Éva Argejó: Political Cartoons After the Regime Change1

The Hungarian male politician is a helpless, incompetent person, a public harasser, a demagogic orator, who uses politicising as a means of subsistence. His own financial wellbeing is of primary consequence to him, the problems of the public are secondary. Women – who, as wives and mothers, listen to their publically active and engaged husbands and children – only play a minor role in political life. If every once in a blue moon they become involved in legislation, they still cannot rid themselves of their femaleness. Or at least this is what anyone who bases their information on political cartoons from after the regime change (between 1990 and 2002) might think.
In Hungary, after 1945, the genre of political cartoons had a short-lived peak of a few years. During the coalition period, a number of satirical papers still lent credence to graphics addressing the absurdity of political and societal life. Popular papers included Szabad Száj (of the Smallholders Party), Fűrész, and Pesti Izé. Countless caricatures – which would later become famous – appeared in the columns of Demokrácia and Ludas Matyi. What seemed like a good beginning, however, was soon choked off by the milieu of the fifties. While a number of papers still published caricatures, only one of the satirical periodicals stayed afloat (Ludas Matyi). The drawings became schematic; in essence, they only met the criteria of party propaganda. The post-1956 transformation – and subsequent continuous changes – of control over the press also influenced the political caricature genre. In addition to agitationoriented, propagandistic caricatures, genuine satirical depictions began to crop up in increasing numbers. In spite of these developments, however, in Hungary, political caricature as a genre only regained its intellectual and expressional integrity after the regime change, as of the beginning of the 1990s.
My study 1 aims to discuss how the genre’s “finding of self” came about. I will attempt to construct the image of society that has enfolded from the political cartoons of 13 years of written press. Furthermore, I will explore which events following the regime change served as a source for humour, how the new political-social institutional system, the activities of the newly formed parties, as well as the operation of the government and its opposition manifested in the drawings. Finally, I will also examine how the “cartoon image” of wellknown politicians changed. To this end, I researched the political caricatures which appeared in Népszabadság, Népszava, Magyar Nemzet, Magyar Hírlap, Új Magyarország, Hócipő and Ludas Matyi between 1 January 1990 and 20 April 2002. Using computerised content analysis, I studied a total of 4345 such depictions.

The environment of the cartoon stories
Among our political cartoons, there are only very few which carry universal meaning; which show the fall of one of the two current superpowers and the establishment of a new world order in an abstract, spatiotemporal dimension. While, within the Eastern European region, Polish political caricatures are characterised by more abstract, model-like renderings, their Hungarian counterparts have their root in, shall we say, “Hungarian soil”. If our cartoons were presented to foreigners with no knowledge of Hungarian history, they would understand very little of the scenes embedded in the unique mesh of historical references and visual symbol systems. The fact that the location is – emphatically – Hungary is confirmed by the ironic representation of symbolic buildings and spaces as well as overemphasised (traditional) attire. In addition, of course, the international environment also makes its appearance: these graphics are connected to the withdrawal of Soviet troops, our ties with the surrounding countries, NATO and, last but not least, steps made in preparation for entering the European Union. This latter group of cartoons is different from caricatures that depict the “raw Hungarian reality” in that, in most of these drawings, the location (Europe) appears idealised, showing us regions that seem unreachable to us.

Social gender
The world of political cartoons is characteristically a man’s world: the artists are men and it is about the world of men where male values dominate. While women are, indeed, present in the caricatures, they are only secondary characters. (Only a fraction of the nearly 5000 characters appearing in post-regime change political cartoons are women.) This is, of course, also related to the fact that, in Hungary, politics is mostly engaged in by men – they are the representatives of our political life. Thus, these satirical drawings, in depicting mostly men, are true to the facts of reality.
