Hungary's first democratically elected president Arpad Goncz dies, aged 93

Former Hungarian president Arpad Goncz, the first to be democratically elected in the eastern European nation, died aged 93 on Oct 7, 2015.
Former Hungarian president Arpad Goncz, the first to be democratically elected in the eastern European nation, died aged 93 on Oct 7, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

BUDAPEST (AFP) - Hungary's first democratically elected president, the widely respected former dissident Arpad Goncz, has died aged 93, state news agency MTI reported on Tuesday (Oct 6).

Born in 1922 in Budapest, Mr Goncz was one of Hungary's leading political figures in the first decade after the transition from communism in 1990, serving as president between 1990 and 2000.

During World War II, Mr Goncz joined the anti-Nazi resistance and after 1945 he became a political dissident as the central European country became part of the communist Eastern Bloc.

During the failed 1956 anti-Soviet uprising, Mr Goncz helped spirit abroad manuscripts by then Prime Minister Imre Nagy, who was executed in 1958.

Mr Goncz was sentenced to life in jail in 1957 for his role in the uprising but was released in 1963 during an amnesty.

As the communist period drew to an end, Mr Goncz became a founding member of the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats party in 1988 and was elected president after the first free elections in over four decades.

He used his time in prison to learn English and after his release became an award-winning literary translator, producing acclaimed Hungarian versions of works from Ernest Hemingway to JRR Tolkien.

Also a writer himself, the genial and smiling "Uncle Arpi", as he was affectionately known, was well respected across Hungary's political spectrum.

"We remember (Mr Goncz) with respect as an active and important political player in those years when Hungary stepped on the road from dictatorship to democracy," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Tuesday.