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Remembering the Doyen of Hungarian Politics, János Horváth – Witness of Dramatic and Promising Times

Dénes Sályi 2019.12.02.

János Horváth, the veteran politician who was the oldest member of Parliament for a long time and who lived through dramatic events of the stormy 20th century, has passed away at age 99.

Nearly living to be one hundred, he was a typical example of the generation whose best representatives refused both the Nazi and the Soviet orientation of Hungary, thus being obliged to emigrate and eat the bitter bread of exile. Born in 1921, his life developed similarly to many peers of his who were also born in the twenties and were destined to fight for a free and democratic Hungary in vain, but having the reward of participating in this work after the fall of communism.

János Horváth took part in the Calvinist youth organization as a young man and soon got involved in politics as well. During the war, he joined the illegal anti-Nazi Hungarian movement for independence but was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and condemned to death. Luckily, he managed to escape from prison and survived. After the war, he got involved in politics again, hoping to establish an independent, democratic Hungarian state and joined the Independent Smallholders’ Party. He was able to finish his studies as well and graduated in Economics. In 1947, he was sentenced to four years in a forced labor camp based on trumped-up charges against him by the communists. He was released in 1951 but couldn’t find a job in his profession, so he did manual work until 1956.

When the revolution broke in October, Horváth soon became the head of the National Economic Reconstruction Council and also the leader of the Smallholders’ Party in the 13th district of Budapest. After the Soviet invasion, he had to emigrate from the country to avoid being imprisoned or even facing a death sentence. He chose the United States, having to start a completely new life and career there. With some Hungarian emigrants, he established the Kossuth Foundation in New York. Between 1958 and 1966, he studied economics at Columbia University and was given a job at Butler University as a Professor of Economics. His focus in research was on inflation, unemployment, agriculture, and growth.

Former US Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell, former Hungarian Ambassador to the USA Réka Szemerkényi and János Horváth. Photo by Noémi Bruzák/MTI

Following the fall of communism, he started to visit Hungary and in 1997 came back to settle down in his mother country. He was invited to the Budapest University of Economics as a guest professor, utilizing his academic knowledge acquired in America as a scholar. At a request from Viktor Orbán, he led the economic committee of Fidesz from 1998, joining the party as well. In addition, after 51 years he became an MP in the Hungarian Parliament again, a post he held until 2014, and from 2003 as the doyen of the assembly.

Photo by Attila Kovács/MTI

An attractive character who was honest, straightforward, yet jovial with a good sense of humor, and a positive example of a man of principle, he even gained the respect and appreciation of his political opponents. Deep patriotism, a strong commitment to democratic ideas, courage and a colorful personality are the heritage he left to us. He will be sorely missed.

Featured photo via memoryproject.online


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