Népszabadság 16.12.1973 (Sunday cultural supplement) [reproduction]


László Szabó

subtitles: Weak even as epigones, The summer programme, Let’s ban it, if we must

I can testify that I found no one in Balatonboglár who had seen group sex en masse in the cemetery chapel in the summer. Even though several people had claimed to have done so. The thing is, if thirty-two young women and men lie on the ground at night, dressed scantily as you would at night, it does qualify as mass sex. And that is all eyewitnesses reported. True, they reported such cases on several occasions. About many nights. And always about different young men and women. Sometimes about 15-16-year-olds.

So do not let your imagination run wild because no one saw any mass sex there. The most they could have seen is that these same young women and men who had been lying at night in a heap in the chapel and in the crypt went down in the mornings to the well in the street by the main road and washed themselves half-naked.

But then, when the residents of the busy Balaton resort saw them fully dressed, they complained that these young people created the impression that they never ever washed themselves. Who cares that many of them have neither work, nor a permanent address? And that they ended up here, in the cemetery chapel, in the “temple of shocking art”, while wandering about Lake Balaton? Forgive my saying so, but if the chapel’s lawful renter, György Galántai, put them up here, it is no one else’s business. – But something must surely be going on, right? say the council leaders, scandalised by the fact that Galántai put up all sorts of hobos. And that there was a sudden increase in violations of public order in the area.

The cemetery hill in Balatonboglár, and the chapel, kept the police busy this summer. Never before this summer, had this place been visited by so many dubious characters, teenage boys and girls running away from home with 20 forints on them, Hungarians and foreigners who have already been in conflict with the law and “shocking” both in a moral, human and political sense, or “artists” from the West ending up here.

Weak even as epigones    <>

We could say that the place’s “world fame” attracted these people since some Western travel guide books called attention to the Balatonboglár cemetery chapel. And Radio Free Europe too. The news-bell of a peculiar subculture led those here who decided to escape from light into darkness, and also those very young people who find many things romantic: ten people sharing an apple; swapping places every half hour when sleeping in the crypt so that the centuries old stone floor would not hurt so much; “artists” playing theatre with them, and a kind of theatre undoubtedly complex in its obscenity and clever but straightforward in its political symbols; the “word” is spread by people who had tried drugs and even brought some with them, rolled into cigarettes. It is not hard to guess what these people label as art. And these “events” at Balatonboglár proved to be a poor affair even as epigones. It is easy to see where this idea comes from: periodicals in the west are choc-a-bloc with stories of the scandals at similar “happenings”.

When youngsters who have lost their direction in life, muddled ideals and crime meet, the kind of depravation comes into being, which uses empty phrases about freedom to build an “ideology” for freeloading and a lumpen lifestyle.

But no one saw mass sex in the chapel. Among the villagers, I mean. Those with whom Galántai had maintained excellent relations because the village had helped him, back when they had held the hope of meaningful, well-earned fame. Indeed, the local council, the cultural centre and the inhabitants had the interest of those across the border at heart too when the young graphic artist, György Galántai, appeared at the town hall with his lease contract.

“I’ve leased the cemetery chapel from the Church for 13 years. My idea is this,” he said to the secretary to the council and he outlined a remarkable little plan about a chapel studio where he would work and have his fellow artists there as guests, because the panorama is so wonderful with the cemetery slope looking onto Lake Balaton. “The artist colony will be known all over. Just like there was a Nagybánya and Szentendre school, there could be a Boglár school,” he continued. “We will have the printed publications and the propaganda material authorised. Everything will be in order and Balatonboglár will earn itself such a name that Tihany will be put to shame. Of course I expect the council to help me. I need electricity, and the road must be repaired.”

The council’s leaders and the young director of the cultural centre, who was no less enthusiastic than Galántai, promised to help in every way after looking through the lease agreement signed by Galántai and the Catholic parish of Balatonboglár. Two sentences were especially reassuring: “...During the term of the lease, lease shall protect the chapel from further decay and destruction, and prevent these from occurring... Leaseholder herewith undertakes that he will not organise any events in the chapel that would scandalise the faithful...”

