1. Ideology, culture and public thinking
2. Architecture and use of space
3. The arts
4. Education, science and scholarship


1. Ideology, culture and public thinking

By 1948, there was clearly no chance of preserving the cultural variety that had marked the brief period of coalition and democracy (multi-party system) after the Second World War. Instead came a culture and education policy based on the doctrines of Marxism-Leninism, subordinate to the political purpose of exercising total control over society, homogenizing the various social groups, and eliminating individual social and cultural initiative. As the communist regime set about standardizing culture and centralizing its control in the widest variety of fields, local and national arts associations and reading circles were forced to close and literary and artistic pluralism abolished. Only Marxist aesthetics remained, advocating a ‘socialist idea of art’ that was intangible and not susceptible to practical interpretation. Meanwhile the education system was overhauled.

Post-war Hungary had been assigned by the wartime Allies to the Soviet sphere of influence. Ideology, under the social and political conditions created by the communist takeover, lost its original function and became dogma—unquestionable teachings that ossified almost into a religion. By this time, the legitimacy of the regime was no longer the main concern. It had been replaced by a determination to ensure the total subordination and control of society. It became compulsory for every member of society, under the classic Stalinist conditions that prevailed, to subscribe to these ostensibly ‘scientifically based’ teachings of the Hungarian Workers’ Party (MDP). Openly representing other values or interpretations was strictly forbidden, as an attack on the party’s monopoly over ideas.

Prominent in the party’s plans for a radical transformation of society was communication, which even meant altering the meaning of language. The new official parlance was paternalistic and drawn largely on military language. For instance, any move towards socio-political change would be called a ‘struggle’, and correspondingly, culture or cultural and intellectual activity was referred to as the ‘cultural front’. Production became a ‘battle’ in the military sense and any error committed ‘an attack by the enemy’. Questions that arose could be answered only through ‘the party’s teachings’ or with ‘the party’s help’. No one need feel lonely or abandoned, for the country belonged to ‘the vast great family of the socialist camp’ and ‘our socialist state’ would ‘care for’ its citizens.

The ideology of the communist party made it supremely important to gain control over culture and the creative intelligentsia. The regime, in possession of total political power, saw itself as the source of all cultural and other assets in society. Every social, cultural or educational phenomenon became a political issue or underwent extreme politicization. It became the political practice in post-1948 Hungary (and elsewhere in the Soviet bloc) to sever ties with European tradition in every walk of intellectual and social life. The previously dominant, tradition-based European culture gave way in 1948–9 to a Soviet pattern of cultural organization and values and the alien tradition marked by the degraded form of socialism that had become the pragmatic, Stalinist, Soviet imperial policy (Sovietization). Debate on a basis of equal rank and rights was stifled, as political, social and cultural life became reduced standardized official pronouncements. The arts lost their autonomy and state cultural policy became the sole criterion for judging works or their creators.

Hungarian society in the years just after the Second World War had been facing up to its wartime role and recent history and showing signs of democratization in its social awareness. The turn of events in 1948–9, however, interrupted the emergence of a modern national consciousness, leaving unsettled such questions as awareness of being a ‘small-nation’ (reinforced by the 1947 Treaty of Paris) or assimilation and acceptance of Jews. Social values underwent marked changes in the ensuing decades. Marxist ideas were thrust upon society most intensively in 1948–56. The imposition of collectivism, suppression of national sentiments and violation of human rights took extreme forms. The forced ‘modernization’ of the period led to greater atomization and secularization, creating a new integration situation in society. Pre-war behaviour patterns were decreasingly found, while the new behaviour patterns of the communist elite of cadres tended to have a disintegrating, rather than an integrating effect.

The scope for the churches to play a part in social integration was steadily reduced in 1945–7, although religious belief and allegiances remained very strong. Hungarian society was undergoing secularization at a pace similar to what other European countries experienced. The churches possessed great social prestige in the mid-20th century. They were also important factors in various social fields, such as education and childcare, charitable work, medical care, and local cultural activity. According to the 1949 census returns, 67.8 per cent of the Hungarian population declared themselves Catholic, 21.9 per cent Reformed, 5.2 per cent Evangelical (Lutheran), 2.7 per cent Greek Catholic, 1.5 per cent Israelite (religious Jewish), and 0.9 each Orthodox, Unitarian and Baptist.

