József Antall

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The native form of this personal name is Antall József. This article uses the Western name order.
József Antall
Portrait of József Antall, Jr.tif
Prime Minister of Hungary
1st Prime Minister of the Third Republic of Hungary
In office
23 May 1990 – 12 December 1993
President Árpád Göncz
Preceded by Miklós Németh
Succeeded by Péter Boross
Member of the National Assembly
In office
2 May 1990 – 12 December 1993
Personal details
Born (1932-04-08)8 April 1932
Budapest, Hungary
Died 12 December 1993(1993-12-12) (aged 61)
Budapest, Hungary
Political party MDF (conservative)
Spouse(s) Klára Fülepp

József Tihamér Antall de Dörgicse et Kisjene, Jr. (8 April 1932 – 12 December 1993)[1] was the first democratically-elected Prime Minister of Hungary after the fall of Communism (from 23 May 1990 until 12 December 1993, his death), teacher, librarian, historian and political figure. He was the leader of the Hungarian Democratic Forum between 1989 and 1993.

Early life and education[edit]

Antall with his children in 1970

József Antall was born to an ancient Hungarian family from the lower nobility in Budapest on 8 April 1932.[2] His father, József Antall, Sr. jurist and civil servant, worked for the government in several ministries. Antall, Sr. coordinated the first living wage calculations in Hungary, and he was a founding member of the Independent Smallholders' Party (1931). During World War II, he presided the government committee for refugees.[2] After the German occupation of Hungary he resigned; later he was arrested by the Gestapo. After the war, he became minister of reconstruction in the government of Zoltán Tildy. Later, he became president of the Hungarian Red Cross, but after the communist coup he resigned and retired to his family estate. In 1991, he was posthumously honoured by Yad Vashem.

His mother, Irén Szűcs, was the daughter of a village teacher. Her father, István Szűcs, also became a political figure as a deputy Secretary of State. Antall had a sister, Edith Antall. His brother-in-law, Géza Jeszenszky later became Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Antall cabinet.

He graduated from the Budapest Piarist High School in 1950. He was interested in politics early on, but (quite understandably) didn't pursue his political career during the communist regime of the 1950s. After graduating from high school, he studied Hungarian language and literature at the Eötvös Loránd University as well as history and archival science. He wrote his thesis about the politics of József Eötvös, obtaining degrees in teaching, library science and museology. On 30 September 1991, Antall was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Central Connecticut State University.

Antall and his wife, Klára Fülepp, had two children, György Antall, a lawyer, and Péter Antall, a photojournalist, who later became director of the Antall József Knowledge Centre. Its primary objectives are to foster the Antall tradition and promote the spread of knowledge.

Early career[edit]

Following the graduation, Antall worked for the Hungarian State Archives and the Research Institute of Pedagogy. In 1955, he started teaching in József Eötvös Grammar School, leading the Revolutionary Committee of the school during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. During the revolution, he participated in the reorganization of the Independent Smallholders Party and in the founding of the Christian Youth Alliance. After the Soviet Union crushed the revolution, he was arrested and released several times. He continued his teaching career in Ferenc Toldy Grammar School in 1957, but in 1959 he was banned from teaching due to his former political activities.

Following this, he worked as a librarian for two years. In 1963 he wrote biographies of 80 doctors for the Lexicon of Hungarian Biographies. He became interested in the history of medicine, and conducted fundamental research in the area. He started working in the library and archives department of the Semmelweis Museum, dedicated to the history of medicine. Starting as a research fellow, he was promoted to deputy director and in 1974 he became director of the institute. His research was recognised internationally, and in 1986 he was the vice president of the International Society for the History of Medicine.

Prime Minister[edit]

Antall was leader of the MDF since 1989

Antall was delegated to the National Roundtable Talks by the Hungarian Democratic Forum on 22 March 1989 and worked in the committee on constitutional reform. He became well known for his activities during the negotiations.

Antall with U.S. President George H. W. Bush in October 1990

On 21 October 1989 he was elected President of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) by an overwhelming majority, thus becoming the party's official candidate for prime minister. The MDF was heavily tipped to win the 1990 elections, and as expected won a sweeping victory with 164 seats, just short of a majority. On 23 May he became the first prime minister since 1948 who was not either a Communist or fellow traveler. He headed a centre-right coalition comprising the MDF, the Independent Smallholders, Agrarian Workers and Civic Party (FKGP) and the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP). He also made a pact with the main opposition party, the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), . This agreement laid the foundations for the parliamentary operation of Hungarian democracy. His statement that, in spirit, he wanted to be the Prime Minister of 15 million Hungarians made a great sensation. At the same time, he contributed to the Euro-Atlantic orientation of Hungary. He played a great role in the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the termination of the Comecon as well as in the withdrawal of the occupying Russian forces in 1991. In 1991, in Strasbourg, he was awarded with the Robert Schuman Prize for his activities aimed at uniting Europe as well as extending Hungary's European relations.

