Opening Full Session of the National Roundtable Negotiations

June 13, 1989

(Transcript of the video recording. Excerpts.)

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Károly Grósz: Ladies and Gentlemen, my Honorable Compatriots, there are few positive events going on in our hectic world nowadays. A lot of people face the future with anxiety and uncertainty. Against this background, let me greet with confidence and optimism the participants of this meeting and those who are going to follow the beginning of real political negotiations in front of the TV screens in Hungary and abroad. [...] Just a few months ago, at the February meeting of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, we arrived at the conclusion that we have to find a peaceful transition to representative democracy based on party pluralism and presupposing a competition between the parties. Our resolution met with the political goals of all those, whose representatives are sitting at this table together. We are responsible for the success of this undertaking not only to the Hungarian people, but also to the community of nations. The public is looking forward to, and is concerned about, the outcome of this attempt at the same time. [...]

Let me stress that we do not intend to exaggerate or appropriate the results of the building of the democratic constitutional state that have been attained so far. In our opinion, apart from the political realism of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, these results were due to the social organizations and movements present and the constructive efforts of the evolving parties. It is our solid determination to separate ourselves from the remnants of the Stalinist model. The Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, together with other political forces, strives to build a democratic and socialist constitutional state which asserts the intention of the people. We expect the economic and political reforms based on public consensus to help us overcome the economic crisis and to enable us to approach the most developed regions of the world, instead of being irreversibly pushed to the periphery. Apart from the universal values of peace and humanism, we are trying to find socialist solutions that are particularly Hungarian. We observe our obligations towards our allies; at the same time, we are striving to create a Europe without blocs. [...] The stakes are high. The negotiations entering a new phase should provide programs based on a consensus on as many issues as possible. This is the precondition for the forming of a viable coalition and for avoiding the paralyzing of party pluralism in Hungary by the petty disputes of the parties. For this reason we must concentrate on the common points instead of the differences between us. I am convinced that these negotiations can foster the development of a viable coalition and of future political alliances. It would be too early to predict the content of these. Reviewing interests and programs properly, however, can guarantee a lucrative political cooperation.

The Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party has started to transform from a bureaucratic state-party into a left-wing socialist reform party. It urges, for example, differentiation based on performance; at the same time it also aims to reduce social differences that can not be accounted for by performance. It strives for economic efficiency, without disregarding social solidarity. Its goal is to achieve ensure that private property foments economic performance, while it insists on the determining role of efficiently operating public property.


Imre Kónya: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Hungary has belonged to the Hungarian people de jure for a thousand years. This is so, notwithstanding the fact that during its history the people could hardly dispose of their property as owners or free citizens, in spite of trying to take possession of it from time to time.

Assuming our historical responsibility and in accordance with our agreement with the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, we, the delegates of the Opposition Roundtable organizations, have appeared today at the Parliament in order to start negotiations with the representatives of the ruling Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party and the delegates of other organizations it invited. We wish to put it on record that the goal of the negotiations is to assure peaceful transition from the existing dictatorial ruling system into a representative democracy that really asserts the will of the people. In the course of the negotiations we do not wish to divide power between ourselves and those who are holding it now. We do not wish to exercise power above the people's head, without being entitled to it by the people. Our aim is to enable Hungarian citizens to decide who, which political forces they commission to exercise power during the periods extending from elections to elections. [...]

After thirty years of numbness, our society has finally risen. The formation of independent organizations and of large-scale demonstrations indicate that it wants to control its own fate. It is not only our moral obligation to facilitate that, but also our common interest, moreover, many of us believe that it has already become the precondition for our nation's survival. A reliable and already tested form of the continuous assertion of the will of the people is the representative democracy. The peaceful method of its creation is free elections.

We are convinced that free elections will not only lead to the significant revival of public life and policy-making, but it can also affect the fate and history of our nation. We must be aware that free elections can only be held in a society which has been freed from its fears and suspicions. And fears and suspicions take time to fade out.

Burying the martyrs of the Revolution and commencing these talks can mark the beginning of national reconciliation. Real reconciliation, however, can only be achieved by burying the existing dictatorial power system. That can only be done by depoliticising repressive organizations and through free elections.

Therefore, we wish to enter into negotiations with the power-holders on the basis of the following principles. The basis of power is the sovereignty of the people. None of the political forces can appropriate sovereignty and declare itself the only representative of the will of the people. The will of the people must be expressed at free elections with open outcome, not allowing the exclusion of any party or political organization that accepts the principles of democracy and rejects the use of repressive instruments. Until the political will of the society is expressed by the election of the members of parliament, no other nation-wide elections, for example election of the president of the republic or election of local authorities, should take place. The power-holders should also accept the result of the free elections and should not try to change it by any means afterwards. A strong opposition in parliament is a basic institution of democracy, counterbalancing the operation of the government. No political party or organization can have its own armed forces. Parties and political organizations can not exert influence on the operation of armed forces through their members. Armed forces can not be used for solving political conflicts under any circumstances. It is constitutionally legitimate to react to violence only to the extent that is necessary for abating violence. It is not enough to resign using instruments of oppression, the possibility of using them must be excluded. Workers' militia should be disbanded, the operation of political police should be contained within well-defined limits, public security police should be subordinated to local governments and the use of guns should be controlled publicly.

