Democratic consolidation has proceeded more easily in Hungary than in most East European countries. In 1989 the Hungarian political and economic elite was relatively well prepared to establish democratic political institutions and to introduce a market economy. The reform government and the existing political parties reached an agreement on free elections, on the details of a pluralistic parliamentary system, on abolishing the command economy, and on attracting foreign capital to Hungary.
Hungary's development between the 1960s and 1989 in many ways paved the way for the new system as reforms brought greater openness and exposure of the political and economic elite to influences from the West. Economic reforms were introduced in the mid-1960s, and a kind of—as they called it—'social compromise' reached between the political leadership and the nation. The political institutions did not change, but the scope for freedom of thought and action widened to some extent. The standard of living rose, limited travel to the West became possible; freedom in scientific and cultural life was one that Honecker's or Ceauşescu's subjects never enjoyed. As a result, an intellectual elite emerged that knew much about the democratic institutions of the West.
This elite included those who were part of the political establishment—they were later called 'reform communists'. Another part of the elite did not join the establishment; it was confident that the communist system would sooner or later vanish. The latter gathered in opposition groups. János Kádár tried to restrict their activity by using various police measures, but that was all he could do. Kádár had to show considerable tolerance toward the opposition. By the 1980s the regime had become considerably