___A Cultural and Social History of Hungary 1948–1990___Vissza
Tibor Valuch

A Cultural and Social History of Hungary 1948–1990

The role of politics in cultural and social processes

The structural changes which occurred in Hungarian society after World War II were closely bound up with a redefinition of the place and role of culture. With the country lying in the Soviet sphere of interests, although a brief period of coalition democracy was allowed immediately after the war had finished, it had become perfectly clear by 1948 that the processes of bourgeois evolution, society’s freedom to organise itself by its own lights and the multicultural diversity of that period would not be permitted to continue. In their place was installed a set of social, cultural and educational policies constructed on a Marxist-Leninist platform which had as its principal aim a totalitarian control of society, a homogenisation of the various social groups, and the eradication of all autonomous socio-cultural initiatives. To this end, the Communists used their political apparatus to standardise culture and bring every possible area of life under central supervision. The dismantling of existing local and national organisations, self-improvement and reading circles, clubs and associations, the ending of pluralism in art and literature, the obstacles that were put in the way of independent channels of expression all served to achieve this purpose just as much as the monopoly that was handed to Marxist aesthetics, the exaltation of incomprehensible and indefinable ‘socialist cultural ideals’, and radical overhaul of the educational system.

From 1948 the progression to single-party dictatorship and totalitarian subjection of social, economic and intellectual life was rapid. Under the changing socio-political conditions, even Communist party ideology soon lost its original function, turning into rigid dogma, a scientifically unquestionable doctrine, a ‘religion’ of sorts; it was no longer needed so much to provide a source of legitimation as to assist in the totalitarian subjection of society. Under what were now classic Stalinist conditions, the party line was binding on every member of society, and any public representation of values that departed from that line was strictly forbidden; the one and only ‘scientifically based’ viewpoint was thus important for providing the party with a tool with which it thought it could obstruct interpretations that cut against its own perspective. In practice, intellectuals had to resign themselves to losing freedom of thought and expression of divergent opinions.

The semantic content of language, as the prime means of communication, was a particularly important target of the entire process of transformation. An ‘officialese’ that married paternalism to a military vocabulary became the dominant parlance. Any aspect of change, and especially socio-political change, tended to be discussed in terms of a ‘struggle’ or ‘campaign’, culture or intellectual life in terms of ‘the cultural front’, production in terms of ‘battle’, and mistakes in terms of ‘enemy attacks’. Any response to questions that might arise was framed with reference to ‘the party line’ and ‘the help of the party’, nor need anyone ever feel themselves alone and neglected when ‘our country is part of the vast clan of the socialist camp’ and ‘our socialist state takes care of its citizens’. As the possessor of totalitarian political power, the Communist party was ideologically bound to see itself as the source of all values, cultural as well as others, and thus every social, cultural and artistic phenomenon was politicised, and it was of prime importance that everyone actively involved in the creation and perpetuation of culture should submit to the party’s dictates. In Hungary, as in the rest of Central and East Europe, all ties that had formerly linked its intellectual and social life to Europe’s humanist, Christian-liberal traditions were ruptured – in essence by a radical repudiation of those traditions and a forced assimilation of the country’s culture to the pragmatic Stalinist version of Soviet imperialist politics into which socialism had degenerated.

The unidimensional social and political life of the years following this change of direction bred new kinds of mentality and conduct. All values were transformed in the name of the irrefutability of the sole ‘true and socially effective’ idea, discussion based on equality of rank and rights was supplanted by the decree from above. The old freedoms of artistic life were brushed aside as the state’s cultural apparatchiks handed down their judgements on the value of individual works and creative artists. Coerced social upheaval, the concomitant of radical economic and political change, transformed the status and conditions of substantial groups in society, very often at the cost of senseless sacrifices.

The four decades of this period between 1948 and 1989 may not have seen a fundamental change in the underlying ideology and monolithic political command system of Hungary’s ruling caste, but the era was not unrelievedly uniform. A clear transition is discernible in the mid-1960s, when the state power shook off the totalitarian aspect that it had assumed until that point to adopt a less rigorous authoritarian character which itself gradually weakened with the passage of years. This brought with it changed relationships of the state authority to society and to culture, which in turn had repercussions for society’s relationship to culture. The Soviet model of cultural organisation and value system which displaced Hungary’s predominantly European cultural tradition in 1948-49 proved to be more or less serviceable within the rigid limits that it imposed; the paradigm to which that model, in turn, gave way for the decade and a half from the mid-1960s onwards was styled ‘loosening and opening’- a gradual loosening from the fetters of dogmatically interpreted Marxist socialist ideology and from the country’s isolation from the wider cultural and scientific world, and an opening up to new intellectual ideas and approaches, to the mass media and, later on, information technologies that were increasingly shaping everyday lives, to new trends in the arts, and to the new findings that scientific and scholarly work was throwing up. This was a period in which the official cultural policies adopted by the Hungarian régime, virtually alone in the Soviet bloc could be summed up by what were known as the ‘Three Ts’: tiltás (‘prohibition’), tűrés (‘tolerance’) and támogatás (‘support’), or what in English one might call the ‘Three Bs’ of ‘banned’, ‘bearable’ or ‘backed’. At first, creative artists, works and new cultural initiatives still tended to fall under the extremes of either being wholeheartedly endorsed or else just as outrightly condemned, but gradually the scope widened for what could be permitted or tolerated, if not embraced with any official enthusiasm. The cultural course of what proved to be the last decade of the entire socialist era is best described as one of ‘contact building’ as the barriers to dialogue and collaboration between Hungary and western Europe that individuals and institutions working in the fields of culture, science and the arts had previously faced were increasingly dismantled and ever closer links were forged. By then, the bounds of what official cultural policy was prepared to tolerate, as compared with earlier periods, were being continually rolled back; many of Hungary’s more creative intellectuals, except those who took the path of open political opposition, stepped from the shadow of official banishment into the category of the bearable, and even the ranks of those who were actively backed. Attempts were no longer being made to maintain an exclusive preserve for socialist ideology; ritual, and increasingly superficial, genuflection to its hegemony was accepted as sufficient.

By the mid-1980s it had become patently obvious in Hungary that a socialist command economy and one-party political system were unsustainable: the régime was incapable of implementing the actions that its own political-ideological stance required. Under pressure from a society seeking its own autonomous forms of political organisation, the régime was compelled to cede its monolithic hold on power and, in a transitional period covering roughly the years between 1987 and 1991, one-party authoritarian rule was replaced by parliamentary democracy. Hungarian cultural and scientific life regained a large measure of freedom from ideological shackles, though they now had to face severe constraints imposed by a prolonged period of restructuring systems of institutional and financial support in line with the prevailing new political, economic and social realities.



Society, social space, natural environment

Demographics and social statistics of change

Hungary’s military, civilian and material losses during World War II were devastating. An estimated 800,000-900,000 of its populace were killed and some 40 per cent of its national wealth in 1938 was destroyed as a direct result of ground battles, air attacks and Holocaust. Added to this were massive forced transfers of population, affecting a minimum of 450,000-550,000 people, in the immediate post-war years of 1945-48 which likewise had a major impact on the country’s demography: around 60,000-80,000 fled from neighbouring states to Hungary as a consequence of fighting or renewed frontier adjustments; some 170,000-180,000 ethnic Germans were forcibly evicted from the country; a euphemistically termed ‘population exchange agreement’ between Hungary and Czechoslovakia led to 90,000 ethnic Hungarians inhabitants of Slovakia being driven out into Hungary and 60,000 ethnic Slovak inhabitants of Hungary moving the other way; and finally approximately 136,000 resettled internally within the country, mainly from the Alföld to the southern counties of Baranya, Tolna, Somogy and Bács, to take up properties released by land reform or left behind by the deportees. An indication of the size of the changes is that in 1949 close to 376,000 in the Hungarian population had been born outside the country’s borders as they stood in 1938, principally in Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. There was one further occasion for mass emigration in the course of the post-war decades, when some 180,000 people chose to flee the country permanently in the aftermath of the 1956 revolution. If to these ‘1956-ers’ are added all the rest who left by one means or another, legally or illegally, a total of 420,000-430,000 emigrated from Hungary over the entire period between 1945 and 1989.

Consecutive national censuses set the population of Hungary at 9.2 million in 1949, 9.96 million in 1960, 10.71 million in 1980, and 10.37 million in 1990. The natural annual increase in population slowly declined from a maximum of 11-12 per thousand in 1953-54 to an average of around 2-4 per thousand by the early 1970s then, after a temporary rise in the mid-1970s, continued to drop back steadily from the early 1980s. In the first third of the 1980s, as a result of falling fertility and rising mortality, natural increase turned into a net natural decrease – a process which carried on into the 1990s: the birth rate had stabilised at the turn of the ‘Eighties at a level of around 11-12 per thousand, whilst mortality was steadily rising at a rate of 13-15 per thousand.

The sex distribution over the period 1949-90 was subject to smaller fluctuations but throughout there was an excess of females: in 1949 there were 1,081, in 1960 – 1,073, in 1980 – 1,064, and in 1990 – 1081 females for every 1,000 males. The age structure altered considerably, with the age-group under 19 years falling back from 31.7 per cent of the populace in 1949 to 27.2 in 1990, and that of 20 to 59 years from 55.7 per cent to 51.3 per cent, whilst the age-group of 60 years or older grew from 12.6 per cent in 1949 to 21.5 per cent in 1990.

Life expectancy at birth is a function of changes in the living conditions and standard of life of the population as a whole. In the post-war years right up to the mid-1960s it rose fairly steadily for both sexes, to reach figures of 67 years for males and 72 years for females, after which it began to decline for males but carry on increasing moderately for females. Throughout the 1980s and into the ‘90s the average life expectancy at birth in Hungary was 65 years for men and 74 years for women, with increased mortality amongst middle-aged men being the biggest single factor in those changes over the last decade and a half to two decades. Infant mortality dropped very considerably from the 1950s onwards, whilst overall mortality for all age-groups reached its lowest point as the country entered into the 1960s. Over the period there were major changes in the pattern of causes of death: whereas infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid fever and other enteric infections, measles and whooping cough were still important in the middle of the century, by the ‘Seventies and ‘Eighties cardiac and circulatory disorders, cancer and neurological degenerative diseases were the more important causes. During the second half of the twentieth century, in other words, trends in the levels of health and mortality in the population came to be determined by factors relating to lifestyle and environmental damage.

A broadening in accessibility and rising standards of health care were clearly factors that worked for an overall improvement in the health of the population. The number of doctors nearly quadrupled from 11 per 10,000 inhabitants in 1950 to 41 in 1990, whilst hospital bed provision increased 70 per cent, from 56 to 96 per 10,000, over the same period.

The proportion of the Hungarian population in active employment grew continuously by 3 per cent per decade, on average, during the 1950s and ‘60s, after which it switched into a continuous decline, primarily due to a fall in the size of the working-age population. During the 1980s the relative size of the workforce contracted by 7 per cent and during the first half of the ‘90s by a further 7 per cent, by which time it was unequivocally as a result of the economic restructuring that accompanied the change in political régime. Thus whilst the workforce had numbered 4.1 million in 1949 and 5.1 million in 1970, it had reduced to 4.5 million in 1990 and just 3.7 million in 1994. Within those figures, moreover, is a very substantial increase in women’s employment, from 29 per cent of the total workforce in 1949 to 44 per cent in 1975 and 46 per cent in 1990.

Reflecting those trends, the dependency ratio, having dropped from 1949 until the 1970s, began to rise at a growing pace, from 117 dependants per 100 of the economically active population in 1975 to 117 in 1985, 129 in 1990 and (with unemployment becoming a significant factor) 174 in 1994. The processes of transformation in social structure can be seen in changing patterns of employment. Thus the percentage of the workforce categorised as professionals or managers rose from 1.8 to 11.0 per cent and others in white-collar jobs from 8 to 22.4 per cent between 1949 and 1990. Over the same period, the proportion of unskilled industrial workers fell from 12.1 to 5.9 per cent, whilst that of semi-skilled workers increased from 5.2 to 18.1 per cent and that of skilled workers from 11.2 to 25.7 per cent. Though the ratio of agricultural workers climbed from 6.9 to 11.6 per cent, there was a huge drop in the proportion of self-employed smallholder peasants, from 46.7 to 1.1 per cent, and a smaller reduction, from 8.1 to 4.2 per cent, in that of self-employed artisans and tradesmen. With the Communist take-over of power, the upper circles of the party leadership took the places of the pre-1948 élite to form a privileged nómenklatúra of those occupying the top posts in government and the economy. During the 1980s the composition of this élite began to change fairly extensively – a process of replacement that was completed with the change in régime of 1989-90.

The social evolution of the decades ensuing after 1948 might be called a process of ‘half-hearted’ modernisation whereby the material and technological standards of living for most of Hungarian society improved progressively but other factors that bore on the quality of life were essentially unchanging. The general trend of that evolution was similar in many respects to the structural changes of western European societies, but there were significant areas of difference.

The prevailing socialist political system was capable of sustaining economic growth during the 1960s and ‘70s then, from the ‘80s onwards, not even that. By its very nature, the régime played a big part in the weakening of social relations, in breaking down the tender shoots of solidarity that are necessary for the ‘normal’ functioning of any society, principally because it was unable to tolerate any form of communal initiative that ventured beyond the scope of family life. One sign of this was the increasingly unfavourable course that was seen from the late 1950s in certain indices of social deviance (suicide, alcoholism), which in many cases were the outcome of serious problems in human relationships that were being experienced within Hungarian society. The post-1948 modernisation process was thus half-hearted not only for failing to nurture society’s capacities for dealing with conflict but also for blocking the adjustment of forms of behaviour appropriate to a civil society and, over a prolonged period, suppressing the kind of culture that would be capable of creating and mediating genuine values. So far as they go, the statistics that are conventionally treated as indicators of modernisation, such as the changing pattern of occupations or the advancement in educational levels of the population, do indeed attest to a very distinct break from the past. The proportion of the population directly employed in the agricultural sector shrank from 53.8 per cent in 1949 to 15.4 per cent in 1990, yet there are statistics from 1988 to show that fully 45 per cent of the adult inhabitants of the country were engaged in some form of private small-scale farming – a high ratio which was the result of a duplication of social, political and economic structures that was highly characteristic of the era and, in itself, an indication of how Hungary’s modernisation process differed qualitatively from that in western Europe. That was underlined by a relative backwardness of the service sector and a noticeable decline in standards of behaviour. Modernisation in Hungary during this era meant primarily – and in some periods exclusively – industrialisation. Under the imposed political conditions, both Hungarian society and the economy suffered a significant loss of capability to adapt: "It remained a distinctive characteristic of Hungary’s social structure that alongside the position it occupied in the ‘first economy’, the dimension of state redistribution, there existed a second dimension, that of the ‘second economy’ in the wider sense of a private or market economy. A ‘binary society’ thereby came into existence" (Andorka, 1992).

Social restructuring in Hungary, under the pressure of political coercion, proceeded with great rapidity between 1950 and 1975. Having progressively opened up in the two decades immediately after 1945, society then began to lose a substantial part of that openness as it went into the 1970s, with the result that individuals’ prospects for changing their status steadily worsened. The growth of the residential population of the towns was conspicuously lower than the rate of expansion of urban employment, indicating that industrialisation was not accompanied by commensurate development of the country’s infrastructure, an extension of the process of urbanisation. Whilst school rolls raced upwards and general levels of educational attainment improved markedly during the 1950s, from the late ‘70s and into the ‘90s the proportion of the younger generation who gained the main high-school leaving certificate (érettségi) or a first degree at college (diploma) remained stuck at virtually the same relatively low level.

In important respects the situation in which Hungary’s social transformation took place during the 1950s and ‘60s bore the marks of a process of neo-colonialism, with the representatives of the dominant foreign power and its values indiscriminately imposing their power and social order upon the subject populace without giving it the slightest say in whether it wished to accept or reject the new. A process of consolidation that was set in train under the Kádár régime in the late 1960s made possible, against its original intentions, a growing divergence from the classical Soviet model of social organisation, principally through vigorous expansion of the second economy, then during the ‘80s the process by which certain social groups were able to win a measure of partial economic autonomy from the state gathered pace and spread to ever-widening strata of the population.


Spatial relocation and housing conditions

Regional and local development policies formulated in the late 1940s and early ‘50s were shaped by an increasingly strong drive to centralisation. Guidelines for development plans to meet the new spirit of the times were hammered out in 1950 by the National Planning Office and the Regional Planning Institute. The definitive premises of socialist policy for decades to come were arrived at by categorising settlements in a manner that failed to reflect the realities of their position, with the area that villages, and particularly those with small populations, actually occupied being consistently underestimated. Through this discriminatory policy, two-thirds of Hungarian settlements in the mid-1970s fell into a category where no development was scheduled. Its practical effects were disadvantageous particularly for small hamlets and for the isolated farmsteads that made up the tanya system, which had come into being over extensive areas of the countryside in response to the particular structure of land ownership and agricultural production that had prevailed in Hungary until the end of World War II but was now regarded as a symbol of the separatist stance of private farmers and therefore targeted for total elimination at the earliest possible opportunity. The development plan for the capital, at the very pinnacle of the settlement hierarchy, contained equally unrealistic objectives, which were to become increasingly manifest in infrastructural deficiencies and housing shortages for decades thereafter. Forced industrialisation had particularly dramatic effects for a group of small towns – Komló, Tatabánya, Kazincbarcika and Várpalota – that were singled out as ‘socialist cities’, and this was also the time when construction work began on the greenfield site that was to grow into the city of Sztálinváros (later renamed Dunaújváros). Regional disparities were compounded all the more by the generally irrational political considerations that governed the distribution of development funds from the centre.

The dominant process of the era was one of urbanisation. The number of population centres, including Budapest, that enjoyed municipal status in Hungary was 54 in 1949, 63 in 1960, 96 in 1980, and 166 by 1990. There was a parallel jump in the urban population, from 36.9 per cent of the country’s inhabitants in 1949 to 61.8 per cent in 1990. At the same time, the proportion of village communities (község) rose a mere 3 per cent between 1949 and 1960, largely by creating so-called ‘tanya centres’, but then between 1970 and 1990 a process of merging settlements brought the number back down by 5 per cent. One undoubted positive feature of planning policy was the widening of the urban network and the appearance of regional centres within the country. Overall, however, the modernisation of Hungary’s population geography as a whole was purely nominal since in many respects differences in living conditions between town and village were left untouched, whilst significant disparities were allowed to persist between individual towns.

The scale of internal migration during the socialist era reached extremely high levels. Between 1949 and 1971 the number of people living in tanya settlement areas almost halved, from 1.6 million to 860,000, whilst during the 1950s alone more than half a million people relocated from villages into the towns, with a further three million permanently leaving their original village between 1960 and 1970, some to move to the towns, others to resettle in more thriving villages. In the early 1970s the effectively unidirectional stream towards the town began to reverse as substantial numbers of town dwellers moved outwards to the villages.

Budapest continued to expand vigorously after World War II, from 1.59 million inhabitants in 1949 to 2.014 million in 1990, with the rate of growth being particularly high between 1950 and 1970 and primarily due to immigration from other parts of the country. The ‘70s and ‘80s were a period of mounting social and spatial inequalities within the area of the capital and also of a widening gap between the capital as a whole and the rest of the country.

The most important task that Hungary faced in the immediate post-war years was that of repairing the wartime damage and replenishing the urban housing stock. However, the slowness of that construction programme gave rise to serious social tensions during the 1950s and ‘60s as the housing shortage in the towns was made still more acute by the influx of former agricultural workers to take up jobs in manufacturing industry. For much of the population, indeed, obtaining a dwelling of adequate size and quality was one of the most pressing problems of the post-war years. Between 1945 and 1948 a net total of seven new dwellings were built annually for every one thousand inhabitants, but then even that favourable balance largely disappeared between 1948 and 1956 as new construction fluctuated between 1.8 and 3.2 dwellings annually per one thousand inhabitants. To make a bad situation worse, the one-sided concentration of investment on industrial development left inadequate finances to attend to the infrastructure of built-up areas, as a result of which the general standard of housing provision, and hence of the living conditions that depend so crucially on that provision, steadily deteriorated throughout the 1950s. Less than half of the more than 200,000 dwellings that had been scheduled for construction between 1949 and 1954 were actually built, and the quality of the dwellings that were built was well below what might reasonably be expected. This was true even for the socialist cities that were selected for preferential treatment. Under the first Five-Year Plan, the new town on the Danube that was named after Stalin saw a seven-fold growth in population but housing was so scarce that the average occupancy rate was over five people per household, and the bulk of the dwellings were not only tiny – just 35-40 square metres in floor area – but also provided with only the most basic of conveniences. Public utilities both there and elsewhere in the country were usually well behind the level of demand generated by population growth.

The take-over of tenement blocks and the bigger apartments and family houses by the Hungarian state at the end of the 1940s was just one of the measures constituting part of a major change in property rights aimed at eliminating private ownership as widely as possible. Whilst it significantly increased the volume of housing under state control, particularly in the towns, the removal of the market mechanism – at least temporarily – from housing supply had a detrimental effect on residential mobility, and the system of state allocation which took its place became a source of major social inequalities. Since construction of housing in the state sector was concentrated almost exclusively on towns, in rural areas people were largely left to their own resources in providing for their housing needs. In this way, the curious situation arose that up until the mid-1970s more than half of the new dwellings that were added to the country’s housing stock each year were built from private resources; it was only from this point onwards that the programme of state-financed house construction became more important.

A substantial improvement in the supply of new housing units occurred as Hungary entered into the 1960s. During the ensuing period up to the early ‘80s the pace of construction picked up to over nine new dwellings annually for every thousand inhabitants, or an average total of 80,000-100,000 new dwellings per year. The peak year of post-war construction was 1975, when 9.4 new dwellings per 1,000 inhabitants were built, but from the first third of the 1980s onwards, as the country’s economic situation deteriorated, the rate again dropped back sharply to nearer levels last seen in the ‘50s, with just 3.9 new dwellings per 1,000 inhabitants being built in 1990.

For all the slow overall improvement in housing conditions, at the time of the change in régime in 1990 a substantial part of the Hungarian population was still living in dwellings that fell a good way short of what nowadays count as basic standards of convenience. By 1990, fully 67 per cent of the country’s total housing stock had been constructed since 1945. Whereas 40 per cent of all dwellings in 1949 were built with mud-brick or wattle-and-daub walls and no foundations, that was still true of only 9 per cent of homes in 1990. The national average household density of 2.59 persons per room in 1949 had fallen to 1.1 persons per room by 1990. A flush toilet was installed in only 13 per cent of households in 1949 but 26 per cent of homes were still without one in 1990; similarly only 10 per cent of households had their own bathroom in 1949 but 23 per cent were still lacking one in 1990.

These statistics again underline the half-heartedness of much of the modernisation that took place in Hungary during the era. Muddled as it may have been in its outcome, this span of almost half a century was decisive in shaping the housing situation of the country today, with the 2.5 million dwellings that were constructed over that period comprising more than half of the present housing stock. By the 1990s Hungary no longer had a significant shortage in the amount of housing, but the quality of the housing still left quite a lot to be desired. The greater part of the worst deficiencies are to be found amongst the roughly half a million dwellings built with prefabricated technologies and the stock of city tenement buildings that still remains from the turn of the nineteenth century.

A feature of house-building during that era, in that it far surpassed in scale anything seen elsewhere in post-war Eastern Europe, was the importance of the recruitment of voluntary labour amongst family and friends to assist with private construction, which had a particular impact on housing provision in rural communities. Largely through these cooperative efforts, in very many villages by the 1970s and ‘80s the typical three-room home with outbuildings and no conveniences of the immediate post-war years had been replaced by dwellings with all or most modern amenities.


Changes in social spaces and urbanisation: architecture and the visual culture of public spaces

The manner in which public spaces, the streetscape, the internal spaces of public buildings, workplaces, residential buildings and individual dwellings are designed and furnished are objective indicators of human relationships. It is these features which constitute the framework of the daily lives of a population, the material conditions in which people undertake their individual and social activities. Their visual appearance is closely linked with the kinds of lifestyle that are determined by the social conditions of the population in question. The structure and degree of urbanisation of a settlement, the extent to which public spaces are developed and their functionality, the nature of the building stock, the size of homes and structure of households – these are among the variables that determine how people conduct their lives. In Hungary social spaces underwent a number of functional changes in consequence of political developments over the period between 1948 and 1990. The first two decades were a period of the tyranny of ideology and propaganda, the second two a period of reflecting the values of a ‘pseudo-consumer society’ and of a partial humanisation of those spaces.

The aggressively expansionist character of the dominant ideology in the earlier, socialist era meant that special attention was given to investing the social environment with political content. As a result, from the late 1940s public spaces underwent significant changes in their visual amenities. Objects which might be reminiscent of earlier eras or, in the opinion of those who decided cultural policy, were vehicles of values that were opposed to socialist expectations were removed and replaced by items that met the new requirements. The typical public art-work of the period was a political monument that, more often than not, attempted to project the allure of a radiant future through a portrayal of optimism and dynamism. Many of the large number of these outdoor sculptures from the ‘Fifties were no more than enlargements of works that had originally been conceived as figurines; only in the late ‘Sixties did the aesthetic and decorative function of sculpture in public sites begin to regain some currency.

What quickly came to be seen as the prime symbol for the entire Rákosi dictatorship of the years immediately after 1948 was an eight-metre high statue of Stalin that was unveiled in Budapest, on 16th December 1951, before a crowd of 80,000 people packed into the widened section of Dózsa György út, then called Felvonulási tér (Parade Square), just east of Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square). The work of Sándor Mikus (1903-1982), this perfectly fulfilled the propaganda needs of the early part of that decade, not just as a symbol of its era but also as a cultic idol which, in the eyes of the Communist leadership, "embodies all progressive aspirations of a millennium of Hungarian history". An article from that time which appeared in the Party newspaper Szabad Nép ventured to suggest that "the Stalin statue which towers above our city proclaims that ... to love one’s homeland and to be true to the Soviet Union, to be patriotic and also international, as befits a proletarian – is one and the same thing". The statue was toppled during the first night of the 1956 revolution and not subsequently restored; in its place was taken in 1965 by a far more modest statue of Lenin (also removed since 1990). During the years immediately after World War II a monument to the Red Army’s war dead was erected on a central site, frequently in the grounds of a church or adjacent to it, in virtually every village and town in Hungary. Any function these might have had as marks of respect became entirely secondary to their perception by society at large as primary symbols of Soviet imperialism. During the 1950s public buildings in Hungary were likewise used as direct instruments of state propaganda, their facades being almost invariably decorated with slogans and red stars; no local council office was without its rolls of honour and disgrace posted on notice-boards set up before their entrance.

In the ensuing period there were important changes in these public spaces, and the visual cues that they supplied, in that, during the 1960s and ‘70s, an ideological freight was still preserved but had a diminishing role. The conceptual content and subjects of memorial statuary and sculpture used as a decorative element on buildings began to alter around 1960 as scope was allowed for the creation of more autarchic and personal statements. Nevertheless, in the early ‘60s it became almost obligatory for Hungarian towns to put up a statue of Lenin, and up till the end of the ‘70s banners bearing the slogans of the moment were still commonly affixed across or alongside main thoroughfares and on the walls of factories and public institutions. Advertising hoardings or posters for consumer goods had no effective place during the 1950s but regained their role in the climate of consolidation of the ‘60s, when stimulation of consumer demand once more became an important consideration. Even so, the visual design of most advertising material was far from inspired throughout the 1970s and indeed only began to show any real vibrancy in the late ‘80s. Like most other visual aspects projected by the public spaces of the socialist era, with rare exceptions, it merely reflected a milieu that largely lacked stimuli to be creative.