We are presented with an even less favourable picture if we look at the how women are depicted in terms of their appearance. The caricatures suggest that the private sphere is the favoured domain of their lives – the closed universe of the family and circle of friends – while the outside world, including the politics scene, is a realm where unexpected and unforeseeable things happen. While men are represented in their family roles as husband and father only in rare instances, women are portrayed as wives and mothers, as homemakers who discuss the things that go on in the world with their female neighbours. Women are mostly men’s insignificant role-partners: as “average Hungarian wives”, the husbands communicate to them the things they deem important – as politicians, the day’s events at the Parliament, or, as managers, the problems at work. If, however, a female representative (of the Parliament) is portrayed by the cartoon, we can be sure that it is done outside the political context, and, instead, we will be shown some personal or “human” expression.
The sexist world view of our cartoons has become fossilised; it communicates role structures to readers which are increasingly disappearing. The prevalence of gender inequality is also evidenced by the one topic in conjunction with which women are mostly depicted. The “nouveau riche” (an economic-political elite, which has come into existence as a result of the rapid social and political transformation) are, in most cases, represented by “ladies”, who – with an uncertain grasp of “their place” in some instances and full-on confusion regarding their social roles in others – amuse readers with the absurdities of what is means to be the uneducated parvenu.

The politicians
Three-quarters of the political cartoons from the period following the change in regime are directly related to the operation of the political institution system – mostly the government in power and its opposition, as well as the parties that have their own image. The most commonly appearing character type in these drawings is that of the “no name” politician. One of the distinctive features of the examined caricatures, as a matter of fact, happens to be the frequent representation of “nameless, faceless heroes”. They constitute almost onethird of the nearly 5000 cartoon figures.
In all three governing cycles, this character appears, most often, in the columns of Magyar Hírlap and Népszava. In a smaller number of cases, it also shows up in the caricatures of Népszabadság – mostly those which address the topics of public life. A much less insignificant portion of them are also featured in Magyar Nemzet and Új Magyarország. In its most common rendering, this character is “the” member of the parliament who displays public attitudes and political behaviours that are assumed to be stereotypical.
If we are to define the “ideal” of the Hungarian politician based on political cartoons, a shocking picture unfolds before us. “The” Hungarian politician is, naturally, a man. He makes his living as a politician; his own financial well-being is his primary concern, the problems of the public only come second. Numerous caricatures deal with the phenomenon whereby voting on important questions that may determine the fate of the country can only come to pass at the cost of great difficulties and opposition, while “the” politicians have no trouble voting on their salaries in the first round. According to these vitriolic graphics, following a change of regime, former representatives leave the Parliament with significant severance pay – sometimes they carry the money away in a wheelbarrow. Money is a well-liked thing among party members as well. They are corrupt; it is generally not advisable to leave party funds and headquarters within their grasp as they will not think twice about “helping themselves to it”.
The caricatures portray two distinct types of Parliamentary Representatives. On the one hand, they are incompetent; be it because of their enervated nature or their lack of abilities, they are incapable of running the affairs of the country. Although, in most cases, they engage in
their activities in the absence of the appropriate knowledge and skills, they become severely offended if they are offered low-prestige tasks. The extreme rendering of the “expert” which appears in cartoons consists of the party man of the “expert government” who is not skilled at anything, but has nevertheless been placed in a high position of public administration out of political considerations. The other type is that of the exhibitionist harasser of political public life who – especially during the election campaign – promises the moon and stars in order to further his personal career, but then – once he is in power – does not keep his word. As for his style, he is a demagogue orator who can simultaneously promise good things to everyone, even if keeping his promise would yield opposite consequences for the various groups. (“Thus the true value of a given party is obtained by subtracting the slogans from the actions and we divide what is left by the membership number”, says the female teacher in to elementary school students.)
The depicted characters choose the political leaders from their ranks in a random manner; he could be any one of them, as none of them are better than the other, none of them have their own face or personality. As party politicians, they maintain party discipline to the maximum: they wear eye shades and plaster over their mouths, and – in order to ensure that they will not make the wrong choice during parliamentary voting – the unnecessary voting button is taped down in front of them.
