The other side of Péter Szentmihályi Szabó: An ardent communist

There is more to Péter Szentmihályi Szabó, the presumed future Hungarian ambassador to Italy, than meets the eye. The picture is complete only if we take a look at the man’s career during the Kádár regime, which he was allegedly ready to fight, if necessary with weapon in hand.

Péter Szabó, who changed his name to Péter Szentmihályi Szabó, was born on January 8, 1945. According to an interview he gave in 2000, his father, Károly Szabó, studied to be a  lawyer but in the 40s worked as a journalist for a “right-wing paper.” “Luckily” the offices of this unnamed newspaper were bombed during the war, and all traces of his father’s association with the paper disappeared. This way “the communists couldn’t molest him,” as the son remarked. What the father did after the war is not clear except that he was “an archaeologist of language” who wrote a book on the relationship between the Hungarian and the Etruscan languages. It was posthumously published by Karpatia Press, which specializes in far-right and wacky books.

As for Péter Szabó’s early life, we have little to go on except what he revealed about himself. When you try to put the story together, however, troubling questions emerge about the truthfulness of the man. The main problem is with his contention that in 1961, while he was a student at the famous Benedictine high school in Pannonhalma, he organized a day of remembrance for the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution of 1956. Consequently, the story goes, he was not only expelled from Pannonhalma but was barred from all Hungarian high schools. He claims that after this incident he was under constant police surveillance and had to work as a manual laborer. He eventually finished high school at night. The problem with this story is that Szabó finished high school in 1963, exactly when he was supposed to. Moreover, he was immediately admitted to ELTE as a Hungarian-English major. It is hard to fathom that the regime was that lenient with someone who a couple of years earlier was barred from every high school in the country.

Szabó came up with the following explanation about his speedy entrance to university. As a third-year high school student he was the national winner of the annual high school literature competition and therefore did not have to take an entrance exam. He “just marched in,” as he said in the interview. That does not ring true either. If Szabó’s story about his expulsion is correct, he spent only two months as a student during the school year of 1961-62, and that is mighty little time to end up the winner of a national competition. And that’s not all. In the same interview he recounted his first meeting with a well-known writer, adding that he was seventeen at the time and “still a student.” The problem is that this had to be in 1962 when, according to his own recounting, he was no longer a student. So much for Péter Szabó’s veracity.

One of Szentmihályi's sciene fictions Visitor from Infinity (1989)

One of Szentmihályi’s science fiction books
Visitor from Infinity (1989)

Szentmihályi Szabó poses as an ardent enemy of communism. In the interview he said that he “as a young man could never understand how people allowed all those things that would happen to us. [He] decided that he would not allow [the communists] to do the same to him and when the time comes [he] will not shirk from taking part in an armed struggle.” He was still a small boy when he cut out the biographies and pictures of “those horrible politicians” from Szabad Nép, the official paper of the communist party during the Rákosi period, because “politics interested him terribly.”

Indeed, it must have interested him because during his university years he joined KISZ (‘Magyar Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség) and later even became KISZ secretary of the politically important organization Írószövetség (Writers’ Union). In the interview he quickly added that he was removed from the position because of his counterrevolutionary and clerical activities. He also wants us to believe that in 1975 on the hundredth anniversary of Endre Ady’s birth (Ady was actually born in 1877) he declared in a speech that as long as Hungary is occupied by Soviet troops one cannot really speak about Ady’s work. But again, luckily his friends managed to save his skin.

A quick glance at some of the evidence, however, shows a very different Szabó who by that time had changed his rather common name to Péter Szentmihályi Szabó. In 1969 the editorial board of Új Írás, a literary magazine, sent out a questionnaire to young writers about their attitudes toward socialist Hungary. Szentmihályi Szabó answered, “I’m so glad that I can be a Hungarian here and now in socialism. Very exciting times. An age that poses great challenges.”

Or here is something else from 1973 that came to light only a couple of years ago when the historian György Németh was researching the history of the Attila József Circle, a gathering of young writers and poets in the 1970s.  It is a letter Szentmihályi Szabó wrote to “Dear Uncle Pista”–most likely István Király, the literary historian and an expert on Endre Ady. The letter can be found in the papers of György Aczél, the man responsible for cultural policies throughout the Kádár years. But before I quote the relevant passage, I have to provide some background.

