In the autumn 2011, veteran legionnaire and military historian Dr. Tibor Szecskó was the first to return his questionnaire of 50 questions, covering his whole life career. As the main organizer of the Hungarian veterans’ circle in Provence, he was the also one who managed to get many of his comrades involved in their shared memory research work (questionnaires, oral history interviews, memoirs, film shootings, archival research at the Headquarters of the French Foreign Legion in Aubagne, etc.)
He was born in 1939 in the rural town of Gyöngyös, Hungary, as the third and youngest child of a working-class family. His father was a mason working for a state farm. As a second-year student of a vocational school in the autumn of 1956, he took part enthusiastically in local events of the revolution. Together with a friend, they then hitched a ride with a lorry and travelled to Budapest, where they joined the largest group of insurgents at Corvin-köz, and took part in the battles in several parts of the city. In late November, without saying goodbye to his family, he escaped to Austria with other teenage boys. For a few weeks he stayed in the Eisenstadt refugee camp, then he was transported to France and given the status of “réfugier politique.”
As soon as he arrived in the city of Rouen, he signed up at the Legion’s recruitment office, but being only 16 years old, he was rejected. For two years he shared all the misery of the tramps in Lille and Paris, sleeping in the “Draft Hotel” (Hôtel de Curant Air) under bridges, living off of aid for refugees and poorly paid, sporadic work. Hunger and misery pushed him to try his fortune again with the Legion in the autumn of 1958, this time with much success. He was shipped as an 18-year-old recruit from Marseille to Oran, and soon found himself on the military training base of Saida. Another two years passed, and he was promoted to sergeant at the age of 20, and became the training warrant of hundreds of young Hungarian recruits arriving at that time in North Africa. Afterward, as a warrant of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, he also took part in the offensives in the Sahara and Madagascar, was injured twice, and then was commanded to the 1st Cavalry (Warship) Regiment.
After the Algerian war ended in 1962, the main base of the Legion was moved from Sidi-bel-Abbes to the town of Aubagne, South of France, and Szecskó held his new post here at the Headquarters of the Legion. In the 1970s and 1980s, he became the Director of the Museum and the Archives of the French Foreign Legion, and edited its monthly magazine Képi blanc. In the meantime, he received his MA and then PhD degree in history from the University of Montpelier. He finished his military career in 1986 after close to 29 years of service in the Legion; however, he kept active in his field of science and in organizing circles of veteran legionnaires (AALE). He published a number of articles and a dozen books on the history of French Foreign Legion in French, English, and German.
Before 1990, based on rumors fostered by the communist secret police, he, together with his fellow patriots, thought for decades that all active legionnaires had been deprived of their Hungarian citizenship. He became a French citizen in 1974, and lived together with his Spanish-French wife, children, and grandchildren in Aix-en-Provence for half a century. Among his many prizes and decorations, he was most proud of the “Knight of Arts and Literature,” a prestigious French prize established for civilians, that no active military man ever received, except him. Though he felt all through his life a strong homesickness, and managed to preserve his traditional Hungarian patriotism, he never had the chance to return to Hungary after 1956—for a long time due to his political anathema, and then his poor state of health. He passed in Aix-en-Provence in late 2017 following years of struggle with his fatal illness. His parting was not only a painful loss to his family but also to his friends and the Hungarian circle of veteran legionnaires in Provence, of which he had been a devoted organizer for decades.
His straightforward, and emotive answers to his questionnaire lay bare his life career and frame of mind. He also reflected on his feelings toward his native land, the Legion, and his host country. Though his loyalty to the former two seems to remain firm, similarly to his stubborn anticommunism rooted in his early life experience of 1956, he felt much more reserved and often critical of the French public affairs and way of life, as both are lacking “the real” patriotic loyalty and altruism. Thus, keeping alive the regular meetings and traditional community rituals, with their strong 1956 engagement, served to strengthen the Hungarian legionnaires’ moral and cultural resistance.
List of completed veteran questionnaires, 2011–2017
(Place and date of birth, residence in France, and year of completion)
1. A., Domokos (Budapest, 1939) Paris, 2012
2. Bubla, István Miklós (Keszthely, 1936) Paulhan, 2017
3. Huber, Béla (Sopron, 1942) Aubagne, 2012
4. Spátay, János (Budapest, 1943) Puyloubier, 2011
5. Soós, Sándor (Budapest, 1939) Septémes les Vallons, 2012
6. Sorbán, Gyula Elek (Budapest, 1940) Toulon, 2011
7. Szecskó, Tibor (Gyöngyös, 1939) Aix-en-Provence 2017, 2011
8. Morvay, Tamás (Budapest, 1938) Vins sur Caramy, 2012
9. Nemes, Sándor (Szekszárd-Zomba, 1941) Borgo (Corsica), 201110. Pápai, Lajos (Öcsöd, 1937) Montrichard, 2014
- Budapest Arany János utca 32, Hungary 1051
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Drita (Luri) Vukshinaj was born in Prizren on 10 March, 1954. She graduated from the Technical High School and worked as a floor manager at Progres, a synthetic fiber factory in Prizren. Coming from a non-openly political family, Vukshinaj is a great example to illustrate women’s voices. After injuring her leg at six-years old, there were no options offered to her in Kosovo at the time (1960) except for amputation. Her father, not wanting two women to travel alone, would not allow his wife to accompany Vukshinaj to Skopje to receive better care. When Vukshinaj turned thirteen, and found a treatment option in Belgrade, her father refused to allow her to stay alone at the Belgrade hospital for an extended period of time. When she threatened to jump from the second-floor window, he relented. She managed to receive treatment from a hospital in Belgrade on her own, where she remained for a year despite her father’s hesitations, to be able to improve her walking. Vukshinaj’s father’s fear had less to do with ethnic hostility than with his perception of women as property, who were not permitted to leave the house without an escort.
