The New Property System in Tázlár (2000-2005)

This project was my empirical contribution to the Department's first Focus Group, "Property Relations". The main fieldwork was carried out in Summer 2001 and these pages stem from that year (with some preliminary writing-up in 2003). More detailed results are presented in the comprehensive Focus Group Report: Property Relations: the Halle Focus Group 2000-2005.

Further detail can be found in:

Chris Hann. 2006  Not the Horse We Wanted! Postsocialism, Neoliberalism and Eurasia, Münster: LIT, pp. 43-90.

This project is concerned with the Hungarian experience of decollectivization. It is an interesting case for several reasons, notably the fact that collective farms seemed to work more efficiently in Hungary than anywhere else in the Soviet bloc. Tázlár, the community that I studied in the 1970s, exemplified the flexibility of this 'Hungarian road to socialism'. The members of its 'specialist cooperative' (szakszövetkezet) were in practice able to continue traditional patterns of family farming; even though their property rights were significantly weakened through the implementation of socialist ideology, the later consolidation of a 'market socialist' mechanism brought modernization and unprecedented prosperity to most sections of the community.
How had this mechanism survived the transition to a capitalist market economy? How had the land been redistributed, given the general policy to provide 'compensation' to the victims of socialist appropriation, rather than restoring former holdings in their original boundaries? Who were the winners and losers in this process?

I was able to revisit Tázlár for almost two months in summer 2001, twenty-five years after my first arrival in the community. The main results of this work are reflected in Working Paper 26. I surveyed almost all the 60 households in the community's upper hamlet, attended many meetings and interviewed some of the leading figures of the 1970s, now in retirement and in some cases much happier to talk openly than they had been in socialist days. Many discussions concentrated on the economic problems of agriculture and the depressed local labour market. There was widespread disillusionment, even among those who now held exactly the plots they had applied for as their private property once again. Others fault Hungary's 'compensation' legislation for not doing enough to ensure that plots were returned to the original owners. It was commonly alleged that the committee members who managed the redistribution process had acted in the interests of their own families and friends. Similar reproaches were made of the leaders of the cooperative, which gave up its land and all productive activities in agriculture in 1990, but with two small factories remains by far the major employer in the community.

The New Property System in Tázlár

The condition of the community's vineyards and other aspects of the wine trade proved particularly interesting, partly because the ownership of the land on which large scale vineyards were created in the last decade of socialism, in partnership with individual members, remains controversial. Many tasks in these modern vineyards can be mechanized and they now dominate production (see above). However, many farmers continue to produce on a very small scale, primarily for their own consumption; even among those with a stake in the modern vineyards, many sell their product as grapes and do not produce wine for sale at all.

Many older villagers identify emotionally with the vines which they themselves (or close relatives) have planted, or with their cellars and with old wooden barrels that often bear the engraved initials of an ancestor. They also take pride in their skills and pleasure in demonstrating the product through the tasting process. However, the new entrepreneurs store their product in vast containers made of plastic or concrete.
The village mayor comes from an established family of middle rank. He obtained a degree from an agricultural college and worked briefly as a viticulture specialist for the cooperative, before this institution withdrew from agricultural production completely. After a brief spell with the police he was elected mayor, with the support of the Independent Smallholders' Party, in 1994. He combines this post with one of the largest private vineyards in the village (11 hectares). His large prés (below, right), contrasts with the hand technology put up for sale by its owner (left).

The New Property System in Tázlár

Changes in the political context have contributed to falling demand for grapes since the socialist years. After a relatively good year in 2000, the prices paid for the harvest in 2001 were some 50% lower in real terms. It was not surprising, then, that a local Member of Parliament (affiliated to a faction of the Independent Smallholders' Party) tried to organize the growers for political protest. However, it is not easy to mobilize such fragmented groups and the concessions he was able to wring from the government were minimal.

What does all this mean politically? In September 2001 I visited (at his Budapest home) a former Minister of Agriculture from the socialist period, who also served a stint as County Party Secretary in this wine-producing region and identifies strongly with it. The comments and diagnoses of the ex-Minister corresponded in many details with the points made to me throughout the summer by the villagers. Nonetheless, despite all their grumbling about their government, the villagers of Tázlár, like the overwhelming majority of rural Hungarians, voted to keep their existing rulers in power in the highly polarized general election of April 2002. The successful modernization of the later socialist period is viewed by many as a golden age, but the socialists (who nonetheless achieved the narrowest of victories) are still not forgiven for the abuses of the earlier (Stalinist) period, above all for the destruction of the established property system.
More results from this project were published in a comparative analysis with the North Hungarian village of Varsány, studied by Hungarian colleague Mihály Sárkány: see Hann and Sárkány: 'The Great Transformation in Rural Hungary; property, life strategies and living standards', in Hann et al, The Postsocialist Agrarian Question; property relations and the rural condition in Eurasia, LIT 2003. In addition a paper was presented at the Budapest conference on 'post-peasants' in November 2003, from which a publication in Hungarian will ensue.

Zur Redakteursansicht