Peter Apor

junior research fellow
Pasts Inc. Centre for Historical Research
Central European University
Nádor u. 11
1051 Budapest

fon: +36 1 327 3000/2699
fax: +36 1 327 3191

The Memory of the First Hungarian Soviet Republic: Five Cases in Historical Mis-Representation

At the outset of my academic career my primary interests were in legal processes aimed at punishing collective crimes of previous regimes. I completed case studies on the Hungarian attempt for coming to terms with the past after W.W.II. In the course of this work I began to address the general problems of memory and history. During trials of war criminals the entire history of previous regimes was interpreted. I devoted a study to the formation of the discourse of fascism during this period where I argued that the narratives developed at the trials made a significant contribution to the disappearance of democracy in Hungary. Fascism was understood as a perpetual adversary of communism and thus communism as the only true antifascist political power. In this scheme those who identified themselves as antifascists summarily became communists.

In my Ph.D. thesis I partly followed this topic. The subject of this work is the labyrinthine historical memory of First Hungarian Soviet Republic that lasted precisely 133 days in the Spring and Summer of 1919. This particular historical event grew from a relatively isolated particle of the history of the Hungarian communist movement into the most highly praised national celebration between the years of the 30th and 40th anniversary, 1949 and 1959. These ten years, however, marked not only the rapid accumulation of historical knowledge, but rather a radical break and re-formation of communist power in Hungary that was demanded by the challenge of the October revolution in 1956. The transformation of the historical appraisal of the first Hungarian commune was inseparable from the role 1919 played in the communist re-vision of 1956. The purpose of the thesis is to map out the genesis of the representation of this historical continuity. The problem of history producers was how to bring abstract historical interpretations closer to the audience. Their concern was how to make these narratives tangible, authentic and convincing enough to persuade the observer to give up his or her critical distance. The work identifies four possible techniques of closing the distance: through claiming the physical identity of abstract ideas, by presenting real individual lives, by the organization of corpses and, as the historical method proper, through the selection and ordering of historical sources.