Árpád Göncz, Hungary’s first democratically elected president, has died at age 93

October 7, 2015

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Árpád Göncz passed away yesterday at the age of 93. Göncz served Hungary from 1990 to 2000 as the country’s first democratically elected president following the fall of communism.

Göncz was known to be a real fighter–someone who really stood up for what he believed in.

Hungarian news site 444.hu published a brief overview of his life. Here are a few takeaways from the article:

  • Göncz was born in 1922
  • He joined an anti-fascist student movement when Hungary was invaded by Germany in 1944. The student movement clashed with government gendarmes, known as csendőrök, and the young Göncz was injured
  • He was then conscripted into the army but fled during his transfer to Germany
  • Göncz was captured by the Soviets but got away from them, too
  • He joined the Independent Smallholders’ Party in 1945 and became the leader of its youth chapter
  • He was active in opposition groups during the 1956 revolution
  • He smuggled out a copy of Imre Nagy’s famous pamphlet, In Defense of the Hungarian Nation, in 1957 with the help of the Indian embassy
  • He was arrested, together with István Bibó, in 1957 for “plotting to overthrow the state”, then controlled by the Soviet-installed Hungarian leadership, and sentenced to life imprisonment
  • While in prison he learned English, a skill he would use to make a living after his release from prison in 1963
  • He worked translating literature from 1965 until the end of communism
  • He helped found the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) in the 1980s
  • He became the first democratically elected president of Hungary in 1990, a position to which he was re-elected in 1995 for a second five years

The government, ruling Fidesz-KDNP and opposition parties have all offered their condolences to the family of Árpád Göncz, praising his leadership and commitment to a democratic Hungary. Hungary’s far-right extremist party, Jobbik, was the only party to offer no comment on Göncz as a figure, opting instead to only offer condolences to the family.