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Hungarians Lean to the Left As Recession and Taxes Bite

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HUNGARIANS are starting to look back on communist times with nostalgia and on the current free market reforms with increasing dread.

Medium-paced reforms under the Hungarian Democratic Forum government of Premier Jozsef Antall have brought a 20 percent unemployment rate, 50,000 new homeless, a steadily declining gross domestic product, and unexpected hardship to this former East bloc nation.

Several recent polls indicate that the popularity of the ex-Communist Party, renamed the Hungarian Socialist Party, has been increasing since it relinquished power in 1990. And with last month's victory of the former Communist Party in Polish parliamentary elections, Hungarians are talking about similar changes.

``At least under communism we had a job and a roof over our heads,'' cries one man at the Menhely Homeless Shelter as he discussed the economy with his friends.

Tamas Gyuris, who runs the Budapest shelter, says homelessness was outlawed under the former system. ``Now we have a housing shortage and an open real estate market,'' he adds, ``so rent prices are skyrocketing.''

``Imagine if the average salary of a worker is 15,000 forints [$165], and the cheapest apartment costs 10,000 forints [$110], and a monthly rail pass costs 1,000 forints [$11],'' he says. ``What do you have left to feed your family with?''

The Socialist Party does not expect to win control of the parliament after next May's elections, but they do expect to gain more parliamentary seats. They currently control 8.5 percent of the votes.

According to analysts, the Socialists might even enter into a coalition with the Federation of Young Democrats, an aggressive market reform advocate. The Young Democrats are leading in the polls, but may want to take advantage of the Socialists' strong ties to labor unions. Goodbye safety net, hello taxes

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