Olasz, Sándor Private Collection of Banned Literature
The Private collection of Sándor Olasz, editor of Tiszatáj, a journal banned in the 1980s, about critical, nonconformist literature. The collection is owned by Sándor Olasz’s family: his widow and son.
Show on map
Name of collection
Olasz, Sándor Private Collection of Banned Literature
Provenance and cultural activities
Sándor Olasz (born in Hódmezővásárhely in 1949, died in Szeged in 2011) was a literary historian, critic, editor, and professor at the University of Szeged. In 1973, he became a member of the permanent editorial staff of the periodical Tiszatáj, and he served as the editor-in-chief between 1996 and 2011. Tiszatáj is a literary, artistic, social, and academic periodical which publishes a diverse range of writings and articles. Under the communist dictatorship, Sándor Olasz worked at Tiszatáj, which was functioning as a liberal journal, and Olasz kept in close touch with current trends in literature. He got in touch with many important people in intellectual and artistic life in Hungary. These relationships can be traced in the thousands of letters in the collection. The collection is important because it offers an overview of the most prominent Hungarian and immigrant writers and poets of the era. It offers a great deal of information about how writers experienced the oppression of the socialist regime, and it also contains information concerning their opinions of the political system, especially when the periodical was banned in 1986.
Sándor Olasz was born to a family of skilled laborers. In high school, he was influenced by Ferenc Gezsa, who was one his teachers and also a literary historian and who later was one of his colleagues at the university. Grezsa was teaching at the Bethlen Gábor High School in Hódmezővásárhely from 1957 until 1975, and he became the director of this institute in 1962. Grezsa created his own intellectual island. The atmosphere at the high school was relatively free in the 1960s, which was troublesome for the local authorities during the communist era, so they referred to it as “Betlehem,” a term which in Hungarian refers to a Nativity Scene. Grezsa did not seek confrontation with the authorities, but he was not an enthusiastic servant of the regime. In 1975, he became the director of the Department of Hungarian Literature in the Juhász Gyula Teacher Training Faculty at the University of Szeged. He then chose his field of research. He decided to focus on the works of László Németh, a writer who was on the edge of being banned under the system at the time. Grezsa’s unique frame of mind and his personality made him shy away from obvious confrontation. When Tiszatáj was banned in 1986, he was the one local intellectual who stood behind the periodical.
Sándor Olasz was influenced by Grezsa, who shared his interests (he also studied the works of László Németh) and his attitude towards the regime. The influence of the works of Németh was decisive in the formation of Olasz’s approach to literature. In the early period of his career, Olasz focused very intensely on the work of László Németh. He considered artistic trends and tendencies in Western Europe patterns relevant, and he was interested in all kinds of innovations. As an editor, he kept Tiszatáj distant from literary factions and politics, much as László Németh had tended to avoid factions. Olasz believed that the methods of interpretation advocated by the regime, which rested on readings or mis-readings of Marx, led to misunderstandings. “The literary product embodies the human and the state of the world,” he believed.
Taking Care of Memory
A posthumous volume was composed in 2010–11 of Sándor Olasz’s treatises concerning literary theory entitled The Pursuits of Calliope. It was published in 2014, by which time Olasz had passed away. The current managers of the collection aim to publish another volume in the near future consisting of a selection of the author’s rich correspondence. The widow and the collection wish further to systematize the elements of the collection in order to further prospective research on and publication of Sándor Olasz’s body of work.
The history of Tiszatáj and the position of this periodical under socialism
“Though Tiszatáj was published in the countryside,
it is not a rural periodical because not only has it been
operating on a local scale of values, but also this
periodical has meant the whole of Hungarian literature,”
Sándor Olasz said during an interview in 2006 at Kossuth Radio.
Tiszatáj was founded in Szeged in 1947 to cover literary traditions in Szeged. From the outset, Tiszatáj has stood for all Hungarian literature, but in the 1950s and 1960s, as the literary field was very tight, this was almost impossible to do.
