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Éva FORGÁCS, art historian, 1947

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In May 1988, I participated in the establishment of the Democratic Trade Union of Scientific Workers (TDDSz), as well as a few of the Trade Union’s subsequent events. There was a spring-like ambiance, even if the memory of the 1969 assembly of the Faculty of Humanities still glimmered through – our revolt in ’68 was brushed off the table by Aczél in one sweep. The demonstration organized at the Batthyány Sanctuary Lamp on 16 June 1988 also remains a vivid memory. The funeral of Imre Nagy was a strongly symbolic event, where it was possible to feel a sense of solidarity – finally, for the first time, openly – in the streets and on the underground towards Hero’s Square, the likes of which I had never experienced before then.

From the summer of 1989 till the summer of 1990, in the time period of the actual change in regime, I was not in Hungary.

In the summer of 1990, we already had the elections behind us. I would have thought it important to mark the regime change – as it was not the result of a revolt – by a symbolic event. During an accidental meeting, I suggested to Demszky that he should announce a city cleaning campaign in Budapest in the wake of the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. The city was filthy, but that was not the point. All that would have been needed was an announcement on a Sunday to “Clean Budapest”: everyone could wash off the main entrance to their building, the windows and the sidewalk. All it would have taken was a few water trucks and a distribution of the cheapest dishwashing liquid. I was convinced – and I still think – that it would have been a wildly popular initiative, and would have psychologically helped the inhabitants of the city to experience the events not just as something that happened to them, but as something that was – to some extent – their own. Demszky was not interested.

In 1990, József Tamás Reményi asked me to work as an art critic for Magyar Napló [Hungarian Journal] on a regular basis. Although the first great privatizations had already made it clear that what was in the becoming was far from a pure, new world, writing freely for the papers at that time was an irresistible opportunity.

At the Academy of Applied Arts, where I was teaching at the time, I was deeply involved in the efforts to make Mihály Pohárnok our new rector. This process was ultimately kind of depressing, not only because, for political reasons, we did not succeed, but also because, during the series of assemblies, I realized that for a lot of my colleagues the outcome of the process – who the new rector would be – was a question of professional existence.  My job and salary were of no significance. I had no family to support. I saw how these political struggles took place in the spirit of forced compromises. Having arrived to this conclusion, I withdrew my involvement in such struggles.

My book entitled Bauhaus 1919-1933, which was completed in 1989 and published in 1990, explored the reconcilability of a utopistic-democratic art community, practice and political context. While it was not a book for the general public, I feel that it could have only been published during – and it was in essence about – the transitional period.

 

As for the visual art scene, the appearance of private galleries and the acknowledgement of the validity of multimedia works brought a turning point.

My opinion at the time was not exclusively positive, but, in spite of numerous misgivings, I was rather enthusiastic. The yoke had fallen from us, which we had believed to be the only thing standing in the way of free, colourful, honest words. If we look at the publications of the time, we can see that massive creative energies had been released. The language, the manner and tone of speaking became free, in spite of the fact that, by that time, culture had been dominated by a kind of liberalism – cynically tolerated by the government – for over a decade. Still, only the actual collapse of the system could provide the elemental experience of witnessing the fall of a political power.

In retrospect – without mentioning the extremely dismal political circumstances of the present – I believe that Hungarian progressive intellectuals missed a great opportunity to establish their own autonomy and independence. The periodicals, many of which had George Soros’ patronage to thank for their existence, didn’t look for support in the private sphere and didn’t feature advertisements; they sustained (and still sustain) themselves mostly on state funds (National Cultural Fund – NKA). There were, of course, different initiatives as well, such as Balkon (a periodical I would have initially co-edited together with István Hajdu, on his invitation, had I not left the country in 1993), which from the get go acquired its initial capital from banks. Most cultural periodicals, however, to this day, receive – and sustain themselves mainly on – state funding. It is unlikely that such publications would survive the sudden withdrawal of these funds. I find this close dependence on the state unacceptable, even if it is obvious that Hungary offers little room to maneuver; there is little private capital to speak of – which is now also controlled. Attempts should have been made, while it was still possible in political terms, to establish the kind of sustainable support that would have ensured autonomy. The development of one’s own audience would have also been a part of this process.


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