László Kistamás (1958–) was a musician, composer, performer, singer, and founding member of Kontroll Csoport (Control Group) and Balkan Futourist. At the age of ten, he moved to Paris for four years with his parents, and this experience had a strong influence on him. When he returned to Hungary with hair reaching to his waist, he was quite an outsider in the Hungarian school system, not just in appearance but in attitude as well.
Initially, Kistamás wanted to be a theater director, but first, he wanted to “try out everything from the other side.” After high school, he joined Mosolygó, an amateur theater company in Óbuda, led by Péter Wéber, where he met Csaba Hajnóczy and Ágnes Bárdos Deák. Later, he took the lead of Mosolygó for a short time. He then started his own company, which mostly worked as an action group. However, at the end of the 1970s, it was almost impossible to get a permit for independent theatrical performances, especially without a past in the theater or connections. As Kistamás recalled, music was much harder to control than theater. There were so many bands, often lacking skill and popularity, so the authorities were also less interested in them. Therefore, Kistamás turned towards the world of music and concerts. Csaba Hajnóczy, who at the time studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, taught him and Bárdos Deák to sing. Meanwhile, they were active members in the counterculture. They were watching and doing performances, and they participated in happenings. They also often went to the movies, which had a great impact on them.
Soon, the legendary underground band Kontroll Csoport was formed on the basis of this friendship while Kistamás was doing his two-year military service. Kontroll changed a lot during its three years of operation. It grew, members replaced one another, and as is usually the case with these kinds of bands, the development of personal relationships had a great impact on the history of the group.
Their first concert was actually a house party on New Year’s Eve of 1980 in the home of András Wahorn. On January 25, 1981, their first official concert in front of the public was as the opening act for URH at Kassák Klub. After this, success came quickly, though not immediately. Kontroll Csoport did not compromise. They were amateurs, and they played music only for a very specific stratum of society. While on occasion they were not allowed to perform or only could perform using a pseudonym, such as Antibébi (Anti-baby) or Ági és a fiúk (Ági and the boys), overall, they were relatively fortunate: they had a regular place to rehearse and perform at the Ikarus House of Culture (which was like a community center), although with police and party presence. Accordingly, their cassettes only could be distributed underground, and they were always somewhere between tolerated and prohibited. While they could compose soundtracks for movies and even make movies, they were not allowed to play in front of a bigger audiences. The mass media simply ignored them. As Kistamás sees it, from a certain point of view this also meant greater freedom. They did not want to and did not have to comply to anyone’s predilections. There were “no curators or critics behind them.” Kistamás’ biggest fear was that they might became like the accomplished rock musicians of the era. While putting out an album was a faint possibility for a while, as Kontroll Csoport did not want to leave out or alter certain lines, it remained impossible. Ironically, the line in question was not even one of theirs, but rather belonged to URH. Nevertheless, the band’s insistence on not changing any lyrics was enough to cut short any plans of putting out an album. However, their concerts were extremely popular, and in 1983, Kontroll Csoport split up at the zenith of their career. While their farewell concert was not meant to be final, it turned out to be the end of Kontroll: everybody went their own way.
In 1985, László Kistamás started a new band, Balkan (Fu)Tourist, with his then-partner Kati Láng and Karcsi Lehoczki. The Déjà Vu program series was also connected to Kistamás and Lehoczki. It was organized once a month at the Ganz-MÁVAG Vasas Cultural House. These performances, which built on the unexpected, became quite popular among the audiences, but they could not continue. The director of the Cultural House, Hubert Jenővári, did not allow them. However, when Jenővári was replaced by Zoltán Molnár in the directorial position, Balkan Futourist could rehearse at the cultural house. With the dissolution of Ganz-MÁZAG, the long-planned new club in the basement of the Cultural House could also became a reality. It was named Fekete Lyuk (Black Hole). Balkan Futourist played a big role in the physical formation of the club. The band started to build the stage and cover the walls with graffiti, while preserving and emphasizing the run-down features of the basement. On February 8, 1988, the first concert in Black Hole was performed by the band Baby line, and the next two days were dominated by concerts by Balkan Futourist.After having put out a single and an LP, Balkan Futourist disbanded at the time of the political transition. Kistamás gave up his career as a musician, except for a number of Kontroll memorial concerts, but he did not stop performing. He was on the stage with the theater company of András Jeles (Monteverdi Birkózókör: A mosoly birodalma), and he performed in the movies of Sándor Sőth and András Monori M. (Peter in Wunderland; Meteo). In the 2000s, he actively participated in Supergroup, an organization aiming to raise public awareness of various issues through a number of creative projects.
- Budapest, Hungary
Elmar Kits was an Estonian artist. He studied at the Pallas Higher Art School, and graduated in 1939. Kits was successful even after the Soviet occupation began, thanks to his ability to paint realistically. In 1956, he was named Honorable Cultural Figure of the Estonian SSR. He was a respected artist, and from 1949 he was able to live as a freelance artist.
