Budapest, October 6 (MTI) – Arpad Goncz, Hungary’s first post-communist president of Hungary between 1990 and 2000, has died at the age of 93, a representative of his family told MTI on Tuesday.

Parliament observed a minute of silence, while the government paid tribute to Goncz in a statement of condolences, saying that as the first head of state of a free democratic Hungary, Goncz had “served his ten years in office to the best of his ability”.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on behalf of the ruling Fidesz party: “We will preserve the memory of Arpad Goncz with respect. He was an active and important political personality during the years Hungary made its transition from dictatorship to a democracy.”

Goncz, born on February 10, 1922 in Budapest, was a communist dissident who was jailed after the failed 1956 uprising against Soviet rule. The writer and literary translator became active again in politics in the latter half of the 1980s. He was a founding member of the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) in 1988 and became president of the Hungarian League for Human Rights in 1989.

In May 1990, he was elected a member of parliament and soon became its Speaker. The two dominant parties in parliament, the Hungarian Democratic Forum and his own SZDSZ elected him to a full five-year term as president. He was re-elected to another five-year term in 1995 and retired from the presidency on August 4, 2000 after ten years in office (Hungarian law does not permit more than two terms).

The Government Information Centre said in a statement that it conveyed its sincere condolences and sympathies to the family of the late president. It said that the government, with the agreement of his family, would ensure a worthy burial.

The co-ruling Christian Democrats voiced their condolences in a statement, saying that the former president’s “life and person was intertwined with Hungary’s history at the time of the political regime change”. The statement expressed the party’s sympathy with the Goncz family and said that his “memory and his achievement will not fade”.

The radical nationalist Jobbik party also expressed its condolences to Goncz’s family in a statement.

Goncz played an important and exemplary role in the anti-fascist movement in the second world war and during the time of the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising, the green opposition party LMP said in a statement. “We will remember with respect the first post-communist president of the Republic of Hungary”, the statement said.

Ferenc Gyurcsany, leader of the opposition Democratic Coalition (DK), said that Goncz was among the greatest of the founding fathers of the third republic. Gyurcsany said on his Facebook page that Goncz, a 1956 revolutionary, played an active role as a member of the democratic opposition which paved the way for regime change in Hungary.

The head of the Socialist Party referred to Goncz as a “symbol of national unity”, whose “magnificent personality synthetised the worthiest ideas”. Goncz was a “benchmark, exemplar and symbol”, Jozsef Tobias said in his statement.

The opposition Together (Egyutt) party commemorated Goncz as a “true, committed liberal democrat”.

“The life of Arpad Goncz was an example to every liberal democrat, and a true statesman … has been lost with his death,” the Hungarian Liberal Party said in a statement.

Throughout his years as head of state Goncz, it is widely held, remained the most popular and best-loved statesman in Hungary. In retirement, too, he remained one of the most popular personalities in Hungary, attending political and literary events alike.

From 1989 to 1990, he served as president and later as honorary president of the Hungarian Writers’ Association.

Juncker praises former president Goncz as “true European” in condolence message

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker issued a condolence message on Tuesday stating that Hungary’s former President Arpad Goncz was a friend and a true European.

Goncz “was a genuinely popular politician in Hungary. He was a man of democracy, who helped steer Hungary away from dictatorship. Men like Arpad rarely come along in the history of a nation, or even a continent. He was a man who lived by the strength of his moral convictions and remains to this day a source of inspiration”, the statement said. Juncker said he “had the good fortune of meeting him on many occasions, and the honour of having been able to call him a friend”. He described Goncz as “a steadfast and admirable figure in the political landscape, not just in Hungary but in Europe as well.” “He was a true European, who knew that the destiny of his country lay within Europe, and in respect for democracy and the rule of law,” Juncker said. Goncz was Hungary’s first post-communist president in office for ten years from 1990. He died at the age of 93.

Arpad Goncz

After graduating from law school at Budapest’s Pazmany Peter University in 1944, Goncz was immediately drafted by the Hungarian army, an ally of the Axis Powers, but deserted and joined the armed anti-fascist resistance instead.

He joined the pro-agriculture-based Independent Smallholders’ Party in 1945 — which Soviet forces prevented from forming a government alone despite its having received 57 percent of the first post-war vote — soon becoming the leader of the party’s youth organisation. He was active in the Smallholders’ parliamentary group and served as personal secretary to its general secretary, Bela Kovacs, whom the Soviet authorities arrested and imprisoned in 1947.

In 1952 he enrolled in the University of Agriculture of Godollo but was expelled just before graduation in 1956 for political reasons. When the revolution of 1956 broke out in October, Goncz became a member of the Peasant Alliance, and when it was crushed in November, he joined in the writing of a series of memoranda describing the reprisals and in getting them smuggled them out of the country.

In 1957, through a comedy of errors, the judge mixed up his orders and Goncz was sentenced to death. When the political powers let the judge know his error, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Goncz was released on an amnesty in 1963. While in prison, he learned English and upon his release he took a job as translator for a chemical research institute.

He became a full-time writer and literary translator in 1965 and is best known for his plays. Authors he translated into Hungarian include Doctorow, Faulkner, Golding, Hemingway, Susan Sontag, Updike and Tolkien.

Goncz is survived by his wife Zsuzsanna, and four children, including his daughter Kinga, a former foreign minister under the Socialist-Liberal government between 2006 and 2009.

CLICK ON THE PICTURE – Mourning, candles, black flag

Photo: MTI

Source: Former President Arpad Goncz dies aged 93

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