The Elite

The Elite

Persons with some claim to elite status made up no more than 15 percent of the population in the early 1980s. The elite consisted of three identifiable groups in the 1980s: political, technocratic, and intellectual. The political elite consisted of top party and government leaders. Although some members of this group flaunted their status and privileges, most were not highly visible and did not advertise their special status. Members appeared to be relatively sensitive to their public image and did not indulge in conspicuous consumption. The technocrats included managers, directors, economists, and researchers who supported the regime. The benefits they derived from the system were more visible, in the form of bonuses and salaries and of the autombiles, villas, apartments, and other special advantages that these financial windfalls made possible. The intellectual elite, composed of academicians, scientists, musicians, artists, writers, journalists, and actors, included many persons who were comfortably placed, although others lived in relatively humble circumstances. They were leaders in setting both social and political trends. Members of these favored groups often possessed, in addition to relative wealth, the important commodity of influence or "connections." This form of influence gave them and their families access to scarce items and limited opportunities, such as quality higher education.

Additional occupations that were likely to be financially rewarding included medicine, engineering, and, in some cases, skilled technicial jobs, such as electricial work, house painting, plumbing, and building contracting. These technicians might have several income sources from their private work in addition to salaried work. Intellectuals who lacked high salaries but supplemented their income through various types of consulting work, such as editing, translating, and so forth, were also financially secure.

Prosperous individuals enjoyed a very comfortable standard of living. Families who could afford private holiday and weekend houses built them on the shores of Lake Balaton, along rivers, and in mountain areas. From 1981 through 1987, a total of 30,397 private "holiday houses" were built. As more people owned their own automobiles, weekend trips became increasingly popular. During the 1970s, more people, even those in relatively modest circumstances, began to travel abroad. In 1981 a record 5.5 million Hungarians traveled outside Hungary. Of these, about 477,000 traveled to capitalist countries, in Europe or overseas. As a result of financial constraints, the number of travelers dropped somewhat in the mid-1980s. Regulations concerning the exchange of foreign currency permitted travel to capitalist countries no more than once a year on organized tours or once every three years on an individual basis. If a traveler had access to additional sources of foreign currency, however, he or she could travel more frequently.

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