Gábor Klaniczay (1950-) is a medievalist historian and professor at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) and Central European University (CEU). In the 1970s and 1980s, he participated in the movements of intellectual opposition groups, and he was an author and distributor of samizdats.
As the son of Tibor Klaniczay, the distinguished literary historian and member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS), he took an interest in the humanities already has a child. For instance, he wrote a homework assignment on a medieval topic as a primary school student. He studied History and English, and he graduated from ELTE in 1974. After that he worked as an editor of the Journal Világosság. Four years later, he was transferred to the Institute of History of HAS as an assistant research fellow. He has worked in education for decades. He taught the sociology of fashion at the University of Applied Arts between 1978-85 and history at ELTE and CEU. He was also the rector of the Budapest Collegium from 1997 to 2002 and in 2008. He completed a Doctor of Science (DSc) degree in 2005.
Gábor Klaniczay was one of the few young men in the late 1960s in Hungary who had an opportunity to remain in Western Europe for a longer period of time. When his father was visiting professor at the Sorbonne, he spent one year in Paris and then some further months in the French capital thanks to scholarships and friendships. During this period, he discovered Western oppositional culture, which framed this generation’s objection to their parents’ values and the world of consumer society.
Influenced by the student movement, Klaniczay joined the Hungarian cultural opposition. First, he was a curious outsider. Later, he became more than a reader of samizdats and a member of the audience at concerts and lectures: he was one of the active participants in that the oppositional world as a writer and distributor of illegal brochures.
The oppositional attitudes were part of a generational phenomenon, according to him. His first relevant experience was the student movements of 1968. Klaniczay interpreted the demonstrations which took place on 15 March in the 1970s and 1980s as resurrecting this spirit in many ways (by shifting ways in which the Hungarian Revolution of 1848/49 was interpreted). He was in Paris in 1968, but he had to travel home in May to take final exams at school, but he saw demonstrations and barricades and he learned the slogan of the French students: “on a raison de se révolter” (“we have enough reason to revolt).
He recognized similar gatherings at the university as well: the rebellious faculty meeting in 1969, reform-KISZ (Hungarian Young Communist League), and the Studium Generale study groups. He and his fellow members of the growing opposition were impressed by reform-Marxist trends, i.e. ideas which criticized the communist system from the left and which were open to social sensitivity. The position in opposition to the state was a given, natural standpoint for him and his friends and colleagues. This attitude included a rejection of the constraints of the state, which made everyday life difficult through its rules and restrictions. Furthermore, the invasion of Czechoslovakia was a crucial experience for him, because he had to join the army at the time. This repressive military action of the communist countries confirmed his political and cultural opposition to the regime.
Klaniczay regards these years as an active, exciting, and stirring period of his life. He had a vibrant social life, and he collected a lot of information about actual issues and opinions through personal connections, meetings, and events with help of samizdats. As a historian, Klaniczay was interested in marginalized, oppositional communities, for example, the groups of people dubbed heretics. In his first book, he wrote about how the oppositional movements of his age shaped his interests as an academic: “I did research on a topic which has helped me understand my conflicts and problems in the 1970s.” (Klaniczay Gábor: A civilizáció peremén: kultúrtörténeti tanulmányok. Budapest, Magvető, 1990)
Numerous elements of the oppositional culture had an influence on Klaniczay: jazz, rock, “psychedelic” beat, punk, trends of New wave in music life; modern art, the avantgarde, neo-Dadaism, happenings in the art sphere, new leftist movements, guerrilla resistance symbolized by the figure of Che Guevara, and movements for civil rights and emancipation in political life in the East and the West. There were “non-official gurus”, crucial relevant groups, cult sites, and clubs with performances in a diversity of genres. Moreover, he and his friends tried to create an alternative lifestyle and establish a commune after having completed university. They saw similar examples around them, for example the commune of the Orfeo art group. (Orfeo was a reference point for Zsuzsa Hetényi, too.)
All of this was combined with an oppositional/underground consciousness and way of life. They lived in an inner world of their own, on the “islands of freedom”. They tried not to deal with the system, but they had to react when the regime took sanctions against them. He was first persecuted at university, when he supported his undergraduate fellow students who organized a protest against the severity of the laws concerning abortion.
In these years, every act had a political meaning: how somebody looked (long hair, old-fashioned folk or Indian clothes from the flea market), interior design (a burlap curtain, mattress on the floor, brick and board design bookshelves), where they drank, how they travelled (as hitchhikers), etc.
It was clear for them that in scientific and cultural life many things were possible, but in political life, there were many prohibitions and taboos. This view is well summarized in the samizdat book by Adam Michnik. According to Michnik, it was impossible to reform the system through official socialist public spaces. Instead, resistance had to create its own institutes, clubs, seminars, and press, and they could thus live their own cultural life and discuss political issues.
By 1976, more and more political movements had emerged. The first samizdats were published and the borders slowly disappeared between culture events and political acts among the alternative groups. One of the oppositional places was the Library of HAS, which was the “unofficial” workplace of the oppositional philosophers János Kis and György Bence. Samizdats changed hands here. Klaniczay played an active role in the distribution in the Historical Institute of HAS and at ELTE. We find Klaniczay’s name among the subscribers of Chater 77, and he participated in the writing of the intellectuals’ collective Diary (Napló) samizdat. His father’s prestige and his boss, György Ránki, who though a party member, also tolerated intellectual freedom, offered him some protection.
In Klaniczay’s interpretation, the concept of oppositional behaviour meant a cultural practice and political discourse organized in the informal social sphere. He and his colleagues were aware that they were under the surveillance of the secret service, so they had to conspire. The consequence of going underground was having to create and participate in a closed “tribal culture” of the oppositional movement.In the second part of the 1980s, people had more opportunities to act. Klaniczay took part in the demonstrations and meetings of the democratic opposition. He joined the Social Democratic Party to create its cultural policy strategy, but in 1990 he abandoned politics and worked as a historian and professor. He remains active as a historian and scholar today.
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Fonyó, Attila. "A pangás évei. (Klaniczay Gábor: Ellenkultúra a hetvenes–nyolcvanas években; A hetvenes évek kultúrája; Avantgárd: underground: alternatív Popzene, művészet és szubkulturális nyilvánosság Magyarországon)." BUKSZ 16, no. 3 (2004), 195-205. http://epa.oszk.hu/00000/00015/00035/pdf/02fonyo.pdf.
Kisantal, Tamás. "Ziggy Stardust és a flagellánsok. Klaniczay Gábor: Ellenkultúra a hetvenes-nyolcvanas években." Jelenkor 48, no. 2 (2005), 187. http://www.jelenkor.net/archivum/cikk/722/ziggy-stardust-es-a-flagellansok.
Klaniczay, Gábor. "Elgyötört test és megtépett ruha. Két kultúrtörténeti adalék a performance gyökereihez." In A performance-művészet, 145-183. Budapest: Artpool - Balassi Kiadó - Tartóshullám, 2000. http://www.artpool.hu/performance/klaniczay1.html. Ugyanez angol fordításban: „Tormented body, torn clothes.” http://www.artpool.hu/performance/klaniczay.html
Klaniczay, Gábor. New Wave líra – Trabant és Balaton, in Havasréti József – K. Horváth Zsolt (szerk.): Avantgárd: underground: alternatív. Popzene, művészet és szubkulturális nyilvánosság Magyarországon. Kijárat Kiadó – Artpool Művészetkutató Központ – PTE Kommunikációs Tanszék, Budapest- Pécs, 2003. 133-142.
Klaniczay, Gábor. "Gondolatok a népi kultúra, a szubkultúra és az ellenkultúra viszonyáról." Beszélő 5, no. 37 (2000). http://beszelo.c3.hu/cikkek/gondolatok-a-nepi-kultura-a-szubkultura-es-az-ellenkultura-viszonyarol.
Klaniczay, Gábor. Ellenkultúra a hetvenes-nyolcvanas években. Budapest: Noran, 2003.
Klaniczay, Gábor. "Egotrip." Korall 2005, no. 3/4 (2005), 197-206. http://epa.oszk.hu/00400/00414/00015/pdf/t_09klaniczay.pdf.
Klaniczay, Gábor. „L’underground politique, artistique, rock (1970-1980)”, Ethnologie française, 36 (2006), 283-297.
Klaniczay, Gábor. „Subkultur und Underground im Jahre 1984 in Ungarn.” in Alexander Pehlemann, Bert Papenfuß, Robert Mießner (eds.), 1984 ! Block an Block. Subkulturen im Orwell-Jahr. Mainz: Ventil Verlag, 2015, 171-182.
Klaniczay, Gábor. „Szubkultúra, ellenkultúra, underground.“ Rubicon, 24 (2013/9-10), 132-144.
Klaniczay, Gábor. "Ellenáramlat az ellenkultúrán belül – az új hullám." In Pokoli aranykor. New wave koncertplakátok a ‘80-as évekből. Bp. Szabó György és Szőnyei Tamás gyűjteményeiből. Szerk. Rieder Gábor. Budapest: Kieselbach, 2017. 27-39.