1969 Budapest student movement
The collection represents the 1969 student movement of the Faculty of Humanities of Loránd Eötvös University. Students from different social backgrounds cooperated against the official Communist Youth League (KISZ) based on the model of the student revolts of 1968, demanding greater democratic accountability.
1106 Budapest Maglódi út 8 , Magyarország
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Name of collection
- Student Movement 1969
Provenance and cultural activities
The Archives of ELTE Budapest University maintains a particularly interesting collection. The collection, which now presents the highlights of the content of the archives and, in many ways, thus the history of the university, preserves material related to the activities of the 1969–1970 Communist Youth committee at the faculty. This committee, which was elected directly by the students to replace the official party and Communist Youth delegates, triggered a broader reform movement at the university. Remarkably, this collection is not the outcome of the ordinary activities of the archives or university offices. Most of the records have arrived recently as private donations or was selected from other archival sections to form the current separate collection.
Many of the advocates behind the collection of the former student movement, particularly Iván Zoltán Dénes and István Bakos, work or are trained as historians or sociologists. The history of this archival section at ELTE, together with adjacent collections like Bakos’s Gábor Bethlen Foundation, provides interesting insights into the role of the history and sociology disciplines in critical thinking in socialist Hungary, particularly the social-political room for maneuver between mainstream and semi-legal public spheres.
Despite the fact that the documents of the 1969 Communist Youth committee form a spectacular façade of the university archives in many ways, the understanding that these records belong together had no context before the mid-2000s. The collection began to take shape following Iván Zoltán Dénes’s paper delivered at a conference in Paris on 31 May 2008. It was the context of Paris, May 1968, which suddenly shed light on the events of Budapest 1969 and revealed its essential similarity to the Western student movements of 1968. Indeed, Dénes, the professional historian, interpreted the election of the Communist Youth committee as an anti-authoritarian autonomous revolt against party and university bureaucracies. Dénes’s efforts triggered the systematic collecting and producing of documents: the historian not only performed thorough archival research, but also conducted a few interviews himself.
Collecting activities took a step forward from here onwards. Gábor Hargitai, a professional psychologist and sociologist and former member of the Communist Youth committee, initiated a meeting of the one-time participants in May 2008. A year later, István Bakos, the secretary of the elected Communist Youth committee, also started to organize meetings and encouraged former participants to record their memories of the 1969–1970 events. In October 2009, a website was launched at the university archives dedicated especially to the Budapest student movement. The website now functions as a virtual collection and contains textual and visual material related to the activities of the 1969–1970 student generation. Issues of the contemporary faculty periodical, Kari Híradó (Faculty News), have been published in digital format, showcasing several recollections, party reports, and photos documenting the student activism of the time.
Those involved in the movements, however, were uninterested in collecting the material at that time. The move away from public politics, which the experience of activism in the years between 1968 and 1973 triggered, provided an opportunity for several activists to find a way into official institutions. For those activists who had developed strong commitment to tackling poverty and social backwardness, remaining faithful to their original ideals meant the search for ways of continuing their social activism using the opportunities provided by official institutional infrastructures. These activists gave up their earlier political involvement, but saw a chance in marginal but still official institutions devoted to social issues, such as poverty or improving rural societies and culture, to realize their original activist ideals. True, they distanced themselves from conventional politics, but they did believe in doing politics without being political, on their own terms.
István Bakos, former secretary of the ELTE Budapest University KISZ reform committee, emphasized the connections between his activist commitments to the improvement of the countryside and subsequent engagement with rural research, academic management in support of young researchers, and academic coordination in the National Council of Collective Farms. Bakos normally pointed out the contrast between his intention to take part in serious programs of social activism when institutions appeared to offer the chance and his recurring disappointment with the party state that hindered most initiatives of that sort. On the one hand, he described his mental collapse and conflicts with the authorities (he was fired from the Academy of Sciences because of interview-based research on Hungarian scholarships and academia), on the other, he also highlighted the achievements he made within official institutions. For Bakos, his further career inside specialized state institutions, like the Secretariat of the Committee for Academic Policy, Institute for Academic Management, or the Ministry of Culture, was an obvious outcome of his commitment to his original activist goals, as is evidenced by his tensions with party elites.