For many adult women in Kosovo, it would have been enough to marry and have children. Though Vukshinaj did these things (She married Akik Vukshinaj, a former political prisoner and engineer, and had three daughters: Fjolla, Filloreta and Sheki), she also became a strong advocate for people with disabilities by working to mobilize patients and provide resources. With her NGO for people with disabilities in Kosovo, Drita Vukshinaj became a lifelong women’s rights and disability rights activist. Drita Vukshinaj died on 9 March, 2016.
KOHI interviewed Drita Vukshinaj on 27 July, 2012. The audio file is available in Albanian as well as the transcripts, which is also translated into English and Serbian. In this extract from the English translation of the transcript, Drita remembers her activist work for the disabled:
“I started working with women when I saw in the daily newspaper Rilindja, I think it was in 1994, that a Handikos office for people with disabilities had been opened in Prizren…I found out from the paper where the office was, and went there on my own. [...] At that time, there were 200 disabled persons registered as members. Very few of them were women; they were mostly men. Until after the war, after 1999, we had some activities, such as helping poor women — especially women in villages. We identified where this category of people lived.In 1999, the office reopened and resumed its work, and so more humanitarian aid began to arrive after the war. At that time, it was a great surprise that […] all these disabled people suddenly appeared. I was one of those who went out day and night. I was out every day. I went out of town, everywhere, but I had never seen those people before. However, because of the humanitarian aid, people began to declare themselves disabled. We had personal contact with them, but I preferred to be with the women. I talked to them, maybe they were of different ages, 40, 50, 60 [sic] years old, and they were from the city, but I had not known or seen them before, and they said that their families did not let them go out of the house and into society. This motivated me to do even more for this group of people. We started registering them throughout the entire Municipality of Prizren, which had a total of 78 villages. Sometimes it happened that we would go to a house and a woman with disabilities lived right next door, but the family living next to her did not know it. So we would not find out unless the other family accepted us into their home. This was one of the greater difficulties that we had. It happened sometimes that we visited a place several times until we convinced the families that these women need to be out in society, needed to be integrated, needed to gain some skills.”
Karol Radziszewski’s Kisieland is a long-term project that started in 2009. It is a piece documenting encounters of Karol Radziszewski with Ryszard Kisiel. The film is based on Kisiel's private archives and describes the underground queer and avant-garde culture in socialist Poland. It uses different visual representations of queer culture of Polish 1980s. Ryszard Kisiel, a stakeholder of the Queer Archives Institute, took various photographs of queer milieu in dark times of anti-gay campaign "Hiacynth" (1985-86), now Radziszewski stages them as a mean to reconstruct the social history of minority movements, LGBTQ strategies, and artistic avant-garde in martial state Poland.
The masterpiece is one of the founding stones of Polish queer art - it not only shows the roots and genealogies of Polish LGBTQ identity, but also links past experiences with contemporary queer studies' discussion about resistance of minority groups.
Kisieland was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw in 2016 to be included in its permanent collection.
The main thrust of the interview concerns the process of upward social mobility and the forms of sociability of the new generation of Moldovan intellectuals (which the interviewee calls a “new wave” of intelligentsia). These people were of rural origin, but benefited from the opportunities of upward social mobility offered by the Soviet educational system. Despite being a product of this educational system, they began at a certain point to criticise the communist regime. The case of Ion Negură (which we may unreservedly consider to be a success story) is not altogether isolated. Most of the Moldovan intellectuals trained in the Soviet era came from a rural background, expanding the ranks of the first generation of intellectuals, after the almost complete disappearance of the “old generation” of the Bessarabian intelligentsia. Most of the intellectuals trained in the interwar period fled to Romania in 1940, while many of those who remained were deported by the Soviets. Ion Negură’s case shows the ambiguous nature of this mobility. First of all, any change in status involves a number of difficult challenges, which everyone faces according to his or her own skills and resources, with more or less success. We may notice the turning points through which Negură went during his life, according to the “challenges” that were imposed on him by “history” and the state’s modernising drive (war, famine, loss of his father, schooling, and recruitment in the army). Socialisation at two basic levels – the private environment, with relatives and friends, and the institutional one (school, university, workplace, etc.) – provided the subject with a double grid for “reading” reality and a binary pattern of behaviour; the effort to reconcile these two socialising levels marked his self-perception and life strategies. The Soviet state and its institutions were seen by Negură as a path for upward social mobility that he followed consistently. However, the ideological and moral discrepancies that he felt increasingly to be essential features of the Soviet official discourse (in relation to his own beliefs and the ethos of his native environment) and the obstacles he perceived to be put in his way by the party hierarchy at an advanced level of his career, made him develop an ambiguous attitude towards the Soviet state institutions. This life story shows the social promotion that Negură (and others like him) enjoyed thanks to the educational institutions (secondary school in the village, the Pedagogical Institute in Bălți, and the Moscow State University), but also because of his own skills and individual “legacies”. Also, we should notice the “alternative” socialising and educational pathways from which he has greatly benefited during his life – his family, circle of friends, literary circles, Romanian and world literature, etc., – which brought to his formal education the openness necessary for a balanced intellectual development. Attending these alternative sociability environments was likely to elicit a certain distrust from the representatives of the regime towards Negură (and others like him), who were suspected of “nationalism.” This suspicion had, in part, a real basis (because of the “alternative” socialising environments these people were involved in). At the same time, the mistrust of the party with regard to the new Moldovan intellectual elite (created within the Soviet system) had a “self-fulfilling” effect. Many young Moldovan intellectuals of the 1970s felt “stuck” at some level of their career and therefore, retreating into alternative circles of sociability, began sooner or later to spread critical attitudes towards the authorities and their ideals, which were at odds with the official mission that had been assigned to them by the party.
The private “cultural” circles or informal strategies of socialisation, which were characteristic of the new generation of Moldovan intellectuals, are a relevant example of cultural opposition. These gatherings, where people used to discuss politics as much as cultural issues, were quite well attended by writers and other intellectuals. The members of this new elite were individuals formed and severely constrained in their careers by the same system, as a result of a double logic of “social engineering”: training of professionals versus. political control. Eventually, they challenged the cultural practices imposed by the regime and created oppositional political languages, subverting the legitimacy of the Soviet system. During the years of perestroika and the “velvet revolution,” they became the vanguard that provided an alternative to the Soviet administration by embracing national values and later on the principles of liberal democracy. To a certain extent, they illustrated Alexey Yurchak’s concept of “being inside-out (vne)” (Yurchak 2006, 126–157), i.e. of articulating an alternative discourse inside the system, but at the same time creating spaces of alternative sociability outside the system. As is clear from Negură’s example, on the Soviet periphery nationalism became the most effective means of questioning and then openly opposing the hegemonic discourse of the party-state. Negură’s case is thus typical for a major part of Moldova’s intellectual elite, who assumed a militant and politically active role during Perestroika only to retreat back to the literary or academic milieu once their disillusionment with politics deepened in the first years after independence.
KOHI conducted two interviews with Dr. Vjosa Dobruna, on 3 July, and 11 July, 2013. Dobruna was born in Gjakova/Đakovica. She works as a pediatrician and a human rights activist, and is a founder of the Center for the Protection of Women and Children, a Safe House for women in Gjakova/Đakovica, as well as the Women’s Center in Tetovo.Dobruna served as Chair of the Board at Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK), and as National Head of Department for Democratic Governance and Independent Media under the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Vjosa joined Kosovo’s diplomatic service in 2012 when she was appointed Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo to the Netherlands. She has received several awards, including the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights, the Alexander Langer Award for Minority Rights, the Edward Barsky Award for Courageous Physician, and the International Woman of the Year Award.
Vjosa Dobruna became a fierce advocate of women’s health and women’s rights issues during the Milošević era, when violence against Albanian women in Kosovo began to intensify, after she was fired from the hospital where she worked as a pediatrician in the 1990s. Her political activism began earlier however, when she supported prisoners of conscience, three of whom were her paternal uncles. Dobruna provided the detainees with finely ground valium mixed into sugar – one of the items allowed in prison – to alleviate the pain of torture that all detainees endured.
In 1993, Dobruna founded the Center for the Protection of Women and Children in Kosovo with other local activists who shared her disenchantment with the unwillingness of Albanian leadership to recognize that women were being victimized. She also collaborated with Italian feminists to raise funds and support in quite difficult conditions.
As a doctor and human rights activist, Dobruna’s role was crucial in treating and advising women across Kosovo before, during, and after the war. Like Shukrije Gashi and others, Vjosa Dobruna became a fearless leader through lessons she learned from her family: her grandmother, father, and uncle were active as partisans in the war against fascism, and three of her uncles served a cumulative twenty-five years in detention as Yugoslav prisoners of conscience.