Stalinism Reloaded: Everyday Life in Stalin-City, Hungary

Stalinism Reloaded: Everyday Life in Stalin-City, Hungary

Stalinism Reloaded: Everyday Life in Stalin-City, Hungary

Stalinism Reloaded: Everyday Life in Stalin-City, Hungary

Synopsis

The Hungarian city of Sztlinvros, or "Stalin-City," was intended to be the paradigmatic urban community of the new communist society in the 1950s. In Stalinism Reloaded, Sandor Horvath explores how Stalin-City and the socialist regime were built and stabilized not only by the state but also by the people who came there with hope for a better future. By focusing on the everyday experiences of citizens, Horvath considers the contradictions in the Stalinist policies and the strategies these bricklayers, bureaucrats, shop girls, and even children put in place in order to cope with and shape the expectations of the state. Stalinism Reloaded reveals how the state influenced marriage patterns, family structure, and gender relations. While the devastating effects of this regime are considered, a convincing case is made that ordinary citizens had significant agency in shaping the political policies that governed them.

Excerpt

It is 1960, at the Rácalmás Children’s Home on the periphery of Sztálinváros, the Hungarian “Stalin-City.” in one of the pictures a seven-year-old boy wearing a sweat suit provided by the institute is smiling. His name is Jancsi, after his father. in his hand he holds a copy of the Arany abc (Golden ABC), his generation’s first encounter with the world of letters. His sisters are sitting beside him. One of them is holding a stuffed bear, the other is cradling a plastic doll. There is a doll behind them on the shelf and, in the shadows in the back is a metal-frame bed for small children. On the shimmering tablecloth, which has been wiped clean, are a small rocking horse and an enormous plate of jam rolls. the little girls are stuffing themselves with the rolls. White glasses and flowers are on the table in front of them. the picture is complete, as a dramaturgical composition, with the crowning addition of hot chocolate. in the other picture taken in the Children’s Home, two boys, one a year and a half old, the other two and a half, are sitting in a babywalker. They have polka-dot balls in their hands. They are laughing.

The children’s mother, Ilona, was born in Újpest, a working-class district of Budapest, in 1930, the beginning of the Great Depression. Most of the people who in 1950 went in search of work to Sztálinváros, the first new socialist city in Hungary, were members of her generation. She did not know her father’s name. She bore her mother’s family name. She had no memory of her mother, who had died when Ilona was one year old. She was raised by her grandparents, who told her that her father had been a “tradesman” (a house-painter) and her mother had been a housewife. With the launch of Stalinization in Hungary, this pedigree was just barely “acceptable.” Her grandmother had died when Ilona was nine years old, and in 1940 her grandfather put her in an alms house. She lived in many such houses and spent several years in the care of a family that she decided to leave. in the period between the end of World War ii and the spring of 1948 she was raised in the nunnery of the Good Pastor Sisters Order in Budapest. Before the order was dissolved by the state, at the age of eighteen she was given a job working at one of the refreshment bars in the Ministry of Interior. She worked there for a year before finding a job in a bar in Angyalföld, an infamous working-class district in Budapest. Here she met her future husband, János, in 1949, and the two moved in together in 1950. By that time her “certificate of good character” (a document issued by the police) contained a few comments. She had been imprisoned several times, for periods of only a few days, for loitering and stealing. Between . . .

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