The new regime that consolidated itself in 1948–9 firmly rejected the existing cultural and social traditions in its search to create the ‘new man’ (Homo sovieticus) of Marxist-Leninist teaching, and imposed its autocracy harshly and violently on the churches and religious activity. After the brief post-war interlude, drastic restrictions on freedom of religion and worship were imposed and religious movements, societies and orders were banned. The nationalization of schools and the Pócspetri trial of June 1948 (in which the parish priest is convicted of harbouring the murderer of a policeman) heralded a concentrated attack on organized religion. Bishop László Ravasz, moderator of the Universal Synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church, was forced to resign in May 1948. Several leaders of the Evangelical Church, including Bishop a Lajos Ordass, were arrested and convicted in show trials. Leadership of the two main Protestant churches passed to fellow travellers such as János Péter (later a foreign minister) and Ferenc Erdei in the Reformed Church and the Evangelical József Darvas. In the autumn of 1948, both the Reformed and the Evangelical churches made agreements with the communist government, accepted the prevailing conditions of restricted freedom of worship and elimination of many church institutions. Thereafter, the Catholic Church stood alone in trying to defend its rights, but to no avail. The prince-primate, Cardinal József Mindszenty, was arrested in December 1948 and convicted in February 1949. The religious orders were disbanded and some 10,000 female and 3000 male members suffered internment or deportation in the early summer of 1950. At that point, in August 1950, the episcopacy caved in and signed an agreement with the government, recognizing in retrospect the nationalization of schools and the restrictions on church activity. That, however, did not bring the anti-church moves to an end. In 1951, Cardinal József Grosz and other church leaders were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment despite their willingness to reach agreement, and the church administration was placed under strict state control. Thereafter, the new State Office for Church Affairs effectively decided all church appointments and transfers and censored periodicals and books. The various denominations were usually allowed to keep one weekly and one monthly periodical each.

Faced with the mounting political pressure, the Jewish denominations held a national assembly to establish a single communal body, which later took the name National Representation of Hungarian Israelites (MIOK). There were 263 congregations immediately after the war, organized into six districts. The various mainly Protestant independent churches were placed under the Council of Hungarian Free Churches, founded in 1948. Thereafter, all the Hungarian churches and religious denominations were under political and ideological pressure and police surveillance. Clergy who opposed the state’s policy towards the churches were arrested and prosecuted, as an integral part of that policy.


2. Architecture and use of space

The most important architectural task in the years after the Second World War was reconstruction and clearing up war damage. Architecture in the socialist period that began at the turn of the 1950s was notable for a kind of megalomania. Huge, monumental buildings, public sculptures and public spaces were created. Socialist Realism, as it was known, put forward a system of requirements to which architects and others had to conform. The prime function of such architecture was to convey equality, the ostensibly democratic nature of the socialist system, the indivisibility of life and work, and the superiority of communal over individual life. Buildings and public spaces were supposed to reflect the superiority of the socialist economic system and the power and objectives of the working class. The architects of the new ‘socialist towns’ that symbolized the fabrication of a ‘new life’ often erected buildings and squares that left no room for areas of green. The nature of architecture meant that it was 1950–51 before Socialist Realism gained exclusive sway. It drew, in theory and practice, on an eclectic range of forms, designed to meet expectations centred on ‘creation of a New World’, visual expression of national greatness, and a kind of puritan, impersonal utility. The aggressive and invasive ideology of the socialist period caused special attention to be paid to filling public areas and venues of social interaction with political and ideological content. This led to a marked change in the visual appearance of public spaces in Hungary. Objects reminiscent of the previous period or thought to be at variance with socialist expectations were removed in favour of statuary that met the new policy requirements. It was typical for these to be political memorials, with a figure radiating optimism and dynamism to convey the promise of a bright future. The large numbers of public statues erected in the early 1950s were often magnified versions of small figures. The eight-metre Stalin statue that became an emblem of the Rákosi period was the work of Sándor Mikus. Unveiled in Felvonulási tér (March-Past Square, part of today’s Dózsa György út) on December 16, 1951, before a crowd of 80,000, it served a cultic propaganda purpose that bordered on idolatry (cult of personality), embodying, according to the communist leadership, ‘every progressive endeavour in a thousand years of Hungarian history.’ According to an article of the time in the Szabad Nép, ‘The statue of Stalin rising above our city proclaims… that love of our country and loyalty to the Soviet Union, being a patriot and being international in a proletarian way, are one and same thing.’ However, the statue was never put back after it was toppled during the 1956 Revolution. War memorials to the Soviet soldiers who fell in the Second World War were erected in prominent places in almost every Hungarian community during the post-war years, often in or beside the churchyard. Their commemorative function was secondary, however, for their real significance in society’s eyes was as symbols of Soviet dominion. In a similar fashion, buildings in the early 1950s could serve as direct tools of propaganda, bearing slogans and red stars. Tablets of praise and shame were erected before village halls.