The location and stratification of institutions and residential buildings within a settlement generally have significance, over and above any functional considerations, as indicators of local social relations in that they comply with some hierarchical ordering within that society. The place that a dwelling occupies within a settlement is generally a pointer to the owner’s social rank and position, and for all the significant evolution that the traditional system of social customs may have undergone during the 1960s and ‘70s even in the rural areas of Hungary, that position down to the present day has preserved some portion of the old, pre-war prestige-based social structures and value systems.

The vast housing projects which got under way in Hungary from 1967 onwards, each designed to provide dwellings for an average of 20,000-40,000 people, were supposed not only to meet mass housing needs but also to accelerate a process of social equalisation by embodying a conjunction of need, technology and ideology. The earliest such projects were sited on the fringes of cities but over time crept ever nearer to already built-up inner-city areas. Modernisation therefore not infrequently entailed the sacrifice of historical areas: the loss of their historical character by the centres of Debrecen, Kecskemét and Óbuda are just a few examples. Neither city authorities and planners nor construction teams paid sufficient attention to ensuring that old and new were organically linked, as a result of which the residential zones of most towns came to be dominated during the 1960s and ‘70s by the new housing schemes. In not a few cases (e.g. Kazincbarcika, Komló, Tatabánya, Ajka, Dunaújváros) residential and factory zones were allowed to be sited too closely together, with the result that town dwellers were exposed to major industrial pollution. The housing projects significantly reduced the amount of open spaces suitable for recreational purposes, and it was a regular occurrence when selecting the site for a new scheme to overlook quite elementary quality-of-life requirements relating both to implications for the structure of the town and links with the public transport system. Almost without exception, the big housing projects were aesthetically dreary and functionally uninviting. The rectangular boxes of housing, laid either on the side to make four-storey blocks or on their end to make ten-storey towers, were not dimensioned so as to permit apartments of only very modest floor area – on average a mere 53 square metres, and were monotonous in the extreme; indeed, given the general emptiness of the actual space within projects and the regularity in form of such few structures as there were, it is hardly appropriate to speak of visual arrangement in any traditional sense. The spaces were reduced to the minimum required to sustain life and were as good as useless for any sort of communal activity, so the overall level of amenity offered by the projects was generally low. Across Hungary, by 1985, 1.6 million people were living in 518,000 apartments in 408 new housing projects of this kind. Although this represented a success of sorts in trapping, at least temporarily, a wide variety of people of different social status in near-identical living conditions, differentiation had already begun to emerge again in Hungarian society during the 1970s and only intensified during the ‘80s and ‘90s as inequalities progressively widened. From the 1980s onwards a substantial turnover of residents in the housing projects began as those who had the means exchanged their apartments for better quality homes and their places were taken by people coming from housing of poorer standard.

In light of the above, the architecture of the socialist era could reasonably be described as a form of megalomania, with its monumental building projects and the grandiose scale of its public spaces and the objects within those spaces. Inevitably, this form of architecture was in thrall to the demands of the dominant ideology of socialist realism, its primary function being to mediate equality, the democratism of socialist order, the reciprocity of life and work, and the paramountcy of communal life; buildings and public spaces were supposed to reflect the superiority of socialist economic mechanisms and the power and goals of the working class. Architects were expected to come up with solutions which met the requirements of ‘creating a new world’ whilst also giving visual expression to the country’s greatness and evoking a puritanically impersonal functionality. Typically, Hungary’s socialist cities, intended as the crowning symbols of this form of ‘new life’, were all too often planned as complexes of buildings and public spaces which left no room for the intrusion of any sort of green belt. Architecture’s adoption of socialist realism as an exclusive principle can be dated with some precision to around 1950-51, but much of the theory and formal devices that were drawn on in practice were simply lifted from the eclecticism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It left its stamp on most of the residential and public buildings of the 1950s and ‘60s, and it was only from the late ‘70s that any significant departures from the ruling orthodoxy began to be accepted. Thus human considerations, the shaping of a cultural landscape directed towards satisfying real needs, were given short shrift virtually throughout the socialist era.

Besides bringing new towns into existence, socialist realist architecture transformed many areas of existing towns, but it had relatively little impact on rural areas. What emerged in village communities, around the end of the 1960s, was more of an attempt to impose a kind of uniformity through the construction of ‘box’ houses. However, the wave of predominantly do-it-yourself home building that got under way in villages drew its inspirations from a wide assortment of stylistic elements, giving rise to an architectural mix that was usually as much a function of the builder’s financial status. The appearance of villages changed as regional differences and idiosyncrasies were increasingly forsaken. The key difference between living conditions in urban and rural homes was that village residences built out with their owners’ private labour tended to be much more spacious and also more in keeping with their surroundings than most town dwellings.

The lifestyle entailed by the multi-storey residential blocks of a housing project was quite different from that in small-town streets of closed, single-storey dwellings or in villages that consisted almost exclusively of family homes. Nevertheless the correlation between the size of a settlement and the type of construction to be found there was not hard-and-fast. Towns and cities were also fringed by zones of family houses; 43 per cent of the inhabitants of Budapest, for example, were living in single-storey dwellings in 1970. Barely one-third of those living in single-storey houses in the country as a whole – 88-90 per cent of those situated in Budapest, close to 50 per cent of those in small towns, but just 16-18 per cent of those in villages – had access to a piped water supply at that time, as compared with 99 per cent of residents of multi-storeyed urban housing. Even as late as 1977 almost 10 per cent of the country’s population (300,000 families) were still having to fetch water for their household needs from a site more than 100 metres distant from the home. The gap widened still further during the 1980s so that although by the early ‘90s three-quarters of Hungarian households had a mains supply of water, just 40 per cent were connected to public sewers.

Given the unrivalled dominance enjoyed by the dictates of the ‘progressive traditions’ of socialist realism in Hungarian architecture from the early 1950s, domestic architects were, for over a decade, barred from having any recourse to modern architectural ideas. Though the tentative beginnings of a thaw began to be seen in the late ‘50s, a brief wave of innovation that came with freeing from formal constraints had effectively been snuffed out by the mid-’60s with buildings virtually throughout the country being constructed to a similar characterless formula. These bleakly modernistic creations made no concessions whatever to their surroundings; indeed, as the sole manifestations of modernity in architecture they stood in stark contrast to older building stock. Simplifying approaches led to devastation of the historical centres of some cities and failure to restore valuable clusters of monuments; over the course of the socialist era, architecture was devalued and subordinated to expediencies of big industrialised construction concerns and the paternalistic political bureaucracies charged with their direction. Most architects resigned themselves to churning out hackneyed designs to stereotyped formulas; only the few who had determination as well as talent were able to stand out from drab uniformity.

This ‘faceless’ architecture was gradually edged towards the sidelines as design offices and ateliers of more intellectually demanding architects, who placed greater emphasis on the relations of buildings to their milieu and on the functional role of streets and spaces, began to emerge during the early 1970s. By then Imre Makovecz (1935-) had started to attract growing attention with markedly individualistic plans which explored ‘organic’ principles, the use of natural materials and national vernacular traditions. The increasing store placed on native traditions was also a central concern of the ‘Youth Office’ (Ifjúsági Iroda) founded by György Csete (1937-) at Pécs in the early 1970s, and since then more generally known as ‘Group Pécs’. A growing list of talented young architects who began their careers around this time – amongst others, József Finta (1935-), Péter Magyar (1937-), István Janáky (1938-), Ferenc Bán (1940-) and Péter Reimholz (1942-) – likewise struck off on their own individual paths, showing themselves increasingly unwilling to allow politically inspired ideology to shackle their creativity.

The room for manoeuvre allowed to architects under the external conditions set by the commissioners of new buildings and their political masters underwent another change towards the end of the 1970s. With deepening economic recession, the keynotes that came increasingly to the fore, in place of the ‘sweep-all-aside’ attitudes of the past, were now frugality and preservation of values, bolstered by a swell of local town-conservancy pressure groups seeking to build up a sense of local social identity. Architecture, however, continued to gain in diversity as the over-simplifications of modernity continued to give way to greater wealth of expression, evocation of historical memories, greater consideration of functional needs, and new approaches at all levels of town and country planning, down to the design of individual buildings, that sought alternative solutions and took ecological issues more into account. By then most architects were striving to negotiate a harmonious transition between private and public spaces. By the late 1980s, the impoverished formal vocabulary of state-directed mass housing had finally been ousted by residential architecture for private dwellings or apartment blocks that paid attention to individual needs, and vast estates of industrialised blocks by zones of family homes.


Changes in the natural environment under socialism

Man’s changing relationship to his environment in the post-war era fell into two phases. During the period of extensive economic development which lasted up to the end of the 1960s the country’s leaders treated the natural environment as a limitlessly exploitable resource. Centralisation of economic organisation and a policy of forced industrialisation through one-sided development of heavy industry, with its demands for raw materials, placed higher than average – indeed, quite unnecessary – burdens on the environment. Scant heed was paid to natural resources, with the landscape being regarded, in good Stalinist fashion, as a canvas that man was free to alter to meet his own needs. In 1950, for example, a grand plan was conceived to take advantage of the Hortobágy region of the Alföld by turning this area of salt savannah, rich in natural resources, into a large-scale agricultural concern, to which was tied the construction of a three-step barrage on the Tisza. In the end the plan was not implemented as originally planned, though the Tiszalök barrage and the Eastern Main Channel, which had been started before the war,* were completed by the beginning of 1956. A further barrage was installed upstream at Kisköre a few years later.

Since no attention was given to assessing expected or possible harmful environmental impacts when making investment decisions, in practice nothing was done to prevent such damage; protecting the environment simply did not figure amongst the considerations that informed economic and social policies. In planning new settlements and big industrial concerns no thought was given to fitting in with the natural environment or the endowments of the regional landscape. During this same period there was a substantial shift in relations to Nature amongst the rural population who made their living from agriculture and comprised such a large segment in society. As a result of the final wave of forced collectivisation which culminated in the early 1960s, the traditional peasant lifestyle effectively vanished from Hungary and with it the old bonds with the soil rapidly lost their significance. Consequently, the entire period between 1950 and 1970 was largely one of missed opportunities as far as environmental protection is concerned. Environmental legislation was introduced in 1961 and led to the formation of a National Environmental Protection Office, which took over the duties and jurisdiction of what had formerly been a National Environmental Protection Council operating under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture. Going into the 1970s, a slow change in attitudes was starting to become apparent – prompted not least by a number of natural disasters such as widespread flooding of the Tisza in 1970 – in that the country’s political and economic leaders were prepared to take more note of environmental issues than before, if not to full extent that was required.

In 1976 the earlier regulations on protection of the human environment were tightened, giving agencies more effective powers to intervene. The following year the authority of the existing bodies was transferred again to a newly created National Council for Protection of the Environment and Nature and a corresponding office. By the early 1980s education on environmental matters started to enter into the teaching curriculum and coordination of nature conservancy and environmental protection activities was raised to government level, culminating in the formation of a separate Ministry for Environmental Protection and Water Management in 1988. However, it has to be added that even during the 1980s environmental issues continued to be subordinated to economic and political considerations, and the financial resources that were diverted into this area never reached the sums that were either necessary or affordable, with the result that the quality of the environment for the country’s population carried on sliding.

Public awareness of environmental issues was catalysed particularly by the catastrophic scale of the radioactive pollution released from the atomic reactor accident at Chernobyl in the Ukraine during April 1986, and further strengthened by the domestic civil protest movement which was sparked by Czechoslovak-Hungarian intergovernmental plans for construction of a massive dam and hydroelectricity generation plant on the Danube Bend between Nagymaros on the Hungarian bank and Gabçikovo on the Slovakian bank. Thus, the second half of this era, the period from 1970 to 1990, may be characterised as one in which protection of the environment came to be politically institutionalised but still at low levels of priority in the face of growing public concern over the issues that it involved.

One of the earliest documents of the attempts to mobilise alternative opinion on issues relating to the environment was a 1949 pamphlet entitled Régi Írás (Old Scripture), drafted by György Bulányi (1919-), a Piarist priest, on behalf of an activist circle calling itself the Bokor-Öko (Bush-Eco) Group, which laid much stress on the responsibility that is owed to future generations and the need for respect for Nature and protection of the environment. As society slowly gained room for manoeuvre with the weakening of the régime, a variety of other unofficial groups, organised independently of the state political hierarchy, began to emerge. An Inter-university Science Students’ Circle (Interuniversitas Tudományos Diákkör, or ITDK) was founded in 1981 and a Nature Protection Club amongst students at the Loránd Eötvös University of Budapest in 1983; an Association for the Protection of the Danube Countryside, also known as the Danube Circle, was formed 1984, and Budapest’s Technical University started up a Green Club in 1985. These initiatives were given a big boost by the European recognition paid to the Danube Circle by awarding it a Good Lifestyle Prize in 1985. These green pressure groups and the ecological issues that they raised assumed an important role in the domestic political argument that gathered pace during the latter half of the 1980s. The ever-widening social backing that was given to the protest movement against the Gabçikovo-Nagymaros dam finally induced the Hungarian government to suspend participation in the construction work during the summer of 1989. These various movements thus helped to lay the foundations for the environmental protection approaches that were subsequently followed in the period of civil democracy ushered in by the change in régime of 1989-90; on the other hand, they offered no comprehensive ideological critique of society nor any utopian model that went beyond the limits of conventional civil democratic arrangements.

Hungary’s natural environment did indeed undergo some major adverse changes during the socialist era as a result of the mounting burdens imposed by enroachments of the built environment. Conditions for sustaining wildlife suffered, with several thousands of native species coming under threat and some 40 plants and 53 animals recorded as becoming extinct. Alongside this, there was also a perceptible increase in health risks that can be traced back to environmental pollution. Land use for cultivation fluctuated but, overall, was in continuous decline, with the area of arable land withdrawn from cultivation doubling over the period between 1945 and 1990 as the farmed area declined from 7.4 million hectares (28,500 square miles) in 1950 to 6.1 million hectares (23,500 square miles) by 1990. Within that reduction there was also a change in the distribution of land use by the farming sector, with a fall in the area of arable land and, even more markedly, of land given over to vineyards and fruit farming but a greater proportion used for market gardening.

Water demand both from the general public and from industry and agriculture rocketed after World War II, with total water consumption soaring from 3,000 million to 8,000 million cubic metres in just the two decades between 1970 and 1990. The total volume of communal and industrial waste water effluents likewise rose, from 300 million cubic metres in 1965 to 850 million cubic metres in 1990. The biggest consumers and polluters of water were the chemical industry and industrial users of electricity. Despite expanded capacity and the application of modern biological treatment processes, the country’s sewage disposal system was unable to keep pace with the growing burden, as a result of which the quality of natural freshwater sources steadily deteriorated over time. This significant build-up of ground water pollution was a consequence of a continued failure of the public sewerage system to keep up with the water supply network due to the relatively high costs of public utilities and the historically low level of investment on domestic infrastructure. According to national census statistics, around half the population of Hungary in 1990 was still living in dwellings that were not connected to sewage mains. Mining for lignite and bauxite in the mountain ranges of southern Transdanubia led to serious reductions in both the quantity and quality of the karst water sources which form an important part of the country’s drinking water reserves. More happily, a drastic decline in the water quality of Lake Balaton was largely checked through interventionist measures that were taken during the 1980s.

One downside of the spiralling increase in motor vehicle use in Hungary since the 1960s was a progressive worsening of air quality in towns, much of it related to the technologically backward and increasingly antiquated state of vehicles on the roads. Further major culprits were the big works of domestic heavy industrial and chemical concerns, which during the 1950s and ‘60s were in practice allowed free rein to pollute the environment unpenalised. From the early 1970s, plant and factories that caused air pollution were subject to a so-called ‘pollution charge’ and from 1975 could have progressive fines levied against them for pollution offences. Through structural changes in energy supply and gradual modernisation of plant that had been releasing the greatest amounts of pollutants, the peak general levels of emissions reached during the 1960s gradually abated during the following decade. Due to industrial concentration, however, air quality continued to worsen in the region around the city of Miskolc, central Transdanubia and the Budapest metropolitan agglomeration, so that by the end of the 1980s some 44 per cent of the Hungarian population were living in areas of slight to moderate air pollution.

Relatively outdated production technologies also contributed to the growing problems that Hungary began to experience with waste disposal in general and safe storage of dangerous wastes in particular. By the late 1980s the amount of domestic and municipal refuse generated annually per head of the population exceeded 200 kg. The Hungarian economy, too, largely through inefficient and careless methods of operating, produced large amounts of waste in relation to its performance. In the early 1980s, production of every US$1 million of GDP generated a conspicuously high level of 2,509 tons of industrial waste. Despite severe sanctions introduced at that time, instances of environmental pollution, usually through incorrect storage of materials, remained common throughout the 1980s.

Almost the sole encouraging trends in the whole era were increases in the area of park land available to urban populations and the amount of land under forestry management. The proportion of the total area of Hungarian territory given over to forest rose from 16.6 per cent in 1975 to 18.1 per cent in 1989, whilst parkland area expanded from 10.7 to 16.0 square metres per capita. The setting aside of designated areas of the countryside especially rich in features of natural interest for enhanced protection began in Hungary with the creation of the first national nature reserve on the Hortobágy in 1973. By the end of the decade some 600 sites of various sizes, with a total area of 380,000 hectares (1,500 square miles), had been given protected status.


Living conditions and material culture: from minimum subsistence to pseudo-consumerism

Incomes, household consumption and consumer culture

Hungary’s per capita national income in 1938 amounted to US$120, which was then 60 per cent of the European average. World War II brought a reduction in national income, which only recovered to the pre-war level in 1949; thereafter it fluctuated quite considerably during the 1950s, though on an overall rising trend, as compared with the 1949 level, which persisted through to the early ‘70s. Despite the forced pace of economic growth, the development gap between Hungary and the more advanced economies of the West did not diminish; indeed, as a result of the bungled Hungarian response to the OPEC-induced oil price crisis of 1973, the late ‘70s ushered in a renewed period of recession. when it became clear that the régime’s chosen path of attempting to prop up living standards and economic growth through foreign credits was unsustainable. The restrictive policies that were adopted during the 1980s having brought no perceptible improvement, the collapse of the Comecon market in the early ‘90s represented a further crippling blow, as a result of which gross domestic product dropped back by around one-fifth in relation to its level at the end of the ‘80s.

Declining living standards for three consecutive years at the start of the ‘50s had reduced the value of wages in real terms by 20 per cent at the end of 1952 as compared with the beginning of 1950. Anxiety about earning a basic subsistence became a chronic, everyday preoccupation as much of the population, most notably the peasantry, were saddled with virtually unbearable demands for payment of taxes and compulsory deliveries of produce. The share of national income that was allocated to investment – much of it, directly or indirectly, for military purposes – was pushed up to 30 per cent, almost entirely at the cost of living standards of the populace at large. The new phase proclaimed in mid-1953, in the wake of Stalin’s death, when Rákosi and his chief henchmen temporarily lost their grip on power with the appointment of Imre Nagy as Hungarian prime minister, saw a resumption of growth in people’s incomes and consumption, from the low levels to which they had been depressed, up till the middle of 1956. National income for the latter half of that year slumped by 11 per cent, and with that, of course, indices of consumption too, as a consequence of the revolutionary upheaval from late October onwards; despite that, both incomes and consumption were 31 per cent higher in real terms at the end of 1956 than they had been in 1938. As against the almost total subordination of personal consumption to the goals of industrial development that marked the period before 1956, the engineering of sustained rises in living standards was to be the linchpin of the policies pursued by the Kádár government. The two decades from 1957 to 1978 were a period of significant and continuous improvement in material living conditions for the Hungarian population. Disposable incomes more than doubled in real terms, overall per capita consumption increased by more than two-and-a-half times, purchases of consumer articles more than ten-fold, and household energy consumption three-and-a-half times over.

A turning-point came at the end of the 1970s, when a policy of restraining income growth through inflation was introduced in an attempt to restore balance to an economy that had been drifting increasingly off course. For broad segments of the population this was felt most directly in a steady moderate decline in the real value of wages of on average 0.6-0.8 per cent annually over the period 1979-1987, which many were able to make up for by working for the newly formed business cooperatives (gazdasági munkaközösség, or GMK) or moonlighting in the ‘second economy’. The period from 1988 to 1995, however, was one of much sharper declines in wages, averaging 3.0-3.3 per cent annually, as a result of which the real value of an average wage in 1995 had fallen to just 73 per cent of that in 1978. The fall in living standards was general; losses could be avoided or contained only by those who were able to supplement their incomes rather substantially through additional work or access to capital that was obtained through connections or had been laid aside in better times.

The process of half-hearted modernisation referred to in an earlier section naturally had its counterpart in a major change in material living conditions. Taking 1950 as the baseline (=100), the index of per capita incomes in real terms rose to 375, that of per capita consumption to 344, and the index of weekly wage rates to 216. The general aim that governments in this era had set of levelling out large disparities in wealth and income in society largely miscarried. True, the income differences of 2.6- to 2.8-fold which had held between white-collar and manual workers’ incomes were narrowed to just 1.3- to 1.5-fold from the beginning of the 1950s, but at the same time pay differentials that were linked to qualifications were also reduced, and it was precisely the more highly skilled, and hence better paid, workers whose earning potential was most severely limited. Income relativities were further distorted by the practice of paying out various allowances and supplements to all who were in employment, regardless of performance. They were also influenced by fact that under the price-setting system of that era goods and services were sometimes priced at levels far below their real value or actual cost in order to help those on lower incomes. Thus income inequalities were, overall, narrowed between 1948 and 1970, though equality of the kind that ideology called for never arose. Then, from the early 1970s onwards, income disparities between different groups in society progressively widened, largely through the workings of the second economy.

The material betterment that was attained in the socialist era was achieved only through extraordinary effort on the part of the population. Whilst the working week for men as well as women in their official main occupation did become shorter between the 1960s and 1980s, more time was spent, particularly by men, on small-scale private agricultural production and on jobs in the unofficial second economy. This reflected a clear-cut change in the strategies followed by the population from the early 1960s onwards as families increasingly availed themselves of the expanding opportunities to acquire supplemental incomes. In the first half of the 1970s some 80 per cent of rural households – 5.2 million people in all, or half of the total population – had access to a domestic plot or complementary farm strips through the cooperative farm to which they were associated. These privately farmed lands amounted to some 14 per cent of the total land under cultivation and accounted for 30 per cent of the country’s agricultural output. This was only achieved at the cost of long hours of work on the private plot: typically, men put in 1.5-2.5 hours daily, women 0.5-2.5 hours daily, over and above the time spent doing their regular job, whilst pensioners would work some 4.5 hours daily. Since tasks that were particularly labour intensive tended to be left for the weekend, time was rarely left for entertainment or self-improvement even then.

The factor that lured people to these additional shifts of work on strips of land they could farm for themselves was shortages. Given the relatively rudimentary nature of Hungary’s commercial infrastructure and the poor standard of the produce it supplied to the populace at large, the privately farmed plots in the villages not only ensured that rural families could meet their own basic food requirements, but the supplementary income that could be generated from selling off their limited surplus produce had an important role in securing a livelihood and improving family finances. With capital not readily available, the only economic tool that individuals could exploit was their own labour, and since little of the surplus earnings that this generated could not be reinvested readily (or at all) in production, the profit deriving from work on the domestic plot was usually translated into higher consumption.

The lean times of the immediate post-war years did not come to an end with the initial period of consolidation but persisted right up to the mid-1960s. Domestic food consumption may have regained pre-war levels by 1950, but continuity of supplies was erratic and the choice of produce on offer was unsatisfactory, principally as a result of the irrational war economy that characterised the period following the Communist take-over of power. The characteristic weakness that was to dog the country’s socialist command economy throughout its existence, albeit to a decreasing extent during the 1980s, was shortages of goods. By the 1970s such shortages were no longer being seen in basic foodstuffs and clothing but in a chronic under-supply of more valuable modern consumer goods; they were nonetheless one of the factors that influenced ways of thinking and behavioural patterns in society.

A conspicuous increase in food consumption got under way in Hungary in the early 1960s, reaching its peak, both qualitatively and quantitatively, in the late ‘80s, when annual per capita consumption of meat exceeded 80 kg and that of milk and milk products was close to 190 kg. This continued emphasis on high-calorie dietary items was, in part, a legacy of historical traditions, and although changes in dietary habits were starting to accelerate in the latter half of the 1980s, modern concepts of nutrition made only partial headway.

Consumption patterns evolved steadily over the era as the selection of consumer goods expanded. A further indication of the changing quality of life was the widespread availability of electric power, which did not occur until the period immediately after 1948: whereas just one-quarter on Hungarian households had such a supply in 1941, electricity was being used in three-quarters of households by 1960 and over 90 per cent by 1990. With this came big changes in the ownership of domestic appliances, the ‘60s and ‘70s being the period when most Hungarian households acquired their first washing machine and separate spin-drier, trading these up later on for programmable, integrated washing-drying machines. Home entertainment devices – at first record-players and tape-recorders then gradually, from the 1980s, hi-fi music centres – likewise became common acquisitions.

The decade 1945-56 was a convoluted and unsettled period for the availability of goods, but by 1950 average consumption in the Hungarian population had reached and even surpassed by 8 per cent, the level it had been at in the last pre-war year. One index of the growth in material well-being during the ensuing period of consolidation under Kádár, however, is that the proportion of the national wealth held by households in the form of consumer durables rose almost two-and-a-half times between 1960 and 1974, from Ft. 73,300 million to Ft. 180,000 million.

Households were also altering in size and structure, with the average family becoming smaller with a falling birth-rate and fewer households comprising more than a single family. In rural as well as urban communities, the older model of the multi-generational extended family household was supplanted by that of the neolocal nuclear family as it was increasingly accepted that newly married couples would set up their own household independently of either set of parents. On top of this, the ‘50s and ‘60s saw a growing incidence of heterogamous marriages, with men and women of different social status becoming partners, as a result of which, by the mid-’70s, close to half of families with more than one person active in the workforce were of mixed social class.

The 1960s and ‘70s were a period of big changes in living conditions and standards of life for substantial numbers of rural families, not the least important aspect of which was their development of successful strategies – intensive cultivation of the household plot and entering into heterogamous marriages, amongst others – to adapt to the new circumstances. Undoubtedly these placed village dwellers under considerable strain, but they did at least provide them with a means of social advancement – even, at times, against the express intentions of the régime.

In post-war Hungary the household gained a key role as a labour unit in the operation of the economy. Going into the 1970s, Hungarian households began to show an increasingly distinct wish to lighten the load of domestic chores, to take advantage of modern appliances and have recourse to paid services. The amount of the family budget that was spent on upkeep and running the household more than doubled between the 1950s and ‘70s, whilst spending on private transport rose tenfold between 1955 and 1975. There were also major shifts in the pattern of expenditures on consumer durables. Up until the mid-’50s this was dominated by purchases of furniture, heating stoves, traditional kitchen ranges, bicycles, motorbikes, and radios, but by the early ‘60s electrical appliances (washing machines, spin dryers, refrigerators and televisions) came to the fore, and from the early 1970s the motor car.

The rapid spread of car ownership and use to become a mass phenomenon, despite the continual rise in maintenance costs, had a marked impact on lifestyles, facilitating not only daily commuting to work but also, where suitable means of conveyance were lacking, the transport to market and sale of produce from people’s domestic farm plots. The total number of motor cars registered in Hungary was just 13,054 in 1950 but reached 238,563 in 1970, 1,013,412 in 1980 and 1,944,553 by 1990. The growth in ownership – a reflection not just of changing lifestyles but also of the great attention that the conciliatory policies nurtured by the Kádár régime gave to rising standards of living – was extremely slow right up to the mid-’60s, averaging just 20,000 cars per year, but this then picked up pace to around 80,000 cars per year by the mid-’70s, a level which sustained throughout the ‘80s. In 1985 around half of the total number of cars in Hungary were owned by Budapest residents. Car ownership was, of course, an important status symbol from the start but became even more significant towards the end of the ‘80s and into the ‘90s as the model of car owned was seen as a key expression of the owner’s social position.

