György Tverdota

 Towards a consensus

Debate on the future of Hungarian studies

 The success of any conference depends on many factors: careful organizing work, the circumspect choice of programme, adequate technical equipment, the posting of the invitations in time and the fortuitous coincidence of other factors, without which a two day conference programme can hardly be successfully held. However, a conference of this type will be doomed to failure or be a partial success at best-in spite of the organizers' careful work-if objective conditions are lacking. As one of the organizers of the annual guest lecturers' conference organized by the International Centre for Hungarian Studies on August 22-23, 2000, I shall refrain from commenting on the organizing work, but rather concentrate on the actual events and results of the conference.

      The conference was organized around the theme "Hungarian studies at the turn of the millennium", a most ambitious subject matter. Earlier conferences usually focused on a specific theme, such as imagology (1997), the presence and use of Hungarian books abroad (1998) and the comparison of Hungarian and foreign higher education (1999). At this conference, however, the various aspects of this entire discipline were discussed. The turn of millennium set the day by day organizing, research and educational work-often calling for immense efforts-into an entirely new, millennial perspective. The choice of the theme itself thus involved numerous pitfalls.

      These pitfalls did not concern the choice of theme in the sense that there would not be a diverse range of issues to be discussed. Even a simple overview of the period since the mid-1980s, when the discipline was reorganized, offers a multitude of admirable results and successes to be applauded, a number of faults and deficiencies to be criticized and a number of unresolved issued to be discussed. Looking even further back in time, to the interwar period in which modern Hungarian studies as a discipline was born, the number of issues that would be suitable for an informed discussion would be almost inexhaustible.

      The doubts concerning the timeliness of this enterprise rather meant misgivings as to whether there truly exists a professional body that can cope with these issues and that can profit from the possible conclusion drawn during this conference. The question is far from rhetoric. It is my conviction that I am not the only one who believes that the current state of Hungarian studies reflects a process that will, in the long run, lead to emergence of a professional consensus on many subjects. Would we be capable of an informed discussion of the subject? What was at stake was not the participants' individual competence and knowledge, but rather our ability to co-operate with each other. Would the truly crucial issues be voiced as a result of the papers read during the lecture sessions and the ensuing discussions? Would we find a common ground between the professionals involved in Hungarian studies who came from a wide variety of institutions, whose interests covered the most diverse areas and who came from a number of different locations? Would there be genuine interest in each other's work? Would we be able to move beyond the repeating of commonplaces and a renewed litany of complaints? Would there be any chance of forging some kind of consensus or at least of trying to forge one?

      The answers to these questions could hardly be anticipated. We could only hope for any meaningful answer if, in spite of the risk of a possible failure, we nonetheless took the plunge and organized this conference. This enterprise, then, could hardly be labelled unambitious or without risk. Our preconception was that Hungarian studies as a discipline was in need of renewal and that the time was ripe for the elaboration of some sort of action plan and initiatives for its implementation.

      We asked representatives from institutions and organizations who were acclaimed professionals in their field and as such were interested in the dynamic growth of Hungarian studies to outline and summarize their ideas on the future of Hungarian studies. Competent and deeply committed individuals represented these institutions and organizations. Margit Pap, one of the best experts in the discipline of Hungarian studies and an active promoter of the creation of various institutions and networks, outlined the tasks of the present and the future from the perspective of the past one and a half decades. Tiborc Fazekas, who played an active role in the revival of Hungarian studies and who has gained broad experience in the teaching of Hungarology abroad, offered both a critique of the existing conditions and recommendations based on the Finnish example. József Jankovics and István Monok, representatives of the International Hungarian Philological Society, also outlined their views on the tasks faced by Hungarian studies. Sándor Csernus, director of the Collegium Hungaricum in Paris, was unable to submit his ideas in a paper for the conference and thus only the studies written by the other four professionals were published in the July issue of Hungarológia.

