THE BLOG
10/03/2014 08:16 am ET Updated Dec 03, 2014

Hungary's Independent Peace Movement

One of the great stories of the 1980s to be obscured by the success of civil society organizations like Solidarity in Poland and Civic Forum in Czechoslovakia was the rise of an independent peace movement in a region dominated by official peace councils. Freedom and Peace (WiP), for instance, had a tremendous influence on what would become Poland's first non-Communist foreign policy. The Independent Peace Association in Czechoslovakia was an important pre-Civic Forum group of dissidents.

Before them all, however, was Dialogus in Hungary, which started in 1982 when the anti-nuclear organizing was gathering steam in Western Europe and the United States. The official peace organization in Hungary condemned U.S. and European nuclear weapons but accepted the necessity of the Soviet Union to build and deploy such weapons. Dialogus worked with its Western European counterparts -- European Nuclear Disarmament (END), the women of Greenham Commons -- to create a common front against all nuclear weapons.

Initially, as its name suggests, Dialogus was established to create opportunities for discussion with the Hungarian government and its official organs. "After I joined there were no opportunities to talk about disarmament with the government," explains Dialogus member Pal Kochis. "There were only discussions with government people about the nature of our organization: its legality or illegality. The government thought it was really great that we were denouncing all nuclear weapons -- except that we shouldn't denounce the Soviet ones. But we denounced those nuclear weapons too. And that bugged the government."

Kochis was active in the independent peace movement in the 1980s and later in the Wallenberg Society and the Green movement. He fondly remembers the contacts with activists from the West.

"Greenham Commons activists, Italian peace activists -- they were doing things that we wanted to do, but couldn't," he told me in an interview as we sat outside at a bar in Budapest in May 2013. "We did do some actions, but not like that. They really did accept us as friends. And we looked at them as friends. One of our last actions was our international camp. That's when the Hungarian authorities struck back. There were newspaper articles in the Hungarian press about how heroic the Greenham Commons women were for standing up against nuclear weapons -- and then they were kicked out of the country! We were conspiring with them. For an entire day, the police didn't know where our meeting was. They wanted to threaten us. But no one was physically threatened."

After Dialogus, Kochis went on to help found 4-6-0, another independent peace organization. The name derived from the belief that World War I lasted four years, World War II six years, and World War III would destroy the planet in an instant. "4-6-0 is a memory now," he says. "There's no continuous legacy. Formally it still exists, because we never abandoned it. But we haven't met in many years. We became private people. We had families. However, all of us who were part of this movement have raised our kids differently as a result."

Eventually, after a period of intensive participation, Kochis fell away from politics. But he's glad to see that young people are again creating new initiatives in Hungary.

"When the government decided to dismantle the Dialogus group, the police sought out my father at his workplace and had a conversation with him," Kochis told me. "And my father came home and told us about it. The police told him that I shouldn't do the Dialogus newspaper, but I was allowed to write for X, Y, and Z newspapers. I replied to my father, 'They are trying to negotiate with me, which means that they are really weak. So I won't take them up on the offer to publish in those other newspapers.' Then my father told me that he'd been the head of the workers council in his company in 1956. So, he was a revolutionary himself. He said, 'This is your time, you are the ones who know.' He said that he wouldn't voice his opinion on this. And today I say the same thing to my daughters."

The Interview

Can you describe how Dialogus was created?

It was formed in the summer of 1982, and I joined in December. So I know the pre-story only from hearing about it. I relayed this to you in the last interview, so I guess the question is how I see it now. The question might be, "How come the Kadar system was so soft?" I don't know the answer to that. The only thing I can think of was that the socialist bloc made a decision that Hungary would become the showcase country -- particularly because of 1956.

We used this opportunity. All of us used it, including the government. This was why the country could take on loans in dollars. As far as we know only part of this money remained in this country. When they thought we went beyond what they thought was an accepted limit, they let us know. At that point there wasn't even a decade left until the transition. Toward the end of the decade, the fracturing within the state apparatus already started to happen.

I'm also interested in your own personal decision to get involved in December 1982. Was that your first decision of that nature?

When I first heard about this group, I didn't believe it. I thought that if it was legal, it was Party-related. And if it wasn't legal, then the state would destroy it. But my girlfriend at that time wanted me to go to the meetings, so I went. She'd given me a warning: the relationship was at stake!

Ah, the true motivation of political activism!

But then it became obvious that this was something that I liked.

What did you like about the organization?

The intelligence, the honesty, and the bravery. That we could actually do something, create something. We could state our opinion -- that was very important -- even if it wasn't listened to. We were thinking freely.

Were you a university student then?

Yes.

Were you studying computers?

No, mechanical engineering. At that time there were no PCs.

What did you think you would do with your life at that point?

I wasn't thinking about that. I was living my life. I guess I did think I would have a family, a child. I would work as an engineer. In 1988, I was 30. So, I was 24 when I joined the group. What's your life perspective at 24? I was running a jazz club at that time -- at the university. It was a famous jazz club called R Club.

Did you play music also?

No. But there were concerts with famous Hungarian musicians. And we played records. And there was a lot of beer. Jazz club, peace movement, girls, beer, and wine!

When did you first meet with peace activists from other countries?

To read the rest of the interview, click here.