Significant town-country differences can be noted in household spending patterns. During the 1960s and ‘70s costs of services and public transport played a much smaller part in the budgets of villagers than in urban households, but private transport costs were higher. On the other hand, domestic appliances were generally less in evidence in rural than in town dwellings, part of this difference being explicable by the higher priority that village residents placed on acquiring implements needed for their private farming enterprises than on general household articles. Furthermore, only very gradually did rural families give up consuming their own food produce in favour of shop purchases or eating outside the home, though the latter trends did start to pick up during the 1980s.

In the early ‘60s, the average Hungarian housewife spent four times longer on household chores than the average man. This was principally a consequence of women’s persisting traditional role but also of the fact that the phenomenon of women in full-time employment had still not become general in society at that time. The total time devoted to housework did not drop during the ‘70s, though men started to assume a greater portion of the burden. Saturdays became the main time during the week for attending to such chores, especially once most workers had been freed from the remnants of the six-day working week in the early ‘80s.

The 1960s and ‘70s were, in general, the period of greatest changes in lifestyle in Hungary during the second half of the twentieth century. After the dire shortages of the ‘50s, food became the principal item of consumption in the ‘60s, to be succeeded by home furnishings and durable goods in the ‘70s. Driving this process was a strengthening of the second economy, which fuelled a fairly sharp increase in the population’s disposable incomes. Accordingly the earlier part of the Kádár era has often been referred to as the period of ‘goulash communism’, the latter part as that of ‘refrigerator socialism’.

Those who moved from the country to the towns during this period were changing not only their place of residence but also their entire way of life. Many chose to leave behind old belongings and furnish their dwellings according to the norms of their new surroundings. A big wave of replacing personal belongings then swept through the villages too during the ‘70s, with those who had constructed modern ‘box houses’ for themselves likewise dispensing with most of their old furniture and appliances. The conflict between hanging on to traditions and desire for innovation was symbolised in many of the newly built village houses by the fact that they still had a room which retained, even if only partially, the function of the ‘clean room’ of old.

As compared with the earlier decades of socialism, the 1970s were a time when demand for personal, decorative and, to some extent, social status-enhancing belongings could be satisfied. Despite the scant supplies of such luxuries and the hurdles that stood in the way of acquiring them, the bulk of the population felt free to shape their private environs to their own taste, to create a sense of prosperity, to eat, drink and buy goods or property (typically, a plot of land, weekend chalet, motor car) over and above what mere subsistence demanded. It is fascinating to keep track of this process as articles that were still regarded as luxury status symbols in the 1970s, whether brand-mark bottles of spirits or gift articles, became the ordinary, everyday objects of homes of the ‘80s.

In town dwellings earlier ideas about the function of furniture as signals of one’s position in society tended to assume less importance during the 1950s and ‘60s. When it came to furnishing their homes, most people simply followed the example of others who shared much the same position and style of life as themselves: "Within a framework of state socialism, people strove to furnish their personal space, as befits the citizens of twentieth-century consumer society, in a manner that was consumerism-centred and driven by the pleasure principle and emotion. The model of the home that they adopted was not the puritanical, utilitarian, thrifty home of the bourgeoisie but the goods-accumulating model of modern consumer society" (S. Nagy, 1997). This changing attitude to home furnishings is also a sign of a more general transition that cultural traditions and customs were undergoing in Hungary during this period. As watching television spread in society, the television set tended to be placed in a central spot in the home. This concentration on the private sphere of life was symptomatic of a general desire to identify with the consumer societies of western Europe. The singularity of Hungarian homes, however, remained the small number of rooms in the average dwelling, giving little scope either for separation of different family activities or the personal spaces that are such a fundamental part of modern home life elsewhere. Only since the late ‘80s has opportunity arisen for fundamental change here.



The process of discarding traditional dress amongst the rural population, which had started in the early years of the twentieth century, rapidly culminated after World War II as the use of traditional folk apparel for everyday wear ceased during the 1960s and factory-made items completely took over the place of home-made garments. More often than not, the catalysts for the change in dress were that segment of a village’s inhabitants – generally the poorest – who had been forced to look for work outside the community and thus not only became acquainted with the clothing fashions of other areas but tended to respond most readily to them. Selection of the appropriate everyday clothes continued to be determined by pragmatic considerations. Rural women gave up their multiple-skirted dress for whatever items of urban clothing happened to be fashionable at the time – a switch that generally also required them to learn a new body posture and carriage. With the switch-over, anyone still dressing in traditional costume during the ‘60s came to be regarded as a stick-in-the-mud.

The shift had been sparked originally at least as much by the equivocal political line towards peasants pursued by pre-war governments as to changes in the circumstances in which they lived and worked, but now changes in lifestyle and the large-scale movement of rural women into full-time employment were the primary reasons: "The disintegration of peasant culture by then had become irreversible. In the 1960s the rural populace did not merely wish to abandon the outward appearance of being peasants but undertook en masse to leave the ranks of the peasantry altogether, with all that such mobility implied" (Fülemile, 1991). In 1960, 10.4 per cent of rural women found regular work in sectors of the economy outside agriculture, and by 1970 that proportion had already reached 40 per cent. Working outside the village, made possible by improved public transport, in itself required peasant clothing to be discarded. Adding to the pressures for change were the advertisements for non-traditional patterns of life that the mass media began to publish and broadcast from the late 1960s onwards. Forced collectivisation and inordinate industrialisation undercut the means of subsistence for the very middle peasant stratum who had acted as the mainstays of tradition and so, with that check no longer in place, and being unable to pick and choose amongst the flood of innovations with which they were assailed what was worth incorporating into their traditions and what should be rejected, the old village communities fell apart.

Up till 1949 Hungary’s town-dwellers did their best to keep up with quickly shifting fashion trends. An important role in spreading these fell to women’s magazines, such as Asszonyok (Ladies), which appeared between 1946 and 1949, and its immediate successor, Nők Lapja (Women’s Own). The reviewer of a fashion show organised by the Hungarian Fashion Designers’ Trade Union in late 1947 was hinting at incipient changes in attitudes in writing that "the working woman naturally requires other clothes in her everyday life than does the ‘decorative’ woman. It is the task... of modern fashion designers... to design attractive and practical clothes for millions upon millions of women which will serve the needs of those millions upon million of working women well on all occasions of life, home, work, sport and festivity" (cited by Katalin Dózsa, 1991). After the turn of 1948, fashion salons, individuality and eye-catching beauty were no longer deemed necessary to the needs of ‘working women’ as a period of uniformity in dress ensued in the name of a glorified puritanical work ethic. Every aspect of clothing (including, at times, the wearing of neckties) that was incompatible with the demands of practicality and utility was condemned as superfluous. In the 1950s the tyranny of overalls, loden coat and cloth cap or beret in men’s wear was briefly flouted only by the small proportion of young men who dared to adopt the ‘teddy boy’ look (drainpipe trousers, thick crepe-soled shoes) of their Anglo-American counterparts. The place of fashion-setting salons had meanwhile been taken, from 1950, by a Garment Trade Design Company (later renamed the Hungarian Fashion Institute), whilst the nascent Hungarian ready-to-wear industry attempted to dislodge the custom-made trade. Fashion shows were still mounted, if only because the ready-to-wear industry needed showcases to sell its wares, and perhaps it is only in retrospect that the portraits of Rákosi, Lenin and Stalin seen lowering over the catwalks in photographs of the time look not just odd but comical. Anyone who decided to go shopping after such a show, however, would have had to contend with relatively high prices, a meagre choice and the poor quality of the wares on offer.

Straight-laced official attitudes only began to relax a notch after the mid-1950s, when expressions of a wish for femininity or individuality in dress were no longer regarded as political comments. After 1957 it again became possible for occasional reports to be published about the latest Paris collections, and by the ‘60s the main opponents of fashion fads were no longer so much politicians as the more conservative elements in society. The fashion subculture of jeans and long hair associated with rock and roll and beat music took a long time to win any sort of acceptance outside the ranks of its fans, though these and other expressions of difference did come to be tolerated by politicians and society at large as part of a more general shift in value systems reflecting the process of ‘half-hearted embourgeoisification’ which unfolded over the course of the 1970s.

The greater weight that consumerism assumed in the eyes of the Hungarian régime had a big impact on standards of dress and fashion alike. Though the domestic clothing industry found it hard to adapt to customers’ wishes in an economy ruled by shortages, it did gradually begin to make real efforts in this direction during the 1980s as the selection of goods was widened, jeans and other denim garments started to be manufactured in Hungary, and later on even production of ‘designer-label’ fashions was licensed in. Retail outlets and their stocks of wares became brighter, and even chains selling exclusive items of clothing (e.g. S-modell shops) made an appearance. By then the trade in the shops of Budapest’s most elegant shopping district, the area around Váci utca, was already substantial and rising continuously. The long queues outside the first shop in the country to sell Adidas leisure wear belied the generally deteriorating standards of life in Hungary at the end of the decade.


Values and human relationships in everyday life

It is possible that the democratisation of the immediate post-war years might have allowed Hungarian society to come to terms with its role in that war and the events of the recent past. The imposition of Communist dictatorship in 1948-49, however, buried for a long time to come whatever chance there may have been for constructing a more mature sense of national identity by failing to tackle such issues as the ‘small nation’ mentality, as underlined once again by the 1947 Paris peace treaties, or society’s rejection of its Jewish population. Nevertheless, Hungarian society was to experience a series of major shifts in its value systems over the course of the decades that followed 1948, starting with the attempt to impose the values associated with Marxist doctrine. This was at its most intense in the period between 1948 and 1956, when collectivism was taken to extremes and debasement of national sentiments and violations of human rights were at their harshest. This enforced ‘modernisation’ served to reinforce processes of individualisation, atomisation and secularisation, ushering in a new era in which pre-war standards of behaviour had little place whereas the new norms promoted by the Communist power élite had the perverse effect of eliciting social disintegration.

The period following 1956 is divisible into two phases: the years up to the mid-1970s are best characterised as a phase of ideological neutralisation in society, whilst the ensuing decade and a half up to the change in régime was a phase of explicit rejection of Marxist ideology and the values that it exemplified. Whereas the holders of power in the early 1950s had demanded society’s unconditional acquiescence and total identification with and support for the goals they set, by the 1960s they were prepared to make do with the lesser demands of tacit acceptance and respect for certain ideological and historical taboos and for the prevailing political order. The watchword of this new line was the famous slogan coined by Kádár in 1962: "Anyone not against us is on our side".

Teetering between renewed acceptance that people’s private lives were their own affair and formal alignment to the ‘expectations of socialist authority’, the depoliticised value system that had been established by the mid-1960s underwent little alteration until the end of the ‘70s, when overt dismissal of even that compromise began to spread and eventually reach the whole of society by the end of the ‘80s. The noteworthy aspect of this process is the ascendancy that was won for many individual values in Hungarian society under the conditions of the 1960s and ‘70s, and how relatively stable those values proved throughout the ‘80s. The principal explanation for this is to be sought in the régime’s increasing disinclination to impose its ideological stance on values and forms of behaviour that were linked to material well-being. Despite the manifest problems, the ‘60s and ‘70s were a period when the family regained a role of major importance in everyday life.

There may have been no essential change in the apparatus of power in Hungary after 1956, but the techniques that it utilised in exercising that power became progressively more refined. In sharp contrast to the practice of the Rákosi régime, the goal was no longer one of converting the populace to the cause at any price but merely one of winning its passive acceptance, and under this more pragmatic approach the way the past was assessed became one of the most central ideological issues: "Dehistoricising [the past] is the most important tool of the depoliticising efforts undertaken in the process of consolidation. The new course is not looking for a new past... The political leadership is able to renounce that by ensuring that the political consciousness articulated by society as its image of the past is such that the very image of the past extinguishes itself" (Miklós Szabó, 1988). The first step in the process was consignment of the 1956 revolution to oblivion, and society, with its awareness of defeat and personal involvement, was a partner to this. The upshot of this suppression was that "the revolution of 1956, [however,] ostensibly failed to enter that area of Hungarian brains where the unfinished past has its rightful place" (Z. Szabó, 1986), and so there was a void in the national consciousness precisely with regard to "the political nexus which defined every aspect of the subsequent 25-30 years. Anyone lacking an awareness of ‘56 can have no awareness of the politics of those thirty years... The dehistoricising of ‘56 makes it impossible for society to form a true picture of its position" (M. Szabó, 1988).

The régime prized economic development through technological progress and offered society the highly pragmatic vision of a future of unfettered access to an expanding world of material goods. This was coupled with the lure of a ‘career-minded’ society and the prospect of slow but sure, if not spectacular, advancement. Competition thus came to take the place of solidarity.

As the era passed, increasing store was set on human relationships, particularly those within the circle of close family, relatives and friends, and informal mutual-assistance networks were still cultivated, but contacts with anybody outside these sets of acquaintances were treated with a high degree of suspicion – not least because the political régime continued to resort to punitive measures, whether through disciplinary or criminal procedures, in its attempts to regulate the behaviour of members of society. This, in turn, impeded the evolution of codes of behaviour for initiating change from within society, norms that might encourage society to organise along self-reliant paths, or channels of contacts reaching beyond the purely private sphere that might be hard or impossible for the authorities to control. Nor should it be forgotten that it was in the very nature of the régime to foster a climate of mistrust because this put the members of society in a suitably vulnerable position where they could never be sure when those not closely linked to them might bring the apparatus of power into play against them.

Economic reform and the blossoming of a second economy from the late 1960s set in train significant attitudinal changes. Whilst the reforms were designed to improve the macro-conditions of everyday life, the spread of private small-scale farming prompted the emergence of new patterns of behaviour, survival strategies and ways of thinking. By the latter half of the 1970s, the private enterprise sector, whether legal or covert, came to occupy a key role in Hungarian society – and the values of diligence, talent, ingenuity and astuteness associated with it gained ground accordingly. From the end of the 1970s, the values of the private sphere started to play a part in the development of a growing sense of national identity, outside the régime’s control, one of the important features of which was the ‘rediscovery’ of the Hungarian ethnic minorities who were living in Hungary’s neighbour states. This duplication of value systems, attitudes and behavioural codes, with public kept separate from the private, was not entirely positive in its effects. It is also symptomatic that rates of deviant behaviours, such as suicide and alcoholism, climbed uninterruptedly in Hungary after the 1950s. Worsening mortality figures, with life expectation at birth for men actually dropping back from a peak of 67.5 years in 1966 to 65.1 years by 1985 whilst the increases that had been previously recorded for women moderated sharply from 72.2 years to 73.1 years over the same period, can likewise be seen as reflections of those deviant behaviours and the social price that was paid for modernisation during the post-1956 phase of consolidation. The finding of a 1988 survey that fully 15 per cent of the adult population could be classed as suffering from moderate to severe neurotic disease is another indication of the measure of the severe psychological stress – or ‘social maladaptation syndrome’ as it has been termed (Józan, 1988) – under which society laboured. With a mounting crisis in morals and values and a growing sense of alienation in society, the great bulk of the Hungarian population in the 1970s and ‘80s felt that they were unable to achieve what they wanted and that the course of their lives was not a function of their wishes but of the largely inscrutable intentions of the authorities; in short, their sense of servitude intensified.

In the early 1980s Communist ideology had become so discredited in Hungary that by the end of the decade it had lost altogether any residual social role it might have been playing earlier. Since nothing took its place, beyond a few general political principles, this left a distinct partial vacuum. From the end of the 1970s "intellectual values came to dominate the rank ordering of instrumental values, sometimes outstripping ethical considerations, whilst at the same time they assumed an almost exclusive role in determining changes in the structure of the value system. Though a process of individualisation had already got under way, thanks to the Communist party, a sense of atomisation and strengthening intellectualisation persisted even after the collapse of the régime... Many signs point to 1990 being not only the grave of the old power group and system but also the cradle of a new, healthier society" (Füstös & Szakolcai, 1994).


Mass culture, society and education

The cultural concept and ideal nurtured and disseminated by the socialist educational system and propaganda machine diverged strongly from the humanistic and democratic reflexes and national cultural ideals which typified the transient period of coalition government that preceded it. Some of the changes were purely formal, rather than substantial, and simply involved adding the attribute ‘socialist’ to the concepts that pertained to the subject; one could then speak only about socialist culture/education/literature/theatre/film, etc. The more significant changes, however, were the standardisation and reduction of content. This was where the political ideological elements of the day came to the fore, and anything that might have thrown even the slightest doubt on socialist dogma was removed from the cultural image and teaching curricula. An Institute for Popular Education was established in 1951 to lay out the scientific principles for adult education programmes. As a mark of the ‘socialist cultural revolution’, a network of ‘culture homes’ was set up, based on a previously existing set of institutions that had been administered by the Directorate for Free Education. There were already 433 of these operating in 1950, and over subsequent years most Hungarian villages acquired one of the new institutions of communal and cultural life. At its Second Congress in 1951, the Hungarian Workers’ Party (Magyar Dolgozók Pártja, or MDP), as the Communist party was then called, set itself the target of creating 2,500 ‘houses of culture’ by 1954. Though that date was not met, local councils and trades unions were running a total of 2,770 cultural centres of one kind or another in 1960 and 3,634 in 1971. These were the places that housed the libraries that took the place of the pre-war reading circles, where concerts and other cultural events would take place, where the public lectures organised under the ‘Free Earth Winter Evenings’ programmes of the early 1950s were held, and where local social gatherings, dances and even, from the ‘60s onwards, the grander village wedding parties would be held. Over the years there was a steady shift in their duties and activities away from the propaganda activities of the early ‘50s to a greater emphasis on general education, entertainment and a range of cultural services.

One sign of changing lifestyles was the scheduling of wedding parties to weekends and a continual shortening of their duration, which tended to mean the festivities were simplified to just eating, drinking, singing and dancing, with the games that had once been a customary part of the proceedings usually being dropped. The costs of a wedding were borne by both the groom’s and the bride’s family. The dowries brought into a marriage by both partners increased steadily during the post-war years and, from the 1960s onwards, so did the money-raising function of the ‘bride’s dance’, in which male guests pay for the privilege of dancing with the bride: whereas in the early ‘60s the bride’s dance might bring in Ft 2,000-5,000, that amount was some ten times higher by the mid-’70s and went on growing thereafter. Under political pressure, the marriage ceremony itself was increasingly confined to the obligatory civil ceremony, without an additional church service; likewise, civil name-giving ceremonies gained favour over christenings, though more slowly in villages than in towns; what were termed ‘civil obsequies’, however, never made much headway against church funeral rites.

The culture ideal seen as meeting the basic demands of a socialist society – an intelligentsia actively committed to socialism, the ‘average man’ constantly seeking to broaden his knowledge and education in the interests of building socialism, the party centre defining values in art and culture – remained a keystone of cultural and educational policy throughout the era, though the weight placed on it declined over the years. It was one sign of the efforts that had to be made to maintain continuity that the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt, or MSzMP) felt it necessary to underline, in a 1974 resolution on general education, that "increased attention must be devoted to ensuring that artistic values really are conveyed to the public at large and that works which are attuned to socialism’s perspectives and give shape to the socialist world view and morality become part of the general consciousness". In the meantime, cultural policies were constantly being adjusted in relation to mass culture; officials became increasingly pragmatic in their expectations on ideological and moral issues, and from time to time, in their efforts to keep in step with the public mood, were even prepared to show a readiness to let the products of Western mass culture into the country. In doing that, against their original intentions, they found themselves assisting processes of individualisation rather than bolstering the role of the collective. Through the spread of the electronic mass media, the mass culture of the ‘70s and ‘80s played an important role in preparing Hungary to accept a more global world view.

One of the distinctive features of this post-war era between 1948 and 1990, and especially of the 1950s, is the effort that the régime made to force society to eschew the value of education whilst themselves constantly asserting its importance. An extreme instance of this was the purge of virtually the entire administrative apparatus in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when suitably qualified local government officials were replaced en masse by a cadre of party members who had just a few years of primary school education behind them and often barely understood what jobs they were supposed to be doing, let alone how to carry them out.

Cultural and leisure-time pursuits underwent significant changes in the course of the era. Sport was a major element in the mass culture of the 1940s and ‘50s. Hungarian sportsmen and women of the immediate post-war decades achieved considerable success in European and world competition. The 16 gold medals won at the Helsinki Games of 1952 still stands as the best achievement by any Hungarian Olympic team, whilst this was also the period when the national football team – the ‘Golden Team’ – swept nearly all opposition before it. A big lure of active involvement with sport was that success in this area was, for many, through the financial and social advantages that could be accrued, one of the few avenues of self-betterment. Spectator attendance at domestic sports events was a particularly popular pastime: before the spread of television, huge crowds were attracted to such events or listened to radio commentaries on those they could not get to. Sports successes played an important role in releasing pent-up social pressures.

Reading-matter that had been popular before the war was quickly pronounced undesirable by the Communist authorities after their full take-over of power. The adventure stories of Jenő Rejtő (1905-1943); he wrote mostly under the pseudonym P. Howard) and the volumes of detective stories about the escapades of Nick Carter disappeared from book stores and libraries just as surely as many literary classics. Approved works of Hungarian and world literature were later made more accessible to many readers in large paperback editions through the ‘Cheap Library’ (Olcsó Könyvtár) series, which began appearing in 1954. State ownership of all book publishing also meant that favoured contemporary Hungarian literary works were put out in editions of several tens of thousands, as were less serious ‘pot-boilers’, once they were allowed back on the market in the 1960s to restore something like the pre-war market for works of light entertainment. Outstanding amongst the latter types of best-sellers, with editions that sometimes ran into several hundred thousands, were the ‘historical blockbusters’ of András Berkesi (1919-1997), carefully crafted to catch the political tone of the moment and in turn elevated to literary status by the mandarins of official critical standards.

Museums that had been in private or local community hands were taken over by the state, and in the early ‘50s a system of county museum directorates was built up. One of the biggest of the undertakings was the establishment of a Hungarian National Gallery at Budapest in 1957. The number of museums and other exhibition spaces in the country shot up from 72 in 1950 to 183 in 1970 and 754 in 1990, whilst the annual number of visits made to such places per 100 inhabitants rose from 14 in 1950 to 69 in 1970 and 135 in 1990.

In 1949 just 2,486 public libraries were operating in Hungary, but that figure had risen to 8,499 by 1957. It then levelled off at somewhat over 9,000 in the mid-’60s before declining slightly and then again surging ahead from the mid-’70s to a total of 10,498 libraries in 1980, after which it slid steadily back to just 6,585 that were still open to the public by 1990. The collective book stock held by these libraries rose overall from 2.2 million volumes in 1950 to 51.6 million in 1990.

Spending on books by the populace at large increased eight-and-a-half times over between 1951 and 1966 – a big increase, even if the effects of inflation are taken into account. Sociological surveys of reading habits carried out in the mid-1960s indicated that close to 60 per cent of the total population read books at least sometimes, and 24 per cent regarded themselves as regular readers. At that time the favourite authors were reported to be Mór Jókai, Zsigmond Móricz, Kálmán Mikszáth, Géza Gárdonyi,* Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, András Berkesi, Jenő Rejtő, László Passuth (1900-1979), Lajos Szilvási (1932-1996), Ernest Hemingway, and Magda Szabó (1917-). That list changed little during the next decade, except that the list could be expanded to include Erich Maria Remarque, Norman Mailer, Albert Moravia, László Németh* and Eric Knight (best known in Hungary as the author of The Flying Yorkshireman, or ‘The Adventures of Sam Small as it was retitled, rather than of Lassie Come Home).

Over the decades after World War II there was a continual, if not always constant, rise in the amount of books published, in terms both of number of titles and total print runs. The 1,880 titles and total volume of 20.1 million copies published in 1950 had increased to 4,794 titles and 46.9 million copies by 1970, and 7,464 titles and 113.1 million copies in 1990. Similar trends were also shown by per capita readership of daily newspapers, weekly magazines and other periodicals. Paradoxically, whilst the amount of time that people devoted to reading went up until the early 1960s, it was in almost continuous slight decline thereafter to 1986, apart from an upwards blip in the early 1980s. Thus the 42 minutes per day that the average Hungarian spent reading in 1963 had gone down to 36 minutes in 1977 and though, thanks to the intervening rise, it was up at 45 minutes in 1986, it dipped sharply after the change in régime to just 33 minutes per day by 1993.

The decision to found a State Television Company was taken in 1953, and this began transmitting trial broadcasts of one-and-a-half to two hours once weekly in 1955. Regular services started in 1958, when programmes of 3-4 hours were transmitted on four evenings per week. At that time there were only 16,000 subscribing households but by 1960 the total had passed 100,000 and by 1972 was over 2 million; the figure carried on growing to reach 2.7 million by the end of the ‘70s and 2.9 million by the end of the ‘80s. In the late ‘60s village dwellers rapidly caught up with urban habit of watching television: whilst ownership of television sets in towns increased from 166 per 1,000 inhabitants in 1967 to 185 in 1970, the corresponding figures for rural areas were 77 sets in 1967 and 168 by 1970. Ownership carried on rising rapidly until virtually total saturation was achieved in the mid-’80s, when at least 96 per cent of all Hungarian households owned at least one set. By 1984, in fact, around one-quarter of households owned more than one television set, and 18 per cent of households were able to receive colour transmissions. The average time spent watching television climbed steadily from 24 minutes per day in 1963 to 89 minutes by 1976 and 106 minutes in 1986. Highly popular during the ‘60s and ‘70s, and exercising a big influence on mass tastes, were such programmes as the talent-spotting series put out under the title Ki mit tud? (What Can You Do?), song festivals, poetry-reading competitions, and the folk-music showcase Röpülj Páva (Fly Off, Peacock). According to 1984 statistics, 1.3 per cent of families – or some 72,000-73,000 in absolute terms – then possessed a video recorder, but that figure multiplied many times over in an ensuing surge of acquisition during the rest of the decade. The late 1980s were also marked by the appearance in Hungary of dish receivers for satellite broadcasts, which gave growing numbers of viewers access to foreign television programmes; local television stations and cable services also began building up their presence around the same time.

The most important media for transmitting culture during the 1950s and ‘60s were books, radio, the cinema and the theatre, but all suffered to a greater or lesser extent during the 1970s under the impact of the dramatic expansion of television audiences. Cinema and theatre attendances in particular showed a close inverse correlation with television viewing figures. In 1960 there were some 4,500 cinema operating throughout Hungary, and 1,401 cinema seats were sold for every 100 inhabitants in the population. Attendances dropped steadily in each succeeding decade: to 772 seats per 100 inhabitants in 1970, 567 in 1980, and 440 in 1989, with a parallel shrinkage in the number of cinema screens to 3,813 in 1970 and just 1,960 in 1990. Theatre was less obviously affected as the number of permanent theatre companies in the country rose from 17 in 1950 to 32 in 1960 and 34 in 1970 then, after dipping back to 33 in 1980, to 43 in 1990. Between 1950 and 1960 the total number of theatre seats sold annually more than doubled then, after falling during the ‘60s to even off at an average of 56 visits per 100 inhabitants during the ‘70s, they tailed off by about 10 per cent over the course of the ‘80s.

