Gyula Horn Biography
Childhood and early years
Gyula Horn was born on 5th July 1932 in Budapest as the third child of parents Géza Horn, transportation worker and Anna Csörnyei, factory worker. The family lived in poor circumstances which was characteristic of the working class between the two world wars. Their situation got even worse due to the general socio-political climate of the late 1930s. His father was taken and with all probability murdered by the Gestapo in 1944; the tragedy made survival even harder for the family. Consequently, Gyula, after finishing his fifth year at elementary school, had to leave school and find a job to be able to support his mother and siblings.
The changes occurring after the war had a great impact on young Horn’s life. He completed his elementary and secondary studies at workers’ night school and graduated in 1950. Due to the policies of the socialist system supporting talented working youth, he won a scholarship to the Higher Economic and Financial School in Don-Rostov from which he graduated in 1954. Afterwards, he started working as a rapporteur at the Ministry of Finance. The same year he joined the Hungarian Workers’ Party. 1956 saw another tragic incident in his family: during the Revolution (at the time of his daughter’s birth) his older brother, Géza, disappeared due to unexplained circumstances.
According to the family, he was killed by Revolutionaries. Gyula served as a home guard between late October and early November of 1956, and then joined the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party. At the request of the party’s police force committee, he served with the so-called Padded Jackets (pufajkások) between December 1956 and June 1957. In 1957, he received the Commemorative Medal “For the Workers' and Peasants' Power”, awarded to high ranking officials that played a major role in tackling the counter revolution. Even though, he never tried to deny the role he played during the revolution, this period of his life cast a shadow on his political career after the change of regime and provided a major target for his political enemies.
According to the family, Horn’s parents were left wing people who embraced the values of the working classes. Some say that his father was taken due to these political views. Such left wing beliefs i.e. the respect for work, or the belief in the necessity for social equality, paved the politician’s path from his early years onwards and even in later years they played a major role in the work he carried out first as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and then as Prime Minister. Even though, within the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, Gyula Horn was leading a new, well-educated and experienced generation that had seen a lot of the world and spoke foreign languages, he never ceased to be a, in a classical sense of the word, left wing politician that represented the “little people”. During his term as Prime Minister, he created and strengthened those fundamental values for the left wing that helped Hungary through the uncertain socio-economic transition caused by the change of regime, and that gave the country an opportunity to integrate into the European, and in a broader context, the Western federate system.
In 1959, he started working in the USSR Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Two years later he became the Economic Policy Secretary of the Hungarian Embassy in Sofia; he then did foreign service in Belgrade first as an Economic Policy Secretary, then as a councillor. Between 1969 and 1985 he was advancing gradually in the HSWP CC’s Foreign Office: first he was a political associate, then a consultant, and later he became assistant head of department and finally head of department. In 1970, he graduated from HSWP’s Higher School of Politics then, by completing his dissertation An Analysis of the Yugoslavian Economic System, he was awarded his doctorate and became a ‘Candidate of Economic Science’. Throughout his work carried out in the field of economic policy, he published over 200 articles and studies, and contributed to launching three books as well, one of them being his autobiography, Border Stones (Cölöpök), published in 1991.
His career as a party politician took off in March 1985 when, at the 13th Congress of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, he was elected into the party’s central committee and was appointed Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. At the same time he became chairman of the Hungarian Division of the Hungarian-Finnish Cultural Mixed Committee. From January 1987, he was involved in the work carried out by the Cabinet Council’s international economic relations committee. By this time Horn had become an experienced and respected professional and politician, demonstrating quick thinking and excellent adaptability in his new position, and was getting closer to consolidation and to building a good relationship with Western states.
During the Kádár era, the result of Horn’s contribution within the field of foreign affairs was a better light cast on Hungary; from the 1980s onwards, within his party he was leaning towards the wing that was more open towards reforms and progression.
Gyula Horn’s most prominent and most important decision which was vital to the change of regime as well as Hungary getting closer to Europe (while gaining distance from the Soviet Union) was to remove Hungary’s border fence with Austria, thus opening up the border to East German migrants. The negotiations with the East German leaders took place in Bonn, where Horn insisted on the humanitarian approach and emphasised finding a solution that would not be detrimental to any of the states concerned. Although he became Minister of Foreign Affairs in May 1989 under the Németh Government, he started preparing the border fence release that would bring changes in Eastern Europe, in his previous role as a Secretary of State. Both the peace demonstration, referred to as the Pan-European Picnic, that took place on 19th August 1989, and the release of the border fence even earlier on 27th June (with the help of Gyula Horn and Alois Mock, the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs) clearly demonstrated Hungary’s intentions. As the negotiations led by the German Democratic Republic did not lead to a favourable outcome, Hungary (with Austria’s support) decided to open up the Austrian-Hungarian border for GDR citizens. Despite the protest of the GDR leaders, they opened the border on 11th September enabling Eastern German migrants to freely make their way to “the West”.
The opening of the Austrian-Hungarian border started the most positive geopolitical changes of 20th century Europe and the restoration of Hungary’s international prestige.
Of course, as well as the achievements in foreign affairs, the stabilisation of Hungary’s internal affairs is connected to his name: in March 1990, in the presence of representatives of the opposition and the Moscow directorate, he signed the treaty declaring the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary.
From the mid-1980s onwards, he constantly took part in European and other international summits and completed a vast number of political appointments as a Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and later as a Minister of Foreign Affairs under the Németh Government.
