Árpád Göncz, b. 1922

Born into an intellectual family in Budapest, Göncz graduated in law from Budapest University in 1944, having worked concurrently at the National Land Credit Institute since 1939. In February 1944, he was conscripted into the army, but deserted from his German-commanded unit in 1945 and joined the armed resistance, as a member of the Táncsics Brigade of the Freedom Front of Hungarian Students. He joined of the Independent Smallholders’ Party in 1945, chairing the Budapest branch of its youth organization and editing the paper Nemzedék (Generation). Later, he was personal secretary to Béla Kovács, the secretary of the Smallholders’ group in Parliament. When the Smallholders’ Party was disbanded, he went to work as a labourer, and from 1949 to 1951, as a welder at the April 4 Engineering Works and then a tube fitter at the Chemical Industry Machinery and Radiator Enterprise. In 1951, he obtained a post with the Soil Improvement Enterprise, where he later became chief designer. He enrolled in the Plant Production Faculty of Gödöllő Agricultural University in 1952 and completed four years of the course. On October 17, 1956, Göncz spoke in the Petofi Circle debate on agricultural policy. He worked during the revolution for the Hungarian Peasant Association. After November 4, he helped to draft and handed over to Indian Ambassador K.P.S. Menon a memorandum drawn up by the Hungarian Democratic Independence Movement. In February 1957, Göncz helped to send abroad Imre Nagy’s manuscript In Defence of the Hungarian People On Communism. In Defence of the New Course. He was arrested in May 1957. As one of the accused in the trial of István Bibó and associates, which was heard in camera, Göncz was sentenced to life imprisonment on August 2, 1958. In March 1960, he joined the hunger strike of convicts at the Vác National Prison. During his years in prison, Göncz learnt English and practised translating English literature. He was released under the 1963 amnesty, and went to work as a technical translator for the Veszprém Heavy Chemical Industry Research Institute. In 1964, he returned to the Soil Improvement Enterprise and tried to complete his agricultural studies, but he was excluded from the university. In 1965, he became a freelance writer and literary translator. In 1981, he took part, over several months, in illegal round-table discussions on the history of the revolution. In May 1988, Göncz joined the Network of Free Initiatives and then the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ). In 1988–9, he was the SZDSZ spokesman, and in 1989–90 a member of the party’s National Council. In 1988, he was a founder member of the Historical Justice Committee, of which he later served as vice-chairman. He became the executive president of the Budapest branch of the League of Human Rights in 1989. In 1989–90, he was also president and then honorary president of the Writers’ Union. In May 1990, he became acting president of the republic, and in August 1990, Parliament elected him president of the Republic of the Hungary. He was re-elected in 1995 and served until August 2000, during which time he was consistently the most popular politician in the country.

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This page was created: Wednesday, 23-Aug-2000
Last updated: Wednes, 12-Sept-2001
Copyright © 2000 The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

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