In Hungarian society, as elsewhere, the mass electronic media of radio and television became one of the important, time-consuming components of most people’s lives. from its beginnings in the early ‘60s, television in particular not only altered the way in which leisure time was used but influenced the very rhythm of lives and the physical layout of home furnishings. Masses of people now undertook much the same activities – from resting and social life to natural functions – at much the same time; for many, television also became the principal or only channel for informing or educating themselves, and played a major role in orienting their values through its presentation of varied stereotypes or models of social behaviour as material for reflection and, potentially, emulation or rejection, though the influence television actually has on real life is a matter of debate. Whilst the early ‘80s were marked by a widening use of video recorders in Hungary, the end of the decade saw the advent of growing access to personal computers, which are likely to have an even more profound impact than television on many aspects everyday life. Whereas the first half of the era, roughly up to mid-’70s, was characterised by a rapid expansion both in opportunities for Hungarians to widen their educational horizons, and a general readiness to do so, that trend tended to slow or even reverse as the time that people were prepared to devote to self-improvement decreased.


Artistic creativity and intellectual trends

Literary life

Hungarian literary historians no longer accept, as they still did in the 1980s, that the year 1945 itself marks a watershed in literary periods but rather see the whole four years between 1945 and 1949 as a transitional period, characterised by many changes in literary life, with a wide range of trends and cliques jostling for attention as they moved up or down in reputation. Yet it would be wrong to speak of this as constituting the beginning of a new era in literature or literary life that built on a foundation of continuity; it is more a case of a forced break with continuity that became irreversible by 1948-49, when a restructuring of the institutional system took place and literary policies aimed at emulating the political totalitarianism of the Soviet model gained exclusive sway. The outcome was a separation of Hungarian literature and culture from the contemporary cultural and intellectual life of western Europe. The essence of the new era that was ushered in was expressed most forcibly in literary form by Gyula Illyés* in his poem Egy mondat a zsarnokságról (A Sentence on Tyranny), written in 1950 but not published until the outbreak of the revolution in 1956. As it turned out, the crude socialist realism of the cultural and educational policies that are linked with the name of József Révai, then the minister for popular education, were able to create only a short-lived period of tyranny for its worthless and unproductive principles.

From 1948 onwards any interaction between literary life – indeed artistic life and the creative process in general – and ‘real life’ effectively came to an end. What was happening in reality simply defied portrayal, and even if works that attempted such a portrayal were produced, there was no means of getting them published under the monotonous didacticism of socialist realism that had supplanted the preceding kaleidoscope of literary trends. The new cultural policy no longer saw the artist as an autonomous creator, only as a propagandist for the present and ‘the better future that will shortly ensue’. The supposed ‘representations of reality’ that were engendered on the subjects handed down by the Party were, in point of fact, totally non-realistic works whose main function was to fabricate tales of ideological salvation from the social and intellectual poverty of the real world. Amongst those whose works swelled the resulting flow of novels about production and the class war were Tamás Aczél with Vihar és napsütés (Storm and Sunshine, 1949), Tibor Déry (1894-1977) with Felelet (Answer, 1950-52), and Péter Veres* with Három nemzedék (Three Generations, 1950-57).

The Communist take-over inflicted substantial losses as established figures of Hungary’s literary and intellectual life immured themselves in the silence of internal emigration, including László Németh, István Vas (1910-1991), Sándor Weöres,† Milán Füst, Lajos Kassák, Béla Hamvas and Miklós Szentkuthy (1908-1988). A younger generation of emerging writers who had grouped around the magazine Újhold – János Pilinszky, Ágnes Nemes Nagy, Géza Ottlik (1912-1990) and Iván Mándy (1918-1995) – were driven off the available public platforms, and the writings of Áron Tamási, Lőrinc Szabó, Zoltán Jékely (1913-1982) and István Sinka were likewise denied publication. Some chose to flee abroad, amongst them Sándor Márai, László Cs. Szabó (1905-1984), Zoltán Szabó, Imre Kovács and Lajos Zilahy. Through such bans and self-imposed silences "nearly fifty major Hungarian writers had their creative careers cut short by a decade" (Domokos, 1986).

There is essentially no way of gauging what works remained unborn, or only saw the light of day decades later, due to the reign of fear and terror that was at its height in Hungary during the years from 1949 to mid-1953. Virtually all the new literary magazines that had been started up after the war – Válasz, Magyarok, Fórum, Újhold, Alkotás, Kortárs and Valóság* – were consigned to oblivion, with exception of the Communist Party’s Csillag and Irodalmi Újság (Literary Gazette), started up in 1950 on the lines of Moscow’s Literaturnaya Gazeta. All private publishers were liquidated by nationalisation and in their place a group of large state publishing houses, one for each major area of activity, were created. The event which signalled the closure of this transformation of cultural and political policy was what came to be called the Lukács debate of 1949, during which György Lukács† was subjected to a series of attacks from the Stalinist camp orchestrated by Révai, himself a committed Marxist philosopher of undoubted intellectual stature but heavily implicated in the implantation of socialist realism as the sole permitted artistic ideology of this period. The debate marked the end of the last traces of pluralism in approaches to art and the absolute triumph of the Stalinist ‘concept of art’. The full depths of the abyss into which Hungarian literature was pitched were probably reached in March 1952 with a special tribute volume of laudatory verses and short stories that was confected under the title Hungarian Writers on Mátyás Rákosi for the dictator’s sixtieth birthday.

The sole arena in which modernity could be cultivated in Hungarian literature was now among the writers exiled in the West, who for their own part had to grapple with the problems of being cut off from the main community of their native language and hence depending for readership on the whims of critical opinion in their expatriate communities. This was no barrier to the production of first-rate work, however, such as Márai’s poem Halotti beszéd (Funeral Oration, 1950). Paradoxically, perhaps, it took the revolution of 1956 and a fresh wave of emigration for Hungarian literature to make any real headway in the West.

Even the schematism of socialist realism was soon deemed unable to match fully the requirements of official literary policy, and this was the background to another controversy which was sparked in the summer of 1952 by publication of the second volume of Déry’s work Felelet. This reached no effective resolution, however, and any change in stance on the part of policy makers or creative artists was left in abeyance until the political climate altered with the death of Stalin in 1953, when the first tentative experiments were made to restore a degree of autonomy to literature. A gingerly widened scope for discretion over what was publishable and the launching of several magazines – Új Hang (New Voice) and Művelt Nép (Educated People) – opened up opportunities for works by many previously suppressed authors to appear again between 1953 and 1956, including both old and new volumes of poetry or novels from the likes of Miklós Mészöly (1921-), János Kodolányi,* István Vas, Lőrinc Szabó, Magda Szabó, Lajos Kassák and Sándor Weöres. This was why, under the broadly totalitarian conditions that still persisted, with no freedom of the press, the early whispers of discussion about political reform were mostly conducted in a literary guise, spawning a whole new metalanguage to fill in for the absence of normal political discourse. This, in turn, engendered a situation in which almost any work of literature or art might acquire political connotations, even when these were never intended. The obverse of the coin, however, was that the blindly partisan political régime was simply incapable of forming balanced assessments about anything and so perceived all debate about purely literary or artistic matters as a political issue and acted accordingly. The key question then was to what extent the régime perceived a given position as a threat to its authority. That naturally fed back on the creative side, since the forced coupling of literature and politics also shaped both writers’ self-evaluations and critical response, with the enhanced emphasis that was placed on the political content of a work leading to a general overshadowing of aesthetic considerations in thinking about literature.

Most of those writers who had been enthusiastic and genuinely committed members of the Communist party when it first assumed exclusive hold on power had woken up to the unpleasantness of the real world by the early 1950s. That sobering experience of the truth hitting home is the subject of Nyírségi napló (Nyírség Diary, 1953) by Péter Kuczka (1923-1999) and the poem Este egy munkásvonaton (Evening on a Workers’ Train, 1954) by Zoltán Zelk (1906-1981). The same sentiment is perceptible in the works of a younger generation of writers who were then just at the start of their careers, including poets Sándor Csóori (1930-), István Simon (1926-1975), András Fodor (1929-1997) and Margit Szécsi (1928-1990) and those like Endre Fejes (1923-), Ferenc Sánta (1927-), Erzsébet Galgóczi (1930-1989) and István Csurka (1934-) who contributed to an anthology of short stories entitled Emberavatás (Human Initiation). A sense of the feelings of defencelessness, shock, disillusionment and the contradictions of the period is readily discernible in such poems as Gyula Illyés’ Bartók (1955) or A reformáció genfi emlékműve előtt (Before the Monument of the Reformation in Geneva, 1954), Gyöngyszoknya (Pearly Skirt, 1953) by László Nagy (1925-1978) and Tékozló ország (The Prodigal Country, 1954) by Ferenc Juhász (1928-). The human misery caused by the totalitarian régime was movingly captured by Tibor Déry in his short novel Niki (Niki, the Story of a Dog, 1956) and the short story Szerelem (Love, 1956).

The forcible disruption of the thread of continuity in literary life and values may not have been fully repaired by the spring of 1956, but at least there had been a steady growth in the latitude permitted to authors and their works. The literary public indeed played a highly significant role in the political skirmishing that preceded the outbreak of the 1956 revolution. Many of the reform Communist writers and journalists who supported the New Course that Imre Nagy tried to introduce, cut their political teeth in a near-revolt at a party meeting at the MDP’s official newspaper, Szabad Nép, and the on-going debates within the Writers’ Association, were to play a major role during the revolution itself and in the attempts to voice opposition in the aftermath of its suppression.

Amongst the early ‘normalisation’ measures undertaken by Kádár’s government to assert its authority, after the Soviet Red Army had brutally put down the revolution, the Writers’ Association and Journalists’ Union were closed down and the operations of artists’ clubs were suspended in January 1957. Several of the big show trials that were mounted in succeeding months were targeted specifically against writers, resulting in heavy prison sentences for Tibor Déry, Gyula Háy (1900-1975), Zoltán Zelk, Tibor Tardos (1918-), Domokos Varga (1922-), Gyula Fekete (1922-) and Zoltán Molnár (1920-). Some writers were caught up as defendants in less publicised cases but received equally harsh sentences, including István Lakatos (1927-), István Eörsi (1938-), József Gáli (1930-1981), Gyula Obersovszky (1927-), whilst others again, such as István Örkény (1912-1979) and Péter Kuczka, were interned without trial and then dismissed from their jobs, and some – Győző Határ (1914-), Pál Ignotus* and György Faludy (1910-) amongst them – managed to flee to the West before the reprisals could catch up with them. The severely limited, rejigged literary institutions that were resurrected during the latter half of 1957 offered a place only to those who gave unconditional support to the Kádár line, amongst them such literary functionaries, old and new, as György Bölöni (1882-1959), József Darvas, István Király, Gábor Tolnai (1910-1990) and Lajos Mesterházi (1916-1979). During 1957 and 1958, however, most Hungarian writers were still prepared to demonstrate solidarity with their persecuted colleagues and chose voluntary silence by withdrawing from the literary scene. Though the authorities tried to break that solidarity by sowing dissent and promoting writers who had formerly found little favour, their efforts were largely unsuccessful. In the autumn of 1957, the vast majority of Hungary’s writers signed a protest against a United Nations Security Council report on the events of the 1956 revolution.

Literary publishing was cautiously started up again during 1957, under tight controls, with new magazines Élet és Irodalom (Life and Literature) and Kortárs (Contemporary), along with a revamped Nagyvilág (Wider World), taking the place of discredited pre-revolutionary periodicals, to be joined later on by revived provincial magazines such as Alföld, published from Debrecen, Tiszatáj (Tisza Region) from Szeged, and Jelenkor (Present Day) from Pécs. After the immediate retribution was over, steps were taken to restore the old Communist political creed in literary and artistic life through such measures as a party motion on populist writers passed in 1958 or their paper on ‘The development of literature and art since the liberation’, and then the first moves aimed at laying the foundations for the more conciliatory cultural policies of the decades to come, such as the Educational Policy Guidelines and further party documents on criticism and modernity that were also issued in 1958. The Writers’ Association was re-established under the presidency of József Darvas in 1959. A much-feted anthology, Tűztánc (Fire Dance), showcased work by poets such as Mihály Váci (1927-1970), Gábor Garai (1929-1987) and Mihály Ladányi (1934-1986) who were seen as exemplifying the official set of values. Few people privately, however, placed much value on the creators of such committed socialist writing.

After weathering early difficulties, new policy directions initiated at the start of the 1960s by György Aczél (1917-1991), who in various posts was to dominate cultural affairs in Hungary for the next quarter-century up till 1985, succeeded in winning over the political loyalties of most of the country’s respected writers – László Németh, Gyula Illyés and, after his release from prison in 1960, Tibor Déry prominent amongst them – which was a necessary preliminary to consolidation of the régime’s authority. This ‘grand pact’, under which the régime offered not to infringe on private lives, ease back on its repression and deliver a gradual improvement in living conditions in return for the populace’s surrendering of the right to political expression, gradually won tacit acceptance from essentially all the country’s intellectuals. With its announcement of a general amnesty for political prisoners in 1963, Kádár’s régime set the seal on its ascendancy and thereafter gradually switched away from a totalitarian to a merely authoritarian character. As far as literature was concerned, policy makers no longer insisted on a complete monopoly for socialist realism but were progressively more willing to accept a mere hegemony. One after the other, works by writers who had been banned or themselves refused to be published started to appear. As a side comment on literary policies of the three decades from the 1950s to the late ‘70s, not a few distinguished writers who found themselves marginalised, including Balázs Lengyel (1918-), Iván Mándy and István Kormos (1923-1977), produced highly esteemed works for youngsters in the thriving niche of children’s literature.

More generally, the 1960s and ‘70s were a period of searching for new paths and rapid development in Hungarian literature, an experiment on the grand scale to rewin for the poetic language its original logic and to fashion modern literary vehicles that might address universal human questions under the given circumstances. The new approaches were evident first in poetry in the confessional and ‘collectively’ personal tone that characterised Gyula Illyés’ Új versek (New Verses, 1961), László Nagy’s Himnusz minden időben (A Hymn For All Seasons, 1965) and Arccal a tengernek (Face to the Sea, 1966), and Ferenc Juhász’s Harc a fehér báránnyal (Fight With the White Lamb, 1965). After years of forced suppression, writers of the Újhold group, breathing new life into the cool, abstract approach of Babits’ poetry, were again allowed to publish – notably János Pilinszky in the volumes Harmadnapon (And on the Third Day, 1959) and Nagyvárosi ikonok (Big City Icons, 1972), and Ágnes Nemes Nagy in Napforduló (Solstice, 1967) and A lovak és az angyalok (Horses and Angels, 1969). Close to them, with the central place that he accorded to the uniqueness of the individual, was the poetry of Sándor Weöres, once again on display in Tűzkút (Well of Fire, 1964) and Psyché (1972). Yet another approach that had a significant impact on the development of new modes of diction was the classical aestheticism of István Vas’ poetry. By the late 1960s new groupings of poets had begun to appear, notably the ‘Seven’ of István Ágh (1938-), István Bella (1940-), Ferenc Buda (1936-), László Kalász (1933-), Sarolta Raffai (1930-1989), József Ratkó (1936-1990) and Simon Serfőző (1942-), with their minings of more traditional veins of Hungarian poetry, and the ‘Nine’ of László Győri (1942-), Benedek Kiss (1943-), József Konc (1941-), István Kovács (1945-), Katalin Mezey (1943-), Imre Molnár (1942-), János Oláh (1942-), Endre Rózsa (1941-) and József Utassy (1941-), who appeared collectively in an anthology entitled Elérhetetlen föld (Unattainable Ground, 1968).

In prose genres, story-telling was still the dominant narrative approach during the ‘60s, with most works striving to portray events and social phenomena that it had not been possible to touch on during the ‘50s. Novels such as A gyáva (The Coward, 1961) by Imre Sarkadi (1921-1961), Endre Fejes’ Rozsdatemető (A Generation of Rust, 1962), Ferenc Sánta’s Az ötödik pecsét (The Fifth Seal, 1963) and Húsz óra (Twenty Hours, 1964), Makra (1971) by Ákos Kertész (1932-) and the short stories of Erzsébet Galgóczi and László Kamondy (1928-1972) all examine themes relating to power and morality, the petty bourgeois mentality and communal events. However, this was also a period which saw publication of novels in which Tibor Déry sought to depict a world of freedom and order seen from a grotesquely ironic stance as in G.A. úr X-ben (Mr A.G. in X, 1964), written when he was in prison, and A kiközösítő (The Excommunicator, 1965). A similarly grotesque, at times absurdist mode of expression also characterises the work of István Örkény in Niagara nagykávéház (The Niagara Grand Café), Macskajáték (Catsplay, 1966), Tóték (The Tóth Family, 1967), and the genre of ‘one-minute stories’ that he made his own. The third main trend in 1960s prose-writing moved away from classical principles of plot development towards a focus on the text and the limits of comprehensibility of language. The principal writers in this category, which has since exerted a decisive influence on Hungarian literature in the last third of the twentieth century, include Géza Ottlik, with Iskola a határon (School at the Frontier, 1959), Iván Mándy, with A pálya szélén (On the Touchline, 1963), Miklós Mészöly, with Magas iskola (The Falcons, 1956), Az atléta halála (Death of an Athlete, 1966) and Film (1976), and György Konrád (1933-), with A látogató (The Case Worker, 1969).

By the early ‘Sixties it was again possible for literature to resume the sociological approach to society’s problems that had been pioneered in the 1930s, with works such as Mélytengeri áramlás (Deep-Sea Current, 1963) by Gyula Csák (1930-) and Tudósítás a toronyból (Report from the Tower, 1963) by Sándor Csoóri (1930-) arousing the attention of public and policy-makers alike. By the end of the decade, that older tradition was being emulated even more deliberately with the appearance of two or three works of straight sociography each year under the banner ‘The Discovery of Hungary’.

A further sign of the changing climate was the opening up of the hermetically sealed Hungary of the 1950s through the gradual access, especially at first, to translations of carefully selected works, both old and new, that were by then in the mainstream of Western intellectual and literary life, including at least part of the oeuvre of Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Sigmund Freud. The new magazines Új Írás (New Writing), started in 1961, and Kritika, from 1963, did much to expand the public for more demanding literature.

The early part of the 1970s saw a distinct reversal of official policy lines as die-hard anti-reformists fought a rearguard action, with a renewed resort to police measures against intellectuals who were suspect in their eyes. Their targets included Miklós Haraszti (1945-), who wrote up his experiences as an unskilled worker at the Csepel Red Star Tractor Factory in a sociographic essay entitled Darabbér, which started to circulate in samizdat form in early 1973 and earned him a brief period of arrest and an eight-month suspended sentence the following year (the essay was published in English in 1977 as A Worker in a Worker’s State: Piece-Rates in Hungary). Arrest and threats of prosecution were also employed in late 1974 against György Konrád and Iván Szelényi (1938-), who had been jointly writing up a theoretical summary of their own sociological experiences in Hungary under the title The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power (published in English in 1979), though the authorities did not press the case to court but offered instead to facilitate emigration from Hungary (taken up by Szelényi but not Konrád). Gyula Illyés, on the other hand, simply had his book Szellem és erőszak (Reason and Force, 1978) banned from publication. The temporary crackdown, however, proved powerless to halt the realignment of approaches to literature that were by then in train: "For the first time since the 1930s, Hungarian literature addressed itself to the bounds of what was communicable through its conventional forms – above all, that border when new experience, on aesthetically valid grounds, is only expressible through a new mode of communication, and even trends professing to uphold the principle of historical continuity in literature find their position untenable unless the constraints of conventional forms are loosened and reinterpreted" (Kulcsár Szabó, 1993).

In Hungarian literature of the 1970s, changed modes of communication laid greater emphasis on the text and the stance to the self underwent a significant shift. This was reflected in the experiments by writers such as Sándor Csoóri and Gáspár Nagy (1949-) to revive a directly confessional poetics or the innovative ways in which the existential experience is interpreted in the lyric poetry of István Ágh and Transylvanian-domiciled Domokos Szilágyi (1938-1976). Avant-garde traditions were resuscitated in the idiosyncratic modes of expression of the post-modern mould adopted by Ottó Tolnai (1940-), then living in the Vojvodina, and the Canadian-domiciled László Kemenes Géfin (1937-). Dezső Tandori and poets of the Paris-based Magyar Műhely (Hungarian Workshop/D’atelier) group of Pál Nagy (1935-), Tibor Papp (1936-) and Alpár Bujdosó (1935-) added visual innovation to the verbal tricks of their neo-avant-garde poetry, whilst Ottó Orbán (1936-) explored ways of extending the late modernism of the 1960s to achieve a new sensibility.

In fiction of the 1970s a new generation of authors began to re-think and transform conventional ideas of linear narration of plot, though the new forms gelled fully only towards the end of the decade. This transition between traditional and post-modern was manifest in novels such as Kerengő (Cloisters, 1974) and Az Ikszek (The X-es, 1981) by György Spiró (1946-) and Cseréptörés (Back to Base, 1978) by Péter Lengyel (1939-), and in volumes of shorter fictions produced by Géza Bereményi (1946-) – A svéd király (The Swedish King, 1970) and Legendárium (1978) – and, in a career cut short by tragically early death, by Péter Hajnóczy (1942-1981) – M. (1977), A halál kilovagolt Perzsiából (Death Rode Out from Persia, 1979) and Jézus menyasszonya (Bride of Jesus, 1981). It was also the period when the earliest works appeared from two writers who were to be instrumental in radically transforming the language and approach of Hungarian fiction during the 1980s: Fancsikó és Pinta (Little Fanny and Pinta, 1976) by Péter Esterházy (1950-) and Kulcskereső játék (Fumbling for Keys, 1969) and Egy családregény vége (End of a Family Story, 1977) by Péter Nádas (1942-).

By the turn of the 1970s into the ‘80s, the established modes of poetic diction and semiotics of fiction writing had been almost totally refashioned and a renascent interplay of language and form had introduced fresh paradigms of what constituted literature. From another point of view, the trend may be seen as picking up and restoring a thread of continuity with the pre-war modernist directions of Hungarian writers such as Babits, Kosztolányi, Márai and Attila József* which had been severed in the 1940s. Particularly influential signposts in that respect were Esterházy’s Termelési-regény (kisssregény) (Novel of Production, 1979) and Bevezetés a szépirodalomba (Introduction to Literature, 1986), including the constituent parts: Függő (Hanging, 1981), Kis Magyar Pornográfia (A Little Hungarian Pornography, 1984), Fuharosok (The Transporters, 1983) and A szív segédigei (Helping Verbs of the Heart, 1985), as well as Nádas’ Emlékiratok könyve (Book of Memoires, 1986). Other writers closely associated with the new literary stances included Imre Kertész (1929-), with Sorstalanság (Fateless, 1975), and Mihály Korniss (1949-), with Végre élsz (Alive at Last, 1980), whilst Lajos Grendel (1948-), László Krasznahorkai (1954-), László Garaczi (1956-) and László Márton (1959-) all added distinctive takes on the emerging text-centred approach. Their principal counterparts in this paradigm change as far as poetry was concerned were Imre Oravecz (1943-), György Petri (1943-), Lajos Parti Nagy (1953-) and Tibor Zalán (1954-).

As these far-reaching transmutations proceeded, literature found itself in more or less continual conflict with the authorities. The Attila József Circle, an organisation for young writers, was the target of constant attacks. Mozgó Világ (Moving World), one of the best known magazine outlets for experimental literary and artistic work by the younger generation, was banned in 1983, whilst the Tatabánya office of Új Forrás (New Source) was ransacked for publishing a poem by Gáspár Nagy in memory of Imre Nagy, the prime minister during the 1956 revolution who had been executed in 1958. More verse by the same poet on the subject of the revolution and the moral basis of the Kádár era led to the closure of Tiszatáj in 1986. Writers pushed for greater press freedom and the ending of Party supervision of literature and the arts in general at the 1986 general meeting of the Writers’ Union. These were all signs that the era of Kádár-style consolidation was rapidly approaching its end as far as Hungarian intellectual and cultural life were concerned, and the ‘grand pact’ of the early 1960s had finally lost its validity.

For all the conflicts, the 1980s were a period of significant expansion of the network of institutional support for literary activity. Virtually every county centre by then had set up its own periodical, distributed throughout the country, even if it was not till the early ‘90s that they sorted out their particular policy lines and accordingly styled the right vehicles for these. It is a measure of how greatly things had changed that young Hungarian writers and academics who were embarking on their careers by the mid-’80s were now deliberately and, in comparison with the attempts of their older peers, more successfully setting themselves apart by creating their own platforms. Századvég (Fin-de-Siecle), Harmadkor (Third Age), Határ (Boundary) and Aetas were the most prominent of these independently-minded new literary and social science periodicals to establish an enduring place for themselves, whilst literature marked its complete liberation from political interference after the change in régime with the appearance in the early ‘90s of a new style of magazine – exemplified by Hitel (Credit), Holmi (Miscellany), 2000 and, somewhat later, Nappali Ház (Day House) – edited to promote distinctly different schools of writing.


Changing ideas on literature, philosophy and politics

In the immediate wake of World War II, Hungarian intellectual life for a short while realigned itself and again became more responsive to Western lines of thinking. By 1948, however, it was no longer concerned with genuine philosophical issues but immersed in ideological debates and in-fighting, with Communists discerning reactionary world views behind all assessments that were not avowedly Marxist. Needless to say, the elevation of Marxism-Leninism to the status of what was tantamount to a state religion in the years after the Communist take-over boded no good for thinking on politics, philosophy or historical theorising. Venerable periodicals, such as Athenaeum, Pantheon and Bölcséleti Közlemények, were shut down, and professors who taught ‘bourgeois’ schools of philosophy were dismissed from their university posts; many of the finest thinkers and theoreticians of the age, from Sándor Karácsony* and Gyula Moór (1888-1950) through Lajos Prohászka and István Hajnal to István Bibó, were forced into silence and retirement and their work consigned to oblivion or tardy recognition decades later. The Hungarian Philosophical Society was banned; university teaching or study of philosophy and disciplines with links to philosophy, including logic, psychology and sociology, was made impossible, whilst the closing of Church schools and colleges was a major blow for theology and philosophy of religion. Non-Marxist philosophy was thus left without any institutional base whatsoever and, in effect, totally expunged. As for philosophy in the generally accepted sense of the word, so too for political science throughout the 1950s and ‘60s: the few ideas that were generated at the time of the 1956 revolution – István Bibó’s pamphlet, Proposal for a Compromise Solution of the Hungarian Problem, and a number of plans and memoranda prepared by other individuals who had been significant figures during the post-war coalition period – were the exceptions that proved the rule. Careers were destroyed, creative thinkers were forced into a marginal existence, their work broken off midstream or unobtainable to any public who might have had an interest in it, whilst access to the work of those who had elected to emigrate – for instance, Ferenc Fejtő (1909-), Zoltán Szabó and Károly Kerényi* – was denied until the 1970s, and hard to find even then.

Although assuming different forms from time to time, the populist-urbanist confrontation that had broken out in the 1930s† lived on and was exploited as a tactical element by both of Hungary’s chief cultural ideologues, József Révai and György Aczél, for their own ends. At the back of many arguments in the socialist era lay divergences in literary views, disparate judgements over the possibilities of political action, opposed concepts of social conflicts – in short, mentalities that were basically at odds. Assuming almost mythical dimensions, so inveterate was the discord between the two camps over the respective importance of ‘Hungarian thinking’ and ‘free thinking’ that this was to have a profound bearing on the structure of the party system that emerged in Hungary after the change in régime and continued to set the parameters within which intellectual life was conducted well into the 1990s.

