___Hungary in the Early 1960s___Vissza
Éva Standeisky:

Hungary in the Early 1960s
Ivor Pink, the British Envoy, Reports

Ivor Pink, the British Minister and Envoy Extraordinary in Budapest, wrote a comprehensive memorandum to the Foreign Secretary about cultural life in Hungary. In his assessment, which was based on official and informal sources alike, he tried to find an explanation for the causes behind the events. His paper showed a thorough familiarity with the Hungarian situation. Sometimes he even noticed interconnections that escaped the attention of most observers of Eastern Europe. Hungarian analysts usually paid little attention to what was going on in the other satellite states, nor were they genuinely interested in events taking place in the heart of the empire, unless these had a direct bearing on Hungarian developments.


British legation, 
March 22,1963. 
The Right Honourable, The Earl of Home, K. T., etc.,etc., etc., Foreign Office, S. W. 1.

My Lord,

I have the honour in this despatch to report on developments in art and literature in Hungary since the beginning of the period of  "Kádár-liberalism" which followed the 22nd Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in October, 1961. For various reasons, which I shall try to explain, art and literature in Hungary have not been
greatly affected by the zephyrs and squalls of the cultural wind from Moscow. The new spirit referred to in Prague despatch No.8 of the 17th of January had little influence here. This is because the Hungarian intellectuals are not only allergic to Soviet ideas but have always maintained a wide degree of independence from Government control. Consequently, the back-pedalling in the Soviet Union, as reported in Moscow despatch No.4 of the 4th of January, was not necessary here. The Hungarian communists, for their part, have been very cautious, indeed negative, in their official attitude to the arts. This is typified by their reaction to the recent spate of concentration camp literature. According to a reliable report, "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" was only published in a Hunqarian periodical (Nagy világ) at the insistence of the Soviet Embassy. Later it was printed in a cheap pocket edition in 13,500 copies-not nearly enough to satisfy the demand. Similarly, the Editor of  Új írás (New Writing) was reprimanded for publishing József Lengyel's story "From the Beginning to the End" which also dealt with prison camp life. Then, to everyone's surprise, Lengyel, who has published little else in recent years, received a Kossuth prize last week. As reinsurance, and perhaps in the light of Mr. Khrushchev's recent warning not to overdo de-Stalinisation, Party periodicals have now turned to criticising Lengyel. Mr. Khrushchev's views on abstract painting produced little reaction in Hungary, where such art had never been approved. In any case, Mr Kádár has no known views on painting. He may well be as much of a Philistine as Mr Khrushchev, but at least he does not air his views in public. While the authorities have maintained a consistently orthodox and circumspect attitude to culture, there has been in practice a moderate degree of liberalisation characterised mainly by the growth of official cultural relations with the West and by increased opportunities for certain kinds of Western literature and plays.

2. Hungary's cultural background is Magyar and West European, not Slav. The attempt, between 1948 and 1956, to substitute Soviet for Western inspiration failed
completely. The leading role of the intellectuals in the 1956 Revolt showed that, in spite of intensive propaganda, Hungarian authors and artists had refused to accept
the culture of their Soviet masters. Immediately after the Revolution the government tried to control cultural and intellectual developments by imprisoning or silencing the patriotic writers and by encouraging Muscovite cultural stooges. But so called socialist art and literature was generally received with scorn and contempt. Soviet books remained unread and Soviet plays and films were performed in empty theatres and cinemas. Communist blandishments, including release from detention and even free trips to the Soviet Union, failed to make the silenced writers speak up for Socialism. Those few who accepted the financial and social advantages of return to work published only non-political work. Even some of the talented young writers and artists, who at first allowed themselves to be officially lionised, later turned away from socialist realism.

