and joined the resistance movement. After the war, he joined the Independent Smallholders? Party in 1945, and served as leader of the party’s youth organisation for Budapest, as well as personal secretary to the general secretary. When the party was dissolved in 1949, following the Communist takeover, he became a manual worker.

Göncz joined the newly recreated Hungarian Peasant Alliance in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and once the Soviet Union intervened on 4 November, he was involved in the writing of several memoranda, and also participated in the transfer of a manuscript by Imre Nagy abroad. (Imre Nagy was the Hungarian reformist leader whose government was brought down by the Soviet invasion). Göncz was arrested in May 1957, and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason. He was released under the 1963 amnesty.

In 1988, Göncz was among the founding members of the SZDSZ, and a year later was elected President of the Hungarian Human Rights League. From 1989-90 he was President, and later Honorary President, of the Hungarian Writers’ Association.

Having been voted into parliament in the landmark May 1990 general elections, he was elected President by the National Assembly on 4 August, becoming Hungary’s first in 42 years who had no past ties to the Communists. He was reelected in 1995 for another five-year term that ended on 4 August, 2000. Göncz’ efforts in creating a unified Europe were recognised when he received the “Vision for Europe Award” in 2000. 

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