In Memoriam: Sándor Csoóri 1930-2016

Poet and Writer was “Conscience of the Hungarian Nation”

Members of the Hungarian American Coalition (Coalition) were deeply saddened to learn that Sándor Csoóri passed away, after a long illness, on September 12, 2016 in Budapest. He was 86 years old.

In the words of István G. Pálfy, a fellow writer and family friend: “The death of Sándor Csoóri is a blow to the Hungarian literary and intellectual world. For Hungarians everywhere –in Hungary, the Carpathian basin and around the world – his unique and radiant presence helped maintain our nation’s self-respect and will to live.”

In his writings, Csoóri emphasized the unifying strength and essential value of nationhood, as expressed in its language, culture and history. Csoóri was one of the few intellectuals in Hungary who, despite the suffocating censorship and enforced supranationalism of Communist rule, spoke out about the plight of Hungarian minorities in the surrounding countries and also recognized Western diaspora communities as essential pillars of a single Hungarian nation. As early as the 1960s, his travels throughout Transylvania impelled him to speak out against the state-sponsored persecution of ethnic Hungarians in Romania.

Living in a dictatorship bent upon undermining specific national identity, Csoóri paid the price for speaking the truth: his writings were periodically suppressed and denied publication. He was prohibited from giving public readings; his works were purged from schools and libraries.

Due to Csoóri´s stature, however, the regime could not silence him entirely. Despite obstacles and prohibitions, Csoóri remained a one-man institution working on behalf of his convictions. In particular, he cooperated with his Hungarian friends in the free world to assist ethnic Hungarians being persecuted for their national identity.

After his first trip in 1974 to visit Hungarians in the U.S., Csoóri was a regular guest of the Western diaspora during the 1980´s, speaking about political developments in Hungary and the surrounding countries. In the preface to a 1982 book about the persecution of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia (Miklós Duray: Kutyaszoritó, New York), Csoóri was the first Hungarian intellectual to identify the single-party state as the fundamental and irreparable flaw of the Soviet-backed regimes – that is, the denial of democracy, the destruction of private property and the restriction of freedom of religion and conscience.

Even before the transition to democracy, Csoóri recognized that a newly constituted Hungarian national identity could be a constructive force in a new Europe. In 1989, he wrote: “… a Hungarian nation which we ourselves reconstitute and reform can become an incalculable influence – just like a new work of art, an as-yet unknown masterpiece – both here in the Carpathian region and within a reunified Europe.”

Sándor Csoóri was born into a family of peasant farmers in Zámoly, a village in Western Hungary, in 1930. At age 12, he enrolled at the renowned boarding school of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Pápa, as part of a national program to promote talented youth from disadvantaged families.

Early in his career, he worked as a journalist. His first poems were published in 1953. Between 1968-1988, he was literary consultant for the Hungarian Film Corporation.

Csoóri became widely known as an intellectual leader of the anti-Communist political opposition in Hungary in the 1980´s. He was a founding member of the Hungarian Democratic Forum.

In 1988, he became president of the editorial board and later chief editor of the intellectual journal Hitel. From 1991-2000, he was president of the World Federation of Hungarians.

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