___Political role-taking and rejection among___Vissza
Adrienne Molnár:

Political role-taking and rejection among the children of those condemned after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

I would like to sum up how people, whose father had been active in the 1956 Revolution and therefore were sentenced to prison or executed, consider politics as such and how they think about taking active role in the political life on the basis of the fourty-three life interviews made in the course of the research project "Second generation of the 56-ers" in the Oral History Archive of the Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The interviewees were still children at the time of their father's trial and consequently the reprisal against their father and thus against the whole family including also the children exercised great impact on their socialization. The wifes were layed out, the children grew up stigmatised, those in power hindered them in continuing their studies and in finding job. In the paper presented together with Zsuzsanna Kőrösi at the IXth Oral History Conference in Göteborg we analysed what types of strategies of communication they adopted in a social atmosphere where the powerholders first declared guilty and enemy, later, in the course of the political consolidation following the reprisal, intended to cancel even the memory of the 1956 events with regard to the Revolution and the father who had been executed or imprisoned. Not only at the level of the society, but also in most of the families these historical events, the participation in them and the subsequent reprisal became a taboo theme. In most of the cases it was a long lasting family secret what their father had committed, why he had been sentenced and for what reason also they (the children) had to suffer.

Obviously there are many factors which influence the formation of the attitude towards politics. Personal experience and social background in general and the opinion made in the family or by the official propaganda on the father's role affected alike the political and public role-taking of the children. Now, because of the limits of this paper, I am focusing on how the interviewees spoke about their relation to politics and to the participation in politics in the light of their father's political activity and the reprisal, what kind of position they take with regard to politics. We can find representatives of these types not exclusively among our interviewees, the quotations I selected show the heterogeneity of the Hungarian society.

The children of the imprisoned or executed had the fundamental experience that rebels against the dictatorship are harshly punished by the powerholders, and the punishment is extended also to their children. In the course of the secunder socialization, in school children stigmatized for their father's crime were kept away from all kind of political/public activity according to the powerholders' intention. In the years of the reprisal they were banned joining the youth organizations, which were otherwise almost obligatory for the others of their age, as a part of the discrimination imposed on them. They did not become "kisdobos" or "úttörő". In line with the hypocritical system, however, for keeping the appearance of unity they had to wear the red tie, as symbol of membership.

"There were some, like me, in the class who were not "kisdobos". Officially we did not join the "úttörő"-s either, but curiously in case of ceremonies in the school when wearing red tie was obligatory, I was always asked why I had not one. I answered that I was not "úttörő". 'Hold your tongue, here is a tie, take it, that's it.' (Worker, his father was executed.)

Later, in the period of the consolidation, they were allowed to join the youth organizations. Moreover, they were urged to do it because in this way those in power could more easily influence and control their activity. A few of them joined the Communist Youth Organization (KISZ) but not out of ideological or political conviction, much rather because the organization was the place for free time and community programs and the membership in KISZ was one of the conditions for getting admission to university.

"I continued to be member of KISZ also when I went to university. Everybody became automatically member of it. It had absolutely no importance at all. But I really enjoyed that part of it that there were afternoon parties and trips." (Architect, her father was imprisoned.)

"I drew the conclusion, and it was probably in the air, that one had to adapt him/herself to this, but only to the extent it was absolutely necessary. So I remember that everybody was very active in KISZ. Once somebody mentioned that I would not probably gain admission to university, I were better to join it. I did join it in the third year. It was somehow obvious that one adjusted him/herself to the reality, but tried to find a position which was the less political in the given reality." (Psychiatrist, her father was imprisoned.)

In the seventies if one did not revolt openly against the system was encouraged even to join the party, and there were who accepted to join the only party in Hungary, the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party against his/her conviction in return for privileges.

The children of the condemned could form a clear opinion on their father's role in the Revolution in most of the cases through a shocking process. By now most of them have accepted and consider as a positive act what their fathers had done, they regard the fathers as heroes. They are of the opinion that their father fought for the liberty and the independence of the whole country. They think that their fathers were motivated to take part in the Revolution because of their conviction of truth and responsibility and the powerholders punished them severely. Most of the children have also understood what they can or should follow in their father' example. Children of the executed became apolitical by their adult age, or reject politics in a greater number than children of those sentenced to imprisonment since fathers in the former case paid their life for what they had done and therefore mothers taught withdrawness to the children. For the children of those imprisoned the father continued to be a model in political activity.


On the basis of the interviews the following political attitudes are discernable:

1. Bitter, withdrawn type. Due to the fear and the negative experience they and their father made, they turned their back to politics and to any kind of political role-taking by instinct in their younger age. As adults they avoided it consciously. They blamed politics as such for their father's fate. They drew the conclusion that they have to distance themselves from it, they have to keep aloof from any kind of public role.

"I did not apply for political membership anywhere because I understood that, never in life, because the wheel keeps turning, and one day you are declared fighter and the next day something happens and you are the greatest criminal. I did not want to be a leader in any community either in school. Not to be involved, not to do anything for something, because it is not a grateful role. Even if unconciously, something has suggested to do so. And this has accompanied my life. So it was a severe experience." (Secretary, her father was executed.)