3. Communist cultural agitation and propaganda, with cheap books, cinema and theatre tickets, the growth of public and travelling libraries and national book weeks have, however, increased the public demand for culture. So in order to satisfy an appetite of their own creation, the publishing houses and the theatres and cinemas had to turn to the West for material and to allow their own protegés to produce non-political works. Apart from the usual European classics, works by English writers such as John Galsworthy, Graham Greene, C. P. Snow, Somerset Maugham, Muriel Spark,  Kingsley Amis,  William Cooper, Agatha Christie and others have been translated and published in many thousands of copies. In the theatre, there is a great vogue for Shakespeare, Moliére, Shaw, O'Neill, Priestley and especially for Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, John Osborne, Shelagh Delaney and other contemporary Western playwrights who have the double advantage of belonging to the left wing and of depicting the sordid side of life in the West. Arnerican and West European films are also chosen mainly for unflattering revelations about life in their country of origin, e.g. Saturday Night and Sun day Morning A Taste of Honey A Kind of Loving La Dolce Vita etcetera. Thus plays, films and books by Western authors have subsidised the empty houses and the unsold printings of homespun or fraternal socialist realist literature. Painting and sculpture, on the other hand, remained in the doldrums. There were few foreign exhibitions of interest and the good Hungarian artists were swamped by a spate of mediocrity. For years the annual "Academy" exhibition has made communist painting and sculpture the laughing stock of the artistic world. Musical com-position remains dominated by the octogenerian Kodaly (sic!) and the ghost of Bartok (sic!). At the other end of the scale a surprising degree of freedom and even of political criticism is permitted. For example, there is a political variety show which specialises in debunking the bureaucracy and Stalinism. Leading members of the Party patronise it and Mr Kádár himself was a recent visitor. There is plenty of sex humour in the other variety theatres and even a rather stately strip tease at the  "Budapest" night club. The Twist and, they tell me, the Madison are all the rage with the youth who despise the traditional Csardas. (sic!) The weekly political comic has a regular feature entitled "Down with bureaucracy". All this is safety valve stuff.

4. In this situation the Party could boast that the writers were free and claim statistical if not intellectual progress in Hungarian culture. But the free breezes blowing after the 22nd Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, and especially Mr Kádár's new "liberalism", set the Party ideologists quite a problem. Higher living standards, greater personal liberty, relative freedom of speech, technical exchanges with the West, were one thing. Unfettered thinking, let alone publishing, was another. So the intellectuals continued on a tight rein during 1962. Freedom to live well at home and even to travel abroad and to have limited contacts with Western culture had to compensate for continued restrictions on what could be published or exhibited in Hungary. The occasional exception, like László Németh's play The Journey, was permitted in order to give the impression of liberalism. Similarly Tibor Dery has been permitted to travel abroad mainly because he, too, seems to have reconciled himself to Mr Kádár's brand of liberal Communism. I suspect that the main reason why the new culture freedom in the Soviet union, about which we heard so much last year, found little echo in Hungary was official caution based on bitter experience of what happens when the intellectuals are given their head. At their 8th Party Congress last November, the Hungarian communists reiterated Mr Khrushchev's warning that peaceful co-existence did not extend to ideology. Mr Kádár warned everyone to beware of the corrupting influence of Western ideas. Új írás (New Writing), the authoritative literary periodical, wrote at that time "Imperialist penetration will exist so long as there remains an opening for imperialist ideology". Mr. Kádár made it clear at the Congress that his slogan "Those who are not against us are with us" should not provide this opening. A welder could think petty bourgeois thoughts with impunity while welding for socialism. But a writer or even a painter must build socialism with his thoughts.

5. Recent authoritative articles in Új írás and Pártélet (Party Life) explained that literature must be entirely and exclusively at the service of socialist evolution: "The
ultimate aim is to develop a form of literature with a uniform socialist content". It is not sufficient to fight against "bourgeois decadent formalism, pseudo-modernism
and schematism". Even more dangerous are the philosophy of "the third road", the theory "that artistic ethics and socialist ethics are two different conceptions" and
the pernicious idea that "insistence on socialist realism is a step back in the direction of dogmatism". The Party ideologists are particularly sensitive to the heresy that
ideology is one thing and art or literature something quite apart. The Hungarian intellectuals, for their part, seem skilfully to have touched a sore point in hinting that
socialist realism is related to rightist dogmatism. They have also won a degree of immunity for themselves. The official line is that the Party fights opinions not persons. While criticising an artist's work, they must still try to retain his confidence as a man.