3. The arts

Present-day literary criticism no longer sees 1945 as a literary watershed. The emphasis instead is on the period of transition that began in 1945 and ended in 1948–9, when numerous changes took place on the literary scene and schools and groups rose, became transformed or declined. But literature and literary criticism maintained and relied on continuity. What became irrevocable in 1948–9 was not a change of epoch in the normal sense, but a forcible, violent break with what had gone before. The system of institutions was changed and literary policy became one aimed exclusively to follow the Soviet pattern and embody political totalitarianism (dictatorship of the proletariat). It meant at the same time that Hungarian literature and culture were divorced from the cultural and intellectual life of Europe. The essence of the change was captured forcefully by the poet Gyula Illyés in his 1950 poem ‘A Word about Tyranny’, which was not published, of course, until the time of the 1956 Revolution. The raw Socialist Realism that prevailed in cultural and educational policy was associated with József Révai, although he was only capable of imposing this valueless, quality-shorn concept of literature and art for a few short years.

What was lost to literature and the fine arts in 1948 was the mutual inspiration of the creative process and fidelity to life. Many aspects of reality could no longer be portrayed, or if they were, they could not be published or exhibited. The multiplicity of literature and art was reduced to the single didactic strand of Socialist Realism. Authors and artists were no longer sovereign creators, but simply propagandists for the present and the ‘bright future’ that soon expected. The subject outlines issued by the party inspired realist works of supreme unreality, designed to spin out of the everyday social and intellectual destitution of the country moral tales with an ideological force. Among the epics of production and class struggle were novels such as Storm and Sunshine by Tamás Aczél, Reply by Tibor Déry and Three Generations by Péter Veres.

The break caused great losses to Hungarian literature and intellectual life. Among those who retired from the scene were László Németh, István Vas, Sándor Weöres, Milán Füst, Lajos Kassák, Béla Hamvas and Miklós Szentkuthy. Also absent from the forums of literature were the great names of the younger generation: János Pilinszky, Ágnes Nemes Nagy, Géza Ottlik and Iván Mándy. The work of Áron Tamási, Lőrinc Szabó, Zoltán Jékely and István Sinka could not be published. Many great literary figures fled abroad, including Sándor Márai, László Cs. Szabó, Zoltán Szabó, Imre Kovács and Lajos Zilahy. According to one account, ‘The intellectual lives of almost 50 important Hungarian writers were shortened by a decade.’ Countless works were not written or not published until a decade later because of the terror and intimidation of the period. The established literary journals—Válasz, Magyarok, Fórum, Újhold, Alkotás, Kortárs and Valóság—gave way to Csillag, founded in 1947, and Irodalmi Újság, established in 1950 after the pattern of the Russian Literaturnaya Gazeta. The wave of nationalization put paid to the private publishers and new state-owned publishers were established for each specialism. The final act of the turn came with the Lukács debate of 1949–50, in which Révai led a series of Stalinist attacks on the Marxist philosopher György (Georg) Lukács, who had himself done much to further the advance of Socialist Realism in the post-war years. The debate showed that it was no longer a question of ending the pluralism of literary and artistic life, but of ensuring a monopoly for the Stalinist ‘concept of art’. Hungarian literature had reached a low point, exemplified best in the sycophantic verses and stories that appeared in a volume published in 1952 for the 60th birthday of Mátyás Rákosi. By 1952–3, the schematic approach developed by Révai was no longer in full accord with the expectations of literary policy. That lay behind a debate held about the second volume of the novel Felelet (Response) by Tibor Déry in the summer of 1952. A substantial political and creative change of outlook ensued in 1953, after the proclamation of Imre Nagy’s New Course. It was a first, tentative attempt to restore some autonomy to literature. Opportunities to publish increased with the appearance of new journals such as Új Hang and Művelt Nép, and several writers who had been silenced were able to publish again in the 1953–6 period, such Miklós Mészöly, János Kodolányi, István Vas, Lőrinc Szabó, Magda Szabó, Kassák and Weöres. Hungarian literature had reached a low point, exemplified most clearly by the simplistic verses and stories that appeared in an anthology to mark the 60th birthday of the dictator Mátyás Rákosi in 1952. By 1952–3, however, the schematic approach was no longer meeting all the expectations of literary policy. That was really what lay behind a debate held when the second volume of Tibor Déry’s novel Reply appeared in the summer of 1952. Some real change of political and creative outlook ensued with the New Course of 1953, which brought tentative attempts to restore some autonomy to literature. New opportunities to publish appeared with in newly established periodicals (Új Hang and Művelt Nép). Miklós Mészöly, János Kodolányi, István Vas, Lőrinc Szabó, Magda Szabó, Lajos Kassák and Sándor Weöres were among several able to publish verse or fiction again in the 1953–6 period. The political totalitarianism meant that some of the debates on reform had to a literary guise—as a form of meta-communication to compensate for the lack of normal political communication. In another sense, the want of a free press meant that art and literature tended to acquire political connotations that they may not have originally possessed. The single, downward direction of communication within a political regime incapable of realistic assessment of reality could only be offset by proxy debates phrased in literary and artistic terms.

