How Hungary has evolved from its Communist past

Ezra Levant reflects on stories from Hungary's past and how the country has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Remove Ads

I'm here in Budapest, Hungary, on a special project It's a very interesting country — a small country, 10 million people — but a lot of things are happening here that I think we can learn from in the West.

Anyways, I want to tell you a little anecdote. I don't put too much stock in my conversations with because they are anecdotal, but sometimes a taxi driver has a story they want to share. Today, my videographer Lincoln Jay and I were riding in a cab, we were just talking amongst ourselves and the taxi driver overheard us, he could understand English.

We were probably talking about politics, and he asked us who we were. I told him we were journalists, and he just felt he had to tell us some stories about what Hungary was like before the Berlin Wall came down.

This was unprompted; we didn't tell him our point of view or anything. The first thing the cabbie told us was that in those days to buy a car, you had to pay for the car in full when you ordered it.

And you had to wait. Seven or eight years, he told us. You had to wait for the car to be delivered, you would look in the newspaper every day and you would see what number they're serving. 

You know, like sometimes you take a ticket at a deli or something and you wait for your number to be called. Except for this took it, it took six, seven, eight years.

And he said when the car finally arrived, maybe it was what you ordered. Maybe it wasn't. It was always a crappy Eastern European car, and if it wasn't your color or your model, you could either take it or wait another three months.

He said it was a story about the pitiful scarcity behind the Iron Curtain. He said it was a sad joke that it was the only country in the world where a used car was worth more than a new one because if it was used, you had it as opposed to waiting to buy something new.

The cab driver also described what it was like where you had to have your papers, not an ID card but a little booklet. And anywhere you went, you had to have these papers on you. Secret police or regular  police could call you over at any time and demand to look at your papers.

One of the things your papers said was where you worked. You had to have a place to work or you'd get in trouble with the police. So people often worked at factories doing nothing but busy work so they could say they had a workplace, he said. It was how they hid unemployment, of course, but it was a very strange story about people doing useless jobs just to make it look good from a socialist point of view.

The cabbie told us a final interesting story I wasn't aware of. When the Red Army was still in Hungary, when foreign tanks were still occupying the country before the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union fell. A young activist Viktor Orban gave a public speech demanding that the Red Army pull out.  

And this taxi driver remembered that to this day, that Orban was sort of a revolutionary, peaceful, revolutionary figure, which obviously is part of his reputation to this day.

This conversation, by the way, was in Budapest. It's the biggest city, the cosmopolitan capital of the country. It's more liberal than the rural parts. As a conservative nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban is not as popular here. 

But now, he said, Orban is being accused of being pro-Russian because he favours peace in Ukraine. Viktor Orban, the man who demanded the Red Army get out of Hungary.

We're in Hungary all week doing citizen journalism, trying to find out the truth about Hungary. If you want to support our work or see all of our reports, visit

Remove Ads
Remove Ads

Don't Get Censored

Big Tech is censoring us. Sign up so we can always stay in touch.

Remove Ads