2. Grumbling, rebelling, lonely type. They always revealed their hostile feelings and opinion on the regime in their surroundings but they did never joined any organization. They never accepted as legitimate ones the party and state leaders in power for more than thirty years who suppressed the Revolution and inflicted dead penalties. They demonstrated their opposition to the political line in power also by rejecting the membership in any official organization. Their disappointment and withdrawing attitude prevented them from public life even after the change of the political regime.

"So I was a driver, as you know, and I went around the country and the world and I blamed the Coms, that the party secretary was a rat Com. Since I was a sweater, what could they do to me. As a matter of fact I always incited the people to rebel. I was a rebel type. But after all I did not resolve anything in this way, or did not help anybody, it was always myself who I did in because in the end it was also me who suffered." (Worker, his father was executed)

3. Public life actor who avoids engagement in official politics. The life style, involvement in public life as well as in politics of the father was always a model for them. In the course of the socialization in the family sense of responsibility for the others was developped in them, but the reprisal their father had suffered made them turn their back to official politics, however they chose a profession which is in close connection with helping people or groups of people or they work for cherity organizations.

"I constantly fought for the rights of different people. Not at the level of politics, but my father's nature inspired me surely." (Psychiatrist, her father was imprisoned.)

"Only the communities of human scale where one can become universal, no matter what he/she does or how he/she considers the world. Everything beyond that is at the mercy of manipulation to an extent that it provokes really manipulation." (Lutheran pastor, his father was imprisoned.)

4. The eternal dissenter. They took part in the underground in the years of the Kádár regime, but after the political transition they have not really found their place in the political scene. Consequently they did not assume political role after the 1989 turn. Their earlier disappointment and nature of being an eternal dissenter hold them back.

"I jumped into the political discussion with my past of 1956 and my liberal ideas. I found the Alliance of Free Democrats in Kecskemét town. The year 1989-90 was very romantic, it was funny. Then came the elections and it was clear that those two hundred years of hindrance we have in political culture here in Hungary cannot be bridged. Skills are missing if there is the need to exercise politics in reality. Those twenty or thirty years, at the least, must be dedicated to until something begins to be similar to politics. So we organized the parlamentary elections, the municipal elections and then I said good-bye." (Teacher, his father was executed.)

5. The real politician. The family has always considered the father's engagement in the Revolution as something positive. The father's activity was a model for the child despite the reprisal. In the Kádár regime they were active in the opposition following the father's example, and later having joined one of the new parties of the transition became prominant politicians. After the transition the revolutionary past of the father and their own involvement in the opposition won the confidence of the voters and were elected MPs.

"This family have been constantly interested in public life since my childhood. I faced conflicts already in the teacher training college, it was not a problem for me. I had self-confidence. I felt that one cannot overlook these things and swallow everything. And I reached the age when one open their eyes and mouth. We were marching in the same distance. By other means and in other circumstances, but considering our purpose it is the same. In some way to teach people how to live consciously, how they can form consciously their life. And there are few of us who wants something like that.." (Teacher, his father was imprisoned.)

"There is clearly for each people some public space out of the private life where, let's say like a homo politicus', a public figure, they appear as part of a larger community, i.e. as part of the society. And they appear as a valid actor, with rights and duties. The most significant characteristics of the past period, of the long Communist period was that people were deprived of public role-taking and people consequently forgot this ability and the skills how to do it. Still every situation which offers the possibility of decision and one does not exploit it, it is a loss, an irreparable loss." (Menager, his father was imprisoned.)

On the basis of the lives we studied this conscious political role-taking, the active public engagement are typical exclusively of those who came from intellectual families. In the official milieu which inspired to avoid conflicts, it was part only of their primer socialization to face conflicts consciously and see its worth despite the reprisal their parent suffered. In these families the events were discussed and evaluated, they openly accepted the father's activity in the Revolution. Among family values responsibility for the others bore a special importance. While the others who grew up among taboos, could pick up examples of attitudes which taught them to avoid conflicts and politics. The Hungarian society still has to work up this heritage.



Kozák, Gyula and Korösi, Zsuzsanna and Molnár, Adrienne. 1996. Budapesti Oral History Archívum/Oral History Archive, Budapest 1981–1996. Budapest: 1956-os Intézet.

Kőrösi, Zsuzsanna and Molnár, Adrienne. 1996. The handing down of experiences in families of the politically condemned in Communist Hungary,” in IX. International Oral History Conference. Göteborg, pp. 1160–1167.


In XIth International Oral History Conference. Crossroads of History. Experince, Memory,
Orality. 2. köt. Istambul, IOHA–Department of History at Bogazici University, 2000, 577–581. pp.

Kérjük írja meg véleményét, javaslatait.
Copyright © 2000 National Széchényi Library 1956 Institute and Oral History Archive
Utolsó módosítás:  2006. szeptember 18. hétfő

Keresés a honlapon