17 March 2015

Everyday Communism - On Life, Books and Women in Communist Hungary

"Informers hired by the secret police received their last pay cheques in 1990; in Hungary it was in May 1990, after the historic elections, right before the new government took office. By this time, administration officials, especially in the “sensitive” branches and closer to the 'inner party', would have had the opportunity to destroy evidence relating to their past – and come out with a clean slate."

 
EVERYDAY COMMUNISM
On Life, Books and Women in Communist Hungary(1)
 
 
I will touch upon one general and three specific topics in this paper. First I will review what totalitarianism looked like in our everyday lives during the decades of communism. Moving on from this general assessment, my second topic addresses the particular issue of intellectual isolation which Central and Eastern Europe suffered. Then I will discuss the discrepancies between how we experienced communist rule and how the West often perceived it. Finally, I will explore the topic of how women were affected by the cumulative legacies of pre-World War II patriarchy and post-World War II communism.

 
I.
HOW WE LIVED
 

We are one generation away from 1990. During this quarter-century much has faded into oblivion; the younger generation, my own students in their early twenties,
for example, have little knowledge of this recent historical period. And even those of us who lived through those decades find that we are forgetting; so it seems fitting to at least take a cursory glance at how we actually lived.
 
In the late 1940s, life in Hungary became bleak, after the communists staged an election victory in 1947 and eliminated all other political parties. Having seized political power by a whole spectrum of undemocratic methods, they started to exercise total control. This was the time of aggressive “nationalisation”, when all factories, real estate, companies, banks and businesses, including most of the small shops even, were confiscated under the banner of communist egalitarianism. This was the time when former owners became, at best, tenants in their own properties and when larger flats were divided into smaller ones now accommodating several families in what was called co-renting. Dispossessed millions came to know a new feeling: total dependence on the state for one’s well-being. This feeling of defencelessness bred a mentality whose legacy we are still fighting today.
 
Political persecution was in full swing by the 1950s, the “reign of terror”, as Bryan Cartledge calls the years between 1949 and 1953,(2) when those who posed a political threat – or were just labelled as such – were harassed by a secret police permeating all ranks of society. “[A]t least three quarters of a million Hungarians were charged with offences against the state”, Cartledge claims, and “over 200,000 underwent imprisonment, internment or forced labour.”(3) Potentially dangerous elements were imprisoned individually or in groups, after being tried in what everyone knew were show trials, a communist theatrics originating in Soviet Stalinism, but then sweeping across Central and Eastern Europe. If we count the families of those who were imprisoned, were sent to labour camps, or forcefully relocated, a total of 10 per cent of the general population was directly affected by some form of Stalinist repression in Hungary.(4)
 
By the 1960s, the prisons were still holding thousands without trial since 1956 (a year of significant events in both Poland and Hungary). Since it was not “legal” to execute minors, those who were younger would be kept on death row for years, to be executed only after their 18th birthday. In 1968, the Warsaw Pact troops crushed the Prague Spring, with a cheering press rejoicing over this new manifestation of “socialist brotherhood”. At this time l’art pour l’art police beatings were still common in the streets. Sometimes this happened for “fun” only, like after soccer games or beat concerts. (I have vivid personal memories of such random police beatings from the late 60s and early 70s.)
 
In the 1970s, the communist parties of the region still oversaw every promotion decision from factories to universities, every granted passport to the East and the West, and every book or article to be published in any field. Among the many forms of discrimination practised at the time, the least violent one gave preference to families of trusted political “cadres”, or supposedly of “workers” and “peasants”, when admitted to colleges, not giving others, who perhaps scored better, a chance. Such practices had long-term effects: they built the next generations of the power elite on the basis of birth, not work. With the relative liberalisation of economic policy, new oligarchies were forming, setting the stage for the late 1980s when economic power was to be secured after the political structure caved in.
 
