Hungary Voting the Rascals In

June 10, 1994

Even when it was a Communist monolith, Hungary brought market economics in by the back door. When communism fell, it was ready to grasp both democracy and capitalism. It is one of the handful of countries (Estonia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and possibly Poland come to mind) where the transition to capitalism appears successful.

And so was a shock that last month the Hungarian people freely booted out the Hungarian Democratic Forum, which had governed in the name of democracy and capitalism since the election of 1990. The voters gave majority power to the Socialist Party, which is the former Communists.

The new prime minister is to be Gyula Horn, who as a young secret policeman helped to suppress the people's anti-Communist uprising of 1956, but who as foreign minister in 1989 helped to subvert Communist East Germany by letting its refugees flee through Hungary to Austria.

Mr. Horn is the first Communist the Hungarian people ever chose to govern them. They were not consulted about the others. Hungary joins Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia in putting Socialists who used to be Communists (or Communists who call themselves Socialists) back in power after experiencing bourgeois reformers.

But Mr. Horn says he is no longer a Communist. His party's program is not Communistic. At his first post-election news conference, he promised to continue integrating Hungary into Western Europe. His first action as prime minister will be a visit to Germany. No one expects the new government to repeal capitalism. Nor will it impose a police state. Complainers will be heard, not jailed.

The pattern of left-wing electoral victories in Eastern Europe is not nostalgia for Communist tyranny. Mr. Horn does not call the ** 1970s the good old days. Rather, the architects of shock therapy economics are being held accountable for job losses, purchasing power shrinkage and business failures, just as their counterparts would be in countries that were already capitalist.

Former Communists are getting elected by saying rightly or wrongly -- and probably wrongly -- that they can make capitalism work better than the people who introduced it.

This is a setback for the pace of reform. It is unlikely to become a repudiation of reform.

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