Famous, recognisable politicians are often targeted by the cartoons as well, of whom about 50 are frequently recurrent characters. The best known “caricature faces” are those of the prime ministers, party leaders and our (in)famous minister of finance. Viktor Orbán is in the lead with his outstandingly high number of appearances (430), Gyula Horn follows (270), then comes József Torgyán(265) István Csurka (131), and Lajos Bokros (87). The name of the first head of state after the change of regime, Árpád Göncz, should also be mentioned, who usually makes his appearance – most often in Magyar Hírlap and Népszava – in conjunction with scandals that cause upheaval in one nation or another (such as the election of media leaders). In comparison, Ferenc Mádl has a positively mild caricature image.
The party-specific hierarchy of the “politician faces” is headed by the Hungarian Socialist Party with László Kovács, Péter Medgyessy, László Békesi, Sándor Nagy and György Keleti. They are followed by the politicians of the Hungarian Democratic Forum: Péter Boross, Iván Szabó, Ibolya Dávid, Imre Kónya and Sándor Lezsák, while from the Alliance of Free Democrats cartoonists favour Gábort Kuncze, Gábort Demszky, Iván Pető and Gábort Fodor. In contrast to the other three parties, the Alliance of Young Democrats appear somewhat “without a face”. While, thanks to the vitriolic caricatures of the Népszava, Viktor Orbán is represented in an exceptionally high number of instances, the party only has two regular “caricature faces” – László Kövér and Tamás Deutsch.

The political culture
The cartoon as a visual manifestation of abstract thoughts can only communicate complicated ideas in a simplified manner; it reflects a mostly dualistic world view built on opposition. This type of orientation is only enhanced by the venting of grievances so characteristic of Hungarian politics following the change of regime, by the “ultimatum politics” which later became prevalent, as well as by the frequent absence of the willingness to compromise. The most “hard hitting” political figures belonged to the leftwing liberal daily papers, Népszava and Magyar Hírlap – which nevertheless maintained a critical tone through all three cycles – and the weekly paper Ludas Matyi – which no longer exists. In the satirical drawings featured in these papers the “cooperation” between the – usually – two characters is extreme, confrontative and verging on absurd. In terms of numbers, this is to say that threequarters of the caricature figures are characterised by rejection and denial. Countless depictions suggest that being a politician of the opposition means know-it-all arguing without any stakes and that those of the government party politicise with might and not brains.
Ambivalent, neither here nor there gag comedy and humour derived from scenarios of interaction – that sometimes express very complicated human relationships – are also characteristic of cartoons. In conjunction with its more significant articles, the Magyar Nemzet often publishes single-character caricatures where the emphasis is not on the dynamics of interaction between the depicted figures but on some attribute – of a generally very negative connotation – given to the character. During the election campaign period of 2002, László Kovács and Péter Medgyessy were often represented in such a manner.

The parties
A significant portion of the caricatures from the post-regime change period is associated with the modus operandi of the political institution system. These caricatures deal with getting over the past, the democratically-based reorganisation of political life, the political parties brought to life after 1989, the parliamentary work of the Antall, Boross, Horn, and Orbán Cabinets, as well as the activities of the institution system associated with the government. The most cartoons focusing on our domestic politics appeared in the initial two years of the Horn Cabinet (1994–1995) primarily in the columns of Magyar Hírlap and Népszava. Thanks to the large number of satirical drawings that were published when the Bokros package took effect, one-fifth of all the cartoons dealt with this time period.
About one-third of the political caricatures addressed the way the parties operated, and the various political tendencies were represented in approximately equal proportions. This topic was mostly dealt with by the political cartoons that came to life during the first three years following the regime change (1991-1993) and, then, in 2001. Prior to the last elections (just as before) one-fifth of the depictions concentrated on the activities of the parties, once again mostly on the pages of Magyar Hírlap and Népszava. We can only learn about the way the parties are presented, however, if we examine their appearance separately.
