Ferenc Donáth, 1913–1986

Born the son of a lawyer at Jászárokszállás, Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County, Donáth entered Budapest University in 1930 to study law. He joined the illegal communist student movement there two years later. By 1934, he was one of the organizers of the movement to reform the system of university fees and joined the Hungarian Communist Party, where he started doing regular illegal party work. He was present in 1936 at the communist-dominated event known as the Debrecen Diet and helped to organize the March Front, which was intended to unite the left wing against fascism. He also came into direct contact with the Foreign Committee of the party. In 1939, he took part in a meeting at Makó that announced the formation of the National Peasant Party. Donáth was arrested in the spring of 1940. After his release, he was called up in the autumn of the same year for labour service, but demobilized in the spring of 1942 with haemorrhage of the lungs. Donáth played an important part in reorganizing the illegal communist party in the early 1940s, joining the leadership of the Peace Party, as it became called after August 1943, and later the Hungarian Communist Party. Early in 1945, he was on the staff of the journal Szabadság (Freedom). In February of that year, he joined a committee headed by Imre Nagy preparing for land reform, which he later directed as the vice-president of the National Landholding Settlement Council. Donáth was political state secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture from 1945 to 1948. In January 1948, he became head of the Secretariat of the HWP Central Committee. He was arrested on February 15, 1951, and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, but freed again in July 1954. He did not return to politics at that juncture and only became active in public life again in the late spring of 1956, as deputy director of the Institute of Economic Sciences. He was present at the celebrations for the 60th birthday of Imre Nagy and spoke in the economic-policy debate at the Petofi Circle on May 9 and 22. Donáth was an eye-witness to the mass demonstrations on the afternoon of October 23, 1956. That night he was elected a secretary of the HWP Central Committee in his absence, but he resigned the next day, because he did not agree with the way the events were summarily dismissed as a counter-revolution. He and Géza Losonczy had a big hand in persuading Imre Nagy, after several days’ hesitation, to interpret them as a revolution instead [?&, in other words as a progressive, positive development]. On October 28, Donáth joined in the talks to promote the consolidation process. On November 1, he became an Executive Committee member of the HSWP, which replaced the HWP as the communist party. On November 4, Nagy and Donáth worded the communiqué condemning the Soviet attack, before taking refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy. Donáth was among those taken to Snagov, Romania, at the end of November, and in June 1958, as one of the accused in Imre Nagy trial, he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. He was released under an individual reprieve in April 1960, but spent the next decade aloof from public life, concentrating his attention on aspects of agricultural history and agricultural economics. Towards the end of the 1970s, he became a leading figure in the incipient political opposition. He was among the first to sign the statement of solidarity with the imprisoned members of the Czechoslovak Charter 77 civil-rights movement. He accepted the chairmanship of the committee editing the Bibó festschrift and supported the efforts to gain an independent press. Donáth was an essential figure in establishing dialogue among the opposition groups of various intellectual and political persuasions, and in organizing the Monor Meeting of 1985.

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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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