“To Maintain the Biological Substance of the Polish Nation”: Reproductive Rights as an Area of Conflict in Poland

Michael Zok
Deutsches Historisches Institut, Warsaw
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 2  (2021):357-381 DOI 10.38145/2021.2.357

On October 22, 2020, the long-term dispute about reproductive rights in Polish society had a comeback. The Constitutional Tribunal declared the embryo-pathological indication of abortions guaranteed by the law of 1993 to be unconstitutional. The tribunal’s ruling was met with widespread protests, as it effectively forbade almost all reasons for terminations of pregnancies. While members of the Church’s hierarchy and pro-life activists celebrated, politicians began once again to discuss the law, and different suggestions were made (including a draft law similar to laws in effect in other European countries like Germany, and a law which would allow the termination of a pregnancy if the fetus were likely to die, or a law forbidding them in the case that the fetus had been diagnosed as having down’s syndrome). The debates are hardly new to Polish society and history. On the contrary, they date back to the recreation of the Polish state after World War I. This article concentrates on the developments in the Communist People’s Republic that led to the legislation of 1993, which is commonly referred to as a “compromise.” It focuses on the main actors in this dispute and the policymakers and their arguments. It also contextualizes these discursive strategies in a long-term perspective and highlights continuities and ruptures.

Keywords: Catholicism, demography, reproductive rights, Poland

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Liberating Pathologization? The Historical Background of the 1961 Decriminalization of Homosexuality in Hungary*

Judit Takács,
Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre of Excellence; KWI Essen
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Tamás P. Tóth
Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre of Excellence; Artist & Researcher in Residence Guiniguada, Canary Islands
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 2  (2021): 267-300 DOI 10.38145/2021.2.267

Analyzing the principles, considerations, and official explanations underpinning the
(de)criminalization of sexual relations between same-sex partners can highlight that around the mid-twentieth century medicalizing references were used in legal and societal judgments on same-sex intimacy in Hungary (and elsewhere). In this study, we want to illustrate the medicalization process of social issues that otherwise seem difficult to “solve” (i.e., these issues, in this case, were put within a psycho-medical ambit) by focusing on a twentieth-century historical example from Hungary. The background of the decriminalization of consensual sexual acts between adult men in the 1961 Hungarian Penal Code will be explored in detail using previously unknown original archival material from 1958. This article will introduce the changes proposed by the Neurology Committee of the Health Science Council (HSC; Egészségügyi Tudományos Tanács) in 1958 leading to the HSC’s unanimous support for a proposal to decriminalize “unnatural fornication” between consenting adults and to the actual decriminalization of homosexuality (i.e., decriminalization of consensual sexual acts between adult men) in 1961. The empirical foundation of the present study includes archival records from the National Archives of Hungary and other primary sources.

Keywords: homosexuality, (de)criminalization, social history, state-socialism, National Archives, Penal Code, Neurology Committee of the Health Science Council

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Making Sense of Madness: Mental Disorders and the Practices of Case History Writing in the Early Nineteenth Century

Janka Kovács
Eötvös Loránd University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 2  (2021): 211-242 DOI 10.38145/2021.2.211

The article focuses on interpretations of madness in early nineteenth-century Hungary medical practice from a comparative perspective. By relying on the methodological approach of the anthropology of writing and the analytical considerations offered by Michel Foucault’s 1973–1974 lectures on Psychiatric Power, the article discusses the formalized and standardized practices of case history writing. It draws on sources from the teaching clinics at the universities of Pest and Edinburgh, as well as the largest mental asylums in the Habsburg Monarchy in Vienna (est. 1784) and Prague (est. 1790), and the ideal type of mental asylums at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the York Retreat (est. 1796). In doing so, an attempt is made to reconstruct both the physicians’ gaze and (to a certain extent) the patients’ view, and by examining the therapeutical regime of each hospital and its correlations with the institutional background, uncover whether madness was perceived as a pathological somatic or psychological state in the medical practice of these institutions. This is in and of itself a fundamental question if we seek to understand changing attitudes towards the mad and their curability in a period of transition from a “world without psychiatry” to a “world of psychiatry,” when specialized care was still not an option for many, especially in the East Central European region.

Keywords: history of psychiatry, case history, medical gaze, clinical practice, medical writing

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Hypochondria as a Poetic Disease: Medicine and Ethics in the Case of an Early Nineteenth-Century Hungarian Poet

Gábor Vaderna
Eötvös Loránd University / Research Centre for the Humanities
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 2  (2021): 189-210 DOI 10.38145/2021.2.189