With the exception of György Lukács, there was hardly one amongst those who cultivated the ‘one and only scientific world view’ during the 1950s and 1960s who was capable of producing any serious, systematic body of philosophical work. The implication of the 1950 Lukács debate was that no room was allowed for interpretations of Marxism or socialism that might depart from the Communist party’s official line. The two main works of Lukács’ late productive phase, Die Eigenart der Ästhetischen (1963) and Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins (1971) – Hungarian versions of which appeared in 1965 and, posthumously, in 1976, respectively – were hailed both at the time and in subsequent years as major contributions to philosophy. Works by members of the school which gathered around Lukács – principally Ágnes Heller (1929-), Ferenc Fehér (1933-1994) and György Márkus (1934-) – started to appear from the early 1960s, but apart from them and a small circle of their own students, including János Kis (1943-), György Bencze (1940-) and Mihály Vajda (1934-), Hungary did not even boast any Marxist philosophers or historians of philosophy capable of anything more than routine exposition of the dominant ideology. Amongst philosophers in the Hungarian minority communities of the neighbouring socialist states, György Bretter (1932-1977) managed to build up a school of some repute, whilst Vienna-based Tibor Hanák (1929-1999) stands out amongst the émigré historians of philosophy in the West.

The chief concern of what became known as the Budapest School was their attempt to spark a renaissance in Marxist thinking through a return to the starting-point and essence of Marxist philosophy, which implied a rejection, in at least some respects, of existing socialism from a New Leftist stance. However, even such veiled criticism was deemed a sufficient pretext for the Budapest School to be firmly bundled out of the public limelight within a year or two of Lukács’ death in 1971. Not until the 1980s were any writings openly critical of Marxism allowed to be published, though the samizdat literature that began to circulate in Hungary from the mid-’70s included a notable anthology entitled Marx a negyedik évtizedben (The Fourth Decade of Marx), most of whose contributors adopted a critical line both to Marxism and to their own previous political-philosophical stance. The first small public signs of movement in this period were the re-establishment of the Hungarian Philosophical Society and the founding of a Political Science Society, coupled with the (re-)appearance of their respective journals. The work of one leading group of economic thinkers, with János Kornai (1928-), András Bródy (1924-) and Tibor Liska (1925-1999) prominent amongst them, took them increasingly away from orthodox Marxist dogma as they embarked on a critical approach to the centrally planned structure of the Hungarian economy to develop a body of reformist ideas about the economic mechanism and eventually a broad critique of the socialist economic system in its entirety.

Béla Hamvas, having been dismissed from his post as chief librarian at the University of Budapest in 1948, carried on working in private, until a few years before his death in 1968, to complete the substantial essayistic oeuvre expounding his distinctive universalist philosophy, which Hungarian intellectuals only started to rediscover in the early 1980s. István Bibó’s death in 1979 brought to a close the output of one of the most distinguished political thinkers of the twentieth century, his synoptic essay Az európai társadalomfejlődés értelme (Rationale for the Development of European Society), dictated in 1971-72, standing as the highlight of a last phase of work that he too was obliged to conduct out of the public eye. Bibó’s writings nevertheless gained special relevance in Hungary because for many intellectuals in the gradually emerging political opposition of the late ‘70s and the ‘80s their fundamentally liberal democratic stance represented a genuinely alternative political and philosophical model to a state socialist apparatus that had come to an impasse. The manuscript for a Bibó Memorial Book, incorporating contributions from 76 authors standing for many hues of opinion and circulated in samizdat form after a request for regular publication was turned down in 1980, was the first significant attempt to build consensus amongst the various strands of dissident opinion in Hungary. As events turned out, however, the minimum of collective democracy predicated by Bibó’s political thinking did not prove lasting and, indeed, it lost much of its force rather quickly in the period around the change in régime.

One branch of the renascent political activism in Hungary from the 1970s onwards, parallel with the build-up of the opposition movement, was the steady retreat from Marxist philosophy that was beaten a group of individuals around János Kis and György Bencze. Though they never set out a coherent system of new thinking of their own, the core of their outlook embraced the liberal democratic standards that demanded respect for human rights. They were joined by a group of figures who had been closely involved in the revolutionary government of 1956 and, for all the diversity of their personal ideological commitments, had remained dedicated to fostering the broad ideals for which that government had stood. Foremost amongst these ‘56-ers was Ferenc Donáth and the strand of ‘liberal socialism’ for which he stood.

A third significant grouping that began to emerge in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was an informal friendly circle who, taking their lead from the tradition of the populist writers of the 1930s, aligned themselves to ideas of national integrity. At the centre of this trend of thinking were concerns about issues of what they termed ‘national fate’ – in particular, reversal of the decline in the Hungarian population, support for Hungarian minorities in neighbouring states, and promotion of a heightened sense of Hungarian national identity. Its most prominent advocates – Gyula Illyés, Sándor Csoóri and Gyula Fekete – considered that redress of the injuries that the Communist régime had inflicted on the national consciousness was the primary precondition for a democratic transformation of Hungarian society. These and the other political stances only began to be formulated to audiences outside the intimate circles of their proponents during the early 1980s, and it was not until the middle years of the decade that they were actively publicised.


Film and theatre

After 1948 all films that were shown on cinema screens in Hungary first had to be passed by a board of censorship, a permitting role that was taken on by the National Film Office, formed in March 1948. Another government decree made showing of the weekly film reports from Magyar Híradó (Hungarian Newsreel) an obligatory part of the film programme in all cinemas. The autumn of that year marked the end of film-making and distribution by private companies, with the setting up of a single state-owned Hungarian National Film Production Company from the hitherto separate movie studios. These political changes naturally meant that newsreels lost any informative value they may have had, turning them into nothing more than vehicles for unadulterated propaganda, as indeed were the great majority of Hungarian films produced in the early part of the 1950s. There was also a disproportionate growth in the number of imported Soviet films distributed for showing in Hungarian cinemas, largely for their propaganda value, especially after 1949, when control and direction of the domestic film industry passed into the hands of the Department for Culture, Agitation and Propaganda of the MDP’s Central Committee and the Film Department of the Ministry of Culture.

Theatres were similarly taken over by the state and training of actors was reorganised to make it impossible for private schools to operate: for many years the qualifications that permitted a person to act or produce plays could only be obtained by studying at the College of Dramatic and Film Arts. Many classic plays of Hungarian and world literature vanished from the stage for a considerable time; Hungarian acting was forced to make way for the achievements of ‘advanced Soviet dramatic art’ as handed on by Soviet advisors. The rigid systematisation that this brought, with its imposition of models that were not just foreign but also drew on genres that, in art-historical terms, were obsolete, presented a major obstacle to the adoption of modern acting principles and practice, which had enduring effects on play selection, directorial interpretations and stage design. Training of stage and costume designers was provided by the College of Applied Arts, with the first group graduating from there in 1954. The best stage designers of the period, amongst them Gusztáv Oláh (1901-1956), admired for his work on a celebrated 1955 revival of Imre Madách’s The Tragedy of Man,* Zoltán Fülöp (1907-) and Mátyás Varga (1910-), still remembered for his designs for the satirical play Uborkafa (Cucumber Tree) by Ernő Urbán (1918-1974), found it hard to free themselves from the constraints of theatrical naturalism dictated by socialist realism. Tivadar Márk (1908-) and Teréz Nagyajtay (1897-1978) were particularly highly respected costume designers of this period.

The theatrical repertoire then was dominated by formulaic plays about the class war and the ordinary lives of workers by Soviet dramatists and their Hungarian imitators, the latter including such examples as Mélyszántás (Deep Ploughing, 1951), a play about cooperative farms by Mihály Földes (1905-1984), Idézés bűnügyben (Subpoena) by Klára Fehér (1919-1996), Gyula Háy’s Az élet hídja (The Bridge of Life, 1951), Hétköznapok hősei (Everyday Heroes, 1951) by Éva Mándi (1922-), and Kártyavár (House of Cards, 1954) by László Tabi (1910-1989). A handful of highly rhetorical probings of historical tradition, like Gyula Illyés’ Fáklyaláng (Torchlight, 1953) or László Németh’s II. József (Joseph II, 1954), with their presentation of salutary conflicts of collectivism and romantic individuality, offered small islands of diversion amidst the sea of monotony and, every now and again, one or another of the dramas of Moliere or Shakespeare would be allowed to reach the stage. Leading directors such as Zoltán Várkonyi (1912-1979) and actors like József Tímár (1902-1961), Margit Dayka (1902-1986), Klári Tolnay (1914-1998), Hilda Gobbi (1913-1988) and József Szendrő (1914-1971) were still able to impress with their artistry, even within the dismally narrow scope that this fare permitted, and they had a big part to play in preserving older acting traditions and helping establish new schools, such as that built up at the Csokonai Theatre in Debrecen by its director, Árpád Téri. A distinctive institution of the period was the State Village Theatre – later renamed the State Mrs Déry Theatre after the famous nineteenth-century actress – which was the umbrella for a group of peripatetic troupes charged with ‘bringing theatre culture to the broad masses’.

With the Communist take-over came big changes in the set-up of the domestic film industry too, not least in its personnel, not a few choosing or, as in Géza Radványi’s case,* being forced to emigrate, whilst others, unable to adjust sufficiently to the ideological requirements of the new era, found themselves in eclipse for shorter or longer periods of time. Evaporating with them was also the promise of revival that had briefly been signalled by, amongst others, films by István Szőts (1912-), Radványi’s Valahol Európában (Somewhere in Europe, 1947), or Talpalatnyi föld (A Foot of Ground, 1948) by Frigyes Bán (1902-1969). It is hard to discern any merits amongst the films on the preferred subject of socialist realism that were shot during the early 1950s; what flourished rather were either sentimentally Romantic historical settings, such as Bán’s Rákóczi hadnagya (Rákóczi’s Lieutenant, 1953) and Föltámadott a tenger (The Sea Rose Again, 1953), directed by Kálmán Nádasdy (1904-1980) and László Ranódy (1919-1983), or outright escapist entertainments like Civil a pályán (A Rank Amateur) and Mágnás Miska (Mishka the Magnate, 1948), both directed by Márton Keleti (1905-1973), and Állami Áruház (State Department Store, 1952), by Viktor Gertler (1901-1969). Stereotyped as they may have been, they generally followed the rules of classical comedy and gave the public a chance to see the work of popular actors like Gyula Gózon (1885-1972) and Kálmán Latabár (1902-1970).

The ‘thaw’ after 1953 allowed a few noteworthy departures from the dead formalities of socialist realism, amongst others the first films of Zoltán Fábri (1917-1994): Életjel (Fourteen Lives in Danger, 1954), Körhinta (Merry-Go-Round, 1955) and Hannibál tanár úr (Mr Hannibal, Teacher, 1956). A strain of lyrical neo-realism gained some currency, especially in the work of Félix Máriássy (1919-1975): Rokonok (Relatives, 1954), Egy pikoló világos (A Half of Light, 1955) and Csempészek (Smugglers, 1958). A clutch of politically-loaded allegories from this same period, including Keleti’s Csodacsatár (The Wonder Forward, 1956), Eltüsszentett birodalom (The Sneezed-Away Empire, 1956) by Tamás Banovich (1925-) and, though it was not released for thirty years, Keserű igazság (Bitter Truth, 1956) by Zoltán Várkonyi (1912-1978), can be regarded as precursors of the realistic social critiques that were to form a constant strand of Hungarian film-making in later decades.

The New Course under Imre Nagy also had a beneficial effect on drama. In 1955, the above-mentioned production brought The Tragedy of Man back into the National Theatre’s repertoire after an enforced absence of eight years, and it was possible again to put on the plays of Chekhov, Ibsen and García Lorca. There was also more latitude to stage plays by contemporary authors that reflected issues in the real world, such as Ezer év (A Thousand Years, 1956) by Ferenc Karinthy (1921-1992) and Imre Sarkadi’s Szeptember (1955), and highly successful satires on the Stalinist era such as the above-mentioned Uborkafa and Tibor Déry’s Talpsimogató (Foot-Tickler, 1954). The big stage event of 1956 was the National Theatre premiere given to László Németh’s Galilei (1953), and its exploration of conflicts of the individual with the communal, hard-headed pragmatism with messianism. The crackdown after the 1956 revolution again narrowed the leeway for creativity. There was a fresh wave of departures of actors and directors to the West, including Violetta Ferrari, Sándor Szabó and Éva Szörényi. Gábor Földes (1923-1958), director of the Kisfaludy Theatre at Győr was executed for his activities in leading the local revolutionary movement, whilst a number of actors, including Iván Darvas (1925-), László Mensáros (1926-1996) and Attila Nagy (1933-1992), were given prison terms of various lengths or, as in the case of Imre Sinkovics (1928-), banned from the profession for a while.

In the tricky political waters of the post-revolutionary period of suppression Tamás Major (1910-1986) played a prominent part as a National Theatre director in negotiating a way forward for the theatre. As for works with a direct political content, of course, only those presenting the official line on the ‘October events’ or straight apologetics for the prevailing political conditions were permitted. Examples of this kind of stage play included Szélvihar (Storm, 1958) by Imre Dobozy (1917-1982), Lajos Mesterházi’s Pesti emberek (Budapest People, 1958) and József Darvas’ Kormos ég (Dirty Sky, 1959), whilst film director Márton Keleti adapted Szélvihar for the screen, retitling it Tegnap (Yesterday, 1958), and went on to make Virrad (Day Breaks, 1959). Under these circumstances, there was a perhaps predictable surge of interest in history and social traditions, with a substantial proportion of the films that were made around this time reaching back to literature of the turn of the century or inter-war years – authors such as Sándor Hunyadi (1890-1942), Zsigmond Móricz, Dezső Kosztolányi and Endre Gelléri Andor* – for their stories, as in Ranódy’s Akiket a pacsirta elkísér (Accompanied by a Skylark, 1959) and Ház a sziklák alatt (House Below the Cliffs, 1958) by Károly Makk (1925-).

As the Kádár régime began to feel secure in power it gradually relaxed its political ideological controls over theatres, giving them somewhat more freedom over their choice of repertoire, allowing works by contemporary authors like Bertolt Brecht, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Jean-Paul Sartre to be staged for the first time in Hungary. Permanent companies of actors were more readily built up and well known artists such as Endre Bálint (1914-1986), Gyula Hincz (1904-1986), Miklós Borsos (1906-1990) and Ilona Keserü (1933-) were drawn into stage design. The roster of distinguished acting talents assembled at the National Theatre under Major’s directorship made the late 1950s and early ‘60s a particularly lustrous period for the company. This led into a blossoming of more experimental acting styles, with the establishment of workshop groups in Budapest like the Universitas Group at the Egyetemi Theatre, the Szkéné Theatre, the Kassák House Studio of Péter Halász and the Orfeó Stage.

The principal issue for Hungarian playwrights during the 1960s and ‘70s was their response to the various modern approaches to drama that had been evolving in Europe since World War II. One early experimenter was Miklós Mészöly, but he had to wait years to see stagings of his two absurdist plays, Az ablakmosó (The Window-cleaner, 1957) and A bunker (The Bunker, 1959). Thus the effective breakthroughs in terms of revitalising theatrical language, transforming modes of communication and applying experimental dramaturgical principles came from the likes of István Örkény, István Csurka and (until 1974) the Transylvanian-based Géza Páskándi (1933-1995). Örkény’s plays, Tóték (The Tóth Family, 1967), Pisti a vérzivatarban (Stevie in the Bloodbath, 1969) and Macskajáték (Catsplay, 1971), like the novels from which they were dramatised, used absurd ramifications of grotesque situations to pose questions about the search for individual identity. In plays like Deficit (1967), Ki lesz a bálanya? (Who’ll Be the Patroness of the Ball?, 1969), Döglött aknák (Dead Mines, 1971) and Versenynap (Race Day, 1977) Csurka radically recast the language of the classic didactic monologue in a spirit of grotesque comedy, whilst in A sor (The Queue, 1966), Vendégség (Hospitality, 1971) and Haladék (Deferral, 1974) Páskándi explored new ways of instilling historical parable into so-called literary drama. Going into the 1980s, new creative acting workshops emerged to earn plaudits abroad as well as at home, amongst others The Twenty-fifth Theatre run by László Gyurkó (1930-), the Thália Theatre under Károly Kazimir (1928-1999), the József Katona Theatre under Gábor Székely (1944-) and Gábor Zsámbéki (1944-), the Szigligeti Theatre at Szolnok under Székely and György Schwajda (1943-), and the Gergely Csiky Theatre at Kaposvár under Zsámbéki, László Babarczy (1941-) and Tamás Ascher (1949-). The rising generation of actors who came to stamp their personalities on these two decades included the likes of Edit Domján (1932-1972), Zoltán Latinovics (1931-1976), László Márkus (1928-1985), Lajos Őze (1935-1985), Éva Ruttkai (1927-1986) and Mari Törőcsik (1935-).

With the new acting approaches also came increasing diversity in stage design trends. Alongside the scenic decorativeness of a Gábor Szinte (1928-) or Elemér Vata could be found endeavours by Miklós Fehér (1929-) and László Székely (1932-) to sculpt space by means of lighting and projection, avant-garde sets by Ágnes Gyarmathy, and trials by Gyula Pauer (1941-) at stripping illusions away to create clear fields of play. The 1970s were also a heyday for costume design in Hungary through the work of Nelly Vágó (1937-), Judit Schäffer (1931-) and Árpád Csányi (1929-).

In Hungarian cinema, through the greater space that had been gained for artistic manoeuvre and the licence that studio teams won to pursue their own artistic directions, the early 1960s marked the start of a breakthrough period that yielded an extraordinary wave of demanding work of the highest rank. Definitive films of the early part of that decade included Károly Makk’s Elveszett paradicsom (Paradise Lost, 1962), Oldás és kötés (Cantata, 1962) by Miklós Jancsó (1921-), Sodrásban (Current, 1963) by István Gaál (1933-), Zoltán Fábri’s Húsz óra (Twenty Hours, 1966), Tízezer nap (Ten Thousand Days, 1965) by Ferenc Kósa (1937-), and Apa (Father, 1966) by István Szabó (1938-). From the latter half of the decade social-critical realism was again given some voice, notably through András Kovács (1925-) in Hideg napok (Cold Days, 1965) and A ménesgazda (The Stud Farm, 1978), whilst Péter Bacsó (1928-) even gave it a highly satirical edge in A tanú (The Witness, 1969), though that film stayed in the can almost a decade before the public were allowed to see it. Jancsó meanwhile branched off in the direction of abstract allegory through Szegénylegények (The Round-up, 1965), Csillagosok, katonák (The Red and the White, 1967) and Csend és kiáltás (Silence and Cry, 1968), winning widespread international acclaim for his innovative use of film language to minutely dissect relations of power and suppression and basic aspects of human behaviour.

Writing about Hungarian cinema of these years, Yvette Biró has summed it up as a period of ascendancy for ‘poetic films’. Typical features of films of the ‘70s that fall into this category are their break with traditional narrative structures and a high degree of abstraction, as exemplified by István Szabó’s Szerelmesfilm (Love Film, 1970), Szindbád (Sinbad, 1971) by Zoltán Huszárik (1931-1980), Ferenc Kósa’s Hószakadás (Cracks in the Snow, 1974), Jancsó’s Égi bárány (Agnus Dei, 1971), Makk’s film of Örkény’s Macskajáték (Catsplay, 1974), and Apám néhány boldog éve (My Father’s Few Happy Years, 1977) by Sándor Simó (1934-). The other characteristic trend was one of social criticism, as in Angi Vera (1978) by Pál Gábor (1932-1987), Makk’s Egymásra nézve (Another Way, 1979) or Szerencsés Dániel (Daniel Takes a Train, 1982) by Pál Sándor (1939-), out of which grew a genre that aimed to fuse straight documentary techniques as seamlessly as possible with fictional elements, as in Szabadgyalog (Free Pawn) by Béla Tarr (1955-), Határozat (Resolution, 1972) by Judit Ember (1935-) and Gyula Gazdag (1947-), Jutalomutazás (Prize Tour, 1975) by István Dárday (1940-), and Békeidő (Peacetime, 1979) and Vörös Föld (Red Earth, 1982) by László Vitézy (1940-). Whether focused on the past or the present, the films of the ‘70s could be said to have in common the aim of highlighting, with ironic intent usually in close attendance, the conflicts of private and public life thrown up by changes in a society that was drifting ever further from socialist expectations. Still in keeping with this was the public success enjoyed by what Balázs Varga has termed ‘popular art films’, such as Pál Sándor’s Régi idők focija (The Good Old Days of Football, 1973) and Ripacsok (Buffoons, 1981) with which films of the succeeding decade such as István Szabó’s Mefisztó (Mephisto, 1981), Redl ezredes (Colonel Redl, 1985) and Hanussen (1988) and Géza Bereményi’s Tanítványok (Pupils, 1985) and Eldorádó (El Dorado, 1988) might be bracketed. Mefisztó achieved the distinction of earning the 1982 Oscar award for the best foreign film.

Hungarian theatre of the 1980s offered a broad palette of artistic techniques, from the traditional through to the post-modern, though with much less emphasis than had been usual in the past on stagings that gave primacy to rhetorical qualities of the literary text. By its nature, this gradual shift in focus did not involve the scenic setting of works so much as a freer attitude to the interpretation of tradition. Plays particularly linked with these altering stances include Géza Bereményi’s examination of the experiences of successive generations in A trilógia (The Trilogy, 1982) and György Spiró’s allegorical historical drama A békecsászár (The Emperor of Peace, 1981) and his grotesque-absurdist Csirkefej (Chicken Head, 1985). Other innovative approaches included the ritualistic features of Péter Nádas’ Takarítás (House-Cleaning, 1977) and Találkozás (Encounter, 1979) and the linguistic and theatrical games of Mihály Kornis’ Halleluja (1980), Kozma (1982) and Körmagyar (A Hungarian Round Dance, 1988). Fresh looks at stage design were mainly offered by the more adventurous theatre workshops already listed, most notably the József Katona Theatre in Budapest and the Gergely Csiky Theatre at Kaposvár, where the work of György Szegő, Péter Donáth (1938-) and Péter Gothár (1947-) was particularly in evidence.

The Béla Balázs Studio, founded in the early 1960s, became a workshop for the creative and experimental talents of a string of rebellious young Hungarian film-makers, nurturing the documentary approaches adopted by László Vitézy and István Dárday as well as the more deliberate searches for a new cinematic language undertaken by Miklós Erdély (1925-1986) and Gábor Bódy (1946-1985). Early death robbed the latter two of the chance of fully vindicating their promise, though not before Bódy at least had been able to signal his preoccupation with the more universal questions of existence in Amerikai anzix (alternatively titled American Fragment or American Torso, 1976), Nárcisz és Psyché (Narcissus and Psyche, 1980) and A kutya éji dala (The Dog’s Night Song, 1984). Others who became associated with similar lines of exploration included András Jeles (1945-), with A kis Valentino (The Little Valentino, 1978) and Álombrigád (The Workers’ Dream Brigade, 1983), and Ildikó Enyedi (1955-), with Angyali üdvözlet (Annunciation, 1984) and Az én XX. századom (My Twentieth Century, 1989). Amongst other directors of this generation who explored new film idioms during the 1980s was Péter Gothár and his use of grotesque surrealism in Megáll az idő (Time Stands Still, 1981), Idő van (Time, 1985) and Tiszta Amerika (Pure America, 1987). History of the recent past was again a concern, especially towards the end of the decade, when a series of hard-hitting films, including Törvénysértés nélkül (No Laws Broken, 1987) and Balladák filmje (Ballads, 1988) by the Gulyás brothers, János (1946-) and Gyula (1944-), Pergőtűz (Barrage, 1987) and ‘Sír az út előttem’ (‘The Road Before Me Cries’, 1987) by Sándor Sára, and Géza Bözsörményi’s Recsk 1950-1953 (1988), found a Hungarian audience eager for their revelations of subjects that had been strictly taboo for decades. As that receptiveness cooled in the wake of the change in régime, by the early ‘90s these films themselves had already become documents of their own period.



Music composition in Hungary during the years immediately after World War II was still in the process of digesting the oeuvre of the country’s two most significant innovators of the century, Béla Bartók, who had died in US exile in September 1945, and Zoltán Kodály. The priests of socialist realism who came into ascendancy after 1948, bringing their claims to pronounce on music as on other areas of artistic creativity, evaluated Bartók’s works according to their own narrow ideological concerns, consigning some important milestones of his output to forced oblivion for the best part of a decade. By 1949 the threat posed by the new Communist régime was enough to induce Ernő Dohnányi>* to emigrate to the West, whilst László Lajtha (1892-1963) composed his music for the desk drawer and concentrated on his activities as a folk music collector. The fact that he had added six symphonies and six string quartets as well as several masses and other works to the two symphonies and three string quartets that were composed before 1948, making him one of the more productive composers of the 1950s, only came to light when his estate was being put in order.

Folk customs, of course, offered a terrain ideally suited for manipulation by the ideologues of a workers’ and peasants’ state. This led to an absurd situation in which cultural commissars ignored what happened in real-life Hungarian communities in favour of cultivating a form of propagandistic ‘fakelore’ in which professional performers in carefully confected ‘folk’ costume went through well-drilled music and dance routines as obligatory appurtenances to every official event of importance. This culminated in the formation of a Hungarian State Folk Ensemble in 1950, though it should be added that over the course of later years that troupe did ditch some of the worst aspects of the phenomenon.

The essence of the ideology was that everything was supposed to represent socialist reality in a manner that was readily comprehensible from the stance of both Party and people. The bounds of what was officially acceptable in terms of music composition were laid down by the Hungarian Composers’ Association, founded in 1949, whilst from 1950 all music publishing activity was coordinated by the Zeneműkiadó Vállalat (Music Publishing Company) and concert organisation throughout the country fell to a National Music Company (renamed the Országos Filharmónia, or National Philharmonia, in 1952). For all its many defects, state support for musical culture was unarguably greater than it had ever been previously. The number of concerts held annually in Hungary increased five-fold between 1950 and 1975 whilst production of records by the state-owned Hungaroton company rose one hundred-fold.

As far as compositional activities were concerned chamber and symphonic music took a definite back seat to choral works, marches and rallying songs as the genres that took pride of place – all voicing messages of radiant optimism. A 1950 survey purported that the most popular songs of that year in Hungary included such gems as Győz a terv (The Plan Triumphs), Süss fel munka napja (Shine Forth, Sun of Work), Sztálin köszöntése (Toast to Stalin), Békedal (Peace Song), Sződd a selymet elvtárs (Sew the Silk, Comrade) and Zúgnak a traktorok (The Tractors Are Rumbling). In line with the spirit of the times, Hungarian composers rose to the occasion of the Second Congress of the MDP in 1951 by overfulfilling their plan by more than 20 per cent, with 43 of them offering 63 pieces to the Composers’ Union instead of the 52 that had been promised. Composers of the 1950s, for the most part, made do with tried and trusted melodic and harmonic schemes, cultivating a generally undemanding, musically middle-of-the road mediocrity for the sake of ready comprehensibility and performability, being encouraged in this by the simplifying and vulgarising aspects of the prevailing cultural policies. Those who departed from the stipulated guidelines were at risk of being branded as ‘formalists’ or ‘cosmopolitans’, with their works denied a public hearing – a fate that even befell Bartók, with performance of some of his masterpieces, such as The Miraculous Mandarin, being banned on account of its ‘pessimism’. Between 1949 and 1955 works by Schönberg, Webern, Stravinsky and other modernists could not be played, either in concert or on the radio; certain works by Wagner and Richard Strauss were also barred from staging at the Opera House, though here associations with the recent Nazi past were more operative than any ‘aesthetic’ criteria as such. For several years after 1950 Hungarian musical life as a whole was essentially shut off from developments in the West; with rare exceptions, opportunities to travel abroad were limited to the USSR and other socialist countries. Critical standards under these circumstances, not surprisingly, suffered badly. Sztálin esküje (Stalin’s Oath, 1949-50), a cantata setting of a text by Zoltán Zelk for baritone, male chorus and orchestra composed by Pál Kadosa (1903-1983), was feted on all sides as a mature and classic creation of the new Hungarian music, earning him a 1950 Kossuth Prize, the country’s highest honour for artistic achievement. (In later years, Kadosa was to return to his own originally strongly Bartókian compositional style and do sterling service as a piano teacher at the Music Academy.) Amidst the flood of aesthetically shoddy goods it was rare to come across works of more enduring merit, such as the Vörösmarty Symphony (1952) by Pál Járdányi (1920-1966), the Kossuth Suite for mixed choir (1953) by Lajos Bárdos (1899-1968) or the radio piece and later three-act opera Pomádé király új ruhája (King Pomadé’s New Clothes, 1950-53) by György Ránki (1907-1992).

