BUDAPEST Hungary's young Socialists have embraced Che Guevara not as the popular Western student style icon, but as a revolutionary who their leader says represents a sworn enemy of poverty and social injustice.
The youth wing of the Socialist Party, formed from the communist ruling party in 1989, last month hosted a party in honor of Che and launched a magazine named after him.
"Not giving up his principles, he went round half the world and he did not change his values, even if his methods are debatable," Laszlo Varga, 27, head of the 3,000-member youth wing and a member of parliament, told Reuters.
Given that today's Socialist Party leads a democratic government in a market economy, the reverence shown to the Argentine revolutionary by young Socialists was criticized by the opposition and the smaller governing party, the liberal SZDSZ.
Critics say the Marxist revolutionary, who trained as a doctor in Argentina before meeting Fidel Castro's exiled Cuban revolutionaries in Mexico, shed blood to help bring Castro's communist rule to Cuba.
Even so, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany gave the keynote speech at the young Socialists' party for Che.
Hungarians young and old are split between supporters of Gyurcsany and the similarly charismatic leader of the conservative opposition Fidesz, Viktor Orban, and groups to the right of Fidesz like Jobbik, which has mostly young members.
SYMBOL OF REVOLUTION
Some see the popularity of Che as a disturbing symbol of revolution which has become a rallying cry for the young left.
Varga said if Guevara had lived in today's Hungary, he would have supported unpopular measures like tax hikes imposed by Gyurcsany's government to get the country's finances in order.
"If Che Guevara were alive today he'd be glad there is no need for an armed fight against social injustice which he wanted to end," Varga said.
"If you've seen the movie 'The Motorcycle Diaries' you will not doubt that (Guevara) was fighting against injustice and poverty, and as such he was a reformer," he said, referring to the 2004 movie directed by Walter Salles.
"Except the methods of reform were different then."
Ernesto Guevara de La Serna, commonly known as Che, helped Castro overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and, after serving in Castro's government and training fighters in Africa and Latin America, was executed in 1967 in Bolivia.
Varga, speaking in an office decorated with the iconic image of Guevara with long hair, beard and a beret with a single star, defended the revolutionary against critics.
"There were different times in history when you needed to use weapons to get rid of the military dictatorship," said Varga, dressed in an elegant gray suit. "Every revolutionary and military conflict has its victims which are very regrettable.
"We should not forget he was a revolutionary who rebelled against a fascist military dictatorship. We should not forget that even as a minister he collected only a laborer's wage in Cuba."