Most cartoons of the Hungarian Democratic Forum were drawn during the four years of the Antall and, then, Boross Cabinets (later, the party – save for a few of its representatives – lost its relevance for caricature artists). The cartoons which cropped up during the “heyday” of the Democratic Forum can be associated with three themes. In the initial period, cartoonists mostly addressed the circumstances of its becoming a governing party, its relationship with the Hungarian Socialist Party and its negotiations with the coalition partners – which partly took place behind the scenes. A significant portion of the satirical renderings reflect the hopefulness and initial optimism that arose from the momentum of the regime change. Numerous cartoons from this time carry the motif of progress, ecstatic flight and weightless floating. Later, when the real economic state of the country became more evident, the caricatures, in their own humorous style, poked fun at the efforts the government – lead by the Democratic Forum – made in an attempt to set the country on a new course.
In the party’s history, cartoonists dealt quite a bit with the party’s splits and ideological soulsearches on two occasions in particular: first when István Csurka and his followers quit the party in 1993, and, then, when Iván Szabó did the same in 1996. Another well-covered political event by caricature artist was when, in 1997, the Democratic Forum (lead by Sándor Lezsák) and the Alliance of Young Democrats [Hungarian abbreviation: FIDESZ] – Hungarian Civic Union entered into an election alliance.
The third large group of cartoons inspired by the Hungarian Democratic Forum did not address the events surrounding the party so much as it focused on its mentality. These caricatures reveal the image of a party that looks backwards into the past, advocates anachronistic ideologies and displays a narcissistic attitude.
In the period between 1990 and 1994, Péter Boross, Iván Szabó, István Csurka and Imre Kónya were the Democratic Forum politicians that were given a cartoon face. Surprisingly, József Antall – the Prime Minister elected during the first free election following the regime change – rarely appeared in caricatures. There are two reasons for this, neither of which suggests that he was a lesser politician than his successors. The objective reason for his scarce appearance is that, in the initial years of the regime change, the daily papers featured few or no political cartoons. In this regard, the years of 1992-1993 can be considered a corner stone, as it was then that three papers – Népszava, Népszabadság and Magyar Hírlap – began to publish caricatures on a daily basis (while Magyar Nemzet only supplemented its most key articles with drawings by the way of illustration). The subjective reason, on the other hand, is that József Antall’s incurable illness became public relatively early, from which point on – understandably – cartoonists did not choose the ill Prime Minister as the subject of their satirical drawings.
József Torgyán, the number one leader of the Hungarian Democratic Forum and, then, the Independent Smallholders and Civic Party – the former coalition partner of FIDESZ – Hungarian Civic Party – was one of the favourite figures of cartoon artists. How the activity of the Smallholders Party – which became synonymous with Torgyán’s name – was seen in the public eye in these two cycles is indicated by a seemingly unending series of cartoons. The President of the Party, with his desire to be in the limelight and his utterances that often elicited extreme emotions, earned himself a special place in political life, and – thanks to his unique style – he became a fruitful subject for cartoonists to depict. The increase in his popularity exemplifies how the media is attracted to showmen in politics (as well), and how once the media “discovers” someone, it will make that person nationally recognised. The “chosen ones”, in turn, can use their media recognisability to further their political career.
Cartoonists portrayed József Torgyán as a debater-type politician who was in perpetual conflict with his political opponents and those party members who did not share his agenda and who was willing to come to a compromise with any political tendency in the name of power. Torgyán cartoons can be divided into two groups. When he appears as a solo character, one of his personal characteristics is exaggerated, when he is portrayed in company, he is shown in confrontation with the coalition partner “of the day”. A whole barrage of drawings dwell upon his competence as an “agrarian expert”, his “professional study trips” undertaken in the company of Mária Cseh and his fruitful domestic implementation of the experiences thus gathered.
In addition to the above, of the operations of the Smallholders Party, the cartoons caricatured the relationship of the capital city-dwelling party members – who have perhaps never even seen a village – to the countryside, the Party’s dividedness resulting from the perpetual bickering between its members, the splits in the Party, their Party conventions that, in some cases, bordered on violent, as well as the sticky situation surrounding their headquarters on the Belgrád embankment.