Most of the communist writers who had been sincere and enthusiastic adherents of the new regime were soon aghast at the turn events had taken. The experience of returning to reality and truth was explored in post-1953 works like Nyírség Diary by Péter Kuczka and Evening on the Worker’s Train by Zoltán Zelk. The same impressions can be felt in work of the period by younger poets like Sándor Csoóri, István Simon, András Fodor and Margit Szécsi and the stories of István Csurka, Endre Fejes, Ferenc Sánta and Erzsébet Galgóczi that appeared in an anthology called Human Initiation. Poets Gyula Illyés (‘Bartók’, ‘Before the Reformation Memorial in Geneva’), László Nagy (‘Pearly Skirt’) and Ferenc Juhász (‘Lavish Land’) were already intimating a sense of exploitation, upheaval and chagrin at some of the contradictions apparent in that period. Fictional accounts of how people suffered under the totalitarian system included the novels Niki and Love by Tibor Déry. The continuity with earlier literary life and values could not be restored, but by the spring of 1956, freedom of creation was steadily increasing again, so that literature played a big part in the political struggles that led up to the 1956 Revolution. Imre Nagy became the centre of a group of reform-communist writers and journalists who gained political experience in the 1954 Memorandum affair, the rebellious party meetings at Szabad Nép, and the debates in the Writers’ Union. Later they were to play important parts in the 1956 Revolution and the resistance after its defeat.

The divisions of the 1930s between népi (popular, peasant-inspired) and urbánus (urbane) writers and thinkers reappeared from time to time. Some tactical attempts to exploit them were made by the cultural policy-makers under József Révai.

Films after 1945 had to apply for a performance permit from the Board of Censors, whose role was taken over in March 1948 by a new National Film Office. A government order at the same time obliged all cinemas to show the official newsreels, and in the autumn, the various studios were amalgamated into a single national enterprise. The newsreels, of course, lost their significance at the same time, ceasing to disseminate plain information and turning to propaganda instead. The same applied to most of the feature films made in the early 1950s. The while industry came under the control and management of the Cultural, Agitation and Propaganda Department of the Hungarian Workers’ Party (MDP) and the Film Division of the Ministry of Public Education. Films were distributed by cinema enterprises organized on a geographical basis. Private enterprise in film production and distribution ceased abruptly in 1948 with strongly centralized nationalization. Inordinate numbers were shown of Soviet films, most of them only with propaganda value.

Theatres were also nationalized and drama training reorganized, so that the private acting schools had to close. All training for actors and directors was concentrated in the College of Drama and Cinema, which was raised to university rank in 1948. Most Hungarian and world classics were dropped from the repertoire in favour of ‘developed Soviet drama’, whose merits were urged by ubiquitous Soviet advisers. The alien and artistically obsolete, schematic patterns remained for some time a formidable obstacle to the introduction of modern dramatic principles and practices in repertoire choice, direction and staging.

