Hungary's Orban seeks to wipe out communist past

Wed Feb 1, 2012 6:41am EST
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By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Steps away from Budapest's ornate Parliament building, hidden in a basement studio on a leafy street, art dealer Peter Pinter was holding the third of his hugely successful auctions, entitled 'Going once, going twice... gone for good.'

What Pinter is offering - communist-era art, paintings, sculptures and posters - has gone beyond tourist kitsch and become popular with serious collectors, including locals. Price tags in the thousands of dollars are not uncommon.

"It's retro, it's fashionable," Pinter told Reuters before the auction. "Some people have an urge to do away with this part of their past. Others harbor strong nostalgia toward these objects... You can see people are very intrigued by them."

Hungarians are reexamining their communist past with an intensity not seen since the transition to democracy in the early 1990s, and not just in art.

One of the main players in this reassessment has been the ruling centre-right Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose anti-communist DNA has been the primary motivation of his career.

Orban, who famously demanded as a fiery youngster in 1989 that Soviet troops leave the country, says the policies that have provoked harsh criticism in his current term are aimed at closing the book on the post-communist period.

"The many conflicts were not random bush fires, but the result of very clear government work to end the post-communist era," Orban told the Hungarian Diaspora Council, an umbrella organization of ethnic Hungarians, late last year.

Critics claim the government is trying to disguise its failures; during its tenure, Hungary's sovereign debt has been downgraded, economic growth has faltered, the forint currency has weakened and the country's image abroad has been tarnished by a string of diplomatic confrontations.   Continued...

<p>Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a news conference at the European Council in Brussels after the European Union leaders summit January 30, 2012. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer</p>