Difference between Hungary and Czechia vis-à-vis Russia
So 08 října 2022
Comment on the Reddit thread “Jana Černochová, Minister of Defence of the Czech Republic, makes a statement” and answer to the question by rocygapb)
Why is Hungarys suffering a case of amnesia? What is different between these countries that suffered soviet occupation and violence?
There were so many differences (I am a Czech growing up in the Communist Czechoslovakia of 1980s):
After the 1956 invasion the leaders of the regime (mostly the Party members) were severely crushed, but after that the regime was extremely lenient. Basically “don’t bother us and we won’t bother you” kind of regime. There were small private enterprises all over the country, contact with the West (e.g., Coke ads on billboards in the middle of Budapest … I have never seen those in Prague), not that difficult travelling regime (again, if you were not a problem for the regime).
After 1968 the official name for the new policy in Czechoslovakia was Normalization which was less brutal (relatively smaller number of people were imprisoned and there were almost no political capital punishments here since 1950s) but much more comprehensive.
Comparing to Hungary (and Poland) almost 100 % of all industry and everything was state owned, so everybody could be controlled through employment. EVERYBODY had to come in front of the “control committee” (prověrková komise), which were in every company, every theater, school, everywhere and you were asked what you did during “the critical period” (i.e., the relative freedom of the Prague Spring) and if it was something the committee didn’t like you were fired, also EVERYBODY was asked one critical question “What do you think about the brotherly help from other socialist countries in August 1968?” … if you didn’t approve (on record) the occupation, you were fired and became almost unemployable. Remember, everybody has their file going from employer to another employer, and if you were once recognized as “enemy of socialism” (yes, there was a list, and yes, my father was on it … fortunately, not of the highest rank, but still) there was no way to get any decent job, your children wouldn’t get into decent school, you driver’s license suddenly expired, your passport couldn’t be published, etc. etc. The main purpose of this was not to crush the opposition, but to break everybody’s conscience.
I remember meeting (still under the Communist times) with some guy from Argentina (or Brazil … one of those South American countries which were under the military junta regime) and he was in awe how sophisticated and efficient this terror was. We had almost perfectly locked borders, so the Communist here could be must more sophisticated and less violent than in those military dictatorships. So, there was no silent understanding in Czechoslovakia … you were either them or us (however, vague the definition was) and “us” hated “them” with a passion.
Also, the country was under visible and obvious Russian occupation (there were always some 75,000 Soviet soldiers stationed in Czechoslovakia). It happened regularly when driving in the countryside that you met some Russian military convoy and then you made sure to get out of their way, because they didn’t slow and they didn’t care much about Czech cars. The hatred towards Russians was much stronger here (and still is).
After the 1989 the regime change in Czechoslovakia (and now Czechia and Slovakia) was much more thorough. Hungary spent a lot of time trying some kind of “third way” between socialism and capitalism resulting that most originally state-owned large enterprises where half-stolen by their original Communist managers and various other apparatchiks (now the pillars of the Orbán’s regime), and Hungarian finances were thoroughly ruined. There were many things done poorly during the transformation of Czechoslovakia (and Czechia/Slovakia) in 1990s, but it is true that the basic motto was “We want to be normal again!” (meaning like in the Western Europe), there was never any attempt to pretend that the Communist regime was anything else than horrible mistake and crime.
Contrary to Czechoslovakia, in Hungary (and Poland) there was never (although here it was rather controversial and quite problematic) clean sweep of the state apparat from all former Communists and Secret Police agents with results that plenty of Hungarian (and Polish) politicians and government officials have quite problematic history. It is getting worse even in Czechia now (e.g., the former prime minister Babiš was among his other sins also well-known Secret Police agent), but still I believe that at least temporary clean separation improved situation here a lot.