Much of the repertoire was taken up with works by Soviet playwrights such as Gladkov and Azhayev and their Hungarian disciples, concerned with class struggle and the daily doings of the proletariat. Such pieces include the collectivization play Deep Ploughing by Mihály Földes, Klára Fehér’s Summons in a Criminal Case, Gyula Háy’s Bridge of Life, Éva Mándi’s Everyday Heroes and László Tabi’s House of Cards. Occasional classic plays by Moliére or Shakespeare might be seen. Despite the constrictions, several great actors and actresses (Zoltán Várkonyi, József Tímár, Margit Dajka, Klári Tolnai, Hilda Gobbi and József Szendrő) managed to keep theatrical workshops functioning. Another curiosity of the period was the State Village Theatre (later State Déryné Theatre) founded in 1951 and dedicated to enabling companies without a permanent home to ‘bring theatre culture to the broad masses’ in communities without a theatre.

The film world was also turned upside down, as many of the foremost figures went into exile (including director Géza Radványi) and others were sidelined for failing to meet the new ideological expectations. The renewal that the films of István Szots, Radványi’s 1947 Somewhere in Europe and Frigyes Bán’s Treasure Earth brought was lost for a long time to come. The output of the early 1950s mainly consisted of simplistic historical-romantic and other entertainment films of little artistic value, helped along at the box office by such popular actors and directors as Kálmán Latabár, Gyula Gózon, Viktor Gertler and Márton Keleti.

Departures from the scheme of Socialist Realism came in mid-decade, with such films as Zoltán Fábri’s Merry-Go-Round (1955) and Professor Hannibal (1956) and the lyrical realism of films by Félix Máriássy (Relatives, 1954, A Glass of Beer, 1955, Smugglers, 1958). The political thaw of 1953 brought the first film parables with a political content and a critical stance on social questions, which can be seen as the harbingers of a long Hungarian tradition of cinematic social criticism. They included Márton Keleti’s Magic Striker (1956), Zoltán Várkonyi’s Bitter Truth (1956) and Tamás Banovich’s Empire Sneezed Away (1956). A similar change took place in the theatre, where the Madách’s classic Tragedy of Man was performed again at the National in 1955, after an eight-year interlude, and so were works by Chekhov, Ibsen and Lorca. Larger numbers of contemporary playwrights had their works performed, as productions returned to the problems of the real world. They included A Thousand Years by Ferenc Karinthy and September by Imre Sarkadi. Issues of the Stalinist period were aired in the hugely successful satires Cucumber Tree by Erno Urbán and Sole Stroking by Tibor Déry. Among the most successful plays of all in 1956 was Galileo by László Németh. However, restrictions were reimposed after the 1956 Revolution.

Music after the Second World War was dominated by Hungary’s two greatest composers of the period, Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. Socialism Realism rapidly imposed its demands after 1948. Bartók’s main works were rejected, while Ernő Dohnányi left the country in 1949 and László Lajtha went into internal exile.

For socialist ‘reality’ and a party, popular approach were expected of musicians, in obedience to guidelines laid down by the Hungarian Composers’ Association founded in 1949. Concert management was also centralized under an organization called Muzsika (renamed the National Philharmonia in 1952). The intendant of the Budapest Opera, the German conductor Otto Klemperer, resigned at the end of the 1949–50 season. Composers too were expected to over-fulfil norms put forward in honour of the 2nd Congress of the Hungarian Workers’ Party (MDP) in 1951, to which 43 composers eventually offered 63 new compositions instead of the expected 52.

Chamber music declined in favour of choral works, marches and socialist community songs. The cantatas, marches and songs from musical comedies were imbued with optimism. The most popular Hungarian songs, according to a list compiled in 1950, were entitled ‘The Plan Will Win’, ‘Rise Up Day of Work’, ‘Greeting to Stalin’, ‘Peace Song’, ‘Weave the Silk, Comrade’ and ‘The Tractors Roar’. Bartók was condemned as formalistic at the end of the 1940s, while lighter, less demanding works were composed in large numbers: Pál Járdányi’s Vörösmarty Symphony, György Ránki’s ‘fairy opera’ King Pomádé’s New Clothes, and Lajos Bárdos’s 1953 Kossuth Suite. Immediate comprehensibility and ease of singing were given priority. Composers were expected to remain within the established melodic and harmonic bounds, to produce less enterprising works of popular appeal. The policy of simplifying and vulgarizing led to provincialism and mediocrity in the Hungarian music of the early 1950s. Ideological commitment was measured in terms of adherence to the style and form expected of composers, while other efforts were condemned as formalistic or cosmopolitan. Hungarian music became isolated from the world outside the Soviet bloc.

The prestigious Academy of Music was merged into the Workers’ Music School, whose task was to train amateur ensembles. Dance instruction was centralized into the State Ballet Institute. Political pressure in 1949–50 led to most well-known operas being removed from the repertoire at the State Opera, where the core audience of subscribers lost their chances to renew their subscriptions for their accustomed seats and nights. Subscriptions were canvassed among the working class in ways similar to those used with the peace loans. Audiences at the State Opera and its other house, christened in the Erkel in 1953, totalled over a million a year in this period. They were joined in 1948 by the Rolling Opera, designed to popularize opera in the provinces.

Change became apparent on the musical scene in 1955–6, as outstanding conductors such as János Ferencsik and László Somogyi appeared. The dramatic tension of the period was already reflected in Kodály’s Zrínyi’s Appeal (1954).

Post-war Hungarian painting was marked by rivalry between three schools: the post-Nagybánya school of Aurél Bernáth and Pál Pátzay, the Avant Garde (Endre Bálint, Dezső Korniss, Margit Anna, Piroska Szántó, Jenő Barcsay and Tibor Vilt), and the Neo-Realists. The Nagybánya traditions of sensitive depiction were propagated by the journal Magyar Művészet, while the Avant Garde gathered in the European School, and the New Realists formed a looser group, with György Baksa Soós, Károly Koffán, Sándor Mikus, Lajos Szalay, Oszkár Papp and Gábor Ö. Pogány prominent.

The free art schools and the art colleges of the National Association of People’s Colleges (NÉKOSZ), including the Derkovits and Dési Huber colleges and the Ferenc Rózsa College of Applied Arts, were prominent after the war, but closed successively in 1949–50. The move towards Socialist Realism was exemplified in late 1948 by a work-contest exhibition to show what art students had done and an exhibition entitled Towards Communal Art. Communist-party resolutions in 1948–9 condemned ‘the reactionary bourgeois principle of art for art’s sake’ and laid down criteria for ‘optimistic art presenting reality, i.e. the life and struggle of the people’. This ‘aesthetic’ turn of events was reflected in the exhibitions for the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, held in 1949 and in the displays of Soviet painting. Soon after came the first appeal to artists for a work contest. The tone of art criticism altered, the commonest objections being ‘empty formalism’, ‘pessimism’ and ‘insufficient application of Socialist Realism’. Artistic issues came under the control of the Ministry of Public Education. Private patronage practically ceased. The uniform artists’ association that was founded undertook in its statutes to apply the policy of the communist party and represent the principles of Socialist Realism.

By 1949, larger shows were being organized according to the new ‘system of values’: ‘Socialist Realism… the trend of high-level sculpture and painting guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism, is being realized in this country’s art as well. Before our youth stands the fertile example of the most developed art in the world: Soviet art.’ Thereafter, almost all members of the Avant Garde went into retirement, while the other group seen as progressive, the Socialist Realists, altered their means of expression to meet official expectations. The third group, the plebeian realists, tried to compromise between the new expectations and their underlying view of art.

Most of the dominant figures in Hungarian sculpture at the end of the 1940s had been present at the beginning of the decade or earlier (Ferenc Medgyessy, Pál Pátzay, Béni Ferenczy or Tibor Vilt). The statue of the poet Petofi commissioned from Ferenczy in 1948, for the centenary of the 1848 revolution, was not even erected, because it no longer fitted the official requirements. Schematic naturalism and artistic treatments redolent of optimism were ubiquitous. The idea of harnessing art to politics was not alien to most left-wing artists, but few had imagined that they would be called upon to surrender their individuality, initiative and taste. Many of those unable to change their career or calling struck compromises, including Pátzay and his pupils. Others such as József Somogyi, Tibor Vilt and Miklós Borsos tried to tread the narrow path the expectations of public invitations and their own artistic demands. The ‘fifties’ as an artistic period ended in 1956–7. In September 1956, six members of the Avant-garde (Margit Anna, Endre Bálint, Lajos Barta, Jenő Gadányi, József Jakovits, Dezső Korniss and Endre Rozsda) managed to exhibit again. Abstract and surrealist works appeared also at the 1957 Spring Exhibition, as a sign of a slow opening up, to the benefit of many artists and creators who had been ignored in earlier years and remained largely unknown.