This is the only way people can stop being afraid, this is the only way for - not the silent but for the silenced - majority to participate in politics. We, the organizations constituting the Opposition Roundtable, see the goal of the negotiations as regulating the way political forces are going to act and be compared publicly.

At the same time, we are ready to do anything within our own range of competence, anything that is necessary to solve the conflicts brought about by the crisis, we can, however, not take responsibility for liquidating the economic bankruptcy until the elections, since opposition organizations - being in opposition - can and would only monitor those who have governed this country for forty years and have caused this situation. We are aware that the economy is about to collapse and is burying under itself the lives of several thousand people every day. There, that is to say, our situation will not be improved by any political demagogy. The precondition for stopping economic decline is to change the political system.

Finally, we would like to emphasize that the organizations of the Opposition Roundtable did not sit down to the negotiating table in order to acquire their share of power, but in order to give rise to a situation where the people itself can acquire power without using violence, with the help of peaceful means. Hungary is the property of the people, therefore it is not necessary for the people to take by force what is its own property. The people only has to lift its head up, organize itself and take possession of the country, of its own homeland with due self-consciousness.


István Kukorelli: Mr. Chairman, our Honored Political Partners, we have initiated today's roundtable talks and we are ready to take responsibility for it, though the table, let's face it, has turned out to be rather square. It is still very significant for peaceful social development.

The agreement we also signed is the result of mutual and realistic compromises. These compromises, the arrangement of the seats, will not give rise to illusions, will not deceive the public. These three sides express a lot of things and conceal a lot of other things as well. Placing the power-holders and the opposition opposite each other can not be disputed. Democracy can hardly be imagined without an opposition protected by minority rights in the future. There is no doubt that the opposition and some other civil organizations still lack an economic infrastructure, the creation of which is a task of our negotiations and of the government.

We also have to admit, however, that the way we are seated can not represent all the major break lines in society. To mention just a few of them: the country has started to break into two along lines separating public figures whoorganize themselves into parties and become the so called elite and people who reject the formation of parties; separating the capital from the countryside; separating the haves and the have nots. And other dividing lines also appear in the structure of society. All those tensions shall be tackled by us here - we are able to do it since around the table we represent a horizontal cross-section of society as well.

Organizations that make up the third side do not pretend to appear as a unified force. They are present as independent political organizations representing the interests of their membership and their policies are formed independently on the basis of the agenda along the way. I am well aware of the fact that few people are able to find a common characteristic in this heterogeneous group intending to participate in the negotiations as an independent force. We do not make a secret of the fact that we are not a homogeneous delegation, but we possess, we will possess a great amount of tolerance within our group. We wish the same to the unified delegations as well. We are drawn together through having a common interest in tackling the social and economic crisis. [...]

In the case of most organizations of the third side the role of being the formal partner of the old power structure is a common burden. That is why a lot of people wanted our delegation to take seats on the side of the MSZMP. But they do not take into account the recent developments of our accelerating times, that is, the significant modifications that have happened in the structure of the sphere of power.


It could determine the success of our roundtable if we refrain from questioning the legitimacy of each other, since the legitimacy of all of us is debatable. It is a question which belongs to the future - who will be given credit by history and who will be forgotten. On our part, we do not intend to apply such arguments during the negotiations and we accept that all of us are negotiating partners of full rights representing smaller or bigger segments of society. [...]

We are in the year of the creation of the constitutional state; reliable professional workshops are offering us to "buy" various significant draft bills, and the government is working hard, it does what it has to. We should also pick up speed, because the sociopolitical foundations of laws, that is, the political consensus is still missing. We have stated in our agreement that the work of legislation can not precede the political agreements. We agree with this and also suggest that the Parliament should only include in its agenda the draft bills made public already - such as the party law - after the agreements are completed. Instead of being governed by decree Hungary needs consensus law; the rule of law is the most important feature of the constitutional state. [...]

The third side agrees that two main topics should be included in our agendas, namely, the definition of principles and roles that support the execution of the democratic political transition, and the strategic tasks in tackling the economic and social crisis. It would be a misunderstanding of our role to pull a government-level economic and political strategy out of the hat. It can not be the goal of the opening full session; its goal is that we declare to the public our intention to cooperate and to negotiate. [...]

[Source: A rendszerváltás forgatókönyve. Kerekasztal-tárgyalások 1989-ben [Scenario of the Transition. Roundtable Talks in 1989] Editor-in-chief: András Bozóki, editors: Márta Elbert, Melinda Kalmár, Béla Révész, Erzsébet Ripp, Zoltán Ripp, Magvetö Kiadó, Bp. 1999, Vols. I-IV]

(From Political Transition in Hungary, 1989-1990; International Conference, June 12, 1999, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest; A Compendium of Declassified Documents and Chronology of Events)