Mark David Pittaway (1971-2010)

A friend and a colleague, Eszter Bartha (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary), wrote this obituary.

*****

The horrible news that Mark had died so tragically and suddenly arrived as a great shock, and I still find it unbelievable that we have to talk about him in the past tense. He was a great teacher, a great scholar and a great friend. The tragic loss of his brilliant, kind-hearted and generous personality means a great sadness to everybody who knew him and who had the opportunity to benefit from his sparkling spirit, deep knowledge and unique wit that he manifested in every discussion. He had a great intellect, a marvelous talent for languages and a remarkable endurance to pursue his academic and teaching goals. Spiritually and linguistically, he was at home both in Western and Eastern Europe–an admirable and remarkable achievement which testifies to his cultural sensitivity and his ability to cross borders, both culturally and geographically.

The first time I met Mark was characteristic of his academic and historical interest: we met in a Hungarian archive where he collected material for his book on the Hungarian working class in the Stalinist period. This meeting was followed by many others since we had a lot to share as I also worked on Eastern European labor history under socialism. Intellectually, I owe a lot to Mark who taught me how to do East-West comparison and how to interpret Hungarian history from a wider European perspective.

Mark's studies and his manuscript entitled The Workers' State: Industrial Labour and the Making of Socialist Hungary, 199-1958, which is still unpublished, indicate a pioneering path in Hungarian historiography. He challenged the view that Stalinism was imposed on Hungary by means of external force only; he in fact showed that the policy of the Hungarian dictator, Mátyás Rákosi, enjoyed a certain support on the eve of the establishment of the dictatorship. This support was lost when Rákosi introduced new wage policies which drastically reduced the income of the skilled workers. While Mark's work is a great achievement in social history, he also offered an important contribution to the issue of the legitimation of communism in Eastern Europe. His work shows that communism was not the cause of the economic backwardness of the region; in fact, the economic backwardness and the poverty of huge segments of the population contributed to the establishment of the communist dictatorship in Hungary.

In his research on the border region between Austria and Hungary Mark takes the argument further to show that communism received so little support from the Austrian people that the Soviets did not even try to introduce a Soviet type of regime there. This new project, in which Mark examined the establishment of institutional controls in Hungary as opposed to Austria, offers a full-fledged comparison between the "east" and the "west." The study of the borderland societies is a field where Mark's remarkable ability to move between cultures was at its best. The studies that he wrote on the border regions received international attention. It is very sad that he could not finish the book he was working on.

His tragic death is an irretrievable loss to everybody who knew and respected his great mind, his intelligence and his humanity. His memory will be preserved by his friends all over the world including Hungary, the country to which he gave so much of his brilliant spirit and his great intellect.

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Paul
Guest

A sad day for Romanian-Hungarian relations
🙁
“Scandal: Romania wants to celebrate the thievery of Erdély in the Hungarian National Theater in Budapest”
http://www.hungarianambiance.com/2010/11/scandal-romania-wants-to-celebrate.html

Paul
Guest

Sorry for the message above unrelated with your post but I didn’t find any other way to send you this.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “A sad day for Romanian-Hungarian relations :-(”
Very interesting. For months we have heard nothing else but the outstandingly good relations between Romania and Hungary. Visit after visit and statement after statement from government officials. But then comes the renting of a room in the National Theater and the truth comes out. I wonder what that will do to the Romanian-Hungarian love affair of late.
This incident will also be excellent for removing Róbert Alföldi from his job. He is gay and in certain circles that makes him unfit for the job.

Paul
Guest

Just like to point out that the above ‘Paul’ isn’t me!
One of us is going to have to change his name…

Daniel
Guest

@I wonder what that will do to the Romanian-Hungarian love affair of late…
Nothing really. The Romanian press merely mocked the ‘kindergarden’ style of politics of the Hungarians, the style of first giving an approval and then withdrawing it.
And the Romanian FM issued a “diplomatic” statement :
“In light of excellent bilateral relations and the strategic partnership that exist between the two countries the current situation was “an isolated exception.” It is regrettable that “under pressure from the threat of political protests” Alfoldi withdrew an agreement with the Romanian Cultural Institute for renting out the building for a reception, the statement said.” -MTI

Paul
Guest

Apologies in advance if this sounds insenstive, but does anyone know how Mark died?
None of the many comments I have read about him and his death give the slightest hint about what happened. This was a man in the prime of life, sound of mind and body, and clearly enjoying life, and yet no one seems to know (or be concerned about) how he came to die so unexpectedly.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “Apologies in advance if this sounds insenstive, but does anyone know how Mark died?”
As far as I know, heart attack.

Paul
Guest

Thanks, Éva. I know it’s none of my business, but it was really bugging me.
I still find it hard to believe he’s gone. Even now I often find as I’m writing a comment that I’m wondering what Mark’s reaction will be. Or I’m thinking about something to do with Hungary and I reach for the keyboard to post a question for Mark.
I didn’t really know him at all, and yet I feel angry that he has been taken from us.

Paul
Guest
Nice obituary in today’s Guardian: Mark Pittaway obituary Eminent scholar of contemporary Hungary Martin Mevius and Thomas Escritt guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 November 2010 Mark Pittaway, who has died of heart failure aged 39, was the pre-eminent western scholar of postwar and contemporary Hungary of his generation, a world-class historian of social relations under communism and a lucid observer of contemporary central European affairs. His trademark was the deft combination of high politics with social history. By examining realities on the ground, he successfully challenged well-established ideas about communism and nazism. Mark was born and raised in Wakefield, west Yorkshire, the eldest of three children of Trevor and Janet Pittaway, both teachers dedicated to socialist values. Mark’s upbringing, combined with witnessing the upheaval in Yorkshire mining under Margaret Thatcher, made him a lifelong socialist. He read history at Warwick University, and had his first encounter with Hungary in 1993 at the summer university in Debrecen. Mark learned to speak Hungarian perfectly, with only a hint of his native Wakefield. On those long summer evenings, he out-talked everyone, on Hungarian history, the British left, central European politics and the Yugoslav wars, with deep knowledge, brilliance and wit. At the University of Liverpool… Read more »