Banning of the journal Tiszatáj
Tiszatáj was founded in Szeged in 1947 to cover literary traditions in Szeged. From the outset, Tiszatáj has stood for all Hungarian literature, but in the 1950s and 1960s, as the literary field was very tight, this was almost impossible to do. The periodical was criticized many times between 1975 and 1986. Meanwhile, Tiszatáj of the socialist era usually published articles on subjects which were taboo from the cultural or political standpoint, for instance articles on the concerns of Hungarian minorities in Romania, as well as social tensions and depression. The periodical published writings which addressed problems and feelings which were characteristic of the general condition.For the government, the last straw was the publication in the periodical of a poem by Gáspár Nagy, which was written for the 30th anniversary of the Revolution of 1956. In June 1986, on pages 8 and 10 four poems were published by Gáspár Nagy. The poem entitled “From a Boy’s Diary” (in Hungarian, “A fiú naplójából”) resulted in the ban.
As Olasz said in a radio interview in 2006, “Nobody thought that this could happen in 1986. The dictatorship was not strong enough to ban periodicals in the middle of the 1980s. This half-year-long period is a good example to show the role of literature and periodicals in laying the foundation for the change of regimes.”
The ban of the periodical was initiated by János Kádár because somebody drew his attention to the poem by Nagy and made him think that the reference to a “Judas tree” in the poem was a symbol for him. The “Judas tree” does not signify the past, but is rather a collective emblem of the general circumstances of the 1980s which implied criticism of the moral crisis of the consolidation of the Kádár era. On 23 June 1986, the Secretary of the Central Committee of Hungarian Workers’ Party decided to suspend Tiszatáj for half a year and to have its editorial staff investigated by the party. Upon learning this, the editors believed that it was an interview with Imre Pozsgay published in the July issue which was found to be so provocative, as it was about the state of the performances in the national theater and it strongly condemned the contemporary cultural policies. On 4 July 1986, at 2:00 in the afternoon, the editorial staff was summoned to the building of the Party Committee of Csongrád County, where they were informed of the decision of the executive committee. On the basis of various broadcasting errors, the operation of the editorial staff and the publishing of the periodical was to be suspended, and the staff was subject to an investigation by the party. Three cases were mentioned as serial broadcasting errors: the coverage of the so-called Polish issue of 1981, the Ion Lăncrănjan case of 1982, and the Gáspár Nagy poem of 1986. The staff was then allowed to enter the editorial office, but could not work there. Later, the entrance to the office was even locked. After the suspension, members of the editorial staff were individually summoned for a “conversation,” but none of the individuals dissociated themselves from the editorial work, and they maintained a sense of solidarity among themselves. Although these events took place on a local level, the plight of Tiszatáj became a national issue, as the public was informed of it by an interview published in Magyar Nemzet on 9 August 1986.
The attack by the regime against Tiszatáj soon became an attack against all Hungarian literature. János Kádár and the Political Committee discussed the Tiszatáj case on 9 September 1986, and Kádár attacked the Hungarian Writers’ Union, which supported the periodical.
László Vörös was removed from his position as editor-in-chief, and proceedings were initiated by the party against József Annus and Sándor Olasz, the editors responsible for the publication of the poem. When the proceedings came to an end on 15 October 1986, the Periodical Publishing Corporation of Csongrád County notified them that it would no longer need their services, though they were not given letters of resignation. József Annus then worked as a collections manager at the Ferenc Móra Museum in Szeged, and Sándor Olasz went to the Hungarian Literature Department of the Gyula Juhász Teacher Training College, where he had worked as a lecturer before.
The reaction of Hungarian writers on the banning of Tiszatáj
Though the decision was made during the holiday season, the news of the banning of the periodical spread fast, and on 23 July 1986, the International PEN Club issued a protest in a circular entitled “The Freedom of Expression’.” On 8 September, all 40 of the 62 members of the Hungarian Writers’ Association who showed up for the caucus showed support for Tiszatáj. Since this and the following steps taken by the Association were unsuccessful, on 12 November, 114 writers, artists, and other intellectuals turned to the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and the Cabinet, but to no avail. As Olasz said in a radio interview in 2006, “I think it was the last time that a declaration would be signed by, let’s say, both Sándor Csoóri and György Konrád. Signed by István Csurka, and Miklós Mészöly.”
Previous authors whose writings were published in the periodical announced a boycott of against the new editorial staff and sent several letters to the editors who had been removed as an act of solidarity.
By early 1987, Tiszatáj ceased to be a concern in the press, and in March 1987, the first issue edited by the new staff was published. The editors who had been dismissed returned to the editorial staff two years later in 1989 as a consequence of the political changes. In July 1989, László Vörös was made chairman of the staff, and József Annus took the position as editor-in-chief. Sándor Olasz became deputy editor in chief. From July 1996 until 2011, Olasz served as editor-in-chief, and up until his death in 2005, Vörös remained chairman of the editorial staff.The periodical was revived in 1987 with a new editorial crew, but many Hungarian authors refused to publish in it until the former staff had been given their positions again. There were other examples of banned literary periodicals and other political interventions in culture at the time, but the case of Tiszatáj was one of the most extreme.
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- Képiró, Ágnes