László Hegedűs, the director of the cultural centre, recalls these days thus: “We received him gladly and saw his ideas as promising.”

“He did not lease the crypt, as it was walled in; he and his friends only demolished the wall later and threw out the bones and the remnants of the coffins. And they moved in where the coffins used to be...”

“No one knew about this in the village. That’s how electricity was installed in the chapel, the residents in the area cleaned up the shrubby parts doing voluntary work, and the council had benches put in, i.e. they helped Galántai... Things were shaping up in the first and second summer.”

“I specifically liked how visitors were able to view the displayed works, especially the modern prints and drawings, while listening to pleasant guitar melodies and flower songs,” said Ferenc Bogdán, the secretary to the council.

“Last year, however, the relationship between the council and Galántai went south.”

“Numerous dubious characters appeared on the cemetery hill, who Galántai called his friends,” stated Ferenc Bogdán, the secretary to the council. “Their behaviour and unkempt appearance made the local inhabitants and the holiday-makers uneasy. Quite a few people came to us and complained that rather scantily dressed young women and men were running up and down, frolicking and shouting around the chapel in the evenings. And there were more and more guests arriving from the West who made themselves at home in the chapel. And in the evenings, an audience of 40-50 young people were listening to them with dropped jaws.

A young man who was there: “That foreign guy said all sorts of things. I didn’t really understand what the connection is between a cage and human excrement, but he was talking about something like that. And there was a picture of the Parliament hanging above his head.”

The local council called Galántai’s attention to the fact that all public events must be authorised, and the programme must be presented in advance. And they told him that things on the cemetery hill were starting to get distorted. But no one banged the table, despite the police sending word that more and more dubious individuals were arriving at Galántai’s from Budapest. Types specifically seeking the company of teenagers and filling their heads with nonsense.

The summer programme     <>

Galántai again promised he would do everything as asked: he would keep everything under control at the chapel, no more cooking would be done in the crypt, he would not let just any hobo set himself up in the choir and the former altar, nor would he provide reason to either the congregation or anyone else to be shocked on moral or political grounds.

In the meantime, he was getting ready for this season. And with what purpose? When I went to meet him in his Budapest studio combined flat, he said the following about Boglár ‘73, which he had started to organise in the previous year both in Hungary and abroad violating all kinds of legal obligations:

“I wanted a kind of art that is shocking through creation,” he said and started to expound his views about deepening doubt and new dimensions.

He himself does not deny the fact that he had started to organise the event abroad before the summer season without permission. “Concrete poetry, visual literature, text-object, foreign and Hungarian colleagues,” reads Galántai’s summer programme for this year containing a map of Hungary and a guide plus map specifically for Balatonboglár, printed in several colours but without naming the printing house. The programme lets one conclude a lot: for example how to get from Budapest to the cemetery hill in Balatonboglár; who those roughly 80 people are who the programme addresses thus: “Visit the studio in Balatonboglár, where the following artists are invited as my guests.” Since it was not just anyone he invited: the names include some that can be found in the criminal register, and György Pór is leading the chart with his two years and six months sentence, followed by a lot of others who were ‘only’ warned by the police authorities for their trespasses, and then comes Miklós Kovács with his seven-month jail sentence and no job to his name, and an ‘exciting case, namely Tibor Gágyor, now an Austrian citizen, who had sound reason to flee the country back then. Our state forgave him and lo and behold, he comes here now taking photos in the chapel for free, and let me assure you, he does not pass these pictures on to others for free. And of course he spreads his political views... Is it even surprising then that the list of participants at these summer séances includes all the names of people representing a range of damaging ideologies from anarchism to antisemitism, from nationalism to cosmopolitanism, from anti-socialism to Maoism? Names that can only be associated with art to the extent that the people that bear them are experts in vagrancy “at an artistic level”. Names entwined with reactionary “symbols”. This summer they organised three nights of “theatre”.

