Éva Cseke-Gyimesi (born 11 September 1945, Cluj; died 23 May 2011, Cluj) was a reputed Hungarian linguist, university professor, literary critic, and public writer, who distinguished herself as a staunch defender of the Transylvanian Hungarians’ minority rights. “I gained self-awareness in Hungarian,” she wrote, “but I also carry on the destiny of the Mureș-River Romanians, the Moravian Germans, and the Galician Jews: they too were a minority.” She had three children. Until 1998 she was married to Péter Cseke, a literary historian. She was a symbolic figure of the dissidence in communist Romania, and then of the public elite following the change of regime. In her vocation, in practising her profession she used the power of a professor’s words to speak and act in a manner that differed from the words of dictatorship. In her oppositional work she enjoyed the solidarity of various human rights organisations that supported her publicly from abroad. By the second half of the 1980s she and other like-minded people benefitted from worldwide civil protection from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Amnesty International, the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation, the Hungarian and Romanian desks of Radio Free Europe, Radio Kossuth, and numerous Hungarian and Western colleagues, especially in literary milieus (Cs. Gyimesi 2009).
She completed her studies in her native town. After attending general school no. 14 Str. Horea, by the synagogue, between 1959 and 1963 she attended Brassai Sámuel secondary school. Between 1963 and 1968 she studied at Babeș-Bolyai University, Faculty of Philology, Department of Hungarian Language and Literature. Between 1968 and 1971 she worked as a teaching assistant in the same department. In 1973 she was offered the position of assistant professor at BBU, and she became an associate professor in 1977, after getting her doctoral degree. She gave lectures and seminars in literary theory, Hungarian literature in Romania, twentieth-century Hungarian literature, semiotics, stylistics, and drama and poetry theory and analysis.
In her youth she was a member of the Union of Communist Youth, for membership of this organisation was compulsory in Romania. In the late 1970s, professional advancement required her to become a Party member, which was a matter of personal option and, at the same time, of acceptance by the local communist organisation. Despite requesting membership of the university Party organisation, she was not accepted as there were too many intellectuals in the university organisation and only few manual workers and assistant personnel (technical, economic, specialised, and administrative staff, known in short as TESA personnel, after the acronym in Romanian). Later, she considered her having been denied Party membership as a gift. At that time, promotion to the highest university ranks was conditioned not by professional achievements, but by membership of the Party, so Gyimesi became full professor at BBU only after the Revolution of 1989. She became then also a supervisor of doctoral dissertations and a member of the BBU Senate. She also taught rhetoric at the Protestant Theological Institute in her town. As the head of a department in the faculty she began to build the faculty infrastructure and started facilitating the professional development of teachers by means of applications and management. Her name is linked to the foundation of the Invisible College (Láthatatlan Kollégium) and of the Collegium Transsylvanicum in Cluj. Between 1994 and 1998, when she retired, Gyimesi was head of the Department of Hungarian Literature of Babeș-Bolyai University. Between 1997 and 2001, she also held the prestigious Széchenyi Scholarship for Professors granted by the Hungarian state to outstanding scholars of Hungary and the neighbouring countries.
Gyimesi was preoccupied with contemporary Hungarian literature beginning with 1973. Her best-known work remains Pearls and Sand, a critical approach to Transylvanian ideology which was completed in the 1980s but only published in 1992. In her works in literary theory she tried to strengthen the connections between Transylvanian Hungarian literature and global contemporary literary and artistic trends. She created works in every possible genre (from studies to essays, from publications to manifestos). Her flat was home to a series of intellectual workshops: she maintained contact with prose writers, poets, and sociologists, being a moderator, animator, and critic of the local intellectual life for which she felt personally responsible. For years in a row she was one of the most popular university teachers. In the 1980s she stood in the frontline as far as Hungarian literature was concerned.