In the 1980s, the secret police still checked our mail and bugged our homes, recording our telephone conversations and those we carried on inside our homes. (Given this general surveillance practice, nobody in Hungary really understood Watergate: “but, surely, Nixon had to resign for something more than just recording conversations”.) Since those who opened the letters were government employees, and as such had their weekends off, we would never get mail on Mondays. This practice went on shamelessly: we received envelopes torn open and with important documents missing; or, if deadlines were important, mail simply arrived late. Communism’s surveillance culture bred a general distrust: you never knew who was reporting on you, and even if you thought you were cautious, your most private words and acts found their way into your police files, as we learned after these files were opened in the 90s. This general mistrust, then, bred an atomised society based on distrust as well as envy, whose legacy is still felt today.
 
Informers hired by the secret police received their last pay cheques in 1990; in Hungary it was in May 1990, after the historic elections, right before the new government took office. By this time, administration officials, especially in the “sensitive” branches and closer to the “inner party”, would have had the opportunity to destroy evidence relating to their past – and come out with a clean slate.

 
KÁDÁR’S “SIGNIFICANT WINK”


In Hungary, János Kádár was the party chief responsible for Hungary’s 30 years and more of goulash communism. Having learned a bitter lesson from the uprising of 1956, he introduced special methods to make Hungarians swallow the communist pill. Thus, a soft version of dictatorship was invented: in return for benefits unparalleled in Central and Eastern Europe, Hungarians became Kádár’s accomplices in the common effort to live better.
 
Kádár’s political gesture was the significant wink. “Let us not provoke Moscow’s anger”, this wink said; “promise me that no more 56’s should occur, and in exchange, I will make you the star country on the block.” They soon became party to the deal: society was self-containing, excesses were curbed, and, most of all, censorship was self-imposed. Journalists and historians bowed to Kádár’s subtlest demands and were silent on his personal taboo topics such as the uprising of 1956, and – in order to strengthen Kádár’s good grades in the Kremlin – never referred to the Hungarian minorities in the neighbouring countries. Kádár’s eager yes-men in the press enthusiastically condemned Israel’s “aggression” in 1967; spoke about brotherly help to the “Czechoslovak people” in 1968; cheered over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979; and shed real tears when reporting the funeral of Leonid Brezhnev. Not a single Hungarian journalist or television  commentator  dared  to  ask substantive questions.  Only  the  most trusted journalists were even allowed to get close to politicians, but even they were not so trusted as to get permission to conduct live conversations with them. The genre of the talk show was itself banned until the very last year of communism, 1989.
 
What did Hungarians receive from Kádár in exchange for looking the other way and giving up these civil freedoms and liberties? They received the soft eiderdown of “liberal” totalitarianism.
 
Party membership was not forced: altogether only 800,000 of Hungary’s population of 10 million were card-holding members of the Socialist Workers’ Party, later rebranded as the Hungarian Socialist Party. Travel was “liberalised”: Hungarians were allowed one western trip every three years, provided they were “granted” passports (and not refused for a variety of reasons); at such times they could exchange the sum of $70 to $300 (depending on whether this was in the 70s or 80s). They enjoyed job security without being forced to work hard or provide quality work; they enjoyed existential security in the form of their evening beer and Sunday Wiener Schnitzel. They could afford certain other luxuries as well: they could work their vegetable gardens over the weekends, and, provided they paid in full for the automobiles three or five or seven years in advance, they could own a car manufactured somewhere in the Soviet bloc, a Trabant, a Wartburg or a Škoda.
 
At this time foreign loans (originally taken for infrastructural investments but then spent on consumer goods) granted higher living standards to Hungarians than what the country’s real economic output would have allowed. For decades, Hungary under communist leadership was, to use the words of Hungarian-born Harvard economist János Kornai, eating up its tomorrow, and thus discounting its future”.(5) The consequences were bitter indeed: in 1990 Hungary had the highest per capita debt in Europe, which would define its financial well-being for generations to come.
 
Kádár bought the collaboration of a nation with peanuts. His “pact” bred a society that was atomised, characterised by a mentality of dependence and a culture of envy, and was significantly more materialistic than its Western counterparts. Material possessions were valued out of proportion and could be used as bargaining chips to a greater extent than in Western democracies. At the same time, those in power did everything to keep Hungarians away from political and intellectual concerns, locking the country’s physical as well as intellectual borders.
 