Training for musicians was even further centralised on the Academy of Music by bringing under its wing a previously separate Workers’ Music School, which had catered mainly for amateur musicians, whilst dance tuition was similarly concentrated on a newly founded State Ballet Institute. Strong political pressure during 1949-50 led to the removal of many classics from the repertoire of the Opera House in Budapest and denial of the right to renew season tickets for many of its previous regular patrons – changes which prompted Otto Klemperer to quit his post as guest conductor at the end of that season. Under the resounding slogan of cultural revolution, subscriptions were henceforth offered to working-class people in much the same way as the contemporaneous drives to sell them Peace-Loan bonds. By the early 1950s a total of more than one million seats were sold annually at the two main venues for opera and ballet that were functioning in Budapest by then: the old Opera House and the converted Municipal Theatre (renamed the Erkel Theatre in 1953). A fine crop of opera singers, including bass Mihály Székely (1901-1963), tenor József Simándy (1916-1987), baritone György Melis (1923-), József Gregor (1940-), alto Júlia Hamari (1942-) and soprano Karola Ágai were instrumental in drawing packed houses. In 1948 a touring company (Gördülő Opera) was established to help popularise opera in the provinces.

A loosening of the regimentation of musical life can be dated to around 1955. Channels for foreign publication of scores by Hungarian composers again opened, and scores of works by foreign composers slowly became more accessible to Hungarian composers. Concert life was bolstered by the re-emergence of excellent conductors like János Ferencsik (1907-1984) and László Somogyi, and foreign artists were increasingly invited to perform in Hungary. Something of the tension of the times is reflected in the patriotic outburst of Kodály’s Zrínyi-szózat (Zrínyi’s Plea, 1955), and Bartók, too, was rehabilitated with a new production of his Miraculous Mandarin opening in the spring of 1956. The October revolution of that year resulted in the emigration of many talented musicians, such as the pianists György Cziffra (1921-1997) and Tamás Vásáry (1933), and composer György Ligeti (1923-). The official celebrations that were arranged in 1957 on the occasion of Kodály’s seventy-fifth birthday were not without political overtones, since the composer had taken an active public role during the events of the previous autumn as chairman of a Revolutionary Committee of the Hungarian Intelligentsia.

Over the decade and a half after 1956 both the number of operatic performances and attendances underwent a steady decline, before picking up in the early 1970s, when around 500 performances a year were mounted and the number of seats sold was somewhat over half a million. Dancers such as Viktor Fülöp (1929-), Viktor Róna (1936-1994), Imre Dózsa (1941-), Adél Orosz (1938-) and Levente Sipeki (1937-1985) were in their prime during this period. The period also saw something of a revival in interest in the operatic genre by Hungarian composers, with fresh approaches to its musical language and staging being offered by Emil Petrovics (1930-) in his one-act C’est la guerre (1961) and Bűn és bűnhődés (Crime and Punishment, 1969), Sándor Szokolay (1931-) in Vérnász (Blood Wedding, 1964) and Zsolt Dúrkó (1934-) in Mózes (Moses, 1977). They and György Ránki apart, other composers writing in modern idioms who began to achieve some prominence internationally as well as domestically included Ferenc Farkas (1905-), Endre Szervánszky (1911-1977) and András Szőllősy (1921-), with compositions such as Ránki’s ‘1514’ Fantasia (1960) for piano and orchestra, Szervánszky’s Six Orchestral Pieces (1960) and Szőllősy’s Concerto No.3 (1968). Already then, however, György Kurtág (1926-) stood out amongst his contemporaries for the virtuosic manner in which he integrated his own rich vein of invention with European traditions to produce pieces of highly personal character from his first published works, the String Quartet (1959) and Wind Quintet (1959), onwards (e.g. Eight Piano Pieces, 1960; Eight Duets for Violin and Cimbalom, 1961; The Sayings of Peter Bornemissa, 1963-68). The somewhat younger rising generation included Durkó with his String Quartet (1959), Sándor Balassa (1935-) with his Requiem for Lajos Kassák, Attila Bozay (1939-) with his String Quartet (1964), Miklós Kocsár (1933-) with his Attila József Songs and Wind Quintet, István Láng (1933-) with his Symphony, and Kamilló Lendvay (1928-) with his orchestral suite, A rendíthetetlen ólomkatona (The Staunch Tin Soldier, 1961).

The late 1960s and early ‘70s were exciting times as a clutch of gifted teenage musicians burst onto the scene, spearheaded by violoncellist Miklós Perényi (1948-) and pianists Zoltán Kocsis (1952-), Dezső Ránki (1951-) and András Schiff (1953-), all of whom quickly went on to establish major international reputations. Bass László Polgár (1947-), baritone Kolos Kováts (1948-), and soprano Sylvia Sass (1951-) were amongst a new generation of singers who established names for themselves in opera and church music. Whilst the State Symphony Orchestra and National Philharmonic Orchestra, based in Budapest, were the leading orchestras, Győr Ballet, under the directorship of Iván Markó (1947-), established themselves as Hungary’s premier dance company, attracting regular invitations to appear abroad.

The New Music Studio, Budapest, founded in 1970 by Zoltán Jeney (1946-), László Sáry (1940-) and László Vidovszky (1944-), provided a creative environment for themselves and other composers to explore a wide range of post-serialist trends in modern music, from Stockhausen’s Darmstadt school and Cageian extra-musical systems through to minimalism, later linked to a great number of public concerts. In his own early works – Rimmembranze, Alef and Mandala – Jeney sought new experiences of time through processes of chance and improvisation before going on to explore the use of found materials (e.g. A Hundred Years’ Average; Orpheus’ Garden; KATO NK 300; July 22, 1979, 10.30 a.m. – Budapest, Liptó utca). Sáry followed more strict, repetitive patterning of tonal structures to develop highly personal ways of varying relationships between pitch, time and intensity of notes by systematically altering certain elements whilst holding others constant, as in Sounds for... (1972), Csigajáték (Snail Play, 1973) for six or more players, Egy akkordsor forgatókönyve (A Continuity of Rotative Chords, 1975), Hangnégyzet No.2 (Tone Square No.2, 1976) and Kotyogó kő egy korsóban (Pebble Playing in a Pot, 1978) for prepared piano – practices which he has continued to refine into the 1980s, as in Öt melankolikus ének (Five Melancholic Songs, 1981) and Telihold (Full Moon, 1986). Vidovszky, by contrast, has been attracted more to audio-visual expression and the staging of ‘happenings’ in compositions such as Auto-Concerto and Piano Concerto. Going on from where the New Music Studio left off, Group 180, formed in 1979, was particularly associated with performance of ‘minimalist’ pieces both by foreigners (notably Steve Reich) and by its own members, including Vizicsoda (Water-Wonder, 1982) by Tibor Szemző, Etude for Three Mirrors (1982) by László Melis, A pók halála+Sírfelirat (Death of the Spider+Epitaph, 1983) by Béla Faragó (1954-) and Duet on a Poem by Robert Burns (1985) by András Soós (1961-).

Adding further to the diversity of musical life in Hungary was the more tolerant line that the authorities adopted towards jazz from the late 1950s, resulting in its acceptance as a regular subject of tuition at music colleges from 1965 onwards. Gyula Babos (1949), pianist János Gonda (1932-), Attila Garay, bassist Aladár Pege (1939-), György Vukán (1941-), pianists György Szabados (1939-), pianist Béla Szakcsi Lakatos (1943-) and László Dés (1954-) were amongst the best known personalities who helped establish a place for the genre in the country during the ‘60s and ‘70s. More or less in parallel with this was a growing appetite amongst the young for self-expression through Anglo-American rock and beat music and the fashionable subculture of non-conformism with which they were associated, soon spawning local counterparts in such highly popular groups such as Illés, Metro, Omega and Lokomotiv GT. By the 1970s these groups largely displaced the syrupy, sentimental dance music that had been in vogue previously, and most manifestations of pop music had moved from the officially barely tolerated, if not banned, into an unequivocally promoted area of a rapidly transforming domestic entertainment industry. A more overtly political counter-culture, with strong overtones of independent action, began to emerge in the early 1970s and continued to steadily expand during the ‘80s and ‘90s in the form of the Táncház (Dance House) movement associated with dancing to folk music, particularly from Transylvania, supplied by bands who have grown up within the traditions or urban Hungarian musicians – the best known being singer Márta Sebestyén (1957-) and the group Muzsikás – who play authentic reconstructions of the styles.


Fine arts

At the end of World War II, three main schools of painting were jostling for attention in Hungary: the post-Nagybánya artists of the Gresham Group around István Szőnyi and Aurél Bernáth,* whose aesthetic of impressionist landscape rendition was pushed by the Szinyei Society’s magazine, Magyar Művészet (Hungarian Art); a mixed group of avant-garde artists, including Dezső Korniss, Piroska Szántó (1913-1998), Endre Bálint (1914-1986), Margit Anna (1913-1991) and Jenő Barcsay (1900-1988), who came together in October 1945 under the flag of what they called the European School; and a loose grouping of neo-realist artists, sometimes referred to as the ‘Wednesday’ group, comprising György Baksa Soós, Károly Koffán (1909-), Lajos Szalay (1909-1995) and Oszkár Papp (1925-). Other major centres of activity included, briefly, a number of private art schools and also several art colleges (the Derkovits and Dési Huber Colleges and the Ferenc Rózsa College of Applied Arts) that had been set up after the war as part of the network of residential institutions set up by the Communist Party and the National Peasants’ Party under the umbrella of the National Association of People’s Colleges (Népi Kollégiumok Országos Szövetsége, or NÉKOSZ as it was generally known) until these were successively closed down, on ideological grounds, during 1949-50.

So far as the art world was concerned, socialist realism was introduced in 1948 as the shape of things to come at two exhibitions mounted by NÉKOSZ art students under the titles ‘Socialist Emulation’ and ‘Communal Art’. The European School dissolved itself during the same year. By late 1948 and early 1949 the Communist Party had passed resolutions in which it rejected ‘the bourgeois principle of l’art pour l’art’ and formulated its own criteria of "optimistic art reflecting reality and thus the life and struggle of the people". This aesthetic turning-point was reflected during 1949 by various shows of Soviet art and also exhibitions of work by Hungarian artists marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. The first calls for artists to take part in the work of socialist emulation were not long in coming, and the language of art criticism sharply changed its tone as phrases like ‘empty formalism’, ‘pessimism’ and ‘imperfect manifestation of socialist realism’ were increasingly bandied about as terms of disparagement. In 1949, overall supervision of artistic matters was assigned to the Ministry of Culture and a National Federation of Artists was set up as the sole organisational forum for artists, with a charter which explicitly pledged the federation to carrying out the policies of the Communist Party and holding a brief to implement socialist realism. Any role that private patronage might have played in Hungarian art effectively ceased and virtually all the bigger exhibitions were already being curated in line with the new value system, under which "socialist realism... the trend of high-standard sculptures and pictures guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism... is being put into effect in the art of our country. A productive example is being set before youth, the fine art of the world’s most highly developed country: Soviet fine art". In the years after the Communist take-over, most committed avant-garde artists withdrew themselves completely from public sight, whilst the self-styled ‘progressives’ modified their approaches to accommodate fully to the dictates of socialist realism and, somewhere in between, the unashamed pragmatists looked for ways of striking a balance between their own artistic convictions and the new requirements.

The leading sculptors in Hungary at the end of the 1940s were much the same group of individuals as had come to prominence several decades earlier: Ferenc Medgyessy,* Béni Ferenczy (1890-1967), Pál Pátzay (1896-1979), and Tibor Vilt (1905-1983). However, a Statue of Petőfi that had been commissioned from Ferenczy to mark the centenary of the 1848 Hungarian revolution could not be set up at the site originally intended for it in 1948 (it was eventually installed in Gyula in 1960). By the start of the 1950s all new Hungarian sculpture was being executed in an unrelieved mould of crude naturalism and radiant optimism. Most left-wing artists were certainly not strangers to the idea that they should place their art in the service of politics, but few of them can have supposed that the realities of that period would require them to sacrifice their own personalities entirely and relinquish any thoughts of individual initiative or taste. Some sculptors, like Pátzay and many of his pupils, feeling they had no alternative way of making a livelihood, did surrender more or less completely, but others, including Miklós Borsos, Tibor Vilt and József Somogyi (1916-1993), made an effort to tread the narrow path between the compromises that a public career entailed and their own artistic needs.

The first sign of a crumbling of the monolithic facade of 1950s socialist realism in the art world was a exhibition mounted in September 1956 by a group of seven avant-garde artists comprising Margit Anna, Endre Bálint, Lajos Barta (1878-1986), Jenő Gadányi (1896-1960), József Jakovits (1909-1994), Dezső Korniss and Endre Rozsda (1913-). The Spring Show of 1957, by allowing a number of abstract and surrealistic works to be put on display, signalled a further tentative concession to artists and artistic approaches previously shunned and condemned to oblivion. By the end of the decade a somewhat bizarre double set of values had developed under which the authorities continued to load honours on favoured artists but simultaneously made some effort to accommodate more individual spirits. Political ideological pressure from above only gradually relinquished its grip, however. After the small shifts in the immediate wake of 1956, art of the 1960s was still beholden to the Marxist creed and centrally determined arts policies. In 1957 the Fine Arts Foundation, which had originally been set up in 1952 to administer social benefits (e.g. sick pay, pensions) for artists but was soon also charged with actual supervision of artistic standards, was placed under the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture, and the following year a Young Artists’ Studio was created specifically to cater to the needs of those at the start of their careers. The hitherto separate administrations for writers, musicians and artists were finally consolidated into a single Arts Foundation in 1968. The shift to more personal aesthetics became more pronounced once György Aczél’s ‘Three Ts’ policy got into its stride in the mid-1960s. Artists increasingly came to feel that it was not their function to turn themselves into passive instruments of someone else’s abstract theory but rather to find their own world within themselves and bring this to expression in their works: ‘During the ‘Sixties what was officially demanded of creative work ensured a free rein for endeavours from a realist stance or post-impressionistic and various pseudo-modern approaches that were compatible with that stance’ (Mezei, 1997).

The 1960s were a period in which sculpture commissions for public spaces underwent a partial renewal with some works of genuine aesthetic merit, such as József Somogyi’s Szántó Kovács Memorial (1965*) and Imre Varga’s Radnóti statue (1969), and not just the, by then, usual products of socialist realist monumentalism, appearing in at least a few town squares. Typically works of this kind employed a refined realism in a Romantic mould, and analogous developments could also be witnessed in other branches of art as diversity flourished from the middle of the decade. There was a conspicuous burgeoning of decorative artworks executed in ceramics, textiles and precious metals with some larger buildings being designed to provide a showcase for a complete cross-section of contemporary applied arts. A small art scene for unapproved work that had been operating underground during the ‘50s gradually acquired semi-legality in the ‘60s and eventually saw stylistic barriers being dismantled altogether, especially once private buyers were allowed open access to a market in artworks from the ‘70s onwards.

In the fine arts world the 1960s may be viewed as the initial phase in a slow process of reconstruction that slowly broke the stranglehold of socialist realist dogma. The "sincere longing for greatness and tragically clipped wings of Hungarian art" of these years finds eloquent expression in the paintings of Béla Kondor (1931-1972). Besides the manifestations of officially supported art, a stream of artists strove to establish a place for fresh ways of thinking about art. Amongst these, mention should be made of the surrealist and abstract-surrealist approaches both from painters like Endre Bálint and Dezső Korniss who had established their credentials before the war and newcomers like Kondor and Tamás Lossonczy (1904-); the tachiste-calligraphic approaches of Attila Csáji (1939-) and Péter Donáth (1938-1996), with their stress on sensitivity of gesture; the geometric and organic abstractionism of Imre Bak (1937-); and exponents of the pop- and op-art fashions of the period, Endre Tót (1937-), László Lakner (1936-) and László Pais (1935-). Most of this activity was not organised in any sort of formal ‘school’ though one might mention in this context the Zugló Circle which between 1963 and 1966 brought together such non-figurative painters as Imre Bak, Pál Deim (1932-), Sándor Molnár (1936-) and István Nádler (1938-) or the Csernus Circle of Bernáth’s ex-pupils – László Gyémánt (1935-) and László Lakner (1936-), amongst others – who gathered around the leading figure of Tibor Csernus (1927-) at much the same time. Paintings of particular note from this period include Cleansing (Great) Storm by Tamás Lossonczy, a work commemorating 1956 that was completed in the early part of the decade but not exhibited until 1978, and Jenő Barcsay’s huge, 3x11 metre canvas Szentendre Mosaic from the late 1960s. Mihály Schéner (1923-) put on a highly successful show of his abstract and spontaneous expressionist works in 1962. The biggest controversy in the art world, however, was the furore that was aroused by the ban placed by the selection panel on the paintings that had been lined up by László Pais for an exhibition by the Young Artists’ Studio in 1966.

In sculpture the 1960s saw the re-emergence of the small-scale work, intended for indoor display, as opposed to the monumental works for public spaces of the previous decade. The most radical break with previously accepted procedures and traditions was that of Erzsébet Schaár (1908-1975), with her progressive abandonment of the traditional materials of stone, bronze and wood to explore the relationships of figures to the closed, constructed space which they inhabit. Not only did her works, as well as those of Tamás Szentjóby St. Auby (1944-) and István Haraszty (1934-), attract considerable critical and public acclaim, they also had a big hand in preparing the way for a wider acceptance of op art, pop art and conceptual art. The major new ‘discovery’ of the decade was György Jovánovics (1939-), who was to exercise a big influence over art in Hungary during the next two decades, and whose early pieces, such as Man (1968) and Reclining (1969), were already posing the fundamental existentialist questions that were to characterise his subsequent work, perhaps the best-known of which is the memorial to the 1956 revolution erected in Budapest’s Rákoskeresztúri Cemetery in the early 1990s.

During the late ‘60s and going into the ‘70s, artists carried on pushing for the right to catch up with developments in the international art world and gain acceptance for their art on its own terms against increasingly feeble attempts by officialdom to defend the hegemony of socialist realism. A more relaxed official climate for art was perceptible not only in what individuals were now allowed to display publicly but also in the tolerance that was extended to the formation and persistence of various longer- and shorter-lived groups such as the Iparterv (Industrial Plan), No.1 and Syrenon Groups. The growing artistic freedom could also be captured quantitatively in the growing number of exhibitions sanctioned by the State Lectorate, which had been set up in 1963 as the top-level official body for judging and financing artwork in Hungary, from the 365 shows authorised in 1965 to 484 in 1968 and 776 in 1972. By the end of the decade, art showings of one kind or another had become such common fare that throughout the country as a whole, on each day of the year, an average of ten new exhibitions opened their doors to the public. The most influential group exhibitions of this period were those by the Iparterv Group in 1968, by Syrenon in 1969, the ‘R’ exhibition at Budapest’s Technical University in 1970, and the annual shows organised between 1970 and 1972 by György Galántai (1941-) at the ‘Kápolna’ Gallery at Balatonboglár, though the banning of the 1973 ‘Kápolna’ show and subsequent prolonged blacklisting of Galántai himself were a signal that there were still limits to what would be tolerated.

Though the classicising figural statues of sculptors like Pátzay and Mikus still picked up state prizes, this was no longer to the total exclusion of long-established constructivist techniques that Lajos Kassák had been pioneering four decades and more earlier or the non-figurative traditions of the European school. A wide diversity of new approaches were explored, from the pop-art style of Gyula Konkoly (1941-) and neo-constructivism of Tibor Csíky (1932-1989) to the organic, non-configurative statues of Ádám Farkas (1944-) and installation art of Gyula Julius (1958-). The mobile sculptures of István Haraszty – memorably his Fügemagozó (Fig-Pipper) from 1970 – started to attract attention abroad as well as domestically.

So far as specific approaches and styles are concerned, "there is an obvious intertwining... art of the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies. Artists’ works continued to be stamped by an avant-garde stance of rejecting tradition and history in favour of a search for the new, the concept that everybody can be an artist and everything can pass for art. Plane constructivism, hard-edge and conceptual art were propagated to become the definitive face of the new during the decade. However the spread of conceptual art, along with minimal art and photography and the analytical approaches that succeeded them were not kind to painting. There were years when critics predicted a crisis and even death for art on canvas" (Lóska, 1997). Individual mythologies were being fashioned and began to exert a growing influence on painting, sculpture, installation and performance art alike. One of the most original figures in the latter area was Tibor Hajas (1946-1980), whose dramatic performances focused his audience’s attention on such basic moral issues as the relation between sin and virtue, power and subservience, destruction and survival. Photos, documents, actions and plans increasingly supplanted traditional art objects and means of expression in other areas too.

Amongst the graphic artists who began to make a name for themselves in the 1970s were János Major (1934-) and Dóra Maurer (1937-), and in their wake Imre Szemethy (1945-), Károly Vagyóczky (1941-), Tamás Kovács (1942-), László Valkó and Árpád Szabados (1944-). Whilst some artists followed Béla Kondor in his expressive, balladistic renderings others were drawn to more mundane subjects, but the most definitive stance was the cool, measured appraisal manifested in the ironical works of Ferenc Banga (1947-) or the historical subjects on which Győző Somogyi (1942-) tended to focus. By the early 1980s the kind of artistic programme which perceives the graphic as a gesture or concept – a trend most closely associated with Dóra Maurer and Miklós Erdély (1928-1986). Younger graphic artists who started to make an impact around this time with the freshness and maturity of their art included Imre Bukta (1952-), Károly Kelemen (1948-), Tamás Kárpáti (1949-) and Gábor Záborszky (1950-).

Although the official overseers of cultural policy had by now shown themselves capable of accepting and even supporting certain avant-garde trends, they were nonplussed by the continuous processes of regeneration and transformation brought by postmodernism as a new generation of young artists began to achieve prominence and turn history in general, and cultural history in particular, into the central metaphor of the art of that decade. Neo-constructivism and other avant-garde trends, such as the geometric abstraction that had been promoted during the 1970s by the Budapest Workshop group and the land art or conceptual art of the Pécs Workshop group all faded from the art scene, not least because several by now senior figures who had associated themselves with the conceptual movement, including Tamás Szentjóby and Endre Tót, chose this time to leave the country. In the words of one commentator: ‘The definitive gesture in the new Hungarian art of the 1980s was a turning away from analytical, reductive methods, a radical subjectivism, the interpretation of cultural history as metaphor, and total stylistic pluralism. This new eclecticism links an ironic stance to dramatic mode of expression’ (Hegyi, 1989) The new creative outlook, broadly speaking, comprised an insistence on expressing the individual experience of existence, with its implied pluralism of values, linked to a rediscovery of sensuality: rather than the work of art being deduced from some abstract conceptual model, the individual and sensual was to be induced from the work.

The first significant station in the evolution of these new trends in Hungarian art was the ‘New Sensibility 1’ exhibition held in 1981, which at its subsequent biennial stagings provided a platform to introduce the latest events designed by both established and younger proponents of the new art form. New sensibility did not denote a stylistic category so much as an artistic stance which regarded each work of art as a unique, one-off sensual-suggestive phenomenon and rejected the reductionism and exclusivity of artistic models. Its most prominent advocates included István Nádler (1938-), who had earlier cultivated hard edge and colour field painting, and Ákos Birkás (1941-), who reached this position through hyperrealism and later conceptualist trends in art. Other important milestones were the KÉP 84 ‘New Subjectivism’ show mounted by the Fészek Gallery and an exhibition put on at the Ernst Museum, likewise in 1984, under the title ‘Freshly Painted – The New Wave in Hungarian Painting’, but the true highpoint was the EKLEKTIKA 85 exhibition at the National Gallery, which brought together works from a total of 33 artists and embracing essentially every contemporary art trend in the country.

One of the major creative figures to emerge during the 1980s was El Kazovszkij (1948-), who attempted to present the underlying conflicts of human life through the cultural historical allusions embedded in his paintings, installations and performances. János Szirtes (1954-) was another prominent performance artist. Through the work of István ef. Zámbó (1950-), László fe Lugossy (1947-) and András Wahorn (1953-), the Lajos Vajda Studio at Szentendre continued to build on an excellent reputation that it had begun to establish in the 1970s, with fe Lugossy becoming particularly well known for his installations. Gábor Bachmann (1952-) and László Rajk (1949-), who had both given up careers as architects, used symbols of the Central and East European past as their starting points in a search for new ways of confronting history through distinctive, ironic, ‘anti-design’ installations which emphasised symbolic function rather than utility. Imre Bak (1939-) and Tamás Hencze (1938-) gained increasing recognition for their post-geometric art, though arguably it was Károly Klimó (1936-) who became the most definitive painter of the decade after abandoning the semi-figurative style that he cultivated until the late 1970s in favour of a completely non-figurative approach. Attila Mata (1953-), Ildikó Várnagy (1944-), György Chesslay (1957-) and, towards the end of the ‘80s, György Kungl (1955-) and Tamás Gaál (1962-) emerged as the best-known of the new-wave sculptors who drew on the diverse expressive forms of this type of postmodern inspiration. As the decade progressed, however, the new expressionist trends that had dominated the early 1980s in turn gave way to an ironic post-geometrism, meditative painting and installation art, and by the final years of the socialist era the transavant-garde of new painting represented by the work of János Szirtes, Miklós Erdély and Imre Bak had won broad acceptance.


Education and science

Changes in Hungary’s educational system and levels of education

After 1947 the Communists exerted ever-intensifying pressure to implement policies aimed at sweeping away Hungary’s existing multiple-sector educational system and introducing a uniform state system. The starting-point for decisive change was the bill to nationalise schools, passed by parliament on 16th June 1948 (Law XXXIII/1948), under which all privately owned schools, except a handful run by the Churches, were abolished. By the autumn of that year some six-and-a-half thousand educational institutions – roughly 85 per cent of them primary schools, the rest secondary schools and teachers’ training colleges – passed into the state sector, as did all nursery schools. The previous concept of four grades of primary and usually eight grades of secondary schooling was now replaced by eight grades of elementary general (általános iskola) and four of middle schooling, with a wider choice of technical, agricultural and commercial schools being added to the existing classics-oriented gimnázium from 1950. The 7-grade marking system that was brought in from 1948 for assessing schoolwork and examination results was replaced by a 5-grade scheme in 1950.

Schools were now charged with educating the younger generations in an exclusively materialist-atheistic outlook and in line with the needs of the new political régime, with Marxist principles of pedagogy displacing all other approaches. From the opening of the new school year in autumn 1949 Russian language teaching became compulsory for most teenage children, largely at the expense of cutbacks in other foreign languages. Religious instruction at school was still nominally an option but in reality it became virtually impossible to carry on. The former autonomy of school boards in the public education sector became defunct as the old school district system was abolished in 1950 and local direction and supervision of schools passed to the education departments of local councils. All teachers were obliged to undergo compulsory ideological instruction. In 1948, to relieve an immediate shortage of reliable ‘cadres’ qualified to fill the more responsible posts in central and local government, the régime also introduced adult education courses which allowed chosen candidates to gain a ‘specialist matriculation’ (szakérettségi) qualification with just one or two years of study and then go on to higher education.

