Before József Antall became president of the Hungarian Democratic Forum last year, he lived in political oblivion for three decades. A teacher, historian and the son of a prominent politician, Antall briefly joined the opposition Smallholders’ Party during the 1956 revolution. After Soviet tanks crushed the revolt, he was arrested and fired from his job. Antall eventually found work in a medical history museum. But he says that 40 years of communism could not erase his thirst for democracy. Last week, in the second round of two-stage national elections, the Forum won a decisive victory, and Antall, 58, will likely become the next prime minister. “I always had an interest in politics,” he said. “But only in a democracy with parliament and freedom.” Hungarians, like the East Germans earlier, voted overwhelmingly to reject communism. But they face an uncertain future. According to unofficial results, the Forum won 165 of 386 seats in parliament, while its main rival, the Alliance of Free Democrats, won 96. The Hungarian Socialist Party, made up of reform Communists, won only 33. Still, the Forum failed to win a majority. And the two small conservative parties considered closest to the Forum, the Smallholders’ and Christian Democratic People’s parties, have raised rigid conditions for joining any coalition government. Said Erno Raffay, a prominent Forum leader: “It is potentially quite a dangerous situation now.” Antall, who is married and has two grown sons, has a reputation for being calm under pressure, and, because of his thick grey hair, bushy eyebrows and slight stoop, some Hungarians say that he looks like a strict headmaster. “People may say he’s cold and seems aloof,” said Sándor Keresztes, president of the Christian Democrats. “But that’s just because he knows exactly what he wants.”
Still, Antall may have difficulty healing the bitter divisions that emerged before the vote. Leaders of the Free Democrats accused his party of running a smear campaign after many of their posters were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti. Clearly, Antall’s Communist predecessors, who could stifle opposition rather than negotiate the minefield of democratic pluralism, had an easier task.
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