05. 09. 2006. 12:23

The Ballad of Mrs. Kádár (an excerpt)

Mihály Kornis

"Towards the end he kept saying / how he’s not to blame / that Imre Nagy died / or was killed / or whatever. / Murdered. / He asked: / isn’t he invited to the funeral? / And I said: no. / Because he never got notified. / And he says: / But the funeral is today! / And I say: / Yes, I know. / And then they came and took him away."

This ballad is based on sentences taken from a series of interviews with Mrs. Kádár (the weekly Magyarország, nos. 40-49, 1989, interviewer: András Kanyó), the documentary radio play, The Secret of the Kádár Villa, by Péter Borenich (Kossuth Radio, November 11, 1993), and the documentary Those Who Keep Secrets, by Anna Geréb (MTV - Hungarian Television, 1994-1996).  It is the companion piece to the Kádár speech given before the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist and Workers Party on April 12, 1989, which with my emendations and footnotes first appeared in the journal Beszélõ (May, 1996, pp. 68-98) as Kádár (Hungarian Drama).


After 1956
Hungary got isolated
her prestige at the UN
at an all-time low.

Then along with leaders
of the other socialist countries
Khrushchev had my husband go
to New York with him.

They crossed the Atlantic on a Soviet ship
as a result of which
the rest of the party
were out of commission for days.

They were all sea-sick
or what have you,
with only Khrushchev and Kádár
showing up for dinner every night.

As my husband said:
“I had to do my bit
for the Nation.”

Still, sometimes after lunch he’d feel queasy too.
Khrushchev, you see, had a horrendous appetite
because during the Ukrainian famine,
he was the chief, but he wouldn’t eat more either
than the regular allotment
along with his first wife
who died of starvation in the end.

That’s when they got to be friendly with the Old Man.


My husband and Josip Broz Tito
also got very close
despite certain political differences
until in the end they invited us both
to vacation with them on the island of Brion.

Tito and Jovanka
were very pleasant vacation company.
We were never bored for a moment!
Tito drove all the vehicles himself
from the electric tricycle to the motor boat
driving was his hobby.

He even took us to Devil’s Island
a veritable south-Slav paradise, lush tropical plants and all.
We visited the enchanting zoo as well,
put there for Tito’s benefit,
several times.

They lived the good life, I can tell you that.

Jovanka had some of her clothes made by Klára Rotschild. (1)
Once she went to Váci utca for a fitting personally
but generally Klára would go up to Belgrade
to discuss the style.

I was not a good customer,
because even though I shopped at Klára’s
now and then
even then I’d take my own fabric
not to mention
the lining.


In ’77 we got to visit the Vatican.

Some people were against it,
for instance, an under-secretary of state
at the Foreign Ministry:
“Why bother?”

But my husband said:
“Since we’re there anyhow, it’s only common courtesy
to see the Pope.”

It was my first time in Rome.
Kádár’s too.  We were both very excited,
with no idea what to expect.

The Papal Chamberlains planned a thirty-minute audience
but when my husband was still inside and an hour had passed
the Guards started worrying:
“What could His Holiness and Kádár be talking about?”

First my husband went in
to see his Holiness
then right after him me
the rest of the delegation were allowed in
only then.

Paul the Sixth was very nice to us.

He addressed some words of greeting to me
which I returned likewise
after which he offered me a chair
and I sat down.

The Pope was on top
sitting on that huge throne-like chair of his
with us seated one step below,
the rest listened to his speech standing up.

Then we exchanged presents.

We took a figurine by Margit Kovács (2)
with the inscription: Madonna and Child.
Kádár received a lovely little etching
from the Pope.

It showed Peter and Paul.


His daily routine was like this:
I got up at seven-thirty,
knocked twice, and he called out,
“Good morning!”

We had breakfast together
but all his life he was a small eater
toast, scrambled eggs or soft-boiled eggs.

We kept hens
he flung them the leftovers
and potato peels
from the terrace.

Soon as they saw him out there, they came running.
They knew
if they saw him
they’d get fed!

In short, we had fresh eggs every day.

He’d only eat eggs
that were freshly laid,
okay, they laid it yesterday,
then it’s good enough to eat this morning.

On the other hand
we never killed the chicken
because he wouldn’t eat
their meat.

After we had them
for three years, we’d
exchange them for new ones.

They’d laid all their eggs by then.

The young men, the guards
who were on duty
in the morning, they fed the hens
and also gave them water.

Also, in the evening, they were the ones
to lock them in the roost.


Before his major surgery
my husband went voluntarily
to the “chief health inspector”
or as he used to call him
“the Professor General”.

He said to him:
he’s finding it more and more difficult
to use his right hand,
which is a hindrance in his work.

Something’s got to be done.

Naturally, this was no job
for an internist.
A specialist had to be called.

Finally, he virtually couldn’t barely use his hand any more.

