All posts

Hungary: The Destruction of Reason and the Semi-Destruction of an Archive

Editors’ note:The legacy of Marxist Philosopher György Lukács has been under attack in Budapest. In 2016, protests began against the closure of the Lukács Archive, located in the philospher’s former home. In March 2017,  Lukács’ statue was removed from Szent Istvan Park, after a proposal from the Jobbik party was accepted by the Fidesz-dominated Budapest City Council. The removal of the statue and the closure of the archives are acts aligned with the official ideology of the authoritarian Orbán regime, which denounces liberalism, anti-fascism, and socialism as subversive and harmful to the Hungarian nation. The presentation of Lukács as a “communist murderer” and as a Jewish “globalist” intellectual, seeks to portray him and his ideas as “alien to the Hungarian spirit.” Such claims form part of a wider Kulturkampf that began following the regime change in 1989, and has accelerated and taken on new and dangerous forms under the Orbán regime, including attacks on media outlets and NGOs not aligned with government interests, and on the Central European University. As it becomes clear that semi-peripherial capitalism in Eastern Europe can no longer be managed by the methods of traditional bourgeois democracy, the Orbán regime continues is working hard to close out any other alternative. Widespread revisionism has the effect of enclosing Hungarian history from the present at a time when Hungarian citizens most need access to alternatives.

Books, Lukacs Archive, Photo Credit Gabriella Csoszo

The Lukács Archive—which preserves the manuscripts and the library of the philosopher György Lukács in his former home—is one of numerous institutions in Hungary under political siege. “Even the worst socialism is still better than the best capitalism” is probably the most popular, and fitting, Lukácsian quotation. Indeed, one of the issues endangering the survival of his archive is capitalism, particularly the private, profit-driven real estate market.

When Lukács drafted his final will in 1971, he only needed to think of his manuscripts and books, as real estate was not privatized. And however uneasy his relationship with the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party was, in socialist Hungary it was evident that the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) would fulfill the philosopher’s wishes and run the Lukács Archive in his home. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Academy employed full-time professional researchers to work in the archive, provided scholarships for young scholars (evenfor Westerners), and published high quality journals and books.

However, two decades after Lukács’ death, socialism collapsed and the apartment that Lukács had lived in became the property of the municipality of the V. District in Budapest, one of the most expensive parts of the city,in the heart of downtown Pest.  In addition, the apartment is large, totaling 140 square meters, and has aa view of the Danube. To make a long story short, the municipality could earn much more money selling or renting the flat for a profit rather than renting it for a negotiated price to the Academy of Sciences.

Lukács left his heritage to different departments of the Academy of Sciences (the manuscripts to the Institute of Philosophy, and the books to the Academy Library) without foreseeing that soon socialism would be replaced by the worst possible alternative:  capitalism and a supposedly “free market” of real estate soaked in corruption.  Presumably, Lukács would be less surprised at being a posthumous target of political attacks—as he was during his lifetime—than by the fact that hostility towards his intellectual heritage would be camouflaged by market-based calculations.

In March 2016, the HAS announced that it would give up Lukács’ former apartment and incorporate his documents into the Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books administered by the HAS’ Library and Information Center. This was without any guarantee that the archive’s collection would stay together or that there would be responsible experts to take care of it. The HAS’ justification included a need to digitize the manuscripts and modernize and systemize the whole collection. But why is it that the archive itself lacked capacity to do so in the first place? Because manpower had been sucked out of the archive since the 1990s. In its golden age, four scientific researchers and a librarian worked there full time. Since 2012, there is not a single scientific researcher employed in the archive, and no scientific work is being done. Since early 2017, the librarian, Mária Székely, runs the archive alone. Thanks to her commitment and competence, external researchers can still access the collection and receive assistance in navigating its boxes. Formerly-employed specialists  come and help visiting researchers upon request.

