pdfVolume 3 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Zsófia Kádár

The Difficulties of Conversion Non-Catholic Students in Jesuit Colleges in Western Hungary in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century

The societies of the multiethnic and multilingual region of Central Europe became more diverse through the emergence of distinct confessions (Konfessionalisierung). The first half of the seventeenth century is especially interesting in this regard. In this period, the Catholic Church started to win back its positions in the Hungarian Kingdom as well, but the institutionalization of the Protestant denominations had by that time essentially reached completion. The schools, which were sustained by the various denominations, became the most efficient devices of religious education, persuasion and conversion. In this essay I present, through the example of the Jesuit colleges of western Hungary, the denominational proportions and movements of the students in the largely non-Catholic urban settings. Examining two basic types of sources, the annual accounts (Litterae Annuae) of the Society of Jesus and the registries of the Jesuit colleges in Győr and Pozsony (today Bratislava, Slovakia), I compare and contrast the data and venture an answer to questions regarding the kinds of opportunities non-Catholic students had in the Jesuit colleges. In contrast with the assertions made in earlier historiography, I conclude that conversion was not so widespread in the case of the non-Catholic students of the Jesuits. They were not discriminated against in their education, and some of them remained true to their confessions to the end of their studies in the colleges.

Keywords: conversion, Jesuit colleges, school registries, annual accounts (Litterae Annuae), denominations in towns, urban history, Hungary, Győr, Pozsony, Pressburg, Bratislava, Sopron

A student, the son of a soldier or a burgher, took leave of Calvinism, an act with which he completely infuriated his parents, so much so that his father planned to kill him. What did this young man do then? He unhesitatingly went down on his knees and cleared his neck for the lethal strike. ‘Do it, father’ he said, ‘do as you wish. I do not want to live as a bad Christian.’ The father was softened at the sight of this heroic cry. Moved, he kissed his son and burst into tears, and shortly, he followed his son’s example.1

The annual account (Litterae Annuae) of the Győr Jesuit College from the year 1639 describes a typical example of conversion in the case of an unusually dauntless student.2 Based on the college’s registries of students (matriculae) from the seventeenth century, he may well have been Ferenc Teyfalvai, a student who is mentioned in 1638 as a Calvinist but in 1640 as a Roman Catholic.3 By examining the two above mentioned basic types of sources, the annual accounts and the registries of the Jesuit colleges in Győr and Pozsony (today Bratislava, Slovakia), and comparing and contrasting their data, I have sought an answer to the question concerning the opportunities non-Catholic students had in the Jesuit colleges in Western Hungary. Was conversion really as “self-evident” as has been assumed, primarily on the basis of the narrative sources?

In the worldwide process of “Catholic renewal,” the Habsburg Monarchy and the Hungarian Kingdom, as part of the “militant Church,” were in a distinctive position because of the variety of nations and denominations. Moreover, the religious situation of Hungary in the Habsburg state-conglomerate was unique.4 In the Kingdom of Hungary, the first two-thirds of the seventeenth century were not yet an era of forceful Counter-Reformation, but rather one of the “missionary seigniorial Counter-Reformation.”5 There was no state intervention in religious life, nothing comparable to the activity of the Klosterrat in the Austrian hereditary provinces at the end of the sixteenth century, for instance. Furthermore, after the Bocskai uprising (1604–06), the Habsburg dynasty was forced to reach a compromise with the Hungarian Estates.6 In spite of the Thirty Years’ War and the reorganization of power, the Protestant population, which constituted the significant majority at the beginning of the century, only started to lose numerical superiority gradually, and did not reach a critical period, the so-called Protestant “Decade of sorrow” (1671–81), until the reign of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary.

Scholarship on conversion in Hungary, which is based on a more limited range of sources than similar scholarship in Western Europe, can also be furthered through case studies and intensive analysis. In addition to providing data, such as the numbers of conversions, information regarding the converts (such as their social status and relationships), and the institutional background of conversions (religious orders, papal institutions, educational institutions, missions, etc.), recent research has focused on the personal motivations, distinguishing between “real” and “unreal, extrinsic” conversions and shedding light on the preparation for, processes involved in, and consequences of conversion, and devising a new typology of the act.

Lieke Stelling and Todd M. Richardson examine a particular aspect of the theme by focusing on the individual and the “turn of the soul.” The volume of essays edited by them concentrates on three subjects: agency, authenticity and imitation. It presents the complexity of cases of conversion by drawing on literary compositions and works of the visual arts.7 Although I do not have many sources on which I could base conjectures regarding personal motivations, as I hope to make evident, the example of Zsigmond Holló can be interpreted as a kind of connecting point between the theme of conversion and works of literature because of the school dramas written about his case. Ricarda Matheus examined the process of conversions on the basis of the example of a central institution for conversion in Rome, the Ospizio dei Convertendi. Because of the large multitude and the denominational, national and cultural diversity of the converts, this subject can be studied from a number of perspectives. Research has shown that the central, elaborate method of conversion was adapted to the circumstances of individual converts.8 (Case studies could also compile data regarding the converts who arrived from a single state, e.g. from Hungary.) Ines Peper analyzed cases of conversion in the Habsburg Court in Vienna. Her analysis sheds light on the indicator role of the Court of a monarch and on the public discussion in connection with the conversion of a member of a dynasty on the basis of the example of later empress Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel.9 The questions raised by researchers are summarized in the study by Jörg Deventer.10 He enumerates the most important problems of conversion research. There are many problems with the numerical data, because the different types of sources have varying relationships to the numbers. He also mentions the annual reports of the Jesuits, which often give very high numbers of converts, even tens of thousands. The second question concerns the inclusion of social classes, because we have detailed knowledge about aristocrats and nobles, but we know almost nothing about members of the lower classes, the “anonyms.” Third, researchers have to reckon with the institutions, the various opportunities and manners of conversion, which ranged from persuasion to the use of military force. Finally, Deventer cautions his reader to examine conversion as a complex phenomenon and study not only its spiritual, but also its social, cultural, political and economic aspects.11

In this paper I focus on a special type of institution, the Jesuit college, which played a prominent role in the conversion processes and in the realization of the Tridentine reforms in the Early Modern period. In addition to the annual reports (Litterae Annuae) of the Jesuits, which are widely used by historians,12 I also use the college registers of pupils (matriculae) as control sources. My intention is to investigate the confessional identity of non-Catholic students of the Jesuit colleges in Western Hungary and, more specifically, their decisions to maintain their faith or convert.13 The aforementioned problems with numbers, the difficulties of identifying the individuals, and the question of motivations emerge in this case study as well, although these problems can rarely be solved.

Jesuit Colleges and Their Students

As of the 1610s, the Society of Jesus, which had come into being in the sixteenth century, began to expand rapidly in the Eastern territories of the Habsburg Monarchy, including Hungary. After the establishments in Zágráb (today Zagreb, Croatia) (1607), Nagyszombat (today Trnava, Slovakia) (1615) and Homonna (today Humenné, Slovakia) (1615), new colleges were opened in Pozsony and Győr in 1626–27 and Sopron in 1636. These institutions, according to the Jesuits’ assimilation strategy, were adapted to the local conditions. Despite the Hungarian prohibition (act 8/1608. before the coronation),14 according to which the order was not allowed to possess estates in the Kingdom of Hungary, they managed to obtain suitable buildings and estates with pontifical and aristocratic support. By this time, the profile of the Society of Jesus as a “teaching order” had proven essential. The order’s members had therefore increasingly undertaken to educate the laity on the basis of their uniform educational code, the Ratio Studiorum, published in 1599.15 They provided free education to anyone who met the minimal admission requirements, regardless of background and circumstances.

In this period, the region of Western Hungary was a frontier between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire, a borderland of Hungary. Essentially the two ruling forces in the communities were the town councils on the one hand and the military troops stationed in them on the other. The Jesuits found strong Lutheran and significant Calvinist communities, as well as multilingual and multiethnic populations in each of the three towns under examination, namely the free royal towns of Pozsony and Sopron and the episcopal market town and captain-general headquarters of Győr. Despite the conflicts accompanying the settlement of the Society of Jesus in towns with Lutheran leaderships (Pozsony, Sopron) and with local ecclesiastical institutions such as the chapters (Pozsony, Győr), all these new Jesuit establishments and colleges were successful.16 Within a couple of years, they functioned in a 5-7-year system with a large number—indeed hundreds—of students. The geographical catchment area of these schools exceeded even the regional boundaries (from Poland to the Croatian Trans-Drava regions, from Switzerland and the Holy Roman Empire to the Principality of Transylvania).

For the Jesuit colleges in Pozsony, which at the time functioned as the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, and the free royal town of Sopron, the local Lutheran schools were the most significant competitors. The Lutheran community of Pozsony, which had had its own pastor since 1606, soon established a new school, to which a schoolmaster was invited from Bavaria. The institution was organized on the model of the town of Lauingen, according to the humanist Johann Sturm’s pedagogical method.17 A similar 4-year Latin school functioned in Sopron, which, after modest beginnings in the sixteenth century, flourished later on in the period in question.18 The arrival of Jesuits who settled in their community touched a tender spot for the Sopron city leadership, and they reacted immediately. According to one of the October 24, 1636 entries in the Ratsprotokoll (the minutes of the town council), they demanded that the leadership of the Lutheran school pay more attention to the youth because of the “danger from the Jesuit side,” and that the students remain together even in the afternoon so that the Holy Scripture could be expounded to them, and that they perform the vespers (evening service) in the proper order (the town offered to help the schoolmasters if necessary).19 The assumed competition seems to be justified by the fact that in 1638 the inner council proposed new motions in connection with the school that reflect the Jesuit model. They prescribed that the students compose essays and poems and perform orations and religious school dramas, that weekly revisions and rewards be introduced, and that the discipline among the students be improved.20

In Győr there was no functioning Protestant school in the period under discussion. Although the number of Lutherans and Calvinists was significant here too, by the middle of the century, because of the efforts of the bishops, the Jesuits, and the captain generals of Győr (Philipp Graf von Mansfeld and Maximilian von Liechtenstein, who were already Catholic), the influence of the Counter-Reformation had become perceptible. Still, given the fact that there was really no alternative, it is probable that the highest number of non-Catholic students attended the Győr Jesuit College. According to Lutheran historian Sándor Payr, the Lutheran and Calvinist students “were not accepted into the higher classes of poetics and rhetorics unless they converted.”21 This view is characteristic of the earlier historiography. However, the registry entries prove otherwise.

Models of Conversion in the Annual Reports

But let us first return to the source of the aforementioned annual reports, which serves as the best basis for comparison in the case of these three Transdanubian colleges. Despite the fact that the usefulness of these accounts is limited due to their generic features (the uses to which they were put within the order, their propagandistic functions, the tendency for anonymity, and the repetition of schematic stories),22 they nonetheless help fill a gap in the historiography on this geographical area at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The historia domus in Sopron is the only one preserved since its foundation, while of the one in Pozsony only a fragment is known, and of the one in Győr, nothing. However, the annual accounts before 1651 do not commemorate the major events of the year in thematic order, but rather according to colleges, so they are much richer in detail compared to later entries, and sometimes the cases of conversion, which regrettably are mentioned only anonymously, provide a very detailed image after one has peeled off the topical elements.

I focus on accounts of the conversion of children or youths.23 These suggest that, apart from the more “urgent” cases of elderly people nearing death, the Fathers paid close attention to the young, who were regarded as the pledges of the future.

1. In what was from the Jesuits’ point of view the least successful case, the youngster recognized the truth of the Catholic faith, but fearing the wrath of his Protestant family, did not openly convert, as for instance in the case of an early example from Győr.24

2. In some cases, conversion was furthered by some external influence, such as miraculous recovery from an illness. In 1637 in Pozsony, two students of the Protestant school weakened in their newly acquired Catholic belief, so as a “punishment” they were both injured. They only recuperated after they had re-affirmed their Catholic faith.25

3. The most frequent type of conversion involved the freshly converted student who was incited against his “papist” faith by his family and was threatened or hindered in the practice of his religion. This type is well-known in the literature, because of the abovementioned example of Zsigmond Holló. He was the son of a Lutheran nobleman, a tricesimator in Szepesség (today Spiš, Slovakia). As young student in the Homonna Jesuit college, he converted in the 1610s. From his funeral sermon we know the story of his conversion, which is very similar to the case mentioned at the beginning of this study. His father wanted to kill him because of his “apostasy,” but the boy adhered to his faith despite the threat of death. Seeing this, his father converted as well. This case became so popular that in multi-confessional Upper-Hungary more school-dramas were written about him. These dramas were performed in the Hungarian Jesuit colleges, so the example of Holló probably incited other conversions as well.26 In addition to these examples, one could also mention the case of a nine-year-old boy who had to bear his Lutheran mother’s persecutions after having converted because of his attraction to the Holy Sacrament and the Holy Trinity and for wearing a rosary under his clothes.27 Another pupil from Győr was threatened with death for his faith.28 In another case, in 1647 the family of two youths who had converted to Catholicism wanted to make them eat meat mixed with bread during a time of fasting, but as soon as they noticed the trick, they disgorged the entire meal rather than fall from grace.29 In Sopron a student held out successfully against his family, which wanted to reconvert him, for half a year. An attempt was made to corrupt another young boy by his mother, who used a maid, in vain.30 We know of other similar stories from Pozsony.31 For instance, a seven-year-old boy, holding out against his family, wanted to attend Catholic services,32 and another student left his home for the sake of his conversion.33

4. To the missionaries’ great delight, the families of the students watched the boys’ examples not with outrage, but with interest. An entry from 1630 mentions the conversion of a seventy-year-old nobleman, who converted under the influence of his son.34 In Győr, Catholic practices and the strict penitence of a former Lutheran and a Calvinist student sufficed to prompt their families to convert as well.35

5. In extraordinary situations, the convert not only became an earnest believer, but also entered priesthood, as an allegedly talented pupil of the College of Sopron did in 1643.36

By mentioning negative examples in the annual accounts, the Jesuits in a few rare cases admitted not only their achievements, but also their limitations. In an exceptional case, a Catholic pupil came into conflict with his own faith. In the College of Pozsony a student who strayed from the true path reviled the Virgin Mary and the saints, so he was imprisoned and then expelled from the college.37 The accounts sometimes mention the opposite extreme too, when Catholic students helped the Fathers convert Protestants.38 However, in most cases the data only includes the number of converted students: in Győr 23 pupils were converted in 1630 and 20 in 1647. In Pozsony 5 were converted in 1646 and 6 in 1647.39

Counting Conversions in the School Registries

As it is clear, the schools were one of the main scenes of the rivalry between the confessions. Although the first half of the seventeenth century could be considered part of the period of the Counter-Reformation, bearing the stamp of influence of Archbishop Péter Pázmány (1616–37), the situation of the Protestant communities was not especially difficult in spite of the Catholic confession-building tendencies. The numerical superiority of Protestants was unquestionable in the whole territory of the Hungarian Kingdom. It is no wonder that in each of the three towns under discussion (but primarily in Pozsony and Sopron, both of which had Lutheran schools) all of the schools strove to attract more pupils. As no investigation of the Protestant institutions of the era is possible on the individual level due to the lack of relevant sources, the oldest school matriculae from the Győr and Pozsony Jesuit colleges, which cover the first half and the middle of the seventeenth century, are especially valuable. (The earliest registries from Sopron unfortunately have been lost or have not yet been found.) The value of the data they contain cannot be overestimated: their social, educational, cultural, and local historical significance is striking. To my knowledge, they have not yet been used in the historical research on Pozsony. In the case of Győr, Ferenc Acsay, who wrote the history of the local college, used the registry. But computer databases open up new perspectives in this field as well.40 By organizing the data on the individual pupils in separate rows (records), one can examine changes in longer terms on the level of the individuals. I compare and contrast the available data from the viewpoint of denominational affiliation and conversion from 19 years of the first two decades of the Győr registry (1630–50)41 with the available data from 9 years of the first decade of the Pozsony registry (1650–59).42 As the data regarding denominational affiliations is known for a high percentage of the pupils, the study can be considered representative.

In Győr, during the period in question, the denominational affiliations of 1,586 out of 2,836 students are known, which means a majority (56 percent). The chronological distribution of these entries is somewhat narrower than the whole period. This means on the one hand that the registry preserved scattered data about the denominational affiliations of the students only as of 1634. The earliest information about religion is linked with a senior student of rhetoric, the Lutheran András Huditius from Besztercebánya (today Banská Bystrica, Slovakia).43 On the other hand, the entries regarding denominational affiliation became more regular in 1637, but data are still missing on individuals or whole classes.

The majority of the students were Catholic, in the case of Győr three-quarters (75.3 percent). They were followed in number by the Lutherans, who constituted one-fifth (19.6 percent) of the students. Compared to them, a considerably smaller share, only 4.7 percent, were Calvinists. The two examples of “heretics” (perhaps also Protestants) represent extraordinary cases, as does the Israelite pupil Izsák Vecker, who attended the College of Győr (as a principist) for a single year.44

As the Table 1 shows, only an insignificant minority of the Protestant students converted, 47 pupils altogether. This means that the Jesuits’ missionary work was successful in the case of 13.5 percent of the Lutherans and 9.3 percent of the Calvinists. Therefore, the registry data does not confirm the favorable picture drawn by the Jesuit accounts.



Number of Students























Table 1. The denominational division of the students of the Győr Jesuit College (1630–50)


As further investigation of the registry entries reveals, in the multiethnic College of Győr the vast majority of the Lutheran pupils were Hungarian, and there were also smaller numbers of Germans, Slavs (Slovaks), Croats, and Transylvanian Saxons. The Calvinists, with the one exception of an Italian student (Rodolphus Picina),45 were all Hungarians. Compared to the total number of the students, therefore, the Hungarians were overrepresented in both Protestant denominations.

The proportion of non-Catholic students within the individual grades does not deviate from the total. It is also noteworthy that in both colleges (the one in Pozsony and the one in Győr), not only the fluctuation of teachers but also the fluctuation of students was very high. The majority of the pupils only went to one college for one or two years. Almost half of the students only attended the lower—the principia and the parvist—classes. In light of this, it is remarkable that the chances of conversion did not necessarily increase with the number of years spent in the college. Among the non-converts, the “record-holder” is the Lutheran child of a noble family, Márton Szombaty, from Győr, who completed the 5 grades of the college in 9 years but did not convert.46 Among the Calvinists, István Collar could be mentioned, who, after having finished his studies in 6 years, still remained true to his faith.47

Unfortunately the sources do not enable us to retrace the individual stories of the converts. It is interesting, however, that of the Lutheran converts, on the basis of the registry entry 10 were from Győr. The high proportion of the local residents is also supported by the fact that in the Győr registry of citizens48 the surnames of these pupils are sometimes included. The same surnames occur in the last wills in Győr, although given the lack of sources we cannot even be certain of the identity of the people denoted by the same names. Nevertheless, I found one example. György Lesemprot (Lesenpront) from Győr, who attended at least 4 classes taught by Jesuits in 1637–42 and in 1640 was, as a syntaxist, already Catholic,49 also appears in the will of Anna Lesenpront, which was made in 1662.50 She calls György her brother and bequeaths 45 forints to him. The odd thing about the will is that in addition to leaving some of her estate to the cathedral chapter as landlord, the testator also leaves one forint to the Győr Cathedral, which was not a unique gesture among the Győr testaments. She does this in spite of the fact that, in addition to the 10 forints she leaves to the Lutheran denomination, she wills one golden forint to the Lutheran pastor, who in return is entrusted with the funeral sermon. In other words, she must have remained Lutheran in faith, while her brother converted to Catholicism (and perhaps was not the only person in the family to do this). This incident corroborates a sentence found in the annual Jesuit accounts according to which people of different denominations often lived side by side within a family.

Unfortunately there is very little information about the people who were regarded as heretics. The “heretics” János Makranczy and Dániel Zechmaiszter, as well as the “schismata” Pál Laszlo, only studied in Győr for one year each.51 Miklós Ifju, who abandoned his Catholic faith, attended the lowest class of the college for three years in 1637–40.52 After his conversion in 1640, he remained a pupil of the school for one more year, which throws into question the alleged religious intolerance of the Jesuits. Finally, again as evidence of the Fathers’ opportunistic behavior, I mention the example of the Lutheran Ferenc Kiraly, who was domiciled in Győr and who completed 5 grades in the college in 9 years, but only converted to Catholicism in the seventh year, as a syntaxist.53

Altogether 1,464 pupils studied with the Jesuits in Pozsony in the period under discussion, and the religion of the majority of them is known (60 percent). While this data dates to a later period than the data from Győr, it is nonetheless significant, because regular entries concerning denominational affiliation survived exclusively from this decade. The denominational homogenization, i.e. the gradual triumph of Catholicism over the other denominations, may have contributed to the fact that after 1659 entries regarding denominational affiliation are only sporadic.

In comparison with the institution in Győr, the College of Pozsony is different in one fundamental way. In the overwhelming majority of the cases (96 percent) the students were Catholic. Out of the tiny remaining minority, 22 pupils (2.4 percent) were Lutherans and 14 (1.5 percent) were Calvinists. There is no information about other religions. However, as was the case in Győr, in Pozsony, only a very small proportion of the non-Catholics, 4 students, converted (Table 2).



Number of Students














Table 2. The denominational division of the students of the Pozsony Jesuit College (1650–59)


The ethnic division of the Protestant pupils of the Pozsony College is similar to the Győr data. The ethnicity of each of the Lutherans is known. There were only four Slovaks and two Germans among them, and the rest were all Hungarian. Each of the Calvinists was Hungarian. Furthermore, it is noteworthy (albeit not surprising) that in the case of both Protestant denominations there is a high proportion of students from noble families: 9 among the Calvinists and 10 among the Lutherans.

As was the case in Győr, in the college of Pozsony there was also considerable “through traffic.” This tendency was characteristic irrespective of denomination (in other words it was true of the Protestant pupils as well). More than half (13 pupils) of the Lutherans and one-third (5 pupils) of the Calvinists spent only one year in the institution. In the case of Pozsony progress in school did not necessarily correlate with conversion to the Catholic faith. A conspicuous example is János Váczy, a descendant of a noble family from Nagymad (today Mad, Slovakia), a village in Pozsony county, who finished all five grades, including rhetoric, and remained Lutheran.54

The only Calvinist convert was noble István Udvari from Nagyszombat, who completed the top three classes of the college in four years (1650–53) between the ages of 17 and 20. He is first mentioned as a Catholic in 1652, so he converted after two years.55 The Calvinist connection of the family is known. His ancestors were supporters of Albert Szenczi Molnár.56 How István’s conversion affected other members of the family we do not know.

Among the Lutheran converts, János Brunczlik from Galgóc (today Hlohovec, Slovakia) was probably not of noble origins, and his ethnic background is hazy. (He was presumably multilingual: he was registered as Hungarian in 1657 and as Slovak in 1658.) Between 1657 and 1659, he finished the three lower grades (principia, grammatica, syntaxis), and by his grammatical year he had been converted.57 András Czernyansky58 and Gáspár Zambokrety,59 both of whom were from a noble family, were registered as Slovaks. András finished college with the exception of the topmost grade, rhetoric, between 1650 and 1653, while Gáspár completed only the two lowest grades in three years (1657–59). Both of them converted to Catholicism after (or during) their first year. András was from Szedlicsna, Trencsén county (today Trenčianske Stankovce–Sedličná, Slovakia).60 Gáspár probably was the descendant of the well-known noble Sámbokréty family from Nyitra county, because according to the registry he was from Lieszkó (today Cerová–Lieskové, Slovakia).61

The enrolment of non-Catholic students was acceptable in the first decades of the Jesuit colleges in both Győr and Pozsony. All we can suppose about the character of the Sopron College, given that we do not have its registry, is that it may have resembled the College of Pozsony. In the case of Pozsony, it is obvious that the presence of the Lutheran school significantly diminished the presence of Protestant pupils in the Catholic college. Further instances in Hungary are not yet known, hence it is not easy to offer an answer to the question as to which institution could be considered the most typical from the viewpoint of denominational proportions.


* * *


In conclusion, as this examination of school registries shows, the Jesuits were much more tolerant of non-Catholic pupils than has generally been assumed. This phenomenon can probably be taken as characteristic of other Hungarian Jesuit colleges, at least in the beginning and the middle of the seventeenth century. No one was deprived of the opportunity to attend higher grades, and it was not necessary to be Catholic in order to gain admission to the colleges. On the one hand, the reason for this can be found in the denominational proportions and the strength of the Protestant denominations in the Kingdom of Hungary. On the other hand, Protestants attended Catholic schools because these Jesuit colleges had hardly any competition: these institutions provided free education of the highest standard among the denominational schools.

Given the lack of sources, we can venture few conjectures regarding how the non-Catholic students participated in religious life, in Catholic liturgies, processions, prayers or even in dramatic performances of the school, if such participation was required of them at all. However, it seems that in their studies they were not discriminated against. For scholarship on the processes and trends in religious conversion in Hungary this statement is important: the use of new types of sources can enable us to challenge some the stereotypes that have gained widespread acceptance in the historiography. This can influence our understanding of ecclesiastical history and, in a narrow sense, the history of the Society of Jesus, but also, for the later centuries and with sociological methods, research on elites and schooling.62 Consequently, Jesuit colleges cannot be considered Catholic “wonder weapons” of conversion, although in the long run it is indisputable that their endeavors had a strong influence, which culminated in the Baroque Catholic Church.


Archival Sources

Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu (ARSI)

Assistentia Germaniae, Provincia Austriae, Austr. 135–36.

Esztergomi Főszékesegyházi Könyvtár [Metropolitan Cathedral Library in Esztergom],

Matrica gymnasii Posoniensis ab anno 1650 usque ad annum 1725. Coll. Battyány, Cat. IX. Lit. Tit. I. f. (Matr. Pos.)

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Győr-Moson-Sopron Megyei Levéltárának Soproni Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary, Archives of Győr-Moson-Sopron County in Sopron], Sopron Város Levéltára [Archives of the Free Royal Town of Sopron]


Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Handschriftensammlung (ÖNB)

Cod. 12218–12220.

Pannonhalmi Főapátsági Könyvtár Kézirattára [Library of the Benedictine Archabbey in Pannonhalma]

Catalogus discipulorum Jauriensis Gymnasii Societatis Jesu. 1630–1668. 120b A 19. (Cat. Jaur.)


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Fazekas, István. “Falusi közösségek hitváltoztatása a XVII. században” [Conversion of Village Communities in the Seventeenth Century]. In István Fazekas. A reform útján: A katolikus megújulás Nyugat-Magyarországon [On the Way of Reform: The Catholic Renewal in West Hungary], 187–95. A Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár Kiadványai, Források, feldolgozások 20. Győr: Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár, 2014.

Friedrich, Markus. “Circulating and Compiling the Litterae Annuae: Towards a History of the Jesuit System of Communication.” Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu 77, no. 153 (2008): 3–39.

Horváth, József. Győri végrendeletek a 17. századból [Győr Wills from the Seventeenth Century]. Vol. 3. 1655–1699. Győr: Győr-Moson-Sopron Megye Győri Levéltára, 1997.

Horváth, Sándor. “Horvát diákok a nyugat-magyarországi jezsuita gimnáziumokban a XVII–XVIII. században” [Croatian Students in the West-Hungarian Jesuit Colleges in the Seventeenth–Eighteenth Centuries]. In A magyar jezsuiták küldetése a kezdetektől napjainkig [The Mission of the Hungarian Jesuits from the Beginning to Today], edited by Csaba Szilágyi, 520–38. Művelődéstörténeti Műhely Rendtörténeti konferenciák 2. Piliscsaba: Pázmány Péter Katolikus Egyetem, 2006.

Hsia, R. Po-chia. “Introduction.” In The World of Catholic Renewal, 1540–1770, 1–9. 2nd edition. Cambridge: University Press, 2005.

Kádár, Zsófia. “A jezsuiták letelepedése és kollégiumalapítása Győrben (1626–1630)” [The Settlement and College Foundation of the Jesuits in Győr (1626–1630)]. In In labore fructus: Jubileumi tanulmányok Győregyházmegye történetéből [Jubilee Studies from the History of Győr Diocese], edited by Gábor Nemes and Ádám Vajk, 209–34. A Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár Kiadványai, Források, feldolgozások 13. Győr: Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár, 2011.

Kádár, Zsófia. “A soproni jezsuita kollégium kezdetei: Dobronoki György SJ superiorsága (1636−1640)” [The Beginnings of the Sopron Jesuit College: György Dobronoki SJ’s Superiorship (1636−1640)]. Soproni Szemle 65 (2011): 381–402; 66 (2012): 54–70.

Kádár, Zsófia. “Jesuitische Kolleggründungen im westungarischen Raum in der ersten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts: Die Beispiele von Győr/Raab und Sopron/Ödenburg.” In Frühneuzeitforschung in der Habsburgermonarchie: Adel und Wiener Hof − Konfessionalisierung – Siebenbürgen, edited by István Fazekas et al., 155−70. Publikationen der Ungarischen Geschichtsforschung in Wien 7. Vienna: Institut für Ungarische Geschichtsforschung in Wien, 2013.

Karády, Viktor, and Péter Tibor Nagy. Iskolázás, értelmiség és tudomány a 19–20. századi Magyarországon [Schooling, Intellectual Class and Science in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Hungary]. Szociológiai dolgozatok 5. Budapest: Wesley János Lelkészképző Főiskola, 2012.

Kolosvári, Sándor, and Kelemen Óvári. A dunántúli törvényhatóságok jogszabályai [The Laws of the Transdanubian Municipalities]. Vol. 5, bk. 2 of A magyar törvényhatóságok jogszabályainak gyüjteménye [The Collection of the Laws of the Hungarian Municipalities]. Budapest: n.p., 1904.

Lukács, Ladislaus. “De origine collegiorum externorum deque controversiis circa eorum paupertatem obortis (1539–1608).” Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu 29 (1960): 189–245; 30 (1961): 3–89.

Markusovszky, Sámuel. A pozsonyi ág. hitv. evang. lyceum története kapcsolatban a pozsonyi ág. hitv. evang. egyház multjával [The History of the Pozsony Lutheran Lyceum in Connection with the Past of the Pozsony Lutheran Church]. Pozsony: Eder István, 1896.

Matheus, Ricarda. “Forschungsstand.” In Ricarda Matheus. Konversionen in Rom in der Frühen Neuzeit: Das Ospizio dei Convertendi 1673–1750. 3–18. Bibliothek des Deutschen Historischen Instituts in Rom 126. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012.

Márkus, Dezső, ed. Corpus juris Hungarici. Magyar törvénytár: 1608–1657. évi törvényczikkek. Translated by Sándor Kolosvári and Kelemen Óvári. Budapest: Franklin-társulat, 1900.

Morvai, Gyula. Mezővárosi időszak 1600–1743 [The Market Town Period 1600–1743]. Vol. 1 of Győri Polgárkönyv [Citizen Register of Győr]. Levéltári Füzetek 10. Győr: Győr Megyei Jogú Város Levéltára, 2007.

Nagy, Iván. Magyarország családai czimerekkel és nemzékrendi táblákkal [Families in Hungary with Arms and Genealogical Tables]. Vol. 12. Pest: Beimel J. és Kozma Vazul, 1865.

Pálffy, Géza. The Kingdom of Hungary and the Habsburg Monarchy in the Sixteenth Century. Translated by Thomas J. and Helen D. DeKornfeld. CHSP Hungarian Studies Series 18. East European Monographs 735. Boulder, Col.: Social Science Monographs, 2009.

Payr, Sándor. A Dunántúli Evangélikus Egyházkerület története [The History of the Transdanubian Lutheran Diocese]. Vol. 1. Sopron: Székely és Társa, 1924.

Payr, Sándor. A reformáció kezdetétől az 1681. évi soproni országgyűlésig [From the Beginning of the Reformation to the Diet of Sopron in 1681]. Vol. 1 of A soproni evangélikus egyházközség története [The History of the Sopron Lutheran Parish]. Sopron: Soproni Ág. Hitv. Evang. Egyházközség, 1917.

Péter, Katalin. “A jezsuiták működésének első szakasza Sárospatakon” [The First Phase of the Jesuits’ Activity in Sárospatak]. In Katalin Péter. Papok és nemesek: Magyar művelődéstörténeti tanulmányok a reformációval kezdődő másfél évszázadból [Priests and Noblemen: Essays on the Hungarian Cultural History from the One-and-a-half Centuries after the Reformation], 186‒99. A Ráday Gyűjtemény tanulmányai 8. Budapest: Ráday Gyűjtemény, 1995.

Peper, Ines. “Einleitung.” In Ines Peper. Konversionen im Umkreis des Wiener Hofes um 1700. 13–28. Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 55. Vienna–Munich: Böhlau–Oldenbourg, 2010.

Pintér, Márta Zsuzsanna. “A jezsuita ifjúság 17. századi példaképe: Holló Zsigmond” [The Model of the Seventeenth-century Jesuit Youth: Zsigmond Holló]. In Historicus Societatis Iesu: Szilas László Emlékkönyv [Historicus Societatis Iesu: Memorial Volume of László Szilas], edited by Antal Molnár, Csaba Szilágyi, and István Zombori, 322–31. METEM Könyvek 62. Budapest: METEM, 2007.

Pongrácz, Denis et al., ed. Pozsony vármegye nemes családjai [Noble Families in Pozsony County]. Somorja: Méry Ratio, 2008.

Scheutz, Martin. “Glaubenswechsel als Massenphänomen in der Habsburgermonarchie im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert: Konversionen bei Hof sowie die ‘Bekehrung’ der Namenlosen.” In Geheimprotestantismus und evangelische Kirchen in der Habsburgermonarchie und im Erzstift Salzburg (17./18. Jahrhundert), edited by Rudolf Leeb, Martin Scheutz, and Dietmar Weikl, 431–55. Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 51. Vienna–Munich: Böhlau–Oldenbourg, 2009.

Shore, Paul. Narratives of Adversity. Jesuits on the Eastern Peripheries of the Habsburg Realms 1640–1773. Budapest–New York: CEU Press, 2012.

Stelling, Lieke, and Richardson, Todd M. “Introduction.” In The Turn of the Soul: Representations of Religious Conversion in Early Modern Art and Literature, edited by Lieke Stelling, Harald Hendrix, and Todd M. Richardson, 1–17. Intersections. Interdisciplinary Studies in Early Modern Culture 23. Leiden: Brill, 2012.

Winkelbauer, Thomas. Ständefreiheit und Fürstenmacht: Länder und Untertanen des Hauses Habsburg im Konfessionellen Zeitalter. Vol. 8, bk. 2 of Österreichische Geschichte 1522–1699, edited by Herwig Wolfram. Vienna: Verlag Carl Ueberreuter, 2003.

1 Litterae Annuae 1639. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Handschriftensammlung (= ÖNB) Cod. 12218. 358r. – My research in Rome and in Vienna was supported by the scholarships of “Campus Hungary” (2013) and “Collegium Hungaricum (CH/2)” (2013) of the Balassi Institute (Budapest).

2 The story resembles the conversion of Zsigmond Holló, which was also the object of numerous school dramas, see below. Pintér Márta Zsuzsanna, “A jezsuita ifjúság 17. századi példaképe: Holló Zsigmond,” in Historicus Societatis Iesu: Szilas László Emlékkönyv, ed. Antal Molnár, Csaba Szilágyi, and István Zombori, METEM Könyvek 62 (Budapest: METEM, 2007), 322–31.

3 Catalogus discipulorum Jauriensis Gymnasii Societatis Jesu, 1630–1668. Pannonhalmi Főapátsági Könyvtár Kézirattára, 120b A 19. (= Cat.Jaur.) 44v, 47v.

4 On the contemporary religious situation of the Habsburg Empire see: Thomas Winkelbauer, Ständefreiheit und Fürstenmacht: Länder und Untertanen des Hauses Habsburg im Konfessionellen Zeitalter, vol. 8, bk. 2 of Österreichische Geschichte 1522–1699, ed. Herwig Wolfram (Vienna: Verlag Carl Ueberreuter, 2003), 9–90. Cf. R. Po-chia Hsia, “Introduction”, in The World of Catholic Renewal, 1540–1770. 2nd edition (Cambridge: University Press, 2005), 7–8.

5 On the notion of “missionary seigniorial counter-reformation” (“térítő földesúri ellenreformáció”) see: Katalin Péter, “A jezsuiták működésének első szakasza Sárospatakon,” in Katalin Péter, Papok és nemesek: Magyar művelődéstörténeti tanulmányok a reformációval kezdődő másfél évszázadból, A Ráday Gyűjtemény tanulmányai 8 (Budapest: Ráday Gyűjtemény, 1995), 186–99, and István Fazekas, “Falusi közösségek hitváltoztatása a XVII. században,” in István Fazekas, A reform útján: A katolikus megújulás Nyugat-Magyarországon, A Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár Kiadványai, Források, feldolgozások 20 (Győr: Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár, 2014), 187–95.

6 Cf. Géza Pálffy, The Kingdom of Hungary and the Habsburg Monarchy in the Sixteenth Century, transl. J. Thomas and Helen D. DeKornfeld, CHSP Hungarian Studies Series 18, East European Monographs 735 (Boulder, Col.: Social Science Monographs, 2009), 209–33.

7 Lieke Stelling and Todd M. Richardson: “Introduction,” in The Turn of the Soul: Representations of Religious Conversion in Early Modern Art and Literature, ed. Lieke Stelling, Harald Hendrix, and Todd M. Richardson, Intersections. Interdisciplinary Studies in Early Modern Culture 23 (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 1–17.

8 Cf. Ricarda Matheus, “Forschungsstand,” in Konversionen in Rom in der Frühen Neuzeit: Das Ospizio dei Convertendi 1673–1750, Bibliothek des Deutschen Historischen Instituts in Rom 126 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012), 3–18.

9 Cf. Ines Peper, “Einleitung,” in Konversionen im Umkreis des Wiener Hofes um 1700, Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 55 (Vienna–Munich: Böhlau–Oldenbourg, 2010), 13–28.

10 Jörg Deventer, “Konversionen zwischen den christlichen Konfessionen im frühneuzeitlichen Europa,” Wiener Zeitschrift zur Geschichte der Neuzeit 7, no. 2 (2007): 8–24 (with a comprehensive bibliography).

11 These questions are also studied by Martin Scheutz, “Glaubenswechsel als Massenphänomen in der Habsburgermonarchie im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert: Konversionen bei Hof sowie die ‘Bekehrung’ der Namenlosen,” in Geheimprotestantismus und evangelische Kirchen in der Habsburgermonarchie und im Erzstift Salzburg (17./18. Jahrhundert), ed Rudolf Leeb, Martin Scheutz, and Dietmar Weikl, Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 51 (Vienna–Munich: Böhlau–Oldenbourg, 2009), 431–55.

12 On the genre and documentary value of the Litterae Annuae see: Markus Friedrich, “Circulating and compiling the litterae annuae: Towards a history of the Jesuit system of communication,” Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu 153 (2008): 3–37.

13 The registries have only been used to a lesser extent and with debatable success, e.g. Sándor Horváth, “Horvát diákok a nyugat-magyarországi jezsuita gimnáziumokban a XVII–XVIII. században,” in A magyar jezsuiták küldetése a kezdetektől napjainkig, ed. Csaba Szilágyi. Művelődéstörténeti Műhely Rendtörténeti konferenciák 2. (Piliscsaba: Pázmány Péter Katolikus Egyetem, 2006), 520–38. The analysis of the matriculae is proposed by István Fazekas, “Bevezetés helyett: katolikus megújulás a győri egyházmegyében a XVI. és XVII. században (kutatási lehetőségek és eredmények),” in Fazekas, A reform útján, 15.

14 Dezső Márkus, ed., Corpus juris Hungarici. Magyar törvénytár: 1608–1657. évi törvényczikkek, trans. Sándor Kolosvári and Kelemen Óvári (Budapest: Franklin-társulat, 1900), 15.

15 On the early phase of the development of the Jesuit college as an institution see: Ladislaus Lukács, “De origine collegiorum externorum deque controversiis circa eorum paupertatem obortis (1539–1608),” Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu 29 (1960): 189–245, 30 (1961): 3–89.

16 On the foundation of each college see: Tamás Dénesi, “Missziótól a kollégiumig: Jezsuiták Pozsonyban 1635-ig,” Magyar Egyháztörténeti Vázlatok 10, no. 3−4 (1998): 87–115; Zsófia Kádár, “A jezsuiták letelepedése és kollégiumalapítása Győrben (1626–1630),” in In labore fructus: Jubileumi tanulmányok Győregyházmegye történetéből, ed. Gábor Nemes and Ádám Vajk, A Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár Kiadványai, Források, feldolgozások 13 (Győr: Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár, 2011), 209–34; Zsófia Kádár, “A soproni jezsuita kollégium kezdetei: Dobronoki György SJ superiorsága (1636−1640),” Soproni Szemle 65 (2011): 381–402, 66 (2012): 54–70; Zsófia Kádár, “Jesuitische Kolleggründungen im westungarischen Raum in der ersten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts: Die Beispiele von Győr/Raab und Sopron/Ödenburg,” in Frühneuzeitforschung in der Habsburgermonarchie: Adel und Wiener Hof − Konfessionalisierung – Siebenbürgen, ed. István Fazekas et al., Publikationen der Ungarischen Geschichtsforschung in Wien 7 (Vienna: Institut für Ungarische Geschichtsforschung in Wien, 2013), 155−70.

17 Cf. Sámuel Markusovszky, A pozsonyi ág. hitv. evang. lyceum története kapcsolatban a pozsonyi ág. hitv. evang. egyház multjával (Pozsony: Eder István, 1896), 1–31.

18 Cf. Sándor Payr, A reformáció kezdetétől az 1681. évi soproni országgyűlésig, vol. 1 of A soproni evangélikus egyházközség története (Sopron: Soproni Ág. Hitv. Evang. Egyházközség, 1917), 202, 297–99.

19 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Győr-Moson-Sopron Megyei Levéltárának Soproni Levéltára, Sopron Város Levéltára, Ratsprotokoll, October 24, 1636.

20 Cf. Sándor Kolosvári and Kelemen Óvári, eds., A dunántúli törvényhatóságok jogszabályai, vol. 5, bk. 2 of A magyar törvényhatóságok jogszabályainak gyüjteménye (Budapest: n.p., 1904), 187–88. The statute of free royal town Sopron (1638), point 2.

21 Sándor Payr, A Dunántúli Evangélikus Egyházkerület története, vol. 1 (Sopron: Székely és Társa, 1924), 370.

22 Cf. note 11.

23 The conversion reports of juveniles are repeated in the Litterae Annuae almost every year; in the cases of Pozsony and Győr from 1630, and of Sopron from 1636.

24 Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu (= ARSI), Austr. 135, 684 (Győr, 1630).

25 ÖNB Cod. 12218, 243v (Pozsony, 1637).

26 Cf. Pintér, A jezsuita ifjúság.

27 ÖNB Cod. 12218, 451r. (Győr, 1640).

28 Ibid., 12219, 136r. (Győr, 1642).

29 Ibid., 12220, 38v. (Győr, 1647).

30 Ibid., 12219, 81r. (Sopron, 1641), ÖNB Cod. 12220, 345r–v. (Sopron, 1650).

31 E.g. ARSI Austr. 136, 385. (Pozsony, 1635).

32 ÖNB Cod. 12220, 50r. (Pozsony, 1647).

33 Ibid., 226v. (Pozsony, 1649)

34 ARSI Austr. 135, 681. (Pozsony, 1630).

35 ÖNB Cod. 12219, 136r–v. (Győr, 1642).

36 Ibid., 180r. (Sopron, 1643).

37 Ibid., 12218, 448r.

38 Ibid., 12218, 245r. (Győr, 1637), ÖNB Cod. 12220, 38r. (Győr, 1647).

39 ARSI Austr. 135, 684., ÖNB Cod. 12220, 38r., ÖNB Cod. 12219, 404r., ÖNB Cod. 12220, 50r.

40 Ferenc Acsay, A győri kath. főgimnázium története 1626–1900 (Győr: n.p., 1901), 88–143.

41 Data from 1639 and partly from 1645 are missing. In 1644, schooling was interrupted due to the plague.

42 The register of 1655 is missing. The Pozsony register: Matrica gymnasii Posoniensis ab anno 1650 usque ad annum 1725, Esztergomi Főszékesegyházi Könyvtár, Coll. Batthyány, Cat. IX. Lit. Tit. I. f. (= Matr. Pos.).

43 Cat. Jaur., 21v.

44 Ibid., 25v. – We also know of other converted Israelites, especially young boys and their mothers, e.g. from Eperjes (today Prešov, Slovakia) in 1701, cf. Paul Shore, Narratives of Adversity. Jesuits on the Eastern Peripheries of the Habsburg Realms 1640–1773 (Budapest–New York: CEU Press, 2012), 102.

45 Cat. Jaur., 46r.

46 Ibid., 24v, 30r, 32v, 36v, 42v, 47r, 51r, 54v.

47 Ibid., 17v, 23v, 29r, 31v, 35v, 41v.

48 Gyula Morvai, Mezővárosi időszak 1600–1743, vol. 1 of Győri Polgárkönyv, Levéltári Füzetek 10 (Győr: Győr Megyei Jogú Város Levéltára, 2007).

49 Cat. Jaur., 38v, 47v, 51v, 54v.

50 József Horváth, Győri végrendeletek a 17. századból, vol. 3, 1655–1699 (Győr: Győr-Moson-Sopron Megye Győri Levéltára, 1997), 66–67 (no. 266.).

51 Cat. Jaur., 50v, 52v, 66v.

52 Ibid., 40r, 50v, 54r.

53 Ibid., 38r, 44v, 48v, 52r, 56r, 59r, 64r, 65v.

54 Matr. Pos., 11v, 18v, 24v, 30v, 36v. About the family: Denis Pongrácz et al., ed., Pozsony vármegye nemes családjai (Somorja: Méry Ratio, 2008), 398–99.

55 Matr. Pos., 9v, 16v, 22r, 30r.

56 Pongrácz, Pozsony vármegye, 395.

57 Matr. Pos., 50r, 55r, 59v.

58 Ibid., 11r, 18r, 23v, 30r.

59 Ibid., 49v, 56r, 60v.

60 I could not identify the family, it is not mentioned in the work of Iván Nagy (see below).

61 About the family: Iván Nagy, Magyarország családai czimerekkel és nemzékrendi táblákkal, vol. 12 (Pest: Beimel J. és Kozma Vazul, 1865), 25–29, Gáspár is not indicated.

62 Cf. e.g. Viktor Karády and Péter Tibor Nagy, Iskolázás, értelmiség és tudomány a 19–20. századi Magyarországon, Szociológiai dolgozatok 5 (Budapest: Wesley János Lelkészképző Főiskola, 2012), 9–29.



pdfVolume 3 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Miklós Konrád

The Social Integration of the Jewish Upper Bourgeoisie in the Hungarian Traditional Elites

A Survey of the Period from the Reform Era to World War I

In the spirit of the principles of liberal nationalism, which dominated Hungarian political life from the Reform Era to the end of World War I, Christian politicians and intellectuals tirelessly emphasized their firm belief that, in addition to acculturating and identifying with the Hungarian nation, the Jewry must also integrate socially into majority Christian society. This call for integration also allotted a task to the Christian members of Hungarian society, namely that they welcome their compatriots into their social circles. The views of contemporaries notwithstanding, according to whom the greatest aspiration of the Jewish haute bourgeoisie was to gain acceptance into the circles of the traditional social elites and their families, this striving was really only characteristic of the second and third generations of upper-class Jewish families. With regards to the last stage of integration, in other words marriage into the families of the traditional elite, with one exception that confirms the rule, this was only possible for Jews if they were willing to convert. Following the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s, decades that were more open from the perspective of integration into the social sphere, the traditional elites closed ranks. The National Casino, which had been founded in 1827, accepted its last Jewish member in 1872. Neither the Country Casino that was created in 1883 (it was referred to as the Országos Kaszinó, i.e. the word “nemzeti,” or “national,” was replaced with “országos,” which means national in the more political sense) nor the Park Club (which was created in 1895) ever had a single Jew among their members, though both had many Christian members who had converted from Judaism. This constituted a clear contradiction of the liberal promise of social integration, though at the same time it also indicates that exclusion was not (yet) based on concepts of race.

Keywords: social integration, Hungarian Jews, Jewish conversions, mixed marriages

“What can the Hungarian nation justifiably and rightly expect of the Jews?” Hungarian novelist and public figure Kálmán Mikszáth raised this question in an editorial published in Szegedi Napló (Szeged Journal) in October 1880. While Mikszáth placed expectations on the “Jews,” he also did not neglect to write on the obligations of the “Hungarians”:

Thus while the Jewry must do everything it can in order to draw closer, in its education and culture, its social concepts and customs, to educated Hungarian society, Hungarian society must embrace the Jewry and ease and promote its integration.1

In the spirit of liberal nationalism, which was the dominant political ideology of the period beginning with the Reform Era and ending with World War I, the Christian politicians and intellectuals of the time were far more likely to put emphasis on the obligations of the Jews to acculturate and to cultivate a sentimental attachment to the Hungarian nation. At the same time, the integration of the Jewish inhabitants of the country, who had been emancipated in 1867, clearly depended on the willingness of the majority society to welcome them among their ranks. The program of the liberals of the Reform era, which called for the transformation of Hungary into a bourgeois liberal state, brought with it a call for the removal of the “social dividing walls” (to use the jargon of the time). The destruction of the “dividing walls” that prevented the integration of the Jews whose acculturation was to strengthen the Hungarian ethnic group was part and parcel of this program.

The Christian minority of the Hungarian upper bourgeoisie which began to emerge in the first half of the nineteenth century and by the early twentieth century had grown to include some 800–1000 families, consisted for the most part of German burgher families who had settled in Hungary considerably earlier and entrepreneurs who had come to Hungary in the 1830s and 1840s, mostly from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.2 For the Jews, who constituted the majority of this upper bourgeoisie, in case they wished to gain acceptance into a Hungarian Christian milieu, this could only be the aristocracy of birth and the upper echelons of the nobility that began in the 1870s to refer to itself as the “gentry” and, later, as the “historical middle class”.3

In this essay I attempt to offer an answer to the question of the actual extent to which these “dividing walls,” i.e. the social obstacles to the integration of upper-class Jews, were (or were not) dismantled. How inclined were members of the traditional elites to come into contact in social circles with members of the Jewish upper class, or to accept Jews into their clubs, homes and families? And to the extent that there was hesitancy or resistance, could it be overcome if a member of the Jewish upper class were to convert?

Historiography has paid little attention to the question of the social integration of the Jewry in Hungary, and the scholarship that has been published on the subject has tended to deal primarily with the wealthier social strata.4 At the same time, the absence of a comprehensive survey covering the entire period in question is a clear sign of the lack of research on the subject. Although this would provide a useful means of assessing the extent of social integration, there has been no comprehensive empirical study on Jewish membership in the casinos.

In the first section of this essay, I examine the question of the extent to which members of the Jewish upper bourgeoisie actually sought to gain acceptance into the circles of the traditional elites. I then offer a chronological survey of the period, which spans almost a century, in which I trace the shifting dynamics of acceptance and exclusion. Finally, in part to offer some counterbalance to the indispensable but nonetheless clearly subjective contemporary assessments and later recollections on which I draw in the first two sections, I present the findings of my research on the number of professing or converted Jews who were integrated into the three most prestigious clubs of the traditional elites, the National Casino, the Country Casino, and the Park Club.