It could not be published in the months following October 1956, like most Hungarian literary periodicals. The publishing of periodicals began again in the spring of 1957, when the regime had almost taken back control over cultural life. Several departments at the party headquarters were concerned with tenders submitted for publications, but only four of the 13 incoming applications were accepted in 1957, for instance the tender for Tiszatáj, by its original title. From the break caused by the 1956 Revolution and War of Independence to the new deal of the early 1960s, the first issues included several political statements. According to these statements, opposition to Realism and anti-Realism was considered less significant than Eastern European and transborder Hungarian literature. The latter became one of the main focuses of Tiszatáj. In parallel with the new deal, less and less articles were published concerning national literary politics. Beginning in the late 1960s, the periodical was often criticized by the national and local representatives of cultural politics, who were especially eager to control the cultural trends of the chief town of the county, defined by one of the most conservative party elites of the country, including the Komócsin family. According to the periodical’s profile, it was important to publish works which embodied local Hungarian and European values. This profile was established in the 1970s, when Mihály Ilia was the main editor. The copy number of the periodical was duplicated in the early 1970s, and the number of transborder readers was growing, too. Chief editor Mihály Ilia resigned in 1974 and was followed by László Vörös. The new crew adhered to the principles of the previous editors.
The periodical was criticized many times between 1975 and 1986. Meanwhile, Tiszatáj of the socialist era usually published articles on subjects which were taboo from the cultural or political standpoint, for instance articles on the concerns of Hungarian minorities in Romania, as well as social tensions and depression. The periodical published writings which addressed problems and feelings which were characteristic of the general condition.
Under the communist dictatorship, Tiszatáj was a free-spirited periodical. It managed to maintain a degree of relative independence under challenging cultural and political circumstances. The regime demanded an explanation from this rural periodical as to why it was not publishing more writings by local authors and why it did not show more writers from an ideological point of view. Every day, the editors were confronted with provincialism. They were pushed to reassess insignificant writings and authors, but they did not do this.
When the periodical was banned in 1986
For the government, the last straw was the publication in the periodical of a poem by Gáspár Nagy, which was written for the 30th anniversary of the Revolution of 1956. In June 1986, on pages 8 and 10 four poems were published by Gáspár Nagy. The poem entitled “From a Boy’s Diary” (in Hungarian, “A fiú naplójából”) resulted in the ban.
As Olasz said in a radio interview in 2006, “Nobody thought that this could happen in 1986. The dictatorship was not strong enough to ban periodicals in the middle of the 1980s. This half-year-long period is a good example to show the role of literature and periodicals in laying the foundation for the change of regimes.”
The ban of the periodical was initiated by János Kádár because somebody drew his attention to the poem by Nagy and made him think that the reference to a “Judas tree” in the poem was a symbol for him. The “Judas tree” does not signify the past, but is rather a collective emblem of the general circumstances of the 1980s which implied criticism of the moral crisis of the consolidation of the Kádár era. On 23 June 1986, the Secretary of the Central Committee of Hungarian Workers’ Party decided to suspend Tiszatáj for half a year and to have its editorial staff investigated by the party. Upon learning this, the editors believed that it was an interview with Imre Pozsgay published in the July issue which was found to be so provocative, as it was about the state of the performances in the national theater and it strongly condemned the contemporary cultural policies. On 4 July 1986, at 2:00 in the afternoon, the editorial staff was summoned to the building of the Party Committee of Csongrád County, where they were informed of the decision of the executive committee. On the basis of various broadcasting errors, the operation of the editorial staff and the publishing of the periodical was to be suspended, and the staff was subject to an investigation by the party. Three cases were mentioned as serial broadcasting errors: the coverage of the so-called Polish issue of 1981, the Ion Lăncrănjan case of 1982, and the Gáspár Nagy poem of 1986. The staff was then allowed to enter the editorial office, but could not work there. Later, the entrance to the office was even locked. After the suspension, members of the editorial staff were individually summoned for a “conversation,” but none of the individuals dissociated themselves from the editorial work, and they maintained a sense of solidarity among themselves. Although these events took place on a local level, the plight of Tiszatáj became a national issue, as the public was informed of it by an interview published in Magyar Nemzet on 9 August 1986.
