“Péter Erdős you motherfucker…”

Péter Erdős was some kind of pop-manager in communist Hungary. He was actually the director of the state-owned plate-publisher company. Of course it was not an accidental, that the almighty Péter Erdős became the target of the Hungarian punk band CpG. Three members of the group were sentenced to two years in prison, the fourth member – as a minor – got one year and 6 months.

The history of the Hungarian punk begins in the late 70s, early 80s. Schoolboys, mainly from the lower class with provincial or suburban backgrounds established the first groups. Among others the first bands were Beatrice, the Kretens, Aurora Cirkáló (Aurora Cruiser), T-34, and Közellenség (Public Enemy). The most notable band was CPG, whose members were sentenced to two years in prison on charge of incitement.
CPG is the abbreviation for “come on punk group”. As Güzü, the guitarist of the band admitted, in the beginning they were only “come on group”. He didn’t speak English very well and the expression “come on” was a usual element of the lyrics at the time. Güzü first heard about punk two years after the formation of the band. “We’d heard about this movement, that they couldn’t play and we thought that we can’t play either, so you know, it was for us…” – says Güzü in the documentary about the CPG directed by Róbert Kövessy in 1999.

The police often harassed the members of the band because of their lyrics and their unusual outlook, which was uncommon in Csongrád County. Because of the orthodoxy of the local communists the county was labelled as Pol Pot County. Later they moved to Budapest, a few years after, two of the members were expelled from the local high school. The band had regular concerts in different clubs and they made good connections with other punk, new-wave, oppositional groups and individuals. The members of the band were often provoked, so sometimes after the resulting  fights they were arrested by the police. The main evidence for incitement was a tape recorded during one of the concerts by teenagers. They spent half a year in custody and a year in jail after the sentence. The two-year penalty was reduced because of good behaviour.

Why were these young people so dangerous in the eye of the bureaucratic single-party state? The punks were regularly beaten and frightened by ordinary people and by other youth groups as well. Even without the communist propaganda about their neo-nazi features – which should have abolished the democratic opposition’s sympathy for the punks – they still wouldn’t have become a popular subculture. They weren’t acknowledged or even well known, indistinguishable from other non-political or life-style subcultures. However, their lyrics explicitly attacked the communist party (mother-fucker communist gang / why aren’t they already hanged?), this was not the only reason for their arrest. They mocked the social-political consensus, the welfare legitimacy of the Kádár-system as well.

The Kádárist Hungary

a puppet is our king
pulled by a string
the people we are
we can only smile
(CPG: Puppet)

The golden age of the Kádárist system in Hungary was between the early 60s and 80s. The two decades of  “goulash communism” were characterised by a relative freedom and well-being. After suppressing the revolutionists of 1956, the system sought legitimacy and found it to be one of a consumptive type. Kádár declared: “who is not against us is with us”. The rule of the communist party remained undebatable, but from then on the party regarded the sustaining or even raising of the workers’ living standards its main task. Between the frames of a planned economy, the party ensured a subjective niche for the Hungarians. It was permitted to sell groceries grown at the subsidiary land plot as well as working after working hours as a small collective, often within and with the tools of the factory. Second shift, weekend house, self-exploitation. In this era the Hungarians perfected their individual life strategies, which resulted in the atomisation of society, the low level of social agency and the weakness of the civil society.

Hungary was not the “happiest barrack” only because of its relative well-being within the Eastern block, but also because the communist party and the supervisors of the cultural life allowed some freedom in the artistic, cultural and entertainment scene as well. The cultural policy of the communist party – which was evaluated by György Aczél, who had a great impact on Hungarian cultural life for more than 30 years – was described by contemporaries as the policy of three T-s, which stand for the Hungarian words tűr, tilt, támogat (tolerance prohibition and support,). This kind of strategy was very successful, because of the blurred borders of the categories, and the step-like system, both the party and the artists had a choice inside a dictatorial system.  I think the long debate about the nature of the Kádár-system, whether it was a “soft” or a “hard” dictatorship, derives from this duplicity. Without questioning the leading role of the communist party and the Soviet-Hungarian relations, it was possible to stay in the tolerated group and criticize some elements of the system, however only in the form of high culture, which rarely reached the “masses”. With the fluctuant categories of the cultural censorship and the distinctive handling of the individuals the communist party successfully avoided the emergence of a single oppositional front.

