Hungary's Prime Minister discusses the Future
As part of a public demonstration of support for the newly-elected governments in Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom's Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, traveled throughout the region in September 1990. Not only did this provide her an opportunity to discuss important matters for Britain's foreign policy but also she could use the attention she brought with Western journalists to allow the new leaders of Eastern Europe a public forum for their plans. These comments from Hungary's Prime Minister, Jozsef Antall, are taken from a question-and-answer session with Margaret Thatcher. In his comments, Antall addresses the continuing importance for further political and economic reforms in Hungary, as well as make a direct appeal for Britain's assistance. While this press conference was held in Hungary, its intended audience was not the Hungarian public, whom the Prime Minister could have addressed at any time, but instead the foreign audience listening to the comments of Margaret Thatcher.
Hungary's Prime Minister discusses the Future
May I welcome Madam Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, again in Hungary
and in advance I would like to note immediately that it has been an
extremely useful series of negotiations which we have had which have
been very fruitful as well.
Our discussions have not been started just recently. In Helsinki we had
the chance to have discussions on similar subjects, too, and in the
forthcoming weeks on two other occasions we will have the opportunity
to have discussions. Therefore, basic matters of foreign policy and
economic policy have been touched upon.
With respect to foreign policy, may I inform you that we have had
discussions about the European security system, we have looked through
the Hungarian situation within this context and the relationship of
Hungary with Great Britain in this respect and the current state of the
Warsaw Treaty Organisation was discussed, too. Hungarian political
questions related to the Warsaw Treaty issue and the defence policy of
the Hungarian Republic were also discussed.
At the same time, we had discussions on the problem area of the Arab
Bay and Kuwait. The Hungarian attitude regarding this and our joining the
United Nations resolution already in the initial period of the crisis, we
were the first country in fact from among the countries of central Eastern
Europe to join this resolution of the United Nations. Further on we also
referred to our joining the embargo which has a serious impact on
Hungary both from the economic and the financial points of view.
Nevertheless we wanted to join this agreement.
From a similar aspect we have given humanitarian gestures to express
our feeling of solidarity. It is our intention to make gestures like this in a
short time to support refugees by delivering assistance and help for
May I note that it is very important that in order to have Hungary become
an associate member of the European Community in the forthcoming
negotiations, the British government will support us, we can enjoy the
support of the British government in this respect. Madam Thatcher has
put an emphasis on her intention to support the Hungarian request in
this sense, including support to be given at a later date when Hungary
could possibly become a member with full right of membership.
Naturally we have also registered the fact, which is well known now, that
Hungarian citizens travelling to Great Britain do not have to acquire a visa
any longer; and the possible installation of a BBC radio station after the
removal of the frequency moratorium in Hungary.
Matters such as privatisation were discussed. It was expressed that it is a
clear intention of Hungary to continue the process of privatisation and
related to this, again, we can have the support and assistance provided
by the British government since they have extensive experience in this
respect and in the period of transition state companies will have to
operate under market conditions and in this respect, too, we will have
some help and assistance from them. At the same time, we have
requested the support of the British government in the area of banking to
help interested parties make investments in Hungary.
And finally, may I note that in order to provide possibilities for the British
Council to move into a more convenient building, we have pointed out
the inclination, the intention of the Hungarian government to provide
some help in this respect and possibilities to provide a most convenient
building will be investigated.
British-Hungarian relations, also up to this day has been the basic path of
our foreign policy, part of the basic area of our foreign policy, British-Hungarian
relations have been excellent up to this day, too, our personal
relations as well as the relationship between our two parties have been
favourable, considering the past, that we belong to similar European
organisations, the IDU and EDU, our parties belong to, and the parties of
coalition belong to them too. So in every respect our relations have been
close and our relations are close and this is what we would like to have in
the future, this is the way we would like to have it in the future too.
In October we will have a meeting in England and then in November in
Paris we will have the opportunity to meet again and in the forthcoming
period the other members of the government will travel to Britain in order
to have meetings there, including the Minister of Defence, to discuss
British-Hungarian military cooperation.
Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, may I report briefly, confirming so
much of what Dr Antall has said.
First, may I say it is particularly appropriate that this, my second visit to
Hungary, should come with Dr Antall's government victorious and firmly
in place. Dr Antall came to see us many times before the election, we
hold the same philosophy, similar political views on economic matters.
And as I said to him today, we in Britain have a habit of spotting winners
as far as elections are concerned in other countries, and Hungary is no
So with those similarity of views, of philosophy and economic policy, it is
not surprising that the relationship has reached a new high level between
Britain and Hungary. Moreover, this government is the only really genuine
centre-right government in Eastern Europe and so we feel therefore that
the policies which we believe in are likely to go ahead much faster in
Hungary than elsewhere, particularly the policy of privatisation, in which
perhaps we can help because we have been through the experience of
privatising many big companies and nationalised industries in Britain.
It is very different this time from when I came before. That is not
surprising, the change from a fully communist government to a fully
democratic government believing in free enterprise. And I think the
easiest way is to say that one can sense a change in atmosphere, a very
different atmosphere prevails now from that in 1984.
Moreover, we visited the Stock Exchange, and not quite yet a Stock
Exchange like ours, but a Stock Exchange which has started business in
exactly a similar way to that which Stock Exchanges in the West began
many years ago.
And also, we have had a talk with entrepreneurs about their hopes and
about how they see the problems and the new opportunities developing
with far more free enterprise. I did say to them that it will take quite a
time to get big industries privatised, it took us a time because you have
to be quite certain that they are not monopolies and you have your
competition laws right, and also you have to get rid of many many
regulations. But that when they have done that, and we can perhaps give
advice, that it really does work. And they were all very keen entrepreneurs
I confirm what Dr Antall has said about foreign affairs and Hungary's
approach to Europe. It is some time ago since I suggested to my
European Community colleagues that we start to sort out Association
Agreements with the newly free countries of Eastern Europe, each one
tailored to the needs of the particular country. But I believe that the one
with Hungary should right at the outset make it clear that Hungary can
join the European Community when her economy is ready to do so and if
she wishes to do so, so that people know that they will be coming to join
a group of nations devoted to democracy and a free economy and
therefore they will have something to work for and a new hope which is
so important when you are going through a major change.
As Dr Antall has said, we also spoke about the problems in the Gulf, and
as he pointed out, we are as one in insisting that the full measure of
United Nations resolutions should be upheld. That is to say, Saddam
Hussein must leave Kuwait and the rightful government must be restored.
An aggressor can and never must gain from his aggression.
As you know, we are doing a good deal, and Dr Antall has been fully
behind everything that is being done and you heard his own extremely
constructive attitude towards these matters.
We have discussed other possibilities with regard to defence policy. At
the moment, and it will continue, our defence policy rests staunchly upon
NATO. NATO is also acquiring a political role. We notice that the last
meeting of the Warsaw Pact, it was very much more a political
communique than a military one and of course we shall be meeting at the
CSCE occasion in Paris when the CFE Agreement is ready to be signed.
And you know the proposals that I have made: that the Helsinki Accords
group of nations should meet regularly because that is the one that
embraces nations right from the United States across Europe and the
I am grateful to Dr Antall for mentioning that visas will no longer be
necessary for Hungarians to travel to Britain after 1 October. I am grateful
to him for indicating that he will give attention to the request of BBC not
only to have their English-speaking frequencies, but to have some local
frequencies so that they may broadcast in Hungarian.
And I am very grateful to him for indicating that our British Council,
which operates from the ground floor of our Embassy building, operates
very well, but in the new atmosphere in Hungary needs to be much more
active and needs new buildings, that he will look favourably upon that.
So just to sum up. Yes, it is a new level of closeness between Britain and
Hungary because of the government in Hungary, its beliefs and the speed
at which we believe it can operate, and we shall hope to be as
constructive as possible in meeting requests which the Hungarian
government may make to us.
Thank you very much, a very very successful and happy visit.