The attack by the regime against Tiszatáj soon became an attack against all Hungarian literature. János Kádár and the Political Committee discussed the Tiszatáj case on 9 September 1986, and Kádár attacked the Hungarian Writers’ Union, which supported the periodical.
László Vörös was removed from his position as editor-in-chief, and proceedings were initiated by the party against József Annus and Sándor Olasz, the editors responsible for the publication of the poem. When the proceedings came to an end on 15 October 1986, the Periodical Publishing Corporation of Csongrád County notified them that it would no longer need their services, though they were not given letters of resignation. József Annus then worked as a collections manager at the Ferenc Móra Museum in Szeged, and Sándor Olasz went to the Hungarian Literature Department of the Gyula Juhász Teacher Training College, where he had worked as a lecturer before.
The reaction of Hungarian writers on the banning of Tiszatáj
Though the decision was made during the holiday season, the news of the banning of the periodical spread fast, and on 23 July 1986, the International PEN Club issued a protest in a circular entitled “The Freedom of Expression’.” On 8 September, all 40 of the 62 members of the Hungarian Writers’ Association who showed up for the caucus showed support for Tiszatáj. Since this and the following steps taken by the Association were unsuccessful, on 12 November, 114 writers, artists, and other intellectuals turned to the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and the Cabinet, but to no avail. As Olasz said in a radio interview in 2006, “I think it was the last time that a declaration would be signed by, let’s say, both Sándor Csoóri and György Konrád. Signed by István Csurka, and Miklós Mészöly.”
Previous authors whose writings were published in the periodical announced a boycott of against the new editorial staff and sent several letters to the editors who had been removed as an act of solidarity.
By early 1987, Tiszatáj ceased to be a concern in the press, and in March 1987, the first issue edited by the new staff was published. The editors who had been dismissed returned to the editorial staff two years later in 1989 as a consequence of the political changes. In July 1989, László Vörös was made chairman of the staff, and József Annus took the position as editor-in-chief. Sándor Olasz became deputy editor in chief. From July 1996 until 2011, Olasz served as editor-in-chief, and up until his death in 2005, Vörös remained chairman of the editorial staff.The periodical was revived in 1987 with a new editorial crew, but many Hungarian authors refused to publish in it until the former staff had been given their positions again. There were other examples of banned literary periodicals and other political interventions in culture at the time, but the case of Tiszatáj was one of the most extreme.
Description of content
The collection consists of thousands of letters, unpublished manuscripts, newspaper articles, published books, archived recordings, and digital and paper-based photographs. It includes bound volumes of Tiszatáj, including the copy which sparked the ban. Olasz began working at the periodical in 1973, and from then on, he deliberately collected the letters sent to him. These letters form an especially valuable part of the collection. He himself selected a portion of the letters and categorized them according to person. Thanks to his frame of mind and editorial attitude and his personal relationships, the collection was brought to life. According to the Olasz family, the conservation of this collection is important given the emotional relationship and its literary and social-historical documentary value. It is conceivable that Sándor Olasz set out to systematize his correspondence in 2010 for the sake of laying the foundations for the publication of a volume consisting of a selection of the author’s rich correspondence.Among the letters, there are some which are handwritten and some which are typed. One also finds postcards and letters printed from emails, and in most cases even the envelopes were preserved. If one examines the letters chronologically, as time passes one notices a gradual, characteristic separation of private, personal thoughts, which are sometimes mixed with official content. The letters from 1986–87, which contain criticism of the cultural policies and support for the slandered editors, are of particular significance.
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 1000-
- other artworks (that cannot be classified by other filter categories such as paintings, sculptures, graphics, etc.): 10-99
- photos: 100-499
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 500-999
- voice recordings (including oral history recordings): 10-99
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Show on map
Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
Author(s) of this page
- Képiró, Ágnes
Baranyai, Éva Berta, interview by Képiró, Ágnes , October 30, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Olasz, Attila, interview by Képiró, Ágnes , October 30, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection