Sikertörténet kudarcokkal (bukaresti életutak)

TitleSikertörténet kudarcokkal (bukaresti életutak)
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsLaczó, Ferenc
Author(s) of reviewed materialBányai, Éva

Title translated:
A Success Story with Fiascos (Paths of Life in Bucharest)

PublisherCluj/Kolozsvár: Komp-Press, Korunk Baráti Társaság
ISSNISBN (10) 973-9373-66-6
Review year


Full Text

This volume features altogether seventeen recently conducted interviews by Éva Bányai with leading Transylvanian Hungarian intellectuals who were involved in the brief Hungarian cultural flourishing in Bucharest in the earlier years of Ceauşescu’s rule, after 1968, when several new institutions were founded in the Romanian capital. Bányai’s research project is on the widely read social, political and cultural weekly A Hét (similar to the Romanian periodical Contemporanul) that is commonly seen as having significantly contributed to the improvement of the level of public discussion in Hungarian in Romania, but the coverage of this volume is wider, including (among several other institutions) the publishing house Kriterion and the Hungarian section of the television as well. These were the most important cultural organs for the Hungarians of Romania at the time, alongside the journal Korunk in Cluj/Kolozsvár.

They were established as concessions through political connections of certain Hungarians at a time when the regime felt it needed to strengthen its base, but they were essentially meant (so the common perception) as window-dressings, which nevertheless allowed work to be done and positive things to emerge. Soon, people at these institutions were targeted in various ways in spite of (or rather because of) their successful functioning, and there was a continuous deterioration of their chances to achieve their goals. So this volume is on what one of the interviewees calls “an island in time” and a part of the history of Romania that is historically still largely unexplored.

The seventeen people (almost all of them born either in the late 1920s or early 1940s) interviewed were in ambiguous positions in multiple ways: moving to the capital from their local Transylvania to serve Hungarian culture while staying loyal enough to a dictatorship with a strong ethnicist agenda and centralizing tendencies, aiming to preserve and spread cultural values while combating a system of censorship and facing issues related to self-censorship, etc. In these interviews Bányai tends to ask the same questions, concerning their aims and achievements, views on compromises and their perceptions of the limits of what was still acceptable (what was a reasonable bargain under the given circumstances?), on Hungarian cultural life and major figures in Bucharest around this time, on these people’s relation to Bucharest, the differences of the situation in Bucharest and Transylvania (also in terms of interethnic relations and the harshness of the dictatorship), and the relations between Hungarians from Transylvania and those in Bucharest.

The interviews reveal several interesting points about these matters. Let me mention some of these. Firstly, most of these people largely remained isolated, just as the Hungarian community of Bucharest was also divided into small circles. They generally conceived of their stay in the Romanian capital as temporary, and to most of them the city felt very different and in some ways remained alien. They did not feel that there were negative sentiments towards them from Transylvanian Hungarians, also since they were (most importantly) usually trying to arrange things for them. Fourthly, the book also includes interesting reflections on the impact censorship had on their style and the ways views were presented. It is important to note that these people were aware of the ambiguity of their role and tended to make compromises after considerations of how much loyalty they needed to display (to a regime which most of them tended to regard very negatively) and how much they could serve their primary cause, Hungarian cultural life. Then again, principles and generalization have to be connected to a great variety of individual stories and details have to be incorporated that could at times make all the difference.

It is difficult to evaluate the overall performance of these intellectuals (and the title of the book is therefore very fitting in my opinion), and thus it ought to be welcomed that on the pages of this book one senses there is a general unease felt about trying to pass judgements. Importantly, several stories are told that are about regrets for what some have done, about their “bad compromises.” Next to this, there is also a general sadness about the numerous failures of Romanian-Hungarian coexistence, but conflicts are never simplified to an opposition between two ethnic sides, though it is stressed that the oppression of the minority groups under Ceauşescu was a double one, and can be seen on several examples of how easily Hungarians were branded “nationalist” and “irredentist” to serve as pretexts of actions against them.