Human Rights was a prominent and much trumpeted feature of the recent Reagan-Gorbachev summit. Many groups openly voiced their grievances in protests and demonstrations, the deposed Boris Yeltsin called for the removal of the conservative Ligachev and Yuli Kosharovsky, the veteran refusenik leader, spoke to millions of American viewers in a live broadcast from the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
It is often suggested that the template for the current Soviet model was Kadar’s Hungary where the authorities kept dissidents in check by subtle means thus averting universal opprobrium.
A considerable number of Jews can be counted amongst Hungary’s dissidents and liberal opposition as well as in the government. Although many are assimilated, there has been a process of return in recent years—a striving after Jewish identity.
In 1984, a number of young people and intellectuals constituted the Shalom group to discuss Jewish problems and the question of identity. Although Shalom attracts younger sympathizers from within the community, it is an independent body whose formation was neither sanctioned nor blessed by the Jewish leadership in Hungary.
A leading light in the group is Gyorgy Gado, a fifty-six-year-old activist in the Hungarian dissident movement. At the end of last year, Gado, with others, initiated the publication of the samizdat magazine, Magyar Zsido (Hungarian Jew). The sixty-page first issue addressed topics such as President Herzog’s visit to Bergen-Belsen, the saga of Raoul Wallenberg, the refusenik Iosif Begun and included an interview with Yitzhak Rabin. A section devoted to Jewish identity, “Jews and Hungarians”, occupies an important part of the magazine. The second issue boasted the presence of a correspondent in Israel and dealt with a wide range of subjects, encompassing Iran, the October Revolution, Brodsky’s Nobel Prize, Gadaffi, Shcharansky’s struggle for emigration and Jews and the far left.
The third issue of Magyar Zsido did not reach its readership. On 8 March 1970 copies were confiscated by the police as part of a general crackdown on dissidents. Gado was temporarily detained only to be re-arrested a week later to prevent his attendance at a demonstration to commemorate the Hungarian uprising against Austrian rule in 1848. Gado was scheduled to address the 10,000 people who marched through Budapest in the biggest unofficial protest since the Soviet invasion. One copy which escaped police attention reached London. Its contents include articles on the 1947 Partition Plans and Jews in the economic life of Hungary and Birobidzhan. A second attempt to print the magazine on an unofficial press also ended in failure—all 750 copies were confiscated in early May. Further attempts to print and distribute the issue will clearly test the claim of the new Hungarian administration to be a reforming one.
Jewish Quarterly Summer 1988