It was in 1973 that Miklós Haraszti, later one of the founders of SZDSZ, who was 28 years old at the time wrote a sociological study of his own experiences as a blue-collar worker in Ganz-Mávag and in the Vörös Csillag Traktorgyár. The manuscript of Darabbér (Piecework) was confiscated by the authorities, and Haraszti had to stand trial: he received a suspended sentence of eight months. The book was eventually translated into eleven languages, but in Hungary it could appear only in 1989. In the “Dear Uncle Pista” letter Szentmihályi Szabó assures the addressee of his devotion to communist ideals, and he is especially angry over those pseudo-leftist rebels (specifically Haraszti) who turned against the Kádár regime. He is outraged because “we know that Haraszti is an enemy of the regime, our enemy.” Oh, yes, these are the words of the great counterrevolutionary Szentmihályi Szabó who would be ready to fight the communists with weapon in hand.

A few years later he wrote a poem that was published in a volume of poetry entitled Dream of the Mind (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1977). Here is a rough translation.

Ungraceful Prayer to Communism

Where are you idling, Communism
my happiness, my pure love?
Our happiness, our pure love.
Horn of plenty! The table of the law!
The spiritual light!
Eat, drink, hug, sleep!
Measure yourself with the infinite!
Instead of exclamation marks
question marks falling on us,
I known it is not urgent.
Just like the apocalypse, only
to the prophets:
your unfulfillment
does not cause sorrow to many.
Where are you idling communism?
The productive forces, the relations of productions,
rattling machines,
and the conscience… subconscious
the state does not want to fade away.
Where are you idling communism?
Spring follows Spring,
my children-eyes blink old;
communism, you, promised,
strain your every muscle,
shake off the parasites.
Communism, grow, my little child.

This same man is now the greatest enemy of the “communists,” the liberals, and the Jews. Actually, he would have gladly accepted the socialist system minus the Soviets and their “henchmen.” “To this day I consider socialism more just than this money-centered capitalism without any ideology.”

I would wager to say that Szentmihályi Szabó was a happier man in the 1960s and 1970s than he is today. In fact, he says in the interview that “those who did not live then can’t really understand that period. It was a much more interesting time than today…. Writers could bargain because Hungary was much more important to the West then…. Every word uttered had weight. The West watched what we wrote…. Who is interested today in what a Hungarian writer has to say?” A disappointed man whose discontent has morphed into hatred and who finds scapegoats in communists and Jews (perhaps the two are intertwined in his mind) for his own shortcomings.


  1. I think Szentmihalyi perfectly fits into the club of Fidesz. Questionable educational background, disruptive of communism from the “inside”, fast advancement under the dreaded communisms to higher education, etc. Do not forget that almost all Fidesz members went through similar patterns. THey served the communist, became leaders in various communists organizations, get into prestigious universities where gaining attendance was also dependent on party loyalty, turning wit the wind, and becoming an ardent supporter of Christian values.

    At this pony I am just not sure what Hungarians can do about this. This is not the election. It is only Italy that can refuse such ambassadors. WHat and who is he represents when he is only an anti-Semite? I can just only guess what he thinks of the Roma and homosexuals. I do not think the EU can do anything about it. He is not a criminal in legal sense.

  2. OT The Hungarian under 19 soccer league lost 6-1 against Portugal in the “Stadium that Orban Built” in Felcsut. The Hungarian youth also lost to 3-1 against Austria. Unfortunately I can’t find any data on how many people attended the games right next to Orban’s house. Maybe Gazsi should of stayed home and show the Hungarian youth in his father’s stadium how to kick a ball instead of teaching the same in Africa…

  3. How fascinating to read about Szentmihályi’s opaque activities during the years of communism. Smacks of a legend his handlers had created for him.

    No accident that the ex-KISz-führers-turned-Fidesz-moguls are so adamant to keep the communist secret service archive closed…

  4. Szia, Ady Endre 1877-ben született. Tehát a centenáriuma 1977-ben volt, nem 1975-ben. Bocs, de ezt javítani kéne. Kösz. Tardos János.

  5. >> A disappointed man whose discontent has morphed into hatred and who finds scapegoats in communists and Jews ( perhaps the two are intertwined in his mind) for his own shortcomings.<>communism is a Jewish invention and contrary to the Hungarian character, which abhors extremism of any sort<<.
    Therefore, Hungarian anti-Semites do not like to speak about the Kádár-period; they prefer to speak about György Aczél’s role as a kind of enlightened Zhdanov.

