My present self is horrified by Kádár, and if it was this self standing there now, he may not be happy to hear that Kádár was dead, but he would surely understand that an inglorious era was over. To be followed by other inglorious eras.
I was standing in Siófok, on the terrace of a holiday cottage. My best friends’ parents took me on vacation, our family had no money. It was July, with all the arrogance of summer, and yet suddenly the lakeside sun shone as if it was getting tired, as if autumn was already creeping in. My best friends’ parents believed in the system, in equality, that we were born equal, that the son of peasants also had the right to study. That it was not necessary to live in misery in the heart of the Great Plain. They were sad, as if they had lost a family member. They were sad that he died. And that their youth was over, and with it, a lifestyle and a faith which was theirs, and which, at least from our village, seemed charitable and caring, slow and calm, balanced and secure. That system made their life liveable, their youth lovable. It gave them a cube house and a yearly vacation, later on a Lada car and a small garden. They had him to thank for all this, and for the fact that they didn’t have be servants on the count’s estate, or day laborers, working for a miserable dish of potatoes. "Just think of it, proletarians," to quote Attila József.
I don’t know if they were aware of all the bloodshed that he was responsible for. I don’t know if it’s possible not to know, to forget, not to care about such things. In 1956, there was some commotion, then a quiet, decent social democrat, who had of course merged into the great unity of the Party by then, asked those who were shouting to please go home. That was pretty much all the revolution in the heart of the Great Plain, on the bank of the Tisza. Even in the early eighties, when I was a kid, people didn’t quite believe when we mentioned in the pub that there were shootings in Budapest. I don’t know whether this was because it was more comfortable to think so, as freedom of speech, or for that matter, any freedom, was not lacking in the village. Compared to the absolutely hopeless misery of the Horthy era the world of "Kádár, our father" was full of opportunities. And they couldn’t care less about the problems of the world at large, or those of the capital city.
I don’t know if it was really and truly so as I didn’t live in that world as an adult. I was fourteen when I was standing on that terrace with creepers in Siófok and my best friend told me that János Kádár was dead. I was more interested in going out in the evening and chasing the girls. My blood was driving me on, I could only devote one brief moment of my attention to the leader of our people, because girls in bikini were passing by on their way to the beach.
It feels good to look back on that naïve kid as he is standing there, secure, having no idea of what makes the world go round. It feels good to look back on his serenity. My present self is horrified by Kádár, and if it was this self standing there now, he may not be happy to hear that Kádár was dead, but he would surely understand that an inglorious era was over. To be followed by other inglorious eras. My present self would know that the man who had just died had, in the course of long decades, lost the superb idea of leftism in a card game, lost the magnificent prospect of liberty, equality and fraternity. And that though he had passed away, he has remained here forever. In his era it was good to be small fry, not to be responsible for anything; it was good to be ignorant and untouched. And I don’t know if there is anything else that has been ingrained so deeply in this people’s heart than the desire not to know about anything and not to be touched by anything.
Everything that is bad about Kádár’s legacy is here to stay. If I was inclined to nostalgia, I would only have to read the news, listen to the declarations of people in responsible positions who manifest the misery of the Horthy era and the paternalism of the Kádár era: a life devoid of responsibility, decision and free thinking. The eternal Hungarian wisdom of ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and ‘why don’t you just cool down.’
He’s been dead for twenty-five years and it still remains to make up for the fact that at the time I didn’t understand the world in which I was a child. Now I have to be an adult in the same world, or rather, in an inverse one – the same patterns, only this time on the other side. Today it is possible to live in misery again: the new landlord despises and humiliates his day laborers, public workers are happy when they get a dish of potatoes, and nothing has remained of the ideal of equality.
The successors of Comrade Kádár do not believe in anything. They are not forced to dishonor an ideal, for want of better: today’s fathers are aware of what they are doing. Young people are getting old slowly, quietly; today’s adolescents are also standing on the terrace with creepers, and perhaps they don’t understand either the world they are living in. They don't understand that there is no path in front of them because it had been ploughed down. And good for them, too. Let them remain ignorant; hopefully, they will not have to make up for the fact that they didn’t understand; hopefully, they will not have to understand the same thing all over again, and forever.
Tags: Krisztián Grecsó