István Bibó, 1911–1979

Bibó was born in Budapest. His father, what would nowadays be called a social anthropologist, became chief university librarian in Szeged, where Bibó attended the Piarist Grammar School, becoming friends with Béla Reitzer and Gyula Ortutay. He entered the Law Faculty of Szeged University in 1929, where he came into close contact with Ferenc Erdei. Bibó studied in Vienna in 1933–4 and Geneva in 1934–5 on state scholarships. He began his legal career as a trainee in the Royal Appeal Court and then the Royal Court of Justice, where he was appointed a clerk of the court in June 1938. However, in November 1938, he transferred to the Ministry of Justice. The previous year, he had helped to word the 12-point manifesto of the March Front [?&, an initiative among left-wing intellectuals designed to promote communist-social democrat cooperation against fascism]. In the summer of 1944, Bibó drafted for the communist party a ‘peace proposal’ between the working class and the middle class which was likewise intended to serve as the basis for a left-wing anti-fascist alliance. Following the German occupation of March 19, 1944, Bibó used his ministry post to save many Jews from deportation by issuing them with safe conducts. He was arrested by the Arrow-Cross fascist authorities on October 16, 1944, and went into hiding on his release a few days later. In February 1945, after the liberation of Budapest by Soviet forces, Bibó accepted a post at the Interior Ministry under the Provisional National Government, at the request of Ferenc Erdei, the new interior minister. Bibó headed the Public Administration Department of the Interior Ministry from March 1945 to July 1946, working on the reform of the county system. From July 1945 to October 1946, he represented the National Peasant Party on the Committee for Legal Reform, where he helped to prepare legislation on the franchise and the electoral system. His article ‘The Crisis of Hungarian Democracy’, which appeared in the journal Valóság (Reality) in October 1945, aroused strong debate. Several other analyses of great issues of the present and recent past appeared in the next few years, mainly in the journal Válasz (Response). From July 1946 to 1950, Bibó was a professor at Szeged University. He became a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in July 1946, and from 1946 to 1949, he was a professor and later president of the Eastern European Scientific Institute. However, in 1950, he was removed from all his positions and went to work as a librarian at the University Library in Budapest. On October 31, 1956, Bibó took part in reviving the National Peasant Party, as whose nominee he joined Imre Nagy’s coalition government on November 3, as minister of state. On November 4, he and Zoltán Tildy negotiated in the Parliament building with the Soviet occupation forces. Bibó formulated a proclamation on the same day, as the representative of the lawful government. On November 6, he wrote his Draft for a Compromise Solution to the Hungarian Question and then left the Parliament building. He was officially relieved of his position by István Dobi, President of the Presidential Council, on November 12. At the beginning of December, he had talks with Indian Ambassador K.P.S. Menon. He handed him a document, drawn up jointly with Ferenc Farkas, Árpád Göncz, István Varga, Géza Féja and Áron Tamási, entitled Statement on the Basic Principles of State, Social and Economic Order in Hungary and the Road to Political Settlement. At the beginning of 1957, he managed to send a study entitled Hungary and the World Situation to London, where it was published. Bibó was arrested on May 23, 1957 and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court on August 2, 1958. He took part in the hunger strike among prisoners at the Vác National Prison. Released by the 1963 amnesty, he worked in the library of the Central Statistical Office until he retired in 1971. While in retirement, he undertook translations and published some minor works. In 1976, he managed to have The Paralysis of the International Community of States and the Remedies for This published in London without going through the Hungarian authorities. He died in Budapest on May 10, 1979. Funeral addresses at the Óbuda Cemetery were delivered by the poet Gyula Illyés and [? the writer] János Kenedi, at what became the first open appearance together by the various strands of the opposition.

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This page was created: Wednesday, 23-Aug-2000
Last updated: Wednes, 12-Sept-2001
Copyright © 2000 The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

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