... and rising unemployment, I wonder are you determined to go on
taking the medicine and if so why are you prepared to stick with that
We are firm in our decision that we are going to take the necessary steps
and the possible steps against inflation. It is true that the inflation which
is between 25—30 per cent for this year, we have to face that. We may
decrease that, we hope, by the first half of next year, 1991. Evidently, it is
related to some questions of decreasing the budget and state subsidies
to enterprises and also it is related to improving the conditions of
competition. But of course there are external circumstances which have
negative effects and they are beyond our control. Among them I could
mention the crisis in the Gulf and also the increase of the price of oil
which causes a loss to us and also the decrease in trade with the Soviet
Union and the decrease of the energy imported from there.
In addition, we had a drought this year which had a grievous effect on the
Hungarian economy. It is quite clear, as in the field of privatisation, we
are ready to continue with our work.
Mrs Thatcher, your previous visit was a symbol of a new opening up, a
new hope in a rather tense European situation and period. What is the
symbolic message of your current visit?
In 1984, when I came, we had decided that we would try to have more
contact with East European states, in particular Hungary, because
although they were part of the socialist system, we felt that they might
like to have more contacts with the democratic countries and possibly
more trade because we felt that many of them might foresee a time when
communism would not suit them and then their contacts with the West
would come in very useful indeed.
At the time when I came, I was aware that Hungary was very much a
member of this Soviet group and naturally did not make any
embarrassing comments that would have harmed its chances or have
given it a tougher time with the Soviet Union.
Now the position which we foresaw has come about. It has partly come
about because President Gorbachev saw in his own country really the
collapse and crumbling of communism and was, I think, the first with his
courage and vision to see that it offered nothing for the future. Indeed, I
was thinking how I should answer the last question, had you asked me,
and may say that the answer I had prepared is just as appropriate for the
answer to this question. Whereas communism offered only despair,
democracy and a free society offers hope. Whereas communism offered
only a very low standard of living, a free society offers prosperity.
Whereas communism thought only of the powers of the state, a free
society with liberty and justice thinks of the fundamental rights and
human rights and liberties of the individual.
This is an enormous difference and that difference is now the road upon
which Hungary has embarked and they can see that it works because they
can see the difference between the rights of the individual in the West
and previously the absence of the rights of the individual under the
communist regime. And whatever the difficulties, they are prepared to
embark upon them. And the difficulties are as little compared with the
oppression which has been the hallmark of the communist regimes.
Question (Today's Paper)
Mrs Thatcher, in the international press the economic policy which is
often referred to as Thatcherism could be a useful method for curing the
illness of the Hungarian economy, in other words, do you think the
newly-elected Hungarian government can undertake the tensions and
challenges? This afternoon, you met the representative of the Free
Democrats, in what way do you draw a dividing line between a
conservative politician and a liberal?
Thatcherism is far older than Thatcher—that makes it very old indeed,
indeed it really goes back centuries because it is a whole political
philosophy of the limitation of the powers of government and the
maximisation of the powers and rights of the individual. Also its
economic policy is founded of course on free enterprise within a certain
framework of law so that industries and commerce should be run by
those who know how to run them and not manipulated by the state for
It has in Britain led to the highest standard of living we have ever known,
it has led to more jobs than we have ever known, and I think it has led to
a very much better way of life and also to increasing the reputation with
the economic performance of Britain, her reputation abroad.
It is not for me to say how the Free Democrats differ from the present
government, but I had very much the view that they also believe in similar
things, in similar principles, and the differences between the parties here
in Parliament are very much less than the differences between either of
them and the communism which they have both rejected.
Question (Hungarian Newsletter)
Mrs Thatcher, do you think that Britain is less interested in Hungary than
we would like them to be, and do you think that the Hungarian economy
could be restored by using something like a Marshall Plan?
