Hungary’s transition from communism to post-communism was low-key. There was no bloodshed. There were few crowds. There were no big events to attract the world’s media. Yet without Hungary the demise of communism in Europe — if it had happened at all — would have happened very differently. For it was Hungary’s decision in September 1989 to permit the emigration through Austria of East German citizens (a logical extension of the decision taken the preceding May to dismantle the ‘iron curtain’ with Austria, a decision which was domestically unremarkable following the granting of full international passports to Hungarian citizens in January) that precipated the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hungary’s transition represented the quiet exhaustion of the communist economic system and its political masters. When pushed, the regime gave in and negotiated away all its powers. Furthermore, because dissident movements had enjoyed an almost accepted status for at least four years before 1989, and because the Communist Party (officially the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, hereafter Party) did not oppose change, the opposition, rather than unite against a common enemy, splintered early on into the precursors of the post-communist political parties. TheHungarian transition, then, was gradual and peaceful; and an alternative
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