In 1966, an exhibition of his abstract works took place in the Tartu Art House. This exhibition was an important event during the changes in art in the 1960s. Although more exhibitions of abstract art took place the same year, the solo exhibition of work by Kits was especially important, due to his status as an acknowledged artist; other exhibitions were by younger artists.
His father, Eduard Kiš, had though luck survived the Novi Sad massacre, which killed hundreds of Jews in 1942. The son later describes the massacre as the "start of his conscious life" (Thompson, 2013, 82). The family subsequently managed to relocate to southwest Hungary, but Kiš's father was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 from which he never returned. After the end of the Second World War, Kiš's mother Milica Kiš moved with her two children to the Montenegrin town of Cetinje where Danilo Kiš graduated from high school in 1954. Due to his family heritage, Kiš said of himself that he is an "ethnographic rarity". His background influenced his worldview, which is reflected greatly in his literature.
Kiš spent a major part of his life between Yugoslavia and France. During one such stay in France, Kiš wrote his most important novel, Grobnica za Borisa Davidoviča [A tomb for Boris Davidovich], which brought the writer many problems. The scandal that followed disrupted the Yugoslav literary scene, and essentially marked the fate of Kiš and his creative endeavours. The novel was released in 1976, and the author was immediately accused of plagiarism. Kiš stated, "Let us not be fooled! The controversy around the novel “A Tomb for Boris Davidovich” was primarily political. Who has been behind all this, we can see right now, although I have been aware where it comes from, from the very beginning." (Kiš, 2012, 270).
Kiš found himself in the unpleasant situation of having to defend his artistic and moral integrity, which he did by publishing the polemical book Čas anatomije [The Anatomy Lesson] in 1978. In the book, he responded to attacks over the previous two years. However, it only provoked new controversy: the book’s publication brought him to court, where he stood trial for defamation (more in featured item)."[...] what is important for me is that I have not sought to persuade, to argue or to convey an ideological message, despite the polemical spark that inspired the creation of this book. Otherwise I would write essays or articles in newspapers. For me it was essential to find, in my domain, fiction, fictional place, my obsessions and hidden polemics with the totalitarian world and thought. I thought, moreover, that it is my moral duty, because in some of my books I wrote of the Nazi terror, to approach, in literary form, the second most important phenomena of our century which represent the Soviet concentration camps." (Kiš, 2012, 207).
Kiš was acquitted, but nevertheless, feeling disappointed and misunderstood, he left for voluntary exile to Paris, as a kind of displaced person "in the “ambiguous” sense of the word" (Kiš, Gorki talog iskustva, 161). Kiš left Yugoslavia for the last time in 1979 and from then onwards lived in France, where he taught Serbo-Croatian and worked as an editor for the rest of his life. During that time, he wrote the novels Noć i magla [Night and Fog], Homo poeticus, and Enciklopedija mrtvih [The Encyclopedia of the Death]. In 1986, the French government made him a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters (1986). In 1988, he was elected as a corresponding member of SANU.
In 1989, nearing the end of his life, Kiš took part in an important television documentary series Goli život [Bare Life]. This consisted of a series of interviews with Eva Nahir and Ženi Lebl, two female Jewish political prisoners who were interned at the Yugoslav "Goli Otok" labour camp. Kiš used the series to raise questions on the camp and made comparisons on different totalitarian systems. In this way, he completes his way of dealing with the topic of the camp, which represents an important field of investigation in his writing. According to Kiš, the camp is a distinct twentieth-century invention. Kiš interpreted and analysed this phenomenon internationally. Towards the end of his life, PEN America (the US branch of the international literary human rights organisation) awarded him the Bruno Schulz Prize in 1989. Danilo Kiš died in Paris in 1989 and was buried in Belgrade at his request.
Kiš's books have been translated into about thirty languages. In the mid-1980s, he was considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Milan Kundera acclaimed Kiš as "great and invisible", and Mark Thompson described Danilo Kiš as "the writer who turned the Stalinist terror, the struggle against Nazism, and the Holocaust into great poetry […]" (M. Thompson 2013, xi).
- Belgrade, Serbia
Gábor Klaniczay (1950-) is a medievalist historian and professor at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) and Central European University (CEU). In the 1970s and 1980s, he participated in the movements of intellectual opposition groups, and he was an author and distributor of samizdats.
As the son of Tibor Klaniczay, the distinguished literary historian and member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS), he took an interest in the humanities already has a child. For instance, he wrote a homework assignment on a medieval topic as a primary school student. He studied History and English, and he graduated from ELTE in 1974. After that he worked as an editor of the Journal Világosság. Four years later, he was transferred to the Institute of History of HAS as an assistant research fellow. He has worked in education for decades. He taught the sociology of fashion at the University of Applied Arts between 1978-85 and history at ELTE and CEU. He was also the rector of the Budapest Collegium from 1997 to 2002 and in 2008. He completed a Doctor of Science (DSc) degree in 2005.
