The first free parliamentary election, held in May 1990, was a plebiscite of sorts on the communist past with the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) winning 43% of the vote and the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) capturing 24%.
The memory of the first free election is closely interlinked with a poster: “Tovarishi konyets”. The poster shows the back of the neck of a Soviet official.
Though used to promote the MDF and put up by MDF activists, Tovarishi konyets is popularly known as the poster that summons to withdraw the Soviet troops from Hungary – Tovarishi konyets means Comrades, enough. It was designed in the eighties, it was printed and pasted all over Hungary first in late 1989. The printed size was a 70x100 cm. format and included the MDF inscription. (In that time the MDF was one of the major unofficial parties at the so called Round Table discussions that helped force out the Hungarian communists. József Antall, the head of MDF, subsequently became Hungary’s first democratically elected Prime Minister.)
In early 1990 the poster was reprinted, with a much larger MDF sign, and in two sizes, 50x70 cm. and 70x100 cm. and was meant as an election poster. (The first round of Parliamentary elections took place on March 27, 1990.) Later on a lot of reprint was edited and it became known to Hungarians as the “change in regime” poster, and the most canonical image in
the iconography of the East European democratic transition.
In the artist’s own words (translated by J.Sz.):
Ï didn’t need to do any research for the poster, I saw many Soviet officers at close quarters on the other side of the fence of the school I attended at Kecskemét, where the children of the “temporarily stationed” Russian soldiers also studied. The white gravel of the school yard resounded with the sound of boots. […] The design of the poster was ready a couple of years earlier, when Hungarian intellectuals gathered to protest various moves by the Hungarian as well as Romanian governments. I’d shown the poster to one of the founding embers of the Hungarian Democratic Forum, who put it on his wall, though at the time the text above the officer’s head read Tovarishi audieu in Cyril letters. My friend suggested that I change auieu to konyets, everyone will understand it, and he would see to having it printed. Then he asked everyone in the room to keep it a secret. He was afraid that the other leaders of the Forum, which was not yet a party, would consider it too radical and would vote against its publication. The poster, which later became known as the “change of regime” poster, owes its success to the fact that it was printed in huge numbers, and was put up all over the country practically overnight. It became known so quickly and by so many, that it was too late to call the artist or the Forum to account. When it appeared in Time Magazine, a friend wrote from New York that if I need to flee, I can always count on him. I signed the poster with a pseudonym (Utisz), but he recognized my style. Not much later, when the Forum became a party in its own right, even Russian soldiers showed up at the Forum to ask for a poster. Since then, I’ve been invited to the U.S. for a conference on posters of the East-European posters, while the poster itself has appeared in a variety of books and magazines and they say that it was received with applause in the neighboring Lithuanian parliament, has shown up in documentaries, and has found its way into museums.