His illness, it’s called

It refers to the layer of tissue
that holds the muscles together
and the illness is the shrinking
of this tissue.

During his hand surgery
that lasted over two hours
his right hand was kept under three atmospheres of pressure.

1.33 kilograms of pressure on one square centimeter!

But by then it was too late.

However, since he knew
that after his operation
he would be condemned to inactivity
he insisted on taking care
of certain things first.

Mrs. Thatcher, for instance.
He wanted to meet her first.

Also, November 7th was coming up again!
The reception at the Soviet Embassy.
He wanted to be there as well.

Because, let’s face it,
if he’s not there
that could provide grounds
for gossip.

And so the operation was repeatedly postponed.

After his major address of April 12 ’89 (3)
he didn’t go to Party Headquarters any more.
He dished it out to them, take it from me.
He was made to resign afterwards,
including his office as president.


Some said
what’s needed
is an active president
that Imre Nagy’s funeral is coming up (4)
and the Party
wouldn’t survive it
if at the time of the funeral
János Kádár
is still president of the Hungarian Communist party.

I went to see Grósz (5) personally about this.

I said to him:
“Look. It’s like
when old Aunt Mari
who for fifty years
served as maid to the Esterházys
or the Baron Kohns (6)
and gets dismissed
because not only is she old
but she broke a piece of the dinner china
into the bargain
and that’s the last straw!”

He was one big ass
I am sorry to say!

For fifty years
he did what he was told,
this is not
the thanks he deserved.

They even accused him
that he couldn’t read very much any more
of what was put in front of him,
no wonder
when they underlined everything with
all sorts of colored pencils first!

And not just
some key passages, no,
but full paragraphs
one with red
another with blue
a third with god only knows what.

The letters jiggled in front of his eyes!

To tell you the truth
he had cataracts on both eyes
but he never went to work
without reading the papers first
cover to cover.

I used to tease him:
“You even read the classifieds, don’t you?”

Of course in the end I’d have to read to him.

Sometimes we also talked about how
now that we’re free as a bird
how pleasant it will be
to walk around town at last
wherever we want
we can go on a picnic
or the movies
and as often as we like.

At such times
he was happy for a while
but then out of the blue
he’d have a sudden change of mood.

When I reprimanded him:
“Don’t shout, dear, don’t talk rude”
he’d say:
“It’s not me talking, it’s my illness!”

Then one morning he suddenly said:
“Get dressed.
Fix yourself up.
We’re leaving this house.”

And I said:
let me pack
a few things at least.”
And he said:
“We don’t need anything!”

Out in the garden
I tried to hold him back:
“What do you say dear
to some lunch first.”

And so I managed to talk him
into going back inside.
It wasn’t easy.

Then next
he asks me:
“Listen, did those people just expel me, is that it?”

And I say to him:
“No dear
you didn’t get expelled from the Party
just your post as president and also
your membership in the Central Committee,
they relieved you of that.”

Whereupon he gave me a look:
“Listen, is this still the same party
I joined?”

He wouldn’t go to the hospital.

He said:
“If they make me
I’m going to beat my head
against the wall!”

And I thought:
as long as I can manage it
let him stay.

After all, this is his home.

He can do in it what he likes
he can go to bed, or get up
when it suits him.

he can walk around the apartment
and the garden.


In the end, he spent just four days in the hospital.
Till then he was in his own home all the time
Even though he’s gotten really feable.

He wouldn’t eat.
“What’s the use of living?”, he said.
Also, he had trouble breathing.

Towards the end he kept saying
how he’s not to blame
that Imre Nagy died (7)
or was killed
or whatever.

He asked:
isn’t he invited to the funeral?

And I said: no.
Because he never got notified.

And he says:
“But the funeral is today!”

And I say:
“Yes, I know.”

And then they came and took him away.


(1) Until her death in the late 70s, Klára Rotschild managed an exclusive dress shop (she’d been the owner before it was nationalized, along with everything else).  Specializing in made to order clothes, it was located on Budapest’s equally exclusive Váci utca.
(2) Margit Kovács’s terracotta figurines were much sought after – and thus difficult to find – in Hungary.  Minister of Culture György Aczél, who also liked Kovács’s works, declared them national treasures.
(3) A reference to Kádár’s last speech before the Central Committee.
(4) Sentenced to death because of his role in the 1956 revolution, in 1989, Imre Nagy was reinterred. As the speeches were delivered in front of his bier, an entire country knew that it was the end of an era.
(5) Károly Grósz:  the man who was slated to replace Kádár as First Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party.
(6) The Esterházys were aristocrats, the Kohns Jews.
(7) See previous note on Nagy, who was sentenced to death by the new Kádár government because of his participation in the revolution of ‘56.

Translated by Judith Sollosy

Previously on HLO
The Last Speech of János Kádár: a film

Tags: Mihály Kornis