A young member from the chapel theatre audience:

“It must have been seventy of us or so. King-Kong was on. Péter Halász acted the penis of the big monkey and everything imaginable was going on...”

What kind of art is this, I wonder. Can real art debase humanity?

A young member from the other performance’s audience:

“They tied us together with twine. All of us. Not tightly, just symbolically. And there was a huge net. The artist was spinning around in it, and another one was reading out a text. Something that had several interpretations.”

“In a political sense?”

“It was symbolic of course.”

Let’s ban it, if we must      <>

What went on around the cemetery hill in Balatonboglár this summer was scandalous. And even though the director of the cultural centre and the council withdrew all support from Galántai and they even warned him to observe the legal regulations, this whole thing ended up the way it did because they, who were the ones in charge of the village, had previously not acted forcefully and unswervingly. (In the village it is the village leadership, in a district it is the district leadership and in a county it is the country leadership who are the ones in charge and of course they are responsible for what happens under their authority.) Half the village saw that art was being ridiculed, and it was far more than a mere whimsy: it was immoral, tasteless and reactionary. It was something a socialist community cannot simply just correspond about. It had to be banned. We should not be ashamed that we ban something in the name of the socialist state if we see behaviour that is detrimental to our society!

“They say you are an artist, Mr Galántai. Your graphic works have been published in several periodicals. Why don’t you focus on that?”

“I really don’t want to deal with anything else now. I discontinued the lease of the chapel...”

“Did you not do this because the Church started proceedings against you, requesting that you discontinue the lease?”

“No, I didn’t. I did it in good will. I invited my artist friends based on the experiences of previous performances and it all ended up like this…. I have always been interested in art alone. But I can see that the three theatre productions ended up shocking people. They provided too much reason for moral and political misunderstandings.”

“And what about your friends’ behaviour? Let’s take Gyula Pauer, who practically broke into a private home in Balatonboglár demanding food, and then he defied the police that were called to the scene. He was charged with violence against police authority... If my calculations are correct, you yourself have already violated the various legal prescriptions and disrupted legal orders at least thirty times. Do you think the law and rules do not apply to you?

“I obviously do not.”

“As I know, no one did any painting or drawing in Balatonboglár this summer, including you. What did you make a living from?”

“I received voluntary donations. This time.”

“Do you mean the charity box in front of the chapel?”

“No, that was an exhibit.”


“I’m telling you it was,” he answered and unexpectedly gave out a laugh.

“Too much rubbish accumulated on the cemetery hill in Balatonboglár...”

“I agree, I didn’t do it right. But if I had been given some help...” he says trying to shift the responsibility.

“Come on. What do you mean by ‘help’? You were given help all right. Or rather they left everything to go the way they did. Real help would have been if your activity had been obstructed. Is that what you meant by help? Did you know that the local and county council have leased the chapel and its environs from the Church for 25 years to use it as a youth park and the venue for a sculpture exhibition?”

“I didn’t. But they won’t do what I planned for here. The truth is, I should have involved the Studio KISZ (Hungarian young Communist League),” he says and I am about to believe that he intends to do something socially more acceptable. He shows me around in the pokey studio and flat. “I am working here now, just for myself for now...”

“It was only then that I could hear the radio humming quietly. A foreign channel, speaking in Hungarian. What coincidence it would be if this same radio channel [Radio Free Europe] were scandalised by the event by saying ‘what immorality’ or ‘art is being suppressed here’! What feelings would such hypocritical commentary rouse in my host?

If anyone, he knows what the truth is.       <>

links (in Hungarian)
video: RTL Klub, XXI. Század [21st century] - UNDERGROUND (2005)
review: 2000, Herczog Noémi: Ha kell - tiltsuk! [Let’s ban it, if we must] (2015)
doc.: Meghalt Szabó László [László Szabó Dies] (2015)