Strivings towards Integration

The first question concerns simply the extent to which the striving to gain acceptance into the traditional social elites can be considered characteristic of the Jewish haute bourgeoisie, if indeed it can be considered characteristic at all. According to the almost unanimous opinion of contemporaries, all prosperous Jews craved integration. In the short stories published in the Reform Era, the primary characteristic of the figure of the wealthy Jew, who was almost portrayed negatively, was still avarice.5 This portrayal began to be supplanted in the 1850s and 1860s by the cliché of the nouveau riche Jew who longed to curry the favor of the magnates and looked down on his more modest coreligionists.6 From the 1880s on, in the novels of Christian authors, the figure of the wealthy landowning Jewish “new noblemen” who converted to Christianity (or had his children converted) in order to gain acceptance among the aristocratic families for himself or for his children was at times an unsympathetic character, at times a fallible one, but one who was always motivated first and foremost by his desire for integration. This portrayal also represented an implicit criticism of the traditional, biased, hidebound elite that refused to accept wealthy Jews into their circles.7 This image did not change substantially in the literature of the turn of the century. In Ferenc Herczeg’s 1903 novel Andor és András (Andor and Andrew), the father of one of the protagonists is a genuine self-made business man proud of his successes but who spares no effort to gain acceptance into the aristocratic Trotting Club, “where he has no business being and where they have no desire whatsoever to let him in.”8

In the literary works of Jewish authors one finds even more negative depictions of the Jewish upper bourgeoisie. As early as the 1860s, the image of the parvenu was coupled with the contention that this class itself was responsible for anti-Semitism. In the 1866 narrative by Bertalan Ormody, the primary cause of anti-Semitism is still the worship by wealthy Jews of the “idol of money,”9 while in Ferenc Molnár’s first novel, published in 1901, it was their yearning to rub shoulders with the aristocracy and the gentry.10 In other works, for instance a comedy by Ignác Acsády published in 1880 or Ferenc Molnár’s humorous sketches of 1911, the image of wealthy Jews is less negative, but their longing to mix with the Christian elites remains a prominent element of the satire.11 In more ambitious works, such as Tamás Kóbor’s 1911 novel, the old accusation again emerges according to which the snobbishness and cowardice of prosperous Jews was “the only reason for anti-Semitism.”12

This accusation found expression in works of non-fiction as well, for instance in the campaign speeches of Vilmos Vázsonyi, the leader of the Democratic Party.13 The cliché of the wealthy Jew who sought to worm his way into Christian society was also an important element of the bourgeois radicals’ critique of the Jewish haute bourgeoisie. According to this critique, instead of taking part in the struggle for the democratic transformation of the country, the Jewish upperclass submitted to the wishes of the traditional elite, which it served with servile cowardice in the hopes of winning acceptance into its ranks.14

For a long time these contemporary assessments were adopted a-critically by Hungarian historians,15 who could also find confirmation of their views in the thesis of “feudalization,” which was popular for a time in the historiography in the West and which was applied by William McCagg to Jews in Hungary who had obtained titles of nobility.16 The thesis, according to which the Jewish upper bourgeoisie longed to gain acceptance into the social circles of the magnates and the nobles was first called into question by László Varga. In an essay published in 1983, he persuasively argued that, in contrast with the widely accepted view, marriages of Jews into families that belonged to the traditional elites did not reach “mass proportions.” The vast majority of upper-class Jews who bore noble titles had been ennobled in recognition of the roles they had in fact played in strengthening the economy of the country, and the purchase of estates had been motivated by carefully considered economic interests, not the desire for integration. In Varga’s assessment, the view according to which the Jewish upper bourgeoisie in general longed to rub shoulders with the “traditional ruling class” was “fundamentally” exaggerated.17 In an essay published a few years later, Viktor Karády was even more emphatic. With its “archaic lifestyle” and dwindling economic influence, the traditional elite “obviously” did not represent a milieu into which the Jewish upper class would integrate. “Remaining in an alliance with this elite was expedient as long as this elite was in power, but ‘assimilation’ into it would have been a suicide attempt.”18

On the basis of our actual knowledge, one cannot determine the precise extent to which members of the Jewish upper class actually strove to gain acceptance into the social circles and families of the traditional elites. As I have attempted to show, the literature and journalism of the time presented a uniform picture. The cliché of the wealthy Jew craving the company of aristocrats and old noble families is also found in memoirs and recollections. Hilda Bauer, who was somewhat familiar with this social strata because of her contact with the friends and acquaintances of her brother, writer and poet Béla Balázs, made the following claim: “The greatest ambition of the wealthy and distinguished Jewry of the time was to befriend and come into contact with distinguished Christian families, if possible families that belonged to the gentry or the aristocracy.”19

Other people’s recollections contradict this contention. In the literary memoirs of Anna Lesznai, for instance, her grandfather on her mother’s side, József Deutsch, who acquired Hungarian nobility in 1879, is presented as a merchant who looked with scorn on the ancient nobility and was proud of his bourgeois and Jewish background, as well as the “feinbürgerlich” spirit of his home.20 József Lukács, the father of philosopher György Lukács, also seems in no way to have sought to curry the favor of the traditional elites. When his family moved into a villa on Gellért Hill (a prosperous neighborhood in Budapest) in 1917, one of their neighbors suggested that they pay a visit to countess Margit Bethlen, the wife of count György Bánffy, who lived nearby. According to Mária Lukács, her father firmly dismissed the idea: “My father said he will not fawn over the counts. If by chance they should meet, then fine, but he would not go.”21

Marrying into the Traditional Elites

One can make the following claim with reasonable confidence: in the Dualist era, the desire to win acceptance into the circles of the traditional elite was less characteristic of the generation that had acquired significant wealth than it was of their children and grandchildren, members of the second and third generation of upper-class Jews, who had been born into prosperity. This is most evident if one examines trends in marriages. This by no means constituted a break on the part of the younger generations with the efforts or wishes of their parents, since the choice of a spouse among these social strata was less a matter of love than it was a means of strengthening the family’s social position, in other words a decision either made by or least approved by the head of the household. In any event, sooner or later, among a significant proportion of upper-class Jewish families, at least one member married into a family belonging to the traditional social elite.22

As far as we know, these marriages were preceded by the conversion of the Jewish bride or bridegroom with only a single exception, and in this case, too, eventually the Jewish partner converted. Before the law of 1894: XXXI. on the introduction of civil marriage came into effect, baptism was naturally inevitable. Since the law did not permit conversion to the Jewish faith, a Jew could only marry a Christian after having converted. This often took place immediately before the wedding. Ottilia Schosberger, the daughter of Henrik Schosberger and Zsófia Hellmann (neither of whom left the Jewish fold), was baptized on July 1, 1882. The next day, she married Baron Pál Bornemisza.23

As of October 1, 1895, it was no longer necessary for a Jew to convert in order to marry a Christian in a civil ceremony. The introduction of civil marriage, however, did not bring about any change with regards to the entry of wealthy Jews into the aristocracy and the upper layers of the “historical middle class” through marriage. With the exception of Melánia Blaskovich de Ebeczk, a member of the illustrious Blaskovich family, not a single man or woman belonging to these social strata and sharing their cultural values married a Jew.24 (As for Melánia Blaskovich, she not only married Hermann Königswarter, who was Jewish, but also acquiesced to the request of her father-in-law, Viennese Baron Moritz von Königswarter, and herself converted to Judaism. After her father-in-law’s death, both she and her husband converted to Catholicism.25) For wealthy Jews who hoped to marry into families belonging to these circles, conversion remained even after 1895 a compulsory and self-evident precondition. However, it is important to stress that those who were willing to convert achieved their goal. In contrast with the situation in Germany, in Hungary there were hardly any cases of an upper-class convert to Christianity who, wealth and conversion notwithstanding, was unable to find a spouse belonging to a noble or an aristocratic family.26

Social Mixing: a Chronological Overview

The next question is to what extent the traditional elite was willing to mix with unconverted Jews and accept them into its social circles?

One can speak of social contact (that went beyond professional contexts) between Jews and Gentiles as of the Reform Era in Hungary, the period in which liberal ideas began to gain ground and an already relatively broad layer of entrepreneurial Jews began to emerge. In 1831, August Ellrich, a German from Berlin, published a book on his travels in Hungary. According to Ellrich, while there were many wealthy and “elegant” Jews in Hungary, “one searches in vain among them for high society, badges of honor, or medals and ribbons,” since “the Hungarian” is unwilling to sit at the same table as a Jew.27 Nonetheless—and this can be regarded as the first sign on the institutional level of increased social openness with regards to Jews—in the 1830s and 1840s many casinos and societies accepted Jews as members. According to Michael Silber, from this perspective, the nobility was more socially open than the traditional Bürgertum.28

Beginning in the 1850s and the 1860s, the directorships of share holding companies became one of the major sites of interaction between wealthy Jews and male members of the noble and especially aristocratic families.29 This contact, of course, was confined to a narrow, formal framework, and it is quite possible that some of the aristocrats were not terribly happy about it. In 1855, Imre Vahot, who was striving to promote the social acceptance of acculturated Jews, found himself compelled to remark: “In this perspective, the Hungarian aristocracy, which is fiercely proud of its roots, still shows the greatest antipathy and even scorn for the Jew.”30

In the period that began with the defeat of the 1848 uprising against the Habsburgs and came to an end in the late 1870s, the tendency, nonetheless, is clear: the aristocracy and, even more so, the (more) liberal members of the nobility grew increasingly open to the idea of mixing with Jews. This harmonized with the emergence of more favorable attitudes towards Jews in general. As Dávid Kóhn writes, in the 1850s and 1860s:

The Jews, even if they did not have political rights, […] enjoyed a better position in the social sphere in Hungary than they ever did later. […] In many of the cities in the provinces, the distinguished nobility and burghers, who were engaged in passive resistance, did not invite the distinguished officials who had served in the Bach and Schmerling era to the festivities when they were organizing merry gatherings, even if, and indeed particularly if the officials were Hungarians to the core; in contrast, they invited and were glad to welcome the more refined Jews to their parties, and not just the men, but the female members of their families as well.31

In the 1860s more and more casinos and societies opened their doors to Jews.32 This philo-Semitic mood found symbolic expression on December 19, 1860, when a “banquet of brotherhood” was held in the European Hotel with some 600 participants,33 and in the spring of 1867 (not long before the emancipation of the Jews in December of that year), when the so-called Equality Circle was founded. The goal of this Circle, which was created on the initiative of Móric Szentkirályi, the lord mayor of Pest, was to foster amicable relationships between Jews and Christians. Its first president was general György Klapka, who in 1866 had been permitted to return to the country from exile. Ignác Barnay, the secretary of the Israelite Community of Pest, was elected vice president. Soon after having been founded, it had 600 members, 250 of whom were Jewish.34

Contact between Jews and gentiles was not limited to formal, institutional contexts. In 1869, in addition to Anton von Schmerling and Friedrich Ferdinand von Beust, Elek Thaisz, the chief commissioner of police of Pest, and Ferenc Házmán, Buda’s (last) mayor, were all present at the marriage in Vienna of the daughter of Popper Lipót and Henrik Goldberger, who two years earlier had been granted Hungarian nobility. They were joined by lord lieutenants, royal councilors, and “many other important people, without regards to religious difference.”35

The 1870s saw the emergence of a stratum of provincial Jews who, with their wealth, their lifestyle, and sometimes their freshly acquired noble titles, constituted a potential partner for the local elites. In 1872, Mór Moscovitz, who had been ennobled in 1867, purchased an estate in Zemplén County of some 4,000 “hold,” or roughly 2,300 hectares. His son, Géza Moscovitz, Anna Lesznai’s father, who enjoyed horseback riding and hunting, settled here. The local aristocratic families and propertied noblemen accepted him into their social circles, the families often rubbed elbows.36 According to the autobiography of Vilmos Vázsonyi’s wife, her father, Jakab Schwartz, a landowner from Mátészalka, “had close friendships with the most influential upper-class families,” in part because, since he was the district president of the Liberal Party, the preparations for the elections were held in his home.37

As far as the political center was concerned, in addition to sharing gossip in the hallways of parliament, some Jewish representatives had friendly relationships with members of the traditional political elite. In the club of the Liberal Party, Károly Sváb, a Jewish man who had been elected to parliament in 1875 and who in 1885 was nominated member of the Upper House for life, was regularly the fourth at Kálmán Tisza’s tarot card table, alongside István Nedeczky and Mór Jókai.38

According to contemporaries, anti-Semitism, which began to gain ground in the beginning of the 1880s, found manifestation in efforts to hamper the social integration of Jews. The acquisition of ancient estates by Jews, Ferenc Pulszky wrote in 1880, gave rise to increasing antipathy towards these new estate owners, even among members of the gentry that still owned their estates:

We vilify the Jews if they obtain wealth, only rarely do we let them socialize with us, and then we are angered if they leave the country, which indeed gave them civil equality, but only rarely social equality. […] And if they remain in the country and bind their interests to the soil of the homeland, purchase livestock, and farm the land as we do, or better than we do, we do not love that either, we do not socialize with them as we do with other neighbors, and even if we don’t say it, we still think it: a Jew is still a Jew.39

According to the weekly periodical Egyenlőség (Equality), which played an important role in the life of the Neolog Jewish community from the moment of its founding in 1882, the first palpable sign of anti-Semitism was precisely the sudden halt of social integration.40 In 1883, one author, who looked back nostalgically on the 1870s, wrote the following:

One of the basic preconditions of social integration is mutual informal contact. The first vile outgrowth of the current perverted tendency was precisely the termination of this informal contact. At the beginning of the 1870s, how many mixed women’s associations were there, Jews were accepted as members in the casinos, in various circles. In social circles, at balls, etc. the most beautiful harmony prevailed. […] Today we see everywhere a certain coldness, capricious moods, motions from all sides for the elimination of Jews from the casinos. Jews are left out of elite balls all over the country, they are never asked to serve as organizers.41

Other authors, however, felt that political anti-Semitism hardly did anything to worsen the already deplorable situation. According to the anonymous author of a pamphlet published in the middle of the 1880s:

Hatred and distrust of Jews always existed, it was just latent—in public life and social relations, however, it always found form. […] The difference between the state of affairs today and the state of affairs earlier is simply that what before was latent or only manifest in social relations today is openly proclaimed.42

The case of Mór Wahrmann, a banker and the first Jewish member of Hungarian parliament, clearly illustrates that the situation was more complex than this might suggest. In 1883, all of Budapest, as it were, was present for the wedding of his daughter, Renée Wahrmann, and Izidor Krausz de Megyer in the synagogue in Dohány Street. The guests included minister of finance Gyula Szapáry, former minister of finance Kálmán Széll, and lord mayor Károly Ráth.43 Many important figures of public life were frequent guests in Wahrmann’s home as well, the press regularly reported on his Thursday salons, particularly if the guests on a given occasion were unusually prominent. In February, 1881, for instance, in addition to composer Ferenc Liszt, poet and novelist Pál Gyulai, and literary historian Zsolt Beöthy, several influential members of the political elite were also among Wahrmann’s guests, including Gyula Szapáry, Frigyes Podmaniczky, Albert Apponyi and Kálmán Széll, who also brought his wife (and this detail is not irrelevant).44 His guests, however, were not nearly so hospitable. As an anonymous author who was familiar with “Budapest society” (i.e. the Christian elite of the capital) wrote in 1886, “the aristocrats are happy to go to [Wahrmann’s] lunches and evenings, but extending an invitation to him is not really on the agenda.”45

In the first half of the 1890s, Christian authors tended to write about how signs of anti-Semitism, while gradually disappearing from political life, continued to find manifestation in social life, and to discourse on the isolation and exclusion of the “Lipótváros,” the central district of Budapest the name of which was used as a synonym for the Jewish upper bourgeoisie.46 In contrast, from the end of the 1880s articles in the Jewish press claimed to have observed mild improvements. With “patriotic joy,” the author of an article published in Egyenlőség ushering in 1889 made the following claim:

Ostentatious exclusiveness is beginning to disappear from social life as well. […] While in the so-called civilized states, the knights of darkness have not yet put down their arms, here the open battle has ended, the open attacks have fallen silent.47

In 1896, the 1,000th anniversary of the arrival of the Hungarian tribes in the Carpathian Basin and the year that followed significant reforms in ecclesiastical policy, Ödön Gerő, a journalist who was active in Jewish community life as well, wrote with confidence:

Here live the children of chance, there the favorites of good fortune. Here they begin as barons, there barony is the final goal. The differences are huge, but the great storm that is brewing, the rumbles of which one can already hear, will herd them together.48

However, in the same year Miksa Szabolcsi, the editor-in-chief of Egyenlőség, wrote of new obstacles:

Particularly this year, our Christian brothers are taking heed to ensure that no Jew dances, at least not with them. Since the Tiszaeszlár plague [a blood libel that sparked anti-Semitic agitation across Hungary in the first half of the 1880s], there have never been as many Jew-free balls in Budapest as there were this year. […] Abhorrence of the Jew is spreading again.49

Seven years later, Miklós Zay wrote an essay on the social position of Jews. He made no mention of any chronological break, but his recollections confirm Szabolcsi’s assessment:

In 1897, I was president of the first of the great balls of the capital, and when it came time to see to the invitations, I was shocked to hear that not a single Jewish family was on the list of names. For a while I protested, but the members of the organizing committee affirmed over and over again that the group that was attending the ball would not come if we were to invite Jews. I personally ascertained the veracity of this statement.50

According to Zay, the antipathy towards Jews had not passed at the time he wrote his essay: “they accept someone obligingly in a social circle until they learn he is a Jew, but relations grow chilly as soon as the truth comes out.” Nonetheless, he remained cautiously optimistic for the future.51 Influenced by the anti-Semitism that, as of the end of the 1890s, was becoming increasingly prevalent, the articles in Egyenlőség were in contrast increasingly pessimistic. By the end of the century the journal had definitely come to represent a different standpoint. In 1900, Ádám Lipcsey, one of the Christian authors (and also the child of a noble family), made the warning:

Let us not willfully close our eyes to the clear facts of experience, and let us admit the sad truth, that so-called ‘social anti-Semitism’ is present today in more meaningful and more general proportions than when, in the good old Istóczy days, this form of idiocy aspired to obtain political role and rank.52

Until 1914, the writings in Egyenlőség that touched on the question of the social acceptance of the Jewish elite showed none of the earlier optimism. On the contrary, they were increasingly bitter. At the beginning of 1902 it came to light that the organizing committee (led by Sándor Wekerle) of the lawyers ball, which was regarded as one of the most elegant carnival balls, had not included a single Jew on its list of 1,500 people. According to Egyenlőség, this was a symptom of a general trend:

We note it in part simply to rub it under the noses, should the occasion arise, of the doubting Thomases who wish to ignore the shameful spread of the canker of social anti-Semitism, which is much more dangerous than official anti-Semitism.53

Six months later the weekly was even more emphatic in its phrasing:

It is an indisputable fact that the Jews—and exceptions do not disprove the rule—day by day, and in particularly more recently, are losing ground. And this loss of ground is especially noticeable in the social sphere. […] The Jew cannot gain position in society, in so-called Christian society, which either looks down on him or loathes him.54

The authors of these kinds of statements did not care much for nuance. Thus it is not clear which social stratum was more closed to the Jewish haute bourgeoisie, the aristocracy or the stratum that by the turn of the century thought of itself as the “historical middle class,” but which was referred to by contemporaries as the “gentry.” As far as the world of the magnates was concerned, the aforementioned Géza Moscovitz had good relationships with several aristocratic families.55 However, the charismatic landowner may well have been merely an exception that confirmed the rule. Moreover, if one believes his daughter’s recollections, some aristocrats accepted his invitations to lunch only reluctantly because they had to confer with him on issues pertaining to the affairs of the county.56

Most magnates did not even go this far. When Albert Edward, prince of Wales and from 1901 until his death in 1910 king of the United Kingdom, spent time in Hungary in the 1890s, he stayed for a time in the home of a Jewish banker. His host organized a hunting expedition in his honor, to which the prince invited numerous guests. “Miklós Pálffy, my step-mother’s brother, was one of the people invited,” Mihály Károlyi recalls, “but he declined the invitation, saying that he would not set foot in the house of a Jew.”57 In 1901, Ferenc Molnár contended that indebted barons who, in their extreme need, “sold themselves to philo-Semitism […] sank deeper in the eyes of their former social circles than the countesses who ended up in the Orpheum [a kind of music hall].”58 Two years later, Ferenc Herczeg made a similar claim: “A real baron who is not impoverished and yet nonetheless socializes with rich Jews is in and of itself a suspicious phenomenon.”59

If some aristocrats were at times willing to grace the homes of a Jew with their presence, only very rarely was a Jew ever invited into their homes, as is clear from the writings printed in Szalon Újság (Salon News), which was published between 1900 and 1913. One of the goals of the periodical, which was intended “exclusively for the aristocracy,” was to give an “exhaustive” account of the “inner life of the aristocracy” and the “life in the salons.”60 In the list of names of the people who were invited to weddings, evening gatherings, and receptions between 1900 and 1913 one finds few converted Jews or descendants of converted Jews, only a dozen or so in the course of the entire thirteen years. This was nonetheless significantly more than the number of unbaptized Jews, since in fact there was only one Jew among the names, Géza Moscovitz, who was present at the wedding of prince János Liechtenstein and countess Maricza Andrássy in 1906.61

A few people’s recollections suggest that the upper circles of the “historical middle class” were somewhat more open, at least in some provincial cities, such as Nagyvárad (today Oradea, Romania). While according to Mrs. Dezső Fehér, a childhood friend of Adél (Léda) Brüll, “this was a rare bridging of classes even in Várad,” in the 1890s

the lovely Adél Brüll and her parents—our cirlces ascertained with a mix of amazement and envy—was accepted in Várad by the “upper-class society.” Adél and her parents are invited to grand, exclusive carnival parties: the Museum Ball, the Carpathian Ball, the Bachelors’ Ball, and the Casino and Officers’ ball.62

True, in 1901 not one of the roughly forty Jewish lawyers in the city was included among the organizers of the lawyers ball in Nagyvárad,63 but in his characterization of the city at the beginning of the 1910s Ernő Ligeti too emphasized the openness of the Christian elite:

His despotic disposition notwithstanding, Ferenc Miskolczi, the strict lord lieutenant of the county, about whom people were saying that he had had “everything deleted from the body of law that was not valid in Bihar [the county in which the city of Nagyvárad was found],” did not hesitate to sit down in the Royal to play cards with Samu Kepes or other Jews.”64

The question is further complicated by the fact that in the upper layers of Hungarian society (as indeed in turn-of-the-century Hungarian society in general), the “dividing walls” were not simply fault lines between Jews and Christians. In addition to the fact that there were relatively impermeable walls between the aristocrats and the nobility and indeed within the aristocracy and the nobility,65 there was an aversion not only to Jews but more generally to anyone of bourgeois descent.66 When in the 1890s Jenő Rákosi and Ferenc Herczeg (who like Rákosi was of bourgeois Swabian extraction) expressed their regret that some layers of Budapest society, layers which in their view had been called upon to unite, were in fact not uniting, in their denotation of the different layers they broke this society up into overlapping social, professional, and religious categories. As Jenő Rákosi wrote in 1893,

Considering the various professions, society is separated into castes in Budapest. The leaders of the individual castes come into contact with one another and sometimes one is in the social circle of another, but the layers themselves hardly come into contact with one another. […] There is no salon in which all of Budapest would feel at home. The world of writers and artists lives separately from the rest, the aristocracy lives separately, the prominent Jewry lives separately, the middle class and the people with official ranks live separately.67

Three years later Herczeg wrote on the world, or rather the worlds, of the parties in Pest:

The process of integration has failed. […] There are as many parties as there are groups of people who isolate themselves from one another. There are parties for magnates, parties for the gentry, parties for residents of Lipótváros, parties for the bourgeois (the latter two do not overlap entirely), parties for artists, and lots of other parties. Each of these groups has its own separate intellectual world, separate merrymaking and socializing habits, and even separate language.68

The question arises, did their religious status constitute any additional disadvantage, beyond the disadvantages they already faced because of their bourgeois extraction and their trades, for wealthy Jews who wished to gain acceptance into the social circles of the aristocracy or the upper echelons of the “historical middle class” and hoped that their social equality with these strata would find expression in formal manifestations of acceptance, beyond mere socializing in casual contexts such as horse raises, pubs, and similar locales. For their contemporaries, the answer was clear. As Zay wrote,

Over the course of the years, considerable riches have accumulated in the hands of the Hungarian Jews. They have purchased livestock and estates, innumerable urban buildings have been constructed with their money, and this rise in finance has been accompanied by the desire for a rise in society. Above and beyond all is, there is only one path to further ascent for the wealthy and distinguished Jew: abandon his fathers’ faith and have himself baptized.69

A decade later Sándor Bródy wrote a very pithy encapsulation of the situation of the upper-class Jew: “He has nowhere to go, and if he moves, at most he leaves himself behind.”70

Jews and Converts from Judaism in the Social Circles of the Traditional Elite

With regards to membership in the National Casino and the Country Casino, into which candidates were co-opted by Casino members, the disadvantage of being Jewish was indisputable. The National Casino, called Pest Casino until 1830, had been founded by István Széchenyi in 1827. The Country Casino was established in 1883 at the initiative of Arisztid Dessewffy, the secretary of the house of representatives. At the time of its foundation the National Casino had 45 members, the Country Casino 352. The number of members of the National Casino grew to 750 by the end of the nineteenth century, while the Country Casino reached almost 2,000 by the beginning of the 1910s. According to the regulations of each, belonging to the Jewish faith was not an obstacle to membership.

On the occasion of the assembly of the National Casino on June 10, 1827, Széchenyi stated the goal of the club:

In our homeland too there should be a place for an assembly of the distinguished, where leading, illustrious and well-educated, intelligent and sensible men from all classes of society could meet with one another either to engage in amicable conversation or to read various political newspapers and useful agricultural, scholarly, and artistic monthly writings, and also amuse themselves appropriately in their empty hours.71

Thus, as Gábor Gyáni has noted, when the National Casino was created Széchenyi himself thought not so much of “the separation of the social layers as he did of their mingling within certain borders.”72 This intention found expression in the fifth paragraph of the first detailed regulation, the regulation of 1878, which specified the conditions of membership:

Any upright, independent man who is refined in his conduct and of an unblemished reputation can be a member of the Casino if he is elected with the necessary majority according to the manner prescribed below. Neither political party sympathies nor class difference can be decisive at the time of admission or expulsion.73

With regards to the Country Casino, in its press release the committee in charge of the work in preparation for its foundation made the following statement:

The goal [of the institution] is to create a center for contact between members of the Hungarian middle class which, in addition to providing a site for socializing, will also serve to promote reflection that will further public interests and the exchange of ideas and nurture a sentiment of unity in order to help realize common interests.74

The first statutes of 1883 dropped the term “middle class” in response to the anxieties of the aristocratic members and defined the casino as a social club of “the educated classes of Hungarian society,” but the phrase returned in 1889. The modified regulations defined membership as consisting of people who belonged to the middle class, both “intellectually” and on the basis of their “positions of wealth.” According to the founding document, “any independent upright, man who is refined in his conduct, patriotic, and of an unblemished reputation and past” could be a member.75

Contemporaries tended to refer to the National Casino as the Magnates Casino and the Country Casino as the Gentry Casino. They considered each a place for gatherings of members of the respective social strata. In the case of the National Casino, the term did not actually apply to all of the members. According to historian Beáta Nagy, in the period beginning with the foundation of the Casino and ending in 1941, “at least half [of the members at any given time] had titles as princes, counts, or barons, and more than two-thirds of them were counts.”76 In other words, almost half did not belong to the aristocracy. According to Gabriella Eőry, in 1883 and 1913, 44.8 percent and then 52.4 percent of the members of the Country Casino had been state, municipal, county or judicial officials. In 1883, 20.5 percent and in 1913 14.9 percent was landowning, 25.7 percent and then 17.8 percent was comprised of lawyers or other people belonging to the intelligentsia, 2.8 percent and then 6.9 percent worked in industry, trade, or banking.77

In the National Casino, as soon as 1829, Széchenyi proposed to the general assembly that Jews be allowed to seek membership. His proposal had the support of only five other members, including Miklós Wesselényi, while almost fifty people voted against it, and it seems not solely out of antipathy towards the Jews. As one of the people who voted against the proposal explained, “it is not possible, among us, to draw closer to the Jews, for experience has shown that the magnates do not even wish to draw closer to the nobility or the burghers.”78 In 1832, the Casino rejected the application for membership submitted by Mózes Ullmann, who had converted some seven years earlier and went by the Christian name János Mór, and in 1837 it rejected the application of the yet unbaptized Sámuel Wodianer.79 In the course of the 1840s, however, the National Casino accepted in its ranks four upper-class Jewish converts and one Jewish doctor: Sámuel Wodianer in 1841 (who now as a convert was successful in his application for membership), Ferenc Weisz Bernát in 1844, Albert Wodianer the Elder (son of Sámuel Wodianer) in 1845, Bernát Ullmann in 1847, and finally, as the first Jewish member of the institution, Mór Moscovitz in 1848.80 Moscovitz, who died a Jew,81 had become the family doctor and confidant of Gyula Andrássy the Elder in the 1830s.82 He unquestionably had Andrássy to thank for his acceptance into the Casino. His singular position is illustrated by the fact that, while in the course of the following eleven years six more converted Jews were accepted as members by the National Casino (two members of the Wodianer family, two members of the Koppély family, which in 1867 changed its name to Harkányi, and two members of the Ullmann family, which in 1867 changed its name to Szitányi), it was not until 1860 that another Jew was made a member of the Casino, Ignác Hirschler, an ophthalmologist who between 1861 and 1863 served as president of the Israelite Community of Pest.83 Hirschler’s election, which clearly was not made independently of the awakening of political life in Hungary, meant the beginning of a new peculiarly liberal era in the life of the National Casino. Between 1860 and 1872, another eight Jewish men were made members of the National Casino.84 Considering the antecedents and what followed, this is striking even if the number of baptized Jews who have been admitted during this period remained slightly superior, ten altogether. What the father began, the son involuntarily brought to completion: following the election of Géza Moscovitz in 1872, the Casino only accepted converted Jews or their descendants, a total of fifteen people by 1918.85 In 1913, with the death of Géza Moscovitz, the National Casino, which over the course of the years had accepted ten professing Jews and 35 converted Jews or descendants of converted Jews, became, from the perspective of denominational belonging, entirely “Jew-free.”

In the case of the Country Casino, the situation is much simpler. As critics of the institution noted,86 the Casino never once accepted a single Jew as a member. It did accept converted Jews and descendants of converted Jews, however. At the end of 1883, the Casino had 632 members. Politically, the club was very heterogeneous, including among its members fervent liberals, like Dezső Szilágyi and Sándor Kozma, on the one hand and no less fervent anti-Semites, like Géza Ónody and Iván Simonyi, on the other. There were at least eight converts or people of Jewish descent among them.87 In 1913, which was to prove the last year of peace in the Dualist Era, of the 2,036 members of the Casino, about 36 were of Jewish descent.88

It is worth taking a moment to examine, alongside the National Casino and the Country Casino, the third most important social organization of the elites of the capital city, the Park Club, and its policies and practices with regards to the acceptance Jewish members. Unlike the two casinos, not only was the Club open to women, women actually enjoyed decision-making power equal to that of male members. Decisions regarding the acceptance of female members were made exclusively by the women’s committee.89 The founding assembly of the Park Club was held on January 15, 1893 and the sumptuously furnished club opened its doors in April 1895.90 The founder, baron Béla Atzél, was driven by the desire to create a forum in which the aristocracy and the wealthier, more refined families of the nobility would intermingle.91 It is possible that initially he had intended to admit professing Jews to the club. According to popular opinion, he was not fond of Jews, but he himself always denied this.92 In 1899, he gave up his position as co-director in the Country Casino because his fellow members had rejected the application (which enjoyed his support) of the later converted but then still unbaptized Arthur Egyedi, a factory owner and member of the national assembly.93

According to the 1893 draft of its statutes, the Park Club was established in order to provide “a pleasant center for contact between the refined classes of Hungarian society.”94 The text in the first yearbook, which was published in 1900, was essentially the same. According to the 1911 yearbook, the mission of the club was the following:

To create a pleasant center for contact between the refined classes of Hungarian society which, in addition to providing a site for socializing, will also serve to promote educational goals and goals that are in the public interests, and also promote the exchange of ideas, encourage various kinds of sports, and nurture a sentiment of unity.95

In the early years, Atzél was successful in his endeavor. According to an account published in Az Újság (The News) in 1910, “the very best of the aristocracy and the nobility filled [the Club’s] rooms.” Following his death, the situation slowly changed:

Today the Park Club is exclusively a club of aristocrats in which there are only a few scattered members of the nobility who, however, have cut themselves off entirely from their own circles and therefore can no longer be regarded as belonging to this strata.96

According to the recollections of Pál Hoitsy, Atzél allowed “one or two refined Jewish people and many converts of Jewish descent” into the Park Club.97 In fact, only the second part of this contention is accurate. In 1900 and 1910, the club had at least 20 converts or people of Jewish descent among its members, but in 1900 it had not a single professing Jew and in 1914 it had only one, if indeed it can be considered relevant, from the perspective of this inquiry, that as of 1907 the club had a member of the Viennese Rothschild family, baron Alfonso Rothschild, among its members.98

* * *

While in some periods—more so in the 1860s and 1870s and less so at the turn of the century—to be unconverted was not an obstacle for upper-class Jews to develop social contacts, good neighborly relations, or even friendships with members of the traditional social elites, belonging to the Jewish faith utterly excluded real social integration that went beyond occasional social contacts dictated to some extent by liberal political etiquette. Considering that—with one exception that only confirmed the rule—neither the aristocracy nor the elite of the “historical middle class” entered into marriages with unbaptized Jews, and keeping in mind the reluctance of the National Casino and the refusal by the Country Casino and the Park Club to accept Jewish members, one can reach the following conclusion: though even conversion did not ensure acceptance into these layers of Hungarian society, it represented an inescapable precondition of institutional-symbolic and structural integration. This constituted a contradiction of the liberal promise of acceptance. At the same time, the fact that the clubs and families that closed themselves off to professing Jews were open to converts does indicate that the practices of exclusion were not (yet) based on principles of race.


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Vezér, Erzsébet. “A mindennapi élet története. Beszélgetés Popperné Lukács Máriával” [The History of Everyday Life: Conversations with Mrs. Maria Lukács Popper]. Kritika 14, no. 6 (1985): 25–31.

Vigyázó, Gyula. A magyar zsidóság és a keresztény társadalom [Hungarian Jewry and Christian Society]. N.p.: Szerző kiadása, 1908.

Viola [Gyula Vezerle]. Visszaemlékezések. Korrajz az 1860–61-iki időszakról [Reminiscences: Sketch of the Times, 1860–61]. Vácz: Serédy Géza, 1878.

Vörös, Károly. “Pest-Budától Budapestig 1849–1873” [From Pest-Buda to Budapest]. In Budapest története a márciusi forradalomtól az őszirózsás forradalomig [The History of Budapest from the March Revolution to the Chrysanthemum Revolution], edited by Károly Vörös, 117–320. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1978.

Zs. J. [Zsoldos, Jenő.] “Zsidó a magyar regényirodalomban” [The Jew in Hungarian Novels]. In Zsidó Lexikon [Jewish Encyclopedia], edited by Péter Ujvári, 984–86. Budapest: A Zsidó Lexikon kiadása, 1929.

1 [Kálmán Mikszáth,] “Istóczy tizenkét röpirata,” Szegedi Napló, October 17, 1880, n.p. [1].

2 Péter Hanák, “Magyarország társadalma a századforduló idején,” in Magyarország története 1890–1918, ed. idem (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1978), 446.

3 By “upper echelons” I mean those persons of noble origin who still owned their (large) estates and/or had obtained high-level positions in the state or county administration.

4 Of the groundbreaking works, one should mention the following: William O. McCagg, Jr., Jewish Nobles and Geniuses in Modern Hungary (Boulder: East European Quarterly, 1972); Vera Bácskai, A vállalkozók előfutárai. Nagykereskedők a reformkori Pesten (Budapest: Magvető, 1989); Michael K. Silber, “A zsidók társadalmi befogadása Magyarországon a reformkorban. A ‘kaszinók’,” Századok 126 (1992): 113–41; György Kövér, A felhalmozás íve. Társadalom- és gazdaságtörténeti tanulmányok (Budapest: Új Mandátum Könyvkiadó, 2002); Árpád Tóth, “Asszimilációs utak a késő-rendi társadalomban. A zsidóság szerepvállalásáról a reformkori pesti egyesületekben,” in Léptékváltó társadalomtörténet. Tanulmányok a 60 éves Benda Gyula tiszteletére, ed. Zsolt K. Horváth, András Lugosi, and Ferenc Sohajda (Budapest: Hermész Kör–Osiris, 2003), 156–85.

5 For a comprehensive summary of the image of Jews in the prose of the Reform Era see Anna Szalai, “Bevezető,” in Házalók, árendások, kocsmárosok, uzsorások. Zsidóábrázolás a reformkori prózában, ed. idem (Budapest: Osiris, 2002), 7–97.

6 J. Zs. [Jenő Zsoldos], “Zsidó a magyar regényirodalomban,” in Zsidó Lexikon, ed. Péter Ujvári (Budapest: A Zsidó Lexikon kiadása, 1929), 985.

7 Ifj. Kornél Ábrányi, Régi és új nemesek (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1881); Gergely Csiky, Az Atlasz család (Budapest: Franklin, 1890).

8 Ferenc Herczeg, Andor és András (Budapest: Singer és Wolfner, 1925), 47–48.

9 Bertalan Ormody, “Zsidó aristokrátia. Regényes korrajz (Vége),” Regélő, July 31, 1866, 68–69.

10 Ferenc Molnár, Az éhes város (Budapest: Pesti Szalon Könyvek, 1993), 235–40.

11 Ignác Acsády, Aranyországban (Budapest: Weiszmann Testvérek, 1880); Ferenc Molnár, “Disznótor a Lipótvárosban,” in idem, Hétágú síp. Tréfák, karcolatok, tárcák (Budapest: Franklin, 1911), 198–245.

12 Tamás Kóbor, Ki a ghettóból, vol. 2 (Budapest: Franklin, 1911), 191.

13 Vilmos Vázsonyi, Beszédei és írásai, vol. 1, ed. Hugó Csergő and József Balassa (Budapest: Országos Vázsonyi-Emlékbizottság, 1927), 296.

14 “Kortörténeti jegyzetek. A mi zsidóink,” Huszadik Század 9, no. 2 (1908): 402–03; Oszkár Jászi, “A magyarországi reakció szervezkedése,” Huszadik Század 11, no. 1 (1910): 372.

15 Ernő Lakatos, A magyar politikai vezetőréteg 1848–1918. Társadalomtörténeti tanulmány (Budapest: Szerző kiadása, 1942), 73. Emma Lederer, A magyar társadalom kialakulása a honfoglalástól 1918-ig. (N.p. [Budapest]: Népszava, n. d. [1947]), 169–70.

16 McCagg, Jewish Nobles and Geniuses in Modern Hungary.

17 László Varga, “A hazai nagyburzsoázia történetéből,” Valóság 26, no. 3 (1983): 79.

18 Viktor Karády, “Zsidó identitás és asszimiláció Magyarországon,” (1988) in Zsidóság, modernizáció, polgárosodás. Tanulmányok (N.p. [Budapest]: Cserépfalvi, 1997), 40–41.

19 Hilda Bauer, Emlékeim. Levelek Lukácshoz (Budapest: MTA Filozófiai Intézet–Lukács Archívum, 1985), 44.

20 Anna Lesznai, Kezdetben volt a kert, vol. 1 (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1966), 129–30.

21 Erzsébet Vezér, “A mindennapi élet története. Beszélgetés Popperné Lukács Máriával,” Kritika 14, no. 6 (1985): 28.

22 This was the case, for instance, in the following families: the Dirsztay de Dirszta family, the Ullmann de Baranyavár family, the Neuman de Végvár family, the Schosberger de Tornya family, the Groedel de Gyulafalu and Bogdány family, the Kohner de Szászberek family, the Herzog de Csete family, the Wahrmann family, the Madarasy-Beck family, the Hatvany-Deutsch family, the Gutmann de Gelse and Beliscse family, and the Ullmann de Erény family. Béla Kempelen, Magyar zsidó családok, vol. 1 (Budapest: Makkabi, 1999), 87, 96, 105, 112–13, 131, 134–35, 138, 140; vol. 2, 27, 38, 63–64, 141; vol. 3, 94.

23 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (=MNL OL), Szentistvánvárosi (Lipótvárosi) Roman Catholic parish, baptismal registry, roll A64. On the wedding: “Eljegyzések, esküvők,” Pesti Napló, July 3, 1882, evening edition. Excerpt in Jüdische Delikatessen. The possession of István Bonyhády Perczel the Elder. Országos Széchényi Könyvtár (=OSZK), manuscript collection (=Kt.), Oct. Hung. 730/23, 70.

24 According to Béla Kempelen, count Lajos Königsegg, who was in dire need of money, also agreed to marry the daughter of a wealthy Jewish mill owner of Arad without asking her to convert. I remain skeptical regarding this story, the account of which includes no dates, as I have found no trace of it in any other sources. See Kempelen, Magyar zsidó családok, vol. 1, 141.

25 (H-r.), “Königswarter Móricz báró,” Egyenlőség, November 17, 1893, 4–5; “Kikeresztelkedett milliomos,” Szentesi Lap, November 16, 1894, 4; “A nagyváradi püspök és a bécsi Jockey-club,” Egyenlőség, December 2, 1894, 10.

26 On the limited chances of German Jewish converts of finding spouses see Werner E. Mosse, “Problems and Limits of Assimilation: Hermann and Paul Wallich 1833–1938,” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 33 (1988): 43–65. In the case of Hungary, one finds in Kempelen’s book, in addition to the aforementioned families, several dozen examples for which—unlike the case of count Köngsegg—the dates of the weddings are known, as are the names of the children who were born to the couples and the years in which they were born.

27 Cited by László Siklóssy, “A polgári erkölcs,” (1923) in idem, A régi Budapest erkölcse (Budapest: Osiris, 2002), 407–08.

28 According to Silber, with regards to the societies the market towns were more open to Jews than the free royal cities, while in general Pest trailed behind the provinces. According to Árpád Tóth, however, with the exception of the National Casino and the Agricultural Society every significant association in Pest during the Reform Era had Jewish members in its ranks. Indeed, as I note later, one Jew did manage to gain acceptance into the National Casino. Silber, “A zsidók társadalmi befogadása,” 113–41; Tóth, “Asszimilációs utak a késő-rendi társadalomban,” 163–73.

29 Péter Busbach, Egy viharos emberöltő. Korrajz, vol. 2 (Budapest: Kilián Frigyes, 1899), 34. Károly Vörös, “Pest-Budától Budapestig 1849–1873,” in Budapest története a márciusi forradalomtól az őszirózsás forradalomig, ed. idem (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1978), 225.

30 Imre Vahot, “Parádi fürdő-élet 1855-ben,” Pesti Napló, August 6, 1855, n. p. [2].

31 Dávid Kóhn, Hatvan év múltán. Visszaemlékezések (Gyula: Dobay János, 1936), 214–15.

32 “Levelezések,” Magyar Izraelita, March 7, 1862, 83; Imre Csetényi, “A hatvanas évek és a zsidóság,” in Tanulmányok a zsidó tudomány köréből. Dr. Guttmann Mihály emlékére, ed. Sámuel Lőwinger (Budapest: Neuwald Illés, 1946), 103; Edit Kerecsényi, “Nagykanizsa társadalma és egyleti élete 1900 táján,” in Közlemények Zala megye közgyûjteményeinek kutatásaiból 1984–1985, ed. Alajos Degré and Imre Halász (Zalaegerszeg: Zala Megyei Levéltár, 1985), 109.

33 Viola [Gyula Vezerle], Visszaemlékezések. Korrajz az 1860–61-iki időszakról (Vácz: Serédy Géza, 1878), 125–26.

34 Pál Tenczer, “Sváb rabbi jóslata Falk Miksáról,” Egyenlőség, June 5, 1898, 3; Zsigmond Groszmann, A magyar zsidók a XIX. század közepén (1849–1870) (Budapest: Egyenlőség, 1917), 45.

35 “Levelezések,” Izraelita Közlöny, May 14, 1869, 180.

36 Erzsébet Vezér, Lesznai Anna élete (Budapest: Kossuth, 1979), 9–12.

37 Vilmosné Vázsonyi, Az én uram (Budapest: Genius, n.d. [1931]), 8.

38 Tamás Vécsey, Tisza Kálmán (Celldömölk: Dinkgreve Nándor, 1931), 132–33. The Zsidó Lexikon mistakenly identifies Károly Sváb as a convert. In fact, he remained a Jew all his life. See “Sváb Károly halála,” Egyenlőség, August 6, 1911, 7–8.

39 Ferencz Pulszky, “A zsidókról,” Pesti Napló, July 25, 1880, n.p. [1].

40 For more on the Neolog-Orthodox split which came about in the wake of the Jewish Congress of 1868–1869, see Jacob Katz, A House Divided: Orthodoxy and Schism in Nineteenty-Century Central European Jewry (Hanover–London: Brandeis University Press, 1998).

41 Iván Horváth, “A zsidók s a magyar társadalom,” Egyenlőség, February 18, 1883, 3–4.

42 Egy zsidó, A zsidókérdés (Budapest: Wilckens és Waidl, n.d. [1884–85]), 3–4.

43 Andor Kellér, Mayer Wolf fia. Wahrmann Mór életregénye (N.p. [Budapest]: Hungária, n.d. [1941]), 42.

44 “Szalon,” Pesti Napló, February 11, 1881, evening edition. Excerpt in Jüdische Delikatessen. The possession of István Bonyhády Perczel the Elder. OSZK Kt. Oct. Hung. 730/9, 81.

45 A budapesti társaság (Budapest: Pallas, 1886), 452.

46 Ferenc Pulszky, “Májusi liberalizmus,” Pesti Hírlap, May 26, 1892, 2. Rutilus [Szigetvári Iván], “A mi szabadelvűségünk,” Élet, April 1, 1894, 238–42.

47 Antroposz, “Visszapillantás,” Egyenlőség, January 6, 1889, 1.

48 Ödön Gerő, “Budapest fiziognómiája,” in A mulató Budapest, ed. Henrik Lenkei (Budapest: Singer és Wolfner, 1896), 49. The so-called church laws of 1894 and 1895 introduced civil marriage and civil registries, addressed the question of the religious confession of children of denominationally mixed marriages. They also guaranteed the free practice of all religions and declared the equality of Jewish religion with Christian religions.

49 Miksa Szabolcsi, “Két irány,” Egyenlőség, February 14, 1896, 6–7.

50 Miklós Zay, “Zsidók a társadalomban,” Huszadik Század 4, no. 2 (1903): 962.

51 Ibid., 949.

52 Ádám Lipcsey, “Az idegesek,” Egyenlőség, April 1, 1900, 1.

53 “Hazug demokráczia,” Egyenlőség, January 26, 1902, 10.

54 Br. J., “A zsidóság és a társadalom,” Egyenlőség, August 3, 1902, 2–3.

55 Lajos Hatvany, Levelei, ed. Lajosné Hatvany and István Rozsics (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1985), 285.

56 Lesznai, Kezdetben volt a kert, vol. 1, 148.

57 Mihály Károlyi, Hit, illúziók nélkül (Budapest: Magvető és Szépirodalmi, 1977), 38.

58 Molnár, Az éhes város, 285–86.

59 Herczeg, Andor és András, 48.

60 “A „Szalon Újság”-ról. Még néhány tájékoztató szó,” Szalon Újság, December, 1900, 1.

61 “Andrássy–Liechtenstein nász,” Szalon Újság, September 15, 1906, 6.

62 Zsófia Dénes, Akkor a hársak épp szerettek… (Budapest: Gondolat, 1983), 108.

63 Endre Ady, “Napló. Pecsétek és egyebek,” (1901) in idem, Összes prózai művei, vol. 1, ed. Gyula Földessy (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1955), 414.

64 Ernő Ligeti, “Emőd Tamás,” in Ararát. Magyar zsidó évkönyv az 1944. évre, ed. Aladár Komlós (Budapest: Országos Izr. Leányárvaház, 1944), 59.

65 A budapesti társaság, 417; Győző Concha, “A társadalomról,” Budapesti Szemle 82 (1895): 352; Gábor Lajos Russay, Szobráncz gyógyfürdő (Ungvár: Lévai Mór, 1902), 84; Tamás Dobszay and Zoltán Fónagy, “Magyarország társadalma a 19. század második felében,” in Magyarország története a 19. században, ed. András Gergely (Budapest: Osiris, 2003), 436.

66 A budapesti társaság, 451; “Gentry,” Országos Gentry-Közlöny, June 2, 1889, 1. Győző Münstermann, A középosztály önvédelme (Kolozsvár: Ajtai K. Albert, 1904), 16; Mihályné Károlyi, Együtt a forradalomban (Budapest: Európa, 1978), 133.

67 Jenő Rákosi, “Budapest városrészei,” in Az Osztrák–Magyar Monarchia írásban és képben, vol. 9 (Budapest: Magyar Királyi Állami Nyomda, 1893), 191–92.

68 Ferencz Herczeg, “Zsúrok és zsúr-látogatók,” in A mulató Budapest, ed. Henrik Lenkei (Budapest: Singer és Wolfner, 1896), 117.

69 Zay, “Zsidók a társadalomban,” 960.

70 Sándor Bródy, “Tímár Liza,” (1914) in idem, Színház (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1964), 392.

71 A Nemzeti Casinó szabályai és tagjainak névsora. 1901 (Budapest: Franklin, 1902), 1. Henceforth I refer to the yearbooks of the Casino, which were first published in 1828 and which changed titles several times (I have consulted them up to 1918), with the title A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve.

72 Gábor Gyáni, “Magyarország társadalomtörténete a Horthy-korban,” in Magyarország társadalomtörténete a reformkortól a második világháborúig, ed. Gábor Gyáni and György Kövér (Budapest: Osiris, 2006), 230–31.

73 A nemzeti kaszinó évkönyve 1878, 56–57. Until 1878, the yearbooks of the National Casino were tight-lipped on the question of eligibility. One finds the following note in the yearbook of 1829: “Birth or religion is not to be taken into consideration.” This specification is found only in the yearbook from this year. According to the yearbook from 1830, the members of the Casino “must be men of noble conduct.” One year later the phrase was “illustrious noble conduct.” In 1834, it was switched to “upright, noble conduct.” See A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1829, 41. A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1830, 41. A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1831, 43. A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1834, 55.

74 Béla Novák, “Fővárosi kaszinók a 19. században,” Budapesti Negyed 12 (2004): 90–114, accessed May 25, 2014, http://epa.oszk.hu/00000/00003/00033/novak.html.

75 Gabriella Eőry, “Az Országos Kaszinó és a középosztály,” in Zsombékok. Középosztályok és iskoláztatás Magyarországon a 19. század elejétől a 20. század közepéig. Társadalomtörténeti tanulmányok, ed. György Kövér (Budapest: Századvég, 2006), 322, 324.

76 Beáta Nagy, “Az elit társasélete a klubok, kaszinók keretében,” in Társadalomtörténeti módszerek és forrástípusok, ed. László Á. Varga, vol. 1 of Rendi társadalom – Polgári társadalom (Salgótarján: Nógrád Megyei Levéltár, 1987), 69.

77 Eőry, “Az Országos Kaszinó,” 338.

78 István Széchenyi, Naplói, vol. 3, (1826–1830), ed. Gyula Viszota (Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1932), LV, 318.

79 István Széchenyi, Naplói, vol. 4, (1830–1836), ed. Gyula Viszota (Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1934), 241. István Széchenyi, Naplói, vol. 5, (1836–1843), ed. Gyula Viszota (Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1937), 122.

80 A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1841, 54; A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1844, 55; A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1845, 55; A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1847, 53; A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1848, 34.

81 OSZK, gyászjelentések, FM8/35797/344: Zempléni Moscovitz Mór.

82 Vezér, Lesznai Anna élete, 9–10; Groszmann, A magyar zsidók, 46.

83 A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1860, 15.

84 The eight Jewish members, with the dates of their election in parentheses, were: Jakab Lányi (1861), Henrik Lévay (1862), Soma Rothfeld (1867), Hermann Todesco (1870), Miksa Brüll (1870), Frigyes Schey (1870), Mór Wahrmann (1870), and Géza Moscovitz (1872).

85 With regards to converts I took only their father’s side of the family into consideration.

86 Mór Szatmári, Közszellemünk fogyatkozásai (Budapest: Werbőczy, 1898), 24; Zay, “Zsidók a társadalomban,” 962; Gyula Vigyázó, A magyar zsidóság és a keresztény társadalom (N.p.: Szerző kiadása, 1908), 15–16.

87 Az Országos Kaszinó évi jelentése az 1883-ik évről (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1884).

88 Az Országos Kaszinó évkönyve 1913 (Budapest: n.p., 1914).

89 In 1900, a women’s section of the Country Casino was established, but the representatives of the two genders did not come into contact with one another in the club. The men’s directorate made the decisions regarding the admittance of women. The women’s section was dissolved in 1908. See Beáta Nagy, “„Az asszonyoknak egy szalónt kellett teremtenünk.” Nők és klubélet a századforduló Budapestjén,” in Nők a modernizálódó társadalomban, ed. Gábor Gyáni and Beáta Nagy (Debrecen: Csokonai, n.d. [2006]), 240–53.

90 “Park-Club,” Szalon Újság, April 30, 1905, 5–6.

91 Pál Hoitsy, Régi magyar alakok. A letűnt nemzedék férfiai (Budapest: Légrády Testvérek, n.d. [1923]), 69.

92 Mór Szatmári, “Báró Atzél Béla,” Egyenlőség, April 1, 1900, 3–4.

93 Ibid., 4.

94 A „Park-Club” alapszabályai. N.p., [Budapest], 1893. OSZK Plakát- és Kisnyomtatványtár, Kny. D 3. 350.

95 A Park Club évkönyve 1911 (Budapest: Hornyánszky Viktor, 1912), 51.

96 “A klubélet Budapesten,” Az Újság, December 25, 1910, 130–31.

97 Hoitsy, Régi magyar alakok, 69–70.

98 A Park Club évkönyve 1900 (Budapest: Hornyánszky Viktor, 1901); A Park Club évkönyve 1914 (Budapest: Hornyánszky Viktor, 1915).

pdfVolume 3 Issue 4 CONTENTS

György Kövér

Intra- and Inter-confessional Conflicts in Tiszaeszlár in the Period of the “Great Trial”

At around noon on Saturday, April 1, 1882, Eszter Solymosi, a 14-year-old girl disappeared without a trace from Tiszaeszlár, a village in Szabolcs county in the Tiszántúl region. The case remains unsolved. In the course of a criminal procedure, one of the charges made was that the Jews living in Eszlár had murdered the girl and used her for a ritual blood sacrifice. Finally, in an extended trial held in Nyíregyháza the accused were acquitted in the absence of proof.