      The authors of these studies were willing to confront each other's views and were also willing to participate in a debate over their ideas. These three studies offered a good basis for seeking a common ground and for an informed choice between possible alternatives. We therefore hoped that the participants of the conference would have enough time to ponder the ideas outlined in these studies until the conference.

      We sent out copies of the July issue of Hungarológia together with the invitations, hoping that the participants would have enough time to prepare for the discussion on these issues. The first afternoon of the conference was devoted to a debate over these concepts. The only keynote address was held by Prof. Tuomo Lahdelma of Jyväskylä, who spoke about the Finnish model described by Tiborc Fazekas, offering a critique of this model based on his personal experience, as well as information on the preparations for the Hungarology Congress to be held this year in Jyväskylä.

      Preceding the afternoon discussion was a series of lectures held in the morning session. The conference was opened by Ádám Kiss, deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Culture responsible for Hungarian studies. He was followed by academician Norbert Kroó, secretary of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and earlier deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Culture responsible for foreign relations, who was living proof of the fact that scholars of the natural sciences can represent the cause of the Hungarian language, Hungarian culture and Hungarian scholarship with the same enthusiasm as any ‘orthodox' Hungarologist while, at the same time, being no less sensitive to the problems faced by this discipline. Prof. Kroó argued that the concept of Hungarology, its tasks and its interrelations with other disciplines must be broadened to harmonize with the changes of the modern world and that there is a definite need for a re-interpretation of the traditional cultural and philological determination of this discipline.

       The other speaker of the morning session was academician Mihály Szegedy-Maszák who reviewed the practical tasks and the solution of day-to-day problems from the perspective of a conceptual strategy in the context of the definition and the important theoretical interconnections of Hungarology. Prof. Szegedy-Maszák also challenged some points of Ernő Kulcsár-Szabó's recently published study on the re-definition of Hungarian studies; his focus on the priority of practical and theoretical approaches, as well as the need for re-interpreting this concept from a historical and theoretical angle most definitely influenced the course of the afternoon debate.

      If Szegedy-Maszák's lecture was, in a sense, a reply to the ideas outlined by Jankovics and Monok, Vilmos Voigt's lecture, describing and praising Estonian and Finnish handbooks and publications on various aspects of Estonian and Finnish culture, can be regarded as a reflection on Tiborc Fazekas' essay on the Finn model. Tuomo Lahdelma's lecture, opening the afternoon session, was a-perhaps unintentional-response to his ideas. We had invited István Nyomárkai to speak at the conference because he is one of the outstanding representatives of Slavic studies and his activity in the field of Hungarian studies since his appointment as a guest lecturer at Zagreb University offered the possibility of a comparison of these two disciplines. Since Prof. Nyomárkai is an expert on the small languages of the Balkan peninsula, he shared with us his thoughts on the alternatives of preserving linguistic and cultural self-identity in this region (including Hungary).

      In other words, the great care taken in the preparation of the conference, the thought-provoking studies distributed to the participants and the lectures can hardly be faulted if the afternoon discussion did not yield as many new results as we had hoped for. It was only natural that the participants sought a common ground between the three concepts, but one had the feeling that this was rather in order to avoid a definite commitment to any one of them. The lectures and the pre-distributed studies offered a wide variety of options and their simultaneous discussion appears to have posed a dilemma to the participants. Although improvisation is unavoidable in a live debate, some of the contributions to the debate clearly showed that the participants did not exploit the possibility of the distributed studies and voiced their ides haphazardly. Some of the comments had little in common with the theme of the conference. My overall impression was that the participants did not fully exploit the possibility of commenting on the possible strategies for developing Hungarian studies on several points and more clearly.

      This regret is perhaps a natural and understandable disappointment on the organizers' part-an outsider would probably be more lenient in his judgement. True enough, we do have reason for satisfaction. Never before was there such a large attendance and never before were the lectures and debates followed with such attention as at this conference. The afternoon discussion usually continued well into the evening and the participants' attention rarely waned. One can only applaud the fact that the various opinions and views within the Hungarologists' community had at last been articulated in all their colourfulness. The opinion of this community must by all means be taken into consideration both by decision-makers and by our partners abroad.