 

II.
INTELLECTUAL ISOLATION
 


Moving on to the first of my particular topics, intellectual isolation, I want to examine intellectual life in a totalitarian system.
 
Just like anyone else in these totalitarian states, scientists, scholars, academics and writers also depended on the state for cultural patronage. The cultural commissars maintained a firm grip on what scientific or scholarly research could be conducted, what university or college courses could be taught, and certainly what books could be translated and published by the state-owned publishers overseen by censors of many kinds. The commissars monitored classroom activities via several methods: by controlling who could be hired in schools and universities, by using student moles in classes and instructor moles in departments, and even by tapping classrooms in colleges and universities. (These commissars seemed to have no trust even towards their own cadres: in my own university, ELTE, which was moved to the building of the former Socialist Party Academy in 1991, we found the actual listening devices that allowed the trusted cadres listen into five to six classrooms at the same time, checking on what the instructors and the audience were saying.) Teaching materials were scarce; xeroxing was unavailable until the early/mid-80s, and then too it was still severely controlled. In the 70s and early 80s, the typical copying machine was the mimeograph: instructors would type up the necessary sheets, walk to the mimeograph office with their requests, and have these sheets copied. It was an open secret that one copy of every page was saved for the authorities, who would look through them regularly to see whether materials distributed to students were not subversive or dangerous.
 
Moreover, this grip of the commissars of culture extended to what people could read as well. Methods available here included not publishing certain authors, not allowing libraries to carry certain books and confiscating unwanted foreign publications. For example, when I returned from a scholarship semester from New York in January 1982, my copies of Solzhenitsyn, Churchill and Betty Friedan were confiscated, together with 23 innocent books taken from my suitcases. (When called to the police station later, I was told, with thinly disguised sarcasm, that accidentally the police had pulped all my books.)
 
This control resulted in many erasures and absences, which became especially painful in a country like Hungary, which for centuries before had had a book market sensitive to European currents. In earlier times, Hungary’s professional classes demanded, nay guaranteed, that the major intellectual events of Europe and America find their way to Hungarian readers. A typical example is Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, which first appeared in French in 1835 in Paris, three years from that, in 1838, in New York in English, and another three years from that, in 1841, it appeared in Hungarian in Pest. Or, at a time when German was commonly spoken by the educated classes of Hungary, Nietzsche, Freud and Jung were immediately translated for the general public. The few democratic years after the Second World War saw a booming of translations as well: people were starving to read what they could not during the war, so Walter Lippmann, Wendell Wilkie, André Maurois, George Marshall, St. Vincent Benét, or Henry Steele Commager were immediately translated and published between 1945 and 1948. This intellectual appetite is especially striking if we consider the starvation, or diet at best, the next several decades.
 
It is worth taking a look at what could not be translated and published in Hungary during the years of communism. Which authors were blacklisted by the communists out of ignorance, caution or simply the exercise of power? Here is a list, tentative and random, of the missing authors – those not given the green light by the all powerful cultural commissars. It is easy to see how their absence could prevent certain ideas and ways of thinking to take root in Hungary, and how their absence would contribute to a country’s intellectual isolation.
 
Among the unavailable authors were philosophers Alfred North Whitehead, Arnold Toynbee, Arthur Koestler, Michael Polanyi, Ernst Cassirer, John Dewey, Georges Bataille, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gaston Bachelard; psychologists Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, Erik Erikson, A. H. Maslow and Jacques Lacan, as well as the Hungarian-born giants Sándor Ferenczi, Ludwig von Bertalanffy and Károly Kerényi. Maurice Merleau-Ponty had to wait 70 years to be published in Hungarian, Ferdinand de Saussure 50, and Ludwig Wittgenstein 40. Martin Buber and Elie Wiesel were too Jewish to appear in time; Teilhard de Chardin and Karl Rahner too Catholic probably. Mahatma Gandhi was perhaps too civilly disobedient and noncooperative. Betty Friedan and all the others too feminist. Ezra Pound was indexed by one particular poet- translator, himself a cultural commissar of sorts, who pledged not to let a collection of Pound’s translations appear as long as he (the literary commissar) was alive. (Indeed, Pound’s first collection appeared in 1991, the year this poet- commissar died.)
 