Although her oppositional activity was known also before 1989, the more significant public work came after the change of regime: she was one of the founders of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR). On 24 December 1989, as a member of the initiating group of Hungarian democratic intellectuals from Cluj she published the manifesto entitled Hívó Szó (Calling word). In April 1990 she was elected member of the Alliance’s National Council. Holding a high position did not change her critical attitude, as she did not cease to warn against the mistakes and shortcomings of the Transylvanian Hungarian policy for minority rights. In 1992 she joined other intellectuals in the publication of a discussion paper entitled Invitation to Open Dialogue. The document warned about the inconsistencies of the DAHR’s program, and about the consequences of a merely conflict-laden policy. Her status as a representative of the internal opposition generated intra-community conflicts and Gyimesi became a carrier of these conflicts. In 1994 she became responsible for educational issues in her capacity as one of the vice-presidents of the party. For a short period, Gyimesi was a central figure in the debates around the idea of creating a separate Hungarian-language university in Cluj. She strongly opposed the notion of a voluntary Transylvanian Hungarian segregation and encouraged the establishment of a competitive higher education network that could fit both in the Romanian university structures and the international education system. After losing to the majority in the overheated conversation about the future of the Transylvanian Hungarian higher education, she was marginalised within the party and withdrew from politics as early as 1995.
As a public writer she remained active until the end of her life. She expressed her views on all issues pertaining to Transylvanian Hungarian public affairs, generally representing specific points of view well supported by arguments. While arguing against the advancement of radical (anti-Romanian, nationalist) Hungarian public policy, she confronted the anti-Hungarian mayor of Cluj, Gheorghe Funar, and the nationalism which a part of the local Romanian population continued to embrace. She remained true to herself and continued to manifest as an ardent pacifist. Gyimesi received the prize of the Hungarian Press Association in honour of Joseph Pulitzer (Pulitzer-emlékdíj) for her publications addressing everyday issues. Apart from this, she was a member of the board of editors of the literary journal NyIrK (Nyelv- és Irodalomtudományi Közlemények) and the magazine Korunk, while playing an instrumental role in the naming of the local Hungarian-language newspaper Szabadság (Freedom).
To sum up, her activity before 1989 was a lot more unambiguous, enjoyed greater support, and was received more positively than her subsequent activity and this is linked to the fact that those who joined forces to act in opposition before 1989 began to go their separate ways after the change of regime. Her own Transylvanian Hungarian intellectual community, which had admired and protected her in the heroic times of solitary resistance of the 1980s, left her alone in the 1990s, when her public and private lives became tormented by an existential dilemma. Gyimesi ended by committing suicide in 2011. Her funeral – in the Házsongárdi cemetery –, was not attended by public officials, but her students paid their last respects; the generations who carried on one of Gyimesi’s most important legacies: civil courage (Parászka 2011). Gyimesi was a tragic hero, whose intellectual legacy is still waiting for a fair and empathetic assessment.
As for her own assessment of a life-time conviction, Gyimesi defined herself as a dissident according to the creed of the well-known Hungarian writer György Konrád. She considered herself as one of those more or less lonely or group-joining conscious resistance fighters, opponents who cannot be labelled as “innocent” people, “victims,” as they have voluntarily committed themselves to a certain view of the world, belief, religion, and assumed the consequences of their opinions and actions: surveillance, intercepted calls, home searches, banned publications, disciplinary measures, dismissal from institutions, and in certain cases physical violence and even imprisonment. She argued, just like Roy Medvedev, that “a dissident is a person who disagrees with the ideological, political, economic and moral foundations of a given society, but beyond sharing different views, he/she also expresses this publicly, that is, not just in the family or among close friends.” She believed that the most they could accomplish was to continuously draw attention to the violation of rights in a given dictatorship (Cs. Gyimesi 2009).
She considered culture and freedom of speech to be an “indispensable surplus.” She held the opinion that art and literature were necessary in Romania not because they could replace basic needs; although culture or that area of culture that Gyimesi herself was engaged in is always a surplus, from the point of view of human freedom and dignity she strongly believed that this surplus is just as indispensable as the daily bread. For Gyimesi, this paradox – “indispensable surplus”— always conveyed the conviction that it is something that cannot be abandoned. One should never be satisfied with the existential minimum alone, not even under dictatorship, recalls István Berszán, speaking about Gyimesi’s strongest beliefs.