I have found only one open conflict that took place in the public sphere prior to the trial held in Nyíregyháza that was thematized along Christian–Jewish confessional interests: the issue of Jewish education. However, there were numerous intra-confessional conflicts among the Christian denominations. The best way of reconstructing the subtle network of relationships connecting the villagers (Christians and Jews as well) is to make an effort to expose the capillaries of the “female public opinion” of the village. To do this, one must analyze the background of the discourses of the trial, the conflicts of the everyday life.

Rivalry between the approved Christian denominations found manifestation either in conversion or in mixed marriages. After the emancipation of the Jews, the Christian–Jewish conflict still took the form not only of blood libels, but also of the ritual forms of intimidation and violence.

Keywords: intra- and inter-confessional rivalries (religious coexistence, cooperation, competition, conflict), anti-semitism, blood libel, ritual murder trial, exclusionary violence, Tiszaeszlár

At around noon on Saturday, April 1, 1882, Eszter Solymosi, a 14-year-old girl disappeared without a trace from Tiszaeszlár, a village in Szabolcs county in the Tiszántúl region. The case remains unsolved, despite the fact that a number of attempts have been made to track her down. At the request of her mother, a warrant of caption—complete with her description—was issued. The district officer and the county investigating judge tried to reconstruct what may have happened to the girl. During the criminal procedure, one of the charges that slowly took shape was that the Jews living in Eszlár had murdered the girl and used her for a ritual blood sacrifice. Nearly everyone in the village was interrogated regarding the events of April 1. Even the Jews living in Eszlár tried to discover the potential whereabouts of Eszter. Numerous reports were made concerning the various places where the missing girl had allegedly been seen. None of these reports could be confirmed.

Then, on June 18, 1882, the corpse of a woman was found at Tiszadada. At first, many thought she was Eszter Solymosi. During the official identification procedure, neither her mother nor her sister identified the partially decomposed body as Eszter, nor for that matter did many of the locals. The local physicians performing the post-mortem examination ruled out the possibility of the corpse being Eszter’s. However, they clearly recognized the clothes found on the body. With this, a new count of indictment was made: the charge of “floating a corpse.” Timber raftsmen from the northeastern county of Máramaros were accused of having dressed an unknown female corpse in Eszter Solymosi’s garments. But even though an elite group of medical professors who arrived from the capital city tried to identify the body after it had been exhumed in December 1882, and even though in an extended trial held between June 19 and August 3, 1883 in Nyíregyháza a select team of defense attorneys headed by Károly Eötvös tried to clarify what might have happened, the accused were acquitted in the absence of proof, without any sentence being passed concerning what may have happened to Eszter Solymosi. The courts of appeal also remained silent on this matter.

When Károly Eötvös—the defense attorney who had fought arduously and eventually won the case—wrote the history of the trial two decades later, he used the phrase “great trial” in the subtitle of his book. He was not only making reference to the one-and-a-half-month long criminal procedure conducted in Nyíregyháza; he gave the phrase a wider interpretation. When mentioning “the great trial that has been going on for a thousand years and has not yet concluded,” he was making reference to the Christian–Jewish conflict in general: the animosity, or, to put it differently, the embers of anti-Semitism that sometimes barely glow under the ashes but occasionally burst into open flames. In his foreword, he actually outlined the international context:

Throughout the entire duration of the great trial, Hungarian society was overcome by a rush of excitement, as if it were ready to launch a religious war against the Jewish confession. It saw the examples of Russia and Romania, while even among the ranks of the German-speaking nations, both in the territories of Austria and Germany, there were serious phenomena indicating surging hatred of the Jews. Hungarian society is not isolated enough to remain entirely insensitive to these developments. Especially when a case so regrettably distorted into a blood libel had also emerged on Hungarian soil.1

It is not difficult to see how right Eötvös was in his prophecy; one only needs to think of the events of the 20th century, which had clearly been unforeseeable at his time.2

If one were to try to understand the events in a millennial framework, it would be necessary to take a few steps back into the past. It is very difficult to envision any dynamic theory that encompasses all of universal history. Theories of religious conflicts explain outbursts of tension either by the internal peculiarities of the individual denominations (although, as is well known, measuring proneness to conflict is problematic at best) or by changes in the external/internal environment (for example, modernization). Structural interpretations link such events to changes in the relationships between denominational or confessional elite groups, religious institutions, and the state (for example, secularization or the separation of state and church). As might be expected, there are also certain hybrid models that operate with various, occasionally conflicting variables.3 Religious studies apply the conceptual apparatus of inter-confessional conflicts to history in a highly sophisticated way. The two historical eras typically studied in this context are the period of early Christianity and the age of the Reformation in the Early Modern Period. The four key categories of the model proposed by the Religious Rivalries Seminar are coexistence, cooperation, competition, and conflict.4 Naturally, these concepts are not mutually exclusive; not even coexistence and conflict, provided that the terms are taken in a strict sense.

Without trying to sum up the vast literature on the topic, there are a number of questions that may be worthy of our attention in the context of the local case of Eszlár. Do purely inter-confessional conflicts even exist? Are we not only talking about conflicts essentially rooted somewhere else, in the “environment,” and only masquerading as “confessional”? (The question, of course, is equally pertinent to intra-confessional conflicts.) It might be worth taking a closer look at the answer that is most commonly proposed on pragmatic grounds: “an inter-confessional conflict is a conflict that has a confessional aspect.”5

Is the conflict under review personal or collective in nature? That is, does it only concern persons that belong to the given confession, or does it concern the whole of the confessional group? And, last but not least, in what “arena” or “field” does the conflict emerge? Is it in the public space (in the street) or in the private sphere (within the yard of a household or at property boundaries)? At what strata of the social space did the events take place? Did they become institutionalized or did they remain informal?

In the case of Tiszaeszlár I try to touch on all of these problems: dynamism and proportions among denominations (coexistence and rivalry), intra- and inter-confessional conflict-management, everyday conflicts, and Christian–Jewish animosity behind the scenes in the public sphere.

“Confessional Fields” (Pierre Bourdieu)

The population and its settlement

Four denominations lived in Eszlár: two mother churches (Roman Catholics and Calvinists) and two filias (Greek Catholics and Jews). The individual confessional groups all differed in their degrees of autonomy: there was no local Greek Catholic parson, nor was there a local rabbi in Eszlár.6 Government census data in Eszlár reflect a dynamically growing village (an increase from 1,280 people in 1785 to 3,392 in 1910).7 The appearance of the settlement changed accordingly. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Eszlár continued to expand in an east-southeasterly direction in two ways. On the one hand, just southeast of Ófalu (the Old Village) and Tó(t)falu (Lake Village or Slovak Village), the village now had a third section, Újfalu (the New Village), populated from 1858 on in the wake of the flood of 1855. On the other hand, the village was surrounded by vast open fields to the east-southeast interspersed with several manors (puszta) and hamlets (tanya).



Central areas



Roman Catholic

Greek Catholic



Eastern Orthodox























































































































Central areas and outskirts together


























































Table 1. The confessional distribution of the population of the central areas and the outskirts of Tiszaeszlár on the basis of the schematismi of the Catholic Diocese of Eger (1831–1889)8


The population records collected by the church indicate that population levels, which had been in decline during the Hungarian Reform Era, actually hit rock bottom during the 1850s, only to bounce back in the long run. While the population of the central areas of Eszlár fluctuated and even declined after 1860, the dynamism seen in the total population numbers of the village reflected the impact of demographic changes in the outskirts. The Israelite community was the only confessional group where the dynamic population growth seen in the 60s and 70s was limited almost exclusively to the central areas of the village. Their concentrated presence implied greater visibility. In the 1880s, Catholics also produced higher population numbers on the outskirts than in the central areas (and by 1889, this pattern had come to prevail among Greek Catholics as well). The two confessional groups that were most involved in immigration were the Catholics and the Jews.

Tiszaeszlár has always lived in the threat of regularly returning spring floods (1830; 1855; 1876). On March 23, 1888, “the Tisza river rushed into our village, wreaking so much havoc and damaging our embankments to such an extent that the villagers unanimously decided not to stay where they originally had lived,” wrote Tiszaeszlár parson Ödön Jenő Oldall to his archbishop.9 The deputy lord lieutenant then issued a decree banning the rebuilding of the collapsed houses and new construction sites around Újfalu for about 140 houses were allocated to those who had been evacuated.

At this point, one should review the debate surrounding the confessional aspects of this belated colonization. Minister of the Interior Count Géza Teleki proposed that 8,000 forints of the resettlement fund should be allocated to the Calvinists and 4,000 forints to the Catholics.10 Oldall, the parson of Eszlár, mainly emphasized population data. He wrote that “only 992 Calvinists but as many as 1,044 Roman Catholics [live] in Eszlár and in the filias that belong to the village; if Greek Catholics, who go to the same church, are also added, their numbers reach as many as 1,452.”11 The Ministry of Interior yielded to the argumentation of the Catholics.12 The leaders of the Calvinist community believed that the only correct principle on which to base the allocation of the funds between the two parties would be the extent of the damages sustained by each.13 But they had to accept the challenge of the Catholic (demographic) argumentation:


Map 1. Cadastral map of Tiszaeszlár (1870)14

The three parts of Tiszaeszlár on the map: Ófalu [Old Village] (designated on the map as Tisza Eszlár), Tótfalu [Slovak Village] (designated on the map as Tisza Eszlár Tótfalu), and Újfalu [New Village] (designated on the map as Tisza Eszlár Újfalu).

[T]he ministerial justification mentions 1,044 Roman Catholics; however, the majority of these persons are mostly foreign and temporary farm hands (according to the statistics taken by the Roman Catholic cantor, there are 695 Roman Catholics living in hamlets) […] while this same ministerial justification mentions 992 Calvinists, who, in actual reality, number 1,065 souls confessing the Calvinist faith, who—with the exception of very few—have always been inhabitants of Tiszaeszlár.15


The social dimension of the discord therefore manifests itself in a dichotomy pitting “foreign” and “temporary” Catholic farmhands against “Calvinist villagers of Eszlár who have always lived there.”

Conflict Management within a Denomination

The Calvinist flock and its pastor

Within the Protestant congregations, the established renewable term system—reappointing or replacing pastors at the end of the year of service—caused much discord between the flock and their preachers.16 In Tiszaeszlár, pastors either served very long terms or soon left of their own accord to take up the same office in another, more affluent congregation.

Sámuel Csiszár Jr. was the pastor in Eszlár between 1866 and 1878. In retrospect, presenting his case as a model seems fully justified. As soon as he was elected, he got down to work with vengeance. First off, he set about to consolidate the financial matters of the parish. He consistently collected all church taxes.17 The pastor also tended his flock spiritually: he had a list of school-age children drawn up on the basis of the registry of births, and, “their parents were encouraged, on more than one occasion, to provide for their schooling.”18 These measures inevitably caused frictions. Moreover, in 1873 the reverend filed a complaint with the office of the district officer against Pál Ónody, the chief curator who had just resigned, “for his failure to pay the church tax.”19 The escalation of the conflict was reflected in the fact that on February 20, 1874 Gábor Farkas, a member of the formerly tax-paying petty nobility, filed a complaint with the dean in which he made reference to a “pasquillus (pasquil or satirical piece) signed by 65” that he had found in his garden that included a plea to have the pastor relocated to another parish.20 Letters of complaint came one after the other. The one dated March 4 was signed by as many as 100 people. The accusations started slowly to take shape: by humiliating the school teacher, the pastor disrupted the schooling of the children of the parish; using “physical force,” he committed battery against some shepherds and even against his housekeeper; and, finally, he slandered “the magistrate of the Greek Catholic congregation and the officials of the Roman Catholic house of the Kállays.”21

Csiszár, instead of offering an explanation, launched a counterattack: “Your Excellency the Dean has no idea of the vile souls that inhabit this parish, where the bread and the whip are inseparable companions.”22 On May 23, the people of Eszlár “appeared in the same place with yet another letter full of complaints and accusations, this time also expressing verbally that the people were ready to lock the church down in the afternoon of the second day of Pentecost (!) unless their demands were satisfied.”23

The case was examined during the canonical visit, which took place in early June 1874. The complaints and the minutes clearly indicate what the conflicts were actually about. The pastor was not willing to tolerate certain earlier economic practices. In addition, when it came to disciplinary action, he never hesitated to rely on the assistance of any power, earthly and celestial. He punished one culprit by proclaiming that “the death knell will not be tolled and no church funeral services will be rendered” either for him or for his family. A good many Calvinist villagers must have had the feeling that the pastor had turned against the norms of the community.

In the meantime, Lajos Borus, the Tiszalök priest, an old friend of the dean’s, and himself well known in Eszlár, warned the dean: “What great sorrow it would be to see my neighboring congregation—the congregation where I spent the most beautiful 18 months of my life—convert to Catholicism.”24

In the spring of 1875, another letter of complaint was delivered to the dean. This time, it had only been signed by twenty people, although—with the sole exception of Gábor Farkas—all of them had been signatories to the previous letter of complaint dated March 1874.25 According to this letter, not all of the accusations made during the previous year’s procedure had been recorded in the minutes. The gravest of them was the contention that Csiszár had raped his maid, Mária Tilk.

In April 1877, the twenty signatories addressed the bishop himself, denouncing a case of blatant immorality that had taken place back in 1876: Sámuel Csiszár first got his maid Mária Fogarasi pregnant and then sought illegal medical help to induce abortion. The district officer conducted the preliminary investigation and then forwarded the case to the Royal Court of Law of Nyíregyháza, where Sámuel Csiszár “was detained for eight days awaiting trial. The detention was reported by the most respectable domestic dailies.”26 Once again, the signatories ask that Csiszár be removed and a replacement parson be sent.

During the trial held on August 28 and 29, 1877, the court acquitted Csiszár in the absence of proof.27 At the same time, the court fined the defendant 100 forints (or, if unpaid, 20 days in simple custody) because he had “breached public order by threatening and making promises to the witnesses heard.” As the Tiszalök pastor Lajos Borus commented, Csiszár, “seated before the very eyes of the audience right next to the slut, was told face to face on more than one occasion how many times he had raped her, yet he showed no shame or remorse whatsoever. A terrible disgrace for all the community of pastors!!”28

Later, the council meeting of the court of law of the diocese held in Püspökladány on September 11, 1877 suspended Sámuel Csiszár from his functions and launched an investigation against him.29 In October 1877, János Lápossy (1848–1902), still single at the time, was appointed substitute pastor.30 When the dean showed him the anonymous letter denouncing his actions, Csiszár concluded that “this campaign of terrible defamation against me was headed by Jews.”31

In the middle of November 1877, with the help of the new pastor, the presbytery and the school board were reconstituted.32 Out of the 12 members of the presbytery, only four had been members before, the other eight members having been elected for the first time. (Three of them, namely Ferenc Farkas, József Farkas, and Sándor Farkas, were members of the Farkas clan, a family representing the petty nobility that had lived on serf plots before 1848.) In July, the dean ordered that another investigation be launched.33 The parish made sure that people were duly mobilized.34 As the chief curator testifies in his letter, the next morning “at least 100 complainants presented themselves to be heard” in front of the vicarage. When Sámuel Csiszár saw the crowds, he submitted his resignation.35 On August 25, in the presence of the aforementioned judges of the ecclesiastical court, the congregation elected János Lápossy as their ordinary pastor. Lápossy remained in his new position until his death.

There are lessons to be learned from this conflict for the present-day historian much as there were for the elite of the Calvinist community of the village. The conflict of the 1870s may have confirmed the opinion of leaders of the Calvinist congregation that success did not depend on the number of signatories backing a petition (the letter written in 1874 had as many as a hundred signatories, while those of 1875 and 1877 were only signed by twenty). They must also have realized that success took more than just getting the respectable land owners of the village on board, having them sign the petition, following the standard procedure, or even hand-delivering the letter of complaint to the dean. In fact, the alternative approach, when the chief curator—a young, ambitious, local medium landowner—bypassed the dean and approached the bishop directly, may have seemed more efficient. However, Soma Csiszár’s downfall was not brought about by the judgments of any secular or ecclesiastical court of law. Rather, it was caused by the fact that the members of the presbytery were willing and able to mobilize about a hundred people who all appeared in the courtyard of the vicarage when the new investigative procedure was launched. Seeing this, the reverend realized he had no future in the village.

To understand the social history background of the conflict better, the historian can analyze the composition of the signatories of the petition. He can establish that there were only nine signatories who took a stand for themselves both in 1874 and in 1877 (and only four who had also signed the petition of 1875). The Farkas clan played a leading role among them. The historian can also study the changes in the composition of the presbytery, where, once again, he or she may establish that the male members of the Farkas family were gaining ground in 1877. However, the feisty hard core included more than just members of this family; other respectable landowning families were also represented among their ranks. It is also beyond any doubt that the Calvinist elite of the village had the chance to travel beyond the boundaries of their village and obtain valuable experience and, indeed, skills in the local (or county-level) techniques of conflict management, and that the experience they had gained in previous conflicts inevitably filtered through and into the rituals used both for stirring up and attenuating future conflicts.


The Catholic parson and his critics

Tensions between pastor and congregation were not limited to the Calvinists, of course. A good example of discontent within a given denomination came in 1884, when a group within the Roman Catholic congregation filed a complaint with the archbishop of Eger against the Reverend József Adamovics.36 While investigations in such cases were also common within the Catholic church, power relations, the available forms of crisis management, and the chances of a priest being removed may have been fundamentally different.

Of course, this specific conflict cannot be classified as one of the antecedents of the “Eszlár case” of 1882–83. Nevertheless, it is striking to see how many fairly overt allusions were made in the complaint to local confessional power relations. The complaint, dated March 1, 1884, begins with a comment to the effect that “there are but a handful of people of the Roman Catholic confession” in Eszlár. Also, when quoting the allegedly offensive words with which the pastor chastised his flock, the letter reads “our first thought was that if the Calvinist congregation learns about the words our priest uttered we would be even more exposed to their mockery.” The complaint, which lists the “sins” of the parish priest, ends with the following words:

We must therefore expose these cases and all his wrongs, because we live among villagers of mixed religions and it happens that our sons marry women of other religions, and lest this become even more widespread, and lest our congregation disperse, for if we have to live under the care of such a pastor, we may be forced to place ourselves and all our families under the guidance of a pastor–of whatever confession–who leads us in a sensible manner.

Once again, it seems a never-failing tactic to attract the attention of the higher ecclesiastical authorities was to threaten them with the possibility of conversion to other religions.

In the spring of 1884, having received the five-page long indictment, József Adamovics filed his 22-page long response, in which he claimed to unveil a plot organized against him by the former Greek Catholic judge. Luckily for posterity, he exposed a lot more of the conflicts than the people who had filed the complaint ever mentioned. The specific accusations were fairly run-of-the-mill: the parish priest was frequently drunk; he behaved in a scandalous way while celebrating the wedding of a drunk groom; he used derogatory and offensive language when preaching; he had paid a band of musicians and had his own name day celebrated on March 19, during Lent; etc. They added verbally that the reverend also collected twice as much parish tax in the village as in the manors. In response to the “excitement” following this incident, Adamovics delivered a sermon on February 17, 1884 chastising his flock, the most offensive part of which was, as we know from an account given by the parish priest after the fact, the following adage: “Pigs... the dirtier they are, the more they scratch and whine.”37

At the height of the conflict, one evening a group of congregation members paid a less than friendly visit to the vicarage. They nearly came to blows. The visiting congregation members claimed Adamovics called them names like “marha” and “ökör” (“bovine” and “ox,” both used in vulgar language to mean “imbecile” or “idiot”).38

In March, Lőrinc Halasy—the Rakamaz parish priest appointed to carry out the investigation—visited Eszlár on two Sundays to hear the parties filing the complaint. Ferenc Ajler stated that “the discord is solely attributable to how the timber obtained from the felled logs was sold off.” János Kobzos Sr. claimed the wrong done to him: the parish priest “grabbed me and tried to throw me out.” Following the choreography of mutual accusations, Adamovics called Ajler “földosztó” (“a leveller,” in the sense of redistributing large-scale land holdings among the landless poor) and “a big mouth,” and Kobzos “a rambunctious type” and “a drunk.”

In his response, Adamovics also made a statement about inter-confessional rivalry:

Has anyone, even a single soul, apostatized ever since I have been the parish priest in Eszlár by the grace of God Almighty and your High Excellency? On the contrary, I take pride in pointing out that I myself have gained two souls for the mother-church, something that has not happened in this village for a long time. I can also point out without boasting that ever since I have been here there have only been a handful of mixed marriages. Even though a few mixed couples announced their intentions to marry, I succeeded in dissuading them and convinced them to marry either a Catholic or at least a Greek Catholic person.

He openly stated that “if need be, I apply the necessary strictness in guiding my flock, as is justified in the case of the rabble that inhabit this village.”39

The Roman Catholics of Eszlár had inferiority complexes not only towards the Calvinists but also, in a certain sense, towards Greek Catholics, even though Greek Catholicism was considered a “sister religion.” The Greek Catholic community of the village was under the guidance of the Tokaj parish. While they were much fewer in number, they were slowly but surely expanding, and they formed part of the elite of the village in terms of their wealth and power positions. Based on the historical distribution of lands, the Greek Catholics contributed relatively more area to the cemeteries than the Roman Catholics. In 1879, Adamovics threatened to revoke the right of the Greek Catholic congregation to bury their deceased in the cemetery. However, the Greek Catholic curator let him know that, “I might have the right to come to an agreement with them about obligating the members of our congregations to keep the line but I have no right to exclude them from the cemetery.”40

During the investigation of the case, Adamovics convinced Calvinist pastor Lápossy to testify in his support, but he also had a group of 14 members of his congregation who signed the statement in his favor (mostly members of the local intelligentsia). In fact, Adamovics got a bit overconfident. He requested that the archbishop return him the letter of complaint filed against him so he could sue his enemies “for the crimes of making false accusations and fraud committed by the forgery of documents.” He must have been very disappointed when archbishop Samassa sent him a letter closing the case in which he not only dissuaded Adamovics from taking legal action but actually chastised him, saying that “the church is no place for making personal statements of any sort, let alone for using the sort of low language employed in the sermon notes filed; words like those are not fit for a church setting and do not become a priest or even a common person of a certain level of education.”41

In the Catholic case, the religious congregation as a community was not particularly well-organized. If Adamovics was right, the “first mover” of the complaint came from outside, from the Greek Catholic “sister religion.” The “excitement” was expressed rather occasionally and emotionally. The subtle mobilization technique inside the parish was used first of all by the pastor himself in favor of the local hierarchy and controlled totally by the archbishop.


Affairs inside the Jewish community

I have not found any evidence of confessional animosities within the Israelite community of Eszlár. Possibly the community was too small, or perhaps the sources are too limited. The case I examine here only exemplifies the conflict management customs that existed among the Jews.

The Lichtmanns settled in the village as lessees of feudal iura regalia landlords’ rights, but later they hired the estate of the landlord, Ferenc Wesselényi, who lived outside the county, in Transylvania. By the 1880s, they had their own regalists or lessees, something that was certainly one of the pillars of the power they wielded in the village. Once the investigation clarified all the events that took place on April 1, 1882, the Jews of the Újfalu section of Eszlár met in the foyer of the house of prayer in order to try to reach an agreement concerning a market-related conflict, Jakab Lichtmann acting as the arbitrator. There were two inns in Újfalu, one operated by Szüszmann, the other by Einhorn, both being regalists or lessees of Lichtmann. The two parties had a row over one of them selling pálinka or fruit brandy at a lower price.42 At the time of the trial held in Nyíregyháza, Jakab Szüszmann claimed that he had approached “Mr. Jakab Lichtmann, who was, after all, the head of our community, to settle the issue. For it is our custom that, instead of filing court action right away, we first try to come to an out-of-court agreement if it is at all possible”.43 As far as József Einhorn remembered, he told Lichtmann (the owner of the inns), “How come he [Szüszmann] sells spirits at a lower price? You either ban him from doing that or I will also start selling at a lower price.”44 Jakab Lichtmann explained that such arbitration was not only customary within the Jewish community, but also made sense financially:

I was approached to broker some sort of an agreement between the two parties in order to avoid them doing damage to one another and prevent either of the two from ending up in a situation in which he would be unable to pay the lease. For this purpose, we met not in the temple per se but in its foyer, this being the customary place to settle business affairs between [Jewish] parties or to hold council, not only in Eszlár but everywhere: such affairs are settled in the foyer of the house of prayer...45

Instead of ordering his lessees to report to his mansion in Ófalu, he himself went to the synagogue in Tótfalu to do justice in the foyer of the house of prayer. Formerly, Jewish communities had had their own Jewish judges, but this institution had not existed in the village for a long time. Still, Eszlár Jews considered Lichtmann “the head of our community.” However, the visible spatial influence of the Lichtmanns in the central places of the settlement (the manor house in Ófalu and residence in Tótfalu) spread over the whole village.

The Public Sphere and the Christian–Jewish Animosity

Frequent conflicts inside Christian denominations create good opportunities to foster other animosities among all of the inhabitants of the village. In my study of Eszlár prior to the trial held in Nyíregyháza, I have found only one open conflict that took place in the public sphere which was thematized along Christian–Jewish confessional interests.


The issue of Jewish education

At the time, there were only confessional schools in the village. From 1871 on, there were already two Calvinist schools (in Ófalu and in Újfalu) and one Catholic school (in Ófalu) operating locally. But how were the school-age Jewish children of the village schooled? As far as this period is concerned, only the Calvinist schools kept a record of the names of their students in Eszlár. In 1876, all Jewish names on the list are girls, and all of them went to school in Ófalu. In 1883, however, we also find Jewish children in the Calvinist elementary school of Újfalu. Furthermore, Jewish boys also attended school both in Ófalu and Újfalu.46 It may be assumed that in earlier periods the Jewish school that operated in Eszlár was made out to look like private tutoring. It had to be kept secret because the school inspector was systematically hunting down unauthorized Jewish schools that operated in a clandestine manner, as they were considered unsuitable by the state.47 What is certain is that the first time that an unauthorized school of the Israelite community was officially closed in Eszlár was in 1883.48 We do not know whether this was the school that educated all the Jewish children missing from the system during the 1870s or not. All we can assume is that Jewish boys must have received an education somewhere, at least because of religious reasons. This assumption is supported by the autobiography of Móric Scharf, who played a crucial role in the Tiszaeszlár trial.49

After the 1876 flood, the secular municipal authorities of the village adopted a decree according to which the three teachers would receive 160 forints each from the budget of the village for providing what was called recapitulative education to students who would not proceed with secondary education (the decree also cancelled the obligation to pay a tuition fee for normally daily schooling).50 However, the elder of the Jewish congregation, Jakab Lichtmann—who was also a virilist, one of the biggest taxpayers to the state—filed a complaint with the general assembly of the county against the decree. After this, the general assembly of the county was forced to strike the 480 forint expenditure line from the proposed budget of the village.51 After several rounds of discussion, the village approached the minister of the interior.52 By 1879, Ministerial Counsellor György Lukács had finally approved subsidizing the teachers from the budget of the village.53

The background to the case was that the Calvinist schools of the village collected an additional contribution in the form of a tuition fee from non-Christian students with the justification that the parents of non-Calvinist children did not contribute to the maintenance of the confessional school.54 The Catholic parson understood that the Calvinists “demanded a total of 27 forints (Gulden), nine forints for each of his three children, from an Israelite family father.”55 Eventually, the Calvinist council of the village adopted a new regulation in 1883 concerning the school fees of the children of the non-Christian denominations: “in addition to the tuition fee, they shall pay, upon their enrolment, […] another 80 krajcár towards the maintenance of the school.”56

Jakab Lichtmann probably hired a private tutor. He may have raised his objections in defense of the children of his older brother, József, who lived in Újfalu. Both on personal and confessional grounds, he believed that this discrimination—and especially the extent of it—was unfair. It cannot be ruled out that when Jakab Lichtmann resigned as the chief curator of the Jewish community in 1879, one of his reasons for leaving was his failure in the affair of the ministerial decree. The two events are certainly very close to each other in time. It follows, therefore, that in 1882 he was formally not an elder and therefore not a legitimate representative of the Israelite community, which certainly weakened its resistance.


Electing the village judge (January 4, 1882)

In another case that took place in the public sphere, confessional aspects seem to play only an indirect role if any. On December 28, 1881, local elections had to be suspended in Tiszaeszlár. because of “the brawl” between “two rather angry parties.”57 The required forces (40 troops) were mobilized on January 4 to keep order.58

Local scuffles of this type were a rather common form of expressing political intentions in this region, but what roused the passions of the community to such a degree at the end of 1881 in Tiszaeszlár?59 Ecclesiastical documents give us some insight into the origin of the tensions.

When parish priest József Adamovics was defending himself against the accusations in the spring of 1884, he also brought up a number of older conflicts. He suspected that the complaint filed against him was really backed by former Eszlár judge Ferenc Nagy, who, as Adamovics put it, wanted to take revenge, since Adamovics had played a role in Nagy losing his position. Tódor (Ferenc) Nagy was born in Eszlár in 1834 in a well-respected Greek Catholic family of peasants with a half plot, as defined by the urbarium. He married Hermina Roth, a Lutheran widow,60 in 1864. In February 1872, he took his oath of office as a judge.61

Adamovics claims first having gotten into a conflict with Ferenc Nagy when Adamovics was chairman of the board of auditors. Adamovics was the rapporteur on a case involving “funds missing because of misappropriation” in which the judge was found “to have embezzled, conniving with a Jew, 170 Austrian forints from the village funds.”62 Eventually, Adamovics broke all ties with Ferenc Nagy when he refused to hand over an estate: “Then I told him openly that […] in fact I would do everything in my power to rid the village of him.” In fact, Adamovics did achieve his goal: Nagy “was not even registered as a candidate when the time came for electing a new judge.”63 Thus, at the end of 1881 Ferenc Nagy could not openly head his “party.” The most he could do was organize a plot from the background.

While he served as a judge, Ferenc Nagy also had conflicts with other leaders of the village. The complaint related to the missing village funds was reported to the county by Géza Ónody.64 This was one of the reasons why János Lápossy, a Calvinist pastor, welcomed the elections of January 4 as a favorable turn of events:

after a heavy siege taking several years, we have finally managed to approach Gábor Farkas, who is known for the interest he takes in the matters of the church, his good will, and his sensibility, and to get him to make a clear statement that he would accept the position of judge, and we have been able, at the expense of great efforts, and much to our pleasure, to elect him as judge.65

During the race leading to the election of the judge, the Calvinist community supported Gábor Farkas, who, being from an old and well-respected local Calvinist family representing the petty nobility, had already played an important role in the drive for the removal of pastor Soma Csiszár.66

The municipal assembly of the village consisted of 40 delegates, half of whom were virilists, the biggest tax-payers of the village. The other half of the assembly were elected delegates, out of whom 10 people had been selected by a draw for replacement; it was their mandates that now had to be filled by way of elections. As far as the confessional composition of the elected delegates is concerned, the most apparent observation that can be made is that 15 delegates out of the 20 were Calvinists. Ferenc Nagy held the 11th position, which apparently indicates that the efforts to completely disqualify him from local politics were not entirely successful. One of the new names was József Klein, a day worker, who was the only Jew elected as a delegate in the municipal assembly.

As far as the actual numbers of the votes cast are concerned, only the data for the election of the judge is available. The real challenger of Gábor Farkas was a Catholic candidate, Ferenc Ailer (Eiler).67 This may be of some interest because Ailer was not one of the wealthy men, yet he must have been one of the leaders in community opinion: he appears as one of the key figures of the conflict that surrounded Adamovics in 1884. Gábor Farkas received 110 votes in favor and 97 against, a clear win, but a rather tight result. He was probably not very confident about his success, which may have contributed to things getting out of control. The fact that more than 200 votes were cast suggests that there was considerable mobilization; in the case of the municipal assembly of the village, every adult male had one vote to cast. Confessional fault lines may also have played a role in the election propaganda: Adamovics believed that some of his opponents were convinced to join the camp of his rival “party” by people who had spread the allegation that “the priest himself wants to convert to Calvinism that is why he wants Gábor Farkas to take the office of the judge.”68

Other officials were elected by acclamation. Looking at the final results, the vague outlines of a certain proportionality seem to appear: the judge was Calvinist, the magistrate of the adjunct judge was Greek Catholic, and the treasurer was Roman Catholic. Two of the sworn officials were Calvinists, two were Catholics (Kobzos and Ajler!); one of the elected municipal sergeants was also Roman Catholic, while the other was Calvinist. Can such careful political proportionality be purely accidental? One might say that while the composition of the municipal authorities reflects a moderate balance between the various confessions, all signs indicate that the elections had an effect of adjusting power relations in favor of the original Calvinist population. Without doubt, it was the Jewish community of the village who were least favored by such adjustment. After the elections, no former Jewish delegates remained among the members of the authorities. And “the great trial” was nowhere to be seen yet.

During the trial held in Nyíregyháza, in which Ferenc Nagy was not involved even as a witness, one of the defendants, Sámuel Lustig, finally spoke his mind: “Had Ferenc Nagy, supported by the Jewish vote, become the judge, the disappearance of Eszter would not have caused so much trouble.”69 In other words, even if the conflicts emerging in the public sphere did leave a mark on the discourses of the Nyíregyháza trial, they did so only very indirectly. The weak and hidden signs of public rivalry, however, do not mean that one cannot search for further interactive mechanisms inside the local community, in everyday practice of coexistence and conflicts on a smaller scale, and in the private sphere of the peasant households.

The Hidden Networks of the “Incriminated Case of the Girl Gone Missing”

Coexistence: the neighborhood

The best way of reconstructing the subtle network of relationships (secular and religious as well) connecting the villagers is to expose the capillaries of the “female public opinion” of the village. To do this, one must analyze the background of the discourses of the trial. I present three cases, one from each of the three sections of the village.

The first case is related to the events of April 1. The investigation began in late April or early May 1882, one month after the case of the girl gone missing, investigating the statements made by five-year-old Jewish boy Samu Scharf in the goose grazing land near Tótfalu. Allegedly, he saw Jews take the blood of Eszter Solymosi in the Synagogue. Who else heard what this child allegedly had said? Eötvös (defense attorney in the case and writer of the documentary novel about it) believed that, in addition to village judge Gábor Farkas, the key people were “his female relative Eszter Farkas, the wife of András Sós,” whose “daughter may have been” twelve-year-old Erzsébet Sós, and two “young women whom they knew: Julianna Szabó and Eszter Tanyi. It was these four women who produced the first Jewish child witness.”70 Eötvös also tried to reconstruct kinship relations in the case of Erzsébet Tanyi, but he failed.71

Without casting doubt on the importance of kinship relations in rural societies, the most common feature of the people testifying in the case seems to have been that they fit equally well into a certain spatial structure based on neighborhood. The space between the upper part of Tótfalu (just a few houses) and the rectangular, recently settled part of Tótfalu was very special in many respects (in brackets the cadastral number of the site): it was where the old Catholic cemetery, then used for grazing geese, was located (666); the road leading from Ófalu to Újfalu crossed it (2159); it was where the embankment surrounding Ófalu ended; it was where the synagogue was located, along with the warden’s (shamash) home (668); and, finally, it was where Eszter Solymosi allegedly disappeared. It was this part of the village, “the throat of Tótfalu” as I will refer to it, that “swallowed” Eszter. This was the space of the everyday lives of all of the people who “supplied” the data for the investigation. Erzsébet Tanyi (Mrs. Pásztor) was driving her geese from the grazing land in the old cemetery to their house in the middle of Tótfalu (701) when little Samu jumped in front of her on May 2, saying “I won’t tell you what my father did to the Hungarian girl!” It was Mrs. Gábor Bátori, a widow who lived behind the Synagogue (669) who questioned Mrs. József Scharf, Samu’s mother standing outside at the time, about what they had just heard. Eszter Tanyi was on her way to see Mrs. Mihály Soós, who lived in the northeast part of Tótfalu (681), to have some feed milled. On the April 30, Mrs. András Soós (690), on her way home, was standing in the gate of Mrs. István Lengyel, the blacksmith’s widow, who lived right under the Synagogue (672) and allegedly had heard Samu talk.72 All the hearsay and gossip circulated within a tight network of neighborhood relationships, in “ecumenical turnover” among Calvinist and Catholic women.

Map 2. The “throat” of Tótfalu73

Eötvös believed it was “unusual and, in fact, unprecedented” that this system of neighborhood relations should also include the Jewish child. However, the witnesses considered it fairly normal that little Samu would be playing together with the other kids. Mrs. Mihály Soós did not feel any need to explain why Samu had been at their house: “I too have a child, Samu was playing with him.”74 However, by “inviting him into the house,” she had indeed granted him access to a more intimate inner sphere. It is not entirely implausible that this may have had to do with a desire to question the child. The dimensions of the rather closed micro-world of Samu are well reflected by the fact that, in his statement made in front of the investigating judge of the affair, József Bary, all the Jewish actors he listed as being involved in the imagined “murder” were somehow linked to Tótfalu.

Of course, neighborhoods also have their everyday female conflicts, after all, it is women who are at home all day long, that time. For example, the trial shed light on a dispute between Mrs. József Scharf and Mrs. András Sós. Although Mrs. Sós tried to give the impression that after April she and Mrs. Scharf “continued to visit one another as [they had] before,” the comments made by József Scharf, who interrupted the hearing, make it clear that a good many things had changed. For example, according to Scharf, when his wife wanted to buy “a small goose for 40 krajcárs” from Mrs. Sós, the latter responded: “Why, neighbor, you don’t need geese, for the Jews will be expelled soon; I’ll be there myself driving them with the fire iron.” Mrs. Sós admitted having said this; in fact, she shed light on the background of the incident: “On one occasion she drove my geese off to the estate steward, and now she is angry at me for making a witness statement against her.”75 During the trial, the neighborhood seemed to be very peaceful on the surface, but underneath this veneer there was a silent, suppressed tension probably best put into words by Eszter Tanyi, who said “we are quiet among the Jews.”76

Another example, which took place at the time of the trial in Ófalu, involves the case of witness Julianna Vámosi. Eighteen-year-old Julcsa Vámosi (in the trial, she was consistently referred to by her nickname), who was in the third year of her service at Jewish shopkeeper Löventhal’s family, first testified in the trial that she had seen Eszter walk home from the shop as late as 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon.77 Later, yielding to pressure from her parents, she changed her statement, in spite of the fact that she could have been charged with making a false witness statement. At the end of the day, the parents practically denounced their own child to the municipal authorities.

The mother, Erzsébet Tóth (Mrs. József Vámosi), a 48-year-old Calvinist woman, stated that her daughter “had been asked to swear that she had seen Eszter Solymosi at 1:00 o’clock. What she told us, though, was this: »Yes, mother, I did see her, but that was between 10:00 and 11:00«; however, her master, an Israelite, had asked her to »swear that you saw Eszter Solymosi at one o’clock and you shall be greatly rewarded«.” The mother even added that her daughter used to be “a proper anti-Semite”:

This girl, she used to be the type that could have killed Jews; she would not have talked the way she does now. These last few days, however, she must have been somehow cajoled into saying these things... I am her mother, I have been a married woman for twenty years, and I have never seen such a thing, her not knowing something and then, just a few days later, all of a sudden knowing what she had not known before, that she had seen Eszter Solymosi, even at that time.

When Eötvös warned her that other witnesses had also seen Eszter later, Mrs. Vámosi responded: “The entire village can prove that she could not have seen her at that time; she could only have been seen at 11:00 or 12:00.” When the defense attorney asked her “did the villagers confront either you or your husband about your daughter testifying in support of the Jews?”, she first refused to answer. Later, she admitted that her husband had brought their daughter home from the Löventhals, where she was a maid, because he had heard that they wanted to beat her to death. “Friedmann: »Who told you that they wanted to beat her to death?« Witness: »It was word of mouth in the village.« Friedmann: »And why did your husband go there?« Witness: »To calm folks down.«”78

Under all this pressure, Julcsa Vámosi admitted on July 20 that she had made a false statement earlier, and that it had been Samu Lichtmann, the son of influential Jakab Lichtmann, former head of the Jewish community, who had convinced her to say 1:00 o’clock. By then she allegedly remembered having seen Eszter before the bells were tolled at noon, and she noted that she had not received anything other than the 50 krajcárs that the court of law offered to witnesses. In response to a question asked by Eötvös, she recalled a scene that had taken place in the village:

Eötvös: “Did they want to beat you to death, did they swear at you?” The witness: “They often said so.” Eötvös: “Was that when you went to fetch water from the Tisza?” The witness: “Yes, Sir.” Eötvös: “Who told you there that you had sworn falsely?” The witness: “Mrs. András Farkas, Mrs. Bálint Cseres, and the third one was Mrs. József A[r]dai.”79

The girl’s father and even the Jewish woman she had served were heard the same day. The father, a 42-year-old man employed as a servant guarding the vineyards of the village, stated that he had met and had talked to Mihály Cseres—who was also heard in Nyíregyháza—in the vineyard, and Cseres had said “your daughter did not say the right thing, … so no wonder the villagers almost beat her to death.”80 Mrs. Löventhal, the 30-year-old Jewish woman, gave an account of how their maid had been taken out of service.

[Mrs. Löventhal, asking the mother]: “When are you bringing her back? I ask her. Look, I cannot give her back to you right now, folks are way too agitated around here.” Mrs. József Papp, the wife of the adjunct judge [the second elected official of the village] confronted me and told me, “I will kill your daughter myself if you ever allow her to come back!” Judge Gábor Farkas said, “Your daughter had better not come back to the village, it wouldn’t end well.”

Mrs. Löventhal also recalled the incident that took place along the road to the Tisza. “We went to the Tisza and those four women surrounded her right away, »You Jewish witness this, you Jewish witness that.«” Asked by Eötvös, she identified the four women they had encountered on their way to the river.81 Eötvös was not especially interested in the chorus of the four women along the embankment; it is, however, of interest to this inquiry. The women surrounding Julcsa lived in the same general area, but were not next door neighbors. The shop and home of the Löventhals was located right in the middle of the circle along the road leaving Ófalu towards the south. It was a narrow plot of land with a long house on it. Originally, they were not listed among the persons accused; however, they were now heard as witnesses because of their maid. Salamon, the father of the young Jewish grocer, had had a shop in Eszlár already in 1848. The women who surrounded the Vámosi girl all represented socially well embedded fates, with strong links to one another, coming either from lesser noble or wealthy peasant families, or they were descendants of former cottagers (zsellér). In contrast, the Vámosi family held a peripheral, highly dependent position in the society of the village. They lived in the vineyard guard’s house outside of the village limits, and the wife was not even from the village to begin with. Having heard the threats of these angry women, all of whom were influential in public opinion in the local society, they may well have feared for the life of their daughter and for their home, which they could only keep as long as they served the village by working in the vineyard. During the trial, there was gossip according to which the father, perhaps to release stress after the great scare, beat his daughter in order to impress upon her the importance of solidarity with the village community.

The third example took place when the trial was already in process and Mrs. András Cseres, who lived in Újfalu on the row of the cottagers, volunteered to make a witness statement to the municipal authorities. The Cseres family lived in Újfalu, across the street from the Groszberg family, and as is even more important from the perspective of this inquiry, the woman spoke “Jewish.” She had learned the language in Tiszalök, where she had served the local shochet for one and a half years. On April 1, her husband had been hoeing the vineyard on the slopes of the Tokaj mountain and had come home very tired. She was trying to wake him, in vain, to show him what she saw, looking out the window, across the street, which was just a few meters wide: Jews gathered in the courtyard of the Groszberg family late in the evening. The husband objected to the wife testifying, although the wife, allegedly, did not tell her husband what she had seen. “One should not tell him things of that sort because he does not like gossip,” the woman said. The husband tried to convince the wife not to testify, saying “We are poor people; we must work... I’m telling you, you’ll get yourself into big trouble.”82 The most interesting part, however, is Mrs. Cseres’s explanation as to why, one year later, in the summer of 1883, she still decided to make a witness statement: “Witness: »There was talk in Tiszaeszlár that Christians were about to lose and Israelites were about to win; that’s what drove me to go and talk to the judge lest my soul should burn in hell.«” Eötvös put some pressure on her, asking:

“Who told you the Christians were about to lose and the Jews were about to win?” Witness: “It was word of mouth all over the village, all the righteous people said so.” Eötvös: “Were folks upset?” Witness: “Very much so.” Eötvös: “Was there a gathering of people?” Witness: “Oh, yes, indeed.” Eötvös: “At whose house?” Witness: “We never went to that house; I was just coming home from hoeing when I heard so.” Eötvös: “Who told you?” Witness: “The Lord Almighty knows.” Eötvös: “What did you mean by saying that the Christians were about to lose and the Jews were about to win?” Witness: “That the Christians wasted Eszter... that they wasted Eszter and were now going to put the blame on the Christians.” Eötvös: “The Jews did?” Witness: “Yes.” Eötvös: “So did the Jews waste Eszter?” Witness: “It’s supposed to be them, isn’t it, not the Christians.”83

I have presented three examples, one from each part of the community: Ófalu, Tótfalu, and Újfalu. One incident took place on the way to the river, one took place on the way home from the goose grazing land or on the way to the mill, and one took place on the way home from hoeing the vineyard. The sites are everyday locations. The communication is purely oral. A bit of hearsay, a bit of gossip. However, the situation is extraordinary. The point of reference that weighed most (“It was word of mouth all over the village...”) suggested that Christianity as such was at stake. For if it was not the Jews who had killed Eszter Solymosi, then the sin would revert to it was the Christians, or rather some person or people belonging to one of the (competing) Christian denominations. The peasants followed the imperative of their instinct for self-defense, and that imperative was mediated by everyday coalitions consisting of neighborhood and kinship networks among women. The mobilization of the witnesses during the investigation and trial forged the majority of the Christian inhabitants together against the Jews. Although the Lichtmanns were not sitting in the dock in the court (they were present also as witnesses), the thinly veiled message to intimidate the whole Jewish community had been sent to its informal leaders.


“Popular excitement” (May 29, 1882)

On one occasion during the investigation, emotions flew so high in Eszlár that there was a real chance that things would get out of hand. At the time, there were already dozens of news reporters on the lookout for any new development in the investigation. On May 30, 1882, dailies reported in their dedicated “The Eszlár Case” column that the previous day, which was Pentecost Monday, a group of Jews had gathered at the southern end of Tiszaeszlár alongside the road to Tiszalök, something that created major tensions and revived old memories of collective violence in the villagers. It is therefore an essential component of this conflict that by this time the case was gaining significance beyond that of a village affair in a narrow sense. Wider localities (the manor, the district, and the county) exerted more and more influence on the course of events.

The story was reported by Verhovay’s Függetlenség (“Independence”), a newspaper known for its anti-Semitism, which emphasized, that “several hundred Jews gathered from within and outside of the village, raiding the house of Mrs. Solymosi”.84 According to Miksa Weinstein’s account, it was not only the Jews or people from outside the area who participated in the search for Eszter.85 The explanation: a reward was offered to whoever might succeed in tracking the girl down.

The case cannot be interpreted simply at a local scale. “People from the neighboring villages continuously provoked and incited the people of Eszlár: “We can hardly wait for the people of Eszlár to start beating the Jews so we can follow suit.”86 Not even three weeks after Pentecost, the population of Eszlár—due to the efforts of both pastors—appeared a paragon of calmness—at least according to the report. All these journalistic interpretations show that the Eszlár case (the conflict) was not simply mirrored but at the same time was also shaped by the agents of the local and national press (and politics).

During the semi-annual county assembly, deputy lord lieutenant János Zoltán presented an official report on the events that took place around Pentecost (also outlining the types of county-level measures he believed necessary to implement). The deputy lord lieutenant also had to report to the minister of the interior.87 It is worth taking a look at the original minutes surviving in the estate of Investigating Judge József Bary. Bary was indeed personally present on site adopting measures, and he provided the information on the basis of which the deputy lord lieutenant drafted his report. According to these minutes, village judge Gábor Farkas approached Bary at about 9:00 o’clock in the evening, saying:

large groups of villagers are heading towards the part of the village called Újfalu where, people say, large numbers of Jewish strangers are gathering and standing around at the end of the village with unknown intentions, whose unexplainable appearance has provoked the Christian population of the village, whereby it is to be feared that the people, partly agitated over the events and partly fuelled by the alcohol they have consumed during the Pentecostal festivities, might resort to physical violence against the suspicious strangers.

Riding on a cart, the investigating judge, the deputy prosecutor, the judge, and a municipal bailiff passed the groups walking towards Újfalu, checking the identity documents of three Tiszalök Jews in Újfalu and of another eight at the end of the village and ordering them to leave the settlement, “or else they will be held responsible for any and all consequences of the popular excitement provoked by their unjustified presence.” The Tiszalök Jews complied with the order. Soon after this, “a group of some 200 to 300 locals” appeared armed with “pitchforks, sticks, bars, and similar utensils suitable for striking.” As they claimed, “they were afraid that the suspicious Jewish strangers would set fire to their houses at night, so it was their intention to remove them from the village and its vicinity by any means necessary.”88 The next morning, Bary had a number of witnesses testify to the veracity of his report.89 Actually, it was he who—writing about the sequence of events he had just experienced—came up with the term “popular excitement” to describe the events in the title as well as in the body of his report.

The press continued to report on the events for quite some time. Author Sándor Teleki asked Eszlár judge Gábor Farkas why he believed “the Jews came to the village and rushed to the house of Mrs. Solymosi. »Just to provoke, so that they can call in the military. Much to our luck, the investigating judge was right there with us; our good village folks listen to reason, and those gentlemen clearly told the villagers that there was no point in picking a fight.«”90

These reports—divergent as they may be—help one reconstruct the sequence of events in a highly plausible manner. The tabloid-style exaggerations and absurdities presented by some of the newspapers can also be discarded. It is highly improbable to assume that, as a result of the atrocities allegedly committed, the house of Mrs. Solymosi suffered any damage without this ever being even mentioned in the Bary report dedicated to the disappearance of Eszter. If, as some stated, 600 Jews gathered with the intention of launching such an attack, could 200 to 300 drunk locals armed with pitchforks and sticks have really driven them out of the village? The estimates concerning the number of people who allegedly gathered at the outskirts of the village vary widely, from ten to several hundred. Did the Jews of Eszlár really need to have all the strangers arriving from the neighboring villages beaten up only to have an excuse to provoke the deployment of the armed forces in the village? How can one speak about collective violence when people standing around in groups must face the full force of the law while those unnamed few instigating an atmosphere of lynching are “tactfully” dissuaded by an investigating judge?

The “quasi violence” of Pentecost was not the sole anti-Semitic excess in the village. The synagogue of Tótfalu, where Eszter Solymosi had been murdered according to the accusation, was vandalized as well. The fact itself that Bary conducted an investigation on the spot two times (May 20, September 11) emboldened some rabble-rousers (leading to window smashing and damaged interiors).91 The decisive impetus, nonetheless, came again from the outside: on July 25, 1882, Gyula Verhovay traveled to the settlement in the company of adjunct judge József Papp. He wrote of the “filthiness of the ghetto” in his newspaper.92 Moreover, according to some reports, several days later a few women from the village took a wooden crucifix into the building. After this gesture of “sacrilege,” the Jewish community allegedly left the synagogue and held the Saturday sermons in Lichtmann’s nearby residence.93

Of course, an interpretation of the local “popular excitement” would also be possible within another framework of reference, that of mass psychology or, possibly, mass hysteria—these concepts were emerging right in the era under review, even though the study of the related symptoms only really commenced in the twentieth century.94 However, what makes this phenomenon special is that the promise of legality and fair procedure did appeal to the reason of those concerned. Nationally, things only got out of control when on August 3, 1883 the Nyíregyháza court acquitted the defendants. Once again, for the last time, sentiments flared up in Eszlár. Péter Soltész wanted to throw one of the daughters of Weiszstein, an acquitted defendant, into the fire, and he hit Farkas Wertheimer (the estate steward) in the head with a hayfork, although Wertheimer had not even testified. In his own defense, the perpetrator claimed having been drunk at the time.95 He was duly punished. And in the spring of 1884, the emperor decorated judge Gábor Farkas with the crowned silver medal of merit for the role he played in keeping order.96 However, cantor and schochet Salamon Schwarz, who was the number one defendant in “the case of the girl gone missing,” and synagogue sexton József Scharf, who was accused of aiding and abetting (and after whom the trial was named), were never able to return to the village, and neither were their families.


* * *

Victor Turner’s concept of social drama has proven especially inspiring when interpreting all these cases in the history of Eszlár. Going beyond the limitations of the positivist concept of structures, he drew a distinction between formalized structures on the one hand and temporary structures generated by social dramas mainly in the course of conflicts. These are open, and the observer may recognize them in retrospect. Their organizational focus is not in the intersection of diagrams. Instead, they surface in the minds of the actors as objectives of actions and efforts. They encompass alternatives and they can be grasped through analyses of psychological factors.97 When examining various conflicts, apparently everything happens the way it usually does, as might be expected, and yet, everything might change completely in a split second. Coexistence, rivalry, and conflicts are inevitably intertwined. Rivalries between the approved Christian denominations manifested themselves either in conversion or in mixed marriages. There was never a plan to crowd out the other party, though. However, in this region, in this time period, after the emancipation of the Jews, the Christian–Jewish conflict could still take the form not only of blood libels98 but also of the ritual forms of intimidation and violence. This is what international literature calls “exclusionary violence.”99 However, after the trial ended with acquittals, and after the flames of collective violence went out, the various forms of local coexistence once again reorganized themselves in a business-as-usual manner.

