Hungary 1st post-com­mu­nist pres­i­dent Ar­pad Goncz dies

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY PABLO GORONDI

Ar­pad Goncz, who sur­vived a com­mu­nist-era life sen­tence to be­come Hungary’s first demo­crat­i­cally cho­sen pres­i­dent, died Tues­day. He was 93.

Par­lia­ment deputy speaker Ist­van Hiller an­nounced the death to law­mak­ers, adding, “He was a leg­end al­ready dur­ing his life­time.” Law­mak­ers stood for a minute of si­lence in honor of his mem­ory.

Goncz was charged with trea­son and sen­tenced to life in prison by Hungary’s com­mu­nist author­i­ties for tak­ing part in the abortive an­tiSoviet upris­ing of 1956. He was re­leased in 1963 un­der a gen­eral amnesty aimed at eas­ing ten­sions with the West.

Goncz was elected to a five-year term by the par­lia­ment af­ter free elec­tions that ended four decades of com­mu­nist rule in 1990, and was later re-elected by par­lia­ment for a fur­ther five years.

Though his post was largely cer­e­mo­nial, Goncz was cred­ited by many with deftly us­ing his lim­ited pow­ers to en­force Hungary’s fledg­ling demo­cratic con­sti­tu­tion, of­ten putting him at odds with the postcom­mu­nist gov­ern­ment.

Although he lacked the Bo­hemian glam­our of fel­low dis­si­dent­turned- pres­i­dent Va­clav Havel in the Czech Re­pub­lic, Goncz’s fa­therly man­ner en­deared him to many Hun­gar­i­ans, win­ning him the moniker “Un­cle Arpi.”

Born Feb. 10, 1922, in Bu­dapest, he earned a law de­gree in 1944 and also stud­ied agron­omy.

As World War II drew to a close, Goncz was called up to fight for Hungary — then al­lied to Nazi Ger­many — but es­caped from his unit and joined the anti-Nazi re­sis­tance.

He re­mained po­lit­i­cally ac­tive dur­ing the tur­moil that fol­lowed the war, be­com­ing sec­re­tary of the pop­ulist In­de­pen­dent Small­hold­ers Party. The party scored a land­slide vic­tory in the first post­war elec­tions, but it never was able to gov­ern ef­fec­tively as the com­mu­nists steadily usurped power, fi­nally elim­i­nat­ing all op­po­si­tion in rigged elec­tions in 1948.

Goncz worked as a lock­smith and an agron­o­mist un­til run­ning afoul of the com­mu­nists for po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties in sup­port of the 1956 upris­ing.

In the years af­ter his re­lease from prison he worked as a trans­la­tor and play­wright, re­sum­ing po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in 1988 as a co­founder of the lib­eral Al­liance of Free Democrats.

The party fin­ished sec­ond to the con­ser­va­tive Hun­gar­ian Demo­cratic Fo­rum in the 1990 elec­tions, but Goncz be­came pres­i­dent in a com­pro­mise be­tween the ri­val par­ties.

Once in of­fice, Goncz of­ten blocked gov­ern­ment ap­point­ments and leg­is­la­tion as re­la­tions soured be­tween the lib­er­als and the con­ser­va­tive coali­tion led by Jozsef An­tall.

The most prom­i­nent case was his re­peated re­fusal to dis­miss the heads of state ra­dio and tele­vi­sion as the gov­ern­ment, with its pop­u­lar­ity wan­ing, tried to tighten its grip on the media.

That earned him the praise of press-free­dom ad­vo­cates, but drew wrath from right-wing na­tion­al­ists who ac­cused him of over­step­ping his pow­ers and be­ing a pup­pet of Jewish and Western in­ter­ests.

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