This week we unearthed a virtual time capsule from the past, in the form of a BBC dispatch from 1988 Hungary, presented by Nick Thorpe, a British journalist who has covered the area for more than thirty years now. The 24-minute report is fascinating to watch now, if only to discover what has changed and what has stayed the same since Socialist-era Hungary.
The most salient difference in the cityscape of Budapest are the giant Soviet red stars, so prominently displayed in the 80s. These have of course been taken down. Moreover, the symbol was made illegal, to the point where there has been tension with a certain multinational that uses a different version of the red star as its logo.
In 80s Budapest, it is obvious that Hungarian youth are keen to keep up with international trends in fashion and music—more specifically—western trends. This is a testament to the belief that Hungary was regarded as the least authoritarian of the states in the Soviet Union. McDonald’s at that point was considered to mecca of Western culture, serving over 7000 people a day on Budapest’s cosmopolitan Váci street. Now there are McDonald’s in almost every Budapest neighborhood, though eating there is considered far from hip.
The Ladas and Trabants, which were the more common cars on offer in the Soviet bloc, were much prized at the time. They are still prized, though now they are ‘retro’ cars and collector’s items rather than enviable modes of transportation.
Interestingly, Thorpe was able to capture one of the first interviews with the newly formed Fidesz party. From its humble beginnings, Fidesz has of course grown into the largest political party in the country.
Much has changed since Thorpe’s short documentary. But what has stayed the same is the sense of national pride that Hungary is a unique country within Europe, and a feeling that no matter how far one travels, Hungary is a home worth returning to.
Enjoy this helping of late 80s Hungary. It’s worth it for the haircuts alone.