It is no coincidence that, speaking of the Dreyfus affair, social psychologist Serge Moscovici makes the following claim: “Great thunderstorms, great discharges of human energy, great breaks of tension in society remain opaque to contemporaries and are seen in their true light only after a time. But their riddle never seems to receive any unquestionable solutions. This is what makes their fascination, which can last a long time.”100 In our case hopefully not for another thousand years.

Archival Sources

Egri Főegyházmegyei Levéltár (=EFL) [The Archives of the Archdiocese of Eger], Tiszaeszlár (= TE)

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltár (=MNL OL) [Hungarian National Archives, National Archives]

A 900 R. kat. anyakönyvek [Roman Catholic Registers of Births] (TE)

A 2568 Ref. anyakönyvek [Protestant Registers of Births] (TE)

A 4677 G. kat. anyakönyvek [Greek Catholic Registers of Births] (Tokaj)

S 78 225. téka Kataszteri térképek [Cadastral Maps] (TE)

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg Megyei Levéltára (=MNL SZSZBML) [The Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County Archives of the Hungarian National Archives]

IV.B.402.8.k. Szabolcs megye közgyűlési jegyzőkönyve [Minutes of the Meeting of the General Assembly of Szabolcs County]

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Tiszaeszlár ref. egyházközség irattára (=TEREI) [The Archives of the Calvinist Parish of Tiszaeszlár], A tiszaeszlári helv. hitv. Egyház tanácskozási és határozati jegyzőkönyve [Minutes of the Council Meetings and Decisions of the Evangelical Helvetic Confession Parish of Tiszaeszlár]. Vol. 1.

Tiszántúli Református Egyházkerületi Levéltár (=TtREL) [The Archives of the Tiszántúl Calvinist Diocese]

I.1.b. 209. Egyházkerületi közgyűlési iratok [Documents of the Meetings of the General Assembly of the Diocese]

I.8.d. Lelkész-adattár [Database of Parsons]

I.28.c. Egyházlátogatási jegyzőkönyvek [Visitation Minutes]

I.28.j. Felsőbbhatósági körlevelek [Circulars of the Higher Authorities]



Primary Sources

A tiszaeszlári bűnper. Bary József vizsgálóbíró emlékiratai [The Criminal Trial of Tiszaeszlár. The Memoires of Investigating Judge József Bary]. Budapest: Egyetemi Nyomda, 1933.

Az első magyarországi népszámlálás (1784–1787) [The First Hungarian Census]. Edited by Dezső Dányi and Zoltán Dávid. Budapest: KSH Könyvtára–MÜM Levéltári Osztálya, 1960.

Bölöny, József. Magyarország kormányai 1848–1975 [The Governments of Hungary 1848–1975]. Budapest: Akadémiai, 1978.

Eötvös, Károly: A nagy per mely ezer éve folyik, s még nincs vége [The Great Trial that Has Been Going On for a Thousand Years and Has Not Yet Concluded]. Vols. 1–2. Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1968.

Magyarország településeinek vallási adatai (1880–1949) [The Religious Data of the Villages of Hungary (1880–1949)]. Vol. 2. Budapest: KSH, 1997.

Scharf, Móric. “Emlékeim a tiszaeszlári pörből” [My Memories of the Trial of Tiszaeszlár]. Egyenlőség, 46. September 10 through December 3, 1927.

Schematismus venerabilis Cleri Archi-diocesis Agriensis ad annum Jesu Christi 1831, 1840, 1851, 1860, 1871, 1880, 1889. Agriae.

Debreceni Ellenőr [The Debrecen Monitor], 1882.

Egyenlőség [Equality], 1882–1884.

Egyetértés [Concord], 1882.

Függetlenség [Independence], 1882–1883.

Nyírvidék [The Nyírség Region], 1882.

Pesti Napló [The Pester Journal], 1882.

Tisza-Eszlár (Napi Értesítő) [Tiszaeszlár (Daily Gazette)]. A tisza-eszlári bűnper végtárgyalása alkalmából gyorsírói felvétel nyomán kiadja a Nyírvidék szerkesztősége [Published by the Editorial Office of the Newspaper Nyírvidék on the basis of the shorthand records of the final session of the criminal trial of Tiszaeszlár], 1883. No. 1–29 [T-E (Napi Értesítő)].

Secondary Sources

Ascough, Richard. “The Canadian Society of Biblical Studies’ Religious Rivalries Seminar: Retrospection, Reflection and Retroversion.” Studies in Religion /Sciences Religieuses 32, no. 1–2 (2003): 153–73.

Fox, Jonathan. “Towards a Dynamic Theory of Ethno-Religious Conflict.” Nations and Nationalism 5, no. 4 (1999): 431–63.

Hoffmann, Christhard. “Political Culture and Violence against Minorities: The Antisemitic Riots in Pomerania and West Prussia.” In Exclusionary Violence. Antisemitic Riots in Modern German History, edited by Christhard Hoffmann, Werner Bergmann, and Helmut Walser Smith, 67–93. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

Kieval, Hillel J. “The Importance of Place: Comparative Aspects of the Ritual Murder Trial in Modern Central Europe.” In Comparing Jewish Societies, edited by Todd E. Endelmann, 135–65. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.

Kiss, Arnold et al. A nagy per (Zsidókérdés) [The Great Trial (The Jewish Question)]. Budapest: Soli Deo Gloria, 1933.

Kósa, László. A gyulai református egyház története [The History of the Protestant Church of Gyula]. Second Unchanged Edition. Gyulai Füzetek [Gyula Booklets] 17. Gyula: Békés Megyei Levéltár, 2008.

Kövér, György. A tiszaeszlári dráma. Társadalomtörténeti látószögek [The Drama of Tiszaeszlár. Perspectives of Social History]. Budapest: Osiris, 2011.

Le Bon, Gustave. La Psychologie des foules. [English translation: The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. 1896.] Paris: Alcan, 1895.

Mayer, Wendy. “Religious Conflict: Definitions, Problems and Theoretical Approaches.” In Religious Conflict from early Christianity to the Rise of Islam, edited by Wendy Mayer and Bronwen Neil, 1–19. Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte 121. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013.

Moscovici, Serge. „The Dreyfus Affair, Proust and Social Psychology.” Social Research 53, no. 1 (1986): 23–56.

Rácz, István. Egyház és társadalom. A Debreceni Tractus vagyona és gazdálkodása a 18–19. század fordulóján [Church and Society. The Assets and Asset Management of the Debrecen Tractus at the Turn of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century]. Debrecen: Kossuth Egyetemi Kiadó, 2002.

Smith, Helmut Walser. “From Play to Act: Anti-Jewish Violence in German and European History during the Long Nineteenth Century.” In idem. The Continuities of German History. Nation, Religion, and Race across the Long Nineteenth Century, 115–67. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Szilágyi, László. A „kuruc vármegye.” Parlamenti képviselők és választóik a dualizmus kori Szabolcs vármegyében [The “Kuruc County.” Members of Parliament and their Electorate in Szabolcs County During the Age of Dualism]. Nyíregyháza: Örökségünk Kiadó, 2006.

Turner, Victor. Dramas, Fields, and Methaphors. Symbolic Action in Human Society. Ithaca–London: Cornell University Press, 1974.

Ugrai, János. “Szoknyák, versek, viszályok (Egy lelkész kétszeres rangvesztése)” [Skirts, Poems, Animosity (How a Pastor Lost His Social Standing Twice)]. Aetas 21, no. 4 (2006): 71–88.


Translated by Attila Török

1 Károly Eötvös, A nagy per mely ezer éve folyik, s még nincs vége, vol. 1 (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1968), 12.

2 As early as the 1930s, in the foreword to a collective volume published by a Hungarian Protestant student organization, Soli Deo Gloria, the case was already thematized as “the Jewish question.” Arnold Kiss et al., A nagy per (Zsidókérdés) (Budapest: Soli Deo Gloria, 1933), 4.

3 Jonathan Fox, “Towards a Dynamic Theory of Ethno-Religious Conflict,” Nations and Nationalism 5, no. 4 (1999): 432–42.

4 This system of four categories proposed by the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies defined the potential mutual relationships between the religions present in the marketplaces of early Christianity. The history of the research was summarised on the basis of Terry Donaldson’s original project plan by Richard Ascough, “The Canadian Society of Biblical Studies’ Religious Rivalries Seminar: Retrospection, Reflection and Retroversion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 32, no. 1–2 (2003): 158.

5 Wendy Mayer, “Religious Conflict: Definitions, Problems and Theoretical Approaches,” in Religious Conflict from early Christianity to the Rise of Islam, ed. Wendy Mayer and Bronwen Neil, Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte 121 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), 1–19.

6 György Kövér, A tiszaeszlári dráma. Társadalomtörténeti látószögek (Budapest: Osiris, 2011), 94–95.

7 Az első magyarországi népszámlálás (1784–1787), ed. Dezső Dányi and Zoltán Dávid (Budapest: KSH Könyvtára–MÜM Levéltári Osztálya, 1960), 160; Magyarország településeinek vallási adatai (1880–1949), vol. 2 (Budapest: KSH, 1997), 264.

8 Schematismus Cleri Archi-diocesis Agriensis ad annum Jesu Christi 1831, 1840, 1851, 1860, 1871, 1880, 1889. Agriae.

9 Egri Főegyházmegyei Levéltár (=EFL), Tiszaeszlár (=TE) 1765/1888 (April 23, 1888).

10 Count Géza Teleki led the Ministry of the Interior between June 16, 1889 and March 15, 1890; József Bölöny, Magyarország kormányai 1848–1975 (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1978), 164.

11 EFL TE 2580/1889 (June 1, 1889).

12 Cited by Szomjas, February 25, 1890; Tiszántúli Református Egyházkerületi Levéltár (=TtREL) I. 1. b. 209.

13 Ibid., Parson János Lápossy, chief curator Géza Ónody (1889, undated copy).

14 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (=MNL OL) S 78 225. téka.

15 TtREL I.1.b. 209. (April 22, 1890).

16 István Rácz, Egyház és társadalom. A Debreceni Tractus vagyona és gazdálkodása a 18–19. század fordulóján. (Debrecen: Kossuth Egyetemi Kiadó, 2002), 103–07; János Ugrai, “Szoknyák, versek, viszályok (Egy lelkész kétszeres rangvesztése),” Aetas 21, no. 4 (2006): 74; László Kósa, A gyulai református egyház története, Gyulai Füzetek 17, (Gyula: Békés Megyei Levéltár, 2008), 89–102.

17 Előterjesztés… TtREL I.28.c. 24 (February 1, 1867); Előterjesztés… Ibid., 25 (January 15, 1869).

18 Előterjesztés… Ibid., 24 (February 1, 1867).

19 Tiszaeszlár ref. egyházközség irattára (=TEREI), A tiszaeszlári helv. hitv. Egyház tanácskozási és határozati jegyzőkönyve, vol. 1 (December 15, 1872).

20 TtREL I.28.j. 15 (Gábor Farkas, February 20, 1874).

21 Ibid., 15, Miklós Pásztor, Gábor Farkas, Sámuel Erdőss, and others, March 4, 1874. When they delivered the complaint personally on March 7, Miklós Pásztor threatened that “he would convert into Catholicism.” Ibid.

22 Ibid., 15, Csiszár–Pápay, March 17, 1874.

23 TtREL I.28.c. 30, Egyházlátogatási jegyzőkönyv, TE, (June 3–4, 1874).

24 TtREL I.28.j. 15, Borus–Pápay, Tiszalök, July 29, 1874.

25 Ibid., 15, (April 5, 1875).

26 Ibid., 15, (April 28, 1877). The complaint was delivered to the bishop as an attachment to a letter written by chief curator Géza Ónody on April 30. Talking about the case, he makes reference to “a scandal of a trial.” Ibid., April 30.

27 Ibid., 15. Nyíregyháza, August 29, 1877.

28 Ibid., Borus–Pápay, Tiszalök, August 31, 1877.

29 Ibid., Az egyházmegyei törvényszéki tanács jegyzőkönyve, Püspökladány, September 11, 1877.

30 Ibid., October 28, 1877.

31 Ibid., Csiszár–Pápay, TE, October 16, 1877.

32 TEREI Jegyzőkönyv I (November 18, 1877).

33 TtREL I.28.j. 16 (August 1, 1878).

34 TEREI Jegyzőkönyv I (July 31, 1878).

35 TtREL I.28.j. 16 (August 1; August 2, 1878).

36 EFL Acta Personalia 1460/1884, József Adamovics (1845–1887) was appointed as the parson of the Eszlár parish in 1878.

37 In comparison with the Csiszár case, it is interesting to see how often the offensive statements made by the reverend allude to the “dirtiness” of the people attacked, regardless of the denomination to which they belonged or the sensitivity of the congregation.

38 EFL Acta Personalia 1460/1884 (March 1, 1884).

39 Ibid., March 15, 1884. One might recall Soma Csiszár’s “bread and whip” (carrot and stick) approach to managing his congregation.

40 Ibid., 1651, Tiszaeszlár, ad 392/1885 (January 26, 1885).

41 Ibid., 1460/1884. Eger, April 17, 1884 (draft).

42 Tisza-Eszlár (Napi Értesítő). A tisza-eszlári bűnper végtárgyalása alkalmából gyorsírói felvétel nyomán kiadja a Nyírvidék szerkesztősége, 1883, no. 1–29 [=T-E (Napi Értesítő)] József Scharf (June 19, 1883).

43 Ibid., Jakab Szüszmann (June 24, 1883). Until May or September 1879 Jakab Lichtmann formerly hold the office of the ‘chief curator’ in the Jewish religious community. Afterward Szüszmann became ‘curator’ only. Országos Széchényi Könyvtár Kézirattár (=OSZK Kt) Fol. Hung. 1847/1 (Bary) 583 (Italics: Gy. K.).

44 Ibid., József Einhorn (June 23, 1883).

45 Ibid., Jakab Lichtmann (June 28, 1883).

46 TtREL I.28.c. 49; 31; I. 28. h. 20. d.

47 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg Megyei Levéltára (=MNL SZSZBML) IV.B.404. 34. d. 590/880.

48 MNL SZSZBML IV. B. 404. 39. d. XIV. 1883/237 Velkey–KB, April 1, 1883.

49 “Initially, just for a few weeks, I went to the school of the village, but then my father enrolled me in the Jewish elementary school.” Móric Scharf, “Emlékeim a tiszaeszlári pörből,” Egyenlőség, 46, September 17, 1927, 6.

50 MNL SZSZBML IV.B.404. 33. d. 1069/79. Tiszaeszlár község képviselőtestületi gyűlés jegyzőkönyve [Minutes of the Meeting of the General Assemby of the Village of Tiszaeszlár] (November 22, 1876).

51 MNL SZSZBML IV.B.402. 7. k. Szabolcs megye közgyűlési jegyzőkönyve (November 28, 1878).

52 MNL SZSZBML IV.B.404. 33. d. 1069/79. The application contrasted public interest with private interests: “in such a noble case as the spiritual well-being of an entire village, which indirectly also affects the advancement of our country, the selfish objections of a few who claim that they and their families do not benefit from this arrangement should not be considered when they go against the general intentions of an entire village.” (March 15, 1879).

53 MNL SZSZBML IV.B.404. 33. d. 1069/79 (May 26, 1879).

54 The minutes of a 1871 meeting of the presbytery expressis verbis only stated that “Any child belonging to any Christian denomination shall pay the same tuition fee in both schools.” TEREI Jegyzőkönyv, vol. 1 (May 6, 1871).

55 EFL TE 974/1878 Bertalan Ferenczy (March 14, 1878).

56 TEREI Jegyzőkönyv, vol. 1 (July 22, 1883)

57 MNL SZSZBML IV.B.411. 99. d. 10 205/1881 Kimmerling János segédszolgabíró jelentése [Report by Assistent District Officer János Kimmerling] (TE, December 28, 1881).

58 Ibid., (December 30, 1881).

59 László Szilágyi, A “kuruc vármegye.” Parlamenti képviselők és választóik a dualizmus kori Szabolcs vármegyében. (Nyíregyháza: Örökségünk Kiadó, 2006), 76–85; Nyírvidék, January 1, 1882, 3.

60 MNL OL A 4677 G. kat. anyakönyvek (Tokaj) 83 (September 10, 1834); A 2568 Ref. anyakönyvek (TE) 38 (October 3, 1864).

61 MNL SZSZBML IV.B.411. 1. d. 101/1872, Dobozy Ferenc jelentése [Report by Ferenc Dobozy] (February 27, 1872).

62 EFL Acta Personalia 1460/1884. According to the register of the county archives, Géza Ónody submitted an application in 1880 “concerning 117 forints missing from the accounts of the village judge Ferenc Nagy.” MNL SZSZBML IV.B.411. 1153. k. 1880.

63 Ibid.

64 Ibid., 99. d. 7935/1881. Ónody Géza levele [Letter by Géza Ónody] (September 9, 1881).

65 TtREL I.28.j. 16. 3/1882 Lápossy János, TE–Pápay Imre alsószabolcs-hajdúkerületi esperesnek, Hajdúböszörmény [János Lápossy, TE to Imre Pápay, the Dean of Alsószabolcs-hajdúkerület, Hajdúböszörmény] (January 12, 1882).

66 As far as the person and family of Gábor Farkas are concerned, see Kövér, A tiszaeszlári dráma, 285–94.

67 (Guszti) Ferenc Ailer was born around 1839–40. MNL OL A 900.

68 EFL Acta Personalia 1460/1884.

69 Függetlenség, June 22, 1883. A tárgyalások képe [The Standing of the Trial]. Even József Bary, the investigating judge of the affair remembered to reference this sentence in his memoires. Bary seems to have either not known or forgotten the antecedents of the election of the judge in early 1882 in Eszlár: “Had Ferenc Nagy, the person we wanted to elect, been the judge, Eszter’s disappearance would not have caused any trouble.” (Italics – Gy. K.) A tiszaeszlári bűnper. Bary József vizsgálóbíró emlékiratai (Budapest: Egyetemi Nyomda, 1933), 37.

70 Eötvös, A nagy per, I 82–83.

71 T-E (Napi Értesítő), June 22, 1883.

72 Ibid.

73 MNL OL S 78 225. téka.

74 T-E (Napi Értesítő), Mrs. Mihály Soós, June 23, 1883. In fact, she even remembered that “his mother never allowed [Samu] to go there ever again. I asked her why. She told me »because he always gossips.«” Ibid.

75 Ibid., Mrs. András Sós, June 22, 1883 (Interruption: József Scharf).

76 Ibid., June 23, 1883.

77 Ibid., Vámosi Julcsa [első] tanúvallomása [The [First] Witness Statement of Julcsa Vámosi], June 25, 1883. It was evident, that after the end of the Jewish sermon, at noon, all the members of the community had left the synagogue and returned home.

78 Ibid., Vámosiné tanúvallomása [The Witness Statement of Mrs. Vámosi], July 9, 1883.

79 Ibid., Vámosi Julcsa [második] tanúvallomása [The [Second] Witness Statement of Julcsa Vámosi], July 20, 1883.

80 Ibid., Vámosi József tanúvallomása [The Witness Statement of József Vámosi], July 20, 1883.

81 Ibid., Löventhal Salamonné tanúvallomása [The Witness Statement of Mrs. Salamon Löventhal], July 20, 1883.

82 Ibid., July 9, 1883.

83 Ibid., July 9, 1883. Of course, it turned out that there were petty conflicts between the women in the background. Mrs. Groszberg shed some light on the conflict: “I had March chickens and her swine ate all of them up. I asked her to come to the parish hall; there, she told me she would work for me because of the chicken. The judge told her to go and come to a settlement with me, and now she refuses to even put in that one day of work.” Ibid.

84 Függetlenség, May 31, 1882 (Királytelek, May 30).

85 W. M. A tisza-eszlári eset [The Case of Tiszaeszlár] (Dated: TiszaLök, May 30). Debreceni Ellenőr, May 31, 1882 (later, as a publicist of Jewish weekly, Egyenlőség, he changed his name to Miksa Szabolcsi).

86 Egyetértés, June 22, 1882 (Nyíregyháza, June 21, 1882).

87 MNL SZSZBML IV. B. 411. 107. d. 4687/ 882 Zoltán János alispán–BM [Deputy Lord Lieutenant János Zoltán to the Ministry of the Interior] (Nyíregyháza, June 2, 1882, draft).

88 OSZK Kt, Fol. Hung. 1847/ I (Bary) 118–19. T. Eszláron május 29-én történt népizgatottság alkalmából felvett jegyzőkönyv [Minutes Taken On Account of the Popular Excitement Taken Place on May 29, in Tiszaeszlár] (May 30, 1882).

89 József Juhász, a 53-year-old farmer living at the very edge of Újfalu saw a total of more than ten, and, later, a cartload of Jews in the area. OSZK Kt, Fol. Hung. 1847/I. (Bary) 114.

90 Teleki, Sándor, Solymosiné [Mrs. Solymosi], Debreceni Ellenőr, July 6, 1882.

91 A tiszaeszlári bűnper. Bary József vizsgálóbíró emlékiratai, 56; OSZK Kt Fol. Hung. 1847/1 (Bary) 586.

92 Az eszlári zsinagóga és a fürdőház [The Synagogue of Eszlár and the Bathhouse], Függetlenség, July 30, 1882. In his anonymously published article, Verhovay did not state that he had entered the synagogue, but otherwise the description of its inner space could not be given.

93 A tiszaeszlári zsidó hitközség nyilatkozata [The Communiqué of the Jewish Community in Tiszaeszlár], Egyenlőség, November 5, 1882, 8–9. The Communiqué of the local community had been not signed by the Lichtmann family members. The action was interpreted in different ways in the press. Pesti Napló, August 9, 1882.

94 Károly Eötvös himself was also thinking of offering a description: “The masses, once they have had their tempers roused, seek success in revenge, and will not only excuse but in fact demand all the violence that may be needed to achieve that goal, so much so that they will easily resort to violence themselves. They do not care about the law, about formalities, about any sacred protections, or about the natural rights of man.” Eötvös, A nagy per, I, 80. As far as the phenomena related to the psychology of the masses and to mass hysteria in the early phases of these academic fields are concerned, see Gustave Le Bon, La psychologie des foules (Paris: Alcan, 1895).

95 These events were reported by Egyenlőség (August 12, 1883, 7); I have not found pertinent data in the documents of the deputy lord lieutenant.

96 Egyenlőség, February 10, 1884.

97 Victor Turner, Dramas, Fields, and Methaphors. Symbolic Action in Human Society, (Ithaca–London: Cornell University Press, 1974), 35–37.

98 Hillel J. Kieval, “The Importance of Place: Comparative Aspects of the Ritual Murder Trial in Modern Central Europe,” in Comparing Jewish Societies, ed. Todd E. Endelmann (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 135–65.

99 Christhard Hoffmann, “Political Culture and Violence against Minorities: The Antisemitic Riots in Pomerania and West Prussia,” in Exclusionary Violence. Antisemitic Riots in Modern German History, ed. Christhard Hoffmann, Werner Bergmann and Helmut Walser Smith (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 67–93; Helmut Walser Smith, “From Play to Act: Anti-Jewish Violence in German and European History during the Long Nineteenth Century,” in idem, The Continuities of German History. Nation, Religion, and Race across the Long Nineteenth Century. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 115–67.

100 Serge Moscovici, “The Dreyfus Affair, Proust and Social Psychology,” Social Research 53, no. 1 (1986): 27.


Volume 4 Issue 1 CONTENTS

pdfVladas Sirutavičius

National Bolshevism or National Communism: Features of Sovietization in Lithuania in the Summer of 1945 (The First Congress of the Intelligentsia)


In this article I discuss the problem of the sovietization of Lithuania in 1944–1945 from the perspective of the goals pursued by the Communist Lithuanian government in convening the First Congress of Lithuanian intelligentsia and the demands made by some of the congress delegates on the government. The research is based on the idea that the incorporation of elements of nationalism into the Soviet system was regarded as a means of making the regime more acceptable to the titular nationality and was also intended to facilitate the sovietization of societies. Some representatives of the leadership of the Lithuanian SSR thought that it would be possible to strike a deal with the Lithuanian cultural elite: the Soviet government would satisfy the most important (national) expectations of the intelligentsia, while the intelligentsia would support the government’s policies. However, no such policy was ever adopted. Instead, Moscow simply began to force Lithuania’s sovietization.

Keywords: National Communism, Intelligentsia, Lithuanian Communist Party, Sovietization


Historians who have analyzed the evolution and features of sovietization in Central Europe in 1944–1947 note that during this period Moscow maintained a fairly moderate political course. In some cases, the local Communists were warned to refrain from taking more radical political steps. Thus, the conclusion is reached that the leadership of the Soviet Union, at least temporarily, for tactical reasons did not undertake forced revolutionary sovietization of the countries in the region.1 Such a cautious political course, which took into account the specific aspects of the local societies, was based on several assumptions. First, the purpose of this policy was to expand Moscow’s influence in the region while also preserving the relationship of cooperation with the Western allies. Second, the main political ally of the USSR in the region, the Communist Parties, were few and unpopular. The greater part of society considered the Communists politically dependent and not representative of national interests. Therefore, the first task with which the leaders of the Communist party were confronted was how to increase their influence and build social support. This goal could be achieved in two ways: by implementing social and economic reforms, which the greater part of the public supported, and by positioning itself as the party that defended “national interests.” Thus, the “national factor” became an important instrument in the practical policies of the Communist party, mobilizing society and legitimizing the new soviet social and political order. The question of how this policy was implemented in Central Europe, specifically in Poland and Hungary, was thoroughly studied by two historians, Marcin Zaremba and Martin Mevius.2 According to them, nationalism became an important instrument of the legitimization of new communist governments and the sovietization of societies.

Historian David Brandenberger has observed that even in the 1930s the leadership of the Soviet Union, seeking to strengthen the legitimacy of the regime, more actively pursued cultural policies that cloaked a Marxist–Leninism worldview within russocentric, etatist rhetoric.”3 According to him, in the Soviet Union this meant “a peculiar form of Marxist-–Leninist etatism that fused the pursuit of communist ideals with more statist ambitions reminiscent of czarist ‘Great Power’ (velikoderzhavnoe) traditions.”4 Historians refer to this political course as national bolshevism (some call it national Stalinism).5 With certain exceptions and specificities (depending on local conditions), this course was supported by Moscow in Central Europe as well. The incorporation of nationalism into the Soviet system was intended to make the regime more acceptable to the titular nationality and also to facilitate the sovietization of societies. Of course, historians have noted that in the policies of the Communist parties in Central Europe, one must distinguish between national bolshevism and national communism.6 Without dwelling too much on this question, I argue that the major difference between these ideologies and political practices was that national communism meant a certain political and cultural autonomy and sovereignty with regard to Moscow. In his discussion of the Polish version of national communism, American historian Martin Malia identified home rule as one of its most important features.7 It seems that the leadership of the Soviet Union tolerated certain manifestations of autonomy in Central Europe until at least 1947.

It is worth mentioning, as a side note, that according to some historians the process of the sovietization of the Baltic States in 1944–1947, while it had its own distinguishing features, nonetheless essentially was similar to the sovietization of the countries of Central Europe. According to the Russian historian Elena Zubkova, Moscow’s policy in regard to the Baltic republics in the initial period of sovietization (up to 1947) depended on the social and political situation of the republics, the situation in the Soviet Union, and the relations between the Western allies and Moscow.8 Therefore, the policies of sovietization were moderate: Moscow did not force Vilnius to implement collectivization, and Russia showed respect for national symbols, the Lithuanian language, and the national intelligentsia. Repressive measures were focused on members of the armed underground. Thus, in the process of sovietization attention was paid to the national specifics of Lithuania and the other Baltic societies.9 Of course, for the most part, the assessments that were penned by Lithuanian historians differ significantly. According to Lithuanian historians, as early as 1944 and 1945, the USSR leadership in Lithuania was already implementing a process of sovietization based ongeneral principles,without taking into account the national specifics of the republic.10 This was also due, at least according to this assessment, to the fact that among Lithuanian Communists a “nihilistic approach to their nation” and subservience to the Russians prevailed.11

In fact, with certain exceptions, the Soviet leadership’s political course of sovietization described by E. Zubkova could have been characteristic of the period until the fall of 1944 (or the beginning of 1945 at the latest). On the other hand, the Lithuanian historians who are critical of Zubkova overlooked certain nuances of the sovietization policies. Česlovas Laurinavičius noted that in the policies of the Soviet Union (from the middle of 1943 until the beginning of 1945) one can see clear efforts to “raise” the Soviet Republic of Lithuania in international politics, while at the same time efforts were made to “push the Republic of Lithuania out of the international arena.12 Also at roughly the same time, in the policies of the Lithuanian SSR leadership, “national aspects” began to be expressed more actively. In the Lithuanian programs on Moscow radio, the interwar anthem of Lithuania, which had been banned in 1940,13 began to be broadcast. Measures were taken to release from imprisonment some of the politicians and public figures of the Republic of Lithuania and use them in a propaganda campaign against the Germans and to proclaim the establishment of the Lithuanian SSR among the Lithuanian diaspora in the USA.14 Efforts were also made to assure the use of the Lithuanian language in the administrative and bureaucratic apparatus.15

In general, Moscow at the beginning of 1944 began the course of “strengthening” the so-called Soviet statehood of Soviet republics. The reorganization of the people’s commissariats of defense and foreign affairs into a system of Union–republic subordination was begun16 and suggestions were made regarding the restoration of the republics’ diplomatic services. In the fall of 1944, Soviet Lithuania, along with the Ukraine and Belarus, were proposed for acceptance into the UN.17 Around that time, the leaders of Soviet Lithuania began to think about the possibility of expanding the republic’sSoviet sovereignty.” Metaphorically speaking, in the activities of Lithuania’s Communists one can notice the tendency to move towards national communism.

I will present an example. In the spring of 1944, as the Red Army was approaching Lithuania, the leaders of the LSSR began to consider the possibility of returning to the country and restoring the Soviet social and political order, in all likelihood at the initiative of Moscow. In March 1944, Mečislovas Gedvilas, Chairman of the Council of the People’s Commissars (CPC) of the Lithuanian SSR, appealed for assistance to Lithuanian Communist Party (LCP) Secretary Antanas Sniečkus, suggesting that the Central Committee bureau discuss the principles of the restoration of the Soviet system in Lithuania.18 Unfortunately, we know little about how the debate actually occurred. However, we do have the decision of a joint project of the Lithuanian SSR CPC and the LCP Central Committee, by the same name, which was addressed to the USSR government and the Central Committee of Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU). In it, the leaders of the Lithuanian SSR “asked” the USSR leadership to determine the principles of the restoration of the Soviet system. According to the third point, the Lithuanian SSR would not adopt “automatically” the ordinances pertaining to the republics of the Union, but rather, having taken into account the general situation of the restoration of the Soviet system, it would accept the ordinances “by the resolutions and decrees of the organs of the republic.”19 We know nothing about the Kremlin’s reaction to the initiatives of Lithuania’s Communists, nor do we know in general whether such a project was sent to the USSR leaders. The point cited here remained only on paper, and there was no further mention of it anywhere, although, of course, it testified to certain “sovereignty” ambitions of the leadership of Soviet Lithuania.20

The leaders of the Lithuanian SSR returned to Lithuania in July 1944. In the fall of that year, Moscow sharply criticized the LCP leadership for a variety oferrors and failures in their work that testify to their inability to control the public and the political situation in the republic.Organizational conclusions were drawn: in November, the CPSU established the Lithuanian bureau. Michail Suslov was appointed chairman of the bureau.21 The bureau became the most important political institution of the Lithuanian SSR, almost all of the important decisions of the LCP, the Council of People’s Commissars and the Supreme Council presidium were adopted only with its consent.22 The establishment of such an institution not only in each of the Baltic republics, but also in the Moldavian SSR clearly testified to the strengthening of the centralistic and unification trends in the western borderlands of Soviet Union. From Moscow‘s point of view, the Communist parties in the region were weak and the Soviet government did not have significant support among the local populations. It was therefore necessary to consolidate Communist Parties. The situation in Lithuania was more complicated: the mobilization of Lithuanians into the Red Army (which began at the end of July and the beginning of August 1944) collapsed,23 and armed resistance grew stronger. On the other hand, after the defeat of the Warsaw Uprising, Moscow began increasingly to abandon the idea of “raising” the international “prestige” of the Baltic republics, first and foremost because the West perceived this policy as an attempt to obtain the recognition of the incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union.24 Thus on the basis of various considerations, these kinds of proposals were usually rejected. (Finally, Moscow abandoned the idea of inviting the Lithuanian SSR to the UN at the Yalta conference.)

The fight with the increasingly stronger partisan movement and various manifestations of “bourgeois nationalism” became one of the most important tasks of the Lithuanian bureau. On May 24, 1945, at a meeting of Lithuania’s bureau, it was decided to extend the fight against the armed and unarmed underground. In the summer, a major military operation against the guerrilla movement was planned and carried out.25 In the middle of July, the mass deportations of the families of partisans began.26 The Russification campaign of Lithuania’s Communist Party gained ever more momentum.27 Under these circumstances, the bureau of Lithuania and the Lithuanian government decided to organize the first congress of the intelligentsia of the Lithuanian SSR.28 The congress began on July 10 and lasted for a total of five days.

In this article, I will discuss the goals that were pursued by the Lithuanian SSR government in convening the congress and the demands that were placed by some of the congress delegates on the Soviet Lithuanian government. During the congress, some of the demands raised by the delegates had a clear national orientation and testified to the importance in the minds of the delegates of the goal of autonomy, albeit within the framework of the Soviet system. On the other hand, the policies of the government and the Moscow emissaries were increasingly coercive and were increasingly focused on centralization and unification.29

The Organization of the Congress and the Government’s Goals

Judging from the letter of bureau head M. Suslov to CPSU CC Secretary G. Malenkov, the idea of convening the congress of the intelligentsia arose in the spring of 1945. According to Suslov, the purpose of the congress was to expandourinfluence on the intelligentsia and to acquaint the intelligentsia with the achievements of the Soviet government.30 In general, formally, the congress of intellectuals was not a special event, and essentially it illustrated clearly the specifics of the Stalinist political system. The government would organize similar events,congresses,” in the hopes of acquiring the support of various social groups and thus buttressing its legitimacy. In Lithuania in the first half of the same year, congresses of “labor peasants” and trade unions were held.

And yet, this congress was special for two important reasons: first, it was a congress of Lithuanian intelligentsia in Vilnius; second, for the Soviet Lithuanian government, the support of Lithuania’s intellectuals, especially the older generation of the intelligentsia, which had taken formed in bourgeois Lithuania,” was particularly significant. Given the ever growing partisan movement and the complicated economic and social situation, nothing else could have done more to legitimize the government of Soviet Lithuania than the activeinvolvement in the construction of socialism” of the intellectuals, especially those who were members of the cultural elite.

The government therefore prepared seriously for the congress. The organization of the congress cost about 200,000 rubles. The participants were well fed. They were given cards with which they were able to purchase 500 rubles-worth of goods.31 (However, according to the Lithuanian SSR NKGB Commissar Aleksandras Gudaitis-Guzevičius, the goods were of poor quality and the logistics were poorly organized.)32 After the meetings, a cultural program was organized: there were lectures and performances, including even a ballet from Moscow. A total of about 540 delegates and 250 guests came to the congress. (According to the initial plans, there would have been 600 delegates and 300 guests.) Some guests came from Moscow, including Mikhail Jovchuk, who served as deputy head of the CPSU CC propaganda and agitation department, several employees of the CPSU CC apparatus and several members of the Academy of Sciences.

The government took care of more than just the everyday lives of the delegates. Judging from the reports of Commissar A. Guzevičius, 64 agents observed” the events of the congress and another 25 NKGB workers were sent asservice agents.33 Over the course of the whole congress, security officialsdetected” 27 “anti-Soviet elements,” two of whom were arrested. According to Guzevičius, the majority of the delegates (teachers, principals, physicians, agronomists, surveyors, etc.) were from rural areas, and they werechosen” by the local government and party committees.34 However, the representatives of the cultural elite (writers, directors, actors) and the academic elite (high school principals, professors), who played the most important roles in the congress (they were the main speakers), were invited to the congress. Some of them, for instance Vilnius Academy of Arts professor Justinas Vienožinskis, declined to participate in it.35 There were others who wanted to participate, but for one reason or another could not.36

The question arises whether the government in any way attempted to influence the speakers or the statements they made, i.e. to censor them in advance. I would dare to say that it did not. The content of the speeches the texts of which have survived, the reactions of the participants, and the discussions that were held during the congress testify that the government avoided direct interference or pressure.37 On the other hand, it should also be noted that the information in the press about the congress was presented in “doses”: the full speeches of Lithuanian SSR Supreme Presidium Chairman J. Paleckis and the LCP CC Secretary A. Sniečkus were published. The speeches (there were about 40) of the delegates were summarized or paraphrased, but in general those that were particularly critical with regards to the government were not mentioned. Basing his conclusions on the reports of agents, Guzevičius informed USSR NKGB Deputy Commissar Amajak Kobulov that the participants had the impression that they enjoyed complete freedom of speech. Some of the participants were pleasantly surprised. According to the Lithuanian SSR Security Commissar, there were some participants who thought that they would not be allowed to speak freely. Indeed they feared that they would be arrested and deported to Siberia. Among the arrivals from the rural areas such rumors were especially prevalent. 38

I mentioned that the congress can be called a congress of Lithuanian intelligentsia in Vilnius. I failed to find data on the national composition of the congress participants. Probably no such data were recorded. The press noted that the intellectuals arrived in Vilnius from all corners of Lithuania, however, I would guess that the overwhelming majority of them were Lithuanians, i.e. representatives of the titular nation. So my guess regarding the informal nature of the congress, as it was perceived by most members of the congress, was based on several assumptions: first, almost all the speakers were Lithuanians.39 Prominent representatives of the interwar Lithuanian intelligentsia took part in the congress and delivered speeches.40 Only a few of them were members of the Communist Party. The famous Lithuanian opera singer Kipras Petrauskas was “elected to the presidium” of the congress. Second, the report of Paleckis, although formally entitled “The Current Moment and the Challenges for the Intelligentsia of Soviet Lithuania,” also contained a subsection with the revealing title The Road of the Lithuanian Intelligentsia” (in other words the title emphasized the national belonging of the intelligentsia, an assertion which was at odds with the Marxist principle of internationalism); third, several of the delegates in their statements at the congress compared the gathering with the Great Seimas of Vilnius in 1905, at which “autonomy for ethnographic Lithuania with Vilnius was demanded from the czarist Russian government.41 Of course, such associations were not reflected in the official press. Indeed, in his introductory speech Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars Mečislovas Gedvilas even declared that the congress was the first such event in the history of Lithuania.

The objectives of the government were formulated in several editorial articles of Tiesa (Truth) and Tarybų Lietuva (Soviet Lithuania) and the statements made by Lithuanian SSR Supreme Council Presidium Chairman Paleckis at the congress. The articles published in the newspapers stressed the progressive role of the intelligentsia in history and also noted that the “most prominent part of the [Lithuanian] intelligentsia remained loyal to the people.” There was also talk about the mission of the intelligentsia, which was to educate in the “spirit of Soviet patriotism, to fight against “bourgeois nationalist ideology,” to promote the achievements of other Soviet republics, and to develop national culture (“national in form, socialist in content”). In order to carry out such a mission, the authors of the editorial articles asserted, it was necessary for the Lithuanian intelligentsia to “arm themselves with the doctrine of Marxism-Leninism,” to engage actively in the fight against bourgeois nationalism and generally to follow the principles of socialism.42 Thus, the principles of the cooperation of Soviet Lithuania and the intelligentsia were formulated: the intelligentsia acknowledges and accepts the “principles of socialism” and relies on the Marxist-Leninist worldview, while the Soviet Lithuanian government takes care of national culture, the content of which, of course, had to be socialist.

A similar ideas was proclaimed by Justas Paleckis on the first day of the congress. Lithuanian historians have noted that among other leaders of the Lithuanian Communist Party Paleckis was distinguished not only for his “liberalism,” but also as someone who “quite often voiced his dissatisfaction with the policy of Russification,” and in general was “a Communist of national consciousness.”43 Paleckis’ turn towards “national communism” is confirmed by “Lietuvos laisvos darbo respublikos kūrimo programa” (A Program for the Creation of Lithuania as a Republic of Free Labor), which he wrote as early as the autumn of 1939. The program encourages the fairly radical transformation of the authoritarian political system, but it does not call for sovietization; on the other hand, it speaks not so much on the behalf of the Lithuanian nation, but rather on behalf of the Lithuanian people. In other words, it is about a community that is defined more by class considerations than national sentiments; from the geopolitical point of view, the future Lithuania as a republic of labor was projected by Paleckis as a protectorate of the USSR.44 In fact, this political program matched the attitudes of the People’s Front that were promoted and actively supported by Moscow and the Comintern.

In the first half of 1940s, Paleckis was balancing between attitudes characteristic of Central European national communism and national bolshevism. He tried to emphasize the specifics of the historical development of Lithuania and its differences from other Soviet republics, in which the formation of the Soviet regime had begun earlier. According to him, the tradition of statehood made Lithuania a unique republic, and this circumstance should be taken into account in the transformation of Lithuania into a soviet. Paleckis was convinced that in order to make soviet authority more attractive to the Lithuanians, it would be necessary to cooperate with the nation’s cultural elite, in other words the interwar Lithuanian intelligentsia, and to promote the use of Lithuanian in public life. Also, Paleckis stressed the importance of “national revival,” and the most famous representatives of this revival, Jonas Basanavičius and Vincas Kudirka, for Soviet Lithuanian culture. Of course according to him, the “real liberation” of the Lithuanian nation from national oppression was crowned with the establishment of the Soviet government in Lithuania. Finally, Paleckis tried to incorporate national elements into the system of symbols of Soviet Lithuania. He actively supported the idea of making the hymn of the Lithuanian Republic, Kudirkas’ “National song,” the hymn of Soviet Lithuania. The Lithuanization of the symbols of Soviet power, must have hoped, would strengthen the legitimacy of the Communist government.45

So in his speech, Paleckis discussed the challenges that faced the Soviet Lithuanian intelligentsia. Essentially, he repeated what had already been written in the press, though he discussed the challenges that faced each group of intellectuals in greater detail. He mentioned the necessity, for the intelligentsia, of studying Marxism (he contended that the Lithuanian intellectual would find all the answers to his doubts in “the writings of the great sages of socialism from Marx to Stalin”). He drew particular emphasis to the importance of the historical relationship with Russia, stressing the positive impact of Russia’s civilization on Lithuania (communist Russia had liberated Lithuania from the yoke of czarism, returned Vilnius, and so on). He also explained the necessity of fighting against “bourgeois nationalists,” “Hitler’s laborers,” He ended the speech with the cry “Long live the great leader and teacher, comrade Stalin! According to what was written in the press, the hall was filled with “thunderous applause.” So for the time, it was a fairly ordinary, orthodox speech.

However, in the report there was a part entitled “The Road of the Lithuanian Intelligentsia,” and this section could hardly be called orthodox.46 It was an obvious reference to the national aspirations of Lithuanian intellectuals. In a speech by a spokesman for Marxism–Leninism, this, of course, was peculiar. In this part of the speech, Paleckis tried to combine two traditions that were, in his view, characteristic of the Lithuanian national movement: the struggle for social liberation and the struggle for national liberation. He asserted that the struggle for Lithuanian “national liberation” “coincided” with the solution to the social question, i.e. the struggle of the peasant against the landlord. In that struggle “from the depths of the common people” there arose the “new Lithuanian intelligentsia,” who carried out “the work of awakening Lithuanian nation.” According to Paleckis two most prominent activists represented the “new Lithuanian intelligentsia”: Vincas Kudirka (the founder of illegal Lithuanian paper Aušra (The Dawn) and composer of anthem of Lithuanian Republic) and Vincas Mickevičius-Kapsukas (the founder of Lithuanian Communist Party.) So they both began the fight for real Lithuanian folk matters, liberation from the yoke of czarism, as well as rights and land,” Paleckis explained.

In the end, according to Paleckis, the Soviet government completed the “liberation of the Lithuanian nation.” The interwar bourgeois Lithuania did not meet the “progressive ideals of the national movement,and in an attempt to emphasize the idea to the people assembled, he cited a stanza by famous Lithuanian poet and priest Maironis: Lithuania land of heroes / We have sung from long ago; But from that greatness only / the devils reap their benefits.” This organic interpretation of the nation’s history, according to which national liberation was naturally combined with the “people’sstruggle for social rights, is characteristic, according to some researchers, of national communism.47 This was an effort to demonstrate that the Soviet system was “compatible” with national ideals.

Of course, in Paleckis’ speech there were still a few important aspects. One of the parts of the speech was entitled “Bourgeois nationalists—Hitler’s laborers.” In this section, Paleckis argued that the armed underground had been engendered by the Nazi occupation and ultimately had the same goals, namely to destroy the Lithuanian nation. In his assessment, it was therefore, necessary to fight against it, and it was important for the intelligentsia to enter into this fight. And there was another important idea in the speech that is very often found in the official discourse, namely the necessity of strengthening ties and friendship with the Russian people. According to Paleckis, the Russian people and their Red Army had rescued the Lithuanian nation from Nazi extermination. Furthermore, the Lithuanian and Russian nations were bound by old “historical ties.” Both nations had long fought against the Germans invaders. According to Paleckis, “Mindaugas signed a treaty with Aleksandr Nevsky against the Teutonic knights, and together they crushed them.” The same event occurred “at Žalgiris,” where the Lithuanians defeated the Teutonic knights with the help of the Russians. The fight of the Russian populists against czarism had a significant impact on the Lithuanian national movement. Their influence had also been important in the “progressive Varpas movement” begun by V. Kudirka. Finally, the struggle of the Russian proletariat had awoken” Lithuania’s workers and peasants. So, Paleckis tried in every way to emphasize the progressive civilizing influence of the Russian nation: it was thanks to the Russian people that the Lithuanians freed themselves from the clutches of czarism and Vilnius was returned to the Lithuanians, etc. Russian culture was characterized as “humane,” a refreshing source that “also refreshes the culture of our nation,as the presidium chairman explained to those assembled.

Moscow began to promote very actively the idea of the common battle of the Slavic nations against German expansion to the east during the war. This pan-Slavic doctrine and pan-Slavic policies had some foundation. The victims of German aggression were largely Slavic states and nations. On the other hand, the idea of Slavic unity did not rule out the special role of the Russian nation (the Soviet Union) in the Slavic world.48 Of course, it should be noted that in the 1930s some political groups in Lithuania, such as the Young Peasant Populists, whose leader at that time was Paleckis, regarded the Soviet Union and the Russian people as the main ally of the Lithuanian nation in the fight against the “aggressiveness of the Germans.”49

Standpoints of the Congress Delegates

Paleckis’ programmatic speech became a subject of debate among the delegates. Virtually all of the speakers responded to it directly or indirectly.50 How did members of the congress, the delegates (the Lithuanian intelligentsia), respond to the speech, and, more generally, to what extent did they fulfill the government’s wishes? Judging from the available archival data, one can assert, of course, somewhat schematically, that among the intellectuals two main provisions dominated. Some of the delegates, characterizing socialism as a “global development trend” that guaranteed social progress and enabled the development of the national aspirations of the Lithuanians, endorsed and supported thepath of the development” of socialist Lithuania. Of course, they also saw the system’s imperfections and threats to national sovereignty, and they spoke about this publicly. After World War II, there were likeminded intellectuals in other countries, apart from Lithuania. Second, some of the intellectuals present at the congress were skeptical with regards to Soviet Lithuania or even rejected Soviet Lithuania in principle. They identified the Soviet government with Russification, and thought that Russification was inevitable and the sovereignty of the Lithuanian SSR was an illusion. Of course, they could not express themselves publicly, but security officials made notes regarding such non-public comments in the corridors of the congress.

What were these comments? Some members of the congress were concerned less with Paleckis’s speech and more with the question of whether an independent Lithuania would be “restored.” For some, it seemed that the “question of Lithuania” should finally be resolved at the “conference of the heads of three countries.” The director of the Raseiniai high school Karumas, who was already being observed by security forces “as a nationalist,” thought this way. In the opinion of agronomist Baltušnikas, “the word (of Paleckis) will not help anything, the English and American tanks will decide.”51 Another participant doubted whether Paleckis would be able “to resist Moscow’s will.” Someone called the speech by Paleckis a sermon that had little to do with reality.52 During the congress, professor and composer Balys Dvarionas, who in 1949 was awarded the Stalin Prize of the first degree and in 1950 wrote music for the Lithuanian SSR anthem, tried to comfort himself: I want to flee from Lithuania, now it is not Lithuania here, but Russia, and the University of Vilnius professor Gudaitis resented that those who had fought against the Fascists were being taken to Siberia.53 Writer A. Žukauskas mentioned the difficult plight of the peasants, who were oppressed both by the “bandits and the NKVD punishments.”54 Delegates from Telšiai and Kaunas recounted the rumors according to which at the end of the congress the government would force the participants to sign an appeal and then would deport them to Siberia. Overall, the delegates from the provinces feared what would happen to them when they returned home. Apparently, they feared reprisals from the partisans.

And how were the sentiments of support for the Lithuanian nation Lithuanian national autonomy expressed at the congress? One of the first speakers, professor Jonas Kairiūkštis (a physician, then non-party), approved of Paleckis’ views and invited the congress participants to “adopt and understand” the socialist system: “one can move forward only when you are convinced that the government will be on duty guarding national interests, only then are you calm for the happy future of the nation.” He continued: “We intellectuals ... patriots of our country, we love the antiquity of our land, the language, we love our nation’s traditions and culture.” (Incidentally, in the LCP official newspaper Tiesa, where the speech of Kairiūkštis was published, the passages cited here were omitted.) The professor concluded his speech by saying that “in socialism the loss of national identity does not threaten the Lithuanians.”55 I think that the principle of mutual cooperation between the intelligentsia and the Soviet government was formed as early as the very beginning of the congress: a government that would take care of the development of national Lithuanian culture was considered worthy of support. Similar thoughts and ideas were expressed by other delegates. Some drew more emphasis to the advantages of socialism and the prospects it would create (such as deputy rector of Vilnius University, professor of physics and chemistry Juozas Matulis, who became an LCP member in 1950). This motif was repeated in the reports of many speakers. Others stressed concern about the necessity of the culture of the Lithuanian nation, such as Borisas Dauguvietis (LSSR senior director of the theater, non-party). Recently returned from a Nazi concentration camp, writer Balys Sruoga addressed those assembled: “with the deepest respect and love I welcome every creative effort, every labor, great or small, that refreshes our land.”56 The writer thanked the party and the government for having rescued him, which is entirely understandable.57

However, the speeches of several people at the congress stood out specifically because of their national overtones and their critical attitudes towards the authorities. The speech of botanist and Vilnius University professor Jonas Dagys was remarkable in this regard (in Tiesa and Tarybų Lietuva there was only brief mention of his speech.) First, Dagys talked about the need to bring members of the Lithuanian intelligentsia whohad been shipped from Lithuania to various corners of the USSR, Siberia and Kazakhstan in 1941” back to Lithuania.58 Although according to the professor, that had been merely a precautionary measure, “it was carried out in haste and therefore many mistakes were made.It was necessary to rectify these errors, he declared. Therefore, the speaker appealed to the leaders of the Lithuanian SSR to “undertake measures and create conditions for the Lithuanian intellectuals to return to their homeland.(In the archival transcript of the speech, after this passage one finds the words “fierce applause.59) He also criticized NKVD Commissar Juozas Bartašiūnas for his article in Tiesa.60 According to Dagys, in the article commissar used many kinds of threats and harsh words.” Such words only dissuaded those who wanted to get out of the forest, and after all, one found not only criminals in the woods, but also people who wanted to avoid mobilization. In conclusion, Dagys noted that one should go to socialism not only armored in the science of Marxism, but also “with love and nurture,” It is clear the speech raised uncomfortable questions for the government. According to the accounts of the security officials, the speech was actively discussed behind the scenes of the congress. There were some who thought that the author would be punished one way or another. At the same time, the security officials noted that the professor’s ideas had far more supporters, and “only a very small percentage disagreed.”61 At the convention, only People’s Commissar of Education Juozas Žiugžda responded publicly to Dagys’ speech. (Understandably, in the pages of the newspapers, this criticism of the speech also was not published, although the greater part of the Commissar’s speech was printed.) Žiugžda attacked Dagys, accusing him of not knowing the theory and practice of Marxism, Leninism, and Stalinism and contending that it was inappropriate for the professor to talk from “the venerable rostrum about what he himself does not understand.”62

The national aspirations were highlighted even more strongly in the speech by Agriculture Academy Rector Matas Mickis (in 1940–1941, he served as minister of agriculture in the so-called People’s government, and he joined the party in 1949). I will offer more extensive citations from his speech because it was not published in the press. According to the rector, Lithuanians were a small nation. “Various invaders lay claim to its sovereignty”: Polish landlords, Germans, czarist Russia, which not only sought to enslave, but also took away the press.63 However, the “small nation” also wanted to be free. It wanted to preserve its culture and language. On the other hand, Mickis pointed out, Lithuanians had a “great history.” And this showed that Lithuanians were a mature nation,with their own national character and customs, which they valued, and they were no less proud of these customs than large nations were of theirs.64

Like the Russians, Mickis continued, the Lithuanian nation had many heroes, who nurtured its statehood. They know what Vytautas the Great, a hero of our nation, had given them. No one can deny the significance of his feats. He had been victorious at Žalgiris, and he had stopped the German onslaught from the West. He made a contribution to the history of mankind. V. Kudirka also gave a lot to the nation. (According to Mickis, Stalin was enthralled by the national anthem of Kudirka, by its dignity and beauty.)

He also emphasized in his speech that for a small nation the true road” is the socialist path: we Lithuanians do not want anything more than to be equal, not to be thrown in the shade, and only the socialist system provides such conditions.” The Soviet system, the professor said, also can solve the national question: “The essence of socialism is that it allows all nations to live their cultural lives freely.65

However, according to Mickis the practices of socialism do not always conform to the ideas proclaimed. In rural areas, “there was a lot of tactlessness and arbitrariness” from the Soviet administration. Arrivals from other republics, not knowing the Lithuanian language, insulted it. There were numerous institutions in which representatives and functionaries could not understand Lithuanian. All this was vexing to Lithuanians, Mickis explained. As a result, in his opinion, the fear of Russification arose. As an example, Mickis pointed out the Utena district policeman, who mocked the Lithuanian language. Below I will quote an extract from the archival copy of the speech: “He [the policeman] is the same kind of black hundred of whom there were many in the times of the czar. (applause) The government will throw such refuse out of our republic. (applause) They are not only enemies of our nation, but also enemies of socialism. (applause) The militiaman visits a peasant and tells him to open his suitcases... [he is robbing – author’s comment] (applause)”66 If you want socialism, Mickis ended his speech, you yourself must set an example.67

The national sentiments of the intelligentsia found expression in other forms in the congress. Even though at the very beginning of the congress Gedvilas had stated that it was the first congress of its kind, in their speeches several delegates publicly recalled the Vilnius Seimas, in which Lithuanians raised the political demand for the first time: “autonomy for ethnographic Lithuania, with the capital Vilnius.”68 Thus, the speakers emphasized the historic link between the Lithuanian SSR congress of the intelligentsia and the Great Seimas of Vilnius. (It is understandable that neither in Tiesa nor in Tarybų Lietuva were there any references to the Great Seimas of Vilnius.) Professor Pranas Mažylis (a member of the interwar Social Democratic Party and member of the Academy as of 1946) recalled that in the same hall in 1905 there had been “a large meeting of Lithuania’s peasants, workers and intellectuals, usually called the Great Seimas of Vilnius.69 He himself had participated in it, and the Seimas had had a significant impact on the revolution.Writer Karolis Račkauskas-Vairas also remembered the Seimas. According to him, it had been a congress of “Lithuanian peasants,” which had “pushed our people,” shaken the nation out of apathy, and shown it a new path.70

A few more meaningful facts merit mention that testify to the national ambitions of a sufficiently large number of the participants in the congress. These facts again exemplify how on some issues the approaches of the LSSR government and the intelligentsia, which promoted the “socialist road” but also emphasized the importance of the national factor, were different. Overall, it could be argued that part of the Lithuanian intelligentsia certainly supported the model of national communism. On the last day of the convention, after a sufficiently orthodox speech by A. Sniečkus, the text of an appeal to Lithuania’s intelligentsia was discussed.71 The literary critic Kostas Korsakas presented it to the congress. In the hall discussions arose on the text of the appeal and various additions were suggested.72 Academician Matulis, discussing the tasks of the intelligentsia, suggested adding “the Lithuanianization of Vilnius” to the appeal. According to him, the citizens of Poland were departing and Vilnius remained “half-empty.”73 He stressed the important of pursuing the Lithuanianization of Vilnius. This was met with “long applause.(According to Matulis, “Lithuanianization” was equally important in the case of Klaipėda, the major port city of Lithuania.) There were other proposals, including one regarding the return from the USSR to Lithuania of all Lithuanian intellectuals so that they could carry out restoration work in the homeland (this was also followed by thunderous applause). It is likely that the government did not expect such a proposal to be made. Council of People’s Commissars Chairman M. Gedvilas, who was chairing the meeting, agreed to include the provision concerning the Lithuanianization of Vilnius in the appeal. Regarding the second proposal, he contended that it would be meaningless, since the government was already making every effort to return them [the intellectuals].” In the end, the delegates scrapped this point.

The printed message in the official press on the work of the last day and the text of the appeal74 differed from the text agreed on by the Congress delegates and approved by the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars. In the official accounts in the press, there was no mention of making Vilnius more “Lithuanian,” a goal that was dear to the Lithuanian intellectuals who were willing to cooperate with the Soviet government. Rather, there were only references to the importance of the “reconstruction and accommodation” of Vilnius.


First, the government of Soviet Lithuania, by organizing the congress, sought to draw the intellectuals into the “constructionof the socialist system and the “fight against bourgeois nationalists.” The express approval of the intelligentsia for Soviet policies would have served the legitimization of the government. This was especially important, as the partisan movement was growing stronger. One should note that there were signs of such approval: the appeal to the intelligentsia of Soviet Lithuania was adopted, with greetings sent to Stalin. Second, the participants in the congress, the Lithuanian intelligentsia, the creative elite, in general agreed to support the “construction” of socialism under the condition that Lithuanian culture would be nurtured and favored. Not coincidentally, the congress proclaimed the necessity of making Vilnius, the old, traditional capital of Lithuania, “Lithuanian.” This goal was shared by various groups of intellectuals. Third, one can assume that some of the members of the leadership of the Lithuanian SSR thought that it would be possible to strike a deal with the “oldLithuanian intelligentsia, which had taken form “in bourgeois Lithuania.” The government would satisfy the most important (national) expectations of the intelligentsia, while the intelligentsia would offer support for the government’s policies. Unfortunately, while Lithuania’s Communists may have entertained such visions, they were never realized in practice. Moscow began to force Lithuania’s Sovietization. Not coincidentally, visitors from Moscow who observed the congress offered critical assessments of its results.75 Finally, if during the summer of 1945 the policies of the Soviet Lithuanian government were dominated by the spirit of national bolshevism, for some of Lithuania’s intellectuals, this was understood as national communism. This vision of a form of communism that would be at least in part a realization of national autonomy was to prove fleeting.

Archival Sources


Lietuvos Ypatingasis archyvas [Lithuanian Special Archive]. f.1771 [Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party].

Lietuvos Ypatingasis archyvas [Lithuanian Special Archive]. f. 3377 [Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party Institute of MarxismLeninism].

Lietuvos Ypatingasis archyvas [Lithuanian Special Archive]. f.K41 [State Security Committee of the Lithuanian SSR (NKGB-MGB-KGB)].

Vilniaus apskrities archyvas [Vilnius County Archive]. f.761 [The Executive Committee of Vilnius City].

Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos instituto bibliotekos rankraštynas [The Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore Manuscript Library]. f.1 [Writers and linguists].

Rossijskij gosudarstvennyj archiv socialno-politicheskoj istorii [Russian state archive of socio-political history]. f.597 [Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Lithuanian Bureau].


Published Documents

Už tarybinę lietuvių literatūrą. Lietuvos TSR tarybinių rašytojų susirinkimo, įvykusio 1946 m., medžiaga [For Soviet Lithuanian Literature. Materials of Meeting of Soviet Lithuanian Writers, held in 1946]. Vilnius: Grožinės literatūros leidykla, 1947.

SSSR i Litva v gody vtoroj mirovoj voiny. Sbornik dokumentov [Soviet Union and Lithuania during World War II. Documents]. Edited by A. Kasparavičius, Č. Laurinavičius, and N. Lebedeva, vol. 2, Vilnius: LII, 2012.

Archiv Stalina. Dokumenty vysshych organov partijnoj i gosudarstvennoj vlasti [Stalin’s Archive. Documents of Supreme Party and State Institutions]. Edited by V.N. Chaustov, V.P. Naumov, and N.S. Plotnikova. Moscow: Materik, 2006.



“Garbingi mūsų inteligentų uždaviniai” [The honorable Tasks of Our Intelligentsia]. Tiesa, July 10, 1945, 159.

Janušytė, Liūnė. “Ką kalba delegatai” [What Delegates Say]. Tiesa, July 12, 1945, 161.

“V. Molotovo pranešimas TSRS Aukščiausioje taryboje” [V. Molotov’s Report in the Session of Soviet Supreme Council]. Tarybų Lietuva, February 6, 1944, 6.

“Pirmojo tarybų Lietuvos inteligentijos suvažiavimo Kreipimasis į visus tarybų Lietuvos inteligentus” [Address of the First Congress of the Intelligentsia of Soviet Lithuania]. Tiesa, July 26, 1945, 172.

“Žengti išvien su visa darbo liaudimi” [Together with Working People]. Tarybų Lietuva [Soviet Lithuania], July 12, 1945, 153.


Anušauskas, Arvydas. Lietuvių tautos sovietinis naikinimas 1940–1958 metais [The Annihilation of the Lithuanian Nation by the Soviets, 1940–1958]. Vilnius: Mintis, 1996.

Anušauskas, Arvydas, et. al. Lietuva 1940–1990 m. Okupuotos Lietuvos istorija [Lithuania 1940–1990. The History of Occupied Lithuania]. Vilnius: Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos centras, 2005.

Brandenberger, David. National Bolshevism. Stalinist Mass Culture and the Formation of Modern Russian National Identity, 1931–1956. Cambridge–London: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Grybkauskas, Saulius. Sovietinė nomenklatūra ir pramonė Lietuvoje 1965–1985 metais [The Soviet Nomenclature and Industry in Lithuania in 1965–1985]. Vilnius: LII, 2011.

Hosking, Geoffrey. Rulers and Victims. The Russians in the Soviet Union. Cambridge–London: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Ivanauskas, Vilius. Lietuviškoji nomenklatūra biurokratinėje sistemoje. Tarp stagnacijos ir dinamikos (1968–1988) [Lithuanian Soviet Nomenclature within the Bureaucratic System: Between Stagnation and Dynamics (1968–1988)]. Vilnius: LII, 2011.

Kašauskienė, Vanda. Istorijos spąstuose. Justo Paleckio gyvenimo ir veiklos bruožai 1899–1980 [In the Pitfall of History. The Life and Activity of Justas Paleckis 1899–1980]. Vilnius: Gairės, 2014.

Laurinavičius, Česlovas. “Vvodnaya statya” [Introduction] SSSR i Litva v gody vtoroj mirovoj voiny. Sbornik dokumentov [The Soviet Union and Lithuania during World War II. Documents], edited by А. Каsparavičius, Č. Laurinavičius, and N. Lebedeva, vol. 2, 31–44. Vilnius: LII, 2012.

Malia, Martin. The Soviet Tragedy. A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917–1991. New York–Oxford: The Free Press, 1994.

Mark, Eduard. “Revolution by Degrees. Stalin’s National Front Strategy for Europe 1941–1947” Cold War International History Project. Working Paper no. 31. Washington: Wilson Center, 2001.

Mevius, Martin. Agents of Moscow. The Hungarian Communist Party and the Origin of Socialist Patriotism 1941–1953. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004.

Motieka, Egidijus. “Didysis Vilniaus seimas” [The Great Assembly of Vilnius]. Lietuvių atgimimo istorijos studijos. Vol. 11. Vilnius: Saulabrolis, 1996.

Paleckis, Justas. Pergalės saliutas [Victory Salute]. Vilnius: Mintis, 1985.

Paleckis, Justas. Ieškojome tikrų kelių [We Were Looking for Real Roads]. Vilnius: Vaga, 1987.

Pocius, Mindaugas. Kita mėnulio pusė. Lietuvos partizanų kova su kolaboravimu 1944–1953 metais [Far Side of the Moon. The Struggle of Partisans Against Collaboration in Lithuania, 1944–1953]. Vilnius: LII, 2009.

Pons, Silvio. “Stalin and the European Communists after World War Two (1943–1948),” In Post-war Reconstruction in Europe. International Perspectives, 1945–1949, ed. M. Mazower et al. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. 121–38.

van Ree, Erik. “The Concept of ‘National Bolshevism’: An Interpretative Essay,” Journal of Political Ideologies, 6 (2001): 289–307.

Roberts, Geoffrey. Stalin’s Wars. From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953. New Haven–London: Yale University Press, 2008.

Rudokas, Jonas. “Tarybinė Vilnijos polonizacija 1950–1956 metais” [The Polonization of Eastern Lithuania in 1950–1956]. Gairės, 7 (2011): 16–20.

Sirutavičius, Vladas. “Tautinis komunizmas ir jo raiška. Istoriografiniai problemos aspektai.” [National Communism and it’s Expression. Historiographical Aspects of the Problem]. Istorija, 3 (2013): 48–58.

Sygkelos, Yannis. “The National Discourse of the Bulgarian Communist Party on National Anniversaries and Commemorations (1944–1948).” Nationalities Papers 37, no. 4 (2009): 425–42.

Stravinskienė, Vitalija. “Lietuvių ir lenkų santykiai Rytų ir Pietryčių Lietuvoje: 1944 m. antra pusė–1953 m” [Inter-Ethnic Relations in East and Southeast Lithuania: late 1944–1953], Lietuvos istorijos metraštis [Lithuanian Historical Yearbook]. 2007, no. 2 (2008): 101–20.

Stravinskienė, Vitalija. Tarp gimtinės ir tėvynės: Lietuvos SSR gyventojų repatriacija į Lenkiją. [Between Mother-country and Homeland: The Repatriation of Citizens of Lithuanian SSR to Poland]. Vilnius: LII, 2011.

Streikus, Arūnas. “Sovietinio režimo pastangos pakeisti Lietuvos gyventojų tautinį identitetą” [Attempts by the Soviet Regime to Change the National Identity of the Lithuanians]. Genocidas ir rezistencija, 1 (2007): 7–30.

Šadžius, Henrikas. “VKP (b) CK Lietuvos biuro veikla organizuojant tautinio pasipriešinimo slopinimą” [Activities of the Lithuanian Bureau of CC of the CPSU in Organizing the Suppression of National Resistance]. Lietuvos istorijos metraštis 1997. Vilnius: Žara, 1998. 240–70.

Mindaugas Tamošaitis, “Justas Paleckis ir jaunieji valstiečiai liaudininkai” [Justas Paleckis and Young Populist]. Vilniaus istorijos metraštis (2007): 137–60.

Tininis, Vytautas. Sovietinė Lietuva ir jos veikėjai [Soviet Lithuania and Its Agents]. Vilnius: Enciklopedija, 1994.

Tininis, Vytautas. Sniečkus. 33 metai valdžioje. Antano Sniečkaus biografinė apybraiža [Sniečkus. 33 Years in Power. The Political Biography of Antanas Sniečkus]. Vilnius, 2000.

Tininis, Vytautas. Komunistinio režimo nusikaltimai Lietuvoje 1944 – 1953/The Crimes of the Communist Regime in Lithuania in 1944–1953. Vilnius: Generolo Jono Žemaičio Lietuvos karo akademija, 2003.

Tininis, Vytautas. Prievartinė mobilizacija į raudonąją armiją [Forced Conscription into the Red Army]. Vilnius: LGGRTC, 2014.

Tismăneanu, Vladimir. Stalinizm na każdą okazję. Polityczna historia rumuńskiego komunizmu [Stalinism for All Seasons: A Political History of Romanian Communism]. Krakow: Universitas, 2010.

Truska, Liudas. Lietuva 1938–1953 metais [Lithuania 1938–1953]. Kaunas: Šviesa, 1995.

Zaremba, Marcin. Komunizm, legitymacja, nacjonalizm. Nacjonalistyczna legitymacja władzy komunistycznej w Polsce [Communism, Legitimation, Nationalism. The Nationalistic Legitimation of the Communist Government in Poland]. Warsaw: Trio, 2001.

Zubkova, Elena. Pribaltika i Kreml. 1940–1953 [Baltic Countries and the Kremlin, 1940–1953]. Moscow: Rossijskaja politicheskaja enciklopedija, 2008.

1 Silvio Pons, “Stalin and the European Communists after World War Two (1943–1948),” in Post-war Reconstruction in Europe. International Perspectives, 1945–1949, ed. M. Mazover et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 124–29; Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin’s Wars. From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953 (New Haven–London: Yale University Press, 2008), 236–37; Eduard Mark, “Revolution by Degrees. Stalin’s National Front Strategy for Europe 1941–1947,” in Cold War International History Project. Working Paper no. 31, (Washington: Wilson Center, 2001), 6–7, 17–20.

2 Marcin Zaremba, Komunizm, legitymacja, nacjonalizm. Nacjonalistyczna legitymacja władzy komunistycznej w Polsce (Warsaw: Trio, 2001), 135–73; Martin Mevius, Agents of Moscow. The Hungarian Communist Party and the Origin of Socialist Patriotism 1941–1953 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004), 87–110.

3 David Brandenberger, National Bolshevism. Stalinist Mass Culture and the Formation of Modern Russian National Identity, 1931–1956 (Cambridge–London: Harvard University Press, 2002), 6.

4 Ibid., 6.

5 For more about the National Bolshevik conception see: Erik van Ree, “The Concept of National Bolshevism’: An Interpretative Essay,” Journal of Political Ideologies, 6 (2001): 289–307.

6 However, even authors who emphasize the differences between the two “policies and ideologiesalso note that the relationship between them was sufficiently “dialectic,” i.e. one could easily “switch” to the other. See, for example, Vladimir Tismăneanu, Stalinizm na każdą okazję. Polityczna historia rumuńskiego komunizmu (Cracow: Universitas, 2010), 37–40.

7 Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy. A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917–1991 (New York–Oxford: The Free Press, 1994), 322.

8 Elena Zubkova, Pribaltika i Kreml 1940–1953 (Moscow: Rossijskaja politicheskaja enciklopedia ROSSPEN, 2008), 128.

9 Recent Lithuanian historiography analyzes different manifestations of the autonomy, i.e. national communism, of the soviet Lithuanian nomenclature. However, this research covers the period from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s, and it is focused on the “local,” “indigenous” aspects of policy (economic and cultural). See Saulius Grybkauskas, Sovietinė nomenklatūra ir pramonė Lietuvoje 1965–1985 metais (Vilnius: LII, 2011), 111–38; Vilius Ivanauskas, Lietuviškoji nomenklatūra biurokratinėje sistemoje. Tarp stagnacijos ir dinamikos (1968–1988) (Vilnius: LII, 2011), 497–570. About the concepts of national communism, see: Vladas Sirutavičius, “Tautinis komunizmas ir jo raiška. Istoriografiniai problemos aspektai,” Istorija, 3 (2013): 48–58. The research was funded by a grant (No. VAT – 02/2010) from the Research Council of Lithuania.

10 Arvydas Anušauskas et. al., Lietuva 1940–1990 m. Okupuotos Lietuvos istorija (Vilnius: Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos centras, 2005), 270–82; Mindaugas Pocius, Kita mėnulio pusė. Lietuvos partizanų kova su kolaboravimu 1944–1953 metais (Vilnius: LII, 2009), 54.

11 Vytautas Tininis, Sniečkus. 33 metai valdžioje. Antano Sniečkaus biografinė apybraiža (Vilnius: n.p., 2000), 66–68.

12 Česlovas Laurinavičius, “Vvodnaya statya,” in SSSR i Litva v gody vtoroj mirovoj voiny. Sbornik dokumentov, ed. А. Кasparavičius, Č. Laurinavičius, and N. Lebedeva, vol. 2 (Vilnius: LII, 2012), 42–43.

13 The hymn of the Republic of Lithuania – “The National Song” of Vincas Kudirka – was the hymn of the Lithuanian SSR from 1944 until 1950.

14 Lithuanian Communist Party daily Tiesa (Truth) in April 1944, no. 14 published a proclamation signed by the head of National Union of Lithuania Domas Cesevičius, which was named “A word to Lithuanians.” In the proclamation, the author called for the urgent “restoration of the free and soviet Lithuania” in which “all Lithuanians could live freely and beautifully.” Cesevičius was arrested in 1940 and released in 1944.

15 In April 1944, LSSR Council of People’s Commissars decided to “obligate the persons working in the Lithuanian SSR Soviet industrial and other offices to learn the Lithuanian language [...] To obligate the Education commissar to organize courses, provide them with programs and instructors. [...] To let employees attend the courses twice a week in the evening.” “Resolution No.49,” Moscow, 28 04 1944, Lietuvos Ypatingasis archyvas (LYA) [Lithuanian Special Archive], f.1771 [Central Committee of Lithuanian Communist Party], ap.7, b.28, 17.

16 “V. Molotovo pranešimas TSRS Aukščiausioje taryboje,” Tarybų Lietuva, February 6, 1944, no. 6.

17 Laurinavičius, “Vvodnaya statya,” 43.

18 “Gedvilas letter to Sniečkui,” March 1, 1944, LYA, f.1771, ap.7, b.82, 5.

19 The original version of this decision: “Общесоюзные указы, постановления, распоряжения, приказы в Литовской ССР невводятся автоматически. Они вводятся в соответствии с общим ходом советского строительства указами, постановлениями, распоряжениями и приказами центральных государственных органов республики.” “СНК Литоской ССР и ЦК КП (б) Литвы. Постановление. Проект” [Lithuanian SSR Council of People’s Commisars and Central Committee of LCP. Resolution. Project], [1944] LYA, f.1771, ap.7, b.80, 80.

20 The representative of the USSR NKVD-NKGB in Lithuania, Ivan Tkachenko, on the basis of intelligence reports, wrote to his boss Lavrentij Beria in Moscow in July 1945 about the views of Justas Paleckis, Chairman of the Presidium of the Lithuanian SSR Supreme Soviet. In a private conversation Paleckis explained: our Lithuanian Communist roads are different. God only knows what ugly directives Moscow sends, and we are obliged to fulfill them. We know perfectly well what our country and nation want, but we are helpless. The dark forces of the Kremlin that can lead and bring the Lithuanian people to degeneration and extinction operate everywhere.” “Lubianka. Stalin i NKVD-NKGB-GUKR ‘Smersh.’ 1939–mart 1946,” in Archiv Stalina. Dokumenty vysshych organovв partijnoj i gosudarstvennoj vlasti, ed. V.N. Chaustov, V.P. Naumov, and N.S. Plotnikova (Moscow: Мaterik, 2006), 531.

21 Zubkovaam, Pribaltika i Kreml, 139–42.

22 Henrikas Šadžius, “VKP (b) CK Lietuvos biuro veikla organizuojant tautinio pasipriešinimo slopinimą,” Lietuvos istorijos metraštis 1997 (Vilnius: Žara, 1998), 241–42.

23 LCP CC secretary Vladas Niunka in a letter to Georgy Malenkov on 4 August 1944 explained that the mobilization was not suitably prepared: the mobilization was carried out “without publicly proclaiming” it and summons were not distributed to the people. For this reason, and due to the German propaganda,rumors began to be spread that the mobilization was just an excuse to transport Lithuanians to Siberia. LYA, f.1771, ap.7, b.85, 40. Also see Vytautas Tininis, Prievartinė mobilizacija į raudonąją armiją (Vilnius: LGGRTC, 2014), 47.

24 Laurinavičius, “Vvodnaya statya,” 43.

25 Šadžius, “VKP (b) CK Lietuvos biuro veikla,” 247–49.

26 From July 17, 1945 until the beginning of September 1945 about 4,500 persons were deported. Arvydas Anušauskas, Lietuvių tautos sovietinis naikinimas 1940–1958 metais (Vilnius: Mintis, 1996), 320–21, 328–29.

27 From the summer of 1944 until the spring of 1945 more than 6,000 officials, most of them Russians, were sent to Lithuania, by CPSU. Pocius, Kita mėnulio pusė, 54.

28 The course of the congress was well publicized at the time in the official central press in the newspaper Tiesa (Truth) of the LCP CC, and Tarybų Lietuva (Soviet Lithuania) of the Lithuanian SSR Supreme Council presidium. Most of the speeches of the delegates and translations of the speeches into Russian are stored in the Vilnius County Archive (VAA). The agency reports of security officials and the accounts of the congress proceedings are stored in Lithuania’s Special Archive (LYA). Some of the material of the congress is stored in the Rossijskij gosudarstvennyj archiv socialno-politicheskoj istorii (RGASPI) [Russian State Archive of Socio-political History].

29 The congress of intelligentsia was not discussed in Lithuanian historiography. Only Vytautas Tininis mentioned the event. He also published a few archival documents related to the congress. See Vytautas Tininis, Komunistinio režimo nusikaltimai Lietuvoje 1944–1953/The Crimes of the Communist Regime in Lithuania in 1944–1953 (Vilnius: Generolo Jono Žemaičio Lietuvos karo akademija, 2003), 13–14, 135–45.

30 Suslov also asked that various cultural activists be sent to Lithuania with lectures. “Suslovo’s letter to Malenkov,” May 22,1945, RGASPI, f.597 [Communist Party of Soviet Union Lithuanian Bureau], op.1, d.16, 50.

31 In the official party newspaper Tiesa, even a feuilleton was printed about the routine of the delegates. It was also argued that the statements of those arriving from the provinces were boring and that they repeated one another. Liūnė Janušytė, Ką kalba delegatai,” Tiesa, July 12, 1945, no. 161.

32 “Aleksandras Guzevičius report to the USSR NKGB deputy commissar Amajak Kobulov,” July 13,1945, LYA, f.K41 [State Security Committee of the Lithuanian SSR (NKGB-MGB-KGB), 2 directorate], ap.1, b.163, 197–98.

33 “Guzevičiaus report to Kobulov,” draft, 1945, LYA, f.K41, ap.1, b.163, 152.

34 “Guzevičiaus report to Kobulovui,” draft, 1945, 149.

35 Security officials recorded on such “anti-Soviet” statement by Vienožinskis: “I do not need a ticket to the congress, I’m not an ass, I cannot be bought.” “Report of the head of the second department LSSR NKGB Izotov,” July 10, 1945, LYA, f.K41, ap.1, b.163, 171.

36 Writer Sofija Kymantaitė – Čiurlionienė in a letter to Kostas Korsakas, on 22 July 1945, wrote: I hear that the Congress was particularly interesting, for myself, as a writer it is especially important to observe such historical moments, but you can see what kind of a pilot I am now.” The Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore Manuscript Library (LLITI BR), f.1-4739 [Writers and linguists], no pages.

37 Suslov, head of Lithuanian bureau, participated in the work of the congress, but he did not speak.

38 “Guzevičiaus report to Kobulov,” draft, 1945, 151.

39 Only a few non-Lithuanians spoke up at the congress: Jewish writer Jacob Josadė and a visitor from Moscow, the previously mentioned Jovchuk.

40 Theatre director Borisas Dauguvietis, physician and professor Jonas Kairiūkštis, physicist professor Juozas Matulis, Vilnius university rector professor Kazimieras Bieliukas, physician professor Pranas Mažylis, director Aleksandras Kupstas, biologist professor Jonas Dagys, actress M. Mironaitė, painter V. Jurkūnas, Kaunas university vice-rector professor J. Kupčinskas, former diplomat and writer Karolis Vairas-Račkauskas, rector of the Academy of Agriculture Matas Mickis, writers Julius Būtėnas, Balys Sruoga, Ieva Simonaitytė, Aantanas Vienuolis (Žukauskas), professor Viktoras Ruokis, astronomer professor P. Slavėnas, composer B. Dvarionas, professor J. Vabalas-Gudaitis, professor J. Laužikas.

41 For more see Egidijus Motieka, “Didysis Vilniaus seimas,” in Lietuvių atgimimo istorijos studijos, vol. 11 (Vilnius: Saulabrolis, 1996.)

42 “Garbingi mūsų inteligentų uždaviniai,” Tiesa, July 10, 1945, no. 159; “Žengti išvien su visa darbo liaudimi,” Tarybų Lietuva, July 12, 1945, 153.

43 Vytautas Tininis, Sovietinė Lietuva ir jos veikėjai (Vilnius: Enciklopedija, 1994), 214–15; Liudas Truska, Lietuva 1938–1953 metais (Kaunas: Šviesa, 1995), 134–35; Vanda Kašauskienė, Istorijos spąstuose. Justo Paleckio gyvenimo ir veiklos bruožai 1899–1980 (Vilnius: Gairės, 2014), 497–504. In 1950, leaders of the LCP discussed the question of how to organize education in Polish-populated districts of east Lithuania. In the opinion of Paleckis and Gedvilas, after the repatriation of the Poles, the Poles who remained in the Vilnius region were just Polonized Lithuanians and their further Polonization through the development of education in Polish would not have been purposeful. The party discussions were won by Sniečkus and his supporters, and practical politics was based on the principle of “proletarian internationalism.” See Vitalija Stravinskienė, “Lietuvių ir lenkų santykiai Rytų ir Pietryčių Lietuvoje: 1944 m. antra pusė–1953 m.,” Lietuvos istorijos metraštis, 2007 metai, 2 (2008): 95–96; Arūnas Streikus, “Sovietinio režimo pastangos pakeisti Lietuvos gyventojų tautinį identitetą,” Genocidas ir rezistencija, 1 (2007): 22–23; Jonas Rudokas, “Tarybinė Vilnijos polonizacija 1950–1956 metais,” Gairės, 7 (2011): 17–18;

44 Justas Paleckis, Ieškojome tikrų kelių (Vilnius: Vaga, 1987), 134–36.

45 Idem, Pergalės saliutas (Vilnius: Mintis, 1985), 105. In summer 1944, the CC of LCP decided “to turn the national song [the hymn of Lithuanian Republic] into an instrument which could strengthen the soviet government.” Проект постановления к вопросу o гимне. Постановление ЦК КП (б) Литвы [Central Committee of LCP: the question of anthem, project and resolution], 1944 06 21, LYA, f.1771, ap.7, b.267, 41. The National song was formally the hymn of Soviet Lithuania till 1950.

46 Tiesa, July 18, 1945, no. 166.

47 Yannis Sygkelos, “The National Discourse of the Bulgarian Communist Party on National Anniversaries and Commemorations (1944–1948),” Nationalities Papers 37, no. 4 (2009): 426.

48 Roberts, Stalin’s Wars, 210; Geoffrey Hosking, Rulers and Victims. The Russians in the Soviet Union (Cambridge–London: Harvard University Press, 2006), 207–09.

49 The Young Peasant Populists maintained close ties with the LCP, and some were members of the Communist party. Some of the Young Peasant Populists, such as Paleckis, Gedvilas, Vaišnoras, Gregorauskas, Kežinaitis, Drobnys and others, pursued careers in Soviet Lithuania. Of course, most of them were gradually pushed out from active political life and a few faced measures of active repression. Juozas Vaišnoras, “Memories about People’s Front” (manuscript), 1966, LYA, f. 3377 [CC LCP Institute of Marxism–Leninism] ap.46, b.964, 1320. Mindaugas Tamošaitis, “Justas Paleckis ir jaunieji valstiečiai liaudininkai,” Vilniaus istorijos metraštis (Vilnius: VPI, 2007), 137–60.

50 The security officials in their reports very carefully recorded the non-public negative and positive comments about the Paleckis’ speech and came to the conclusion that the majority of the delegates reacted to the speech positively. Some even praised it. “Guzevičius report to Kobulov,” a draft, 1945, 157.

51 “Guzevičius report to Kobulov,” a draft, 1945, 152–53.

52 “Guzevičius report to Justui Paleckiui,” July 12, 1945 LYA, f.K41, ap.1, b.163, 176–77.

53 “Guzevičius report to Kobulov,” a draft, 1945, 152–53. “Guzevičius report to Kobulov,” July 14 193–94.

54 “Report of the head of second department LSSR NKGB Izotov,” 170.

55 “Kairiūkštis speech,” VAA, f.761 [The Executive Committee of Vilnius city], ap.9, b.35, 15.

56 “Sruoga speech,” typewriting, LLITI BR, f.1-5741 [Writers and linguists], 1–2.

57 However, in 1946 the writers congress Sruoga was harshly criticized by the LCP bureau member Kazys Preikšas. Preikšas accused the writer of continuing to be under the influence of “bourgeois culture” and representing a mentality that was “alien to the Soviet way of life.” The novel Forest of Gods, in which Sruoga potrayed the lives of inmates in the Nazi concentration camps, was banned from publication. Už tarybinę lietuvių literatūrą. Lietuvos TSR tarybinių rašytojų susirinkimo, įvykusio 1946 m., medžiaga (Vilnius: Grožinės literatūros leidykla, 1947), 22–23.

58 “Dagys speech,” VAA, f.761, ap.9, b.35, 61.

59 Ibid., 62.

60 The article by Bartašiūnas entitled “We will pull out at the roots the most wicked enemies of the Lithuanian nation—the Lithuanian German nationalists.” In the article, the commissar reminded his readers that the government amnesty for “members of gangs” was still valid: those who surrenderedwill be allowed to atone for their serious crimes.Those who did not surrender, according to the commissar, could expect fierce punishment.” Also, anyone who helped the “bandits” would be punished “with all the severity of Soviet laws.” Tiesa, May 25, 1945, no. 120.

61 “Guzevičiaus report to Kobulov,” July 14, 1945, 80.

62 Guzevičius called the statement of Žiugžda memorable.

63 “Mickis speech,” VAA, f.761, ap.9, b.35, 72.

64 Ibid., 73.

65 Ibid., 73.

66 Ibid., 76–77.

67 Neither Dagys nor Mickis was persecuted because of the speeches they held at the congress. (At the time, Dagys was under observation as “a nationalist” by the intelligence forces. See Tininis, Komunistinio režimo nusikaltimai Lietuvoje 1944–1953/The Crimes of the Communist Regime in Lithuania, 14.) However, later both of them experienced some pressure. In 1948, Dagys was severely criticized as the author of the handbook and was removed from his position as head of the Department of Plant Anatomy and Physiology at Vilnius University. In 1953, he was again appointed to this position, which he held until 1977. A. Merkys, “On the 100th anniversary of Professor Jonas Dagys.” Biologija, 53, no. 2 (2007): 3.

68 Motieka, “Didysis Vilniaus seimas,” 297.

69 “Mažylis speech,” VAA, f.761, ap.9, b.35, 54.

70 “Račkauskas speech,” VAA, f.761, ap.9, b.35, 124.

71 “Pirmojo tarybų Lietuvos inteligentijos suvažiavimo Kreipimasis į visus tarybų Lietuvos inteligentus,” Tiesa, July 26, 1945, no. 172.

72 “The discussion of the appeal,” VAA, f.761, ap.9, b.35, 176–77.

73 On 22 September 1944, the LSSR government and representatives of Poland’s national liberation committee signed an agreement on the repatriation of people. For more information, see Vitalija Stravinskienė, Tarp gimtinės ir tėvynės. Lietuvos SSR gyventojų repatriacija į Lenkiją (Vilnius: LII, 2011), 95–100.

74 Tiesa, July 15, 1945, no. 164.

75 In the report that was submitted to G. Malenkov, the controllers from the CPSU apparatus noted that the Congress of the intelligentsia was held late, that the LCP leaders could not get a handle on the moods of the intellectuals, and finally that during the Congress hostile statements were made. SSSR i Litva v gody vtoroj mirovoj voiny., Sbornik dokumentov, ed. А. Кasparavičius, Č. Laurinavčius, and N. Lebedeva, vol. 2 (Vilnius: LII, 2012), 891. In August, just after the Congress, Gudaitis-Guzevičius was removed from his office. According to the confidential report, he was dismissed because of his “incompetence” and “ineffectiveness” in the fight against the “Lithunian national underground.” (See Vytautas Tininis, Sovietinė Lietuva ir jos veikėjai (Vilnius: Enciklopedija, 1994), 183–84.) He was appointed the head of the Committee of Culture and Education in 1945. He later served as the head of the State Publishing House, and from 1953 until 1957 he was the Minister of Culture.

Volume 4 Issue 1 CONTENTS

pdfNikola Baković

“No One Here is Afraid of Blisters or Work!”

Social Integration, Mobilization and Cooperation in Yugoslav Youth Brigades. The Example of Čačak Region Brigades (1946–1952)


In this article I analyze the organizational mechanism of youth labor projects and the place of ideology and agitation-propaganda in the everyday lives of young laborers. I adopt a local micro-historical perspective in my analysis of the organization, documented activities and everyday functioning of youth brigades from the Čačak region of Serbia that participated in the earliest labor projects in Yugoslavia (1946–1952). The documentation on the brigades reveals omnipresent Party surveillance of brigadiers (with the ultimate aim of selecting the most “appropriate” elements for Party membership), but it also offers a glimpse into the ambivalent attitudes of youths (ranging from passive resistance to conformist participation and cooperation). The daily routine of brigade life helps further reflection on emancipatory and modernizing effects that transformed local society and proved notably more far-reaching and long-lasting than the superficial effects of agitprop efforts.

Keywords: Yugoslavia, labor actions, Čačak, youth, agitprop, shock workers

Voluntary youth labor actions organized by Yugoslav socialist authorities stemmed from the twofold set of influences, global and local. The most important external role model on which the Yugoslav projects were based was the Soviet Stakhanovite movement, together with the system of “shock-work,” public works and competitions, common to all socialist countries and the interwar corporatist societies.1 The local roots were sought in the pre-modern tradition of communal labor during harvests (moba) and the antifascist resistance in the Užice region (Serbia) and Sanička dolina (Bosnia), where locals helped the partisan army by harvesting crops within the range of German artillery in 1941/42.2 Upon liberation, a wave of initiatives aimed at providing winter fuel and clearing the war debris was instigated by the United Alliance of Antifascist Youth of Yugoslavia3 during the winter 1944/45.4 The network of similar local initiatives quickly spread among youths in liberated parts of Yugoslavia. This was just a prelude to grand infrastructural projects for which the voluntary youth labor was used as an asset of reconstruction and industrialization processes.

The first federally supported project was the “Youth Railway” Brčko–Banovići, which connected the fertile wheat fields of Vojvodina and Slavonia with coal mines in central Bosnia. From May until November 1946, over 62,000 members of the People’s Youth of Yugoslavia, with very little in the way of proper machinery, completed the railway 22 days before the deadline. The following year saw an even greater endeavor, the construction of the Šamac–Sarajevo railway, which was built by over 210,000 Yugoslav and 5,000 foreign youths.5 However, the most ambitious projects on the federal level were the construction of the Zagreb–Belgrade stretch of the Brotherhood and Unity Highway and the building of the city of New Belgrade.6 Together with numerous labor projects on the federal and local level, over one-million Yugoslav youths participated in the country’s reconstruction and fulfillment of the First Five Year Plan,7 with an astounding rate of 80 percent of eligible youngsters applying to work as part of the labor brigades.8

Already in 1950, some Yugoslav politicians and economists criticized this system for its alleged financial inefficiency, as well as for its potentially anti-industrial over-emphasis on manual labor. Consequently, there was a halt in federally backed projects beginning in 1952 and lasting until 1958, when the initiatives were reinvigorated with the construction of a new stretch of the Brotherhood and Unity Highway. The financial burden and the organizational complexity of federal actions were always weighed against their benefits for the Yugoslav regime. Although the maintenance of youth camps and the organization of brigadiers’ extra-labor activities cost far more than the hiring and lodging of qualified workers, Tito never underestimated the value of such endeavors for the ideological indoctrination of young Yugoslavs, whose loyalty was won by offering them professional, social and intellectual resources otherwise unavailable in their native environment. He believed that these expensive and demanding activities had to be provided to the brigades, should a sufficient recruitment rate be achieved, because “if youngsters are given only shovels and cramps, no one will go.” A strikingly militarized atmosphere in the camps was not a coincidence for Tito, since “people forged through work can hold on through every struggle, be it in work or in war.” Labor projects were an intrinsic part of the socialist project of creating a new man, a place “where the new people are forged, with a new understanding of work.”9

In this article, I analyze the “first wave” of youth labor projects as one of the tools of power in the creation of a sense of belonging to a cohesive multinational community of Yugoslavs during the immediate postwar period. Voluntary youth work was not only a convenient means to secure free labor for ambitious infrastructural projects, but also a “social adhesive,” aimed at bringing together youths from the most distant parts of the country in order to disseminate the ideological tenet of “brotherhood and unity” between various representatives of the Yugoslav nationalities. The primary role of members of the younger generations in this process was that of a far-sighted, “tempered” (but in the long run also “tempering”) political and social consolidator of the new system, which ultimately was supposed to solidify the newly re-conceptualized social relations and power structures, simultaneously internalizing the omnipresent revolutionary ideological narrative. Youth projects also served to enable the authorities to select a reliable future party cadre, ultimately expanding the Communist Party’s support basis. On the other hand, brigadiers used the projects as opportunities to gain otherwise unavailable material, social and educational resources and improve their chances for upward social mobility. The very act of volunteering for socialist reconstruction projects (although the truly voluntary nature of brigadiers’ recruitment in this period was always in question) entailed the youths’ implicit cooperation with the regime, the ideological “pills” of which were (willingly) swallowed, along with far more significant and longer-lasting benefits of emancipation and education.

I will examine the role of these projects by embedding a local micro-perspective of brigades sent from the region of Čačak (Serbia) during the reconstruction and First Five Year Plan actions (1946–1952) within the broader postwar historical context in Yugoslavia, as well as within the already existing body of scholarly work. The article’s shifting analytical focus, swinging between the official “top-down” and the local experience helps shed new light on the ambivalent relationship between the power-holding center and the potency of the agency of individual subjects in the circumstances of an overarching socio-political transformation. Thus, I explore the non-dichotomous character of the interaction between the “regulating” state and the “regulated” society, which was highly ambivalent and often a contingent process. The brigades under discussion came from the central Serbian municipalities (srez) of Ljubić-Trnava, Dragačevo and Rudnik, as well as from the towns of Kraljevo and Čačak. The following federal actions were included in the analysis: the Brčko–Banovići railway (1946), the Šamac–Sarajevo railway (1947), the construction of New Belgrade (1948–1950), the Brotherhood and Unity Highway (1948–1950), the Doboj–Banja Luka railway (1951) and the Konjic–Jablanica railway (1952). I analyze various features of organizational mechanisms and everyday modes of social integration, including recruitment process, motivational concepts of “shock status,” the screening of brigadiers for prospective Party membership, the involving of brigadiers in an array of physical, educational and cultural activities with a strong modernizing pretext, and the creation of trans-ethnic and trans-national social networks through contacts with peers from other republics and countries.

Until the first decade of this century, historical works dealing with Yugoslav youth labor projects were surprisingly sparse, probably because of the general post-socialist disinterest in the history of labor movements, a topic too closely entwined with the perceived communist utilization of science. Special monographs dedicated to individual actions, albeit devoid of much analytical value, remain an important source of information on the organizational setup of brigades, as well as sources of statistical data. They were usually published to honor anniversaries of certain projects, as well as to promote the ideologies on which these projects were based.10 Sociologists Rudi Supek and Srećko Mihailović did significant research concerning youth’s perceptions and motivational factors. However, their research mostly referred to the later phase of labor projects and is of little relevance to the period discussed here.11 Very important recent contributions to the historiography on labor actions, both because of the wealth of data they include and because of their analytical value, are found in Slobodan Selinić’s articles and Saša Vejzagić’s MA thesis.12 The importance of this secondary literature notwithstanding, however, the main sources for this article were youth labor brigades’ records kept at the Regional Historical Archives of Čačak, as well as the personal collection of lawyer Velimir Cvetić, a communist activist from Čačak and the commander of a 1946 brigade. I also used the relevant press coverage from the heavily ideologized local weekly Slobodni glas, which was published by the local Popular Front branch.

Organizational and Recruitment Mechanisms

Brigades from Čačak region, apart from their municipal designation (i.e. ljubićko-trnavska), were usually named after distinguished local communists or war heroes. Thus, the first brigades sent in 1946 were named after Ratko Mitrović and Bata Janković. On the other hand, high school brigades from the town of Čačak got their name in honor of Rade Azanjac, a 20-year-old political commissar shot in late 1941. Brigades were serially numbered, promoting the idea of a continuous and seemingly constant outflow of youth workforce to dispersed construction sites across the country. This way, the new regime tried to enforce its own traditions, drawn from the historical legacy of the persecution of communists in the interwar period and their subsequent fight against the occupiers and quislings, thereby passing these traditions on to generations that had been too young to have had personal experience of these events.13

The “Ratko Mitrovic” and “Bata Jankovic” brigades, which are best documented in the available sources, attracted predominantly (although not exclusively) agricultural youth from villages around Čačak, most of whom had already completed their education and thus were not tied to the school year schedule. They usually left for campsites in spring and late autumn, when the agricultural season allowed. The “Rade Azanjac” brigades mostly consisted of teenagers with urban and non-agricultural backgrounds who studied and lived in Čačak. They would be dispatched in July and August, when schools were not in session.14 It was not uncommon, especially in 1946/47, for the returning brigades to be greeted with lush public celebrations and agitprop slogans in the town center.

Figure 1. Citizens of Čačak await the return of the local brigade from Bosnia, November 1946 (Source: Regional Historical Archives of Čačak )


Youngsters from the neighboring town of Kraljevo were also part of Čačak brigades until 1949, when they started to form their own brigades.15 As far as the practical meaning of the term “youth” is concerned, the documents show that most brigadiers were between 16 and 25 years of age, although there were some exceptional cases of brigade members being in their late 20s and even early 40s.16

Mobilizing youth for labor actions was a complex task for mass organizations since it had to be (or at least seem to have been) performed strictly on a non-coercive basis. Yet, the Party’s youth organization, the Union of the Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (Savez komunističke omladine Jugoslavije, hereafter: SKOJ),17 and other organizers set ambitious plans with territorial recruitment quotas. These quotas depended on various specificities of the respective areas (for example, in regions with numerous ethnic minorities, organizers were not expected to draw in big numbers because the loyalties of the local populations were sometimes in question).18 Due to the centralized nature of establishing quotas, local SKOJ branches were often in a tricky situation. On the one hand, they needed to attract the required number of brigadiers, but on the other hand, it was an imperative that these youths apply voluntarily. There were many (albeit not numerous) cases of coercive collective recruitment, especially in regions notorious for their anti-Party stance.19 Moreover, certain categories of prisoners were also taken to construction sites as a part of their sentences, and some youths, such as 36 men from Kraljevo, fulfilled their military service obligations by participating in the construction of the Šabac–Zvornik railway.20

Although blatant force was not permitted (at least nominally), it can be assumed that multifaceted informal means of persuasion were used to increase the number of brigadiers. In the countryside, agitprop units developed extensive propaganda aimed at presenting labor actions as a catalyst for social mobility and a life-enriching experience, which would in no way handicap the families of the youths during periods of seasonal work (they were promised help with house chores while children would be away).21 Schoolchildren were recruited through a web of students who were either SKOJ members or had already participated in such projects, as well as teachers who organized special lectures on the importance of the initiatives. Students who were doing poorly in their studies were attracted by prospects of special assistance in preparing for their make-up exams while the projects were underway.22

At first, collective agitation was the most widespread recruitment method, entailing group lectures and promotion. However, the Party realized that this approach did not bear satisfactory results, so SKOJ members were urged to undertake more personalized, individual agitation, designing specific means of persuasion and motivational factors for each potential brigadier. This was especially important for schoolchildren, who often failed to apply because of their parents’ reluctance (to the great dismay of local commissars).23 Still, the Čačak branch of SKOJ had no major problems fulfilling their quotas. The first brigade sent to the Youth Railway in 1946 (initially supposed to gather 200 brigadiers) had 275 members selected from a pool of 350 applicants, including one who had been rejected but who then had to be accepted after he refused to get off the train to Brčko.24 Brigades were divided into troops (čete), usually hosting around 50 brigadiers each. The surprisingly high number of 1,331 brigadiers in 1946 increased SKOJ’s ambitions, and the planned 1947 quota was raised to 3,000 youths. This target proved easy to reach as well, since in early March the quota for Čačak was surpassed by 40 applicants.25 Village brigades usually had more members than the high school ones (counting up to 400 youths) due to their demographic prevalence.

Although the enthusiastic reports by SKOJ officials have to be taken with a grain of salt, it is obvious that it was a matter of prestige for local leaders not merely to fulfill their quotas, but also to have as great a percentage as possible of the youths of their settlements apply. According to these reports, in some villages, such as Mršinci, every eligible youngster applied for local or federal actions, and in Opaljenica the application rate was 96 percent.26 Despite the possibility of these numbers being inflated, internal brigade records show no hints of understaffing problems. Moreover, the fact that many 15-year-old applicants had to be rejected from drafts clearly shows that the youth of the Čačak region saw labor projects as a unique opportunity to improve their social, political and material standing under the new system (as well as to widen their career prospects), despite all probable forms of formal and informal pressure to volunteer. Despite the Party’s nominal dissatisfaction with agitation results, the prescribed quotas were always surpassed, significant differences between the republics notwithstanding.27 Yet, the success of the recruitment efforts should be credited not only to the enthusiasm or pragmatism of the youth, but also to SKOJ branches intentionally setting low quotas for fear of failing to meet them. The organizers were always pleased to accept more brigadiers than originally sought, although this simultaneously burdened them with additional board and lodging costs (which could have contributed to the temporary halt in the organization of federal projects from 1952 until 1958).

Becoming a Shock-Worker

Immediately after the revolution, the Yugoslav authorities introduced the system of competitions and shock-worker awards (udarništvo) to develop a culture of adulation of work, as well as to promote agency channels through which the working class could prove their devotion to the new order and be motivated to contribute to its solidification. This system, although it took its name from the Russian term for strike work (udarniki), was a virtual copy of the Stakhanovite movement developed in the Soviet Union in the second half of the 1930s.28 Just as the Soviet precursor was named after the most prolific miner, Alexei Stakhanov, the Yugoslav version came to be best known by the name of the Bosnian Roma miner Alija Sirotanović, who allegedly broke the coal mining world record in 1949. Since the udarništvo movement and system of competitions was introduced in all production activities in the country, it was also an inseparable feature of youth actions. Work tasks in camps were usually set according to “decimal plans” (dekadni planovi, lasting 10 days), at the end of which the most industrious brigade (udarna brigada), as well as individual workers (udarnici), would be proclaimed.

In order to become a so-called shock-worker, one had to surpass the work norm by 20 percent continuously. If case there were no specified norm, one had to surpass the common work result of the brigade by 30 percent. Brigadiers could also gain the status of shock-worker by applying measures through which 10 percent of the raw materials, fuel or work hours could be saved, or by introducing innovative techniques and methods that improved overall efficiency. The shock-worker status lasted for three months. During that time, in addition to enjoying prestige and respect, the individuals who had been given the award also got convenient material benefits, including better meals, shopping coupons, discounts for various goods, etc.29 These benefits explain the often fierce competition among brigadiers at a worksite, as well as the obsessions of commanders with their brigade attaining the shock status. Although allegedly even Tito expressed concern that this insistence on surpassing norms would harm the health of the youths,30 the brigade documents show that competition and the striving for more were the order of the day in literally every brigade. Typical is the quote of one brigadier at the Youth Railway: “Look, I have 34 blisters. I have never had them before. Tell the others not to be afraid of blisters. No one here is afraid of blisters or work!”31 Although the percentage of shock-workers varied according to the respective brigade’s work efficiency, available shock-workers’ lists show that seven to twelve percent of the Čačak brigades were declared shock-workers at some point.32

Still, the workers had to participate in the competition in a comradely spirit, lest the rivalries lead to internal hostilities or intrigues among brigadiers. Overemphasizing one’s own work contributions and effort was strongly looked down upon, if not outright condemned by commanders. Such was the case of а 24-year-old brigadier who (apparently trying to make up for being put in a high-school brigade at such a late age) “had an tendency to show off blisters on his hands and dirt on his suit, overall one sick ambition for a shock-worker’s badge.”33 On another note, 20-year-old Pantelija Glišović, despite having surpassed norms by 70 percent, was criticized in personal evaluations for “not being an agitator.”34 The order of Main Headquarters of youth brigades on the construction of the Konjic–Jablanica railway in 1952 indicates that the overt enthusiasm (or the unconcealed ambition of their commanders) of some brigades to gain shock-worker status could eventually prove detrimental to the overall work dynamic. The youths were forbidden to work longer than the usual seven hours without the Headquarters’ prior approval, due to bad effect this would have on the overall performance.35 This case represents an interesting official condemnation of an exaggerated work ethic, quite unlike the usual public shaming of lazy brigadiers or those who invested less in their work than they were supposedly capable of.