At the North Atlantic General Assembly that took place in November 1988 in Hamburg, he spoke about the firm ties between the Hungarian nation and Europe, as well as the Bridge that NATO represents or could represent between Europe and the North American continent. In 1990 in Bonn as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he stated that his country has to consider exiting the Warsaw Pact and entering the NATO.
This statement was met with silence and equivocation both internally and internationally but shows very well the politician’s pursuit of Hungary’s integration into Europe. With these diplomatic victories and endeavours he gradually helped Hungary to be looked upon as a trusted partner by the European community.
During his term as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he established a connection with several states such as the Vatican City, Israel, South Africa, and South Korea. In recognition of his work as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he was awarded the Gustav Stresemann Society’s gold medal, and later on he received the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen and the Great Cross of the Order of Merit of the German Federal Republic. From the financial rewards received with the accolades, he started a foundation to help starving children. In the forthcoming years, he was awarded numerous medals, especially German ones for the key role he played in bringing down the Iron Curtain and the humanitarian work he carried out throughout his career.
Among the politicians working for a change of regime, he was one of the first to emphasise the importance of the European Union (as well as the possibility of Hungary joining the NATO) and the significance of Hungary belonging to the European community. It is due to his diplomatic and political efforts that following the change of regime, Hungary was able to find the path leading towards European integration quickly and dynamically which, 10 years after the start of his government, resulted in Hungary becoming worthy of joining the EU.
Horn started preparing one of his government’s main foreign affairs achievements i.e. Hungary joining NATO, back in 1991 during the Antall Government. He suggested strengthening the Hungarian ties with NATO so that the Parliament could assure Hungary’s security. The North Atlantic Assembly began operating with European integration organizations as a "cooperative state" due to the lessons learned from the meeting in Rotterdam.
Even though, the experience and knowledge gained in foreign affairs throughout his career enabled him to facilitate Hungary’s integration into Europe, this was not the only field where he presented permanent results. As leader he did a great dealfor his party, the HSWP to become a European Social Democratic party presenting modern European values.
Instead of running theoretical debates, he put an emphasis on the practical, everyday problems of society and promoted co-operation with the people and unions. Due to his efforts, the party became member of the Socialist International in 1992.
During the aimed reformation of the Socialist Workers’ Party starting in 1988, he took part in the work of the Committee of Historical Factfinding and of its historical subcommittee. In 1989, he was one of the founding members of the still active Hungarian Socialist Party, and was an elected chair person. During the 1990 Parliamentary elections he achieved third place on the party’s shortlist, thus gaining a constituency mandate and getting into the Parliament as an MP where later he became head of the Parliamentary Commission of Foreign Affairs Committee. The same year, he became a member of the board of directors of the Swedish International Peace Research Institute, and later the Honorary European Senate. Even though, he had to resign as head of the Parliamentary Commission of Foreign Affairs, he remained in the field. His main focus was on Hungary’s co-operation with Central European states and consequently had a good relationship with the Polish and Czech Prime Ministers and drafted a plan for co-operation among Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia; in the meanwhile he took part in about 400 citizens’ forums and held numerous lectures. According to public polls, months before the 1994 elections, he was the most popular politician in the country.
In the 1994 parliamentary elections he was leading the Hungarian Socialist Party’s shortlist across the country as well as in the Budapest constituency. At the elections the Socialists won by an absolute majority, winning 54% of the available seats. On 4th June at the party’s congress, he was appointed Prime Minister and the party leaders gained permission to start coalition negotiations with the Alliance of Free Democrats, the party that came second. Although, the number of seats won during the elections would have been enough to form a government on their own, but their coalition with the Alliance of Free Democrats brought a landslide majority for them in the Parliament. To counterbalance this majority rule, the governing parties set up several “checks and balances” to establish democratic operation and win the people’s trust. Therefore the coalition government proposed that the threshold for modification of the laws be changed from requiring a two-thirds majority (e.g. constitutional acts) to consensus with the opposition The coalition used this unusually large majority to stabilise the critical financial situation of the country and to stop the deterioration of the economy. Even under his government, he stressed that the government needed to focus on tackling the challenges of the present and not be stuck in the past. During his term, he worked along values and interests that were emphasised a lot in the previous years: his aim was to create a European Hungary built on strong social fundaments, working in accordance with the rules of the market economy.
In 1995, the so-called Bokros Package introduced to enhance economic stability and the solvency of the country, was met with great opposition both within and outside the party, and initially it did not go down well with the general public either. Due to this and the weakening of the coalition, the party became less popular, while the opposition parties’ efforts targeting co-operation were proving more and more efficient. Even though, despite their weakened popularity, the coalition had great expectations at the start of the next elections, they did not manage to win.
Although their efforts to stabilise the economy and society were under strong criticism internally both from the opposition and the general populace, they had a rather positive effect internationally. As a sign of the international trust that was restored due to consolidation, Hungary joined the OECD in May 1996. In 1997, the government called a referendum on Hungary joining NATO, and consequently in February 1998 the Parliament passed a decision on Hungary joining the Western confederacy. In this way Hungary, together with Poland and the Czech Republic, was ready to become a full member of the NATO on 12th March 1999.
Subsequent governments built on the economic and trust capital that was established by the Horn government.
After the lost elections in 1998, Gyula Horn resigned from his party leadership. He kept many of his international titles/positions, for example up to 2003 he remained the Eastern European Vice President of the Socialist International, and he was the Prime Minister’s special EU correspondent under the Medgyessy Government from 2002. He passed away at age 81, on 19th June 2013 following a long illness.