Medical knowledge reached a wider range of social strata in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Popular medical books described diseases and how to cure them, and the press regularly addressed the topic of having a healthy body. Meanwhile, representations of the perfect body became an increasingly important problem for neoclassical art. This case study investigates how Dániel Berzsenyi (1776–1836), one of the important Hungarian poets of the early nineteenth century, thought about the human body. For him, the representation of the body was, on the one hand, an artistic problem which raised questions concerning manners of imitation and, on the other hand, an artistic problem which was associated with the display of human virtues and thus with ethical discourse. Berzsenyi gave an account of his illnesses, which can be traced back to hypochondria, in a private letter. His self-analysis has three layers. First, his private letter could be read as part of a sensible epistolary novel. I argue that Berzsenyi introduced himself as a sensible hero, who was ill because of his own uncontrollable emotions. Second, hypochondria has a medical context. Considering the continued influence, in Berzsenyi’s time, of the ancient doctrine of bodily fluids, I demonstrate that this disease may have become a mental illness associated with poets. The reason for this is that the emotions entertained by the sensible man led to the emergence of physical symptoms which were associated with the hardly definable concept of hypochondria. Third, one’s relationship to one’s body could be a moral issue. Berzsenyi attempted to assert his own moral superiority by describing his own illness. Thus, his letter also fit into a moral context of the contemporary theoretical debates in which he was involved. My paper shows how aesthetics, ethics, and medicine were interconnected and how different forms of knowledge circulated between the forums of the arts and other social forums.

Keywords: hypochondria, sensibility, poetry, medicine

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Doctors into Agents: The Technologies of Medical Knowledge and Social Control in State Socialist Hungary*

Viola Lászlófi
Eötvös Loránd University / École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 2  (2021): 328-356 DOI 10.38145/2021.2.328

In this paper, I analyze different situations in which the doctor-patient relationship, the knowledge/information produced within this framework, and the practices of medical questioning came to the fore in the work of the state security services, one of the typical institutions of social observation and surveillance of the Hungarian socialist state. I examine work and recruitment dossiers opened from 1956 to the 1980s which document either physicians’ uses in state security observation of information which they gained about their patients during their professional (medical) activities in or in which the physician-patient relationship appears as a context of the physician’s recruitment. I discuss how physicians constructed the patient when the gaze of the state security forces was also arguably part of their medical gaze. I contend that medical knowledge and, more generally, information revealed in the professional (medical) context and used in the framework of network surveillance, taken out of their strict medical context, constituted a gray zone of power. On the one hand, this information was a useful tool with which the regime could exert some measure of effective social and political control beyond the borders of healthcare, while on the other hand, it could help physicians develop a certain degree of social resistance.

Keywords: state socialism, history of medicine, state security, doctor–patient relationship, gray zone of power

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Reproduction between Health and Sickness: Doctors’ Attitudes to Reproductive Issues in Interwar Czechoslovakia*

Veronika Lacinová Najmanová
University of Pardubice
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 2  (2021): 301-327 DOI 10.38145/2021.2.301

The study examines how doctors in interwar Czechoslovakia intervened in reproductive issues and related areas of life in an attempt to combat the declining birthrate, a trend that was considered a threat to society. Inspired by Foucault’s concept of medicalization and biopower, through the analysis of medical literature and articles from the press in the interwar period, I will demonstrate how Czechoslovak doctors, not only but especially under the influence of eugenics, foregrounded the categories of health and sickness in order to assert definitions of “correct” forms of reproduction while attempting to stigmatize and discourage forms of reproduction that they considered detrimental to the health of society or the nation. The aim of the study is not only to expand the body of knowledge about the activities and attitudes of Czechoslovak doctors in the interwar period but also to call attention to the still current topic of the political background of reproductive policy.

Keywords: reproduction, medicalization, doctors, eugenics, birth control, interwar Czechoslovakia

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TEKA: A Transnational Network of Esperanto-Speaking Physicians

Marcel Koschek
University of St Andrews
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 2  (2021): 243-266 DOI 10.38145/2021.2.243

The Tutmonda Esperanta Kuracista Asocio (Worldwide Esperanto Medical Association, TEKA) was founded in 1908 at the Fourth International Esperanto Congress in Dresden and was the international medical association of the Esperanto movement. The aim was to “facilitate practical relations between Esperanto-speaking doctors of all countries.” The interest within the Esperanto movement was immense: after one year, TEKA had more than 400 members all over the world with a focus on Europe; one year later, there were more than 600 members with official representatives in about 100 cities. In Europe, a medical press in Esperanto had already been established. The approach of these journals was both simple and brilliant: the doctors presented the latest medical findings from their home countries in a peer review system and critically examined the articles in their vernacular. This made each issue a compendium of the most important and pioneering findings of national research. The numerous experts also had many other connections with, for example, the Red Cross and similar organizations. Thus, after a short period of time, TEKA brought together the expertise of countless physicians. This paper examines TEKA as a transnational network of experts before World War I. The history of the association and the role of Medicine within the Esperanto movement are briefly discussed. The focus is then on the various association journals and the circulation of knowledge. Finally, the essay offers a look at TEKA’s cooperative endeavors with the Red Cross. It works from a transnational perspective and takes a close view of the actors and their personal backgrounds at appropriate points. Furthermore, lists of members and journal subscribers are provided in map form to make the global spread of the movement within medicine visible.

Keywords: Esperanto, transnationalism, internationalism, network of physicians

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