'Under Banned Flags': One Decade of Hungarian Samizdat, 1981-1989
In 1990, the Petőfi Literary Museum held the first larger samizdat exhibition in Hungary. After the change of regimes, archivist Csaba Nagy and his colleagues came up with the idea of presenting a selection of the holdings of the former Closed Stacks to the wider public. Nagy compiled a bibliography of Hungarian samizdat that appeared for this event, and which serves as the primary reference source of Hungarian samizdat up to the present day.
Their central dilemma was how to make this exhibition visually attractive. Just after the change of regimes, technical possibilities for creating such an exhibition were limited, and samizdat materials are not particularly engaging objects. The director of the exhibition, Gyula Kemény, had the idea of placing grass around the objects. This was supposed to refer to the Hungarian phrase "fű alatt,” which has the literal meaning 'under the grass,’ but refers to secret or illegal activity. They also exhibited badges and decals (the one of Polish Solidarity movement was a particularly popular piece in the 1980s), but these items were borrowed from the Budapest Historical Museum, because at PLM they did not collect such objects.
The exhibition was opened by the president of Hungary, Árpád Göncz, who was himself a member of the democratic opposition and was involved in samizdat production. Almost all significant figures of the samizdat scene came to the opening ceremony. The organizers could not even estimate the number of visitors, but they asserted that it was a popular exhibition. As Tibor Mészáros, one of the organizers, said, people felt liberated by visiting the exhibition, and many were astonished to see that there had been an alternative scene of which they had known nothing, but which had produced so many publications.
After a while, the exhibition turned into living memory, in a quite literal sense: life took root in the grass, and insects and spiders hatched in it. The exhibition had to be closed down quickly.
1053 Budapest Károlyi utca 16 , Hungary
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Author(s) of this page
- Scheibner, Tamás