of the Memory of Socialism
Identity Formations of the “Survivors” in Hungary after 1989
ZSOLT K. HORVáTH
MEMORY AND HISTORY
“Budapest is a city without time. If you visit here, you will not feel that you are in the nineties. (…) Here the politicians want to win World War I in Parliament.”1 This remark by Jenő Menyhart, underground musician and emblematic figure of the 1980s in Hungary, uttered in his subjective, sarcastic style, explicates the symbolic battle for possession of the past in post-socialist Hungary. Labeling the historical consciousness and political uses of the recent past of Hungary, he talks about a country which defines itself through its earlier historical conflicts, and not through current political, economic and cultural problems. At the same time, his statement provides an opportunity to focus our attention on the significance and motivations of this symbolic fight for the past: why, in what way, and to whom has the past become important? More precisely, which past gained significance after 1989?
Most Hungarian historians consider the “socialist period”2 exclusively as a politico-historical period, as a subject of contemporary history (Zeitgeschichte, Vhistoire du temps presént), and there have been complaints about the existence of a scholarly consensus in contemporary historical writing. At first glance, this is not a problem: history as an academic dis-
1 Anna Szemere, Up from the Underground: the Culture of Rock Music in Postsocialist
Hungary (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001), 193.
2 Following János Kornai, the term “socialist” (and not “communist”) will be used. As he
argued, this term refers to the realised form of the system, while the notion “commu-
nism” would be applied to the idea as a Utopia. See János Kornai, The Socialist System:
The Political Economy of Communism (Oxford—Princeton: Clarendon Press, 1992),