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Revolution Succeeds Too Well for Some, Not Enough for Others

October 23, 1996

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ Hungarians once thought all they had to do to ensure prosperity was get rid of the Russians. After a failed revolt in 1956, they finally succeeded in 1990 _ only to discover things are much more complicated.

Few people are in the mood to celebrate today’s 40th anniversary of the bloody uprising that marked the first time a Soviet satellite rebelled against Moscow. Although thousands of Hungarians were killed, the uprising is celebrated as a state holiday because it was a struggle for freedom, sovereignty and honor.

But the holiday has little resonance for many Hungarians who see that freedom from communism has created vast differences in wealth. Only 1,000 people gathered in downtown Budapest today to commemorate the anniversary, and they were disillusioned, not festive.

``This is the country of paupers, while some live like kings,″ said Imre Vizi, who served six years in prison for joining the revolutionaries’ ranks in 1956. He said most Hungarians were too busy trying to make ends meet to take time to reflect on their history.

Others who stayed away were no less bitter.

``Celebrate?″ said office worker Hajnalka Keresztes. ``Yes, I’ll `celebrate’ by mending my two boys’ clothes because we just can’t afford to throw anything out until they fall completely apart.″

For those struggling economically, Marta Tocsik is the face of inequality _ and perhaps the most hated woman in Hungary.

Grousing around the dinner table, on subways and street cars and at the office has focused on her since it was revealed last month that she earned a $5.3 million commission to help the government privatize property that under the communists belonged _ at least theoretically _ to everyone.

The outcry continues, even though the privatization company’s board of governors and the minister in charge have been fired.

Tocsik is only the most extreme example of a small class of entrepreneurs who have used the new freedoms to enrich themselves while most other people plod along economically.

One math professor grumbled that Tocsik could cover his university’s $2.6 million budget shortfall and still have plenty left over.

``To think that ... this woman could bail us out and still have another ($2.6 million) in the bank is just infuriating,″ said Nikos Fokas.

Elegantly dressed in a black dress and jewelry, and surrounded by expensive furnishings, Tocsik gave her first TV interview on Sunday, and didn’t apologize. ``I worked for that money,″ she said.

Keresztes said she and her husband, a bank worker, work hard, too. They earn well above the average $330 a month, but still have difficulties making ends meet.

That makes it difficult to think much of the 1956 revolution, or enjoy the freedom Hungarians won when they threw out the communists and sent their Russian masters home.

``We used to think `if only the Russians would leave, things would get better’ and many things are, of course, better, but a far cry from what we expected,″ Keresztes said.

Car mechanic Laszlo Pongor, 39, in the village of Tiszadob located 100 miles northeast of Budapest, freely admits taking any job he can and not reporting all of his income to tax authorities. Even so, textbooks for one of his children who just entered junior high school cost almost a quarter of the family monthly budget.

Sociologist Gyula Kozak, working at the Institute for the History of the l956 Revolution, said that ``people don’t feel that ’56 is something to celebrate, do not identify with it, don’t particularly care to celebrate it.″

In a recent telephone survey, 38 percent of the respondents could not identify a single personality of the 1956 revolution. Attempts to engage passersby on the street in a discussion of 1956 were met with apathy. The mention of Tocsik drew expletives.

The problem, said one retiree who called a late-night talk show last week, is that everything he and his generation worked to create under communism is making someone else rich.

``We are told to fend for ourselves,″ he said, ``while our savings have long disappeared and our pensions barely suffice for survival.″

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