No, I think that there is a heightened interest of Britain in Hungary
because Hungary now has the really only true centre-right government,
manifestly centre-right, the only true one of all the East European nations
for the time being. And therefore it is a heightened interest and a closer
You speak of a Marshall Plan. I do not think that that is the right way to
go about it. There are Know-How Funds because the important thing is to
try to do all we can to teach people the responsibilities of democracy and
economically the essence of good management. It seems to me the
fundamental difference between the communist state, which is the diktat
of the state, and a democratic freedom state, is that with the freedom
come responsibilities and democracy is about the participation of the
individual, it is not just about ordering him about, as in communism.
Therefore you will need considerable training on management,
particularly of the larger enterprises, and that is one thing that the Know-How Fund
There will also be a European Bank for Reconstruction. It is, as you know,
being set up in London, it goes beyond the membership of the European
Community in that it includes the membership of the United States and
Canada and Japan and also some of the East European countries. That is
set up specifically to help with the reconstruction of particularly the East
European countries and I think that that will be a much more practical
way forward than the one which you have indicated.
I would like to ask Premier Antall the following question:
It is clear that the free-market countries—the countries in the world
which enjoy political freedom and democracy—include among them some
of the wealthiest countries in the world but at the same time they also
include some of the poorest countries in the world. What are the
indications that Hungary, in its move towards a market economy, political
freedom and democracy, is going to join the wealthier countries of the
world rather than the poorer countries of the world?
I believe that as far as market economy is concerned, Hungary has good
chances to proceed towards the direction of the wealthier countries.
However, it requires long years.
The presumption that one part of the countries following marketoriented economies are rich and others are poor is true in general but in
our case market economy is operating well for the aim and not the
countries of the Third World that represent the poor countries.
I believe that Hungary takes a special place among the former Communist
countries because there were no historical examples to see that a
Communist country should be transformed into a market economy
following a dictatorship. We have the role of vanguards in this field and a
pioneering role and we undertake this role.
As far as the question is concerned as to where Hungary belongs, I
should say that we are on the medium level in terms of being rich or
poor. If you compare our living standards, way of life and lifestyle, if you
visit the country, you will not believe that you are in a rich country but
you cannot believe either that you are visiting one of the poorest regions
of the world.
I think we have a good chance to achieve a transformation and in the
market economy we may strive for the position of the wealthier countries.
We do not have illusions. We are realists. We know the condition of
Hungary and we know that we cannot compare ourselves with the most
developed industrialised countries of the world, even big, small or
Question (Press Association, London)
Prime Minister, since you discussed the Gulf crisis with Dr. Antall this
morning, are you in a position to comment on the validity of a report that
the five permanent members of the Security Council are agreed on an air
embargo against Iraq?
That is my understanding. That is what we have been working for. We
know that there is need to have an air embargo and need to have it
enforceable. We have been working to get agreement on the Five. I
believe that that has been reached. It will now have to go to the Security
Council for voting, which I expect will not come before about Friday.
Question (Daily Paper)
Madam Thatcher, what is the interrelationship in your opinion between
the pace of integration of the European countries and the admission of
new members into the Community?
New members to the Community would obviously have to be fully
democratic and have their economies well up to that of a market
economy. You may say there is an exception in East Germany; that is
because East Germany becomes a part of West Germany and therefore is
Whenever we have a new member, there is a considerable transition
period negotiated—it may be as much as seven years—to take into
account the changes which will come about in the tariff and other
arrangements and changes with the Common Agricultural Policy. That is
automatically done—it was quite a long time in our own case and long
transition periods for Spain, Portugal and Greece.
I think it is important, if we are to enlarge our numbers—and that cannot
come about until after the Single Market has been reached in 1992, we
have enough to do before then—that we do not have too much
bureaucracy, that we cut down the number of regulations and that we
make it quite clear that we are a European Community with each nation
as sovereign states, willingly cooperating one with another to form a
Community and do certain things together but each retaining our
The Common Agricultural Policy is an example of doing things together,
so is negotiating on trade. Those are both done through the Community.
Most other things are done and enforced through sovereign nations and
all, of course, have to be ratified by their own parliaments.
Question (TV News)
Tonight, we will show for the first time the BBC News on Hungarian
television. What is your opinion about that?