Selecting the New Cadre

Brigade commanders, by unwritten rule Party members, wrote personal evaluations for each brigadier in order to support or hinder his or her nomination for SKOJ membership. These evaluations had a template-like character, with an established pattern for data input: year/place of birth, nationality, social background, family standing during the war, (non)participation in the Liberation Struggle. Furthermore, the categories for personal impressions consisted of: attitude towards authority, physical effort at work, treatment of state property, conduct with other brigadiers, activity in classes, proneness to (self)criticism and notes on private life. Evaluations concluded with the commander’s opinion on whether the respective comrade was eligible to become a SKOJ member.36 These documents represent a particularly valuable source, helping historians reconstruct different demographic structures of labor volunteers and testifying to the Party’s ever-watchful eye. In compiling their evaluations, commanders paid due attention to the conduct of members of the brigadiers’ families during the war, as well as to their current standing towards the Communist Party and “the state of today.” One of the more revealing cases was that of a 17-year-old Mileta Čvrkić, nephew of the interwar minister of posts Vojko Čvrkić (known to have supported a rival četnik movement37 during the war). Although Mileta’s characteristics were judged in a positive light, “special wariness” had to be paid to his education, because he “was surrounded by people with a negative attitude, who could tarnish his righteous development.”38 In several other evaluations, the family’s attachment to četnik movement, which was equated with having “rebel bandits” for relatives or clinging to “reactionary attitudes,” was mentioned as a potentially disruptive factor in the rearing of a youth. There was even a case of a former policeman who was fired and expelled from the Party after having beaten up one “reactionary” woman. This policeman went to the Brčko–Banovići action to atone for and recover from his past mistakes.39 However, there were relatively few cases of brigadiers being explicitly considered unreliable on the basis of their family’s political affiliations. A probable reason was that individuals coming from extremely hostile families would not volunteer for labor projects anyway and even if they did, their applications most probably would not have been accepted. Still, members of more “benignly hostile” families were accepted to brigades. This can be interpreted as an attempt on the part of the Party to “inject” itself into these families through their offspring or, conversely, as an attempt on the part of the “problematic” families to “whitewash” their past by encouraging participation in the new regime’s legitimization.

Available internal documentation of brigade party cells suggest that the cases of resistance and conflict within the brigades most often had a markedly non-political character. The usual incidents occurring at the worksites were mostly connected to bad maintenance of tools and the scarcity of machines, as well as violations of conduct, such as walking barefoot or wearing dirty uniforms,40 or simply sitting idly and failing to comply with the commander’s orders. At campsites, complaints mostly referred to bad hygiene habits, not making one’s bed, and being late for or avoiding morning gymnastics. Female brigadiers were frequently criticized for using their menstrual cycles as an excuse to stay in the camp for an entire day. One girl was reprimanded for taking leave on the pretext of visiting her ill father at home, but actually in order to celebrate Easter.41 In the course of the Brčko–Banovići project, a bizarre ideologically grounded “hygienic measure” caused a scandal among the brigade party leaders. A female brigadier, apparently from a better-off family, was the only one in her troop to own a toothbrush. The troop leader “expropriated” the toothbrush from its owner and declared it “common property” to be used by all brigadiers, in line with the collectivist spirit. This order was met with the superiors’ condemnation, both for breaching hygienic norms and for misrepresenting the “socialist lifestyle.” Yet there was no recorded disciplinary proceeding against the overtly diligent commander, nor is there evidence that this “expropriation” was corrected.42 However, it showed the extent to which the commanders’ lack of education, coupled with a relentless obedience to authority, could often lead to comical interpretations of the official party doctrines.

On the interpersonal level, conflicts usually derived from teenager pranks (such as smearing toothpaste on a comrade in his or her sleep at night), alcohol consummation (despite a strict ban, brigadiers frequently used their leaves to go to nearby villages and get drunk), or “inappropriate” interaction between male and female comrades. One of the commanders’ frequent concerns was keeping peace between their campmates and the locals, since cases of theft, drunken brawls or stealing fruit were quite commonplace.43 Cases of workers who were too rowdy with commanders or engaged in (arguably, a rather superficial sort of) dissent and confrontation were very rare and were connected to pragmatic material problems (i.e., brigadiers who were unsatisfied with their accommodation would sarcastically invite Tito to their luxury resort).44 One of the rare instances of open vandalism among Čačak brigadiers occurred in 1948, when some youths who had not been provided new footwear tore down the performance graphs as a sign of protest.45

One can offer several hypotheses regarding the reasons for this cooperative attitude. Firstly, brigadiers were mostly too young and immature to be actively politically engaged and form their own independent stance towards the communist regime. Secondly, the voluntary nature of the projects (casual, yet non-negligible aberrations of forced recruitment notwithstanding) made the “infiltration of reactionary elements” rather unlikely. Hence, this potential source of dissent and disobedience was apparently missing. Moreover, a great majority of brigadiers came from rather poor and backward areas, ravaged by the war and postwar poverty. Not only did labor projects present an opportunity for them to gain skills, knowledge, and personal contacts that could potentially improve their social status, but for many they were a rare place where they could secure their mere sustenance. Bearing this in mind, it is understandable that the few instances of resistance and conflict with party members and commanders usually derived from trivial reasons pertaining to personal character or simple material needs, rather than from any profound ideological stance or conflict. For most youths, eager participation in state’s reconstruction projects (coupled with occasional, rather unobtrusive resistance) offered much greater benefits and social capital than any sort of open opposition could ever have provided under the circumstances.

Youth Education and Politicization

The activities that the Party planned for brigadiers did not come to an end after the seven-hour shifts at the construction sites. The rest of the day was filled with different kinds of additional tasks and programs, which can roughly be grouped into two categories. The first included physical activities aimed at keeping brigadiers fit and increasing their stamina. These activities included regular morning gymnastics, pre-military training, driving lessons, sport matches and athletic competitions. The second group of activities nurtured intellectual and political growth, with a clear intention to educate the youth in various spheres of life and equip them with new skills, yet always within the ideological and theoretical confines of communist dogma. By attempting to engage every single brigadier in as many of these activities as possible, the authorities hoped to disseminate their ideological tenets into all pores of youth life, as well as to erase the old era’s accumulated social obstacles to the development of every individual’s creative potential.

Pre-military training was supposed to acquaint boys and girls with the basics of combat skills and firearms usage in order to improve their efficiency in case of a foreign invasion. This fear became all too realistic after the 1948 break with Stalin, making pre-military training compulsory for all youths older than 17. Each brigade was supposed to have at least one specially educated military instructor, often a distinguished Liberation Struggle soldier, who would teach these classes every other day.46 Lessons covered the skills necessary for the general functioning of camps (making beds, cleaning barracks, keeping guard), but also more strictly military topics (loading a rifle, shooting practice from various positions, bullet trajectory, marching steps, etc).47 Providing youngsters with an education in military conduct was seen as a peacetime perpetuation of the People’s Liberation Struggle, and indeed many instructors insisted that the wartime revolutionary combatant zeal must not falter in absence of actual battles. Yet many brigadiers avoided attending these programs, as can be seen from attendance sheets. Thus, except for the first two days of the shift, the 246-people-strong ljubićko-trnavska brigade working on the construction of New Belgrade in 1949 never had more than 190 brigadiers present at pre-military training (the overall participation at the Highway site that year was approximately 95 percent).48 Youths used various excuses, such as sickness or cleaning and cooking duties, but commanders also noted accusingly at Party cell meetings that even SKOJ members abused their political agitation duties as an excuse to skip gymnastics or military training. Another way to improve brigadiers’ fitness was to engage them in team sports. It was especially important for camp commanders to organize matches (sometimes in league form) between brigades from different parts of the country in order to strengthen interethnic ties and showcase the volunteer movement’s regional diversity. Athletic competitions were usually organized on state holidays (Tito’s birthday on May 25, Labor Day on May 1, Day of Republic on November 29), prior to which the athletically talented brigadiers underwent preparations that lasted for weeks, as these events were often attended by important Party officials, and the individual competitor’s success would increase the overall reputation of his or her brigade, eventually raising the brigade’s chances of gaining shock status.49

Political-ideological education was one of the most crucial non-labor programs organized for brigadiers, as it represented the most explicit means of influencing youth by exposing them to and indoctrinating them in the official ideology, as well as recruiting new members to the Party’s youth organization. The curriculum consisted of essential socialist literature (works by Marx, Lenin and Gorki), but also of works of the domestic Yugoslav canon (ideological literature by Tito and Edvard Kardelj). Classes on theory were followed by textual analysis and often fierce debates, in which individuals interested in Party membership had to excel should they wish to gain admission rapidly. These meetings were also used officially to denounce derogatory texts about Yugoslavia, which were being published in organs of the East European press after 1948, which often spread rumors (not always without any basis in reality) about abuses of child labor and deaths in campsites.50 This was supposed to prevent potential outbursts of political dissent during that critical period. It was not a coincidence that Tito himself visited the Highway construction site only 15 days after the 1948 Cominform resolution.51

Party members had additional ideological classes, which provided forums for discussion of more advanced theoretical questions, but also for agitation planning and evaluations of the behavior of non-members. A new set of lectures for members and non-members alike was introduced in 1948. They consisted of sessions dedicated to the analysis of Yugoslavia’s fall from Stalin’s grace. Naturally, the purpose of these “analyses” was to defend Tito’s position, proving that even Lenin himself established that every country had its own way to communism, regardless of the Soviet policies. The minutes from brigadiers’ discussions reveal the depth of this diplomatic twist, since the meetings in 1948 were often dedicated to badmouthing Bulgarian pretensions to Macedonia, whereas previously there had not been any negative remarks about any other socialist country whatsoever. Other topics discussed at these meetings included rumors about Yugoslavia being involved in the failed assassination of Palmiro Togliatti in July 1948, justification of Yugoslav cooperation with USA concerning the restitution of Kingdom of Yugoslavia’s gold reserves, the recommendation that Yugoslavia take part in the Danube conference, etc.52 Party cells also made decisions on future work norms, the organization of events, and disciplinary measures, regardless of the wishes of other brigadiers.53 In the meeting transcripts, one can discern the timidly expressed antagonism of non-members towards the Party members, who wished to exercise unquestioned authority over the rest of the brigade, as well as to enjoy small benefits, such as being spared more tedious or tiring duties. Thus the nominally democratic decision-making in brigades usually came down to party members presenting their decisions (or preferred choices) to the rest of brigade (which was supposed to accept them), whereas the egalitarian discourse was often twisted in order to provide small everyday “privileges” for individuals who were more politically engaged.

The “War” on Illiteracy

One of the main emancipatory and educational efforts (and arguably the greatest success) of the People’s Youth was the eradication of illiteracy among young people. This problem, which had already been a concern in previous decades, was especially acute in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when schools in many areas were destroyed or difficult to reach for many school-age children. It was one of the new regime’s priorities to advance the position of the working class (youth included) by ensuring that everyone was taught to read and write. Each youth brigade was thus supposed to have at least one instructor who specialized in such courses, and all illiterate volunteers were obliged to attend. The classes were organized in improvised classrooms or, weather permitting, in outdoor settings.

Figure 2. Literacy course of the 3rd Čačak brigade, 1946 (Source: Regional Historical Archives of Čačak)


Curiously enough, in addition to illiterate brigadiers (usually around a dozen per brigade), Čačak brigades had a much greater number (up to one third of all brigadiers) of “semi-literates,” proficient in only one script (in their case, Cyrillic). Commanders were adamant that both Latin and Cyrillic script be mastered, as this was considered one of the basic prerequisites for disseminating the ideology of brotherhood and unity of the Yugoslav nations.54 The brigadiers seemed to have diligently attended the courses. The internal diaries imply that most of them did master the basics of reading and writing both scripts, with only one mention of a former policeman who declined to learn the Latin script, claiming he did not need it.55 Such enthusiasm was understandable, as it would have been hard for anyone to fail to see the advantages of literacy. Moreover, these classes were one of the rare activities the practical purpose of which was not subjected to blatant ideologization (although the increase in literacy rates was certainly cited in state propaganda as an example of the successful emancipation of the working class). And a vast success it was, as it is estimated that more than 70,000 people learned how to read and write during the first wave of labor actions (1946–1952), although one could definitely call into question the effectiveness of such quick learning while pupils were also involved in hard manual labor.56

In addition to offering the workers a chance (or rather obliging them) to master the basics of reading and writing, labor camps and individual brigades also had their own modest libraries, and youths were constantly motivated to use them through involvement in literary circles. The book list of the library of the Camp “Jože Vlahović” on the New Belgrade site indicates the openly politicized nature of these libraries. Of the 215 titles, only around 30 did not explicitly pertain to communist theory and revolutionary history. Yet, a glance at the 56-item loan list from the second ljubićko-trnavska brigade shows that brigadiers overwhelmingly preferred the non-political literature, with the exception of the novels of Maxim Gorki. On the other hand, this same brigade had its own small library with 75 books that for the most part dealt with communist themes, but it also had works by Shakespeare, Jack London and Jules Verne.57 These details and other documented statistics indicate that one loaned book amounted to hardly two brigadiers from Čačak, which is even worse than the admittedly low ratio of just over one book per brigadier for the whole New Belgrade worksite.58

Yet this low ratio for the Čačak brigades should not be interpreted as a sign of the irrelevance of these libraries for the few youths who did use them, since for many it was their first contact with books. The collectivist nature of all daily activities in isolated camp communities and external peer pressure obviously enticed many otherwise disinterested youths to start reading, as can be seen from one brigadier’s quote: “Here we have better conditions for reading and studying than in the countryside, because here we are all together.”59 In addition to visiting camp libraries, brigadiers could improve their writing skills by compiling articles for wall newspapers, as well as writing letters about their camp experiences, which were sent to newspapers and various economic and political enterprises back in Čačak.

Quite contrary to some authors’ characterization of labor projects as “attempts to kill the youth’s creative cultural instincts through exhausting physical toil,”60 the documents of the Čačak brigades indicate that life in the camps was rich with lively amateur cultural and artistic activities. Choirs, theatre and recitation troupes were founded for individuals who prepared performances for their campmates. The surviving documents show that their repertoire consisted almost exclusively of material devoted to themes of communism and the Liberation Struggle. It included odes to Stalin (naturally, only up until 1948), plays and excerpts by Soviet authors (especially popular was Nikolai Ostrovsky’s How the Steel Was Tempered, as well as Chekhov’s Diplomat) and works by Yugoslav writers which could be interpreted in terms of social justice and class struggle (i.e. works by Branislav Nušić, but also Desanka Maksimović and Mira Alečković).61 Film screenings were also organized, either within the camp or by taking brigadiers to town cinemas, and for many it was the first time they had watched a motion picture. The choice of screenings was carefully premeditated, with a particular favorite being the first Yugoslav partisan film Slavica (1949), due to the “volatile reactions” of the viewers whenever they saw German soldiers on screen.62

Cementing Brotherhood and Unity

Alongside their apparent economic importance as a source of free workforce, the youth labor projects came to be seen by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia as one of the most effective ways of cementing the ideological concept of “brotherhood and unity” among the Yugoslav nationalities. This aim was particularly important because there had been numerous interethnic massacres during World War II, and chauvinistic movements had sown hatred among the nationalities. Under these circumstances, the victorious Communist movement inserted itself with its federal vision of Yugoslavia as a reconciliatory force, securing equal rights for all of the country’s ethnicities, some of which (Montenegrins and Macedonians) came to be recognized for the first time only after the communists’ accession to power. The most farsighted way of disseminating the “brotherhood and unity” ideology was to internalize it among members of the younger generations, whose worldview had not yet hardened and many of whom had been too young to remember the ethnically motivated atrocities that had taken place during the war. Federally organized actions proved an invaluable tool in this endeavor, as they attracted brigades from all of the republics. Tito himself emphasized their importance, deeming them even more important than local projects, the “localist tendencies of which might eventually gain a chauvinistic character.”63

Camps of federal labor actions provided the preconditions for the propagation of such ideas. They were mostly set in isolated areas, bringing together youngsters from the most diverse parts of the country to live together in conditions that resembled those in which the army functioned in a secluded environment where they had to interact with one another on a daily basis. This way, young people from ethnically homogenous areas (such as the Čačak region) had the opportunity to spend time and build friendships with members of other nationalities for the first time. The brigadiers’ reports and articles sent to Slobodni glas suggest that this experience left a most positive mark on them. Situations of cultural shock were all but rare, such as the bewilderment of Čačak men who for the first time saw Muslim women in their oriental clothes at the Brčko railway station,64 while the typically exalted reports described scenes from bonfire parties, where youths from regions as diverse as Dragačevo, Šid, Orašac and Mitrovica joined together in the partisan kozaračko dance.65 Some wartime mental wounds were healed, as indicated by a commander’s evaluation of one young man whose father had been killed by Croatian fascists, but whose interaction with fellow Croatian campmates helped him overcome his hatred.66 In order to ensure as much interethnic mingling as possible, commanders placed brigades from the most distant regions of the country in neighboring barracks and also organized sports matches between them.67

From the outset, the People’s Youth of Yugoslavia invited foreigners to participate in labor projects. Thus, as early as 1946 over 1,800 foreign youths from both capitalist and socialist countries took part in the Brčko–Banovići project,68 and in 1947 this number rose to 5,800 people from 42 countries. Several youths from Switzerland worked at the Brčko–Banovići action together with the Čačak brigade “Ratko Mitrović,” and despite the language barrier they developed strong friendships, as indicated by warmhearted farewell diary entries. Naturally, Swiss brigadiers had been professing a leftist political standing, as could be seen in their plans to “undertake an even stronger and more decisive fight against capitalism in Switzerland.” Such enthusiasm for spreading revolutionary zeal could not be tarnished by one incident, when a Serbian girl was accused of stealing a pair of trousers from a Swiss brigadier.69 That same year, Greek brigadiers were added to Čačak brigades, which fell in line with the Yugoslav interventionism concerning the civil war in Greece.70 This transnational exchange of voluntary youth labor was mutual. Already in 1946, a Yugoslav brigade went to Poland to help in the reconstruction of Warsaw, and another such brigade was sent to Czechoslovakia in 1947. Both brigades had members from Čačak and Kraljevo.71

The primary aim of hosting foreign brigades was not to increase their work capacity, but to propagate communist ideas among youths from the West, as well as to strengthen ties with “friendly” countries (until 1948 socialist, after that Western and non-aligned ones). The authorities often noted the practical uselessness of foreign brigadiers, who usually regarded their stay in Yugoslavia merely as a vacation. However, the propaganda value of having foreigners among the volunteers compensated for their inefficiency as workers. Much as isolated camps offered a perfect setting for creating social networks between members of different Yugoslav nationalities, they also served as an ideal site to establish personal connections between Yugoslavs and their peers from both ideological blocs in order to help address the political isolation of Yugoslavia after 1948.

Conclusions: Youth Projects – From Social Glue to Nostalgic Memento

In the immediate postwar years, the authority of the Communist Party was still not completely solidified, since many strata of the population opposed (mostly in a silent and passive manner) the new system for various reasons. The younger generations, however, especially those living in regions most stricken by the disastrous civil war and occupation, represented a tabula rasa on which the regime could “inscribe” its program for the future, to a greater or lesser extent, according to its own needs and ideological tenets. The local perspective of the Čačak brigades that were sent to participate in federal labor projects offers illuminating insights into political and social mechanisms of this early socialist social engineering project, often not perceptible in the “grand” perspective of the state-level narratives. The predominantly voluntary nature of the recruitment process (with sparse, yet notable exceptions of formally and informally coerced mobilization) ensured that the most “hostile” segments of the youth would be excluded. This prevented them from potentially disseminating politically inappropriate ideas among other youths. Thus, labor camps represented isolated “islands” where youths could be exposed to a diverse set of politicized influences and agitation by Party members. Spatial consciousness represented a very important feature of the ideological construct of the projects. Not only was the geographical seclusion of the camps essential for effective indoctrination, but at the very core of these projects was the idea of conquering and taming a previously uncontrollable space, be it static spatial entities (such as marshes on the left bank of the Sava river) or a dynamic reconceptualization of distance and movement (such as in connecting remote and inaccessible parts of the country with highways and railways).

Simultaneously, the performance of the brigadiers (be it at work, in extra-labor activities or interpersonal communication) was carefully scrutinized and evaluated in order to enable the authorities to select the most reliable and promising party cadre for the future. Thus, the social, regional and generational base of party membership and support was expanded and further diversified. The “bond by blood,” which had developed among partisan soldiers during the war, slowly evolved during the early peacetime years into the “bond by labor” among brigadiers who for the most part had been too young to have partaken in the Liberation Struggle. After leaving these “social laboratories,” former brigadiers were supposed to spread the newly acquired skills, knowledge and especially the freshly internalized political and social ideas. The youth also proved a reliable communicator of the “correct” interpretation of Tito’s 1948 conflict with Stalin to other segments of population. Through Tito’s personal visitations and an elaborate ideological homogenization within the camps’ classrooms, the brigades’ Party cells apparently succeeded in alleviating more harmful forms of ideological misgivings among the youth.

The generations involved in the first phase of youth labor actions grew up under wartime conditions, surrounded by destruction and devastating poverty. Most of these youths, even had they been spared a direct contact with the ravages of war, were nevertheless deprived of a proper education, and their economic situation was bleak, with very slow signs of improvement in the immediate postwar years. Labor projects, with their wide variety of extra-labor activities and educational and professional programs, offered a unique opportunity for young people to compensate potentially for these disadvantages and obtain skills that would improve their prospects for social mobility. For the state, these programs also meant improving the educational profile of its citizens. These efforts, which ranged from decreasing rates of illiteracy and “semi-literacy,” creating various literary circles and cultural troupes, and directly preparing rural youth for jobs in industry, were intended to improve the educational structure and diversify the vocational profile of the younger generations in order to overcome the general backwardness of the Yugoslav society. However, the effect of these short-term educational programs should not be overemphasized, since they often produced a workforce that was insufficiently qualified, far too swollen for the needs and capacities of the early period of industrialization, and ultimately unable to fulfill the authorities’ ambitious modernizing agenda, in the long run even burdening economic development itself.

Another important aspect of Yugoslav youth labor projects that was always stressed by the Party was their pan-Yugoslav character. For many youths, especially those living in the mono-ethnic regions (such as Čačak), participation in the projects was the first chance to meet and interact personally with peers from different ethnic, religious and cultural milieus. This element was especially valuable in light of horrifying memories of ethnic cleansing and mass exoduses from just a few years earlier. Thus, the Communist Party’s axiom of “brotherhood and unity” between the Yugoslav peoples could be developed in practice. Moreover, involving foreign youth brigades (or simply inserting foreigners into the domestic ones) helped promote Yugoslav efforts to build a unique type of society, especially in the critical period after the split with the Soviet Union in 1948. Mingling with foreign peers from both the eastern and western side of the Iron Curtain enhanced the desired perception that Yugoslav citizens belonged to a united global working class, despite the country’s diplomatic isolation at a time when conflict with USSR was in full swing but the support of the West had not yet been won.

With their far-sighted emancipatory measures in mind, all reservations of some Party officials concerning the financial viability of organizing and sustaining “mammoth” federally supported youth projects were eventually cast aside, as the projects came to represent the social glue for the up-and-coming generations, deemed able to build an intrinsically socialist and multicultural society (supposedly) from scratch. This was the reason behind the decision to renew grand federal volunteer-based projects in 1958, sustaining this system (with significant modifications during the 1970s) almost until the end of the federation itself.72 Labor actions subsequently moved into the sphere of national mythology, becoming one of the defining symbols of the socialist era, as well as one of the most widespread uncritically cherished nostalgic memories for many former brigadiers in the post-socialist times. On the other end of the political spectrum, they were also used as a notorious example of the communists’ supposedly totalitarian tendencies. Eventually, the projects’ primary political aim of blatant and omnipresent indoctrination of young people with communist ideology proved far more superficial and shorter-lived than their secondary effects, mirrored in a far-reaching (albeit in many aspects incomplete) reconfiguration of the postwar social habitus in Yugoslavia.

Archival Sources

Međuopštinski istorijski arhiv u Čačku [Regional Historical Archives of Čačak], fond Omladinske radne brigade [Youth Labor Brigades Collection] and Lični fond Velimira Cvetića [Personal Collection of Velimir Cvetić].


Published Documents

Krnjajić, Marija, ed. “Spomenar komandanta Čačanske brigade ‘Ratko Mitrović’ Miodraga Obrenovića sa Omladinske pruge Brčko–Banovići” [Diary of the Commander of the Čačak Brigade ‘Ratko Mitrovic’ Miodrag Obrenovic from the Youth Railway Brčko–Banovići]. Izvornik, Građa Međuopštinskog istorijskog arhiva 28 (2013): 203–30.



Slobodni glas (Čačak) [Free Voice].


Secondary Sources

Anastasijević, Predrag M. Voluntary Labour Actions of the Yugoslav Youth. New Delhi: Tanjug, 1952.

Beograd – Grad akcijaša [Belgrade – City of Actions]. Belgrade: Gradska konferencija Saveza socijalističke omladine Beograda, 1985.

Janićijević, Dušan V. Dobrovoljni rad omladine Kraljeva [Voluntary Work of Kraljevo Youth]. Kraljevo: JP PTT Srbija, 1999.

Mihailović, Srećko. Omladinske radne akcije. Rezultati socioloških istraživanja [Youth Labor Actions. Results of Sociological Surveys]. Belgrade: Istraživačko-izdavački centar Saveza socijalističke omladine Srbije, 1985.

Mihailović, Srećko, and Grujica Spasović. Tito, radne akcije. Stvaraoci neodoljivog poleta [Tito, Labor Actions. Creators of Irresistible Vigour]. Belgrade: Istraživačko-izdavački centar Saveza socijalističke omladine Srbije, 1979.

Mitrović, Momčilo. Izgubljene iluzije. Prilozi za društvenu istoriju Srbije 1944–1952 [Lost Illusions. Contributions to the Social History of Serbia 1944–1952]. Belgrade: Institut za noviju istoriju Srbije, 1997.

Radne akcije Narodne omladine Hrvatske [Labor Actions of the People’s Youth of Croatia]. Zagreb: Centralni komitet Narodne omladine Hrvatske, 1949.

Ristanović, Slobodan V. To su naših ruku dela. Herojska i slavna epopeja omladinskih radnih akcija 1941–1990 [Heroic and Glorious Epic of Youth Labor Actions 1941–1990]. Belgrade: Kosmos, 2014.

Selinić, Slobodan. “Život na omladinskim radnim akcijama u Jugoslaviji 1946–1963” [Life at Youth Labor Actions in Yugoslavia 1946–1963]. Arhiv. Časopis Arhiva Srbije i Crne Gore 1–2 (2007): 119–37.

Selinić, Slobodan. “Omladina gradi Jugoslaviju (Savezne omladinske radne akcije u Jugoslaviji 1946–1963),” [Youth Building Yugoslavia (Federal Youth Labor Actions in Yugoslavia 1946–1963)]. Arhiv. Časopis Arhiva Srbije i Crne Gore 1–2 (2005): 87–101.

Selinić, Slobodan. “Počeci Novog Beograda – prva faza izgradnje Novog Beograda 1947–1950.” [Beginnings of New Belgrade. The First Phase of the New Belgrade Construction 1947–1950]. Tokovi istorije 4 (2007): 75–96.

Siegelbaum, Lewis H. Stakhanovism and the Politics of Productivity in the USSR 1935–1941. Cambridge: Cambrige University Press, 1990.

Supek, Rudi. Omladina na putu do bratstva. Psihosociologija radne akcije [Youth on the Path to Brotherhood. Psycho-sociology of a Labor Action]. Beograd: Mladost, 1963.

Vejzagić, Saša. “The Importance of Youth Labor Actions in Socialist Yugoslavia: A Case Study of the Motorway ‘Brotherhood and Unity’.” MA thesis, Central European University, 2013.

Udarnici prve smene graditelja omladinske pruge [Shock-Workers of the Youth Railway’s First Shift]. Belgrade: Novo pokolenje, 1946.

1 See Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Stakhanovism and the Politics of Productivity in the USSR 1935–1941 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

2 Predrag M. Anastasijević, Voluntary Labour Actions of the Yugoslav Youth (New Delhi: Tanjug, 1952), 6; Srećko Mihailović and Grujica Spasović, Tito, radne akcije. Stvaraoci neodoljivog poleta (Belgrade: Istraživačko-izdavački centar Saveza socijalističke omladine Srbije, 1979), 11–13.

3 This mass organization was renamed the People’s Youth (Narodna omladina) in May 1946.

4 Beograd – Grad akcijaša (Belgrade: Gradska konferencija Saveza socijalističke omladine Beograda, 1985), 18.

5 Mihailović and Srećković, Stvaraoci neodoljivog poleta, 23–27, 29–31, 114.

6 Slobodan Selinić, “Omladina gradi Jugoslaviju (Savezne omladinske radne akcije u Jugoslaviji 1946–1963),” Arhiv, Časopis Arhiva Srbije i Crne Gore 1–2 (2005): 88–89.

7 Slobodan Selinić, “Počeci Novog Beograda – prva faza izgradnje Novog Beograda 1947–1950.” Tokovi istorije 4 (2007): 75.

8 Srećko Mihailović, Omladinske radne akcije. Rezultati socioloških istraživanja (Belgrade: Istraživačko-izdavački centar Saveza socijalističke omladine Srbije, 1985), 9–10.

9 Mihailović and Spasović, Stvaraoci neodoljivog poleta, 21–31.

10 Anastasijević, Voluntary Labour Actions; Beograd – Grad akcijaša; Mihailović and Spasović, Stvaraoci neodoljivog poleta; Radne akcije Narodne omladine Hrvatske (Zagreb: Centralni komitet Narodne omladine Hrvatske, 1949); Udarnici prve smene graditelja omladinske pruge (Belgrade: Novo pokolenje, 1946). In this respect, a recently published monograph containing basic information on all labor actions in socialist Yugoslavia should be mentioned for its anthological comprehensiveness, despite its analytical dearth: Slobodan V. Ristanović, To su naših ruku dela. Herojska i slavna epopeja omladinskih radnih akcija 1941–1990 (Belgrade: Kosmos, 2014).

11 Mihailović, Omladinske radne akcije; Rudi Supek, Omladina na putu do bratstva. Psihosociologija radne akcije (Belgrade: Mladost, 1963).

12 Slobodan Selinić, “Život na omladinskim radnim akcijama u Jugoslaviji 1946–1963,” Arhiv, Časopis Arhiva Srbije i Crne Gore 1–2 (2007): 119–37; Slobodan Selinić, “Omladina gradi Jugoslaviju”; Saša Vejzagić, “The Importance of Youth Labor Actions in Socialist Yugoslavia: A Case Study of the Motorway ‘Brotherhood and Unity,’” (MA thesis, Central European University, 2013).

13Ratko Mitrović” brigades even had a slogan: “We bear his [Ratko Mitrović’s] name, the whole brigade is proud of him!” (Ratka Mitrovića mi nosimo ime, cela brigada ponosi se njime!”), Slobodni glas, August 3, 1946, 2.

14 D.Z., Treća ORB ‘Ratko Mitrović’ otišla na izgradnju Omladinske pruge,” Slobodni glas, September 7, 1946, 6.

15 Dušan V. Janićijević, Dobrovoljni rad omladine Kraljeva (Kraljevo: JP PTT Srbija, 1999), 61.

16 In brigades from other parts of Yugoslavia there were documented cases of brigadiers who were younger than fifteen (even twelve years old), probably due to the desperate insistence of the local organization on fulfilling the prescribed quotas (Selinić, “Omladina gradi Jugoslaviju,” 91; Selinić, “Počeci Novog Beograda,” 93).

17 In 1948, SKOJ and the People’s Youth merged into one youth supra-organization, keeping the latter’s name.

18 Selinić, “Omladina gradi Jugoslaviju,” 91–92, 95.

19 Vejzagić, “Motorway ‘Brotherhood and Unity’,” 53–55. Selinić emphasizes the almost military nature of the recruitment process (not the least because in the sources themselves recruitment is often referred to as “mobilization”) (Selinić, “Počeci Novog Beograda,” 81).

20 Janićijević, Rad omladine Kraljeva, 95.

21 In the villages of Atenica, Katrga and Rošci, the local commanders’ forceful method of agitation was stigmatized as “unpolitical” and “hostile,” but it was also pointed out that “we still need a sufficient number of youths” (“Budući zadaci osnoвnih organizacija ljubićko-trnavskog sreza po pitanju formiranja frontovskih radnih brigada,” Slobodni glas, June 10, 1949, 2). However, a quote from the local newspaper vividly depicts the indirect and informal methods of pressure that were employed to entice youths: “There should be no youngster who would not apply for the Youth Railway construction!” (B. Kostić, “Do 16. aprila treba izvršiti izbor omladinaca,” Slobodni glas, April 12, 1946, 6).

22 Vejzagić, “Motorway ‘Brotherhood and Unity’,” 51. In Čačak, the possibility of being accepted to labor projects was used as a motivational factor for bad students to improve their school marks (D. Grbić, “U našem odeljenju prijavilo se 29 učenika,” Slobodni glas, March 15, 1947, 2).

23 S.A., “Školska omladina Čačka učestvovaće na izgradnji auto-puta Bratstvo-Jedinstvo,” Slobodni glas, May 9, 1948, 4. Every attempt on the part of parents to prevent their children from participating in labor actions (or mass organizations in general) was strongly condemned (I. Pešić, O pogrešnom odnosu roditelja prema svojoj deci i omladinskim organizacijama,” Slobodni glas, October 1, 1948, 3).

24 B. Kostić, “Do 16. aprila treba izvršiti izbor omladinaca za sastav radne brigade koja će uzeti učešća na u radovima na izgradnji omladinske pruge,” Slobodni glas, April 12, 1946, 6; P.Đ., “275 omladinaca našeg okruga gradi omladinsku prugu,” Slobodni glas, May 8, 1946, 6.

25 Milisav Đurić, “Izgradnja nove omladinske pruge Šamac–Sarajevo najveći zadatak omladine u 1947. godini,” Slobodni glas, January 16, 1947, 2; Omladina okruga čačanskog sprema se za omladinsku prugu Šamac–Sarajevo,” Slobodni glas, March 8, 1947, 3.

26Na smotri u Čačku uzelo je učešća preko 4000 omladinaca iz sreza i grada,” Slobodni glas, April 2, 1948, 3; M.D. Rajčević, “Omladina moravičkog sreza u ovoj godini već je dala oko 7000 radnih dana na raznim lokalnim radovima,” Slobodni glas, April 2, 1948, 3.

27 For instance, the 1949 quota was surpassed by 27 percent in Bosnia and Herzegovina and only by 3.7 percent in Slovenia (Vejzagić, “Motorway ‘Brotherhood and Unity’,” 52–53).

28 The term udarniki was widely used in the Soviet Union to designate shock brigades and workers prior to the institutionalization of the Stakhanovite system in 1935. Since the culture of productivity was introduced in Yugoslavia only after World War II, different systems of shock-work were not distinguished in Serbo-Croatian, but were jointly grouped under the label udarništvo.

29 Međuopštinski istorijski arhiv u Čačku (hereafter: MIAČ), fond Omladinske radne brigade (hereafter: ORB), kutija 2, fascikla 3, Udarnička legitimacija Nikolić Nikole iz Donje Trepče, December 5, 1948.

30 Mihailović and Spasović, Stvaraoci neodoljivog poleta, 34. One of the reasons for such excessive toiling was also the authorities’ pragmatic insistence during the period of reconstruction that the work effect of unpaid workers should be five times greater than that of paid workers, see Momčilo Mitrović, Izgubljene iluzije. Prilozi za društvenu istoriju Srbije 1944–1952 (Belgrade: Institut za noviju istoriju Srbije, 1997), 19.

31 B.M., “Orlova Stena, radni logor čačanske brigade,” Slobodni glas, August 30, 1946, 3.

32 MIAČ, ORB, k-3, f-4, Opšta arhiva 1. čačanske srednjoškolske ORB “Rade Azanjac,” Ruma, July–August 1948. This is a somewhat lower percentage compared to the overall average for the whole New Belgrade project, during which every seventh brigadier became a shock-worker (Selinić, “Počeci Novog Beograda,” 86).

33 MIAČ, ORB, k-3, f-4, Karakteristike brigadira 1. čačanske srednjoškolske brigade “Rade Azanjac” (1948).

34 MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-3, Kratke biografije predloženih.

35 MIAČ, ORB, k-1, f-4, Odluka o zabrani prekovremenog rada, July 23, 1952.

36 MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-1, Karakteristike brigadira; f-2, Prozivnik 2. ljubićko-trnavske brigade; k-3, f-2, Knjiga karakteristika brigadira 2. ljubićko-trnavske brigade (1948); f-3, Karakteristike brigadira 1. srednjoškolske ORB Rade Azanjac (1948); MIAČ, Lični fond Velimira Cvetića (hereafter: VC), Karakteristike par članova. Particularly interesting is the fact that brigade commanders put a high value on the contribution of brigadiers (or the lack thereof) to overall socialization within the barracks. Thus, the strongest remarks in some evaluations would be: “in crowds, he was closed off and introverted,” “he is many comrades’ favorite character,” “not serious in conversations with other brigadiers,” “he was always moody when among others,” “she was popular for her jolliness and her decent, comradely life and behavior”. MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-1, Karakteristike brigadira 11. srpske brigade, Železnik (1947).

37 Četnici is the colloquial term for the monarchist Yugoslav Army in the Homeland (Jugoslovenska vojska u otadžbini) that undertook a rebellion against German occupation as early as May 1941, fighting together with partisans until their ideological split in November 1941. They were focused on sparing ethnic Serbs from open confrontations with Nazis, as well as preventing communists from inciting a socialist revolution. Consequently, many četnik units entered into tacit collaboration with the Nazi regime, and some commanders ordered severe reprisals against Muslim civilians in Bosnia and Sandžak.

38 MIAČ, ORB, k-3, f-4, Karakteristike članova 1. srednjoškolske brigade “Rade Azanjac” (1948).

39 To make this case even more bizarre, his brigade commander suspected him of having belonged to četnici during the war (MIAČ, VC, Pismo sreskog komiteta SKOJ Okružnom komitetu u Gornjem Milanovcu, April 29, 1946).

40 The insufficient number of work uniforms, as well as of basic clothing (trousers, shirts and underwear), caused many problems during the 1946 project, but it seems that in later projects these procurements were much better planned, becoming yet another asset with which to attract poor youths to actions. Several brigadiers were strongly criticized for walking to and from the construction site in old and ragged uniforms, although they had received new ones. The commanders reminded them that they would not be allowed to take the new uniforms home, no matter how well they preserved them, whereas walking through the streets of Belgrade in ragged clothes put the brigade in a bad light and only provided malicious reactionaries with additional arguments. MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-5, Knjiga dnevne zapovesti 1. čačanske srednjoškolske ORB “Rade Azanjac” od 9.6. do 8.7.1949. i 2. čačanske srednjoškolske ORB “Rade Azanjac” od 8.7. do 5.8.1949. In the Highway construction camp, there were cases of brigadiers abandoning the brigade without returning their clothes. SKOJ officials back home were instructed to regulate this issue. MIAČ, ORB, k-3, f-1, Spiskovi brigadira 1. Ljubićko-trnavske brigade (po četama).

41 MIAČ, VC, Pribeleške za sastanke (1947).

42 MIAČ, VC, Poleđina spiska članova SKOJ (1946).

43 MIAČ, ORB, k-1, f-4, Zapažanja dežurnog brigadira (1952); MIAČ, ORB, k-3, f-4, Opšta arhiva 1. čačanske srednjoškolske ORB “Rade Azanjac” (July–August, 1948).

44 MIAČ, ORB, k-3, f-3, Zapisnici sa sastanka štaba i partijske ćelije (1949).

45 Some youths also threatened not to prolong their stay in the camp if there would not be more straw for beds and meat for lunch. The Party cell dismissed such complaints, claiming that there were “opportunists” who were taking two meal portions, thus leaving other comrades without any food. MIAČ, ORB, k-3, f-3, Zapisnici sa sastanka štaba i partijske ćelije 5. Ljubićsko-trnavske brigade (1948).

46 Vejzagić, “Motorway ‘Brotherhood and Unity’,” 66. Military instructors also used their veteran status to transmit their personal experiences of the Liberation Struggle to younger brigadiers (MIAČ, VC, Posetili su nas delegati našeg okruga).

47 MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-2, Dnevnik zanimanja, June 30, 1949.

48 Ibid., Vejzagić, “Motorway ‘Brotherhood and Unity’,” 68.

49 MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-5, Knjiga dnevne zapovesti 1. и 2. čačanske srednjoškolske ORB “Rade Azanjac” od 9.6. do 8.7.1949. i od 8.7. do 5.8.1949; MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-1, Evidencija dnevne zapovesti 1. Ljubićko-trnavkse brigade, 20.4.-16.6.1950.

50 Mihailović and Spasović, Stvaraoci neodoljivog poleta, 29. According to Selinić, at least 185 cases of death can be documentarily proven for the period 1946–1963, most of which occurred at the New Belgrade and Highway projects (Selinić, “Život na radnim akcijama,” 123–124). The only documented case of death in Čačak brigades in this period was that of Radiša Stefanović, who was mortally injured by a truck at the New Belgrade worksite on August 1, 1950. This death was laconically mentioned in the brigade’s official diary, without any further notice or comment (MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-3, Dnevnik života i rada 3. Ljubićko-trnavske brigade na Novom Beogradu od 1.7. do 28.8.1950).

51 Vejzagić, “Motorway ‘Brotherhood and Unity’,” 79.

52 MIAČ, ORB, k-3, f-3, Zapisnici sa sastanka štaba i partijske ćelije (1948).

53 MIAČ, ORB, k-3, f-3, Zapisnici sa sastanka štaba i partijske ćelije 5. ljubićko-trnavske brigade (1949).

54 Žika Marjanović, “Dopis sa omladinske pruge,” Slobodni glas, May 1, 1947, 3.

55 MIAČ, ORB, k-1, f-1, Izveštaji 2. čačanske ORB “Ratko Mitrović” (Bukinje – Orlova stena, August, 1946).

56 Selinić, “Život na omladinskim radnim akcijama,” 126.

57 MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-3, Biblioteka logora ‘Jože Vlahović’ and Inventar knjiga 2. Ljubićko-trnavske brigade.

58 Selinić, “Život na omladinskim radnim akcijama,” 125.

59 MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-3, Zapisnik kulturno-prosvetnog odbora 3. Ljubićko-trnavske brigade, July 9, 1950.

60 Janićijević, Rad omladine Kraljeva, VI–VIII.

61 MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-3, Zapisnik kulturno-prosvetnog odbora 3. Ljubićko-trnavske brigade, July 9–August 22, 1950.

62 MIAČ, ORB, k-3, f-3, Dnevnik 5. Ljubićko-trnavske brigade od 7.9. do 29.11.1949. In this regard, it should be mentioned that the official discourse frequently accented cinema visits as an advent of modernization. All the more peculiar was the consternation of the 3rd ljubićko-trnavska brigade commander (working at New Belgrade in 1950) at the fact that during film screenings, apart from being very noisy and littering, some male comrades did not even realize that they were not permitted to urinate inside the cinema hall (MIAČ, ORB, k-2, f-3, Knjiga zapovesti 3. Ljubićko-trnavske brigade, 4.7.–29.8.1950).

63 Mihailović and Spasović, Stvaraoci neodoljivog poleta, 78.

64 MIAČ, VC, Dopis Gvozdena Jovanića o pristizanju u Brčko (1946).

65 Ljubiša Lazarević, “Druga dragačevska brigada na autoputu proglašena za dvaput udarnu,” Slobodni glas, July 23, 1948, 3.

66 MIAČ, VC, Karakteristike članova ORB “Ratko Mitrović” (1946).

67 Ljubiša Lazarević, “Druga dragačevska brigada na autoputu proglašena za dvaput udarnu,” Slobodni glas, July 23, 1948, 3; Radisav Pajić, “Čačanska omladinska brigada vratila se triput udarna,” Slobodni glas, July 16, 1949, 4.

68 Mihailović and Spasović, Stvaraoci neodoljivog poleta, 29, 114.

69 Marija Krnjajić, ed. “Spomenar komandanta čačanske brigade ‘Ratko Mitrović’ Miodraga Obrenovića sa omladinske pruge Brčko–Banovići,” Izvornik, građa Međuopštinskog istorijskog arhiva Čačak 28 (2013): 211.

70 MIAČ, ORB, k-1, f-1, Fotografije sa Omladinske pruge Brčko–Banovići (1946).

71 Janićijević, Rad omladine Kraljeva, 313; Udarnici prve smene, 23, 72.

72 Janićijević, Rad omladine Kraljeva, 369.

Volume 4 Issue 1 CONTENTS

pdfSándor Horváth

Life of an Agent: Re-Energizing Stalinism and Learning the Language of Collaboration after 1956 in Hungary


In order for a secret police report to be taken seriously, it had to be lodged in the proper form, according to the discursive styles of the state bureaucracy, and in particular the secret police. Thus, the authors of the reports adopted numerous elements of style and rhetoric in order to ensure that their goals would be achieved. How was this bureaucratic style adopted in Hungary, and how did ordinary citizens decide to accommodate to or cooperate with the authorities under the communist regime after the 1956 Revolution? I argue that the creators and editors of the secret police reports (the “unofficial informants” and their case officers) were “sculpting” the official language as an artefact and mapping their social network in accordance with idealized images of the politico-social body. The first step in the implementation of massive, forceful coercion was to change the narratives and the social categories that were used to depict the social status of a “good citizen” and the local communities. In the early phases of their work, during which they learned what was expected of them and how to meet these expectations, the informants mastered the language of the secret police in order to ensure, in the meantime, that they were able to realize their own personal goals in their local communities by taking advantage of their access to the state security network. Thus the function of the reports on the one hand was rhetorical: they were made in order to feed the bureaucracy. On the other, they served as a means with which their authors won approval among other members of the network of their personal, everyday goals. The authoring of reports, which can be understood as a kind of period of training, thus was not simply a matter of exercising social control, but quite the reverse, it also served as a means of appropriating power by members of society in the interests of specific personal goals that had little or nothing to do directly with the agendas of the regime.

Keywords: communist regime, Kádár regime, bureaucratic language, secret police, cooperation, political participation, Eastern Europe, Hungary


Throughout the entire Kádár regime (the period between 1957 and 1989 in Hungary),1 a man referred to in the records as Gy. wrote reports from a mining village in Nógrád county, which is dotted with small villages nestled in valleys.2 Like a king in disguise, with his reports he dispensed justice in the everyday affairs of the village. Gradually, he mastered the language of the bureaucracy. As the president of the division of the local football team, which played in the second tier of the national championship teams when it was at its best, he traveled through the mining region. He was given his first task because of the figures who prompted a massacre by the Communist police in the city of Salgótarján on December 8, 19563 (a large part of the victims were from the village in which he lived) and because of his father-in-law, a Social Democrat who hailed from a mining family that had emigrated to Hungary from northern Italy. He was given his last task because of the reburial of Imre Nagy, the Prime Minister of the revolutionary government in 1956 who was executed in 1958. The reburial, which took place in 1989, was an event of great symbolic significance.4 Gy. himself was injured at the time of the 1956 massacre (according to his relatives, not in the actual violence of the massacre, but rather in an accident that took place elsewhere), but presumably the police did not use this in order to pressure him to write reports, but rather the fact that in 1948 he had been sentenced to ten years in prison as a war criminal (he had been released after having served 18 months). His refusal to cooperate with the state security forces, his alleged or presumed participation in the events of 1956 (Gy. had been a member of a workers’ council in 1956), and his conviction as a war criminal provided the police with ample material with which to blackmail and recruit him.

National politics repeatedly crisscrossed the life history of the informant referred to in the official documents simply by the letters Gy., in spite of the fact that, having gotten average grades in school, he spent the better part of his life working as a physical laborer or in a low-level office position in the railway service and later the mine. Using his life history, I attempt to make a local interpretation (in other words the “view from the bottom”) of the major events that shaped the twentieth century more understandable.5 In this article, I address, within this larger framework, how Gy. became part of the secret police network and how he mastered the official language with which he was able, on the one hand, to write reports that were considered acceptable by the authorities and, on the other, to achieve his own personal goals, using the network as a means.

According to Michael Shafir, when an official view of history, such as the Marxist–Leninist one, is abolished, memory and historical scholarship become competitors. Shafir makes this observation in connection with the report of the Tismăneanu Committee as the presentation of a kind of conclusive and absolute historical narrative.6 A similar process was underway following the events of 1989 which shaped the “agent-hunting” narrative mode based on the impassioned call to make the files of the secret police and the lists of operatives and agents accessible to the public.

After all, if society consisted exclusively of victims and perpetrators, then not only could the perpetrators be found out, on moral grounds they must be found out, as this would contribute to the consolidation of democracy, at least according to prevailing public opinion. According to this narrative, the denunciation of agents and the “cleansing” of public life of the “perpetrators” of the previous system (lustration) were both demands of civil rights activists and political tools.7 The demand to make the files accessible to the public was a campaign the emotional point of departure of which was the belief that the success of the committees “in search of the truth” depended on society’s fortitude. Thus, the many volumes that have been written on state security forces notwithstanding, as of yet no empirical studies have been done addressing the question of the extent to which the state securities actually constituted an element that stabilized the system. As by now has come to seem almost self-evident on the basis of source criticism on the documents of the state security forces, for the contents of these documents have been understood as reflections not of “reality,” but rather of the expectations of the state security forces and the party, and not only by scholars and researchers, but also by readers at the time.

For these reasons, relatively little attention has been devoted to the fact that the texts that were created and used by the networks were the products of a form of interaction in which the informers became part of the bureaucracy through a distinctive kind of training process. In order to be able to write reports that would meet the needs of the authorities, they had to learn the clichés that they were expected to use. As Katherine Verdery has written in connection with the Securitate on the last period of the era, “the Securitate increasingly became a pedagogical or didactic rather than a punitive institution.”8 As I intend to show in this article, however, the relationship between Gy. and his case officer was similar to the relationship between a teacher and a pupil, at least from their perspective, even from the outset, though in the case of Gy. we are speaking of a “pupil” who learned not only what was expected of him, but also how to achieve his own goals indirectly by making use of the reports.

I argue in this article that the function of the secret police reports on the one hand was rhetorical: they were made in order to feed the bureaucracy. On the other hand, however, they served as a means with which their authors won approval among other members of the network of their personal, everyday goals. The authoring of reports, which can be understood as a kind of period of training, thus was not simply a matter of exercising social control, but quite the reverse, it also served as a means of appropriating power by members of society in the interests of specific personal goals that had little or nothing to do directly with the agendas of the regime.

Towards the end of the 1960s, mining in Nógrád was irrelevant on the national level as the working class policy had become less and less important for the Kádár regime.9 Gy.’s mine was closed in 1968 because it was no longer regarded as economically viable,10 though the sedulous sentries of the state security forces continued to insist on the submission of reports by agents who took a fancy to writing them and who, by then, had provided ample proof of their reliability. More and more frequently, Gy. used the reports as tools with which to promote his own interests. He could enforce “justice” for the “little man” (for instance, in the tavern they were watering down the wine, or cars were being repaired on the black market in the neighboring street). The reports contain not calls for collective action, but rather numerous manners of attempting to further personal interests.

In this article, I seek the answer to the question of how Gy., as the author of texts used by the state security, reinterpreted his own identity and how he created a portrayal of himself as a useful member of society. This was the period in his life when, as the head of the division of the local soccer team, he had a large network of relationships, which he used when writing reports. His collaboration with the local authorities (in comparison with the transformation of the inhabitants of the village) was not striking by any means. The financial positions of his neighbors and relatives (which can be clearly traced in the census records) were closely linked to his cooperation with the regime.11

The Preconditions: A Life Story before the Secret Police

Gy. was born in 1923, the son of a mechanic who worked at the Salgótarján Coal Mine Company, which was sinking into financial ruin because of the new borders of the Treaty of Trianon, which severed the mines from many of the communities they have served. His mother used her mother’s Swabian name.12 Gy.’s mother, like her mother before her, gave birth to her first child at the age of sixteen as an unwed girl. Fortunately for her, one fine day towards the end of World War I she was introduced to a man six years her senior, a locksmith named Aladár whose family was part of the petty nobility and who would later become Gy.’s father. Until the beginning of the Communist era in Hungary, Gy. spelled his family name with the letter “y” on the end, an indication of noble rank, but he then changed it to “i,” which helped spare him the wrath of the authorities. Aladár’s father was a magistrate of an administrative district in Zagyvapálfalva, a village that later was inundated with miners, but according to the recollections of family members, after the war, having been caught embezzling money from the widows’ war relief fund, he shot himself in the head, either out of guilt or shame.13 Aladár had only one flaw: he limped, because during the war he had been shot in the heel while serving on the front by Isonzo. So he was slightly less popular among the women. This may explain why he was willing to marry a woman who had already given birth to an illegitimate child. She would give birth to six more children. The birth registries of her many children allow one to track the wanderings of the family in the mining region relatively easily. Gy. had two older sisters, but following the death of his older brother in childhood he was the oldest boy in the family. (His parents went on to have three more children, all girls.)14

Sociolographer Zoltán Szabó characterized Kisterenye, the village in Nógrád county where Gy. was born, in the 1930s as a community in which, in exchange for their submissiveness and compliance, workers could live a bit better: “they had the best opportunities regarding schooling for their children, they read the most bourgeois newspapers, and most of the radios were playing in their apartments.”15 The village had a public elementary school paid for by the mine, a tavern, a club for balls, a physician’s office and, in the middle of the settlement, a soccer field, which was the center of social life and the marriage market. Girls could gather to socialize near the field without having to fear people gossiping about them. Gy. met his wife by the soccer field, leaning on the fence. In the village, a house with two rooms, like the one in which Gy.’s family lived (with six children), counted as upper middle class in the local community. The careers of Gy.’s surviving brothers are tales of social mobility. One of his younger brothers became a factory director (towards the end of his life he was discharged with a pension after facing accusations of having abused his position as director for personal gain).16 His other brother became an accountant and was later found guilty of embezzlement.17

For Gy.’s family, schooling meant an opportunity to rise in the social hierarchy, and they strove to take advantage of this opportunity. In autumn 1929, Gy. began to attend school, and in the first class of elementary school he was already among the best students in the class. He was given the highest possible marks in every subject with the exception of reading.18 He may have been one of the favorite students of instructor Emil Sümeg. “Old man Emil,” as he was called, was the one-man organizer of the school in the village, and he was passionate about the task. He was regarded as the “voice of the people” in the village. He wrote petitions, as did Gy.’s social democratic father-in-law. For instance, after the occupation of the country by Germany in March 1944, old man Emil denounced the German soldiers in the village to the management of the mine because they had insulted three women and “did not respect the fence, […] in many places simply trampling them down.”19 Later his name was listed in the records of the secret service recruits, but whatever reports he may have made did not survive.20 In the end, Gy. wrote one of his first reports for the communist secret police about Emil.

Because of his excellent grades in school, Gy. was enrolled in the higher elementary school (a kind of middle school, called polgári, which means citizen) in the neighboring agricultural town. Because of his acuity, he was allowed to begin in the second form, where he paid discounted tuition. The pupils from the mining towns went in separate train cars to the school, which was intended to fashion citizens out of them who would be loyal to the state and could later fill positions in the local bureaucracy. In the first semester, Gy. got the highest possible mark in only one subject, religious instruction. In the other subjects he usually got the lowest passing grade, though a few times he got a decent mark. His form-master classified his handwriting as passably legible. This improved considerably with time. The handwritten reports that he submitted to the political police as an adult are written with precise, clearly legible letters, and as a young adult he also worked as a clerk at the mine. As the years passed, Gy. became better and better as a student, though he was never an outstanding talent.21

The representatives of the city of Pásztó were hesitant to vote on the establishment of a school because of the costs. The school commissioner convinced them to give their approval by informing them that if they were to resolve to have the school built, they would be eligible to receive support from the state, which could be a good source of income for local builders. If, however, the state were to order the construction of a school because of the size of the population of the city, then they would lose any possibility of funding. The local farmers continued to look with skepticism on the idea of a school.22

The railway employees, however, saw schooling as an opportunity to rise in the community, as did the miners who in the meantime had immigrated to and colonized the city. Gy.’s class was comprised almost entirely of the children of the local employees and miners.23 All of his siblings attended the higher elementary school, where they were given a patriotic education. As was noted in the school bulletin, the students began and ended the school day with prayer, as was common at the time. They commemorated the heroes of the battle of Limonowa (in late 1914, the troops of the Austro-Hungarian army defeated the army of the Russian Czar near the city of Limonowa in what today is Poland) and discussed the ties between the Hungarians and the Finno-Ugric peoples in Hungarian class (an idea that by then had gained widespread acceptance). In an attempt to support Hungarian industry, careful attention was paid to ensure that the students only used school supplies and materials for handicrafts that had been made in Hungary.24

When Gy. was in the third grade, the schools found themselves obliged to introduce a uniform text for prayer and exclude all other prayers. Religion functioned as an obligatory state and ideological framework in the process of fashioning the ideal citizenry. Gy., who like his father was a Calvinist, was almost alone in the almost entirely Catholic class. There were two Lutheran boys and also three Jews who, while the other students were reciting the text of the uniform prayer, were allowed not to make the sign of the cross.25

In 1937, following visits to the factory, Gy.’s class went on an excursion to Budapest. In Budapest, which to many of the students must have seemed like an enormous metropolis, they watched the military parade that was held in honor of the Italian king and queen on Mussolini Square (as of 1936, this was the name of the square that today is Oktogon). The school yearbook contained the following lines about the event: “They can take everything from us, Trianon can banish planes from the skies, forbid tanks, but there is one thing they cannot take from our souls, cannot kill in our hearts: the Hungarian Soldier.”26 The notion of the Hungarian soldier and the repudiation of the Treaty of Trianon (the post-war treaty according to which Hungary had lost roughly two-thirds of its territory to the surrounding states in the wake of World War I) were two pillars of the cultivation of a patriotic citizenry in the school.

The formal rank of the institution as a grammar school did not guarantee the pupils positions in offices.27 When he left the school, as the oldest male child in the family Gy. pursued the study of a trade in industry at the mine and waited for an opportunity to acquire a position at the railway, where salaries were much higher. In 1942, with his uncle’s help, he was given a position as a trainee at the Hungarian National Railway.28

Because of the program promoting industrialization (the so-called 1938 Győri program), the railway was expanding and needed more and more employees. In 1942, Gy. began to work as an apprentice in the stock room in the train station in Miskolc, a city in northeastern Hungary. However, one evening he was caught rummaging through boxes from the Cikta shoe factory (the Hungarian name for the Bata shoe factory) and also boxes of cigarettes. In the wake of the territorial changes according to which a strip of territory in southern Czechoslovakia became part of Hungary, the Czech company, Bata, founded a Hungarian factory. For Gy., the Cikta shoes were sort of like an entrance ticket into the world of the “middle class”. They did not actually find any shoes on him, but they did find two boxes of so-called Dames cigarettes for women. Dames were the favorite cigarettes of Katalin Karády, a popular actress at the time (the Hungarian Marlene Dietrich, as it were), and they were popular in part because of their elegant, decorative packaging. Gy. may have wanted to use them as part of a romantic conquest, because he smoked a different brand. He was given a reprimand and fired.29

He was nonetheless able to find a position as a traffic assistant at another railway post in Transdanubia, since the records were not coordinated on the national level. In 1944, the frontline reached his station in Fejér County. He served in Seregélyes, a settlement not far from Székesfehérvár, on the front, the so-called Margit-line, which was one of the best fortified defense lines in Hungary and in the winter of 1944 was becoming rigid. According to the locals, towards the end of the war the village went back and forth between the Soviet and the German forces seven times.30 Gy. escaped conscription, but at the time of the second occupation of the village by the Germans (which witnessed the vengeful acts of Arrow Cross men from the area around Székesfehérvár) he committed the act for which he was later convicted of being a war criminal. Indirectly because of him, a Ruthenian railway employee was executed. The man, who was accused of having helped the Soviet soldiers get women in the village and having robbed the official residence of the station agent, was executed. When the German soldiers recaptured the village (in the course of a maneuver called Konrad III), Gy. reported the Ruthenian man to the gendarmerie in Székesfehérvár, which at the time was working together closely with the Arrow Cross. Not once in the records of the people’s tribunal was the man’s name spelled correctly, but thanks to the digitalized documents and records of the Archives of the Hungarian National Railway and the assistance of an archivist (and also a bit of good luck), I was able to identify him and find his descendants. The history of the Ruthenian railway employee offers a pithy encapsulation of the experiences of the inhabitants of Sub-Carpathia between 1939 and 1944, as well as their relationship to Hungary. Without ever having changed places of residence, over the course of his life the man worked for the railway service of three different countries (since in the space of a mere two decades the territory was part first of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, then Czechoslovakia, and then Hungary). Then, like most people from Sub-Carpathia, he was labeled a “politically unreliable Ruthenian” and sent to the western Hungarian border and then the stations near the front.31 The conflict between him and the station agent arose because the station master failed to pay him three months’ salary in advance, which all the other employees had received with the approach of the front.32

After the war, Gy. became one of the targets of the Communist political police, which was beginning to organize in Székesfehérvár.33 In 1949, the officer responsible for his case, a man named Gyögy Székely, emigrated for the West, and the state security forces gathered a significant amount of material on him when he was abroad, because he was accused of collaborating with the English secret service.34 When the case involving Gy. was underway, Székely was not named chief of police in Székesfehérvár, which was a sign of the temporary relegation of the Communist police to the background.35 In 1945, Gy. was acquitted, the confessions that had been extracted from him by the police notwithstanding, as indeed was the overwhelming majority of people facing accusations in front of the people’s court in Székesfehérvár. What factors determined whether someone was convicted of war crimes or not?

The marginalization of the Communists in rural areas towards the end of 1945 made it possible for the accused who stood before the tribunal, which was by no means in the hands of the Communists, to withdraw confessions that had been made (often violently coerced) to the police, which was in the hands of the Communists.36 On the basis of the ruling, if someone helped the gendarmerie commit an act that was regarded as “necessary retribution” or that was in compliance with the laws at the time, this did not constitute a war crime. Since the police had acted in compliance with the laws that were in effect in 1944, according to this logic the deportations and the provision of assistance with the deportations were not illegal unless someone had been excessively “diligent.” The tribunal regarded Gy.s report, which had resulted in a man’s execution, as legal, and the members of the tribunal were able to portray the victim, whose name they could not spell and about whom they knew next to nothing, as guilty without any discussion.37

Having been acquitted, Gy. returned to his village. With the help of his family, he found a position at the mine as a clerk. In 1946, he wrote a few lines in Népsport (“People’s Sports”) about the local miners’ soccer team, which was doing well at the time. Few people knew anything about his case. He married the daughter, a girl sixteen years of age, of a prominent local Social Democratic miner who, as a something of an active agitator, paid visits to prisons between 1917 and 1957, under several different political systems. His father-in-law, furthermore, was an important figure of the Social Democratic party in Nógrád, which to an extent broke from “mainstream” Peyer Social Democratic ideas.38 He was present at strikes that were held in the village of Etes during World War I and in the crowd that gathered before the massacre in Salgótarján in 1956. His political activism made him a symbolic figure in the area. Gy. argued about politics with him more than with anyone else.

In 1948, before he emigrated, Székely, the police captain who had interrogated and beaten Gy. in 1945, traveled to Budapest, where he met with the National Soviet of the People’s Tribunals. Gy.’s case was reopened and he was sentenced to ten years of forced labor, though the sentence was changed to imprisonment.39 He was put in the prison on Kozma Street in Budapest, which at the time was one of the strictest prisons in Hungary. I was allowed by the director of the prison to examine prison files that have not yet been turned over to the archives.40 In 1950, the Hungarian State Security Authorities took over control of the building, and there was greater need for space in the cells, which had once been crowded with the accused who had been convicted by the people’s tribunals.41 In early 1950, Gy. was granted amnesty in order to help address the lack of space. Initially, he worked as a barrowman in the mine, but as he was not accustomed to difficult physical labor and was able to write well, with the help of sympathetic souls who had gathered around him, he was given a position—of no great prominence—in an office.42

In 1956, Nógrád, which was regarded as a county rife with the spirit of rebellion, played an important role in national politics, since lack of coal due to the miners’ strike crippled industrial production.43 This is one of the reasons why the first Kádár government strove to restart production by using workers’ councils.44 Gy. was elected by his coworkers to serve as a member of the workers’ council at his workplace.45 Later, the workers’ councils were cast as enemies of the people in the official discourses of the Kádár era. By the end of 1957, the local Social Democrats had also come to be seen or at least cast by the regime as enemies of the people. Gy.’s first important task was to keep them under close watch, and his father-in-law, an old Social Democrat, was the first person of interest.

The Proper Report: Pedagogy of the Oppressed?

Reports and the bureaucratic forms of the reports (i.e. the written reports) were important elements of the “institutionalized culture of complaint,” as several historians have referred to it.46 It is not irrelevant, however, to consider who obtained the right to lodge complaints and how, and whose complaints were actually taken seriously. Anyone whose complaint was taken seriously unavoidably became part of the state exercise of power, since the complaint functioned as the point of departure for the series of measures that were taken by the state. In order for a complaint to taken seriously, it had to be lodged in the proper form, according to the discursive styles of the state bureaucracy. Thus the authors of the reports adopted numerous elements of style and rhetoric in order to ensure that their complaints would be heard. I analyze how these reports actually gave someone the opportunity “to get as close to a public sphere as one is likely to get” under the Kádár regime.47

In this section of my article I argue that the participants in the secret police network, which included the agents (informants), the case officers (who oversaw the work of the agents), and the people who read the reports, sought solutions to the problems of their private lives by presenting them as if they were communal issues. In part as a consequence of this, they blurred the border between the private and public spheres by divulging the details of their private lives, thereby making communal (and therefore state) control seem more acceptable. By revealing details of their private lives, the authors of the reports let the figures of the state bureaucracy into their bedrooms, which they were not actually obliged to do, making their private lives part of the state bureaucracy by seeking solutions, with their reports, to their personal problems. The decision to blabber about one’s private life was for the most part the result of a personal decision on the part of an author seeking to further his or her own personal interests. One of the goals of the network of informants was thus not simply to ensure knowledge of and control over the circles in which the agents moved, but also to transform the informants themselves into bureaucrats on whom the regime could rely. Moreover, the authors of the reports attempted to veil their personal interests by (over)emphasizing their sense of responsibility to the community. In other words, both sides used the secret police network to achieve their goals: the network was used not only by the regime for purposes of surveillance and control, but also the operatives (the case officers and the unofficial informants), who used it in their interests. Indeed, their personal interests were far more important from their perspectives. This raises an important question, namely, who had the right to lodge a personal complaint, and what was the proper manner of doing so.

Gy. was 34 years old when he was recruited as an agent. He had three small children. His older daughter, who had been born while he was in prison, was 9 and was in school. His son, who was 4, had not been accepted to the kindergarten, and his wife took care of their youngest daughter, who was barely more than one year old and who had been born in 1956, during the miners’ strike.48 Gy., who was not terribly accustomed to hard labor in an underground mine, first worked in an office. As of the beginning of 1957, he worked underground, and not just on paper, but in reality, as a barrowman, in three shifts. Workers were given bonus pay for working on Sundays, but in his case this bonus was withheld as punishment. His youngest daughter, who had been born in September 1956, was a year and a half old at the beginning of 1958, when the family was told she could attend the nursery school, which was a modest dream come true for them.49 She was accepted into the nursery soon after Gy. began writing reports. Gy. had many reasons to submit to the regime and write reports: the hope that he might be reassigned to a position in the office, the possibility that he might be able to find employment for his wife, and later the hope that his children would be given places in the nursery and kindergarten, since his wife had fallen gravely ill. (He even made specific mention of the question of admittance to the kindergarten in one of his reports, and the secret police helped him resolve the problem.)

Gy. and his case officer learned, largely in the course of their collaborative work, how to write a good report, and this enabled them to write numerous reports, and at their own initiative. Gy. found it difficult to imitate the style of the reports, and he had hardly had much instruction. As a mining clerk, he had grown accustomed to beginning a text by addressing its projected audience, but obviously he couldn’t address his first case officer, named Ecsegi, as “esteemed lieutenant, Sir,” or “esteemed comrade” because of the conspiracy, because this might imply collusion. He didn’t know quite how to start. In the end, he began his first report in an official tone: “I respectfully report that Sándor B., a resident of the Kossuth neighborhood of Kisterenye […]” This was followed by a brief description of the man in question, “brown-haired, tall,” and then a reference to his health as an identifying feature (he had a limp). The physical description was followed by an important characterization of his political stance, which later became one of Gy.’s favorite formulas: “he is an enemy of the people’s democracy.” This phrase he borrowed from the contemporary propaganda.50

Gy. had to be sure to write something that would be useful and incriminating, for he must have feared that if he were to submit a useless report, he himself might be dragged off to prison, as he had been in 1948 and as his coworkers had been after 1956. He was very afraid of prison. According to his wife, “he was badly beaten, he did not engage in politics.”51 However, of the members of his family, he engaged in politics more intensively than anyone else at that time.

Gy. provided—probably in response to a specific request—a dramatic description of a dialogue just before the Salgótarján massacre that he had heard more than a year earlier: “the aforementioned went over to the shaft [of the mine] and made the following declaration: ‘everyone out of the engine room and off to [Salgó]Tarján. Your place is there. Anyone who doesn’t come is an enemy of the people.’”52 Then another cliché regarding the enemy, which this time he put in the mouth of the enemy so that it would be understandable. Gy. submitted reports that clearly resembled denunciations. He thereby managed to ensure that his reports would be read and taken seriously, even if he wasn’t able to imitate the styles of the official discourse perfectly, and that he would be praised for his diligence.

Gy. managed to exceed expectations when completing his next task as well. His task, which was intended as a good warm-up for the novice agent, was to provide descriptions of the characters of two Social Democrats who were well-known in the village. The first of these two men was Gy.’s father-in-law himself, who was almost seventy years old, and Gy. provided a detailed characterization indeed. The warm-up task in other cases was also not something unusual, since first he had to learn the bureaucratic rules of the genre and the form of the report. In 1957, every Social Democrat was regarded as an enemy of the party, as they were seen as people who might insight workers to strike. Gy.s’ report on his father-in-law was not restrained. “He is right-wing in his biases, someone who is not pleased by the fact that the Communists are in power,” he wrote, in the precise handwriting he had learned in the higher elementary school. And in order to ensure that his audience appreciated his achievement, he added, “he was never pleased by the fact that in the elections in 1945 and then the next elections, MKP [Hungarian Communist Party] […] won. He was always an agitator of the former Social Democrat party.”53 But alongside the political concerns, Gy. also makes frequent mention of personal tensions: “He is very verbose and quarrelsome.”54

Gy. wrote this report at home. In the modest miner’s residence he seems to have found a corner where he could hide his deeds from his three children. He complained, however, that it was difficult for him to write reports in the tight space of his home. “Back home it was hard to write,” he complained. It was difficult to work, and he had not been given an office. His case officer, Ecsegi, liked his style, but Ecsegi’s superior wanted something different: “we must find out, by using the agents, what kinds of connections there are among the old Social Democrats in Kisterenye, Nagybátony, and Salgótarján. Are there any such people at all? Who are these people?”55 In the end, both Ecsegi and Gy. learned what their task was. They did not have to fumble in the dark. Later, the case officer switched the order of the first two reports in the file precisely for this reason. It became clear for them that the Social Democrats were the topic of interest, not the 1956 massacre in Salgótarján.

The third report was the first to bear this word, “Report,” as its title. They finally told Gy. to write this word at the top of the page. Ecsegi told him other things as well. Gy. begins the text with the “my task was to” formula. One of the first Social Democrats Gy. was instructed to observe was his former instructor, the former director of the elementary school in the miner’s settlement, Emil Sümegi, who had taught Gy. to write. Gy. contacted Sümegi, allegedly in order to request assistance ensuring that his four-and-a-half year old son would be given a place in the kindergarten. In his report, Gy. complains about the difficulty he faced securing a place for his child in the school: “When the enrollments were going on, on September 1, 1957 my son’s application was rejected. I asked him to dictate a petition to the Minister of Education or somewhere. I very much want him to be allowed to attend the school, since he cries about how badly he wants to be a kindergarten pupil. It would be easier for us too, his parents, if the task of caring for one of the children were entrusted to the kindergarten. He replied to my request by saying that we Social Democrats are oppressed.” (underlined in the original) Ecsegi found this last half-sentence of the text important, and he underlined it. The link between the agent’s task, his complaint, and his personal interest is clear.

Gy. wrote down Sümegi’s contention, according to which any petition authored by him would be rejected, no matter where he sent it. (Sümegi was mistaken in this, the secret police may have intervened, since in the end the boy was admitted to the kindergarten.) The question of the boy’s enrollment in the kindergarten became an issue with implications relevant to national politics, since according to their dialogue ultimately the issue depended on whether or not it was worthwhile to submit any petition regarding admittance to the school. According to Gy., Sümegi said the following: “In any event let’s wait for the Bulganin peace proposal.56 If they can reach an agreement, then elections will be held with oversight, and then we Social Democrats will win.” Following their discussion of the question of enrollment, Gy. asked Sümegi about his views of the peace negotiations. The last sentence of the report caught Ecsegi’s attention: “for the moment we must wait.” Clearly, the implication—that the retired Social Democratic instructor had been waiting for the opportune moment to topple Soviet power in a small village in Hungary—was absurd, but also useful to Ecsegi, since Sümegi was also a functionary of the system. Ecsegi found the report on Sümegi so important that he soon told Gy. to pay him another visit. Sümegi’s opinion, however, was not important because the authorities actually feared him, but rather because he too was an “agent of the department of internal affairs,” as Ecsegi wrote in his assessment of the report. So his political reliability and political inclinations were important from the perspective of his reports.57 Gy. and Sümegi were used to keep tabs on each other, while the two of them both used the network of connections to serve their interests (for instance the question of gaining admittance for a child to the kindergarten).

As his next task, Gy. was told to monitor the actions of four Social Democrats. He filled more than five pieces of paper with his observations. The possibility of gaining admittance for his child to the kindergarten made him particularly diligent.58 Like his report on his father-in-law, his report on the four Social Democrats also began with the “my task was to” formula (he only later adopted the practice of writing in the third-person singular in order to mislead the enemy years). Gy. began to think of himself as a person of no small importance. He was less afraid, and sometimes he even tried to save or help others. The more politically passive someone was, the more the network of power liked this. In his reports, Gy. noted someone’s political passiveness if he sought to avoid causing the person grief. According to him, in the depths of the mine “the current session of the National Assembly came up.” This observation regarding what transpired in the mines was seen as particularly significant, in part because it had been made by Gy. at his own initiative. It had not been part of one of his explicit tasks. He was therefore given a different shift in the mine so that he would be able to observe others while they worked. He was also given a raise.

The text of his next report, which was written less than two months after the first one, is testimony to his development as an agent.59 He had something to say. He wrote almost four pages of observations. A good half of his remarks did not directly involve the instructions he had been given and were introduced with the formula, “and in addition I note that…” He provided an account of the ball that was held in the mining community and the profiteering that was allegedly underway involving the sale of wine. In a manner that was thinly veiled at best, Gy. began to use the reports as a forum with which to take steps to improve his life and the lives of those around him. Like a king in disguise, he sought to dispense justice, or at least this is the portrait he paints of himself in the reports.

The detailed description of the costume ball was Gy.’s first carefully thought-out composition in which he himself chose the subject of his report. He wrote a kind of self-standing denunciation within the framework of the report. There are no surviving family pictures of the ball, but there are pictures of the ball that was held the following year. In the pictures, Gy. and the members of his family can be seen wearing their costumes. Gy. is dressed in traditional ceremonial Hungarian attire. His oldest daughter is dressed as one of the odalisque’s of the Turkish pasha. There is a picture of his wife and her younger sister. In his denunciation, Gy. stands up for the crowd at the ball with his contention that Dobrocsi and Ogulin, a miner and a retired miner who were in charge of serving the wine and spirits, were turning a personal profit on the wine. As a conscientious consumer he took a stand and used his connections, though this stance, of course, was little more than a discursive posture that he adopted in order to achieve his personal goals. In fact, Gy. himself could have served the wine, instead of the two “profiteers,” since he and his father-in-law had a good relationship with a wine-grower in the city of Verpelét (a village that was known in the region for its fine wines). The issue at hand was a question of business interests. According to Gy,’s report, “many people say that Dobrocsi and his lot charge as much as they want for wine.” Gy. sometimes also breaks the rule according to which he should use the third-person singular: “On one occasion I asked for a wine spritzer […] Gy. also asked for a wine spritzer, but they didn’t give him one because there was no soda water.” In order to attain his goal, he even adopted a rather underhanded strategy and referred in his report not only to the alleged profiteering, but also to the acts Dobrocsi and Ogulin had (purportedly) committed in 1956 during the Revolution. According to his report, in 1956 they had “transported the drinks, the wine and brandy.”

Gy. wanted to play a central role among the “sport friends” (this was the term that was used for the regular spectators at the soccer games and the people who participated in the organizational work related to the team). After 1956, however, his chances were not good, given his political past. However, years later he became the president of the local soccer division, which was important because at the time as many as 1,000 people might attend a given match, i.e. half of the population of the mining town. The soccer games were the most important social events, after the miners’ balls.60 It’s possible that he accused Dobrocsi of wrongdoing because Dobrocsi, who lived with his family next to the soccer field and across from the sports club, was doing a bit better than he was. He was accused of embezzlement from his workplace, though his daughter and his widow have no recollection of any sanctions or punishment.61 Gy.’s report did not bring about the result he had hoped for, though officer Ecsegi did send it on to the criminal division.

When the threat of a possible strike had been averted, Gy. was given another range of duties. He was charged with the task of observing his old “bird-of-a-feather colleagues,” the former sympathizers of the Arrow Cross. He had to report on people who were regarded as “Arrow Cross” or “gendarmes.” Since he himself was on file as a “bird-of-a-feather” (in spite of the fact that he was also considered a Social Democrat because of his father-in-law), he knew who the authorities were thinking about.

In his reports, Gy. frequently recounts how, in the course of soccer matches, he would begin conversations with the people under observation in order to learn more about their political views. The Salgótarján soccer team was one of the best teams outside of Budapest at the time. As a supporter of the local team, the organizer of the various tasks regarding the its upkeep was able to chat with almost anyone about the games, and he could use these opportunities to discover details about people’s political views, even the people who were the most reluctant to talk on the subject. Gy. sought to cast aspersions on one of the local “petty monarchs,” a man name Racskó, whom he portrayed as someone loyal to the old system.62 Thus, he was able to present himself as a righter of wrongs, who was acting not in his own personal interests, but rather in the interests of the community, even if there was some overlap between the two.


As an examination of the early reports submitted by Gy. reveals, in order to attain his goals he first had to learn the style necessary in order to write reports that would be met with interest among the authorities. Later he attempted to portray his work, which was done primarily in the service of his interests, as a kind of process of dispensing justice, a process that was, according to his depiction, closely tied to the exigencies of the state. But loyalty alone would not have been enough to have enabled him to obtain admittance for his child to the kindergarten with the help of the department of internal affairs, or later, in the 1970s, to get permission for a private enterprise of his son. When he wanted to achieve a specific goal, he began to go into copious detail, and he transformed his reports into denunciations, sometimes using articles in the local newspaper for help. On other occasions, when he submitted reports that were curt and offered little detail, this could be interpreted as a form of political passiveness, and he also helped others avoid the wrath of the authorities by characterizing them as politically passive, which at the time was the kindest thing one could say about someone under observation by the state. He portrayed himself as politically passive as well, though by submitting reports he continuously influenced the lives of those around him, since he often steered their conversations in the direction of politics specifically because he had been charged with the task of doing so. He was a bureaucrat without a desk or office. His “friendships” were little more than official affairs. The details of his reports, which were intended to demonstrate his aptness for the role, were as much a part of the game as the reports written in self-defense, the primary goal of which was to ensure that he himself would not be seen as responsible for anything. An act of vengeance motivated by envy (in the case of alleged profiteering with wine) was written in the style of a petition, however, so that it would be sure to catch the attention of the authorities.

He was as passionate in his denunciations of the local “petty monarchs” (people who played influential local roles because of their access to political power) as he was in his purported role as the defender of the oppressed and defenseless. In the state bureaucracy, which followed characteristically paternalistic traditions, this mode of administration was entirely commonplace and long-standing. In practical affairs, archaic rhetoric that rested on references to supporters and principles that were little more than matters of terminology harmonized perfectly well with Communist ideology because of the inclination of communist thinking in a normative system.

One of the recurring questions historians who deal with the communist era must address is whether or not the “ordinary people” whose cooperation was instrumental to the functioning of the state actually identified with or how far accepted the goals of that state.63 According to the totalitarian paradigm, the state and the citizen were locked in a struggle like David and Goliath, and in the end the weaker but more clever and cunning of the two would triumph. These are stories of oppression and resistance, the stories of perpetrators and victims, stories the in adequacies of which, as narratives of the past, have already been clearly shown time and time again by representatives of the so-called revisionist school of Sovietology. Gy.’s story and the texts he crafted clearly illustrate that the personal decisions of ordinary people and the methods they used in order to achieve their aims influenced the functioning of the state. Furthermore, the self-portrayals and discourses of the people who used the system for personal advantage also changed, since the acceptance of the rules of the game left its mark on them. The Kádár system, which maintained power in part by searching for compromises, nonetheless still rested on essentially Stalinist principles, though it gave the people who took part in the mechanics of the system the impression that they could exert an influence on it. The sense of an open (or at least somewhat open) public sphere contributed to this, as did the (pseudo) debates in the press or the apparent attention that was given to the reports submitted by the informants who helped the state security forces. All of this provided new energies for the everyday workings of the system, which thus enjoyed a significantly greater degree of acceptance and stability by the 1960s than it had before 1956. Ultimately, to the extent that the Kádár regime represented a rupture with the classic Stalinism of the early 1950s, this break lay in its more perceptive grasp of people’s everyday lives and inclinations and the discourses on experience.64 The denunciations bundled into the reports offered an opportunity for an agent to realize personal aims as if he or she were fighting in the interests of the larger community and sought to take part in the functioning of the state by playing an active role in politics. Dispensing justice like a king in disguise, the agent, who was thus a representative of political power, would obtain his goals by alternately pursuing personal aims and playing the necessary bureaucratic roles. This not only strengthened the appearance of the legitimacy of the state, but also made the role of an agent acceptable to people who portrayed themselves as if they were writing reports on the community (including relatives and neighbors) in the very interests of that community.


Archival Sources

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Budapesti Fegyház és Börtön Irattára [Archive of the Budapest Correctional Facility and Prison]. Fegyencnapló [Inmate Log] 3296-3599. Napi parancsok [Daily Orders] 1947–1952.

Budapest Főváros Levéltára [Budapest City Archive] (=BFL)

XXV. 1.a. Budapesti Népbíróság [Budapest People’s Court].

XXV. 2-b. Budapesti Népügyészség. Büntetőügyek. Gy. bűnügyének iratai. [Budapest People’s Prosecutor’s Office. Criminal Cases. Documents of the Criminal Case of Gy.] 689/1948.


Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [Hungarian National Archives] (=MNL)

XXXII-23-a  1970. évi népszámlálás [National Census Records, 1970]. Nógrád, Kisterenye, 1970. évi 019 számlálókörzet anyagai [Materials of the 019 Census District of Kisterenye from 1970].

MNL Fejér Megyei Levéltár (=FML) [Fejér County Archive of the Hungarian National Archives]

IV. 402. Fejér Vármegye Törvényhatósági Bizottságának iratai [Documents of the Fejér County Council].

XXIV. 18. Székesfehérvár Városi Rendőrkapitányság [Székesfehérvár Police Headquarters].

XVII. 401. Fejér Vármegye Központi és Székesfehérvár Járási 3. sz. Igazoló Bizottság [Fejér County Central Székesfehérvár Municipal Justificatory Council 3]. 1. d. 22/1945. Törvényszéki alkalmazottak [Employees of the Court of Law].

MNL Nógrád Megyei Levéltár (=NML) [Nógrád County Archive of the Hungarian National Archives]

VIII. 202. A Pásztói Állami Polgári Fiú- és Leányiskola iratai. Anyakönyvek. 4. d. [Documents of the Public Boys and Girls Elementary School of Pásztó. Registers of Students. 4. d.] 1934–1935 második b osztály anyakönyve [Register of the Students in the Second Year, B class in 1934–35].

VIII. 287. g. A Kisterenye-Chorin telepi Bányatársulati Elemi Iskola iratai. Osztálynaplók [Documents of the Mining Society Elementary School of Kisterenye-Chorin. Class Registers].

VIII. 604. A Pásztói Kereskedelmi Szaktanfolyam iratai [Documents of the “Pásztó Course in Commerce”].

XXV. 4 c. Balassagyarmati Büntető Törvényszék [Balassagyarmati Criminal Court]. B 273/ 1954.

XXIX. 681. I. A. 16. Nógrádi Szénbányászati Tröszt [Coal Mining Trust of Nógrád]. (NSZB). Újlaki bányaüzem. Csigai lejtősakna [Mining Works of Újlak. Spiral Mine Shaft].

XXXIII. Anyakönyvi kivonatok másodpéldányai. Születési anyakönyvek [Duplicates of Registration Certificates]. Zagyvapálfalva. 1915–1924.

MNL Heves Megyei Levéltár [Heves County Archive] XXXV. 22/2. MSZMP Heves Megyei Pártbizottságának ülései [Sittings of the Heves County Party Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party].

MÁV Irattár [Archives of the Hungarian National Railways].


Barna, Ildikó, and Andrea Pető. Political Justice Budapest after World War II. Budapest: CEU Press, 2014.

Benziger, Karl P. “The Funeral of Imre Nagy: Contested History and the Power of Memory Culture.” History and Memory 12, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2000): 142–64.

Betts, Paul. Within Walls: Private Life in the German Democratic Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Connelly, John. “The Uses of Volksgemeinschaft.” The Journal of Modern History 68, no. 4. (December 1996): 899–930.

Deák, István, Jan T. Gross, and Tony Judt, eds. The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. “Supplicants and Citizens: Public Letter-Writing in Soviet Russia in the 1930s.” Slavic Review 55 no. 1. (Spring 1996): 78–105.

Ittzés, Gábor. “Ritual and National Self-Interpretation: The Nagy Imre Funeral.” Religion and Society in Central and Eastern Europe 1 (November 2005). Accessed February 3, 2015. http://www.rascee.net/index.php/rascee/article/view/26/7.

Lo, Maria. “Lustration and Truth Claims: Unfinished Revolutions in Central Europe,” Law and Social Inquiry 20 (1995): 117–61.

Majtényi, György. Vezércsel. Kádár János mindennapjai [King’s Gambit. The Everyday Life of János Kádár]. Budapest: Libri Kiadó, 2012.

Majtényi, György. What Made the Kádár Era? The Hungarian Historical Review 2, no. 3 (2013): 667–75.

Mayer-Rieckh, Alexander and Pablo de Greiff, eds. Justice as Prevention: Vetting Public Employees in Transitional Societies. New York: Social Science Research Council, 2007.

Nagy, Tibor Péter. A növekvő állam árnyékában. Oktatás, politika 1867–1945 [In the Shadow of the Growing State. Education, Politics, 1867–1945]. Budapest: Gondolat, 2011.

Pásztói Polgári Értesítője [Gazette of the Pásztó Polgári School].

Pintér, Nándor, Ferenc Vincze, and István Csépány. Pásztó története [History of Pásztó]. Pásztó: a Pásztói Községi Tanács Végrehajtó Bizottsága, 1970.

Pittaway, Mark. The Workers’ State: Industrial Labor and the Making of Socialist Hungary, 1944–1958. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012.

Rainer, János M. Bevezetés a kádárizmusba [Introduction to Kádárism]. Budapest: 1956-os Intézet–L’Harmattan Kiadó, 2011.

Schwartz, Herman. “Lustration in Eastern Europe,” Parker School Journal of East European Law 1 (1994): 141–71.

Staadt, Joachim. Eingaben: Die institutionalisierte Meckerkultur in der DDR. Berlin: Forschungsverbund SED-Staat, 1996.

Stan, Lavinia,  and Nadya Nedelsky, eds. Encyclopedia of Transitional Justice. Cambridge–New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Stan, Lavinia. “The Vanishing Truth? Politics and Memory in Post-Communist Europe.” East European Quarterly 40 (2006): 392–410.

Szabó, Zoltán. Cifra nyomorúság [“Poverty in Fine Dress”]. Budapest: Cserépfalvi, 1938.

Szomszéd, András. Zagyva mentén “egybekelvén”. Bátonyterenye [Married by the River Zagyva. Bátonyterenye]. Bátonyterenye: Önkormányzat, 2002.

Szvircsek, Ferenc. Bányászkönyv [Miner’s Book]. Salgótarján: Nógrád Megyei Múzeum, 2000.

Varga, László Á., ed. 1956 Nógrád megyei kronológiája és személyi adattára: a forradalom eseményei és aktív szereplői a megyében [Chronology and Personal Documentation of 1956 in Nógrád County: the Events and Active Participants of the Revolution in the County]. 2 Vols. Salgótarján: Nógrád Megyei Levéltár, 1996.

Verdery, Katherine. Secrets and Truths: Ethnography in the Archive of Romania’s Secret Police. Budapest: CEU Press, 2014.

Veress D., Csaba. “A II. világháború hadműveletei Fejér megyében (1944. december 3 – 1945. március 23.)” [Military Operations of the WWII in Fejér County, December 3, 1944–March 23, 1945]. In Harcok és bűnök [Fights and Crimes], edited by József Csurgai Horváth, Tamás Tihanyi, and Csaba Veress D., 7–165. Székesfehérvár: Fejér Megyei Önkormányzat, 2002.

1 More on the Kádár regime see János M. Rainer, Bevezetés a kádárizmusba (Budapest: 1956-os Intézet–L’Harmattan Kiadó, 2011); György Majtényi, “What Made the Kádár Era?,” The Hungarian Historical Review 2, no. 3 (2013): 667–75; and Majtényi’s seminal book regarding the social functions of the Kádár cult. György Majtényi, Vezércsel. Kádár János mindennapjai (Budapest: Libri Kiadó, 2012).

2 Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára [Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security Services, hereafter: ÁSzTL]. M-42230/1-3.

3 More on the local history of 1956: 1956 Nógrád megyei kronológiája és személyi adattára: a forradalom eseményei és aktív szereplői a megyében, ed. László Á. Varga (Salgótarján: Nógrád Megyei Levéltár, 1996).

4 Karl P. Benziger, “The Funeral of Imre Nagy: Contested History and the Power of Memory Culture,” History and Memory 12, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2000): 142–64; Gábor Ittzés, “Ritual and National Self-Interpretation: The Nagy Imre Funeral,” Religion and Society in Central and Eastern Europe, 1 (November 2005), accessed February 3, 2015, http://www.rascee.net/index.php/rascee/article/view/26/7.

5 This study is a part of a larger monograph based on the life story of Gy. with the support of program number K-104408 of the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA).

6 Michael Shafir, “Memory and History in Postcommunism: Preliminary Theoretical Remarks,” Sfera Politicii 120–121–122 (2006), accessed December 15, 2014, http://www.sferapoliticii.ro/sfera/120-121-122/art21-shafir.html.

7 On lustration in Eastern European see: Herman Schwartz, “Lustration in Eastern Europe,” Parker School Journal of East European Law 1 (1994): 141–71; Lavinia Stan, “The Vanishing Truth? Politics and Memory in Post-Communist Europe,” East European Quarterly 40 (2006): 392–410; Maria Lo, “Lustration and Truth Claims: Unfinished Revolutions in Central Europe,” Law and Social Inquiry 20 (1995): 117–61; Alexander Mayer-Rieckh and Pablo de Greiff, eds., Justice as Prevention: Vetting Public Employees in Transitional Societies (New York: Social Science Research Council, 2007); Encyclopedia of Transitional Justice, ed. Lavinia Stan and Nadya Nedelsky (Cambridge–New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

8 Katherine Verdery, Secrets and Truths: Ethnography in the Archive of Romania’s Secret Police (Budapest: CEU Press, 2014), 17.

9 For more on the state policy regarding industrial workers during the 1950s, especially at the beginning of the Kádár era, see: Mark Pittaway, The Workers’ State: Industrial Labor and the Making of Socialist Hungary, 1944–1958 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012).

10 Ferenc Szvircsek, Bányászkönyv (Salgótarján: Nógrád Megyei Múzeum, 2000), 403.

11 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [Hungarian National Archives, hereafter: MNL]. XXXII-23-a 1970. évi népszámlálás [National Census Records, 1970]. Nógrád, Kisterenye, 1970. évi. 019 számlálókörzet anyagai.

12 MNL Nógrád Megyei Levéltár [Nógrád County Archive], hereafter: NML. XXXIII. Anyakönyvi kivonatok másodpéldányai. Születési anyakönyvek. [Duplicates of Registration Cerficiates. Birth Certificates]. Zagyvapálfalva. 1915–1924.

13 Most of these details could be reconstructed from the registers of birth and recollections of family members. Interviews with Mrs. Gy., Veronika G., the widow of Gy., and Mrs. M. Ilonka G., his sister-in-law. Interviews were done by the author in October 2011 in Kisterenye.

14 NML. XXXIII. Duplicates of registration certificates. Registers of births. Zagyvapálfalva, Kisterenye.

15 Zoltán Szabó, Cifra nyomorúság [“Poverty in Fine Dress”] (Budapest: Cserépfalvi, 1938), 88–89.

16 As the general manager of the Mátraaljai Coal Mines, he was awarded numerous state distinctions. In 1988, many complaints were lodged against him, and indeed this was even mentioned at sittings of the party committee. MNL. Heves Megyei Levéltár. XXXV. 22/2. Sittings of the Heves County Party Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party. 14. box 187. custody section: Minutes of the Sitting of the Party Committee, March 31, 1988. 129.

17 NML. Balassagyarmati Büntető Törvényszék. XXV. 4 c. B 273/1954.

18 NML. VIII. 287. g. Documents of the Elementary School of the Mining Company of Kisterenye-Chorin. Attendance books.

19 Emil’s Sümegi’s letter quoted in András Szomszéd, Zagyva mentén “egybekelvén”. Bátonyterenye (Bátonyterenye: Önkormányzat, 2002), 134.

20 M-42230/1. 85­–86 and ÁSZTL. 3.1.9. V-150373. Summary report on the armed counter-revolutionary groups and organizations of Nógrád County. March 23, 1959, 81.

21 NML. VIII. 202. A Pásztói Állami Polgári Fiú- és Leányiskola iratai. Anyakönyvek. (=Pásztói Polgári anyakönyvek). 4. d. 1934–1935 második b osztály anyakönyve.

22 Nándor Pintér, Ferenc Vincze, and István Csépány, Pásztó története (Pásztó: a Pásztói Községi Tanács Végrehajtó Bizottsága, 1970), 37–39.

23 Pásztói Polgári Értesítője 1934–1935, 2–3; 34­–35.

24 Ibid., 7–8.

25 NML. VIII. 604. A Pásztói Kereskedelmi Szaktanfolyam iratai, benne a polgári iskolákra is vonatkozó körlevelek 1. d. Körlevél az egységes iskolai imádság bevezetése tárgyában, April 20, 1936.

26 Pásztói Polgári Értesítője, 1936–1937, 5.

27 See Tibor Péter Nagy, A növekvő állam árnyékában. Oktatás, politika 1867–1945 (Budapest: Gondolat, 2011), 312–13.

28 Recollections of his widow. Interview done by the author in October 2011.

29 MÁV Irattár. 7352/1942. Csontos István főraktárnok jelentése, Miskolc, March 2, 1942.

30 For more on the battles near this front line see: Csaba Veress D., “A II. világháború hadműveletei Fejér megyében (1944. december 3 – 1945. március 23.),” in Harcok és bűnök, ed. József Csurgai Horváth, Tamás Tihanyi, and Csaba Veress D. (Székesfehérvár: Fejér Megyei Önkormányzat, 2002), 115–18.

31 MÁV Irattár. Szmolánka László szolgálati aktája; MÁV Irattár. 290/1940. Bánhegyi István. Áthelyezések Kárpátalja területéről. A Magyar Királyi Államvasutak igazgatóságának bizalmas levele valamennyi üzletvezetőségnek. 1940. július 24.

32 Budapest Municipal Archives (=BFL) XXV. 2-b. People’s Prosecutor of Budapest. Criminal Cases. Documents of the Criminal Case of Gy. 689/1948. consolidated with 88425/1949. Confession of the Station Master of Mezősi.

33 MNL. Fejér County Archive (=FML) XXIV. 18. Székesfehérvár Városi Rendőrkapitányság Általános Iratok, 1.d.

34 ÁSzTL. 3.2.5. “Colorado” O-8-018/1. 520. Jelentés Székely György százados ügyéről. Sütöry Lajos áv. ny. alhadgy. Székesfehérvár, 1950. július 10.

35 FML. IV. 402. Fejér Vármegye Törvényhatósági Bizottságának iratai. Közgyűlés. 1945. szeptember 26.

36 FML. XXIV. 18. Székesfehérvár Városi Rendőrfőkapitányság. Általános iratok. 1.d; FML. XVII. 401. Fejér Vármegye Központi és Székesfehérvár Járási 3. sz. Igazoló Bizottság. 1. d. 22/1945. Törvényszéki alkalmazottak. Boda József, a Gy. ügyében tanácsvezető bíró életrajza az igazolási eljáráshoz.

37 BFL. XXV. 2-b. Budapesti Népügyészség. Büntetőügyek. 689/1948. On the functions of people’s courts in Hungary and in Eastern Europe see: The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath, ed. István Deák, Jan T. Gross, and Tony Judt (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000); and recently Ildikó Barna and Andrea Pető, Political Justice Budapest after World War II (Budapest: CEU Press, 2014).

38 BFL. XXV. 1.a. Budapesti Népbíróság. 1949 – 1081. G. János ügye.

39 BFL. XXV. 2-b. Budapesti Népügyészség. Büntetőügyek. 689/1948. Nb XII. 802/1948/2. Ítélet. 1948. október 15.

40 Budapesti Fegyház és Börtön Irattára. Fegyencnapló 3296-3599. No. 3299.

41 Ibid., Napi parancsok. 1947–1952.

42 The source of his precise position: NML. XXIX. 681. I. A. 16. Nógrádi Szénbányászati Tröszt (NSZB). Újlaki bányaüzem. Csigai lejtősakna. Kisterenye. NSZB. Baleset-jelentőkönyv.

43 László Á. Varga, ed., 1956 Nógrád megyei kronológiája és személyi adattára: a forr. eseményei és aktív szereplői a megyében (Salgótarján: Nógrád Megyei Levéltár, 1996).

44 One of the functions of the worker council’s from the point of view of the government at the end of 1956 was to start industrial production in the wake of several strikes; however, for the most part they did not fulfill this task. For more on this see: Pittaway, The Workers’ State, 230­–56.

45 ÁSzTL. V-141818. Vizsgálati dosszié Filep Lajos ügyében; ÁSzTL. O­–15325. 1a. 487–88.

46 Cf. Joachim Staadt, Eingaben: Die institutionalisierte Meckerkultur in der DDR (Berlin: Forschungsverbund SED-Staat, 1996); Paul Betts, Within Walls: Private Life in the German Democratic Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 173.

47 Sheila Fitzpatrick, “Supplicants and Citizens: Public Letter-Writing in Soviet Russia in the 1930s”, Slavic Review 55, no. 1 (Spring 1996), 78. Fitzpatrick raises this question regarding the Stalinist period of the 1930s.

48 NML. Kisterenyei születési anyakönyvi kivonatok.

49 Recollection of Veronika Gy., Gy.’s widow.

50 ÁSzTL. M-42230. 59–60. Gy.’s report of December 22, 1957.

51 Recollection of Veronika Gy., Gy.’s widow. Interview made by the author October 25, 2011 in Kisterenye.

52 ÁSzTL. M-42230. 59–60. Gy.’s report of December 22, 1957.

53 The 1945 national elections in the village were won by the Hungarian Communist Party (MKP: 46.5%). The Independent Smallholders’ Party (FKgP) got only 28.5% of the vote and the Social Democrats only 21.2%. Szomszéd, Zagyva mentén “egybekelvén”, 140–41.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid., 54.

56 For more on this conflict (accessed February 15, 2015), see: http://web.stanford.edu/group/tomzgroup/pmwiki/uploads/200-1956-11-KS-f-LIZ.pdf.

57 ÁSzTL. M-42230. 85­–86.

58 Ibid., 64–69. Gy.’s report of January 30, 1958.

59 Ibid., 73–76.

60 Recollections of János V., deputy-president of the local soccer division. Interview done by the author. October 25, 2011 in Kisterenye.

61 Recollections of Dobrocsi’s widow and daughter. Interview done by the author with Mrs. István Dobrocsi (1919) and her daughter, Mrs. Gábor O. (1942), October 21, 2011, Budapest.

62 ÁSzTL. M-42230. 95–96. Report of March 27, 1958.

63 See John Connelly’s inquiry on this matter with regards to Nazi Germany, John Connelly, “The Uses of Volksgemeinschaft,” The Journal of Modern History 68, no. 4. (December 1996): 899–930.

64 Cf. János M. Rainer, Bevezetés a kádárizmusba (Budapest: 1956-os Intézet–L’Harmattan Kiadó, 2011), 144.

Volume 4 Issue 1 CONTENTS

­pdfAlexander Mirescu

A Curious Case of Cooperation and Coexistence: Church–State Engagement and Oppositional Free Spaces in Communist Yugoslavia and East Germany


The communist parties of Eastern Europe sought to organize power relations to preclude potential opposition. While successful in aligning society, the economy, culture, education and politics in party institutions, East Germany and Yugoslavia approached the execution of religious policy from a contrasting perspective. Unable to marginalize religion completely, the party and national churches entered into a vibrant, incentives-based back-and-forth. Over time, Church–state accommodation crystallized, producing Church-based free spaces located outside of the standard communist power structure. However, the ways in which East Germany and Yugoslavia engaged their churches generated different forms of Church-based free space, which, by the late 1980s, produced variegated forms of anti-communist opposition.


Keywords: Eastern Europe, Civil Society, Church, Communism, Religious Policy, Nationalism, Oppositional Movements


Government policy affects the spaces in which social actors work, designates and delineates boundaries and creates distinguishable spheres in which stakeholders act. While laws and legislation demonstrate where the lines of acceptable political behavior lie, often they are subject to negotiation, mutual agreements or contentious dispute. These back-and-forth exchanges produce policies that rarely remain static. Over time, fluid, dynamic relationships evolve between key stakeholders and elites, which further modify the policy’s trajectory, opening doors for new interpretations and new modes of acting.

Even in communist East Germany (GDR) and Yugoslavia, where authority was concentrated in single-party authoritarianism, power relations were neither a one-way street, nor were they monopolistic. There was one policy arena, in which one finds an illustrative example of fluid two-way, agent-to-agent engagement and cooperation: the arena of Church–state relations. Despite times of marginalization and suppression, it was the only policy arena that necessitated negotiation and active quid pro quo.1 This study claims that decision-making processes in East German and Yugoslav Church-state relations led to variegated forms of Church-based oppositional free spaces, in which people were able to plant the seeds of opposition to the legitimacy of communist rule.2 In this essay, I claim that if religious policy allows Churches to influence social issues, it is more likely that free spaces will emerge in which principles of non-violence, peaceful resolution and human rights prevail, and these spaces may play active roles in mediation in times of unrest. If, however, religious policy excludes the Church on issues of social policy, this will lead to the emergence of free spaces, the actors of which will be less loyal and less invested as social stakeholders. Since its intermediary role is thwarted, the Church will be less interested in liberal-democratic reform and will make fewer demands based on non-violence, inclusion and peace.

Religion policy and Church–state engagement under a communist regime was highly unique. The GDR and Yugoslav communist regimes devoted tremendous human and financial resources to the regulation of religious life, entrusting the various tasks to state secretariats, commissions for religious affairs, and security agencies. Despite their monopoly on authority, these regimes were never monolithic and, in turn, Churches were never passive victims. Rather, there arose a pragmatic exchange and vibrant Church-state dialogue based on negotiated responses to incentives: the state needed the Church for popular legitimacy, the consolidation of power and international credibility, while the Church was dependent on the state for material goods, social services and sheer survival. Neither could function properly without the other, so a symbiotic necessity emerged, marked by micro-level discussions, communiqués, backroom deals and public deliberations. This fluid quality was the fundamental mechanism that linked a set of conditions to the outcome of free spaces.3

Categorizing Conditions of Church–State Engagement

The first set of conditions accounts for the initial types of religious policy from 1945 to the early 1950s. The end of the Second World War constituted a clear historical break from the recent past and a new political existence for the GDR and Yugoslavia. Each state approached its Churches in unique ways, while trying to solidify the supremacy of the Communist Party. In the Soviet Zone of Occupation (hereafter, SBZ) that would become East Germany, German communists needed to have a steady hand in navigating the chaotic post-war waters. The Communist Party (hereafter, SED) was institutionally weak and lacked popular support. Hence, it sought to avoid unnecessary challenges from the Church in an effort to build support. As a type of participatory religious policy, the SED extended an olive branch to the Church and publicly supported its participation in the establishment of the new state.

Yugoslav religious policy from 1945 to the mid-1950s can be characterized as extremely repressive. Since Tito’s partisans had secured Western support in their struggle against fascism, their power base required less consolidation in the post-war period. Still, Yugoslav communists viewed religious institutions with trepidation since some segments of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) and, more notably, the Catholic Church had aligned themselves with anti-Yugoslav forces. Yugoslav religious policy in this initial period, by virtue of its repressiveness, re-entrenched the Churches in a critical posture vis-à-vis the state, giving them no other options but to embrace nationalism.

The second condition accounts for how the regimes dealt with their national Churches from the mid-1950s to the late-1980s. As public dissent against the regime and repression of the Church became repetitive, party leaders were forced to employ different methods to pacify unrest and suppress challenges to their authority. As a means of restoring order and preserving a good international reputation, the option emerged to engage the Church as the only mediator between the state and protestors. As multiple incidents of protest and unrest occurred and as non-Church oppositional groups sought protection in Church spaces, communicative cooperation between Church and state became more robust.4 Each profited from this back-and-forth relationship: the state was able to re-establish its authority, while the Church received considerable concessions and established its role as chief mediator, thereby becoming useful to the state and indeed almost indispensable.

Within this second typology, my cases bifurcate along two distinct lines: inclusive and exclusionary engagement. Regimes that inclusively engage include their religious groups in ending periods of national unrest make them part of the confidence-building process after periods of violence. Going against Marxist ideology, the East German regimes willingly assigned the Church the role of primary negotiator in mediation. By the late 1980s, as the East German regime reverted to repressive measures against opposition, the Protestant Church carefully articulated liberal-democratic demands, such as respect for human rights, freedom of expression and non-violence, often phrased in masterfully-expressed socialist language. However, since the Protestant Church had experienced significant drops in Church membership, the SED was not constrained to seek out the Church’s good offices for challenges to regime authority. The weak position of the Church meant that inclusive regime engagement was possible. Moreover, East Germany could embrace a more receptive stance to the Church, when its own institutions were unsuccessful in responding to oppositional challenge. This institutional weakness necessitated inclusionary engagement.

Yugoslavia’s exclusionary regime engagement stands in stark contrast. High levels of Church repression from 1945 to 1953 were replaced in the mid-1950s by liberalization and political decentralization within the party and its federal-level and republic-level institutions. After two decades of repression, church life was suddenly allowed to expand, and this opened the door for initial critical expression. Congruent with its refusal to incorporate the Churches into the governance of immediate post-war Yugoslavia, Tito and Yugoslav communists never looked upon Church leaders as mediators in times of unrest. Unable to erase prior repression and having offered a maximum amount of space for Church activity, the regime could neither regain the confidence of the Church, nor could it offer concessions. The regime lost the carrot and the stick. This opened up avenues for Church spaces to embrace critical stances against religious policy by using language and symbols that questioned and ultimately rejected the supra-ethnic Yugoslav mantra of “brotherhood and unity.” Since both the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) and the Croatian Catholic Church had been thoroughly excluded from statecraft, there was neither significant sympathy nor convincing incentive for them to intervene on behalf of a weakened regime, which they had never viewed as a social partner.

East German Participatory Church–State Engagement: 1945–1953

From its inception, the SED was faced with the daunting task of convincing the public of its socialist mission, while concomitantly discrediting Western democratic legitimacy. Working from such a weakened position in an ideological minefield, it was necessary to concede substantial points from its party platform by acknowledging “a special German road to socialism.”5 SED General-Secretary Erich Honecker reflects:


We calculated that the situation in Germany at that time did not provide the necessary requirements for the immediate establishment of socialism. That’s why the goal of the German Communist Party (KPD) was to create an antifascist, democratic regime, a parliamentary republic with all the democratic rights and freedoms for the people.6


Behind the façade, hardliners altered the party’s institutional core, securing a maximum amount of space in all realms of political, public and private life.7 Religious policy would be the only exception. In July 1946, Central Committee documents demonstrate the policy of the regime of binding the Church to the new state:


Churches have a stake in East Germany’s reconstruction. Their positive cooperation is to be welcomed… Reasonable requests by the Church for the return of occupied Church buildings for religious purposes should receive support from our representatives in administration, in command structures and in the SMAD.8

Spaces for political participation corresponded to physical spaces at the national level. Properties belonging to convicted Nazi party members and estates larger than 100 hectares were summarily brought under governmental administration.9 However, so as not to disturb the delicate Church-state balance, the SED exempted all Church properties from land reforms.10 As a further measure of avoiding confrontation, GDR security organs protected the Church from intervention. In January 1947, Soviet and East German officials established the K-5 security apparatus (a precursor to the Ministry for State Security, or Stasi) under the command of the Soviet–East German Central Administration of the Interior.11 K-5 contained special units for de-Nazification, the elimination of political opponents and monitoring the Evangelical Church.12 To avoid potentially explosive situations, all interaction between K-5 officials and the Church required high-ranking approval from the Ministry of Interior.

Not only were its institutional autonomy and organizational structure left intact, but the Church reclaimed and expanded its pre-war position. Properties confiscated by the Nazis were returned to the Church and theological centers, which had been closed during the war, reassumed full activity.13 The SED granted construction permits for new buildings and provided funding for damaged dioceses.14 With state collection agencies placed at the Church’s disposal, Church coffers were replenished with the reintroduction of Church taxes. Moreover, unlike the other Allied sectors, the Evangelical Church was free to introduce pastoral care service for university students.15 Lastly, Church radio programs, newsletters, periodicals and newspapers further attest to the regime’s desire to avoid conflict with the Church.16

The official founding of the GDR on October 7, 1949 and the period of Stalinization rapidly consolidated party structures and vigorously centralized all state institutions. The SED injected a new ideological moniker in public debate: pacifist policy (Friedenspolitik), upon which it crafted its utopian commitment to the advancement of peace. ‘Peace committees’ and public panel discussions on non-violence were established statewide to disseminate the regime’s pacifist message. Though aimed at external threats, East German pacifism discreetly targeted domestic provocateurs with links to the West.

During this Kirchenkampf period, the repression of the Church became more direct. Seeking to create a cadre of regime-friendly priests, the regime kept them under active surveillance and assessed their attitudes, which were characterized either as progressive or “reactionary” (critical of the regime).17 This would later create fissures among East German bishoprics: Berlin-Brandenburg Bishop Otto Dibelius was a defiant critic of East German communism, while, for example, Bishop of Thüringen, Moritz Mitzenheim, followed a much more conciliatory, less-critical line.18

The 1949 East German constitution guaranteed the separation of Church and state. This afforded the SED a legal justification officially to include Marxist scientific materialism and atheism in all school curricula. This prompted several synods in 1951 to issue letters of protest:


The constitutionally guaranteed right to the freedom of religion is effectively removed, so school lesson plans recognize only historical and dialectical materialism. We realize that belief is not for everyone… but we request that no one be pressured to accept the absence of faith. The freedom of belief in schools can only exist, if instruction in all subjects is carried out in such a way so that Christians and non-Christians can participate with the same amount of personal freedom.19


Still, the SED demonstrated veiled caution by instructing teachers and school directors to “avoid under all circumstances creating the impression of a state-controlled campaign against religion.”20

The SED also pressured the Church to move its headquarters from the British Sector to the territory within GDR borders. Even before the 1949 state declaration, Evangelical leaders refused to recognize inter-zonal borders, since several parishes straddled the frontiers.21 Party leaders demanded a relocation so that

priests in leading positions of the National Front and peace committees will no longer be hindered by restrictions, reprimands and threats from the Church leadership in West Berlin… The ministerial council for the province of Brandenburg is of the opinion that it is no longer tolerable that the West Berlin Church administration threatens its priests, citizens of the GDR, simply because they fight for peace.22

The SED countered with threats of allocating funding only for religious groups that were in SBZ.23 Pastors and theology students from the West were prevented from entering the East.24 While workers easily traveled to their factories in East Berlin, Church employees were singled out as undesirable visitors.

Against this growing tension, high-ranking Evangelical officials agreed on June 6, 1952 to an informal exchange with state representatives in the home of Brandenburg General-Superintendent Braun. Despite the informal nature and the palpable strains, both entities conducted an unexpectedly cordial discussion. The Church emphatically expressed its concerns regarding the wellbeing of its youth, travel restrictions for West Berlin priests and the party-run Free German Youth’s agitation against the Church youth movement (Junge Gemeinde).25 Bishop of Berlin-Brandenburg and chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany Dibelius unambiguously confirmed the Church’s bond to the Holy Scriptures as its sole source of guidance. He reiterated the independent nature of the Church and its resistance to political manipulation.26 Provincial Vice-Minister Jahn of Brandenburg urged the Church to repeal its 1950 consistorial order blocking priests from joining political groups.27 Though it concluded with little more than a handshake, this micro-level encounter proved that informal agent-to-agent dialogue was not only possible, but would be the necessary mechanism for future interaction and reconciliation.

By 1953, East German mismanagement had produced a struggling, dysfunctional economy that ideologically diverted resources to heavy industry instead of addressing consumer needs, and this in turn created shortages of basic goods and food, as well as prohibitive taxes. Over 330,000 young, educated members of the East German workforce left for the West. Due to overzealous goals, the SED brought the country to near economic collapse. According to an SED document, Ulbricht recognized the possible gains to be won from policy “liberalization”:


It is not necessarily effective to lead a campaign of protest resolutions and demonstrations against Church leadership. Instead of intervening in religious events and Church services, religious policy should publish concrete evidence of the subversive activity of individual priests.”28 We are neither leading a Church conflict, nor do we recognize any such Church conflict. We are simply looking for certain bases of the enemy… And when the Church positions itself in solidarity with such people, well then it’s too bad for the Church.29


Ulbricht and other high-ranking SED officials were ordered to report to Moscow on June 2, 1953. Fearing a collapse of the GDR, the Soviet Council of Ministers demanded a reversal of SED Church-state relations.30 As a result, the SED announced a high-level church-state summit scheduled for June 10, 1953, just days before the June 17, 1953 Berlin Workers Revolt. However, the eleventh-hour implementation of the Council’s orders proved to be insufficient in averting the revolt.31

Leading up to 1953, the Evangelical Church expanded its position and social presence to levels not seen since before the Third Reich and, as the only other significant social stakeholder, it tacitly participated in the formation of the new state. Moreover, the regime’s calculated policy of non-confrontation allowed the Church to maintain institutional autonomy in its decision-making processes, social outreach and public activities. By actively seeking out the Church’s support in crafting a new, socialist German state, the SED’s overarching design of integration produced only low-levels of anxiety among its decision-makers. At the time of Stalin’s death in March 1953, Church-based free spaces were intact and vibrant.

East German Inclusive Engagement from 1953–1989

As part of the SED’s inclusive engagement, two salient features emerged in this period. Firstly, the state sought to elevate socialism above religion by coopting progressive pastors from ones that were critical of the regime. This policy of differentiation gave rise to the second feature of this period: conciliatory, cooperative factions in Church ranks, which led to visible fissures among Church leaders. Inclusive engagement could take place with a weakened Church not only because secularization became an increasingly measurable characteristic of East German society after the mid-1950s, but also because the state had succeeded in changing people’s attitudes toward religion.

State-lead high-level talks of June 10, 1953 signaled the adoption of an approach based more on dialogue. The resulting communiqué codified an agreement, whereby both entities negotiated a halt in all repressive action against Church youth. Imprisoned Church members were released without delay32 and students who had been expelled or blacklisted could resume their studies.33 Teachers, sacked based on religious belief, were reinstated.34 The Central Committee also promised to refrain from intervening in Church institutions.35 In exchange, Church leaders agreed to temper their reproaches of the regime, limit the use of the pulpit and retract their criticisms of economic and political life.36 Leaders from Church and state together released a joint statement celebrating the fruitful discussions, in which the regime had re-instated the Church as a social stakeholder.37

The June talks proved to be nothing more than a stopgap measure. Stasi directives reveal that it maintained its prior characterization of Church leaders as “reactionary, imperialist intelligence agents working in support of criminal activities against the GDR.”38 Open conflict with the Church was to be replaced with a covert, operative approach: publicly demonstrating willingness to engage in dialogue, while remaining inwardly uncompromising.

In 1954, alongside the Ministry of Interior, other state institutions were to craft religious policy. The Department for Church Relations served as the government mediator between the General-Secretary, the politburo, the Central Committee and the Church. The regime then established the Working Group for Church Questions of the SED’s Central Committee (die Arbeitsgruppe für Kirchenfragen or AK), which was to handle Church–state relations, monitor the political activities of religious groups and report their findings directly to the highest levels of government. While the AK set the overall policy tone,39 the Council of Ministers created the State Secretariat for Church Questions (SSCQ) in 1957, which served as the state contact and intermediary for Church leaders.40

By 1960, several theologians began to search for an identity in the now solidified Communist state. Günter Jacob, Evangelical General-Superintendent of Cottbus, introduced the first interpretations of the Scriptures into the Church–state debate. By liberating itself from political manipulation, the Church could create a space for itself in which “the true, apolitical message of the Evangelical scriptures” could find expression.41 At an extraordinary session of the EKD 1956 Synod in Berlin, the Union of Evangelical Priests in the GDR (Bund evangelischer Pfarrer der DDR or BEP-DDR) claimed that “concessions for greater religious freedoms within the realm of dialectical Marxist authority” were only possible if the individual… respected and reciprocally recognized the given borders between public life and the space of pure religion.”42


We are separate from any hyphenated-form of Christianity, unbound from a fantastical, civic-capitalist system, foreign to Evangelicals. We seek neither to be a center of conspiracy, nor a state-run propaganda institute. Rather, we in the BEP-DDR seek to offer brotherly help, to ponder theologically the existential question of the Church in our republic and at the same time to be active as loyal and responsible GDR citizens. This union works for freedom in the world and supports the efforts of the German Democratic Republic towards this end, while being obligated to the social renewal that is taking place in the GDR.43


The Church’s contribution to the new path took form in the first observable expressions of a Kirche im Sozialismus, a position that was neither supportive of the regime, nor ostensibly against the regime, but rather existed parallel to it.

Due to the SED’s initial skepticism, Church leaders sent a delegation led by bishops from Thuringia and Pomerania to participate in discussions with the Ministry of Interior, SSCQ and the Council of Ministers.44 The delegates at the Church–state talks agreed to a monumental joint communiqué on July 21, 1958. Unlike the June 10, 1953 agreement, the church successfully weakened the state. The Church offered its most demonstrative statement yet:


The representatives of the Evangelical Church in the GDR declare that the Church, with all means at its disposal, strives for peace amongst all peoples and hence is principally in agreement with the peaceful efforts of the GDR and its government. In accordance with their conscience, Christians shall fulfill their civic duties based on the legal foundations. They respect the socialist development and shall contribute to the peaceful construction of civic life.45


Short of declaring loyalty, the Church recognized the existing political conditions and Marxist socialism. Regime officials promised only to review certain measures taken in public education and reiterated their constitutional responsibility to protect the rights of religious practice.46 This stood in stark contrast to the 1953 point-by-point retraction of repressive measures against the Church. The policy of differentiation had accomplished its goals. Church membership and congregations fell rapidly throughout the 1950s and 1960s.47 Only one-third of the children from religious households were confirmed in the Church, while the Jugendweihe exploded in popularity from 26 percent of school classes in 1955 to over 80 percent in 1960.48 With the beginning of the construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, rather than expand its administrative reach to near totalitarian domination, the regime chose begrudgingly to accommodate the Church.49

Under state expansion, the SED began to militarize society: military service in the People’s National Army (NVA) was mandated for all men in January 1962 without the option of conscientious objection.50 Since the majority of objectors were from Christian households or theology students, the move gave the Churches a new lifeline. Church leaders approached the regime about the negative effects of forcing Christians to carry arms against their will.51 Ulbricht and the National Defense Council, keen on avoiding confrontations, conceded their position to the Church on September 7, 1964 and ordered the creation of unarmed NVA ‘construction units’ that exempted Christians from weapons exercises. The Bausoldaten were tasked with building military installments, housing units and transporting material. With this, the GDR became the only Communist state that allowed for conscientious objection.

By the late 1960s, the Evangelical Churches decided territorially and institutionally to re-organize themselves from the all-German Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD). After much debate, East German bishops in 1969 formally separated themselves from the EKD, establishing the regime-friendly Union of Evangelical Churches in the GDR (BEK-DDR). Despite the BEK’s separation from the EKD, the two entities maintained close lines of communication up to 1989.

In 1971, Walter Ulbricht’s successor, Erich Honecker, sought a more conciliatory approach to Church–state relations. His approach included the establishment of a Church media service,52 construction permits and the expansion of the Church’s presence in religion-free “workers cities.” Moreover, in hopes of improving the GDR’s international image, Evangelical bishops’ were encouraged to participate in international ecumenical conferences.53 Church–state interaction demonstrated the GDR’s new readiness to seek a modus vivendi. For its part, the Church again expressed its readiness to


neither inflate, nor downplay the existing contrasts between Marxist-socialism and theology. Neither option is in our interest. Rather, we need better to understand what occurs in this country, which is also our home. We shall soon discover the real commonalities in our responsibility to man and those social areas, where we are needed. In the past, anti-communism distorted our vision from our real opportunities and true challenges.54


The purpose of the Church was to be firmly located in working within East German society for the good of its citizens.55

On August 18, 1976, Church–state relations were profoundly unsettled by an act of self-immolation. Before pouring petrol over himself, Pastor Oskar Brüsewitz had unrolled a banner with the words “the Church in the GDR condemns communist repression of school children!” While the regime claimed the priest suffered from delusion, it feared a public protest, a damaged international image. Honecker and Church representatives met for another round of talks on March 6, 1978, which introduced conditions that set the stage for the largest expansion of Church space.56 In quid pro quo¸ the Church agreed to respect the SED’s request to halt all political criticism and accept the existing power relations of the GDR. In turn, the SED offered a lengthy list of concessions and policy liberalizations, including more construction permits, 2.2 million Marks for restoration projects, lifelong health care for all Church employees, pastoral care in prisons and retirement homes, pay increases for priests57 and greater access to state media for holy days.58 While Honecker viewed the talks as a “crowning moment and new beginning,” the Church secured a long sought after document that better outlined its legal position in the GDR.59

Despite the March 1978 talks, the SED became increasingly suspicious of Church-based peace initiatives60 and “the serious security concern of broader peace movements solidifying around Church.”61 Indeed, by 1982, a number of students, theologians, Church congregants and veteran Bausoldaten had found a protected space in the Church.62 Ulrike Poppe, founder of “Women for Peace” and the “Initiative for Peace and Human Rights,” recognized that the existence of these groups was best guaranteed under the protective umbrella of the Church.63 Equally, Church leadership was aware of the fate that would await these individuals, if the activism and pacifist message of these groups were to take on stronger contours. The Church’s protective stance assumed a more communicative quality, acting as the mediator and ‘translator’ between the two entities.64 Bishops oversaw cooperation among the groups, warned of risks, advised the opposition and the regime on better forms of communication and diluted their messages in the interest of maintaining public order. Despite this protective cover, oppositional groups had grown skeptical of becoming too compromised by the Church. Poppe was aware that “oppositional groups were at times afraid of the Church’s paternalist role vis-à-vis East German human rights groups.”65 Hence, the relationship between Church and opposition was not without contention. Nevertheless, if peaceful resolutions to conflict and the avoidance of human rights violations were topics for both Church and opposition, they had now become salient issues between Church and state.

The SED’s lack of preparation in adapting to a third, new critical element became apparent. By 1982, Stasi documents warned of Church-based “enemy-negative forces attempting to establish an independent movement for peace under the guise of pacifism.”66 Attempts were made to remove students from schools and universities based on membership in illegal organizations, while other peace activists were taken into police custody. The SED resorted to more extreme measures: the regime quietly offered leading members of oppositional groups travel permits or stipends to study in the West; others were forcefully expatriated.67 But even state security organs feared that overt repressive measures could push the Church to become confrontational. Intelligence reports pressed the SED to engage in another round of talks with the SSCQ and Church leaders to ease tensions. Stasi reports even suggested using the Church leadership to steer the peace movements away from the public sphere.68 The regime desperately resorted to its old Janus-faced playbook: it actively engaged with Church leaders, using their mediation between regime and opposition, while cracking down on those who drifted beyond the accepted boundaries.69 Police and Stasi units increasingly stormed Churches and parish halls and confiscated printing presses and Church libraries. At the Zionskirche in East Berlin, Stasi units arrested members of a Church-based environmental initiative. The regime’s desperate show of force not only made it more dependent on the Church’s communicative role, it also improved the Church’s image and increased the public’s solidarity with it.

By late 1989, Evangelical Churches were ready to channel massive public frustration peacefully and prevent a potential violent state intervention. In Leipzig, Monday prayers for peace at the Nikolaikirche by October 9, 1989 drew 70,000 demonstrators; one week later, over 120,000 gathered before the Church. Trying to stave off unrest, the politburo replaced Honecker with Egon Krenz on October 18. With change evident, over 320,000 called for peaceful reforms in Leipzig. Tensions grew to a fever pitch as rumors spread amongst the peaceful protestors that units of the NVA, riot police and undercover Stasi agents had been given orders to use force to control the growing protest.70 But by now, word had spread throughout the GDR that Church buildings and squares were safe areas for expressing popular frustration and desires for reform.

The GDR reached a point of no return on November 9, 1989, when Party Secretary Krenz ordered the opening of border crossings between East and West Berlin. Upon hearing the news from West German media sources, East Germans gathered at the border crossings by the thousands. Overwhelmed East German border guards, at first unsure how to proceed, yielded to the swelling masses. Once the barriers were raised, West and East Berliners were united in a celebration of peace.

Post-War Yugoslav Religious Policy: More Soviet than Thou

In this section I claim that a unique set of processes stemming from Yugoslavia’s particular Church–state engagement planted the seeds for the exclusionary characteristics of Church-based free spaces that later generated nationalist sentiment. Yugoslav religious policy was not marked by public agreements or joint communiqués resulting from regular high-level Church-state negotiations. Once the country swung from a repressive model to an open, quasi-Western one, freedoms in economics, labor, media and travel undermined the necessity to lodge human rights complaints. By liberalizing religious policy, Yugoslav communists gave up an important bargaining chip: they could not offer concessions to Churches, since the Churches already enjoyed the most open religious atmosphere in the communist world.

From end of the war to the late 1950s, the Yugoslav regime maintained a posture of extreme repression. The decision to take immediate measures against the Catholic and Orthodox Churches was a manifestation of Tito’s distrust and the Yugoslav Communist Party’s (CPY) rapid consolidation of power. Neither the Catholic Church nor the SOC became participants in the reconstruction of the new Yugoslav state. As a result, the regime’s position offered the Churches no other option but to look upon the authorities with suspicion, if not enmity. Such distrust bolstered the Churches’ unwillingness to support the regime, which created a crucial by-product for later periods: the regime could never request the Churches’ mediation in times of unrest.71

Two points are crucial to understanding the post-war phase in Yugoslav Church-state relations. Firstly, the CPY systematically applied the Soviet playbook, which erased the political landscape of subversives and prevented religio-nationalist rhetoric from challenging the state, a type of post-war tabula rasa devoid of opposition.72 The second approach involved state institutions confronting the Churches through nuanced repression that targeted their greatest weakness. This individualized method removed the presence and visibility of Church space from the public sphere. In 1945, the Yugoslav Council of Ministers established the Federal Commission for Church Questions (SKVP), which passed down party directives to republic-level Commissions for Religious Relations (KVP), the purpose of which was to


research all questions concerning life outside the religious communities, their inter-confessional relations and the position of the Churches vis-à-vis the state and the People’s authorities, as well as the preparation for all legislative solutions on relations between religious communities and the state.73

Yugoslav authorities considered religious groups to be a security threat and therefore placed the SKVP under the command of the Ministry for State Security (UDBA). Authorities detained, physically assaulted and murdered hundreds of Orthodox and Catholic bishops, priests, nuns, and laypersons. Judges in politically rigged trials speedily handed down execution sentences and lengthy jail times.74 Grand show trials served as a means of eradicating Church-linked regime-opponents.75 In a politically rigged court in 1946, anti-communist Royalist Četnik commander Draža Mihailović was found guilty of collaborating with Nazi Germany and summarily executed by firing squad. Mihailović’s stature in the SOC was considerable. The SOC leadership perceived the court’s decision as a volley across its bow.

Similarly, the 1946 trial of Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb Aloizije Stepinac for his alignment with German and Croatian fascists highlighted the regime’s intent to silence any opposition. On May 8, 1945, Stepinac publicly demanded an explanation for the maltreatment of Catholic priests,76 which was followed by a pastoral letter slamming the regime’s repression.77 However, he offered no word of atonement to either the regime or the SOC for wartime atrocities perpetrated by Croatian clergy.78 As a result, Tito personally engaged him to consider the possibility of an independent, Yugoslav Church.79 Meeting with Stepinac, Tito states


the Church should be more national, more adapted to the nation: perhaps you are surprised that I approach the subject of nationality with such emphasis. Too much blood flowed, I have seen too much suffering of the people, and I would like the Catholic clergy in Croatia to be more deeply linked in its national feeling with the people than it now is […] We want to create a great community of South Slavs in which there will be both Orthodox and Catholics […] linked with all the other Slavs.80

This effort sought to “yugoslavize” the Church and, as was being done in the GDR, align it with the state’s new identity.81 After such repression, Stepinac refused any such agreement and was placed on trial for collaboration, the dissemination of Fascist ideology in Church media and the forced conversion of Orthodox citizens.82 Stepinac was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 16 years of hard labor followed by house arrest.

The CPY continued its drastic reduction of Church space. Religious instruction in state-run secondary schools was discontinued in 1945 without negotiation.83 Partisan units physically removed all religious symbols from schools and public buildings and marriage documents were placed under civil code. A 1947 federal law prohibited the public celebration of religious holy days. Instead, the official Socialist calendar replaced holy days with workdays.84 In 1949, the Ministry of Education declared all theological faculties private institutions and removed them from public universities.85

The nationalization of property rounded out the palette of policy instruments. In a move against the Catholic Church, the army and security forces placed all Church-administered hospitals, nursing schools and pension homes under governmental administration. Moreover, chapels, prayer rooms, religious artwork and crosses in hospitals were removed and nuns, though still allowed to work, had to remove their habits and other displays of religious symbolism.86 The regime undertook a similar, nuanced measure against the SOC by targeting its property holdings, one of its sources of income. From 1946 onward, security forces again occupied hundreds of SOC buildings, parish halls, secretariats and residencies.87 In Bosnia, over 140 Churches and offices were placed under rent-free military and police occupation.88 In cases where non-military individuals occupied Church land, the regime refused requests for compensation.89 As the party predicted, critique of this measure remained limited only to protest letters by the synod90 and Patriarch Gavrilo to the federal and the Serbian KVP.91

By 1953, the LCY had neutralized the last forms of domestic opposition and now had a free hand in pursuing socio-economic policies, which anticipated a sharp about-face from centralized resource allocation to one of “workers’ self-managed” production.92 They laid the groundwork for political re-adjustments in Church-state relations. In 1953, the Yugoslav Federal Assembly adopted the Law Concerning the Legal Status of Religious Communities, which formalized the separation of Church and state, guaranteed freedom of conscience and religious belief and stipulated the rights of atheists and the consequences of abusing religion for political purposes.93 By the late 1950s, the regime had increased the number of construction permits and funds for damaged buildings.94 Lastly, the weekly newspapers, the Catholic Glas Koncila and the Orthodox Pravoslavlje were allowed to circulate in larger numbers.95

The Rise of the Churches from 1966 to the Late 1980s

In 1966, the Fourth Plenum of the Central Committee and the six republic Central Committees introduced extensive political liberalizations.96 Centrist factions gave way to decentralist forces that favored devolution of powers to the republics.97 With this came a new stance on Church-state policy: the SKVP and KVPs were removed from UDBA oversight and transformed into independent governmental units, ending the regime’s security and intelligence gathering approach. State institutions were mandated to engage in dialogue, monitor media and manage Church life through quid pro quo, but also to prevent Churches from weighing in on social issues. With this change, the SOC and Croatian Church became less constrained in expanding Church media, holding public masses and criticizing the regime. One could hardly imagine a more comprehensive change.

Although calls for decentralization first came from the Serbian and Slovenian parties, Croatian communists most demonstratively demanded for a loosening, beginning with appeals for a constitutionally recognized Croatian language, separate from its almost identical Serbian counterpart. This peaked with the Croatian Spring or Mass Movement (Masovni Pokret, Maspok) from 1967 to 1972, which took on more alarming contours. Calls were made for the establishment of an independent Croatian national bank, greater autonomy in education and economic policy and territorial defense units.98 Maspok supporters criticized the Yugoslav National Bank’s distribution of federal development funds to poorer regions, while extremist fractions demanded a separate seat at the United Nations and revisions of official Yugoslav history.99

Maspok coincided with the rise of the Catholic Church’s renewed organization of large-scale masses and celebrations. A symbolic start took place with the Marian Congress and the consecration of the holy shrine at Marija Bistrica in August 1971 in front of 150,000 pilgrims.100 At the same time, Glas Koncila profited from limited state censorship by publishing criticisms of Yugoslav socialism, while celebrating the upsurge as solidifying the Croatian nation. As violent Maspok demonstrations in Zagreb threatened to destabilize the regime in 1972, Tito quickly purged leaders en masse and imprisoned activists.101 Under the threat of irredentism, Tito and Executive Bureau Secretary Stane Dolanc cleansed the Croatian League of Communists and other republican leagues.102 Faced with the threat of violence, Yugoslav communists never requested mediation from the Church. Unlike in the GDR, in Yugoslavia there was no rapprochement between Tito and Catholic bishops to restore peace. Despite the regime’s later inclusion of Maspok’s demands in the 1974 constitution, the crackdown shifted outlets for critical expression into the hands of the Church.103

The Church wasted no time in expanding its free space. In September 1974, the episcopate began the Great Novena, celebrating 1,300 years of Christianity. The icon of Our Lady of the Great Croatian Christian Covenant was paraded around the countryside, accompanied by liturgical celebrations, pastoral theater plays and a children’s educational course. Large Eucharistic festivals followed: the 1977 celebration of King Zvonimir, the 1979 declaration of the Year of Prince Branimir and the 1981 National Eucharistic Congresses in Split and Zagreb. The pinnacle was reached in September 1984 at the final celebration of the Great Novena, where over 400,000 convened at Marija Bistrica.

The SOC in this period became equally active with its social presence, organizing numerous public liturgies, jubilees and celebrations. In May 1968, the SOC organized a commemoration of the ancient Serb ruler, Czar Dušan. In September 1969, the SOC celebrated the 750th anniversary of autocephaly before a crowd of nearly 10,000 Orthodox faithful. The jubilee was continued at the Žiča monastery, where the conciliatory Archbishop German stated the following:


All who live with us here in our common home, in our common fatherland of Yugoslavia want to live in concord with all, in brotherhood, in love, in community. We have in our present homeland many different nationalities and religious communities… We want to live with all as with brothers and sisters in one single house.104


Church-organized celebrations continued throughout 1970 as the SOC commemorated the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the Serbian patriarchate (1920–1970) and in 1971 the 300th anniversary of Saint Basil of Ostrog.105

This atmosphere empowered the SOC to articulate grievances vocally. It initiated criticism of the regime’s inability to resolve brewing conflicts in regions considered important to the Church. Since Kosovo’s post-war inclusion in Yugoslavia, ethnic Albanians had long been dissatisfied with its position as a non-Slavic minority without its own republic.106 To ease tensions in 1966, Tito greatly expanded Kosovar rights and obliged the wealthier Northern republics to assist in the economic development of the territory. Nevertheless, Kosovo’s frustration gradually became violent. Orthodox churches, shrines and gravestones were increasingly desecrated and priests, nuns and monks harassed. Tensions exploded in November 1968, when large-scale demonstrations and violent riots broke out.107 Under media suppression, Tito deployed the JNA to quell the unrest. While quick to crackdown, Tito made no attempt to seek other forms of resolution. Despite being one of the targets of the riots, neither the SOC nor Kosovar party representatives were asked to cooperate to reduce the tensions. Again, an opportunity for inclusive Church engagement was missed.

On May 4, 1980, Josip Broz Tito passed away. Millions of shocked Yugoslavs gathered, tearfully laying flowers, holding military memorials and paying their last respects. However, the country would again be rocked by violent demonstrations in Kosovo. The March 1981 riots were fuelled by demands for republic status, only this time, accompanied with violence against Serb symbols and the SOC and rioters demanding “Unification with Albania.”108 Again, the regime answered with force, sending in militia and tank units and arresting hundreds of protestors.109

Less hindered by the 1966 accords, several SOC clerics penned an “Appeal for the Protection of the Serbian Population and their Sacred Monuments in Kosovo” on Orthodox Good Friday 1982 to the Presidency of the Yugoslavia, claiming that Albanian plans for “genocide” were being carried out.110 Using its publication outlets, it published the entire text in Pravoslavlje and other media, as Church spaces increasingly became the only venue where grievances could be expressed. Once again, aside from heavy-handed repression, no efforts were undertaken to bring the major stakeholders together to calm Kosovo.

The final years of the Yugoslav project were characterized by greatly expanded activities of protest. The federal SKVP and the republican KVPs were ineffectual in reeling in the Churches, which began to mobilize their spaces to fill the social vacuum. Tito’s passing and his apparent indifference to grooming a successor left many asking what might become of Yugoslavia. The party’s fear of a situation in which religion would align itself with anti-Yugoslav political forces would come true by the mid-1980s. The SOC Holy Bishop’s assembly began publicly to chronicle criminal acts perpetrated by Kosovar suspects against the Church. Pravoslavlje echoed the Church’s concern in regular columns and articles on the rise of the “Albanian terror,” as well as in seminars and discussions on the topic held by the Church.111 The Church submitted formal complaints to provincial authorities in Kosovo, the Serbian KVP and the republican government, but they were never thoroughly investigated. The continued failure by Yugoslav governmental structures to have at least a cursory review of the legitimacy of such claims and take measures against perpetrators contributed to the SOC’s heightened sense of being placed at an institutional disadvantage. With no credible guarantor, the SOC gradually began to instrumentalize its rich nationalist history of suffering.112

By 1987, Slobodan Milošević had risen through the party ranks to become head of the Serbian Communist Party. His springboard to political power took place at the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo. Flanked by ranking party members from the republics and SOC bishops, Milošević addressed a crowd of nearly one million. Though sanctioned by the Yugoslav federal government and couched in socialist language, the event resembled a Church celebration. As one of the first high-ranking Serb officials to call for a comprehensive change in policy toward Serbia, Milošević found an ally in the SOC. Religion, religious symbolism and politics had now become inextricably intertwined in a self-reinforcing dance.

The Catholic Church also strengthened its social profile. By the mid-1980s, the large-scale Catholic celebrations began to take on more ethno-nationalist symbolism. While grand Church events continued to demonstrate the Church’s organizational ability, Glas Koncila had become the key voice in Church media. With little governmental censure, Glas significantly contributed to creating a distinct Croatian identity. By 1989, the Catholic Church in Croatia had successfully carved out its own space for re-assessing the foundation of Croatian identity within a larger Yugoslavia. The rise of Croat nationalist Franjo Tudjman in the late 1980s corresponded with that of the Church. In 1987, Tudjman and his far-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) turned to ultranationalist diaspora Church centers in Western Europe, Australia and North America.113 By 1989, the HDZ’s platform was thoroughly laden with revisionist ideas of historical injustices, Croat nationalism, conservative Catholic values and anti-Yugoslav, anti-Serb populism. Like Milošević, Tudjman received massive support from all elements of the clergy. The marriage of growing political nationalism and a potent religious element gave even more popular credibility to the HDZ.

As the fronts began to harden between Serbia, which was seeking to re-centralize Yugoslavia, and an increasingly independence-minded Croatia, which sought to rid itself of the rest of Yugoslavia, each camp gained political legitimacy from their respective Church. Set in motion by Tito’s liberalizations of the Yugoslav system 1966, the departure from a repressive to a open religious policy channeled Serb and Croat frustrations with the direction of Yugoslavia’s path into the hands of national Churches.

Conclusions: Assessing Church–State Engagement and Free Spaces

Challenges to authoritarian rule can take on different forms, while factors that affect the complex institutional interaction between a regime and its stakeholders can be infinite. Moreover, anti-authoritarian opposition is made increasingly complex by case-specific experiences. Attempts to explain changes in power structures through the scope of elections, voter behavior, civil society, democratization, ethnicity and identity, revolution or violence have yielded endless lists of works from across the landscape of ancient and modern political science. It is a common trait of human behavior and demonstrates one of the most essential pillars of political science: the struggle to attain, maintain and challenge power and accommodate competing ideas.

To try to capture the vastness of this central component is beyond the scope of this article. However, I claim that the uniqueness of this study lies not in explaining the end of East German and Yugoslav communism, although it does contribute to a more nuanced understanding of this. I offer here an alternative explanation to a different question: which set of conditions and types of processes help us to temporally locate, theoretically identify and comparatively explain the variegated forms of Church–state engagement which brought forth Church-based free spaces. The momentous year of 1989 in Eastern Europe is not the point of departure here. Rather, it is the outcome of a near 45-year-long history of debate on religious policy.

The empirical focus of this study seeks to paint a picture in which free spaces are neither the natural outcome of private meetings between small numbers of individuals working in safe havens, nor do I claim that national Churches retained an innate oppositional quality. Contrary to the debate surrounding the development and role of civil society, which tends to overlook the precise policy mechanisms and agent-to-agent interactions at the micro-level, this contribution demonstrates that Church-based free spaces are in fact a constructed social phenomenon, resulting from negotiated, institutional interactions by Church and state elites. To conclude, the complex interaction between Church and state in the execution of religious policy across temporally organized periods offers us an additional tool in explaining the rise of Church-based free spaces in authoritarian societies and the relationships between the rise of these free spaces and end of the European communist project.

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1 Steve Bruce, Politics and Religion (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003), 172.

2 Free spaces are an integral pillar for oppositional groups working in authoritarian societies, without which the chances of success in challenging, reforming or toppling illiberal regimes may be significantly lessened. The ability to organize, cultivate and articulate critical expression, free of governmental intervention or violent crackdown, are the very heart of what makes oppositional movements successful. While they may not be necessary for every movement and while each authoritarian regime may deal with its undesired, unsanctioned oppositional agents in different ways, the growing number of successful regime-critical groups which have demonstrated or currently demonstrate the usage of similar forms of free space, from Africa to Latin America, North America to Arab states, can no longer be ignored by social scientists.

3 Derek Beach and Rasmus Brun Pedersen, “Taking Process Tracing Seriously – The ‘Mechanismic’ Understanding and Tracing Causal Mechanisms,” paper presented at the Southern Political Science Association, New Orleans, Louisiana, January 5–8, 2011.

4 John T.S. Madeley, Church and State in Contemporary Europe: The Chimera of Neutrality (London: Cass Publishers, 2003), 13.

5 Monika Kaiser, “Change and Continuity in the Development of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany,” Journal of Contemporary History 30 (1995): 688.

6 Erich Honecker, Aus meinem Leben (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1988), 181.

7 Monika Kaiser, “Die Zentrale der Diktatur – organisatorische Weichenstellung, Strukturen und Kompetenzen der SED-Führung in der SBZ/DDR,” in Historische DDR-Forschung: Aufsätze und Studien, ed. Jürgen Kocka (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1993), 78–79.

8 Gerhard Besier, Der SED-Staat und die Kirche: Der Weg in die Anpassung (Munich: Bertelsmann Verlag, 1993), 55.

9 Arnd Bauerkämper, “Bodenreform und Kollektivierung,” in Handwörterbuch zur ländlichen Gesellschaft in Deutschland, ed. Stephan Beetz, Kai Brauer, and Claudia Neu (Berlin: VS Verlag, 2005), 17–18.

10 Clemens Vollnhals, “Zwischen Kooperation und Konfrontation: Zur Kirchenpolitik von KPD/SED und SMAD in der Sowjetischen Besatzungszone,” Deutschland Archiv 27 (1994): 486.

11 Monika Tanztscher, “In der Ostzone wird ein neuer Apparat aufgebaut: Die Gründung des DDR-Staatssicherheitsdienstes,” Deutschland Archiv 31, no. 1 (1998): 48–49.

12 Stiftung Archiv der Parteien und Maasenorganisationen der DDR im Bundesarchiv/SAPMO-BArch, nr. 002071, Establishment of Division E in Department V, 1947.

13 Detlef Pollack, Kirche in der Organisationsgesellschaft: zum Wandel der gesellschaftlichen Lage der evangelischen Kirchen in der DDR (Berlin: Kohlhammer Verlag, 1994), 95.

14 “Kirchen entstehen neu!” Die Kirche, October 30, 1949, 1.

15 “Tätigkeit des Evangelischen Konsistoriums Berlin-Brandenburg,” Provinzialsynode Berlin-Brandenburg 1951 (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1951), 27.

16 Pollack, Kirche in der Organisationsgesellschaft, 96.

17 Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv (BLA), Repository 203, nr. 144, Positive zur Nationalen Front eingestellte Pfarrer des Landes Brandenburg.

18 Pollack, Kirche in der Organizationsgesellschaft, 131.

19 Ralf Altenhof, “Aufarbeitung von Geschichte und Folgen der SED-Diktatur in Deutschland,” Die Enquetekommission des deutschen Bundestages (Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1993): 164.

20 SAPMO-BArch, Sensitive Information – Directive from the Central Committee of the SED and the Department of People’s Education to regional SED party offices and Departments of People’s Education, January 7, 1950.

21 Ehrhart Neubert, Geschichte der Opposition in der DDR, 1949–1989 (Berlin: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 1998), 76.

22 “Kirchenleitung gehört in das Land Brandenburg!” Märkische Volksstimme December 6, 1950, 2.

23 BLA, Repository 202A, nr. 531, Letter from the Brandenburg Provincial Prime Minister to Evangelical Superintendents, Priests and Parish Commissioners, Pg 2. January 26, 1951.

24 BLA, Repository 202G, nr. 45, Special Report on the meeting between state representatives and those of the Church on 06.06.1952 in the home of Superintendent-General Braun, Potsdam, June 10, 1952.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 SAPMO-BArch, Repository IV 2/3/380, “Opinion of the Schwerin District Administration Report and the Gera District Administration on the Reactionary Activity of Priests,” Protocol of the SEC Central Committee, May 4, 1953.

29 Martin Georg Goerner, Die Kirche als Problem der SED: Strukturen kommunistischer Herrschaftausübung gegenüber der evangelischen Kirche 1945 bis 1958 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1997), 109.

30 Christian F. Ostermann, “Keeping the Pot Simmering: the United States and the East German Uprising of 1953,” German Studies Review 19, no. 1 (1996): 63.

31 “Kommuniqué der Sitzung des SED-Politbüros vom 9 Juni 1953,” Dokumente der Sozialistischen Einheitspartei Deutschlands: Beschlüsse und Erklärungen des Zentralkommittees sowie seines Politbüros und seines Sekretariats 4 (Berlin: Berlin, 1953), 428.

32 Kommunique der Sitzung des SED-Politbüros, Juni 9, 1953, 428.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 “Entschließung der 15 Tagung des SED-Zentralkomitees vom 24. bis. 26. Juli 1953 – Der neue Kurs und die Aufgaben der Partei,” Dokumente der Sozialistischen Einheitspartei Deutschlands: Beschlüsse und Erklärungen des Zentralkommittees sowie seines Politbüros und seines Sekretariats 4 (Berlin: SED, 1953), 449.

36 BLA, Repository 530, nr. 2188, SED Provincial Secretariat’s Report entitled “On the Activity of the Church after the Communique from June 10, 1953 and Suggestions for Improvements in the Arena of Religious Policy” Potsdam, January 8, 1954.

37 BLA, Repository 530, nr. 2187, Bishop Otto Dibelius’ pastoral letter entitled “To all Parishes in Germany,” Berlin, June 12, 1953.

38 BLA, Repository 530, nr. 2188, SED Provincial Secretariat’s Report entitled “On the Activity of the Church after the Communique from June 10, 1953 and Suggestions for Improvements in the Arena of Religious Policy” Potsdam, January 8, 1954.

39 SAPMO-BArch, Repository DY 30/J IV 2/2/516, Protocol nr. 62/56 of the Meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee, November 27, 1956.

40 SAPMO-BArch, Repository DC 20/4/228, Decision 53/14 of the Council of Ministers for the Appointment of a State Secretariat for Church Questions, February 21, 1957.

41 Günter Jacob, Der Christ und die Mächte (Stuttgart: Lettner Verlag, 1960), 330.

42 Günter Jacob, “Der Raum für das Evangelium in Ost und West,” Kirchliches Jahrbuch 1956 (Gütersloh: Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1956): 13.

43 Evangelisches Zentralarchiv Berlin (EZB), Repository 4, nr. 666, Newsletter nr. 1 from BEP-DDR in the German Democratic Republic to all Pastors, June 19–20, 1958.

44 Besier, Der SED-Staat und die Kirche, 71.

45 Kirchliches Jahrbuch 1958, 241.

46 Ibid.

47 “Statistical Report on Exiting the Church – 1950 to 1956,” Amtsblatt der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland 19. no. 6 (1958): 17.

48 Pollack, Kirche in der Organizationsgesellschaft, 150.

49 “Programm der SED,” Neues Deutschland January 25, 1963, 1.

50 Neubert, Geschichte der Opposition in der DDR, 1949–1989, 187.

51 Ibid.

52 EZB, Repository 4, nr. 304, Letters between the Berlin Church Council and Reinhard Henkys of the Berlin Arbeitsgemeinschaft für kirchliche Publizistik, July 12, 1973.

53 “Hohe DDR-Kirchenvertreter besuchen Genf – Ökumenische Verbindungen sollen ausgebaut werden, Werben für Anerkennung,” Frankfurter Rundschau March 22, 1972, 1.

54 SAPMO-BArch, Repository DO4/320, State Committee for Radio Services – Department of Monitoring, July 2, 1971.

55 “Kirche will in der Gesellschaft der DDR künftig mitreden,” Der Tagesspiegel July 6, 1971, 45.

56 SAPMO-BArch, Repository DY IV 2/2036/49, Our Approach to the Talks with Representatives of the Evangelical Church of the GDR, May 10, 1977.

57 SAPMO-BArch, Repository DY 30 IV 2/2/1740, Decision of the Politburo supporting an increase in basic wages of Evangelical regional Churches, August 22, 1978.

58 Ibid., Addendum 1 on the Commitments to Concerns Brought by the Union of Evangelical Churches in the German Democratic Republic.

59 Bundesbeauftrage für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, (BStU), Protocol from a speech held by Bishop Albrecht Schönherr on the importance of the March 6, 1978 talks, MfS Document 8103, October 10, 1986.

60 SAPMO-BArch, Internal Party Document – Information on the Relationship between State and the Evangelical Church in the GDR, DY 2/3/119, December 2, 1980.

61 Ibid.

62 Interview with Manfred Stolpe and Joachim Heise, July 14, 2008.

63 Interviews with Ulrike Poppe, December 2008 and January 2009.

64 Interview with Manfred Stolpe, July 14, 2008.

65 Interviews with Ulrike Poppe, December 2008 and January 2009.

66 BStU, Internal document from Ministry of State Security to all working units of the Stasi, MfS Document 7604, March 17, 1982.

67 Interviews with Ulrike Poppe, December 2008 and January 2009.

68 BStU, Suggestions of talks with the State Secretary for Church Questions, Comrade Gysi, with the bishops of the provincial Evangelical Churches in the DDR, MfS Document 7605.

69 BStU, Quarterly Report – Church and Religious Communities in the GDR – Excerpts of an interview with Berlin-Brandenburg Bishop Albrecht Schönherr, MfS Document 8103, April 1985.

70 Interview with Hans Modrow, September 2008.

71 Interviews with Bishop of Australia and New Zealand of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Irinej Dobrijevic, April 2007 and the Vicar General of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sarajevo, Monsignor Mato Zovkić, September 2010.

72 Darko Bekich, “Soviet Goals in Yugoslavia and the Balkans,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 481 (1985), 2.

73 Arhiv Jugoslavije (AJ), Repository 144, no. 1-1, The Presidium of the Council of Ministers of the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia brings forth the decree on the establishment of a federal commission for religious questions – Article 1 (Pretsedništvo Ministarskog Saveta Demokratske Federativne Jugoslavije donosi uredbu o osnivanja držvane komisje za verska pitanja – Član 1), September 21, 1945.

74 AJ, Inventory 144, nr. 1-4a, Executive of the Bishops’ Conference in Zagreb (Predsjedništvo Biskupih Konferencija u Zagrebu), no. 64, May 8, 1945.

75 Dunja Melčić, “Abrechnungen mit den politischen Gegnern und die kommunistischen Nachkriegsverbrechen,” in Der Jugoslawien-Krieg: Handbuch zu Vorgeschichte, Verlauf und Konsequenzen, ed. idem (Opladen: Westdeutsche Verlag, 1999), 198.

76 AJ, Inventory 144, nr. 1–3, Improving and renewing the Church – authorization for the collection of necessary resources (Predmet: Popravk i obnova crkvi – dozvola sabiranja portrebnih sretstava), Letter from Stepinac to the Vlada and the republic-level Commission for Religious Affairs of Croatia, August 14, 1945.

77 AJ, Inventory 144, nr. 1–4, Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishoprics of Yugoslavia, Publication of the Bishop’s Conference in Zagreb (Pastirsko Pismo Katoličkih Biskupa Jugoslavije, Izdano s Općih Biskupskih Konferencija u Zagrebu), September 20, 1945. Also see, Zvonimir Despot, Vrijeme Zločina: Novi Prilozi za Povijest Koprivničke Podravine 1941 – 1948 (Zagreb: Hrvatski Institut za Povijest, 2007), 258.

78 Milovan Djilas, Jahre der Macht: Im Jugoslawischen Kräftespiel – Memoiren 1945–1966 (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1992), 56.

79 Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941–1945: Occupation and Collaboration (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 562–63.

80 Stella Alexander, The Triple Myth: A Life of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 117.

81 Margareta Matijević, “Religious Communities in Croatia from 1945 to 1991: Social Casualty of the Dissent Between Communist Authorities and Religious Communities’ Leadership,” Časopis sa Suvremenu Povijest 2, no. 1 (2006): 122.

82 Alexander, The Triple Myth, 146.

83 Katarina Spehnjak, Javnost i Propaganda Narodna Fronta u Politici i Kulturi Hrvatske 1945–1952 (Zagreb, 2002), 187–90.

84 Thomas Bremer, Kleine Geschichte der Religionen in Jugoslawien: Königreich-Kommunismus-Krieg (Freiburg: Herder Verlag), 86.

85 AJ, Inventory 144, no. 2-46, Briefing for the head of the Federal Commission for Religious Questions on the current state of Orthodox Faculty (Kratak referat o današnjem zalošnim stanju na našem Pravoslavnom Bogoslovskom Fakultetu), July 7, 1949.

86 Matijević, Religious Communities in Croatia from 1945 to 1991, 125.

87 AJ, Inventory 144, Decrees from SKVP no. 534 and no. 68 of 1946 identified these measures.

88 AJ, Inventory 144, 1-9, List of Church Buildings Occupied or Used by State Authorities (Spisak Crkvenih Zgrada Zauzetih i Upotreblijvih od Strane Gradjanskih Vlasti), February 1947.

89 Ibid.

90 AJ, Inventory 144, 1-9, Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, no. 346, Letter of protest from the synod of the SOC to the republican-level KPV of Serbia with a request to reverse the decrees, February 11, 1947.

91 AJ, Inventory 144, 1-9, Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, no. 1147, Letter of protest to the Executive of the Federal Government, March 31, 1947.

92 Thomas A. Marschak, “Centralized versus Decentralized Resource Allocation: The Yugoslav Laboratory,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 82 (1968): 566.

93 Radić, Država i Verske Zajednice, 1945–1970: Prvi Deo 1945–1953 (Belgrade: Institut za Novu Istoriju Srbije, 2002), 385–400.

94 Vjekoslav Perica, Balkan Idols: Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslav States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 121.

95 Marcus Tanner, Croatia: A Nation Forged in War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 194.

96 Radio Free Europe, Internal Affairs, Central Committee Plenums of Yugoslavia’s Six Republics Approve Purge of Ranković and Party Reforms, October 3, 1966: 1.

97 Sabrina Ramet, Nihil Obstat: Religion, Politics, and Social Change in East-Central Europe and Russia (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 41.

98 Vjekoslav Perica, “The Catholic Church and the Making of the Croatian Nation, 1970–1984,” Eastern European Politics and Societies 14, no. 3 (2000): 532.

99 Viktor Meier, “Der Titostaat in der Krise: Jugoslawien nach 1966,” in Der Jugoslawien-Krieg: Handbuch zu Vorgeschichte, Verlauf und Konsequenzen, ed. Dunja Melčić (Opladen: Westdeutsche Verlag, 1999), 202.

100 Perica, “The Catholic Church and Making of the Croatian Nation,” 540–41.

101 Holm Sundhausen, Geschichte Serbiens: 19.–21. Jahrhundert (Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2007), 375.

102 David Binder, “Marko Nikežic, Yugoslav Liberal Forced to Quit by Tito, Dies at 69,” New York Times, January 9, 1991, 20.

103 Peter Palmer, “The Churches and the Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia,” in Religion and International Relations, ed. Ken R. Dark (Basingstoke: MacMillan, 2000), 87.

104 Perica, Balkan Idols, 51.

105 Ibid., 52.

106 Ger Duijzings, Religion and the Politics of Identity in Kosovo (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 38–45.

107 Hugh Poulton, “Macedonians and Albanians as Yugoslavs,” in Yugoslavism: Histories of a Failed Idea, 1918–1992, ed. Dejan Djokić (London: Hurst & Company, 2003), 129.

108 Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 334–35.

109 “Belgrade Sends Tanks to Rebellious Region,” The New York Times, April 4, 1981, 21.

110 Perica, Balkan Idols, 123–24.

111 Ibid., 124–25.

112 Mitja Velikonja, “In Hoc Signo Vinces: Religious Symbolism in the Balkan Wars 1991–1995,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 17, no. 1 (2003): 30–32.

113 Paul Hockenoos, Homeland Calling: Exile Patriotism and the Balkan Wars (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), 76.



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