      One important result of this conference was that all partners had been present during the entire two-day duration of the conference. One of our most important partners, the leading officials of the Ministry of Culture's supervisory board were active throughout the two days of the conference. Deputy state secretary Ádám Kiss, who delivered the opening lecture of the conference and presided over the morning session, was succeeded by deputy state secretary László Komlósi, responsible for foreign relations, who moderated the debate of the afternoon session that often called for extreme tactfulness. András Gál Levente, the administrative state secretary of the Ministry of Culture embodied a third type of cultural administration with his striking and free-spoken statements. József Réffy, head of the Department of Higher Education, too outlined his views in the debate and also presided over the morning session of the second day.

      Beside the guest lecturers, either employed by us or independent of us, the participants of the conference also included Hungarian professionals who play an active role in the research, education and organization of Hungarian studies, as well as the representatives of foreign university departments and workshops, together with Hungarian university students and MA students. This meant that the visitors represented a wide variety of often conflicting views and interests arising from diverse experiences; but in spite of some differences between us, we were bound together by our interest in, and commitment to, the future of Hungarian studies. It is my conviction that one of the most important results of this conference was the dialogue between independent intellectuals in the afternoon debate in which the emphasis was not on the speakers' position or nationality, but on what they had to say.

      Suffice it here to quote but a few of the ideas voiced by the participants that met with a general consensus or, conversely, gave rise to further debates. Andor Horváth, professor at Kolozsvár University, aptly described the current state of Hungarian studies as a "growth crisis" and pointed out the symptoms that reflected the crisis, together with the ones that, at the same time, also offered the possibility of further development. Amedeo di Francesco, professor at Naples University and president of the Hungarian Philological Society, noted that some of the problems described during the conference were far too long-standing and far too "good acquaintances". He pointed out one of the pitfalls of meetings of this type, the periodic re-discussion of the same issues and the calls for moving on. Tibor Szűcs, lecturer at Pécs University pointed out that very little had been said in the pre-distributed studies, in the lectures and in the discussion about the results and problems of training Hungarologists. Administrative state secretary András Levente Gál did not agree with suggestions that envisioned the future of Hungarian studies through the creation of a new organizational form within the Ministry of Culture since he believed that the problems besetting this discipline could be solved within the current framework. Imre Attila Kovács, guest lecturer at Ungvár, disagreed with the one-sided, task-oriented approach and agreed with Prof. Mihály Szegedy-Maszák that at least as much effort should be devoted to the theoretical issues of Hungarian studies. Many more examples could be quoted to illustrate that the afternoon debate session had indeed offered a genuine reflection of the current state of Hungarian studies, both of its problems and its virtues.

      The morning session of the second day, entitled "Heritage of Hungarology", was held in the lecture hall of the National Széchényi Library and was presided over by József Réffy. The four papers read as part of this session focused on the historical perspectives of this discipline. The lecturers and participants of the debate of the previous day had often mentioned, even if only in passing, the relation between the activity of professional Hungarologists (lecturers and researchers), the institutions representing Hungarian interests abroad (embassies and cultural institutions) and various other persons (diplomats and cultural diplomats). Béla Köpeczi offered a broad overview of these relations from the Hungarian Conquest period to the present times. A new definition of Hungarian studies based on a critique of the history of this discipline was proposed by Ernő Kulcsár-Szabó in a study published in early 2000. This proposed definition was discussed by Mihály Szegedy-Maszák in his paper, as well as in the ensuing debate (e.g. Imre Attila Kovács' comments). András Görömbei, professor at Debrecen University, also offered a sweeping overview of the heritage of Hungarology, as if in dialogue with the ideas presented by Kulcsár-Szabó and Szegedy-Maszák.

