How Communists destroyed the countryside

  • Share
  • 2018. July 23.

The track switch of 1945 after 1948 was clearly a tail track - or to stay with the transportation metaphors, a dead end for the countryside in Hungary - and this dead end is shown in a recent work published by the Committee of National Remembrance, which meets a long felt need. The book Vakvágány [Dead End] is a product of the joint research group on the history of the countryside of the Committee of National Remembrance and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The book contains dozens of papers that describe the changes that were brought along with the establishment and stabilization of the communist regime in the lives of the rural elite as well as of the little people.

The introductory period of sovietization until 1948, and the one and a half decades before the Kádár-era carry a number of features characteristic of the regime that suggest that 1956 was not an immediate break. Even a layman can discover how similar the phenomena of the restoration of the dictatorship involving all groups of society with the practices in the years before the revolution.

Nothing was given up in 1956.

The socialism that existed in Hungary was a political dictatorship even according to its self-definition. The decision-makers of the party state declared that “any betrayal of the workers' cause is punished most severely by law.” Therefore, 1956 is not only a cathartic answer to the oppression of the decade before, but with the retaliation that followed, it is an indicator of the unbroken, Stalin-like exercise of power. Yet, 1956 was a successful revolution despite its fall, as society made it clear where its breaking point was, and the Kádár-regime was forced to develop a new modus vivendi after 1963, having faced the amount of opposition. In other words, making the dictatorship more bearable was an enforced compromise rather than giving upon the ideological aims declared. After that it became clear that the administration and the cadres of the party after 1856 were practically the same as those during the Rákosi-era. It is precisely the persecution of the churches why the events between 1948 and 1963 should be considered as one period, as most of the society in the countryside gave the same responses in a lot of different places.

Dead End

Dead End in the title the Committee of National Remembrance links to the book to the first volume  Váltóállítás [Track Switch]  of the series Hungarian countryside in the 20th century. That is another way to indicate that the “track switch” of 1945 led to a dead end (or to a tail track, to stay with the transport metaphor) for Hungarian rural society. Whoever takes the book in their hands, work of the Rural History Research Group of both the Research Centre for the Humanities of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Committee of National Remembrance can get a full picture of how rural society reacted to the sovietization imposed upon them. One can learn about the process of industrialization as well as about how the elite from before 1945 was removed and who stepped in their place. It tells the most interesting story of the first female ispán (count) of Hungary, and there is a lot of information on who the political elite in Fejér county was composed of between 19454 and 1962.

What did the little man do?

The greatest merit of the book ‘Vakvágány’ is that we can read about the tribulations of the majority of Hungarian society as well as the retributions on minorities in Hungary and on Hungarian minorities across the borders are shown in various segments. For example, it is shown how Hungarians in Tito's Yugoslavia in 1956 reacted to the revolution. We can learn about how German minorities in Veszprém county were moved from one village to another as well as about a show trial in Transylvania after 1956.

There have been a good number of papers on the history of local resistance, on how the little man tried to fight the absurdities of the dictatorship. One can find plenty of reading on the experience of collectivization, produce delivery to the state and confiscations as part of everyday life. In the book we can read about how small Catholic communities existed at the turn of the 1940s-50s in Debrecen, and how much room a parish priest in Dabrony had in the fifties. All in all, the book by the Committee of National Remembrance really fills a void and we are looking forward to the next part of the series.