Németh played a role in the overthrow of Communism in two separate nations. He was a major reform leader in the Hungarian Communist Party. During his term as Prime Minister, he allowed East Germans to pass through Hungary to flee to the West.
Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége (Federation of Young Democrats)
Magyar Demokrata Fórum (Hungarian Democratic Forum)
Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége (Alliance of Free Democrats)
"This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper" - T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men
At one time Hungary was one of the most prosperous Eastern Bloc nations, enjoying modest economic reforms under the leadership of János Kádár. In 1956 he began his long tenure as General Secretary of the national Communist party, the Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt (MSZMP - Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party). He also served twice as Prime Minister (1956-1958, 1961-1965). His economic reforms were encapsulated in the New Economic Mechanism (NEM), approved by the Central Committee in 1966. The trend toward reform began to reverse in 1971, and accelerated in the wake of worldwide recession spurred by the 1973 oil crisis. In 1974 the MSZMP dismissed Rezso Nyers, chief architect of the NEM.
János Kádár was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize for 1975-1976. His biography at the site Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia (translated into English via Google) sums up his economic legacy up to this point:
Since the early 1960s, J. Kadar headed liberalization in domestic policy and greater openness in relations with the West, but economic reform in 1968 aimed at creating a more efficient model of socialism, was closed in the first half of the 1970s, having achieved its main objectives.
The truth is that the economy tanked as a result of closing those reforms. By 1978 the government realized that increased centralization and isolation from the capitalist world was a failure. The government began to shift toward economic reform once again. Citizen reform movements began to rise, partcularly in the late 1980s. Nyers became persona grata in the MSZMP once again.
In 1987 a plan for economics reform titled Fordulat és reform (Turnabout and Reform) was drafted by László Antal, László Lengyel, and Márton Tardos. The plan was supported by Nyers and by Imre Pozsgay, general secretary of the National Council of the Patriotic People's Front, the arm of the MSZMP that among other things oversaw the nation's less-than-democratic elections. The Party ignored Pozsgay's appeals. The document would inspire future reform movements.
In 1988 three major reform parties were founded. The Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) formed out of a network of human rights activists with roots dating back to the previous decade. Young university students and intellectuals served as the core of the Federation of Young Democrats (Fidesz). A group of intellectuals led by longtime dissident József Antall founded the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF). Antall had participated in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and had been arrested and released several times after the Soviets crushed the uprising.
Economic pressure and ill health led to Kádár's resignation in 1988. Károly Grósz, who had been appointed Prime Minister only a year ago, succeeded him as General Secretary. Also that year, Pozsgay and Nyers were admitted to the Politburo, and the former appointed Minister of State. These two would be among the leaders of the political revolution that was about to take place.
Grósz wanted only modest reforms, leading the "hardline" faction that fought to preserve Communism. But the radical reformers won sweeping reforms in 1989. One key reform occurred in February, when the Central Committee approved independent political parties and democratic elections. Kádár was ousted as party general secretary, and was given no successor.
In April the Soviet Union agreed to remove its military forces by June 1991. There would be no reprise of 1956.
On May 30 the MSZMP issued an official statement declaring the illegality of the execution of Imre Nagy, Hungary's prime minister during the 1956 revolution. Nagy ran afoul of the Soviets for promising the revolutionaries "too many" reforms, and for threatening to pull out of the Warsaw Pact and declaring neutrality. Originally been buried in an unmarked grave, his body was exhumed (along with those of several others who had been similarly punished), and Nagy was given a state funeral on June 16. This signaled that Hungary had made a turning point that would not be reversed.
In October the MSZMP met for the last time, to reinvent itself as just another independent political party, the Magyar Szocialista Párt (Hungarian Socialist Party). Grósz was succeeded by radical reformer Miklós Németh in November.
The first democratic parliamentary elections were held in May 1990. Of parliamentary seats, MDF captured 43% ans SZDSZ won 24%. The MDF victory placed József Antall as the nation's first freely-elected prime minister.
Kádár died in July of 1989. He will not be fondly remembered for the usual harassment associated with Communist regimes, or for his participation in the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. But he played a critical role in the liberation of Hungary that he spent his final years trying to prevent. Except for a setback in the mid-1970s, under the three decades of Kádár's rule the Party always embraced a level of reform, however modest, not seen in other Communist states. The overthrow of Communism thus came more quickly and less tumultuously in Hungary than elsewhere in Eastern Europe; indeed Hungary was the first Warsaw Pact nation to democratize.
The 2007 Index of Economic Freedom rates nations according to ten factors (explained here) as a percentage score (100% being most free). The report on Hungary shows that the nation is currently the world's 44th freest economy, and the 8th freest economy among former Communist nations. Its per-capita GDP of $16,814 (PPP) is the 35th highest in the world (source: Human Development Report 2006).
Freedom House monitors the former Communist states' progress toward economic and political liberty and publishes its findings annually in its Nations in Transit report. On a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being most free), the report grades these nations with respect to these categories: electoral process, civil society, independent media, judicial framework and independence, corruption, and national and local democratic governance. The current (2006) reports show date from 1999 to 2006. The 2006 report on Hungary states: "Hungary's transition from Communist dictatorship to consolidated liberal democracy is one of the most successful among the former Communist-bloc countries." On the rankings chart for overall democracy score, Hungary currently holds fourth place among the 27 rated nations.
Liberty represents these four basic rights: to life and physical safety, to property, to choice and expression of personal
beliefs, and to choice and pursuit of personal interests. The State exists to protect individual rights, and society exists
to provide opportunity for individuals to voluntarily associate with others to engage in commerce, to share ideas, and to
pursue common peaceable interests. Any person, whether acting as a private party or as an agent of the State, is guilty of
violating these rights when that person commits assault against person and property, theft of property, fraudulent trade,
coercion to prevent peaceable speech and pursuit of peaceable interest, or coercion to adopt and express undesired beliefs
and to pursue undesired interests. Liberty is advanced with the broadening of support for individual rights within a society,
with legislation that brings a body of laws into greater compliance with individual rights, and with the overthrow of
tyrannical governments that have violated the rights of the people and that have abolished all means of seeking redress of
grievances against the crimes of the State. -- A Statement of Individual Rights, finalized version July 9, 2003