'Unfettered Freedom' Revisited: Hungarian Historical Journals between 1989 and 2018
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PublisherCambridge University Press
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AbstractIn his 1992 article, ‘Today, Freedom is Unfettered in Hungary,’ Columbia University history professor István Deák argued that after 1989 Hungarian historical research enjoyed ‘unfettered freedom. Deák gleefully listed the growing English literature on Hungarian history and hailed the ‘step-by step dismantling of the Marxist-Leninist edifice in historiography’ that he associated with the Institute of History at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) under the leadership of György Ránki (1930–88). In this article he argued that the dismantling of communist historiography had started well before 1989. Besides celebrating the establishment of the popular science-oriented historical journal, History (História) (founded in 1979) and new institutions such as the Európa Intézet – Europa Institute (founded in 1990) or the Central European University (CEU) (founded in 1991) as turning points in Hungarian historical research, Deák listed the emergence of the question of minorities and Transylvania; anti-Semitism and the Holocaust; as well as the 1956 revolution. It is very true that these topics were addressed by prominent members of the Hungarian democratic opposition who were publishing in samizdat publications: among them János M. Rainer, the director of the 1956 Institute after 1989, who wrote about 1956. This list of research topics implies that other topics than these listed before had been free to research and were not at all political. This logic interiorised and duplicated the logic of communist science policy and refused to acknowledge other ideological interventions, including his own, while also insisting on the ‘objectivity’ of science. Lastly, Deák concluded that ‘there exists a small possibility that the past may be rewritten again, in an ultra-conservative and xenophobic vein. This is, however, only a speculation.’ Twenty years later Ignác Romsics, the doyen of Hungarian historiography, re-stated Deák's claim, arguing that there are no more ideological barriers for historical research. However, in his 2011 article Romsics strictly separated professional historical research as such from ‘dilettantish or propaganda-oriented interpretations of the past, which leave aside professional criteria and feed susceptible readers – and there are always many – with fraudulent and self-deceiving myths’. He thereby hinted at a new threat to the historical profession posed by new and ideologically driven forces. The question of where these ‘dilettantish or propaganda-oriented’ historians are coming from has not been asked as it would pose a painful question about personal and institutional continuity. Those historians who have become the poster boys of the illiberal memory politics had not only been members of the communist party, they also received all necessary professional titles and degrees within the professional community of historians.