On March 22, 2023, the exhibition PETŐFI FOR ALL SEASONS: Political Changes in the Petőfi Cult between 1942 and 1956, organized to mark the 200th anniversary of the poet’s birth, will open at the Blinken OSA Archivum, with a discussion entitled Petőfi’s Political Memory from Dualism to the Present Day, which is the first event in a series of programs, PETŐFI MIRAGES, related to the exhibition.
From mid-March to the end of May, the Archivum’s program series entitled PETŐFI MIRAGES is not about Petőfi’s life and art, but about the history of Petőfi’s memory and its various aspects. We have been chasing Petőfi’s mirage for 176 years. A series of events, including film screenings, theater performances, readings, and talks, will offer insights into this history.
During the event, an exhibition entitled PETŐFI FOR ALL SEASONS in the Archivum’s Galeria Centralis will show the roller-coaster of Petőfi’s political memory from World War II to 1956. The exhibition curators, András Mink, historian, and Katalin Székely, art historian, will give guided tours for groups of students.
PETŐFI FOR ALL SEASONS: Political Changes in the Petőfi Cult between 1942 and 1956
March 22 – May 21, 2023
Historical myths and the evocation of historical heroes were—and still are—usually needed by political regimes that cannot justify their existence or their power by their own right, based on popular consent and legitimacy, or of their performance in promoting the common good. The period between 1942 and 1956 was the most turbulent period of an already turbulent 20th century in Hungarian history. Defeat in war, genocide, successive waves of political persecution, five successive regime changes, the fall of political regimes, the Arrow Cross coup, the communist coup, the revolution, and then, as the last event in this sequence, the counter-revolution and the restoration of the dictatorship.
Yet there is a common thread running through the period: each successive and opposing set of political actors needed Petőfi to lend credence to their political goals and ambitions for power. The war propaganda of the Horthy regime referred to him, as did the Arrow Cross movement which overthrew it. Petőfi’s banner was raised by various groups protesting against the war, the German occupation, and the Arrow Cross coup. In the spring of 1948, the Communists timed the most important steps of their takeover, nationalization, party unification, and the liquidation of political opposition, to the centenary of 1848, while putting the “holy trinity” of Petőfi, Kossuth, and Táncsics on a pedestal. The Rákosi regime disguised itself as the fulfillment of Petőfi’s revolutionary dreams, but Petőfi also served as the symbol of social resistance to this Hungarian version of Stalinist dictatorship, and then of the 1956 revolution itself. Then the Kádár regime, which crushed the revolution with Soviet help, again found its historical archetype in Petőfi.
Petőfi for all seasons. The exhibition uses contemporary films, photographs, and documents to show the political transformations of the figure of Petőfi, and the consecutive attempts to expropriate his memory in this narrow but more traumatic decade and a half.
The curators of the exhibition, András Mink, historian, and Katalin Székely, art historian, will give guided tours of the exhibition for groups of students. Registration for the guided tour: email@example.com
Series of events at the Blinken OSA Archivum
March 22- May 26, 2023
"Let's admit it, we invented Sándor Petőfi."
Béla Markó. The Petőfi Project. Élet és Irodalom, January 20, 2023.
"[For] the Hungarian public, the first poet is Sándor Petőfi. This is not to say that he is the best or greatest poet (although there are many who think so), but that there is hardly anyone in the Hungarian-speaking community who can read and write who has not heard of Petőfi's name and his importance, who does not know that he was a poet..." - wrote István Margócsy aptly in the preface to his collection of texts on Petőfi's memory.
The Memory of Sándor Petőfi. Ed. István Margócsy. Osiris Publishing House, Budapest, 2022. p. 9.
The poet, who died 176 years ago, has been shrouded in myth and legend ever since. It is known that even at the beginning of the 20th century there were rumors that Petőfi was alive and walking among us incognito. Some people still believe that Petőfi was deported by the Russians and died in exile in Siberia, and his alleged remains were buried in 2015 in Kerepesi cemetery. Over the past 150 years or so, almost all Hungarian political regimes and regimes have looked to his figure as a source of justification and sacral legitimacy for their rule. The further away they were from it, the more disingenuously, boisterously, and bombastically they did so.
