___The NÉKOSZ Legend [A NÉKOSZ-legenda]___Back
The NÉKOSZ Legend
A documentary film (in Hungarian)


Were they revolutionaries or the janissaries of the revolution? Heroes or victims? Who were the people’s college members and why have they fascinated the public for so long? The idea for people’s colleges arose in the 1930s out of the revelations of dire social and cultural conditions made at the time in the sociography of the ‘people’s’ writers and rural researchers. A boarding college was established with the intention of opening up, mainly for children of peasant background, the possibility of study, leading to entry into the intelligentsia. Called the Bolyai College (Györffy College after 1942), it became dominated after the war by leaders of the former illegal communist party, who fervently took up the task of reconstruction, land reform, and organizing a national system of people’s colleges. This required an especially talented leader: László Kardos. The horde of young, enthusiastic, talented teachers and students who turned to the colleges produced some remarkable results. By 1948, there were 158 people’s colleges covering the country, offering professional experience and community living to about 9500 secondary and university students.

Big changes came in 1948. The ruling clique under Mátyás Rákosi abandoned its popular-front policy, Yugoslavia became an enemy state, and the cultural chief, József Révai, reversed his support for the people’s college movement. The air froze around the colleges. The new totalitarian regime was intent on terror and would brook no institutional autonomy of any kind. It was a tragic moment when that terror broke up the people’s college movement in which the association nékosz had an active part out of belief and conviction. The most dramatic juncture came with the show trial of Interior Minister László Rajk, who had been an enthusiastic nékosz supporter. nékosz was slotted into the Rajk trial. Hitherto a darling of the communist party, it became portrayed as a gathering place of narodnik, nationalist spies who ignored the tenets of Marxism and sympathized with the Yugoslavs.

nékosz was essentially wound up, with the voluntary cooperation of its members. This was the second great conflict, after the trauma of the Rajk trial, and they had to exercise self-criticism. Interestingly, another great conflict awaited that generation, after the 1956 Revolution. These political and moral dilemmas are dissected in the film, through reports, conversations, and excerpts from archive films and newsreels.

In the spring of 1956, after the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, the chances of clearing nékosz and reviving its traditions returned. Thirteen of the 20 board members of the Petőfi Circle were former people’s college members, as were its secretary, Gábor Tánczos, and another of its officers, Ferenc Pataki. The ruling regime managed to prevent celebrations being held for the nékosz jubilee, but the Petőfi Circle made the nékosz issue the subject of its next public debate. The interest was so great that there were crowds out in the street listening to the debate and it was the only Petőfi Circle meeting of which a news recording was made. On October 13, Imre Nagy appeared at a meeting of former members of the Györffy College. The former people’s college activists thought for a while that they would be able to carry on where they had left off and return to the ideals of their youth.

During the 1956 Revolution, they worked as their consciences dictated on the revolutionary committees and organizations of youth and the intelligentsia, in Budapest and in the provinces. Later, the old nékosz members suffered in the various waves of reprisals. nékosz became part of the Imre Nagy trial as well, where attempts were made to present the Petőfi Circle as an organization intent on overthrowing the system.

Some nékosz people fled the country after the revolution, but the majority remained, and those who did so had to resign themselves to the Kádárite consolidation. There is no doubt that the nékosz generation played a decisive role on Hungary’s intellectual scene during those decades. To name but a few, they included László Kardos, Antal Gyenes, Gábor Tánczos, András Hegedűs, Ferenc Mérei, Miklós Jancsó, Ferenc Juhász, Kati Berek, Péter Bacsó, András Kovács and many other figures. Apart from the well-known Kossuth Prize-winning artists and the half-dozen academicians and government ministers, the bulk of the nékosz people took useful, important jobs as engineers, agronomists, doctors, teachers and so on. Paradoxically, their intentions were realized despite the zigzags of history, for a new intelligentsia rooted in the people was established. It is especially interesting that wherever life took them—to prison or to an academic institute—the nékosz people felt they belonged together and would have common ground. The collective experience knitted them together for a lifetime.


Éva Pataki

Appearing: Ferenc Pataki, József Pál, Árpád Göncz, Mária Pogány, Éva Varga, Magda Somlyai and József Juhász

Length: 68 minutes

Cutting: Kata Juhász

Sound: István Sipos

Assistant: András Lénárt

Photography: Ferenc Pap, Gábor Halász

Director: Éva Pataki.

Producer: Réka Sárközy

Sponsor: Hungarian Historical Film Foundation

Production: Public Foundation of the 1956 Institute

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Copyright © 2000 National Széchényi Library 1956 Institute and Oral History Archive
Last updated:  Monday, 18-September-2006

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