Dangerous weeks

i am here the antichrist
i know now what you here miss
let’s we all have  anarchism
anarchy, Oi, Oi, Oi
(CPg: Anarchy)

Despite the fact that the social and political consensus was firmly based on the consumption of the masses – although this well-being was moderate compared to western standards – the party could effectively impede the development of a hostile public opinion and the Kádár system earned some western acknowledgement, with political opposition groups existing throughout the whole era. The most important were the folkish and the democratic opposition, both established by intellectuals, writers and poets, usually the prohibited ones. The autonomous movements first appeared in a cultural form, they like to avoid the manifest political themes and issues.

Like the earlier and “established” opposition,  Hungarian punk also emerged as a cultural movement, but unlike the intellectuals of the opposition, they didn’t have any kind of theoretical framework or political consciousness. The Hungarian opposition regarded them as any other independent group. According to Adam Michnik the communist regimes couldn’t be defeated through open revolt – as the events of Hungary in ’56 or Czechoslovakia in ’68 proved  – but much more with the elaboration of the “second” society, the civil society. In this context the punks were evidence of the self-movement of the society. The established opposition, particularly the bearer of the “urban” tradition had good foreign relations, which was an essential weapon in their confrontation with the communist party. In order to finance the welfare state, the Kádárist Hungary joined international financial institutions such as the IMF. As a condition of the integration, the secret police handled “carefully” the key figures of the opposition. Unlike them, the poor, undereducated working-class or middle-class youth weren’t known on the other side of the iron curtain; it was not important, what happened to an 18 year old punk. But still, the punks, as part of the pluralist “second” society were intolerable to the system, just as dangerous as any other autonomous group.

Which consensus?

there must be cote, there must be mash
there should be warm, that should be there
the white must be black
I’ll eat it, just give me that
(CPG: Pig song)

The depoliticising strategy of the communist party has had its impact: the newest autonomous groups rejected the whole social consensus, regarding it as dead-water; the political opinion became per se rebellion. In western societies punk and other subcultures attacked the civic norms and developed new ones to try to deconstruct the hierarchical statuses of society and displace themselves. In Hungary the punks wanted to do the same, but the deconstruction was unimaginable without questioning the role of the oppressive forces, like the police or the communist party. However this struggle was basically responsive, the police and the secret police insulted the punk youth first.

It is hard to believe, that without the party-led oppression the punks could have built a strong oppositional movement and,  although the explicit critique of the communist party would have been enough for their punishment, there could have been other motives behind their imprisonment. Even if the Hungarian punks hadn’t been political, they couldn’t avoid the restrictions. The punks were disesteemed by other ‘ordinary’ people, but in a strictly controlled society no one, but the ruling party was permitted to sustain the “socialist” norms and order. Communist countries are usually more conservative than liberal ones. The free deliberation on norms wakes up other social groups and agents; this pluralism of opinions endangers the effective control much more than a single tape with punk songs in the pocket of a teenager.

After the prison sentence, Güzü emigrated to the USA, where he lived, as he later stated, virtually like a homeless man. Seven years later he eventually earned a Hungarian passport, so in 1993 he could return to Hungary. He started to work at the synagogue in Szeged as a guide, nevertheless Hungary in the ‘90s affected him with the same cultural shock like the USA did in the ‘80s. The opposition gained its formal political, economical and cultural power, but the apolitical attitude is still an immanent part of the Hungarian political culture, there is still the need for the plural, autonomous society, not against the dictatorship, but to supplement the democracy, otherwise the people can’t be blamed if they have the feeling that “…the future has gone.”

Picture by Thzami Gamour Rinpoche

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