Gábor Klaniczay was one of the few young men in the late 1960s in Hungary who had an opportunity to remain in Western Europe for a longer period of time. When his father was visiting professor at the Sorbonne, he spent one year in Paris and then some further months in the French capital thanks to scholarships and friendships. During this period, he discovered Western oppositional culture, which framed this generation’s objection to their parents’ values and the world of consumer society.
Influenced by the student movement, Klaniczay joined the Hungarian cultural opposition. First, he was a curious outsider. Later, he became more than a reader of samizdats and a member of the audience at concerts and lectures: he was one of the active participants in that the oppositional world as a writer and distributor of illegal brochures.
The oppositional attitudes were part of a generational phenomenon, according to him. His first relevant experience was the student movements of 1968. Klaniczay interpreted the demonstrations which took place on 15 March in the 1970s and 1980s as resurrecting this spirit in many ways (by shifting ways in which the Hungarian Revolution of 1848/49 was interpreted). He was in Paris in 1968, but he had to travel home in May to take final exams at school, but he saw demonstrations and barricades and he learned the slogan of the French students: “on a raison de se révolter” (“we have enough reason to revolt).
He recognized similar gatherings at the university as well: the rebellious faculty meeting in 1969, reform-KISZ (Hungarian Young Communist League), and the Studium Generale study groups. He and his fellow members of the growing opposition were impressed by reform-Marxist trends, i.e. ideas which criticized the communist system from the left and which were open to social sensitivity. The position in opposition to the state was a given, natural standpoint for him and his friends and colleagues. This attitude included a rejection of the constraints of the state, which made everyday life difficult through its rules and restrictions. Furthermore, the invasion of Czechoslovakia was a crucial experience for him, because he had to join the army at the time. This repressive military action of the communist countries confirmed his political and cultural opposition to the regime.
Klaniczay regards these years as an active, exciting, and stirring period of his life. He had a vibrant social life, and he collected a lot of information about actual issues and opinions through personal connections, meetings, and events with help of samizdats. As a historian, Klaniczay was interested in marginalized, oppositional communities, for example, the groups of people dubbed heretics. In his first book, he wrote about how the oppositional movements of his age shaped his interests as an academic: “I did research on a topic which has helped me understand my conflicts and problems in the 1970s.” (Klaniczay Gábor: A civilizáció peremén: kultúrtörténeti tanulmányok. Budapest, Magvető, 1990)
Numerous elements of the oppositional culture had an influence on Klaniczay: jazz, rock, “psychedelic” beat, punk, trends of New wave in music life; modern art, the avantgarde, neo-Dadaism, happenings in the art sphere, new leftist movements, guerrilla resistance symbolized by the figure of Che Guevara, and movements for civil rights and emancipation in political life in the East and the West. There were “non-official gurus”, crucial relevant groups, cult sites, and clubs with performances in a diversity of genres. Moreover, he and his friends tried to create an alternative lifestyle and establish a commune after having completed university. They saw similar examples around them, for example the commune of the Orfeo art group. (Orfeo was a reference point for Zsuzsa Hetényi, too.)
All of this was combined with an oppositional/underground consciousness and way of life. They lived in an inner world of their own, on the “islands of freedom”. They tried not to deal with the system, but they had to react when the regime took sanctions against them. He was first persecuted at university, when he supported his undergraduate fellow students who organized a protest against the severity of the laws concerning abortion.
In these years, every act had a political meaning: how somebody looked (long hair, old-fashioned folk or Indian clothes from the flea market), interior design (a burlap curtain, mattress on the floor, brick and board design bookshelves), where they drank, how they travelled (as hitchhikers), etc.
It was clear for them that in scientific and cultural life many things were possible, but in political life, there were many prohibitions and taboos. This view is well summarized in the samizdat book by Adam Michnik. According to Michnik, it was impossible to reform the system through official socialist public spaces. Instead, resistance had to create its own institutes, clubs, seminars, and press, and they could thus live their own cultural life and discuss political issues.
By 1976, more and more political movements had emerged. The first samizdats were published and the borders slowly disappeared between culture events and political acts among the alternative groups. One of the oppositional places was the Library of HAS, which was the “unofficial” workplace of the oppositional philosophers János Kis and György Bence. Samizdats changed hands here. Klaniczay played an active role in the distribution in the Historical Institute of HAS and at ELTE. We find Klaniczay’s name among the subscribers of Chater 77, and he participated in the writing of the intellectuals’ collective Diary (Napló) samizdat. His father’s prestige and his boss, György Ránki, who though a party member, also tolerated intellectual freedom, offered him some protection.
In Klaniczay’s interpretation, the concept of oppositional behaviour meant a cultural practice and political discourse organized in the informal social sphere. He and his colleagues were aware that they were under the surveillance of the secret service, so they had to conspire. The consequence of going underground was having to create and participate in a closed “tribal culture” of the oppositional movement.In the second part of the 1980s, people had more opportunities to act. Klaniczay took part in the demonstrations and meetings of the democratic opposition. He joined the Social Democratic Party to create its cultural policy strategy, but in 1990 he abandoned politics and worked as a historian and professor. He remains active as a historian and scholar today.
- Budapest, Hungary
- Budapest, Hungary