Of course, not only were those foreign authors missing from Hungary’s intellectual life who were proclaimed dangerous, but a whole infrastructure of cultural production too: proper encyclopaedias, thesauruses, word finders, as well as critical and annotated editions, anthologies of literature and criticism. During the communist decades the basic tools of intellectual work remained unborn, making everyday work extremely difficult.
 
Communism not only froze the present but halted much of the future as well. It petrified certain spheres of life and severely limited free thinking and creativity too. Today’s generations must perform multitudes of tasks to make up for what was not done by previous generations. This is, of course, both good and bad: the opportunities seem vast, and the duties awaiting the intellectuals should heighten their importance – if only the assets were there too.
 
 
 
III.
WESTERN PERCEPTION VS EASTERN REALITY
 


These are merely random recollections of Hungary’s communist regime, which had the reputation of being “liberal”. Well, indeed, liberal it was, but in the Orwellian sense of meaning exactly the opposite for those who lived through it.
 
For first in the late 1940s and 50s it was a theatre of brutal aggression; later just a discriminatory, elitist, undemocratic and oppressive system based on total control. It was a regime denying property rights, travel and residence freedoms, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the right to fair trial. Relative to North Korea or Romania, it was indeed less repressive, but truly free it certainly was not.
 
It was not always easy to understand why our Western friends were so generously forgiving of these totalitarian systems. Let me cite the most scandalous example: how Romanian President Ceauşescu was received worldwide. Queens and kings, presidents and prime ministers, left and right, liberal and conservative alike, sang his greatness, praising his “resolved stand” on “world affairs” (Queen Elizabeth II), his “safeguarding of all people’s inalienable right to decide their destiny” (Spanish King Juan Carlos), his “sustained efforts for consolidating peace and understanding” (British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher), his “important role in the policy of rapprochement and cooperation between the two parts of Europe” (French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing), his “profound understanding of the world’s major problems” (US President Richard Nixon), his “acting as a bridge between nations” (US President Jimmy Carter), his “policy of wide opening” and his “wise decisions and actions” (Bavarian Prime Minister Franz Josef Strauss).(6) – This is pure Orwellian language, remnant of an Orwellian world.
 
Communism and communist leaders in general got rather good grades from the West, grades that were the marks of some strange romanticisation of communism rather than of the situation itself. These good grades ran counter to the harsh self-criticism of our Western friends on domestic political issues. It was rather difficult for us to understand the double standards applied here. If they opposed racism, then should not that apply to all forms of discrimination from Alaska to Rhode Island, Ireland to Tajikistan? If they were concerned for the fate of women, African Americans and inner city children, as well as education and health care at home, how could they switch off their concern after crossing a certain number of state lines? If they advocated personal liberties, could they take such rights as a Western patent, and exclude East- Europeans from their benefits? Could the discourse of freedom be the exclusive privilege of post-industrialist societies?
 
Let me name a few instances where we sensed that the good grades granted by the West were not earned by policies and historical events, and where we discerned underlying double standards. Here are some often repeated impressions:
 
– “Communism did much to educate the people; for one, it got rid of illiteracy.”
– “Free health care is an achievement difficult to match.”
– “The social benefits of communism were very progressive. Communism did much to level social differences.”
– “Crime was unknown during communism.”
– “Women enjoyed many social benefits during communism.”
 
Of course, each of these statements contains a grain of truth, but often in an Orwellian fashion again.

As for education, the communists inherited a pretty well-established education system, and retained its competitiveness in several fields. But education not being a top priority, the legacy is extremely poor: in 1990, 6.1 per cent of all Hungarian women and 8.1 per cent of men had college or university degrees, and 70 per cent of the women and 60 per cent of the men had only eight years of schooling or less.(7) Intellectuals and professionals were viewed with suspicion and distrust. Of course, there was an obvious hypocrisy here: the political elite controlled its power by restricting general access to such “privileges” as higher education.
 