As prime minister, Antall oversaw the establishment of a legal system to promote a market economy and attract foreign investment. The ruling coalition attempted to stabilize the economy while implementing privatization and other elements of a market economy, while the populist right wing of the MDF was vocal about the “national issue”—the question of the Hungarian minorities in neighbouring countries—and attempted to put it at the centre of the government's platform.

Antall with Jacques Chirac at the EDU conference in 1993
Antall with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Budapest, 1990

However, the return to a capitalist system and all its accompanying reforms exposed the precarious state of Hungary's state-run economy, which resulted in socioeconomic difficulties for the country during Antall's term.[3] Unemployment jumped from nonexistence to 14 percent. Inflation increased at an annual rate of 23–35 percent (excluding indexing of wages and pensions). Older, retired people, more than one-fifth of the population, suffered the most, and the living standards of more than one-third of the populace declined to below subsistence level. In the meantime, income disparities increased, which irritated the people.[4] Corruption became more widespread[citation needed] and visible than before. Together with the previously omnipotent police force, street security also collapsed in 1990. The crime rate, especially in Budapest, increased threefold in five years.

In the summer of 1990, Antall and the MDF supported the introduction of a Catholic religious education into the national curriculum. This led to conflict with the other coalition parties, since only three-quarters of the Hungarian population were Catholics. By 1991 Antall was receiving criticism for his authoritarian style, though this contrasted with his uncharismatic presence. Conflict over their powers erupted between him and Hungary's President, Árpád Göncz, who belonged to the opposing party, the Alliance of Free Democrats.[5]

In the realm of domestic politics, Antall had to face hardships during his career: the taxi-blockade in Budapest in 1990[6] and the withdrawal of the Independent Smallholders' Party from the coalition government forced him to restructure his cabinet in February 1992;[7] that reorganisation ultimately saved his administration from being toppled. Within MDF, Antall was continuously attacked by István Csurka who later on set into motion a stand-alone movement, thus Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) came into existence.

Illness and death[edit]

Tomb of József Antall

Antall became ill and diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the summer of 1990. In October, two days before the outbreak of taxi drivers' blockade, he underwent surgery, the famous interview in pajamas with him was made thereafter in the hospital to respond to the heated political situation resulted by the taxi blockade. Antall's cancer has recurred half a year later.[8] A day before his death, Antall was awarded Grand Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit by President Árpád Göncz on 11 December 1993. During the last period of his premiership Antall was substituted by the Interior Minister Péter Boross.[9]

József Antall died on 12 December 1993 before the end of his 4-year term. He led the former Eastern Bloc's longest lasting and most stable post-communist government.[10] He was succeeded by Péter Boross as Prime Minister who led the cabinet until the 1994 parliamentary election, where MDF suffered a serious defeat from the Socialist Party, while Defence Minister Lajos Für replaced him as party leader. Antall was buried on 18 December 1993, his bier was erected in front of the Hungarian Parliament Building, where farewelled by Speaker György Szabad, writer András Sütő and titular abbot Pál Bolberitz. The funeral procession finished at Kerepesi Cemetery. His tomb was later erected by sculptor Miklós Melocco in 1999.


In recognition of his work, one of the buildings of the European Parliament in Brussels was named after him in 2008.[11]


  1. ^ Jozsef Antall, Who Led Hungary After Communists, Is Dead at 61, New York Times, 13 December 1993 Retrieved 8 January 2012
  2. ^ a b Dennis Kavanagh (1998). "Antáll, József". A Dictionary of Political Biography. Oxford University Press. p. 16. Retrieved 31 August 2013.  – via Questia (subscription required)
  3. ^ "Jozsef Antall". MSN Encarta. Archived from the original on 31 October 2009. 
  4. ^ Ilona Cseh-Papp; A foglalkoztatás és munkanélküliség a rendszerváltozás után, tankonyvtar.hu, Retrieved 10 July 2015
  5. ^ Antall Answers
  6. ^ Mementó 1990: a taxisblokád története és következményei, Heti Világgazdaság, 25 October 2010 Retrieved 10 July 2015
  7. ^ Borítékügye miatt lépett ki Torgyán az Antall-kormányból?, Origo.hu, 10 January 2001 Retrieved 10 July 2015
  8. ^ Jeszenszky, Géza: 75 éve született Antall József – 6 April 2007
  9. ^ Sereg, András: Boross – Hadapródiskolától a miniszterelnöki székig. 98. p.
  10. ^ Hungarian Prime Minister Jozsef Antall Dies at 61, The Washington Post, 13 December 1993 Retrieved 8 January 2012
  11. ^ The European Parliament honours József Antall by naming new building after him, EPP Group, 15 January 2008 Retrieved 8 January 2012
Political offices
Preceded by
Miklós Németh
Prime Minister of Hungary
Succeeded by
Péter Boross
Party political offices
Preceded by
Zoltán Bíró
President of the Hungarian Democratic Forum
Succeeded by
Lajos Für