The extent of the international upheaval in the spring of 2016, including a petition signed by ten thousand people following the Academy’s announcement, demonstrated that the archive is important for many. Encouraged by this, Marxist and non-Marxist scholars decided to use the weaponry of capitalism to save Lukács’s heritage. LANA (Lukács Archívum Nemzetközi Alapítvány, or the Lukács Archive International Foundation) was established in the autumn of 2016. First, the organization intended to raise money with which to purchase the apartment at a cost of approximately €200 000. The possibility of buying Lukács’ apartment has also been raised by Die Linke, and the German federal parliament considered the proposition alongside one that aimed at buying Thomas Mann’s Californian villa. In this way, it is clear that Lukács was as much a German as a Hungarian philosopher.

LANA also organized an international conference in April 2017 entitled “The Legacy of Georg Lukács,” hosted by ELTE (Eötvös Loránd University) and the CEU (Central European University) in Budapest. When the call for papers was published, it was not particularly provocative to organize such a conference at the CEU. By the time that over 90 participants from 4 continents and 30 countries had arrived to the beautiful hometown of Georg Lukács, however, exceptional amendments to the national education law had been passed, which that particularly targeted CEU. Aside from the conference theme, the location  inevitably became a gesture of resistance too. The conference ended with a visit to a Lukácsian place of memory, Szent István Park, from whence his statue had been removed a few months earlier following a proposal by the extreme right-wing Jobbik party and administered by Fidesz members in the Budapest municipal government.

The strategies applied against the Lukács Archive and against the CEU are the same. First, a regulation that would disable their functioning is proposed, then due to international outcry its execution is postponed. This pushed those connected to these institutions into insecurity and anxiety, while also providing time for their plights to sink into obscurity in popular memory. Since anyone who cares about these issues—either out of solidarity or out of a principle to rush and sign petitions—are not directly affected by the issue, they cannot keep fighting for an archive or a university on a daily basis. This is why the Fidesz regime aims to gradually destroy institutions rather than closing them down in a single move.  It is thus difficult, yet imperative, to resist each step of such processes—and not only the most conspicuous ones.

Documents, Lukacs Archive. Photo Credit Gabriella Csoszo

In the very beginning of 2018, the story of the Lukács Archive took several new turns due to the fact that the Legal Department and the Library of the same Academy often act in opposite directions. The Legal Department had, a few months earlier, saved Lukács’ apartment by renegotiating the rental contract with the V. District municipality for a better price until 2024. On January 15, 2018, however, the HAS’ Library sent a librarian, along with a philosopher hired specifically for this project, to systemize and catalogue the manuscripts of the Lukács Archive, as a preparation of their removal to the Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books within the HAS Library. Their visit was announced  only three days before it happened. Hence, researchers who had scheduled research trips to work with manuscripts in the Lukács Archive were put in trouble. In addition, given that a large number of sources held in the Hungarian National Archives had been made unavailable for an indefinite number of years after these archives were recently relocated, Hungarian historians were more than skeptical upon hearing that Lukács’ manuscripts would be made available “soon” in their new home.

Hence, resistance was reactivated. A new petition was launched, this time directed against the removal of the manuscripts from the Lukács Archive. Francisco García Chicote sent this petition with an open letter via email to the leaders of the HAS and its Library. This initiative, mostly by foreign professors, was joined by students in Budapest who wanted to show that it was not only elderly academics abroad who cared for unrestricted research in Hungary and for the accessibility of the heritage of a Hungarian philosopher. They demonstrated in front of the HAS in support of the petition and in solidarity with the Lukács Archive. They gave the petition in printed form to two representatives from the Academy.

On the day of the student demonstration (January 25, 2018)—in fact a few minutes before it started—HAS’ Legal Department  proposed that LANA sign a statement of purpose for cooperation. Meanwhile, the Academy Library continued to systemize and catalogue the manuscripts for easy removal. Thus, HAS’ Legal Department and   Library were again pursuing two opposite projects, as they had with the apartment. On January 30, in any case, knowing that he was abroad at a conference and thus could not promptly react, the HAS published a declaration which made it publicly known that the director of LANA’s Board of Trustees would sign a contract of cooperation,  and added several problematic statements.

First, the declaration stated that the Academy was “now beginning to process Lukács’ heritage,” ignoring the work of generations of Hungarian and foreign researchers in the last 47 years since Lukács’ death. It is thanks to their efforts that many of Lukács’ German works have been translated and published in Hungarian, that the German critical edition of Lukács’ entire oeuvre is currently in process, that the findings from the famous “Heidelberg suitcase” have been published, and that numerous pieces of secondary literature on Lukács’ philosophy in Hungarian and many other languages have been produced.

Second an even more problematic statement in the declaration was that the Academy would select documents from the collection that they felt were not part of Lukács’ heritage and put them on hold from research “until their provenence would be clarified.” Thus, documents that had been accessible for over four decades would be made inaccessible on very blurry grounds, that is, the Academy’s view of what does and does not constitute parts of  Lukács’ intellectual heritage.

At the same time, the declaration promised to let the Lukács Archive stay in the apartment after LANA raises approximately EU45000 toward the apartment’s renovation (to be topped off by HAS). After the renovation, the books would be moved back, but the manuscripts would still have to be moved to the HAS’ Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books of the Library and Information Center. As a result, the Lukács Archive will cease to be an actual archive.   LANA formally signed  the statement of purpose for cooperation on February 6th.

Thus, while HAS is not willing to meet all of the demands of the academic community regarding the preservation of the Archive with it’s original manuscripts intact, and made LANA pay the high price of accepting the problematic statement regarding Lukacs’ heritage, to reach the compromise, perhaps there is some good news. The manuscripts will be digitalized and made accessible online. Thus, in practice, researchers working in the Lukács Archive could use these materials simultaneously with Lukács’ books. Moreover, researchers all over the world would be able to access the manuscripts remotely. In a way, there is potential that we would all be less dependent on the owner of the manuscripts: the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

LANA’s Board of Trustees, including its head, who signed the contract of cooperation with the Academy, gave plenty of thought to the problematic nature of the Academy’s proposal. There are two positions within the Board of Trustees with regard to the evaluation of this document. The one which motivated its signing is the notion that this is the best achievable compromise for the sake of the Lukács Archive under the current political regime. The other, represented by members who also voted for the signing of the contract, is of the opinion that this might have been the best available option, but not good enough.

One LANA member is concerned to what extent  this document is legally binding for the Academy.

In view of the fact that, two years ago, the Lukács Archive was almost closed down completely, and his statue was removed from Szent István Park (and thus doomed to condamnatio memoriae), resistance was (sign petition!), and continues to be, necessary. While our protests have not been completely in vain, when compared to its golden age,  the Lukács Archive will be a shadow of its former self. It will lack its original manuscripts and be degraded to nothing more than a nostalgic memorial place. But since the place is not yet destroyed in its totality, we are still left with the possibility to visit the room where Lukács wrote The Destruction of Reason and to place hope in the possibility that his manuscripts will survive and be accessible in digital form.

To achieve the limited aims of the compromise, efforts are now focused on fundraising and on enabling the archive to be a research institute again,  rather than a mere memorial place.  Donations are most welcome for the renovation of the Lukács Archive:

Beneficiary: Lukács Archívum Nemzetközi Alapítvány; Bank name and address: CIB Bank, 1027 BUDAPEST, MEDVE U. 4-14;  IBAN: HU90 1070 0691 6987 0820 5110 0005

photos of the Lukács Lukács Archive by Gabriella Csoszó

Agnes Kelemen is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the Central European University in Budapest. She is writing a dissertation on the connection of emigration, social mobility, and academic antisemitism between the two world wars. She is also working on a documentary about Lukács with Sofia Labropoulou, Sotiris Bekas, Cody J. Inglis and Jordan Skinner.