Health care was never free. First of all, every surgery, every doctor’s visit had a set “black market” rate. Everyone was required to “tip” doctors and nurses, which was a humiliating practice for both patient and doctor. The poorer people were especially hurt by this general practice. Health care was not free for another reason too: the fees of a general 44 per cent social security health insurance were deducted from the state salaries before they appeared as a gross figure. During communism’s 40+ years in Hungary, health care became such a disaster area that the country was leading various mortality statistics. Nowhere in Europe did more women die of uterus cancer, or more men of heart disease and circulatory diseases, than in Hungary. The recovery rate from cancer was very low; personally, during the communist era I never heard nor read of anyone who simply “had” cancer (indeed, I have only heard this sentence uttered in English, never in Hungarian). A baby boy born in Hungary in 1990 had a life expectancy of 66 years.
 
The social benefits indeed “levelled” society, but it was a homogenisation at the lowest level. The middle class was decapitated: through political terror in the 1940s and 50s, then later by more subtle forms of discrimination, like not having fair treatment in the professions. Except for the privilegentsia, the communist nomenklatura, who enjoyed extra benefits, society was democratised” at the lowest level. Not only were the middle class the losers, but the urban workers and peasants too, the former being uprooted and pushed into housing blocks very similar to inner city ghettos in the US, the latter robbed of their land as well as their produce and livestock by Rákosi’s mass collectivisation programme and compulsory delivery policy.
 
Communist societies never had official crime statistics. But crime itself was less of a problem, given the general surveillance culture of these police states, where the police were all over the streets and the secret police all over the private sphere.
 
Indeed, women enjoyed such benefits as maternity leave, retirement at 55, liberal abortion laws, full employment, “free” health care, “free” education. But, as I will argue in the last part of my paper, these benefits were soon to backfire, since they only strengthened the already existing patriarchal dependencies.
 


IV.
WOMEN IN CENTRAL EUROPE
 


Lastly, some issues related to the situation of women in communist Hungary. First, I need to make two general points:
 
(a) women in Central and Eastern Europe were affected by a double legacy of pre-World War II patriarchal and post-World War II communist traditions;

(b) the benefits women enjoyed during communism strengthened already existing patriarchal dependencies.
 
The problem of women in these communist countries was complex in more ways than one. Not only were women victims of communism’s totalitarian grip, but also of the patriarchal traditions widespread in other parts of Europe. It is easy to misapprehend and misinterpret this double legacy, especially the way the four decades of communism created their own double twist on the institutions of patriarchy.
 
Pre-1945 Central and Eastern European societies were clearly patriarchal, offering limited choices to women, stressing traditional feminine ideals, and in general locking women into subordinate roles. True, Western societies (Western Europe and the US) also revealed many symptoms of their own patriarchies at this time. But in the West, patriarchy was substantially dismantled by the civil rights movement of the 1960s. East of the Iron Curtain the 1960s were not “the Sixties” as usually understood: these 1960s were characterised by the tightening of police control and the lack of any civil rights politicisation whatsoever. Here the 1960s were not the decade of emergent feminism, demands for social equality, or the critique of racism and sexism. At best, our 1960s were characterised by a belated disillusionment among leftist intellectuals in communism, triggered by the Prague events of 1968 – the crushing of the Prague Spring by Warsaw Pact tanks – occurring 12 years after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a landmark historical event that revealed for many the downsides of the communist system. So, the real “Sixties” had to wait until the 1990s, after the fall of communism and its totalitarian regimes. And during this time the pre-World War II patriarchy became ever more solid in Eastern Europe, surviving as an undercurrent to what looked on the surface as “emancipation”. True, state socialism’s own “women’s lib” did happen, yet in truth it was anything but liberation; it was rather one last gasp of patriarchy, paternalistic state socialism, neatly resonating with pre-war mentalities. Ultimately this “socialist women’s lib” left behind a muted culture of non-liberated women, as we could see them all over post-colonial Eastern Europe after the regime change.
 
Observers, especially in the 1970s and ‘80s, often misunderstood the status of women in Central Europe. Visitors got the impression that women were very “Western” in Prague, Bratislava, Warsaw and Budapest: they dressed well, looked (and were) educated, led a semi-Western lifestyle. What could not be visible to short-term tourists, however, was how much time, money and energy had to be spent in keeping up this seemingly Western, but still immensely modest lifestyle. Neither was it apparent to what degree they lived in a communist country with strong patriarchal roots.
 
