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This report is taken from PN Review 74, Volume 16 Number 6, July - August 1990.

Out of the Communist Nursery Clive Wilmer

A metro subway in a busy European capital. A line of women in traditional peasant costume are holding up samples of folk crafts for sale. The visitor who knows the city well takes no notice of them - still less of the usual horde of commuters looking slightly more down-at-heel than they might in Paris or London. Only two things catch the eye: the array of political posters plastered haphazardly over the walls, which indicate that an election is under way; and the display of naked bodies, many of them with pudenda to the fore, on the window of the little news kiosk.

Nothing unusual in any of that, you might think, except that we happen to be east of the Iron Curtain (if such a thing can still be said to exist). This is March 1990 and the city is Budapest. It was forty-five years ago that Hungarians last experienced the controlled disorder of democratic elections. Hence the posters. And yet it's the unrestrained pornography that is perhaps the more striking symptom of change. Less than a year ago, nothing more heady than a leggy girl in a Fifties bikini would have caught your eye in that kiosk. It is the perfect image of what happens when you take the lid off.

For communism is - or was - notoriously strait-laced. To an Englishman there's something almost endearingly Victorian about its paternalism. It chimes well with the neo-Gothic architecture and statuary of nineteenth-century Budapest: ...


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