October 20, 2016

Seizing homes in the name of communism

The communist party began to seize power in 1945 with the support of the Soviet Union, a process that was accomplished by 1948, from which point forward power was officially in their hands as every democratic party had been liquidated. From this year onward the pace of events increased and one of the greatest blows against those segments of society that opposed them was internal exile. What this meant was that people deemed dangerous to the communist regime were forcibly taken out of their homes with their families and relocated to different living quarters, which were usually remote farms located far away from the capital in the Hortobágy region of the Great Hungarian Plain. Their apartments and villas, which had been earned through centuries of work and were family legacies were lost in an instant through these relocations, family property that they would never be able to reclaim. This was one of the greatest setbacks for private ownership in Hungarian history. Following the fall of the communist system and free elections in 1990, the descendants of those who lost their property received financial compensation from the first democratically elected government, but this well-intentioned gesture was unable to turn back the historical clock. Those grand buildings that were divided to house multiple families and rented out to them could not be repossessed from those who went to live there after 1948.

The communists were little concerned with human or property rights, and the buildings and villas confiscated between 1948 and 1953 from the prewar elite, aristocrats, nobility, as well as the intellectual class were then distributed among the supporters of the communist regime: politicians, military officers and the communist-supporting intellectuals, who consequently had massive riches dropped into their laps. I happen to live in the Rozsadomb area of Budapest’s District II, the neighborhood where from 1945 to 1956 the totalitarian dictator Mátyás Rákosi, who gave his name to the era, lived along with his first deputy Ernő Gerő. It is well known that prior to the communist takeover these houses belonged to famous people, such as the actress Lili Muráti, who also had her house illegally seized. What is interesting is that in the villa taken for Rákosi’s personal residence, a bomb shelter was built 12 meters below the surface, while the windows for his study featured bulletproof glass. This reveals to what extent he was concerned about not only his own position in power, but also his personal safety, despite being an absolute tyrant. Most of these buildings have since been privatized, with the large villas containing several apartments in the form of apartment buildings, but I also know of buildings in this neighborhood where the grandchild of a colonel from the former communist-era secret police lives, thereby showing that via various means the family was able to keep the property even after 1990 and the transition to democracy.

Bence Csatári