After the Catholic prelacy in Hungary had been forced to recognise the Communist régime’s authority in late August 1950, the only school institutions that the Roman Catholic Church retained control of were two grammar schools each run by the Benedictine, Piarist, Franciscan and Poor Clare orders. Similar agreements that had been reached at the start of that year with leaders of the other faiths restricted the Reformed Church to four grammar schools and the Evangelical (Lutheran) and Jewish communities to one grammar school each, though even that one remaining Evangelical gimnázium was closed down in 1952 and Calvinists were left with just a single secondary school.

The previously diversified system of textbook publishing was eliminated in the name of uniformity by setting up a monolithic Educational Publishing Company (Tankönyvkiadó Vállalat) in 1949. By the following year the authorities were carrying out a wholesale screening of the stocks of books being held by the general book trade as well as in public and school libraries. Authors whose books – whether their entire oeuvre or just selected works – were condemned either to be pulped or withdrawn from circulation, on the grounds that the ‘nationalistic’, ‘sentimental’, ‘religious’ or ‘petty bourgeois’ views that they disseminated should not be allowed to ‘infect’ readers in general, and young minds in particular, included Hungarians such as Endre Ady, Elek Benedek (1859-1929), Géza Gárdonyi, Sándor Márai, Mór Jókai, Gyula Krúdy, Kálmán Mikszáth, Ferenc Móra and Áron Tamási and foreigners such as Cervantes, Dante, Dickens, Dumas, the Grimm brothers, Kipling, Karl May, Sinkiewicz and Stefan Zweig. In parallel with these changes, a host of children’s and youth organisations had been wound up and replaced by a single Hungarian Pioneers’ Association (Magyar Úttörők Szövetsége) for primary school-age children, officially founded in June 1946, later supplemented by a Workers’ Youth Alliance (Dolgozók Ifjúsági Szövetsége, or DISZ), formed in June 1950, for older children.

Restructuring of higher education to match the new political realities was largely accomplished through a university reform of 1948-49: ‘The aim of the reform is to place the colleges in the service of the people and bring the functioning of the universities into harmony with the needs of the people’s democracy’. Another major goal was to boost the numbers of young people of working-class and peasant background studying at university. Teaching staff at the universities were placed under continuous surveillance, as a result of which many academics – including more than a few whose names were well known outside the country, such as political scientist István Bibó, historians Sándor Domanovszky, István Hajnal and Elemér Mályusz,* economists Farkas Heller (1877-1955) and Ákos Navratil (1875-1950), geographers Simon Papp (1886-1970) and Gyula Prinz (1882-1973), lost their chair or lectureship, their scientific titles and membership of the Academy of Sciences. Faculties were reorganised and new institutions established. A Russian Institute set up in 1947 within the University of Budapest was expanded in 1952 into a Lenin Institute, with six departments teaching in both Hungarian and Russian to train Russian teachers, translators and interpreters. The economics faculty of Budapest Technical University was taken as the nucleus for a separate University of Economic Sciences, which in 1953 was named for Karl Marx. In 1950-51 a new technical university specialising in the metal and machine engineering industries was founded at Miskolc and another for the chemical industry at Veszprém. At Budapest, Pécs and Debrecen the arts and sciences faculties were detached from one another, their theological faculties were set up as independent Roman Catholic, Reformed Church and Lutheran institutes but denominational law schools were closed. The University of Budapest, previously named for Péter Pázmány, was renamed for Loránd Eötvös and in the autumn of 1950 acquired the Hungary’s first department of Marxism-Leninism. In early 1951 the existing medical faculties were taken out of the wider university structure to be established as independent Universities of Medical Science. In 1952 a College of Forestry Engineering was founded at Sopron. With these reorganisations, universities in the traditional sense ceased to exist, the new structures often leading to such narrow specialisation that their old role of shaping the mind as a whole was quite overshadowed, at least for a while.

Universities also lost their right to bestow academic titles as the system of academic assessment and indeed the degrees themselves were remodelled on the Soviet pattern, with degrees of ‘candidate’ and ‘doctor of science’ being introduced and that function transferred to a Council for National Postgraduate Academic Awards (Országos Tudományos Képesítő Tanács) set up under the aegis of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. A further index of the sovietisation of higher education is that of 175 new university textbooks that were published between 1950 and 1952, 86 were straight Hungarian translations of works that were used in the USSR.

To mark the Hungarian dictator’s sixtieth birthday in 1952, the country’s highest formal authority, the Presidium, established Mátyás Rákosi Medals for Educational Merit and Scholarships for outstanding college and university students, which were continued after 1956 as People’s Republic Scholarships.

Ideological supervision of schools was held in temporary abeyance in the immediate aftermath of the 1956 revolution; for a while, another foreign language could be chosen in place of compulsory Russian and children were even allowed to elect for religious instruction, though these concessions were quickly withdrawn, in the first half of 1957, once the Kádár régime had consolidated its hold on power. In the ensuing reprisals large numbers of general- and secondary-school teachers and university lecturers had to accept disciplinary action and, in some cases, shorter or longer terms of imprisonment. The bounds of licence that were to be permitted in the subsequent period were laid down by a set of Educational Policy Guidelines approved in 1958 by the Politburo of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt, or MSzMP), which stated that the primary task of education and culture was to contribute to "a strengthening of socialist idealism and the dissemination of Marxist-Leninist ideals through raising the educational standards of the workers". Ideological commitment still counted highly in the system of marking academic attainments: university degrees would only be awarded to those who had displayed sufficient familiarity with Marxist-Leninist theory and taken an active part in "the construction of socialist society". Nevertheless certain practical adjustments were made to the qualification system insofar as the old university doctoral (Ph.D.) title was restored in 1958 and a revamped Board for Postgraduate Academic Awards (Tudományos Minősítő Bizottság) began to operate in 1959.

Reorganisation of Hungary’s education system was associated with a rapid rise in numerical indices of participation during the 1950s. By school year 1953/54 there were 121,000 children in secondary schools – more than twice the pre-war total. Vocational schools made rapid strides; between 1951 and 1990 around 1.8 million people obtained certification for satisfactory completion of training at institutions of this kind. The numbers of people entering further education more than doubled between 1949 and 1951 but then by 1955 fell back essentially to the 1949 level. The total numbers of full-time student enrolled at institutions of higher education were 31,852 in academic year 1950/51, 33,617 in 1954/55, 29,334 in 1960-61, 53,821 in 1970/71, 64,057 in 1980/81, and 76,601 in 1990/91. Over the entire period from 1950 to 1990 some 400,000 people graduated from full-time courses at a steadily growing number of institutions of higher education whilst more than 300,000 did so through evening or distance learning courses. Whereas just 5.5 per cent of the population had a school matriculation (érettségi) certificate or its equivalent in 1949, the ratio had gone up to 16.5 per cent by 1960 and 23.6 per cent by 1990. Despite a roughly equivalent rate of growth of higher education, Hungary still counted as one of the European laggards, even in the late 1980s, in terms of the number of college and university students enrolled per 100,000 inhabitants.

In autumn 1957, Marxist-Leninist evening university courses were inaugurated in the capital and other county seats to provide further training for MSzMP members and secure a steady supply of new cadres. The party’s central school was elevated to university rank in 1968, being known thereafter as the Political College.

As one chink in the hitherto rigid policy of closedness to the West, the Accademia d’Ungheria in Rome, which had ceased to operate in 1948, was re-opened in 1959 to provide support to Hungarian scholars and students pursuing postgraduate studies or research work in Italy, duly followed, in 1963, by the Collegium Hungaricum in Vienna, which had also been closed since 1948.

A new education bill in 1961 heralded a further round of restructuring. The main objective of the reform was to tie the learning process firmly to the acquisition of knowledge that was of practical importance. A high proportion of the former secondary modern schools were upgraded to higher polytechnic schools; the gimnáziums were obliged to provide pupils with some form of vocational training, and pupils had to spend one day of their six-day weekly timetable engaged in some practical work. At the further education level new higher vocational schools were established to train those entering careers in commerce, catering, foreign trade, finance and accounting. One of the indications of continuity amidst the flood of changes, though, was the statement in the introduction to the document that accompanied the new 1965 gimnázium curriculum: "The overarching element of all gimnázium subjects of instruction is the project of building the foundations of the Marxist world view. Curricula for individual subject areas... may add their own bricks to the school’s work of forming the Communist person" (Mészáros, 1996).

The blueprint for the development of higher education in the early years of the Kádár régime was a document Guidelines for the Further Development of Our Educational System, put out in the autumn of 1960, which indicated that changes in structure and content were desirable to enable "training of Communist specialists to a higher standard, in close association with practical life". A harbinger of the willingness to enter a new era of compromise with the general populace was a 1962 MSzMP resolution announcing its intention to gradually scrap the effective ‘politicus clausus’ that had been operated, under which college and university applicants from working-class and peasant families were given preference in the selection examinations. In the latter half of the ‘60s, about half of the 48 higher polytechnic schools that had been created just a few years before were phased out by the early ‘70s, whilst 13 were turned into regular colleges in their own right, another 12 absorbed as faculties into other colleges and two functioned as extension schools of such colleges.

During the 1970s there few notable changes in the secondary education system, though gimnáziums were increasingly geared towards preparing their students for continued learning in the higher education sector. By the end of the decade syllabuses and the contents of textbooks had been substantially overhauled to bring them more up to date, in line with this aim. As far as the institutional structures of higher education itself were concerned, these were mostly left as they were, such changes as occurred being confined largely to teaching in agricultural and technological disciplines. The Pécs extension faculty of Budapest’s Karl Marx University of Economic Sciences became a faculty within the University of Pécs; a new College for Public Administration was established in Budapest to strengthen the legal and administrative skills of those training for careers in this area; and teachers’ training institutes at Debrecen, Kaposvár and Szombathely were upgraded into fully fledged teachers’ training colleges. Thus by 1978 students going into or continuing higher education had a choice of 57 separate institutions in which to do so. The early 1970s were notable for the opening up of possibilities for Hungarian university teaching staff, research workers and students to seek scholarships for study tours abroad, which initially meant principally the countries of East Europe but, as time progressed, increasingly western Europe as well. The other side of the coin was a ministerial decree of 1977 which required that ‘History of Organised Labour in Hungary’ be included as a compulsory supplement to the ideological subjects taught in institutions of higher education (from 1986 this was replaced by a course module entitled ‘Hungarian History 1918-1975’).

The 1980s brought even fewer alterations to the structure of the educational system, but a new Education Bill in 1985 reflected the changing political climate by giving all institutions greater discretion over the detailed content of how specific subjects were taught within an overall framework laid down in centrally determined syllabus guidelines. As a sign of new times, 14 of the country’s gimnáziums started bilingual teaching in September 1987. Appointments to all headships or directorships of educational institutions were subject to competitive selection, which included approval of the teaching staff at the institution. All education continued to be provided free of charge ‘in principle’, and school attendance remained compulsory for all children up to the age of 16 years.

By the mid-1980s, Hungary’s steadily worsening economic plight began to impact ever more deeply on the funding of higher education; institutions encountered growing difficulties in obtaining money to pay the running costs of staff and upkeep let alone obtain the materials needed to pursue research and development. On top of the financial problems, however, their room for manoeuvre was constrained by the provisions of the 1985 Education Bill, which, in the name of alleged simplification of the system, had granted university status to colleges that were offering university-type training and college status to other institutions of further education. In reality the law was merely giving its blessing to an evolutionary process that was already well under way. The teachers’ training college at Pécs, for instance, had been annexed to the University of Pécs in the early 1980s and later transmuted into its faculty for arts, whilst a new faculty of law was set up at Miskolc. By now the web of higher education in Hungary had become highly diversified – in some opinions, excessively so, with almost four out of every five towns in the country boasting such an institution, whether fully independent or part of an institution located elsewhere.

The change in régime initiated another period of major changes in the educational system. The groundwork for a National Curriculum (Nemzeti Alaptanterv) was already laid during 1989-90, whilst the state monopoly on establishing and maintaining schools was ended in 1990, freedom of choice was restored over what foreign languages could be taught, and obligatory instruction in Marxist ideology was abolished. As the Churches and private funding gradually resumed some of the role they had played in the pre-socialist era, greater diversity of choice became available through the coexistence of a growing variety of schools. As schools slowly won back a measure of independence from state management some began offering alternatives to the conventional model of eight years of elementary general plus four years of secondary school in the form of 4+8 year or 6+6 year schemes. In the higher education sector the various departments that had previously been vouchsafed the task of dispensing ideological enlightenment managed to retain most of their staffs as they metamorphosed into institutes of sociology. The former Roman Catholic, Reformed Church, Lutheran and Jewish academies in Budapest were all upgraded to university status in the spring of 1990.

As was indicated earlier, the decades that followed World War II in Hungary were primarily a time of quantitative growth in higher education. This had the positive feature of opening up opportunities for many students who would previously have been excluded from continuing studies at this level. By the late ‘80s the number of full-time students enrolled at universities and colleges was more than five times that in 1938 and the total teaching staff employed at such institutions had expanded nine-fold over the same period, whilst the proportion of the population holding a graduate qualification grew six-fold between 1949 and 1985. Within these figures there was a big swing in the balance of disciplines, with law faculties being steadily wound down and losing the dominant status they had enjoyed before the war, whilst teaching of technological and agricultural subjects and teacher training expanded rapidly. Throughout the period, however, it was policy to relegate qualitative considerations to a minor role; thus standards slipped continually as the result of a long-term self-feeding process of ‘levelling-down’, which was only exacerbated by the veritable explosion in the popularity of obtaining graduate diplomas through distance-learning and evening courses.

Through the dent it made on remaining pockets of illiteracy and the boost it gave to the section of the population who could claim vocational and higher qualifications, education nevertheless had a big hand in diminishing the massive inequalities that still existed in Hungary at the end of the war. Whereas in 1949 four-fifths of the adult population of 15 years and older had completed less than the full eight grades of general elementary schooling, by 1994 the inverse was true: four-fifths of the adult population of 15 years and older had completed at least the eight grades of elementary schooling. Indeed, by the 1970s the proportion of Hungarian children successfully completing the general elementary school course by the age of 16 years, when they were no longer liable to attend school, regularly hit 90 per cent or more (it was 92.8 per cent in 1980). One of the nagging trends to emerge during the 1980s, however, was the persistence of a core of around 3-4 per cent of 20- to 29-year-olds in the population – around 30,000-40,000 in total – who were still lacking the full eight elementary-school grades. This is all the more worrying in view of the perceptible widening of the inequalities in society that has occurred in the years following the change in régime.


Academic institutions and achievements

The Communist take-over of power between 1947 and 1949 was accompanied by a complete loss of autonomy for scientific research institutions. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, or MTA) was turned from an independent public body into a state-financed organisation and its various departments and institutions were restructured, with some research areas and institutes being closed down altogether (e.g. the Teleki Institute and agronomy). The overall outcome of the changes that were imposed was that universities lost most of their former role in pursuing scientific research and during the early part of the 1950s this was mostly picked up by a growing network of research institutes established and administered by the MTA, which itself was remodelled along the lines of Soviet-style scientific academies.

The first steps in that process were the imposition of a number of Marxist scholars, including philosophers György Lukács and Béla Fogarasi (1891-1959) and historian Erik Molnár (1894-1966), as academician members of the MTA, a cut-back in contacts with Western institutions and a closer alignment to the USSR. According to a programme declaration adopted by the First Congress of the MDP "scientific research and artistic creation have to be liberated from dependence on capital and placed in the service of the people". The direction of the impending changes was foreshadowed by the establishment of a Hungarian Scientific Council in 1948, which with its declared function of ‘the systematic direction of scientific life’ and its acquisition of the Academy’s former right to coordinate and organise science in the country implicitly signalled the end of the MTA’s independent existence. In the autumn of 1949 the Academy was manoeuvred into formally adopting a new Soviet-style constitution which was to remain in force right up until 1990. One immediate effect of this was a halving the number of full academicians, from 257 to 128, which was achieved essentially by ousting all ideologically suspect academicians – amongst others, its vice-president, biochemist Albert Szent-Györgyi,* and his short-lived successor, physicist Zoltán Bay (1900-1992), András Alföldi (1895-1981), statistician Dezső Laky (1987-1962), Sándor Márai, Gyula Moór, Simon Papp and Tivadar Thienemann. The result – as in the wave of emigration that was to follow the 1956 revolution – was a massive ‘brain drain’ to the West, headed by such figures as Szent-Györgyi and Bay. Professor Iván Rusznyák (1889-1974), an internal physician with a respectable record of research into the pathophysiology of various diseases, was appointed president of the revamped organisation, a post which he was to hold until the late 1960s. During the early ‘50s the Academy itself was turned from a learned deliberative body into the nation’s highest scientific authority, with a centralised bureaucratic apparatus to match, which directed all research work in terms of its perceived ‘usefulness’. Some idea of what this ideologically loaded approach could entail is imparted by the papers read at a session held in 1950 on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the Academy’s foundation as these included exegeses on the place of dialectical materialism in science, Stalin’s contributions to linguistics, and issues raised by Michurinian biology.†

The system of academic qualification also underwent major changes. Not only were the old titles of university doctorate (egyetemi doktor), extramural lecturer (egyetemi magántanár, equivalent to the German Privatdozent), associate professor (egyetemi címzetes nyilvános rendkívüli tanár), full professor (egyetemi címzetes nyilvános rendes tanár) scrapped but the universities lost both the right to bestow the titles that replaced them and to supervise the training of new academics. Selected graduates now undertook three-years of work on a dissertation as ‘aspirants’, under the Academy’s supervision, to obtain the new degree of ‘candidate of science’ (tudományok kandidátusa) and could then go on, again as aspirants, to defend a further dissertation to earn the title of doctor of science (tudományok doktora). Tight control was exercised over entrance into these categories as only about one-third of those with an older qualification who applied for requalification were granted the new title: of 2,447 such applicants in total, 757 gained a candidate degree and 148 a doctorate.

From 1950 onwards, a series of research institutes with tightly defined disciplinary boundaries were set up under the authority of a compliant MTA by now purged of its ‘dissident’ academicians – amongst others a Central Physics Research Institute, Agrobiological Institute, Institute for Public Administration and Jurisprudence, Institute for Historiography, Agricultural Research Institute, Geographical Research Institute and, from 1954, the Debrecen-based Institute for Nuclear Research. Five previously independent research institutes had been brought under the MTA’s control by 1950; by 1957 there were 33 of them, with the coverage of social sciences in particular being gradually expanded from the mid-1950s with the addition of institutes for economics, literary science and philosophy. In addition to the establishments linked directly to the Academy, another 81 research units, many of them university based, were operating under the direction of various ministries in 1957. The total of 114 research institutes then employed close to 10,000 people, of whom 3,665 were working in a research capacity, and they had a combined annual budget of around Ft.500 million. At this point a Council for Science and Higher Education (Tudományos és Felsőoktatási Tanács) was set up to coordinate activities in the two spheres. In the late 1950s some of the university research units were transferred to the MTA’s authority.

By then the cloud of ideological unsoundness that had surrounded the disciplines of psychology and sociology was being lifted and they were allowed to build up an institutional base of their own, with the MTA setting up bodies to coordinate research in these areas – a Psychology Committee in 1958 and a Sociology Committee in 1961 – and establishing its own Sociological Research Group in 1963. A separate MTA Department for Biological Sciences was created in 1962 to promote biological research more effectively and the same decade also saw the establishment of an Institute for Musicology, an Ethnographical Research Group, an Archaeological Research Institute, and a History of Art Research Group. By the latter half of the 1960s conditions had also changed sufficiently for several academics who had been punished in the post-1956 campaign of reprisals – most prominently historian Domokos Kosáry (1913-) and psychologist Ferenc Mérei (1909-1986) – to return to their original careers. Whilst the Council for Science and Higher Education continued to have the final say in decision-making over the direction of science in the country for roughly a decade after its creation, a National Council for Technological Development (Országos Műszaki Fejlesztési Bizottmány), formed in 1961, became an influential player in guiding, organising and developing work in the disciplines that fell under its remit. The Academy, despite its nominal position as the highest authority on scientific matters in the country, continued to be subordinate to the decisions of these bodies during the 1970s and ‘80s. Within the room for manoeuvre offered by a set of Scientific Policy Guidelines adopted by the MSzMP in 1969, the network of 43 institutions operated by the MTA was continually overhauled and expanded until it covered essentially all disciplines whilst the research institutes and units were increasingly decentralised.

New units continued to proliferate over the years: there was a total of 1,071 research units and institutes in Hungary in 1970, 1,442 by 1980, and 1,256 by 1990, employing a total of 64,419 people in 1970, 85,356 in 1980 and 59,723 in 1990 of whom 23,721 were in research worker grades in 1970, 38,705 in 1980 and 30,256 in 1990. The total funding channelled into research in Hungary amounted to 2.79 per cent of GDP in 1970, 3.75 per cent in 1980, and 1.61 per cent in 1990. A candidate or doctoral degree had been awarded to 2,266 of all those who were directly employed in research and development by 1961, to 4,329 of them by 1970, to 7,066 of them by 1980, and to 9,885 of them by 1990. The number of full academicians admitted to the MTA also gradually rose to 157 by 1961, 184 by 1970, 204 by 1980, and 280 by 1990.

As time progressed during the 1970s and into the ‘80s the policy of direct, central direction of science steadily lost force and efficacy. The ideological offensive that was launched by hard-liners in conjunction with the attack on Kádár’s economic reforms during 1972 succeeded in getting a number of individuals sacked from their posts, including most of the Budapest School of the philosophers referred to earlier (see p.437) as well as sociologists Iván Szelényi, István Kemény (1925-) and some of the latter’s ‘critical sociology’ group, inducing many of them to leave the country before the end of the decade. Yet this rearguard action had the unintended effect of catalysing at least part of the academic community – above all those engaged on research in the social sciences – to develop more critical stances to the régime. The Academy gained increasing respect and influence during the 1980s as it started to base its priorities on assessments of true worth, with informal soundings generally taking precedence over formal appraisals. As a result political influences on science and, indeed, on culture generally assumed an indirect form to the extent that by 1984 it had become possible even for the concept of private funding to be admitted into these areas, in the shape of a joint MTA-Soros Foundation and a Gábor Bethlen Foundation, with the Soros Foundation in particular playing an increasingly vital role into the 1990s.

Not surprisingly, it was the academic achievements of the socialist era, corporate or individual, that were the most ideologically driven and least founded on genuine scholarship which most rapidly lost their value. However, amongst the more significant projects that belong largely to this era may be mentioned the seven volumes of the Definitive Dictionary of the Hungarian Language (A Magyar Nyelv Értelmező Szótára, 1959-62), under the chief editorship of Géza Bárczi (1894-1975) and László Országh (1907-1984); an Atlas of Hungarian Dialects (A Magyar Nyelvjárások Atlasza); the nine volumes to date of Corpus Musicae Popularis Hungaricae (A Magyar Népzene Tára, 1951-), which builds on the systematising work that Bartók commenced in 1934, as updated by Pál Járdányi (1920-1966); seven main and two supplementary volumes of History of Art in Hungary (A magyarországi művészet története; 1961-1985), under chief editor Lajos Fülep and latterly Nóra Aradi (1924-); the generally discredited six-volume History of Hungarian Literature (A Magyar Irodalom Története; 1964-65) under chief editor István Sőtér (1913-1988); the bulk of the History of Hungary in Ten Volumes (Magyarország története tíz kötetben; 1976-); Documents from the Era of King Sigismund (Zsigmond-kori Oklevéltár); a Hungarian Ethnographical Atlas (Magyar Néprajzi Atlasz, 1973-); the five-volume Hungarian Ethnographical Encyclopaedia (Magyar Néprajzi Lexikon; 1977-1982), under chief editor Gyula Ortutay; part of the planned eight volumes of Hungarian Ethnography (Magyar Néprajz), under the overall editorship of Attila Paládi-Kovács (1940-); a Topography of Hungarian Archaeology (Magyar Régészeti Topográfia); a three-volume History of Transylvania (Erdély története; 1986), under the nominal chief editor Béla Köpeczi (1921-); and the nineteen-volume Encyclopaedia of World Literature (Világirodalmi Lexikon, 1970-1996).

Turning to individuals, amongst those whose work was seen to be of the first rank, both domestically and, as Hungary opened up again to the outside world, also internationally, were researchers in various fields of mathematics such as Pál Erdős (1913-1996), György Hajós (1912-1972), László Kalmár (1905-1976), Alfréd Rényi (1921-1970), Tibor Szele (1918-1955), Pál Turán (1910-1976); physicists Imre Fényes (1917-1977), Pál Gombás (1909-1971), Zoltán Gyulai (1887-1968), Géza Györgyi, Tibor Neugebauer and Sándor Szalay (1909-1987); the geophysicist László Egyed (1914-1970) and geographers Simon Papp, Ferenc Pávai Vaja and Gyula Prinz; chemist László Erdei; mechanical engineers László Forgó (1907-1985) and László Heller (1907-1980), jointly famous for their design of a condensed-air coolant unit, and metallurgist László Gillemot (1912-1977), noted for his work on the production of titanium. Meanwhile a considerable number of emigrant Hungarians consolidated the high reputations that they had already built up before the war, including mathematician János (John) Neumann;* theoretical physicists Leo Szilárd (1898-1964), Ede (Edward) Teller and Jenő (Eugene) Wigner, all three of whom were closely involved in design of the first atomic weapons; physicists Zoltán Bay, Dénes (Dennis) Gábor (1900-1979) of holography fame; biophysicist György von Békésy; physiologist János (Hans) Selye (1907-1982), a pioneer of work on the mechanism of stress; Imre Izsák G. (1929-1965), Imre Lakatos (1922-1974). Of this group, Nobel Prizes were awarded to Békésy (1961) for his contributions to medicine, to Wigner and Gábor for physics (1963 and 1971), to János Polányi (1929-) and György Oláh (1927-) for chemistry (1986 and 1994), and to János Harsányi (1920-2000) for economics (1994).

During the period running up to the change of régime there was widespread discussion about the proper role for the MTA looking to the future. Indeed one of the early signs of the impending political change was the decision reached by the Academy’s presidential board, in May 1989, to nullify the 1949 resolution that had led to so many scholars being debarred from that body, then a year later it began the process of completely rehabilitating the many figures in cultural and scientific life who had suffered injustice at various times under the former régime, including István Borzsák (1914-), Béni Ferenczy, György Jendrassik, István Kemény, Domokos Kosáry, Iván Szelényi and Albert Szent-Györgyi. Under Kosáry’s presidency the Academy went on to regain its autonomy and thus start the 1990s as an independent public body once more.


Religion, ecclesiastical politics and belief

According to the 1949 general census data, 67.8 per cent of the Hungarian population then regarded themselves as Roman Catholic, 21.9 per cent as Reformed Church (Calvinist), 5.2 per cent as Evangelical Church (Lutheran), 2.7 per cent as Greek Catholic (Uniate), 1.5 per cent as Jewish, and the remaining 0.9 per cent as Greek Orthodox, Unitarian or Baptist. At the mid-century society still clung rather closely to its religious beliefs whilst the Churches still disposed of widespread prestige and fulfilled a correspondingly important role in diverse areas of social life, from education and health care to charitable and cultural work.

From the outset, the Communist Party, manipulating its position within the coalition governments of the immediate post-war years as it worked towards a monopoly hold on power, fervently rejected the country’s prevailing social and cultural traditions in its quest to create the ‘new man’, turning with particular ferocity on the Churches and religion. By 1948 it was in a position to begin its drastic curtailment of freedom of religion and conscience and start cracking down on religious movements, bodies and organisations. All the churches and religious communities in Hungary were placed under sustained political ideological pressure and police supervision, with the régime using intimidation of dissenting clergymen by arrest and imprisonment as a prime tool to achieving its ends.