There is another reason why communism’s long-lasting damage to the social fabric was not given a proper assessment:: women, along with other marginal groups of post-communism, were a muted culture. Most women in Eastern Europe accepted their “woman’s lot” as a series of natural catastrophes, the best (and perhaps only) survival strategy being passivity and patience – to quietly stand aside and wait for the storm to pass. Eastern Europeans did not possess a vocabulary for grievances when their civil rights and liberties were curbed; no political discourse was available with which to articulate their gender-specific grievances.
 
Women suffered a double – political and gender – dependency: politically it was the state, gender-wise it was a male-based society which controlled their lives. It was a double burden of a special kind: not only did the totalitarian atmosphere impede their ambitions but also the patriarchal mentalities. No wonder, then, that it was more difficult for women than for men to adapt to the new conditions after the regime change.
 
Communism indeed created an Orwellian world. The various benefits women enjoyed in the communist societies, such as full employment, free health care, maternity leave and cheap abortion have all backfired. Of course, they only sounded appealing to foreign observers, to whom these words had different and much more positive meanings. In Hungarian – as well as Czech, Slovak, Polish or Russian – these words sounded pitiful, cheap, poor and gloomy, because that was the reality they evoked. When we heard about free health care we did not picture an American hospital but an overcrowded, undermanned, underequipped, and underdeveloped East European hospital, where social security costs (among the highest in Europe) would not really cover hospital fees, and where doctors and nurses must be tipped for basic services. When we heard about maternity leave we knew how much this benefit paid, and that the practice of offering women meagre benefits and job security for three years only generated under- achievement.
 
These communist accomplishments all were myths: full employment put women into under-achieving jobs, free health care left them with rapidly deteriorating health and a complete lack of health awareness, and the myth of social benefits merely strengthened patriarchal mentalities.
 
It is difficult to determine how significant those social groups were in Hungary who, at the outset, benefited from communism, but it is certain that Hungarian women paid dearly for these so-called benefits. They paid, that is, by perpetuating patriarchy under the disguise of communist ideology.
 
What was behind the myth of full employment, for example? These are the facts. Masses of women were driven by poverty into taking a job. By the end of the communist era, as I mentioned earlier, only 6.1 per cent of women had college/ university degrees; 70 per cent of all women had eight years of schooling or less; 54 per cent of women had on-the-job training; and 61.9 per cent of women did secretarial/clerical work.
 
In a society that boasted of full employment, women occupied the bottom of the occupational pyramid. Taking the field of education as an example, women made up 99 per cent of kindergarten teachers, 4/5 of elementary school teachers, 1/2 of secondary school teachers, and 1/3 of college/university instructors. In 1990, 2/3 of the lower-level instructors (up to the rank of assistant professor) of the Budapest School of Economics were women, but only 0.4 per cent of the full professors. The wage gap and general under-achievement were obvious consequences of this situation, but cushioned in a patriarchal environment they did not appear as negatives: “achieving” was supposed to be a male virtue, and anyhow a woman’s “natural priorities” would lie with the home and the family.
 
Given this status of women in the workforce, and given the fact that they would most often do monotonous jobs, it is no wonder that a 3-year maternity leave was to be hailed as a benefit. If we add to it the image of the poor childcare facilities accessible to most people, staying at home for three years with each child looked even more attractive. Again, patriarchal mentalities were clearly being perpetuated by communist social practices.
 
Given the statistics of women’s education, together with those of the occupational pyramid, it is understandable why the debate about the retirement age of women was so loud in the early 90s – at least in Hungary. Once again, patriarchy offered an easy way out: most women considered it their “right” to retire at 55, and did not wish to give up what they considered their well-earned privilege. Few politicians dared risk unpopularity by openly supporting retirement at 62 for both sexes. But we cannot fail to see the detrimental effects of the long practice of female retirement at 55, one of them being the feminisation of poverty for these pensioners, who would live an average of 20 years on pensions allocated when they were 55 (or their husbands 60).
 
As a feminist, I have been extremely sceptical about the supposedly benevolent social benefits of communism because they bred dependence both on the state and, in the case of women, on men. They strengthened patriarchal mentalities about women’s domestic priorities, the exclusive male virtue of achieving, politics as an exclusively manly sport and women’s worth outside the home versus in the family. Communism’s social welfare was a blessing in disguise for women, strengthening patriarchal values of (male) dominance, (female) dependence and (female) domesticity. It perpetuated the wage gap and the occupational segregation of women, and sent achievement-related values into an unreachable distance. Communism favoured those who accepted a uniform and monolithic society, but stigmatised those who subscribed to identity, difference and diversity.
 
Many women were the ultimate losers of both communism and patriarchy, it seems, because they were even less equipped for the 21st century than men. According to surveys conducted during the years of the regime change, for 80 per cent of women, family was still “more important than anything else”; one third aspired to “full time motherhood”; 69 per cent of women age 20 to 24 were married; 4/5 of women said men were more interested in politics; and 53 per cent were opposed to having “more” women politicians.
 
*
 
As always, it is not easy to assess the nature of the times for people who lived through them. These are transitory times – they seem to be haunted by the times they follow rather than determined by the times they precede or prepare. Retrospective, rather than anticipatory.
 
Probably Françoise Thom, professor of contemporary history at Paris IV– Sorbonne, is right in using the image of Chernobyl as the metaphor for our times: communism ends like Chernobyl, leaving radioactive material all around, needing decades or centuries to decompose.(8)But before the actual cleanup, it is necessary that we know exactly what radioactive waste we are dealing with: we have to start objectively estimating the various legacies of communism. We must understand why and how communist policies seamlessly continued earlier pre- war patriarchal policies, reinforcing earlier mentalities, and we must interrogate the reasons of Western romanticisation too. The assessment of post-communism as a special brand of post-colonialism might give conceptual tools to our Western friends who try to understand Central and Eastern Europe, and at the same time give encouragement to Eastern Europeans, who feel trapped, and therefore muted, by the legacies of communism and patriarchy alike. We need to map, in short, all the various pasts that bring about our future.
1 This is the longer, written version of a talk given at the Foreign and Security Policy Conference, organised by the József Antall Knowledge Centre, in Budapest, 7 November 2014.
 
2 Bryan Cartledge, The Will to Survive – A History of Hungary. London: Timewell Press, 2006. 447.
 
3 447.

4 See Kinga Széchenyi, Megbélyegzettek – A kitelepítések tragédiája [The stigmatised – The tragedy of the resettled families]. Budapest: Kráter Műhely Egyesület, 2008. Also see Pál Breuer, ed., A hortobágyi kitelepítések igaz története 1950–53 [The true history of resettlements in the Hortobágy, 1950–53]. Budapest: DigitalPaper.hu-Virágmandula Kft., 2013; Mária Nagy and József Saád, “Péntek volt és 23” – Kitelepítések 1950–1953 között a Vas megyei határsávból [“It was Friday and the 23rd” – Removal of families from the border zone of Vas county in 1950–53]. Őriszentpéter: Telepesek Társadalmi Múzeum Alapítvány, 2010; Tibor Desewffy and András Szántó, “Kitörő éberséggel” – A budapesti kitelepítések hiteles története [“With increased vigilance” – The authentic history of forced family removals from Budapest]. Budapest: Lap- és Könyvkiadó Kft., 1989.
 
5 Talk given at the Budapest conference of social scientists, in February 1995. Quoted by Hungarian daily, Új Magyarország, 27 February 1995.
 
6 Robert Maxwell, ed., Ceauşescu: Builder of Modern Romania and International Statesman. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1983. 154–156.

7 I have taken my figures from the following sources: Katalin Koncz, “Nők a rendszerváltásban” [Women during the regime change], Társadalmi Szemle 93/12, 24–37; Katalin Koncz, A nők társadalmi helyzete Magyarországon” [The social status of women in Hungary], Társadalmi Szemle 95/3, 14–26.
 
8 Françoise Thom, Les Fins du communisme. Paris: Criterion, 1994. 41.




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