Clearly, in using the languages of sociological or historical concerns, there were ways to transgress the borders of tolerated and non-tolerated practices. It was, in many ways, the outcome of the political practices and discourse of official socialism in Hungary. Party and Communist Youth leaders encouraged broader participation in social activism and political debates even for those who were often critical of certain segments of official socialist practices, as long as they did not challenge the techniques of centralized rule of the one-party state. Debates on the meanings of ways of life or socialist democracy were, indeed, encouraged, particularly from the mid-1960s onwards.
In fact, these political and cultural practices shaped the student revolt in Budapest in 1969. The participation of students in decision making, social activism, and self-organization was initiated by the party and Communist Youth organs, which sought ways to create room for the young generation’s safe, even unprompted, activism in improving socialism. Universities were understood as particularly important spaces for such programs and the improving of university democracy highlighted party and Communist Youth politics in 1969. As the core content of the ELTE university archives’ student movement collection, the journal Kari Híradó was a legal public forum for student debates. Typically, participants of the student movement understood their program as bettering socialism in the country: giving more opportunity to the poor, raising professional standards, and democratizing public debates.
In this context, their trajectories in the wake of the end of student activism represented a rupture rather than continuity. Those who turned towards a professional career in official institutions as historians or sociologists often played down the contemporary political content of the university reform movement. Critical reason turned into professional concerns, and the radical or experimental mind often found fulfilment in sophisticated expertise. This was the case with István Bakos and Gábor Hargitai, who in the 1970s and 1980s worked as coordinators of social research projects in central (party and government) organizations. These persons remained socially minded, often with critical implications, particularly about the conditions of rural and urban poor, but their projects could be adapted to official, even often marginal institutions. For them, the 1969 idea of politically reforming socialism proved to be failure, a project impossible to be continued, but possible to be translated into societal or cultural terms.It was this context of distancing and rupture that made it difficult to make sense of the experiences of student activism back in 1969. In many ways, it was István Bakos who preceded the 2008 rediscovery of the movement by finding a possible meaning in the early records of a generational revolt. In a 1994 collection of his essays, Bakos framed his identity in terms of social activism and community service: the articles and other short pieces of writings drew a line of continuity from his early engagement with university reform, working for equal access to higher education, and setting up cultural foundations, to his employment in the Ministry of Culture before and after 1989.
Nonetheless, it was not the emerging domestic social reformist cultures that provided a retrospective meaning of the 1969 collection. The recognition that the diverse records – the Kari Híradó that preserves traces of debates on democracy, minutes of party and university authorities fearing the dangers of autonomous organizations, the personal collections and recollections of former participants with a colorful variety of intellectual and political outlooks, such as liberal dissidence, concerns with minorities and folk culture, or outstanding professional achievements – are indeed linked together emerged in a transnational framework around 2008. It was the increasingly international and globalizing debate about the possible meaning of 1968 that retrospectively shed light on the Hungarian 1969 as an important intellectual and political source of a generation that shaped intellectual debates and politics from the late 1980s and throughout the first decade of post-socialist Hungary.
Description of content
The website of the Archive of the Loránd Eötvös University features uploaded writings by Iván Zoltán Dénes, László Trencsényi, János Rainer M., István Bakos, and Ágnes Dukkon that analyze the events of the story. These include digital copies of the periodical Kari Híradó (Faculty News), which played a key role in the movement, and photographs documenting student activist research during the movement´s existence. Additionally, it holds contemporaneous documents relevant for studying the events. The first set is a collection in the making that was initially intended to be an online forum (in which István Bakos played a major role). The latter set of documents is fond no. 22 of the archives. There are documents from the Communist Youth League about the Faculty Committee (1969). There is no complete inventory of these holdings, as the collection is still in the process of being finalized.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 100-499
- photos: 10-99
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 10-99
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Budapest, Maglódi út 8.
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Apor, Péter
- Pál, Zoltán
Bakos István: Közszolgálatban... avagy egy "túlélő" köztisztviselő válogatott feljegyzései, írásai [In public service... or selected notes, writings by a 'survived' civil servant]. Püski Kiadó, Budapest, 1994.
Dénes Iván Zoltán: Diákmozgalom Budapesten 1969-ben [Student movement in Budapest, 1969.] 2000, 7-8. (2008) 19-35.
Varga, Júlia, interview by Pál, Zoltán, October 10, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection