Because one of our readers was so taken with my piece in Hungarian about the similarities between the ideas of the socialist period on culture and those of the Young Christian Democrats (“Rákosi és Kádár kultúrpolitikusainak legjobb tanítványai: Az ifjú kereszténydemokratákról”) I decided that it would be a crime to deprive non-Hungarian speakers of the pleasure of reading it. Just to be certain that everybody understands what I’m talking about, this reader of Hungarian Spectrum announced that it was the worst piece I have ever written. And that must be quite something, considering the source of the criticism. So prepare yourselves.
First, one must understand that although there is a 37-member Christian Democratic parliamentary caucus there is no such thing as a Christian Democratic Party in Hungary. For years pollsters have been working hard to come up with any signs of measurable support but no luck! The nonexistent party not only has a parliamentary delegation but it also has an Association of Young Christian Democrats.
In the past one didn’t hear much about them, but since Bence Stágel (MP) took over the leadership one finds IKSZ (Ifjúsági Kereszténydemokrata Szövetség) in the news quite frequently. He is a very busy boy. Or rather no longer a boy. He is thirty-three years old and a father. His predecessor, Bence Rétvári, is about the same age–the other Bence. Moreover, their backgrounds are also very similar. I guess in order to become somebody in IKSZ it is a good idea to attend the Jesuit High School of Budapest and move on to get a law degree from the Péter Pázmány Catholic University. I might add here that Bence Rétvári is the man who came up with the brilliant idea of dismantling the archives of the state security apparatus of the old regime and allowing everybody to pack up the originals and take them home. Why? Because it was an immoral system. On this basis we should destroy a lot of archives in the world, but Rétvári’s intelligence level doesn’t allow him to think so far ahead.
The second Bence every other day comes up with a new idea. The one that attracted the most attention was his request to the newly established Media Authority to sanction RTL Klub’s Való Világ (The Real World) reality show. At the same time he asked people to bombard the Authority with complaints about the program, and the good Christians obliged. Within two weeks 64 complaints arrived in the Authority’s mailbox.
György Bolgár, who has eagle eyes when it comes to interesting bits of daily news, immediately spotted Stágel’s call for sanctions and asked for an interview with the new leader of IKSZ. During the conversation it became clear that Stágel wants more than sanctions against RTL Klub; he wants to put an end to the reality show’s broadcast. Moreover, he would like to see “family friendly” television across the board. Programming wouldn’t have to be boring, but it should be such that the whole family could watch all programs from morning till night together. As it turns out, this reality show is the most popular television program in Hungary. It became clear that Stágel would like to introduce a kind of officially sanctioned programming based on Christian Democratic ideas on morality and taste.
Upon further questioning Stáger outlined the kinds of high-brow programs that might interest a very small segment of society but in his scheme would be forced on the whole population. No more “junk” but real “value.” Bolgár at this point interjected: “I don’t know whether you have ever heard of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party. In those days that party had a Central Committee with all sorts of committees and subcommittees. Among them there was a cultural committee. The Central Committee decided on the programming for the Hungarian Television, how it should strengthen the traditional family, socialist and other kinds of values. I hear practically the same thing from you.” Stáger didn’t see any similarity. A sharp mind.
And here I chimed in and added that I would go even farther back. To the Rákosi regime and naturally not to television programming because in those days Hungary had no television broadcasting. Instead I mentioned what happened to public libraries after 1948. Doctrinaire cultural purists got rid of not only all politically suspicious material but also all light reading. What remained were Hungarian and foreign classics and the mostly unreadable books written in the socialist realist style. Whether people liked them or not didn’t matter. They set out to change public taste. They wanted to create a new socialist man. Never mind that in those days the educational attainment of the country was very low and most adults had only a sixth-grade education, they filled the village libraries with classics or happy stories of Soviet collective farms. I guess the assumption was that if these people just tried hard enough eventually they would be avid readers of War and Peace. As we know, neither Rákosi nor Kádár succeeded. As soon as there was greater choice, most of the people returned to “junk.”
A few days ago I happened upon an article about reading habits nowadays. The journalist asked the owner of a bookstore about the reading habits of her customers. The answer was: “People still read but ‘other stuff’.” Meaning not the same as she was accustomed to in the past.
Then I recalled that during my high school days I was a volunteer in the County Library in Pécs. In those days the collection was meager, especially since we were forced to cull an incredible number of volumes. All light reading was banished. The older ladies wanted to read those bestsellers from the 1930s they were accustomed to: Renée Erdős or Lola Réz née Kosáry. One of our librarians tried to satisfy them with Maupassant and Zola. Older men escaped to travelogues: “I hunted tigers in Africa” type of books.
All this effort came to naught. It might have been that there were scores and scores of classics in Hungarian homes, but I doubt that they were read very much. Books were very inexpensive because the pricing structure was also designed to help create a new, well educated socialist society. It was a total bust. And now the Christian Democrats want to change the Hungarian public. Instead of a communist mold they want to force people into a Christian one. But if Rákosi and Kádár were not successful, the Christian Democrats will fail too.
Just to give an example of how little these people understand what we are talking about here. I could hardly believe my eyes when I read a headline in Magyar Nemzet. “Soon Való Világ will receive serious competition.” And what is this competition? The University of All Knowledge! A series of university-level lectures on various disciplines! An excellent program otherwise that I can heartily recommend to everybody. But it is highly unlikely that the viewers of Való Világ will rush to watch “Mindentudás Egyeteme.”
And finally I recalled an old story, also from Pécs. The university library grew out of the late eighteenth-century collection of György Klimó, bishop of Pécs. The original collection is kept separately in a series of lovely chambers with high baroque bookshelves.
Sometime in the early 1950s the library got a new party secretary who looked around and noticed those carved busts on the top of the shelves. He was outraged. Saints in a library! A socialist library! They must go, and he was ready to order workers to saw off the busts. People tried to explain to him that they are not saints but ancient philosophers. It took some persuasion, the fate of the philosophers hung in the balance for a few days. But there is nothing new under the sun. Today certain people don’t want to saw off the busts of philosophers; they only attack their integrity.