She published her texts of criticism against the system in the 1993 volume Honvágy a hazában: Cikkek, tanulmányok, esszék (Homesickness in the home country: Articles, studies, essays) which, for the most part, includes texts written in the 1980s and linked to her oppositional activity. In addition, Gyöngy és homok (Pearls and sand), also published as a separate volume in 1992, contains, among other things, items of correspondence, materials sent out to Radio Free Europe. In Gyimesi’s view, totalitarianism was the main evil in a society and that was above any “national conflict,” so that the prerequisite for solving the minority issues was to put first an end to the non-democratic regime. She thought of dictatorship as a social system of relations rendered equal to the state of human captivity. She demonstrated the degree of her own captivity by means of a hermeneutical analysis of her secret police file which she published in 2009 under the title Szem a láncban: Bevezetés a szekusdossziék hermeneutikájába (Piece in a chain: Introduction to the hermeneutics of Securitate files). The most important reason behind this effort was to facilitate the understanding of the dictatorial mechanism revealed by these files; and to consolidate the social need for conceptual clarity and scholarly objectivity about the highly disputed issue of coming to term with the past.
As for her position towards other personalities and groups from the Hungarian opposition in Romania, which started to manifest itself more prominently from the early 1980s, Gyimesi agreed with the activity of the editors of the samizdat known as Ellenpontok (Counterpoints) and she maintained contact and friendship with them even in critical times. In general, Hungarian opposition in Romania manifested itself in the activities of small intellectual groups operating in several localities of Transylvania and in Bucharest. As for her own involvement, Gyimesi organised the common protest of the 1985 graduating class at BBU, Faculty of Philology, Department of Hungarian Language and Literature against being forced to accept teaching positions outside Transylvania. However, her most prominent dissident activity refers to the Limes circle and the samizdat called Kiáltó Szó to which she contributed.
Beginning with 1976 and until the change of regime she was the target of the I/B Department of Cluj County Inspectorate responsible for the supervision of so called “Hungarian nationalists.” She was observed and intercepted in 1978, 1983, and again in 1985, when she received official “warnings.” Following her radicalisation beginning with the mid-1980s, the Securitate applied discriminatory measures against her. From simple informants to respected professionals (colleagues, leading academic staff of that time) and up to the first secretary of the Cluj county Party committee and to the deputy education minister of Romania, one can identify a wide range of figures collaborating with the secret police in order to counteract Gyimesi’s critical position. The official warnings and the disciplinary measures become increasingly severe and culminated with her temporary suspension from employment in 1988, although the management of the university never went so far as to call Gyimesi to publicly account for her actions. Beginning with 1986 she was deprived of the right to publish her writings in Romania. Two home searches were conducted at her residence, first in 1985 and again in 1989. She never had to endure physical violence, but repeatedly suffered verbal aggression; she was held captive, put under surveillance; on one occasion they “only let her suffer from thirst” but set her free for the night. In May 1988 when she was admitted to the rehabilitation clinic in Cluj for physiotherapy to treat her severe arthrosis, the Securitate elaborated an action plan to have her compromised and discredited, but this could not be implemented as Gyimesi, sensing that she was under close observation, interrupted her treatment. Finally, the attempts to discredit her culminated in the summer of 1989, when the Securitate sent calumnious letters about her to Radio Free Europe, to Hungarian Television, and to Radio Kossuth.
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- Cluj-Napoca, Romania
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- Jánosi, Csongor
Cs. Gyimesi, Éva. 2009. Szem a láncban: Bevezetés a szekusdossziék hermeneutikájába (Piece in a chain: Introduction to the hermeneutics of Securitate files). Kolozsvár: Komp-Press – Korunk.
Cs. Gyímesi, Éva. 1993. Honvágy a hazában: Cikkek, tanulmányok, esszék (Homesickness in the home country: Articles, studies, essays). Budapest: Pesti Szalon Könyvkiadó.
Cs. Gyímesi, Éva. 1992. Gyöngy és homok: Ideológiai értékjelképek a magyar irodalomban (Pearls and sand: Ideological value-symbols in Hungarian literature). Bukarest: Kriterion Könyvkiadó.
Parászka, Boróka. 2011. “Nincs különbéke – Cs. Gyímesi Éva, 1945–2011.” (No separate peace – Cs. Gyimesi Éva, 1945–2011) Magyar Narancs. Accessed August 25, 2017. http://magyarnarancs.hu/belpol/nincs_kulonbeke_-_cs_gyimesi_eva_1945-2011-7621.
Balázs, József Imre, Berszán, István, interview by Jánosi, Csongor , March 27, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection