Zsuzsa Gáspár

* 1943

  • "My daughter, Anna was born in 1969, and when the Tuesday Circle burst onto the scene, Anna must have been at least 1 year old. That is, it must have been either in the winter of 1970/71 or in the spring of ’71. The Circle, as far as I can remember, was the brainchild of the triad comprising György Bence, János Kis and János Kenedi. The era as well as the university training of the era had the quality of intellectual desolation to them. It wasn’t just that the scope of any research was limited by what literature you had access to or were expected to use. Even the requirements were limited. Basically, they expected us to be intellectually inquisitive only in moderation and our achivements were to be limited in their scope. As far as I can remember, it was György Bence, János Kis and Kenedi who thought that we didn’t necessarily have to put up with this, and that the things we actually want to talk and read about can be explored in a seminar-like format on a voluntary basis. We already knew Kenedi and I reckon it was his idea that we have this six by six metre living room to ourselves, scantily furnished, with a lot of floor space which could seat a lot of people. The three of them contacted us asking a/ whether we’d be interested an b/ whether we would supply the flat for the seminars. And yes, we were and yes, we did. We thought that we didn’t have to put up with a limited intellectual environment. Naturally, the topics had some sort of political connotation to them but that wasn’t manifest. The most explicitly political topic that I remember was trade unions, and Mihály Hamburger was responsible for it. But I guess that one was on when the Tuesday gatherings were already drawing to an end. For two and a half years there were genuine bi-weekly seminars on this very spot. The topics were assigned well in advance, we had presenters and discussants followed by a debate and finished with larded bread and tea. It was more or less the same bunch of people and the number of regulars didn’t exceed twenty. More people couldn’t actually have fitted into our living room. Who were they? Bence, Kis János, Kenedi, Vilmos Sós, Ágnes Erdélyi, Ferenc Kőszeg, Éva Fekete, Mária Ludassy, Mihály Hamburger, Zoltán Endreffy, Mária Pap, I am not quite sure, also Éva Karádi and the Babarczys… Other names don’t occur to me right now, although there were more of us. We had very strict ’conspirative’ rules regarding who can come. You needed two referees as well as the consent of the others. Bence and Kis were the leaders and they had the final word. In the post-presentation debates you could always sense how much what the Bence-Kis couple (they were still rather close back then and went separate ways only later) thought mattered to everyone. Everyone sought their support and appreciation. I have to admit that I primarily benefitted from the Circle’s intellectual and social rather than political aspects. On the one hand, I made a lot of friends in this circle, friends that I might not see on a regular basis today but who I never lose sight of and vica versa, and we always have a rough idea of each other’s life. Moreover, this circle made a massive contribution to my intellectual development. […] We knew perfectly well that this was illegal. But you couldn’t really be conspirative about twenty odd people flocking into a private flat. If somebody had the intention of noticing it, they could. I suspect that many people did notice it. We had conversations about it with Peter, ’cause it was hard to believe that they weren’t snooping on us. We agreed that threre must be snoops among us and also that it’s irrelevant and we musn’t start guessing who they are, as it would have been toxic for us."

  • "One might say that the University Stage was an opposition group. It was a safety valve. Although in hindsight, it’d be preposterous to put the ’opposition’ label on what was going on there. We established a Film Club. We put Polish, Czech, Russian and English films on show, both banned and approved ones. There were no tickets on sale, only passes. That is, you had to buy all the tickets for the season. Once you have made the purchase, you became a member of the Film Club, and we told outsiders that it wasn’t about presenting films but educating the youth. With this mission we were given films by the Institute of Film Science which couldn’t have otherwise been shown to the public. We invited people who had no public presence. I ran a series called ’The Stage Belongs to You’. We invited people who we thought were of interest and told them that on that particular night it is up to them to decide what will happen on the University Stage. We are going to present the film, talk about the topic, put the play on stage or play the kind of music that they want. These were fun shows. I remember Ferenc Mérei and Sándor Weöres. Neither of them were popular personalities. We organized exhibitions down the corridors of the University Stage, like the one for my husband, Péter Donáth. Exhibitions were another thorny issue, to decide who can have one and who can’t. Being in oppostion is like doing things which weren’t allowed to be done for wider audiences. I reckon that it was rather to the comrades’ liking that we worked there concentrated on one place. That was a managable formula. There were snoops among us, we had no doubts about that. Even today I’m still convinced that there were. The routine back then was that the heads of institutions were paid a visit by two comrades from the Interior Ministry (BM). We called ours Roby and Toby. There is this couple in Dürrenmatt’s The Visit of the Old Lady, escorting the Old Lady. So Roby and Toby arrived and went to see Zoli Rózsa, they were having an hour long chat and left, and everyone knew that they were the BM people. We didn’t know in actual fact who the snoops were among us. Personally, I couldn’t be bothered. There is someone, who we thought was one. Well, it was kind of common knowledge back then and today I know it for sure that he was. But I bear no grudge against him. In my experience, he did no harm to anyone. It gave a boost to his career, as far as you could tell from the outside."

  • Full recordings
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    Budapest, Hungary, 29.04.2005

    duration: 03:06:58
    media recorded in project Oral History Archive - Budapest
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The 68 invasions were a mirror where it was impossible not to look

gaspar-portre70.jpg (historic)
Zsuzsa Gáspár
photo: családi

Zsuzsa Gáspár was born on May 1, 1943 to Jewish parents. Having been taken by the arrow-cross in November 1944, her mother died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her father, a labour service survivor, was an artisan of dental instruments. Her older sister defected to Sweden in 1956 and she settled down in Canada. After doing her graduation at Teleki Blanka Girls’ School in 1956, Zsuzsa Gáspár worked as an unskilled worker for a couple of months. A year later she started her studies at the School of Arts at Eötvös Loránd University, where she earned a degree in Hungarian Language/Literature and Adult Education. She was a volunteer of the University Stage while still at university, and worked as Head of the University Stage’s Secretariat between 1966-69. She married the artist Péter Donáth in 1965. In 1969, their first daughter, Anna, was born. Between 1970 and 1974 Zsuzsa Gáspár worked as the assistant director of the 25th Theatre. In 1976-88 she was the museologist of the museum of Applied Arts, then the editor of the publishing house Officina Nova. From 1995 onwards she worked as the educational director of the Office of Mental Hygiene, where she was dismissed from in 2000. Since then, she has been a freelancer and edits books on art and cultural history. Since 1971 the events of the so called Tuesday Circle were held in the couple’s flat, where members of the young intelligentsia (to develop into the democratic opposition later on) held seminars on issues in social sciences and philosophy. In October 1979, both she and her husband signed the document protesting against the trial of the representatives of Charter 77. She was affiliated to and assisted the activity of the samizdat Beszélő Journal as well as the Fund for Supporting the Poor. In 1988-89 and in 1990 she actively contributed to the foundation of the Democratic Trade Union of Scientific Workers and its running, respectively. A founding member of the Network of Free Initiatives and the Association of Free Democrats.