The Hungarian Socialist Party, which won the second free election, appeared in cartoons in the 1990s as a governing party. Before that, it was its ideological showdown with the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party that was of more interest to cartoonists, especially since, in the years following the regime change, a good number of the former members of the Socialist Workers’ Party managed to transform their political assets (acquired during the party state days) into impressive financial assets.
The cartoon face of the Horn era was Gyula Horn, himself, who – on his own as well as with his coalition partners who were popular cartoon subjects around this time, Gábor Kuncze and Iván Pető – suddenly became the target of innumerable satirical depictions. His appearances can be categorised around two themes: firstly, the Boros package which was introduced because of the tragic state of the economy, and, secondly, in conjunction with the coalition between the Hungarian Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats, whose operation was filled with conflict for the entire duration of its existence.
After the party won the elections in 1994, countless cartoons were published, which – similarly to the post-1945 coalition period – depicted the leaders of allying parties – then Mátyás Rákosi and Árpád Szakasits – as an engaged couple, as bride and groom, the sometimes bickering sometimes cooing lovebirds of the family nest. The motif of the squabbling spouses was used by cartoonists for the full duration of the coalition period – and was supplemented by the following: Alliance of Free Democrats-birds locked into a birdcage by Gyula Horn, two clowns inside the same pair of pants (Horn-Kuncze) and the image of a jointly navigated ship on choppy waters. In the cartoons, Horn remains the dominant figure, thus determining the nature of the depicted situations. This, in a portion of the drawings, also gains expression through playing with scales: the coalition is an alliance between the elephant and the mouse, where the mouse is not aware of its own size. (“We do make a rumble together, don’t we? – asks the mouse self-consciously from the elephant.) A number of funny caricatures suggest that, while the Socialist Party and Gyula Horn have the power, the Free Democrats have the brains.
Of the socialist politicians, Sándor Nagy, who became leader of the National Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions, deserves a mention. He was represented by caricaturists as the salvager of the state party’s trade union movement with a troubled past – during the change of regime, as a cat rubbing up against the József Antall’s leg, then, on the cover page of Ludas Matyi, as a one-legged, one-eyed pirate who is burying the salvaged wealth of the trade union on an island.
The Hungarian Socialist Party – in contrast to the Hungarian Democratic Forum – remained a favoured topic of cartoonists as an opposition party as well. According to public opinion polls, in December 2000, support for the Hungarian Socialist Party reached 50 percent, which was nearly one and a half times as great as the support for the state party of that time. The socialists were just beginning to seriously consider the question of Prime Minister candidacy. First they thought of Miklós Németh, but, then in the summer of 2001, they chose Péter Medgyessy. Caricaturists were inspired by both politicians: this was the first time Medgyessy was caricatured since he had become Minister of Finance, soon becoming a key cartoon figure on the pages of Magyar Nemzet and Népszava, which otherwise only featured cartoons sporadically.
In caricatures of the Hungarian Socialist Party, a strange object was given an important role and would later come to carry significant meaning: Gyula Horn’s “crown” was a metal band that he was forced to wear around his head for quite some time after a car accident. (“And here, children, we have the most ancient Hungarian symbol of power, the so-called Horn crown”, declares the teacher in the year 2994, as she points towards the relic of times past. “This symbol will make you victorious”, says Gyula Horn as he hands his “crown” over to his candidate for succession, Péter Medgyessy, half a year before the 2002 election.)
A large portion of the cartoons caricaturing the Alliance of Free Democrats – predictably – addresses its coalition with the Socialist Party and the subsequent conflict-filled operation of the coalition. According to these drawings, in the back and forth game between the two parties, both had their own tried and tested methods. Gyula Horn governed in an autocratic fashion and often confronted the politicians of his coalition partner – who learned of his policy measures from the media on more than one occasion – with fait accompli. The Alliance of Free Democrats, on the other hand, often played the “neither here nor there” angle – Iván Pető is shown jumping back and forth between alternative answers written in the fields of a hopscotch game: “Yes, maybe, maybe not, no”. But there were also caricatures that suggested that the Alliance of Free Democrats – in contrast to the difficulties of collaboration within the coalition – very much liked to partake in the power.
