Echoes of Hungary’s communist past

Today’s post will be about history, even if indirectly. Two pieces of news that I read in the last couple of days prompted me to recall the past.

The first was an HVG report about what happened in a Hungarian-English bilingual high school in Balatonalmádi. Almádi is a small resort town with a population of about 8,000; this school is attended by students from all over the country. The school maintains a dormitory that houses 200 students. The maximum size of the student body is 360. It is not easy to gain entrance to this very competitive school where the grade point average varies between 4.16 and 4.37 out of 5.0. Originally mathematics, physics, biology, geography, and world history were taught in English, but thanks to the nationalistic government edicts enacted lately only world history, mathematics, and biology can now be taught in English. The students have public speaking competitions and also organize events staged by the local English Speaking Union, the Euroatlantic Club, and the United Games.

These kids, in brief, are no dummies and they know the outside world because there are a lot of opportunities for them to travel abroad. So, it’s no wonder that they didn’t take it lying down that the new principal, Mrs. Gránás neé Tünde Bácsi, called in the seniors and some of their teachers and inquired about their views on the strike and the limits on tuition-free places in the universities.  Notes were taken on the students’ responses. It turned out that these written reports had to be sent to the government office in charge of the affairs of Veszprém County.

First, the parents took the initiative and got in touch with HVG. The story naturally didn’t end there. Today’s students are not like those of a couple of decades ago. They are fully aware of their rights and savvy enough to advertise their cause on the Internet. Within hours after the interrogation their story appeared on Facebook. The alumni of the school also expressed their outrage that fourteen students and five teachers had been hauled into the principal’s office.  The former students of the school inquired about the circumstances of the principal’s appointment. They accused her of being ignorant of the history of the school and added that they “are ashamed of the principal’s behavior.”

The parents in no time announced their intention to sue the principal if the reports prepared on the interrogation were not destroyed by noon. And the parents are not alone. LMP is also turning to the prosecutor’s office to investigate the case. MSZP demanded the principal’s resignation. Even Rózsa Hoffmann felt that she had to do something and “asked for information concerning the affair.” According to one report, the principal was called into her office for a chat.

What does this affair echo? It was about 60-65 years ago, during the worst years of the Rákosi regime, that similar events happened in schools all over the country. But there is one difference. Today the students, their parents, the parties, the lawyers of the Hungarian equivalent of ACLU can still complain and the principal and the government officials can still be stopped. But the very fact that people of such undemocratic views are put into leading positions in educational and cultural institutions is a frightening prospect.

I had a similar experience when I was twelve years old. Several of us were hauled into the principal’s office where beside the principal sat a local party secretary. We were supposed to reveal the sins of our Hungarian teacher. I think I handled this affair fairly well given my tender age, but in Hungary in those days children learned fast about the political facts of life. Eventually my father, showing no small courage, intervened. He told me to invite the accused teacher to visit us and promised her that he would talk to the woman who accused the teacher of pro-German leanings. The accuser happened to be the wife the new worker-CEO of a local factory. By that time the woman was sorry but it was too late to do anything. The teacher was fired.

About three years later, when I was already in high school, a friend of mine from the old school and I were called into the building of the school board. We couldn’t figure out why, but we  knew that such mandated visits always meant trouble. Yes, there was trouble but this time not for us but for the principal and the party secretary who interrogated us. It was their turn to be kicked out and perhaps even to go to jail. Those were the days!

György Fekete who never wears a tie because of 1956

György Fekete who never wears a tie because of 1956

Another story also brought up the “good old days.” And that is the story of György Fekete, the newly appointed chairman of the right-wing Academy of Arts. I wrote about him briefly a couple of days ago. At that time I mentioned that Fekete made a few remarks that clearly indicated that art and literature will from here on serve the government’s ideological agenda. Today I’m looking into the veracity of the man.

Two days ago I read a fairly lengthy portrait of György Fekete in Origo. According to the article, Fekete in an interview on Hír TV said that, although he wasn’t a “real” revolutionary as some 56-ers claim, he was the leader of a 40-member national guard that was formed at the Academy of Applied Arts. As a result he ended up in jail for several months. But, he added, luckily no trace of his activities remained.

Fekete told another story about 1956. The reason that he never wears a necktie is his awful experience on October 23. He happened to be at a party on Sándor Bródy Street. While they were merrily dancing a bullet came through the window that ended up in the head of the girl he was dancing with. “The brain of the girl trickled down on my necktie.”

I don’t know whether Fekete’s fellow academicians believe this cock-eyed story or not, but I can safely say that this couldn’t have happened. I lived about 200 meters (2 minutes) from the radio building and people simply weren’t partying while bullets were flying outside. As for his being the head of a 40-member national guard unit at his university, that must also be the figment of Fekete’s imagination. The university simply didn’t have a national guard unit. There are also pretty good records on people who were arrested and there is no sign of Fekete on any of the lists. So, most likely his entire tale of 1956 is a pack of lies. Hungarian fine arts will be in great hands.

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22 comments

  1. Fekete is making up stories? Can’t be… I guess next to plagarizing, stretching the truth, is the other great asset Fidesz supporters have in order to install themselves in high positions. Maybe HVG that seems to be very good about this by now, could do a little investigative journalism about the “dance party” on Brody Sandor street…. One thing I must say, we can be just so thankful that the brain that trickled down on Fekete’s necktie did not make it on his shirt…..

  2. Not really OT: Yesterday I made a very angry comment regarding Mari Torocsik’s vote on ALfoldi’s nomination for the position of the Hungarian National Theatre. I very much called Ms. Torocsik spineless that I must take back now. Today there was an article published in the Hungarian, Theatre portal (http://szinhaz.hu/szinhazi-hirek/49760-igazabol-uvolteni-szeretnek-torocsik-mari-a-nemzeti-palyazatrol) regarding Torocsik’s vote.
    As it turns out Torocsik was duped into the vote. THey used this wonderful actress the same way as Orban uses everyone around him.
    Allow me to provide a short version of the story.
    There were four applications, and two of those were absolutely not qualified, so there were only two candidates attended the interview. First came Vidnyanszky. After they left, they asked us if we found Vidnyanszky’s application suitable. Torocsik answered yes, as it was a quality application. THen came Alfoldi, and I only voted for him in the name of the theatre. She also pointed out that she is only voting for him (Alfoldy). After the facts they stated that I voted for two people, because she fund two people qualified for the job. “The truth is, I would like to scream, I only moderate myself. How did I arrive t this slender?”

    „Könnyen átrázható vagyok, mert nem tételezek föl senkiről semmi rosszat. Négy pályázó volt, abból kettő teljesen alkalmatlan, ezért nem négyen, csak ketten jöttek meghallgatásra. Vidnyánszky úr volt előbb. Miután távozott, megkérdeztek minket, alkalmasnak találjuk-e, mire azt mondtam, hogy igen, hiszen színvonalas pályázatot nyújtott be. Majd jött az Alföldi úr és én egyedül, rá szavaztam a társulat nevében. Azt is leszögeztem, hogy kizárólag rá voksolok. Utólag azért állítják, hogy két szavazatot adtam le, mert két embert találtam alkalmasnak. Igazából üvölteni szeretnék, csak moderálom magam. Hogy jövök én ahhoz, hogy meghurcoljanak?

  3. Again somewhat off with the current post, though not with the general leaning of this blog: It is depressing to see Democratic Coalition desperately trying to milk the popularity of the student movement to their own ends and moaning that others begrudge them the opportunity to do so. Paraphrasing:

    “”The Democratic Coalition does not hold in high regard the students’ decision, as adopted during the forum on 10 December, that they not want party support. Despite this, Ágnes Vadai having repeatedly insisted that DK provide legal assistance to one or another student brought before them. They [the students] object to any party piggybacking on the increased popularity of the students’ independence movement!”

    [“A Demokratikus Koalíció nem tartja tiszteletben a hallgatók december 10-i fórumán elfogadott döntését, mely szerint nem kérünk a pártok támogatásából. Vadai Ágnes annak ellenére, hogy többször felszólítottuk, ragaszkodott ahhoz, hogy a DK nyújtson jogi segítséget az egyik előállított diák számára. Tiltakozunk az ellen, hogy bármely párt saját népszerűségének növelése érdekében rátelepedjen a diákok független mozgalmára!”]”

  4. That 21% won’t translate into 21% of seats though, only MSzP stand any realistic chance of getting seats.

    And 50% don’t know/won’t say is pretty damning – I thought this figure had started to come down recently?

    As for polls in general, with voter registration now a reality, no poll means much unless it takes the views only of those who have registered (or, at the very least, intend to register).

    I wonder how many of that 50% won’t even bother to register?

  5. Just asked my wife:

    Right now she’s not sure if it’s worth the effort to register and vote at all …

    She thinks that none of the opposition parties has the right kind of leadership.

  6. Paul :

    And 50% don’t know/won’t say is pretty damning – I thought this figure had started to come down recently?

    I think it is a good chunk of won’t say. More and more info is coming out about the Kubatov list, the penalizing of Fidesz MPs who do not vote unfair Fidesz laws, and so forth, It is like under Rakosi and Kadar… Nobody dares to say what they will or will not do.
    I am also very suspicious about the voting cards Fidesz will introduce. Will it have bar codes on it? I heard through the grapevine that it is a possibility, in order to “make it easier”.

  7. wolfi :
    Just asked my wife:
    Right now she’s not sure if it’s worth the effort to register and vote at all …
    She thinks that none of the opposition parties has the right kind of leadership.

    So, is this mean that she votes for Fidesz? No vote is one vote for Fidesz very much.

  8. Eva or anyone who has the some info. How, and where Hungarian citizens outside the border can register to vote, and how will we vote? thx

  9. tappanch :
    Opinion poll by Tarki
    Democratic opposition 21% (MSzP+Egyutt2014+LMP+DK)
    Fidesz 19%
    Jobbik 9%
    Don’t care/don’t dare to say 50%

    One has to be careful how to interpret these results. In the US many Republican “experts” predicted before the last presidential election that Romney had to win because generally two thirds of the undecided vote goes for the opposition. The result speaks for itself.

    I am also very disappointed in the high rating for Jobbik, together with the Fidesz percentage they roll over the opposition.

  10. News about the National Theatre. Vidnyanszky is considering Istvan Pálffy, the KDNP spokesman, for the position of the communications director of the theater.

    Pálffy, the “nations alcoholic”, as many call him affectionately (just look at him), is the guy who gave that interesting interview to the ATV about the alternative abortion method a few months ago. He basically dismissed 20 years of research from several countries as “drug company sponsored propaganda”. Typical Fidesz-KDNP expert.

  11. Some1 :
    So, is this mean that she votes for Fidesz? No vote is one vote for Fidesz very much.

    That’s what I told her too – and I’m sure she’ll register and vote in the end even if I have to accompany her and hold hands with her. 😀

    I hope no stronger measures will be necessary … 😉

  12. Somehow the professional career of György Fekete doesn’t seem to fit to the legend regarding his ‘revolutionary’ past, let alone his ‘several months in jail’.

    He completed his education in the Hungarian College of Applied Arts 1957 and right after became the Chef Designer of the state owned (as everything in those times) ÁÉTV, (Általános Épülettervező Vállalat) which is something like Universal Architectural Design Company, if I really insist translating it.

    However, if anybody ever been involved even as much in the activities, as he states above, the person quite certainly has been expelled from the institute – I personally knew a couple of students with that fate – completing their studies right in time was out of question. In best cases after a couple of years labor in some factory they may tried again.

    Conclusively, the history that a newly graduated designer with some spots in his CV – straight from the jail? right after the revolution?- could have been appointed as a Chef Designer is just as real as any Harry Potter – or Háry János…

  13. spectator :
    Conclusively, the history that a newly graduated designer with some spots in his CV – straight from the jail? right after the revolution?- could have been appointed as a Chef Designer is just as real as any Harry Potter – or Háry János…

    I think you have a good point. Many of those around the radio left Hungary, many got arrested, some had to stay in jail, but this is the first story I heard that after being part of the events, someone became the Lead… I guess it depends which side was Fekete dancing….

  14. @Some1
    Actually I was a bit hesitant regarding the Lead- Chef- or Senior Designer – but as I know, then the position wasn’t entirely based on professional merits, so I guess Chef approximates a little better.

    Indeed, one may start wondering, exactly what kind of ‘merits’ justified his appointment, if he was telling the truth to the Origo, but just as interesting, if he isn’t.

  15. KULTURKAMPF REACHING ROCK BOTTOM IN THE KARPATHIAN BASIN

    “[M]embership of the [Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA)] ‘requires a commitment to the nation, a certain ‘national sentiment’.’ Artists who criticise the government abroad are not eligible for membership…”

    If this “national sentiment” Diktat reaches the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) it will be my pleasure and a historic honour (indeed an obligation) to step down rather than just gazing passively in appalled disbelief.

  16. Stevan Harnad (@AmSciForum) :
    If this “national sentiment” Diktat reaches the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) it will be my pleasure and a historic honour (indeed an obligation) to step down rather than just gazing passively in appalled disbelief.

    Your promise is duly noted. Not that there would be ANY sing of this as of now. A more serious problem with the HAS (MTA) is that it started electing members with questionable scientific views as Ervin Laszlo and Albert-Laszlo Barbasi.

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