      Iván Zoltán Dénes' lecture focused on a narrower aspect of Hungarian studies that was concerned less with the representation of Hungarian culture abroad, but rather with the issues of national self-knowledge and self-evaluation, in other words, with the age-old question of "what is Hungarian" and "who is Hungarian?" i.e. with the literature discussing problems of nation characterology. Dénes proposed a typology based on the most forward-looking and modern variant of national self-knowledge-that blends the national sense of responsibility with the most noble tradition of liberalism-as defined by István Bibó and transcends by far the approach based on nation characterology. The last lecture of the morning session was delivered by János Kubassek, the renowned geographer, who spoke about the contribution of Hungarian explorers to the development of Hungarology. He offered both a historical overview and a praise of the activity of Hungarian explorers and geographers and he also spoke about the need of re-integrating this unjustly omitted discipline into Hungarian studies. In a certain sense Kubassek reflected on Norbert Kroó's opening lecture by an offering an excellent and convincing example of the need for broadening the traditional concept of Hungarian studies.

      The afternoon session of the second day of these conferences is traditionally devoted to the presentation of the teaching aids of Hungarology: new textbooks, dictionaries, handbooks, reference books and multimedia CD-s. This ‘tradition' was adhered to this year too, but in contrast to earlier conferences, at which these presentations were an ‘appendix' to the conference, this year it was incorporated into the main programme of the conference. István Monok, director of the National Széchenyi Library presided over the session in which the new teaching aids of Hungarology were presented. This session closed the guest lecturer conference of the International Centre for Hungarian Studies held on August 22-23, 2000.

      The texts of the lectures held at these conferences were not published in Hungarológiai Értesítő; we tried, instead, to find other opportunities for publishing these texts. When we decided to publish a special issue of the journal that would include the lectures and the contributions to the afternoon debate session, our decision was motivated not only by the importance of the conference theme itself, but also by the disappointment over the debate session and, at the same time, the overall feeling that the conference as a whole was nonetheless successful. We felt that if we did not publish the text of the lectures we would deprive ourselves and everyone else who was willing to think about the future development of Hungarian studies and to elaborate a programme to this end of the many stimulating ideas presented in these lectures.

       The ideas voiced during the debate session offer a similarly good starting point for further efforts in this direction as the lectures, once the already indicated deficiencies are eliminated. Many professionals, who were unable to attend the conference, have already indicated that they would be willing to comment on the three papers and the concepts outlined in them published in Hungarológia or to share their views on the current state and the possible future of Hungarian studies. At the same time, some of the professionals participating in the debate session could not or did not want to find an opportunity to contribute to the discussion, but indicated that they would be willing to share their ideas in writing. This also convinced us that we should publish a special, thematic issue of Hungarológia that would include the lectures of the conference, an edited version of the debate, as well as the results of a colloquy on the development of Hungarian Studies.

      This special, thematic issue will hopefully convince its readers that Hungarian Studies as a discipline has, since its re-structuring in the mid-1980s, has indeed come of age and is capable of a stocktaking of the tasks faced by this discipline. Also, that it is sufficiently articulated and that a fruitful cooperation between individual fields and sub-disciplines is possible. There is much to be done in this respect as shown by the treuga dei-far from unpleasant-that currently reigns in this discipline. In other words, everyone who has reasonable suggestions to make for the improvement of the discipline is considered an ally, irrespective of his views on various smaller details. It is our conviction, in the light of the conference and in knowledge of the texts of the colloquy, that we are well advanced on the path towards forging a consensus that will provide a firm basis for an action plan. However, the road to a consensus leads through dissent. In order to co-ordinate the broad spectrum of views, efforts and programmes we first have to define the differences between them. The conference most certainly contributed to the articulation of these different views.

      It would appear that our work achieved its goal and that the results were worth the risks. The last issue of Hungarológia containing the three basic development concepts offered three realistic alternatives. The lectures and the debate of the conference offered ample opportunity for discussing these alternatives. The special, thematic issue of Hungarológia will be a reflection of the current state of Hungarian studies as indicated in the theme of the conference: "Hungarian studies at the turn of the millennium".