The other group of cartoons that targeted the Alliance of Free Democrats focuses on the inner political-moral crises of the organisation, the personal conflicts and the changes in presidency. The main protagonists of these cartoons are Gábor Kuncze, Iván Pető and Gábor Demszky. In conjunction with the latter politician, the reconcilability of the positions of mayor and party president is an issue that surfaces more than once. (“And then he left the princess there, like the mayor left the Free Democrats”, says grandma to the children to conclude her fairy tale.)
The third major group of cartoons reflect the image of the party as it lives in the public mind. These drawings satirise politicians’ critical attitude towards events and decisions as well as the protection of the minorities and the complacency of party leaders. (“I cannot recall… There has always been something to protest against ever since ’89,.. but what was it?” – wonders the embarrassed party speaker whose mind has gone blank.)

The Alliance of Young Democrats, or FIDESZ, was established in March 1988 as a radical, alternative force of the regime change. It participated in the 2002 elections, however, as a civic people’s party of a conservative christian-democratic orientation (as FIDESZ – Hungarian Civic Party). A significant portion of the cartoons targeting FIDESZ thematises this trajectory, often by referring to the literary analogy of Frigyes Karinthy’s “An Encounter with a Young Man”. In these caricatures, a young Viktor Orbán stands face to face with today’s Viktor Orbán, every time making some declaration that indisputably separates his former person from his present self. (“Hah! I don’t even recognise myself”, he exclaims upon seeing his own reflection.) Cartoonists also like to caricature the word “young” in the party’s name. In these scenarios, elderly “young democrats” give speeches to surprised young men.
Cartoons about FIDESZ can be divided according to four major themes. The first type of cartoon represents the party in its radical period, when it still belonged to the opposition. (“Do make sure you greet uncle Antall first”, the fretting mother instructs his son, the parliamentary representative, as she sets him on his way to the parliament following the first free election.) The second group of satirical drawings contains depictions of the party in its new, post-1989 role. These cartoons satirise the leadership style and competence of the Orbán Cabinet.
The next group explores the party’s relationship to money: the voting process on the two-year budget, the mystical circumstances in which party funds are periodically put to use, and, last but not least, the activities of the Center for Country-Image. Since the leftwing liberal Magyar Hírlap and Népszava published the most caricatures about the governing party, a rather critical picture unfolds of the government’s four years of activity based on these depictions.
The last, most important group of cartoons consists of depictions that poke fun at Viktor Orbán – who fully defined the party’s image – in rather unflattering tone. Noticeably, while caricatures that portrayed Gyula Horn, József Torgyán, István Csurka and Lajos Bokros were featured (albeit with varying frequency) on the pages of all the daily papers, in the third cycle, Népszava and Magyar Hírlap were almost the only ones to caricature Viktor Orbán’s persona. In some of the cartoons, the Prime Minister is depicted alone, either describing a political situation with a witty declaration – in most cases, with a so called Dakota proverb – or it is one of his negative attributes that is inflated. More typically, however, he is shown with his allies and/or political opponents. In such interactions, three politicians are given leading roles.
Firstly, István Csurka appears, with whom, according to the cartoons, the Prime Minister has an ambivalent relationship: Orbán needs him (and the Hungarian Justice and Life Party fraction) on account of his political ambitions, but he does not openly own up to his relationship with him. (As early as the first year of the Orbán Cabinet, a cartoon was published by the title “Fat Kid” which suggested a “blood relationship” between FIDESZ and the Hungarian Justice and Life Party.)
In contrast, according to the cartoons, Orbán wanted to rid himself of József Torgyán at all costs. As long as his ally-opponent was part of his cabinet, the Prime Minister tried to short out the opposition and exercise his power by taking advantage of him (and Csurka) and “turning them to good use”.
As for his third most common cartoon partner, Péter Medgyessy, who operated as Viktor Orbán’s political rival during the election campaign period: he was completely ignored by Orbán – caricatures seem to suggest, that he was not regarded as a real political opponent.

Originally published: Médiakutató 2003 tavasz