4. Education, science and scholarship

Efforts to amalgamate the various sectors and transform the education system began to mount in 1947–8. The first milestone came with Act XXXIII/1948 on the nationalization of schools, passed by Parliament on June 16. All private schools and all but a handful of church schools were taken over or closed. By the autumn, some 6500 educational institutions had passed into state hands, of which about 85 per cent were elementary schools and 15 per cent secondary schools or teachers’ training colleges. Meanwhile the extra-curricular children’s and youth organizations were disbanded and replaced by the Pioneer movement and the League of Working Youth (DISZ), which was founded at the beginning of the 1950s. The act also brought kindergartens under state control. The four-year elementary schools were replaced by a system of eight years of primary education, followed by four years of secondary school, instead (in most cases) of eight. New types of industrial, agricultural and economic secondary schools were introduced in 1950.

The prime educational task became to raise young people in the exclusively materialistic, atheistic spirit of the new political system. Russian became a compulsory subject in the autumn of 1949 and the teaching of other foreign languages was curtailed. Religious education remained as an optional instead of a compulsory subject, but in fact, it became very difficult to provide. Only the principles of Marxist education could be applied in practical teaching. The previous structure and local autonomy of the education system ceased altogether. School districts were abolished in 1950 and local direction and control of education transferred to local-government education departments. In 1950, a five-grade system of marking was replaced the seven-grade system introduced in 1948.

The year 1950 also brought an inspection of the stocks of bookshops and public and school libraries. Among the works destroyed or taken out of circulation were all the works of Elek Benedek, Grimm’s fairy tales, and certain works of Sienkiewicz, Karl May, Dante, Dickens, Dumas, Kipling, Stefan Zweig, Cervantes, Endre Ady, Mór Jókai, Gyula Krúdy, Kálmán Mikszáth, Ferenc Móra, Sándor Márai, Áron Tamási and Géza Gárdonyi. These were condemned for spreading a ‘nationalist’, ‘sentimental’, ‘religious’ or ‘petty bourgeois’ outlook among readers and students. At the same time, it became compulsory for teachers to attend ideological extension training. The agreement with the synod of Catholic bishops allowed two gymnasia (grammar schools) each to remain to the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Piarists and the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The Reformed Church was allowed to retain four gymnasia at the beginning of the 1950s and the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church and Judaism one each. The Evangelical school was closed in 1952 and the number of the Reformed Church schools reduced to one.

The work of developing a system of higher education to suit the new political requirements began under the university reform of 1948–9. Its purpose was ‘to place colleges at the service of the people and bring the operation of the universities in line with the needs of people’s democracy’ (Sovietization). The other main purpose was to assist young people of worker and peasant background to do university courses. There were continual faculty reviews, in which a great many reputed professors known all over Europe lost their chair, post, title or membership of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, including István Bibó, István Hajnal, Sándor Domanovszky, Farkas Heller, Simon Papp, Elemér Mályusz, Ákos Navratil and Gyula Princz. The transformation broadened out in 1949, when the university faculties were reorganized and new institutes were established. A Russian Institute was founded at the Budapest University of Sciences in 1947. It was later known as the Lenin Institute and had six faculties by 1952, when Russian teachers, translators and interpreters were taught there in Russian and Hungarian. The economics faculty of the Budapest Technical University was hived off as a separate University of Economic Sciences, which took the name of Karl Marx in 1953. Other technical universities were founded in 1950–51 in Miskolc (for the iron, steel and engineering industries) and Veszprém (for chemicals). The faculties of arts and natural sciences were separated, and so were the universities of Pécs and Debrecen from Budapest. The Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Reformed theological faculties were turned into separate colleges and the denominational law schools were closed. The Péter Pázmány University of Sciences in Budapest took the name of Loránd Eötvös. In the autumn of 1950, a separate faculty of Marxism-Leninism was formed there. Early in 1951, the medical faculties of the universities of science were turned into medical universities. In practice, this fragmentation of higher education dispensed with universities in the traditional sense.