6. In my despatch No.27 'S' of the 17th of April, 1962, I reported that Mr Kádár's appeal for reconciliation had largely failed to bring in the intellectuals. This remains true a year later. In this connection, it is interesting to note that it was only in May 1962 that, in preparation for last November's Party Congress, a Party Cell was set up in the potentially dangerous Writers' Federation. According to a recent press report the cell is far from well established. Work virtually started only last September, there have been few meetings and even  the question or membership fees has not yet been settled. At recent elections to the board of the Artists' Federation, nearly all the "Stalinists" were dropped and replaced by non-party members. Budapest anecdote has it that Nóra Aradi, the former chairman of the board, who got only eight votes in the genuine secret ballot, complained that not even her numerous lovers had voted for her.

7. The Government's preoccupation with the intellectuals reflects the special position they hold in this country. By historical tradition they are regarded, particularly in times of national peril, as the true representatives of the national spirit. Many of them are of Transylvanian origin and in the late XVI and XVII centuries the Principality of Transylvania was the only part of Hungary which maintained its national identity and managed to avoid being occupated either by the Turks or by the
Austrians. After the expulsion of the Turks the intellectuals were prominent in the various national revolts against the Habsburgs, particularly in the War of Independence of l848~l849, when the Austrians were obliged to call in the armies of the Tsar to help them defeat the insurgents. History repeated itself in 1956, when the nationalist movement; inspired by the intellectuals, was again defeated by Russian bayonets. It is therefore not surprising that the present Government should fear their influence and attempt to diminish it by a combination of the carrot and the stick. Nor is it surprising that the Government's attempt to impose an alien "socialist" culture should have had so little success.

8. I am sending copies of this despatch to Her Majesty's Representatives at Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, Bucharest, Sofia, Belgrade and Vienna.

I have the honour to be, with the highest respect,
My Lord,
Your Lordship's obedient Servant,
Ivor Pink

- Crown copyright material in the Public Record Office, London, reproduced by permission of the Controller of  Her Britannic Majesty's Stationary Office. FO 371/171/1775.

The British Foreign Office View

Before the Second World War, the British Foreign Office showed relatively little interest in Eastern Europe. One despatch from the British minister in Budapest was minuted, "The Budapest Legation lacks all capacity for condensation, and interesting points are buried in a mass of commonplaces" (Public Record Office FO
371/18407/R 2783), and other despatches were not minuted at all. Almost no attention was given to cultural affairs: it was noted of Emil Nagy, Minister of Justice
in 1923, that "His numerous prosy articles on British institutions and opinion are strangely lacking in literaty charm" (FO 371/20395/R 153), but in general art and
literature were regarded as falling outside the Foreign Office's purview.

With the establishment of the Soviet bloc after 1945, however, attitudes changed. The internal affairs of the Soviet Union's unwilling allies became a subject of absorbing interest for Cold Warriors, especially as, for all the talk of monolithic dictatorship, each of the Soviet bloc nations had their own distinct social, legal, administrative and political arrangements. And since there was no real autonomous public life, freely reported in a free press, separate from the orchestrated clog-dancing of the ruling Communist parties, developments in the artistic and literary sphere came to be seen as an important indicator of possible shifts in both public opinion and government policy: certainly much more worth monitoring than hitherto. The Public Record Office-Britain's National Archive-contains a number of reports on cultural affairs from legations in Eastern Europe based, it seems, at least partly on informal conversations with sympathetic locals at embasy drinks parties and other public occasions. The following is a report by Ivor Pink (1910-66) who was British minister, later ambassador, at Budapest from 1961 till 1965. Some readers will remember him as Sir Ivor Pink: this despatch was written shortly before he received his knighthood.

A. D. Harvey

A. D. Harvey's next book, A Muse of Fire: Literature, Art and War is soon to be published by the Hambleden Press.

Hungarian Quarterly, Summer 1998

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Copyright © 2000 National Széchényi Library 1956 Institute and Oral History Archive
Utolsó módosítás:  2006. november 6. hétfő

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