  6. Peter Szabo could have been a KISZ secretary, and a Roma and a Homosexual, too, at a time, when it was allowed.

  7. In order to protest PÉTER SZENTMIHÁLYI SZABÓ’s appointment as the Ambassador in Italy for Hungary, you can email to Italy’s Foreign Ministry. Federica Mogherini is the Foreign Minister of Italy. You can request the minister not to issue the acceptance document to such person as an Ambassador in her country, who clearly does not and cannot represent all Hungarian citizens and the interest of all Hungary with such a questionable disposition toward Europen values.
    Consider to cc the email to other officials in the ministry:

  8. OT While Janos Lazar contrary to the decision of the Hungarian court still did not allow the Hungarian press to access the details of his trips on taxpayers money, the government’s paper was fast to publish some smear on one of the civil organizations the Norway funds support.

    As you remember Janos Lazar with Orban wants to decide which civil organization gets how much money from the funds Norway provide tin support as they find it fit. Orban and his bulldogs started to investigate all these organizations to prove that they misspend the money. Tax authorities showed up, the press is all over them, etc.

    Here comes Magyar Nemzet, the government’s voice, and says that one of the organization, Liberal Youth Organization spent the money received from Norway on beer, hamburger, tobacco and tobacco paper. Well, it turns out that although they did purchase those items, actually Magyar Nemzet cannot read, as it was under the self-financed section, meaning that they all paid for their own beer, tobacco, etc. THis is the same kind of tactic used when the government friendly paper issued a statement about the billions of forints paid out to RTL (opposition media), and it turned out that the government friendly paper added a few zeros to the real numbers.

    Now, I am waiting for Magyar Nemzet to publish and scrutinize the details of Lazar’s travels that cost taxpayers around 800 euro/person/night in Europe versus the few euros a small civic organization spent on hamburgers.

  9. “Here comes Magyar Nemzet, the government’s voice, and says that one of the organization, Liberal Youth Organization spent the money received from Norway on beer, hamburger, tobacco and tobacco paper”

    OTT I know but Lazar has been seriously humiliated by the fact that the Norwegians haven’t surrendered (because they and the regime know that if they do, then Fidesz will redirect all the cash to the various pro-regime and fascist front schemes) and the NGOs have not succumbed to the ongoing intimidation campaign.

    Magyar Nemzet and the *smart lawyers* has been scrapping round in the dustbins for guilt and this is their best shot?!

  10. Re Some1’s suggestion. Excellent idea. Dk now has two members in the European Parliament, Csaba Molnár and Peter Niedermüller, who decided to be much more vocal than the earlier MSZP crew. They already turned to the Italian foreign minister on the PSZSZ issue. Együtt-PM’s sole delegate, Benedek Jávor, complained to the European Commission about the Paks deal.

  11. “They already turned to the Italian foreign minister on the PSZSZ issue. Együtt-PM’s sole delegate, Benedek Jávor, complained to the European Commission about the Paks deal.”

    Kudos to the boys–Good work.

  12. Szentmihályi’s resume is interesting. He was an ardent communist, that was clear from his public activities, such as the poems. Yet, somehow, all was forgiven so that he apparently became the chief press officer for the foreign ministry under Antall and Boross, he started working at the ministry in 1992. According to his Magyar Hirlap colleagues, who wrote a tribute article about him for his 65th birthday, he spent the 1983/84 academic year at ACLU. Earlier in 1974 he could research 18th century English literature in London for a semester. It is mentioned everywhere that he has been the chairman of an entity called Party of Christian Europe since 2006, about which party no information can be found.

  13. Another appointment at the reorganized Foreign Ministry:

    I.P. was appointed to be the chief editor of its publications.

    The preciously unknown I.P. became infamous 4 days after the election for publishing
    such a sycophant article in an obscure governmental magazine that
    Hungarians had not read since Rakosi’s [Stalin’s] time 60 years before.

  14. Although I agree in principle with a campaign to get this person rejected by Italy, I doubt that it would succeed. According to diplomatic rules the selection of an ambassador is the prerogative of the sending country’s government. Generally, the receiving country can object if the selected person committed unfriendly acts (verbal or otherwise) towards the receiving country. For example the US rejected Iran’s candidate to ambassadorship to the UN because he was part of the hostage takers during the occupation of the US embassy in Iran. But as an other example, Nazi Germany had an ambassador in the US until 1938, when he went home, but not because he was rejected but as a reciprocal move, because the US recalled its ambassador from Germany after Kristallnacht.

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