The announcement that schools were to be taken over by the state, and the ‘Pócspetri Case’* that blew up in its immediate wake in June 1948, came as the Communists had just launched a concentrated anticlerical campaign. Already in May 1948 Bishop László Ravasz† had been pressured into resigning from his position as moderator of the Reformed Church’s General Assembly, whilst several leaders of the Evangelical Church, including Lajos Ordass (1901-1978) had been arrested and subsequently tried on trumped-up charges of currency speculation. Supporters of the régime engineered themselves into a majority of the influential posts within both Protestant churches, including János Péter (1910-), who was later to become foreign minister (1961-1973), and Ferenc Erdei (1910-1971), sociologist, economist and National Peasant Party leader, within the Calvinist presbyters and writer József Darvas within the Lutheran congregation. In the autumn of 1948 both Churches entered an agreement with the Communist-led government under which they acknowledged the prevailing conditions and specifically accepted the constraints on religious freedom and a partial dismantling of ecclesiastical institutions.

The Roman Catholic Church was left soldiering on alone, and fruitlessly at that, to defend its diminishing rights. As the pressure was piled up, through the arrest of Cardinal József Mindszenty, primate of the Hungarian Church, in December 1948 and his sentencing to prison for subversion at his trial in February 1949, which was followed by internment or forced resettlement for some 10,000 nuns and 3,000 monks in the early summer of 1950, the Catholic prelates too signed a declaration at the end of August that they recognised the political system of the Hungarian People’s Republic and, in retrospect, its right to nationalise the country’s schools and take steps to limit religious practices and the Church’s room for manoeuvre. Anticlerical measures did not stop there, for in September 1950 the Presidium issued a ban on most monastic orders and, with most of the Catholic bishops still unwilling to take an oath of obedience to the constitution, in June 1951 the acting primate, Archbishop József Grősz of Kalocsa, and a string of other prelates were arrested on equally false charges and handed down long prison sentences whilst the rest were placed under close police supervision until their compliance was obtained the following month.

By then a State Office for Ecclesiastical Affairs had been set up to oversee state-Church relations, including the appointment and promotion of all clerics and to exercise the right of censorship over the ecclesiastical press and other publishing activities. Most denominations were permitted to put out a single weekly and a single monthly periodical. During 1951-52 the three major Churches were obliged to reorganise their diocesan boundaries, which for the Roman Catholics primarily entailed bringing them back into line what were essentially the country’s post-Trianon frontiers, as reimposed by the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty, but for the Protestant churches required a major revision of districts.

Jewish organisations after the war did what they could to piece together their deeply traumatised communities, now reduced to 263 congregations. Under growing political pressure, a national rabbinical assembly in 1950 set up a uniform authority, subsequently called the National Representation of Hungarian Israelites (Magyar Izraeliták Országos Képviselete, or MIOK), under which the country’s congregations were grouped in six districts. The various non-established Protestant free churches, on the other hand, were placed under the controlling authority of a Council of Hungarian Free Churches (Magyarországi Szabadegyházak Tanácsa) in 1948.

The majority of the clerics who had been co-defendants in the Mindszenty and Grősz trials were released in the spring of 1956, as was Mindszenty himself during the brief period of the October revolution, though after the toppling of the revolutionary government he took refuge in the US embassy, on which premises he was to remain for close to a decade and a half. Active involvement in the events of the revolution itself was largely confined to priests and clergy in the smaller towns and villages. Though a number of the leaders of the Reformed and Evangelical Churches who had closely collaborated with the Rákosi régime, including the Calvinist presbyterian bishops Albert Bereczky (1893-1966) and János Péter, and Lutheran bishop Lajos Vető, were obliged by their synods to relinquish their posts in early 1957, the Kádár government rapidly returned to the practices of the early 1950s in ensuring that all top posts in the ecclesiastical hierarchies were filled by compliant people who were willing to back its policies.

The anticlerical ethos of the whole era had a dual effect, for on the one hand, during the 1950s, it helped to reinforce a sense of solidarity amongst the faithful but, on the other, it encouraged the steady turning away from religion and secularisation that marked the ‘60s and ‘70s, especially among the urban inhabitants of the country.

Many priests and their parishioners were deeply troubled about a fresh accord that was reached between the Catholic episcopacy and the Hungarian state in early 1959 under which the Church obtained certain concessions, including increased state subventions and permission for the Vatican to appoint new bishops to Hungarian dioceses for the first time since 1951, in return for its giving renewed guarantees to uphold the constitution. Though this ‘grassroots’ opposition to such compromise led to a fresh wave of police repressions, including the arrests of several hundred priests after evidence of an anti-state conspiracy by a group of priests was uncovered in early 1961, the Catholic prelacy, now with the support of the Holy See, was bent on shoring up its rapidly eroding prestige and shrinking congregations by continuing to pursue a non-confrontational line with the government. The signing of a limited document of understanding between the Vatican and the Hungarian government in September 1964 led to the restoration of formal diplomatic links. The continued presence of the unbending Cardinal Mindszenty in the US embassy in Budapest, however, remained a barrier to full normalisation of relations and, indeed, the proper functioning of the Church within Hungary until the three states involved worked out a deal which enabled Mindszenty to be bundled out of the country – against his own wishes – in September 1971. Though the cardinal refused initially to relinquish his archdiocesan seat, he was eventually ordered into retirement in late 1973, freeing the Pope to appoint László Lékai (1910-1986) at first to the position of apostolic governor then, after Mindszenty’s death in 1975, to the archbishopric of Esztergom in February 1976, thereby restoring a full hierarchy to the Catholic church in Hungary.

It is indicative of the sweeping changes in attitudes to religion that a 1978 survey showed that only 36.6 per cent of the adult population of the country regarded themselves as religious. From the late 1960s onwards most of the Churches also were permanently struggling to fill vacancies due to the restrictions that were operated against training of new clergymen. There was little alteration to this picture going into the 1980s even though the authorities had by then generally given up on displays of open force or pressure tactics, being able to relinquish the task of supervision largely to the State Office for Ecclesiastical Affairs and secret police working with the normally compliant upper tier of Church leaders. This was nevertheless a time of slowly growing revivalism amongst small ‘grassroots’ religious communities, despite the fact that these were not looked on with much favour, at best just tolerated, even by the Church hierarchies themselves. By 1990 51.1 per cent of adult Hungarians professed to being religious.

With the change in régime at the end of the 1980s the churches once again had their autonomy restored. The Office for Ecclesiastical Affairs was abolished in 1989. The accords that the churches had been pressured into signing in 1948 and 1951 were declared invalid and the churches were allowed to submit claims for restitution of, or compensation for, properties that had been illegally confiscated during the socialist era. Monastic orders could be re-established and the time devoted to broadcasting of religious programmes by the mass media increased significantly. In early 1990 parliament passed a law that recognised every individual’s right to choice of religion and objection on conscientious grounds, whilst the restructuring of the school system allowed many once-renowned educational establishments to operate again and the foundation of Reformed Church and Catholic universities outside the state-supported sector. A papal visit by John Paul II in 1991 served, amongst other things, as a symbolic gesture that Hungary’s churches and religions had fully regained their customary place in society according to the European norm, though the years that have passed since then have not overcome the internal problems they face in a secularising world.


Minorities in Hungary and Hungarian minorities abroad

The peace treaties which brought World War II formally to a close in essence followed the principles of national self-determination and the territorial dispensations enshrined in the Trianon Treaty after World War I. Thus in themselves they entailed no major adjustment in Hungary’s ethnic composition, though many of the country’s ethnic Germans were evicted and a substantial forced exchange of Hungarian and Slovak inhabitants between Czechoslovakia and Hungary also took place between 1946 and 1948.* According to the national census of 1949, 98.9 per cent of the country’s inhabitants claimed to be Hungarian – a figure which changed little over the next forty years, with 97.8 per cent of respondents in 1990 calling themselves Hungarian. The 1949 census returns showed that there were then 22,500 inhabitants who regarded themselves to be of German, 26,000 of Slovak, 15,000 of Romanian, 4,500 of Slovene, 20,000 of Croatian and 5,000 of Serb descent, whereas by 1990 the figures were 30,824 of German, 10,459 of Slovak, 10,740 of Romanian, 1,930 of Slovene, 13,570 of Croatian and 2,905 of Serb extraction to which one can add 143,000 Roma Gypsies, though the numbers claiming these as their native language are, in most cases, considerably higher than the numbers avowing them as their nationality.

Projecting the losses onto the present-day territory, an estimated 200,000-210,000 Hungarian Jews were exterminated in the cataclysm of World War II.† A census carried out in 1946 put the number of Jews living in the country at 143,500, whereas the 1949 census gives a total of 134,000 and the 1990 census a total of 150,000. Discussion of the ‘Jewish question’ was a taboo subject during most of the socialist era, with the authorities only tolerating cautious reference to it in the public arena from the early 1980s on. That conspiracy of silence was tacitly abetted by a majority of the families who had survived the Holocaust and were likewise not eager, for obvious personal reasons, to have tragic recollections raked up. The political ideology of the era, whilst not overtly anti-Semitic, was sufficiently hostile to make it distinctly unpleasant for Jews to assert their identity, whilst the régime’s stringently anti-religious policies naturally imposed big constraints on the activities of the country’s synagogues. As a result there is a substantial discrepancy between the number of people avowing the Judaic faith and the number who are actually of Jewish descent.

Hungary’s Roma Gypsy population, too, suffered very high losses in the concentration camps, with various estimates putting the total in the several tens of thousands. Nevertheless, over the decades since World War II their numbers grew to the extent that they now represent the largest ethnic minority within the country. A survey carried out in 1971 put their number at some 320,000, whilst a 1993 survey indicated the figure had risen to 434,000 in the meantime, with some 80 per cent of them declaring Hungarian as their native tongue. According to reports from local councils collected between 1984 and 1987, Roma Gypsy communities are present in 1,748 of Hungary’s 3,000-plus settlements. Though it may have diminished fractionally by the early 1990s, these communities still face widespread and entrenched prejudice and discrimination against them in society as a whole on account of their defiantly distinctive culture.

Since fundamental Marxist-Leninist principles laid down that any problem relating to ethnic minorities in the countries of East Europe must have been solved by the introduction of socialist systems in the late 1940s, that logically disposed of any need for policies relating to such minorities or representational bodies for them. In all these states, therefore, all minorities – including the Hungarian minorities living in the areas of formerly Hungarian territory that had been attached to neighbouring states under the Trianon treaty – came under strong and sustained pressure to assimilate to the majority society.

In Romania the imposition of a Stalinist-type dictatorship swept away almost entirely the policy of basic respect for minority community rights that had been developed there in the immediate wake of World War II. As a result, many of the Hungarian community’s politicians ended up in prison between 1947 and 1951, then in 1953 the Hungarian People’s Alliance in Romania (Romániai Magyar Népi Szövetség) was disbanded and most of the Hungarian community’s cultural and scientific bodies in Transylvania (e.g. the Transylvanian Museum Society, the Transylvanian Hungarian Public Transport Society, the Transylvanian Scientific Institute) were obliged to cease functioning. In 1952 an Autonomous Hungarian Region was created out of the territories in eastern Transylvania that had historically been occupied by the Hungarian-speaking Székely people, but that was not associated with recognition of any real autonomy for that population; on the contrary, it supplied a legal pretext for even more vigorous assimilatory pressures to be applied to the many Hungarians who happened not to live within the Region (and even that sham autonomy vanished when the Region itself was dismantled for administrative purposes in 1968). The centralising, assimilatory policies pursued by the Romanian régime resulted in an ever-shrinking number of schools in Transylvania where Hungarian-language teaching was allowed and a diminishing quota for ethnic Hungarian students seeking entrance to the university system.

As part of the tighter police control that occurred throughout East Europe in reaction to the Hungarian revolution, the Romanian régime significantly increased its pressure on the Hungarian community and, apart from a brief lull in the mid-’60s during the early period of Gheorghiu-Dej’s ‘Declaration of Independence’ from the Soviet Bloc, it was again intensified after Ceauşescu had fought his way to the position of undisputed leader in Romania in the early ‘70s to become virtually intolerable by the 1980s. This was the period of the so-called ‘homogenisation programme’, under which Romania was deemed to be a completely unitary national state, and the drastic ‘systematisation’ programme that began to be implemented in the mid-1980s. The latter was supposed to provide better living conditions for the peasantry by removing them from their villages and concentrating them in vast new tower-block estates, with the villages being demolished and the land turned over to agricultural use. In reality it was directed primarily, and with particular savagery, against the ethnic Hungarian and German communities of Transylvania, as a result of which tens of thousands of the region’s Hungarians chose flight to Hungary and western Europe in the latter half of the 1980s.

The venerable literary traditions of Transylvania’s Hungarian writers, which underwent one of their periodic revivals during the 1960s and ‘70s, may have offered no protection against political pressures but certainly offered spiritual solace. Not only the previously mentioned poet-playwright Géza Páskándi, but also a string of other poets such as Sándor Kányádi (1929-) and János Székely (1929-), and novelists such as András Sütő (1927-), Tibor Bálint (1932-) and István Szilágyi (1938-) began their literary careers during this period, along with a group of younger poets whose early volumes were published in a series entitled Forrás (Source) – amongst others, Domokos Szilágyi (1939-1976), Árpád Farkas (1944-), Béla Markó (1951-), Géza Szőcs (1953-), András Ferenc Kovács (1959-). The longest established literary platforms for the Romanian Hungarians have been the periodicals Utunk (Our Way), started at Cluj-Kolozsvár in 1946, Korunk (Our Age) also published there since 1957, and Igaz Szó (True Word), printed at Tîrgu Mureş-Marosvásárhely since 1953. A number of the Hungarian-language newspapers and magazines have ceased publication since 1989 whilst others have been put on a new organisational basis. Drama in the Hungarian language is still put on by theatres and companies at Cluj-Kolozsvár, Oradea-Nagyvárad, Tîrgu Mureş-Marosvásárhely, Timiµoara-Temesvár, Sfîntu Gheorghe-Sepsiszentgyörgy and Satu-Mare-Szatmárnémeti. Even under the often deteriorating conditions in which they were obliged to work, academics from the Hungarian community managed to produce noteworthy contributions to their disciplines, especially in the humanities, with Zsigmond Jakó (1917-), Samu Benkő (1928-) and Ákos Egyed (1929-) amongst those who gained reputations further afield.

Around the turn of the ‘70s to the early ‘80s, representatives of Hungarian intelligentsia in Romania made strenuous efforts to alert international public opinion to the abuses of human and minority rights that were taking place in Romania, using such means as the samizdat publications Ellenpontok (Counterpoints) and Kiáltó Szó (Outcry), the creation of a Transylvanian Hungarian News Agency, and submissions to the various monitoring committees set up under the Final Act of the 1975 Helsinki European Security Conference. No cultural or political representation was permitted within Romania itself, however, until after the Ceauşescu régime was toppled at Christmas in 1989. The Romanian Hungarian Democratic Alliance (Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség, or RMDSz), founded on 26th December 1989, has been a consistent voice for Hungarian interests in the country ever since. For all the heavy-handed and sometimes brutal pressure to assimilate that has been placed on it, there has been no widescale decline in the numbers of those living in Romania who regard themselves as belonging to the Hungarian-speaking minority, though unofficial estimates regularly put the figures higher than the official statistics. Thus successive national censuses recorded 1.55 million Hungarian speakers as living in Romania in 1948, 1.62 million in 1966, 1.69 million in 1977, and 1.59 million in 1990, whereas the estimated data indicate the population had actually passed 2.1 million by the mid-’80s.

After the turbulence of the post-war population exchange of 1945-48, life for the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia was only slowly restored to normalcy. Hungarians who had been deported from their residences to other parts of the country at that time were gradually permitted to return from 1949 onwards, whilst the government recognised in a 1952 resolution that the Hungarian community in Czechoslovakia was entitled to equality of rights and in 1954 went so far as to review the process of re-Slovakisation that was under way by then. Given the constraints of the Stalinist era, that community found it extremely laborious work to re-establish basic cultural and educational institutions. A Czechoslovak Hungarian Workers’ Cultural Club (Csehszlovákiai Magyar Dolgozók Kultúregyesülete, or CSEMADOK) was set up in March 1949. Hungarian-language elementary and secondary schooling and teacher training were permitted to proceed in the early 1950s and, around the turn of the decade, several further institutions of importance for its cultural and artistic life began to function. By then, however, attempts were under way to curtail minority rights by applying political pressure and administrative means to convert the Hungarian schools into bilingual establishments and encourage Slovak speakers to move into areas where Hungarians formed the local majority population, and then, through a wider restructuring of local government, to break up the number of contiguous Hungarian-inhabited districts.

The tribulations of the years immediately following the war had a profound impact on the Hungarian populace of Czechoslovakia, with the 716,000 who in 1941 lived in the territories that had been reannexed to Hungary being ostensibly halved to 354,000 by 1950. It was a sign of the subsequent easing of political pressure that by the time of the 1961 national census, however, 518,000 people felt sufficiently secure to declare themselves as Hungarian speakers. Over the next three decades that population increased only very modestly to 566,000 at the 1990 census, which in fact represented a continuous decline relative to the Czechoslovak populace as a whole. A particularly unwelcome aspect of this was the steady drain of the more educated away from the Hungarian community as a result of the tighter controls on foreign travel and limited educational opportunities that they faced in Czechoslovakia.

The existential problems posed by life in this minority community as well as more generally, and their changing character, are addressed with considerable artistry in the poetry of Árpád Tőzsér (1935-), Sándor Gál (1937-) and László Cselényi (1938-) and in the novels of László Dobos (1930-), Gyula Duba (1930-) and Lajos Grendel (1948-). Since 1958 one of the main organs for Hungarian writers living in Slovakia has been the periodical Irodalmi Szemle (Literary Review) and the same year also saw the Tatran Publishing Company expand its book-publishing activities by the addition of a Hungarian editorial team. Academic life for Czechoslovakia’s Hungarians during this era was centred on the Hungarian Language and Literature Department at the Komensky University of Bratislava and the Hungarian Faculty at the Nitra Pedagogical College. Whilst literary studies, art criticism and ethnography tended to dominate the scope of such activities during the 1960s, increasing attention was subsequently accorded to sociology, demography and psychology.

The Prague Spring of 1968 briefly raised hopes of greater liberalism on matters of minority rights and a broadening of the institutional base for education and the arts, but the so-called ‘normalisation’ process that followed the overthrow of Dubçek’s reformist government put an end to any discussion of cultural autonomy for Czechoslovakia’s Hungarians. However, the very deliberate use of a clampdown on Hungarian-language schooling that was part of the repressive policies of the new hard-line régime kept the issue very much alive. In face of mounting discrimination, a Committee for the Protection of Hungarian Minority Rights in Czechoslovakia was set up in 1978 to give publicity to such infringements, attracting support from the Charter 77 opposition circles within the country as well as opposition intellectuals in Hungary. With the ‘Velvet Revolution’ of 1989 came the establishment of fully fledged Hungarian political parties and, in parallel, serious attention to bolstering support for Hungarian scholarship in Czechoslovakia through plans to create a Hungarian Museum, a Hungarian Scientific Institute and Library, and a Hungarian Social Sciences Foundation, amongst other institutions, but sadly almost nothing came of these during the early 1990s.

The grimmest fate was that undergone by the Hungarians still inhabiting the formerly Hungarian territory of Subcarpathian Rus’ or Ruthenia, which, through a classical piece of Stalin’s trickery, Czechoslovakia had been obliged to cede to the USSR after World War II and came to be known as Transcarpathian region of the Ukraine SSR, or Carpatho-Ukraine. Many people from the non-Ruthenian minority communities, tens of thousands of Hungarians included, were hauled off to forced labour camps in the interior of the Soviet Union, not to be seen again for a decade or more, if at all. The scale of change is indicated by the statistics that whereas 245,000 inhabitants of this territory had declared themselves as Hungarians in the 1941 Hungarian census, only 146,000 did so in 1959. By the mid-1960s that population had risen to 165,000, only to dip again slightly during the ‘70s and ‘80s to reach the figure of 156,000 Hungarians recorded in the 1989 census.

The cultural isolation suffered by the Hungarians of Transcarpathia was somewhat alleviated when it once more became possible for Hungarian-language publications to be taken into the region in the late 1950s, then the Uzhgorod State University installed a chair of Hungarian philology in 1963 and television broadcasts of a small segment of Hungarian-language programming commenced in 1966. Under these straitened circumstances, the brief period between 1967 and 1971 for which a literary workshop managed to function under the name of the Forrás (Source) Studio counted as a significant step forward, giving poets Károly Balla D. (1957-) and László Vári Fábián (1950-) an opportunity to build on the foundations already laid by Vilmos Kovács (1927-1977). Naturally, political conditions in the USSR during the entire post-war era virtually ruled out any chances of raising the subject of minority rights, let alone organising any concerted opposition outside officially controlled channels. Such attempts of this kind as were made, like a petition outlining the predicament of minority schooling and culture that was submitted by Transcarpathian Hungarian intellectuals to the Politburo of the Communist Party of the USSR in 1972, provoked severe reprisals. No change in the situation occurred until the break-up of the USSR in the early 1990s led to the formation of a Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Alliance, which, amongst its various activities, embraced the task of defending minority rights.

Existence was also rather hard for the Hungarian inhabitants living in Yugoslavia during the first decade and a half that followed World War II, with large numbers being victimised in the collective retribution that was handed out to those seen as having collaborated with Germany during the war. A significant and sustained improvement in their situation did not occur until after 1963, when the rights of the country’s minorities were enshrined in the constitution and the Hungarian community gained limited rights of self-determination within a newly established Autonomous Region of Vojvodina. The policies of the Titoist régime during the ‘60s and ‘70s, unlike those of other socialist states, upheld the right of minorities to use and educate their children in their native language but in day-to-day practice conflict frequently arose over discrepancies between declared rights and what was actually implemented. Living conditions for all nationalities deteriorated catastrophically with the break-up of post-Communist Yugoslavia and the ensuing civil wars of the 1990s. In the face of this strife, the Democratic Community of Vojvodina Hungarians (Vajdasági Magyarok Demokratikus Közössége), set up in 1990 to defend the political interests of this minority, was all but impotent to secure any solid improvement.

In 1953 the size of the Hungarian community in the Vojvodina was recorded as 435,000 inhabitants, with a further 9,000 in the republic of Croatia and 11,000 in Slovenia. In the 1971 census a total of 477,000 people declared themselves as Hungarians in Yugoslavia as a whole, of whom 432,000 were living in the Vojvodina, 35,000 in Croatia and 10,000 in Slovenia, but by 1991 those populations were already in sharp decline, with just 341,000 Hungarians being registered in the Vojvodina and 8,500 in Slovenia.

Taking the post-World War II socialist era as a whole, the Hungarian-language literature of the Vojvodina enjoyed relatively broad freedom. The best-known of its novelists, Ervin Sinkó (1898-1967), was a major writer, whilst the magazine Híd (Bridge), edited by Imre Bori (1930-) from 1945 onwards and, even more, Új Symposium (New Symposium), launched in 1964, from time to time served as a valuable outlet for authors who were unable to get their works published in Hungary. The 1970s and ‘80s were a time of notable avant-garde literary experimentation by the Vojvodina’s younger writers, with figures like the previously mentioned poet Ottó Tolnai, János Sziveri (1954-1990), László Végel (1941-), novelist Nándor Gion (1941-) and János Bányai (1939-) earning wide recognition for their work.

Virtually throughout the era, Hungary’s treatment of its own minorities and the stance it adopted towards the Hungarian minorities of neighbouring countries were determined by the realities of its alliance to the same socialist camp and the internationalist ideology that was inseparable from that alliance. This meant that after 1948 Hungarian governments effectively abandoned any efforts to speak up for the interests of Hungarians living outside the country’s own borders or to develop measures sustaining the rights of its own domestic ethnic minorities. In the late 1960s the Central Committee of the MSzMP dabbled very tentatively with setting up a research group of historians, ethnographers and literary scholars to assess the situation of Hungarian minorities outside Hungary, but it soon had second thoughts and put a stop to the work, placing an embargo on the several thousands of pages of documentation that had been collected. Despite official unease, a groundswell of solidarity for those Hungarian communities gathered in Hungarian society throughout much of the ‘70s and early ‘80s in the form of a perceptibly enhanced interest that was shown in their literary, musical and intellectual life, especially through the practical and moral support given to many of the writers mentioned above by publication channels in Hungary. Policy-makers only returned to the issue in the mid-1980s when, at least partly in response to mounting concern amongst the wider Hungarian public about the worsening plight of the Hungarians of Transylvania, culminating most spectacularly in a mass demonstration organised by the Hungarian Democratic Forum opposition group in Budapest, in late June 1988, against the human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Ceauşescu régime, they modified the official stance, albeit to little effect, by raising these issues at a formal level with the neighbouring states.

The number of Hungarians born in Hungary but choosing to live in western Europe or overseas was substantially boosted after World War II. The big waves of emigration in 1945, 1947-48 and following the 1956 revolution headed primarily for new lives in the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany, Switzerland and France. In contrast to the compatriots who had left the country in the earlier part of the century, the new emigrants tended to be from the younger, better educated segments of urban society. This led to an overhaul and expansion of the existing network of cultural institutions sustained by the émigré communities, particularly after 1956. Almost one thousand shorter- or longer-lived newsletters and periodicals are recorded as having been started up during the quarter-century between 1945 and 1970 and more than 2,800 Hungarian-language books are known to have been printed in the West over the three decades up to 1975. Along with the Munich-based literary review Új Látóhatár (New Horizon), edited by Gyula Borbándi (1919-) and published by József Molnár (1918-) from 1958 onwards, other major literary platforms included Irodalmi Újság (Literary Review), relaunched in London in 1957 and transferred to Paris in 1962, and Katolikus Szemle (Catholic Review), published in Rome from 1949. Amongst other Paris-based publications, the Magyar Füzetek (Hungarian Notebooks) series, founded in 1978, became an important forum for dissident writers still living in Hungary, whilst reference has already been made to the avant-garde literary and art magazine Magyar Műhely (Hungarian Workshop), which began to appear 1962. The Swiss-based Free University for Protestant Hungarians in Europe was a major intellectual centre and publisher.

Hungarian Churches and a wide variety of educational and cultural institutions, clubs, and courses were set up by the emigrant communities to sustain a sense of Hungarian identity and community for this diaspora. Among the more important of these were the Kelemen Miklós Circle in the Netherlands, the Pax Romana Catholic Hungarian University Movement in Italy, the European Hungarian Evangelical Youth Conference, the Swiss Circle of Friends of Hungarian Literature and Books. the London-based Szepsi Csombor Circle, and the Hungarian Alumni Association and György Bessenyei Circle of New Brunswick, Canada.

Most emigrants settled down to become well-integrated and successful citizens of their chosen new homelands, but the many who strove to establish and maintain links with intellectual circles in Hungary, or who sought to return there, found many obstacles placed in their way up until the mid-1970s, particularly if they had played active political or intellectual roles there in their past lives. However, with the substantial easing of travel restrictions in both directions which ensued at the end of that decade links were quickly built up. During the 1980s Hungarian authors began to be published more frequently in emigrant periodicals and many scholars, musicians and artists gained a chance to make visits to western Europe and the USA, not infrequently at the invitation of Hungarian organisations abroad. The change in régime finally opened the doors for a substantial number who decided to resettle back to the old country.



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Utolsó módosítás:  2006. szeptember 27. szerda

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