Another question: Last night, you mentioned in the Gundel Restaurant
that Hungary is going to find its place in Europe. What, in your opinion, is
the place that rightfully belongs to Hungary?
I am very pleased that BBC News will be shown on Hungarian television. I
think British broadcasting has a very good reputation and many people
have listened to the Overseas Service for many years, knowing that they
would receive the facts from it. Now, they are going a stage further in
Hungary and I understand the BBC News is to be shown on Hungarian
The second point was what is Hungary's place?
Hungary is a very important country—it goes right down the heart of
Europe—and now that the East European countries have come out from
under the Communist yoke, each of them with their own particular
character, talents and abilities can in fact demonstrate them much more
than ever before. Hungary, as I have said for so many years, is a very able
country, fantastic in design, has its own culture, has its own splendid
history—which is one of the differences between this and some of the
other democracies which have no such history which were referred to
earlier—and so we expect it to take a much more foremost part than it
has been able to do when it was just part of the Soviet empire.
Question (Neue Zurich Zeitung)
A question to the British Prime Minister, joining on that of my colleague
about a Marshall Plan.
Prime Minister, are you satisfied with the present extent of Western help
to Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia, especially if you compare it with
the help the GDR is about to receive from the Federal Republic?
I think it is entirely different when a country is unifying and where there
are colossal differences between the two parts of that country because
one has been living in a free world and the other in a Communist world.
They are all German. What is the difference? It is the difference between a
free society and the dead hand of Communism. You could not see it
better demonstrated anywhere: the same people, the same talents, the
same abilities, two different political systems—the best advertisement for
democracy and a free economy and the best example of what happens
when countries come under Communism.
Of course, you would expect the Federal Republic of Germany to give far
more help to the East Germans than any of us can give to any other
individual country. I am amazed that you should even think it necessary
to ask the question. We are giving help with the Know-How Fund, we will
give help through the European Bank of Reconstruction, we will give help
with advice on privatising and give as much help as we possibly can to
Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. We all joined together with special
help for Poland—with food aid—because her people were hungary during
the winter and we gave, through the Ten as a matter of fact, considerable
help to that.
Fortunately, in Hungary that has not been the case but I think that the
two situations which you pose are so very obviously different that they do
not need any greater reply than the one which I have given.
Are you disturbed that the IRA has devised a policy of committing
atrocities on the mainland of the UK when you are out of the country?
I do not think they wholly restrict them to when I am outside Britain. I am
deeply disturbed about the atrocities committed, wherever they are
committed, whether it be in Northern Ireland, whether it be on mainland
Britain or whether it be on the mainland Continent of Europe.
I hope it will be an object lesson to anyone who has hitherto given money
to the Republican cause to stop giving money, knowing that they in fact
are trying to bring down everything about democracy, that they are
enemies of democracy and that they are in fact perpetrating the most
appalling terrorism against innocent people. [Sir Peter Terry] Sir Peter and
Lady Terry: we are keeping in close touch and enquiring about how they
are getting on. I spoke last night to Sergeant Cox who is in the hospital
which serves my constituency and he was fighting the problems which
arose from the shooting in a very courageous way, but we are deeply
concerned and I hope it will not only be condemned everywhere, this
terrorism, but that every country will give us every help in tracking down
those who travel about the countries armed either to shoot or to bomb.
Question (BBC World Service, Hungarian Section)
Madam Prime Minister, one of the major problems of Hungary is the
problem of Hungarian national minorities living in Romania,
Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. What kind of assistance and help could
you give us to have the rights of Hungarian national minorities living in
You will know that under the Helsinki Accords, which thirty-five nations
signed, there should be no change of border by violence—indeed, there
should be no change of border whatsoever without the agreement of the
signatories to those Accords—and that I think we must stick to.
Margaret Thatcher and Jozef Antall, interview with Hungarian Journalists,
September 19, 1990, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Archive,
http://margaretthatcher.org (accessed May 15, 2008).
Margaret Thatcher and Jozef Antall, interview with Hungarian Journalists, September 19, 1990, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Archive, Thatcher Foundation (accessed May 15, 2008).