The universities were also deprived of the right to bestow scientific titles. The Soviet system of ranks was adopted, including the degrees of candidacy and doctorate of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, awarded by a National Council of Scientific Training within the Academy. In 1952, the Presidential Council marked the 60th birthday of Mátyás Rákosi by instituting the Mátyás Rákosi Study Medal of Merit and Study Scholarships for outstanding college and university students. The Sovietization of the education system is apparent in the fact that 86 of the 175 new university textbooks published in 1950–52 were translations of Soviet books.

The transformation of the education system in the early 1950s was accompanied by a rapid rise in student numbers. The number of secondary-school students in 1953–4 was 121,000, or double the roll before the war. The number of students entering higher education more than doubled between 1949 and 1951, but then sank to roughly the 1949 level by 1955. The number of students in full daytime higher education rose from 31,852 in 1950–51 to 33,617 in 1954–5.

The scientific research institutes also lost their autonomy during the 1947–9 change of political system. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences changed from a public body into a state-financed institution. Its governing boards and institutions were reorganized and some of its research organizations and institutes were closed (including the Teleki Institute and the agricultural research institutes). The universities largely lost their research functions to a new network of institutes organized around the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which underwent gradual Sovietization in the late 1940s and early 1950s. One of the preparatory steps was to augment its governing bodies with Marxist scientists and scholars such as the philosophers György (Georg) Lukács and Béla Fogarasi, and the social historian Erik Molnár. Foreign relations were curbed and the Soviet orientation strengthened. The wave of emigration in this period and after 1956 caused the country untold intellectual losses. Among those who left in 1948 was the Nobel medicine prize-winner Albert Szent-Györgyi, who resigned as vice-president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, followed shortly afterwards by his successor, the physicist Zoltán Bay.

According to the programme adopted at the first party congress of the Hungarian Workers’ Party (MDP), ‘Scientific research and artistic creation have to be freed from their dependence on capital and placed in the service of the people.’ The structural and organizational changes were foreshadowed by the establishment of the Hungarian Scientific Council in 1948 for the purpose of ‘planned direction of scientific life’ (central planning). This effectively robbed the Hungarian Academy of Sciences of its powers of self-government, as the new council took over its rights of organization and direction of scientific and scholarly work. The reorganization of the system of scientific institutes produced a compartmentalized network. The institutes that date from the period include the Central Physics Research Institute, the Institute of Agro-Biology, the Institute of Political and Legal Studies, the Institute of Historical Studies, the Agricultural Research Institute, and the Geographical Research Institute. The five institutes attached to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1950 had increased to 33 by 1957. In 1954, an Academy Research Institute of Atomic Physics was established at Debrecen. The number of social scientific research institutes also rose steadily, with the establishment of institutes of economic sciences, literary studies and philosophy.

New Soviet-style statutes were adopted by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in the autumn of 1949 and remained in force until the early 1990s. These significantly reduced the number of Academy members from 257 to 128, by excluding those who did not meet the ideological requirements. Among those expelled were the legal scholar Gyula Moór, Albert Szent-Györgyi, Zoltán Bay, literary historian Tivadar Thinemann, geologist Simon Papp, writer Sándor Márai, statistician Dezső Laky and historian András Alföldi. The Academy turned into a national scientific authority based on a centralized, bureaucratic system of institutions that placed scientific work at the disposal of central planning. The new ideological approach to research is apparent in the proceedings of the conference to mark the 125th anniversary of the foundation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which included lectures on dialectical materialism, articles on linguistics by Stalin, and aspects of Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin’s biology.

The major changes in the system of scientific ranks meant that the universities lost not only the right to award titles such as university professor, senior lecturer and honorary professor, but control of their own staffing. A system of three-year postgraduate training was introduced along with the Academy degrees of candidacy and doctorate of sciences. This provided a further occasion for screening scientists and scholars, for only a fraction of those applying for the new grades received them: 148 out of 2447 received the degree of doctor of sciences and another 757 the candidacy degree. The political and personnel changes left Hungary in the early 1950s divorced from international science and scholarship, while research and teaching in the fields of sociology and psychology ceased altogether at the turn of the 1940s and 1950s.

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This page was created: Monday, 8-Dec-2003
Last updated: Wednesday, 10-Dec-2003
Copyright © 2003 The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

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