So Petőfi is everywhere, in popular memory, in the false political origin stories, but this does not testify to Petőfi’s real presence, but instead to his absence. The fake Petőfi that lives on in popular memory and the political fake Petőfi that haunts political propaganda are the nightmares of a tormenting and indigestible absence. This is not surprising, since Petőfi’s aesthetic, moral, and political guiding principles—the inclusion of a people excluded from power in a national community based on equality and solidarity, freedom, independence, and democracy—could never be fulfilled in the realms of Hungarian national, state, and cultural existence. Something was always wrong; usually everything.
In the imagination of the Hungarian people, Petőfi is the symbol and embodiment of political and social conditions that do not exist and cannot be seen or experienced in reality but are always desired. This is the background of the legends and sometimes childish fantasies about his survival. It is as if we were unable to accept that he is no longer with us because then we would have to say goodbye to these desires too. This is also the reason why, from the Dual Monarchy to the autocratic and dictatorial regimes that followed, the authorities have always tried to authenticate themselves with a fake Petőfi, who only came somewhat closer to himself on those rare and brief occasions when people had a glimmer of hope that his ideas could become reality: in 1956 and during the years of the regime change, 1988–1990.
The Blinken OSA Archivum’s program series from mid-March to the end of May is not about Petőfi’s life and art, but about the history of Petőfi’s memory and its various aspects. We have been chasing Petőfi’s mirage for 176 years. A series of film screenings, theater performances, readings, and talks will offer insights into this history.
Venue: Blinken OSA Archivum, Centrális Galéria
1051 Budapest, Arany János u. 32.
The events are open to the public and participation is free, but registration is required.
The events are in Hungarian.
March 22, Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. – Petőfi’s Political Memory from Dualism to the Present Day. Discussion and reading.
Would Petőfi have said hurrah to Franz Joseph after the Reunification, as Mór Jókai imagined? Was he a socialist or a nationalist and Christian? Was Petőfi a Communist? The discussion, interspersed with readings, traces how successive political courses tried to mold Petőfi in their own image.
Participants: István Margócsy, literary historian, and Péter Csunderlik, historian
Moderated by: András Mink
Gergely Váradi and Janka Veszelovszki will read the selected excerpts
March 25, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. – Guided tour in the exhibition Petőfi for All Seasons: The Political Changes in the Petőfi Cult between 1942 and 1956 with András Mink.
March 29, Wednesday, 6:00 p.m.– Sándor Petőfi on Film. Film screening and discussion.
How was Petőfi seen on film at the dawn of the Horthy era, at the height of the Rákosi era, and in the desolate Kádár era? Excerpts will be shown from the films The Sea Has Risen (1953) and András Lányi’s Segesvár (1974), but there will also be a discussion of the 1922 biographical film Petőfi, of which no copies have survived.
Participants: Gábor Gelencsér, film historian, and Bernadett Sulyok, museologist
Moderated by: András Mink
April 5, Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. – The Literary Memory of Sándor Petőfi. Discussion and reading.
Who was Petőfi for literary posterity? How was his literary and poetic importance perceived? Is it possible to separate Petőfi’s poetic role from his political and public myth in the literary tradition? Are we allowed to joke about Petőfi? During the evening we will try to answer these questions in the light of literary excerpts.
Participants: András Zoltán Bán, writer, playwright, and critic, and József Keresztesi, writer, poet, and critic
Moderated by: András Mink
The selected excerpts will be read by Adrian Samudovszky and Janka Veszelovszki.
April 12, Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. – Revolutionary Youth Days (FIN) – The Ideological Emptiness of the Kádár Era. Discussion and film screening.
The Revolutionary Youth Days, first organized by the KISZ (Communist Youth League) in 1967, aimed at the youth, trying to link the memory of March 15, 1848, March 21, 1919 (the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic), and April 4, 1945 (the day of fictitious liberation by the Soviets) in a historical chain, in a fake revolutionary ritual. The main aim, of course, was to merge the memory of March 15 with two emblematic events of the Kádár regime’s myth of origin. During the discussion, we will screen a documentary film about FIN, made in 1974 by filmmaker Péter Gárdos.
Participants in the discussion: Péter Apor and Orsolya Sudár, historians
Moderated by András Mink
April 19, Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. – The Petőfi Circle and the 1956 Revolution. Discussion.
There is no doubt that the series of public debates launched in March 1956, after repeated prohibitions and obstructions, organized by the Petőfi Circle, a youth organization of the Communist Party, within the framework of the Democratic Youth Association (DISZ), can be seen as a direct precursor to the outbreak of the revolution. At the same time, the Petőfi Circle and those who took part in its public debates did not aim to overthrow the system but to reform it, democratize it, or start the process of destalinization.
The discussion will examine the history and historical role of the Circle.
András Mink talks to historian János M. Rainer.
April 26, Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. – Cipolla Collectiva: The Tree of Truth.
An unusual (dance) theatre performance based on the heroic poem János Vitéz by Sándor Petőfi.
Creators/performers: Domokos Kovács, Csilla Nagy, Annamária Sándor
May 3, Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. – How Did They Look for Petőfi? Discussion and music.
The figure, poetry, and memory of Petőfi have appeared in folklore in many forms. We present the main features of Petőfi’s popular memory with prose and musical illustrations and show how subsequent research tried to follow this up, what was found, and what became of its results.
Participants in the discussion and musical contributors: Ildikó Landgraf, Katalin Juhász, and Zoltán Szabó
Moderated by András Mink
May 10, Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. – Petőfi-Rock – The Story of the Legendary Performance of the Szeged University Stage.
The Petőfi-Rock performance, directed by István Paál, was completed by New Year's Eve 1972, evoking the spirit and oeuvre of Petőfi with the help of the contemporary avant-garde theatre.
Participants in the discussion: Árpád Árkosi, theater director, the Petőfi-rock actor, László Béres, theater director, and theater historian, and Dorka Porogi, theater director, theater historian
Moderated by Balázs Leposa
May 17, Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. – Ferenc Kardos: Petőfi ‘73. Film screening and discussion.
Ferenc Kardos’ film was made at a time when, for the first time since 1956, spontaneous demonstrations critical of the regime took place in the public squares of Budapest on March 15, 1971, 1972, and 1973, followed by reprisals by the authorities.
After the screening, Balázs Varga film historian András Mink will lead a discussion.
May 20, Saturday, 6:00 p.m. – Finissage
6:00 p.m. Finissage, guided tour in the exhibition PETŐFI FOR ALL SEASONS: Political Changes in the Petőfi Cult between 1942 and 1956 by András Mink.
7:00 p.m. Béla Tarr’s short film titled Journey in the Great Plain (1995) about Petőfi, music by Mihály Víg. After the screening, a discussion with the filmmakers and music.
Moderated by András Mink
May 26, Friday, 7:00 p.m. – Ghost Csardas. Theater Performance
Registration: full house, waiting list: firstname.lastname@example.org
Zsigmond Kompolthy's (alias András Zoltán Bán) satirical, musical folk play based on Gyula Krúdy’s novel about fake Petőfis, “fans” following fake Petőfis, and the intrigues of the Habsburg secret police, directed by András Schlanger.
The play was first performed at the Radnóti Theatre in March 1989, and this will be the first time since then that it is staged in Budapest.
author, dramaturg: Zsigmond Kompolthy (alias András Zoltán Bán)
dramaturg, director: András Schlanger
music by László Melis
Actors: Balázs Fila, Anna Györgyi, Miklós Jenőváry, József Kerekes, Anna Gizella Kiss, Fanni Kovács Vecei, Zsolt László, Balázs Mihályfi, András Schlanger
pianist, narrator: Benedek Darvas
Blinken OSA Archivum | Centrális Galéria | 1051 Budapest, Arany János utca 32.
Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.