Visszidensek in the view of Zsuzsanna Spiry

Thank you for Zsuzsanna Spiry from Brasil for this piece



Zsuzsanna Spiry[2], September 2018.[3]


In order to understand who, in Brazil, would be interested in Hungarian literature translated into Portuguese and who would eventually be able to accomplish such task, a study on the migratory movements found that from the second half of the nineteenth century until the last decade of the twentieth century, there were six Hungarian migratory waves caused by well-known reasons:

  • (1849-1867) due to the political persecution that began shortly after the failure of the 1848 insurrection, which aimed to fight the domination of the Habsburgs. These persecutions lasted until the signing of the 1867 Commitment. Nearly all Hungarians of this movement immigrated to the United States.
  • (1868-1929) caused by economic factors, since the same 1867 Commitment established unsustainable economic conditions for the rural population. This led to the exodus of a large contingent of farmers, mainly from the north of the country. The Treaty of Trianon (1920) only made matters worse. This was the largest Hungarian migratory wave that arrived in Brazil, but in two very distinct stages: between 1891-1895, the first wave settled in the States of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul; the second one, between 1921 and 1929, established in São Paulo city and State, as well as in the north of Paraná State.
  • (1930 to World War II), political, philosophical and existential reasons predominated during this migratory wave and basically it was composed of intellectuals and artists, people belonging to the bourgeoisie and Jewish families who feared Nazi persecution.
  • (World War II until the establishment of the Iron Curtain) Nazi persecution during the War and the power takeover by the communist party in 1948 created the nefarious conditions of this wave; a shortage of economic resources added to these adverse political circumstances.
  • (1956-57) The Hungarian Revolution of October 1956 generated an intense political repression on the part of the ruling class. Also the consolidation of the communist regime with the consequent domination of the USSR. Their consequences led to a strict restriction of freedom and to a great impoverishment of the population in the years to come.
  • (1989 - system change) The opening of the Hungarian borders after the extinction of the USSR and the country joining the European Union caused a certain exodus during this period because Hungarian youth wanted better job opportunities in England and Germany.

In short, these migratory waves were strongly motivated on one hand by economic reasons resulting from previous political mistakes, or exclusively by political reasons.

And interestingly, people belonging to the first migratory waves, especially those motivated by economic reasons, had a common dream: to make a fortune in distant lands and return to the mother country, that is, Hungary, in better financial conditions. A dream also cherished by those dissidents who though far from their origins continued to cultivate their Hungarian identity, considering they sought to recreate in their new homelands the cultural environment they inherited from their ancestors, through Hungarian schools for their children and grandchildren, dancing groups, scouting, cultural associations, and so on. These activities allowed even the 2nd or 3rd descendant generations to remain somewhat familiar with the Hungarian culture of their ancestors still today in the 21st century.

This picture is true for all regions of the world reached by the Hungarian diaspora. The same Hungarian colony model we have in Brazil is also found in any country that has welcomed Hungarian immigrants along the mentioned migratory waves.

However, for the first time roughly since the last genuinely Hungarian king of the Árpád dynasty died in 1301[4], after the system change that occurred with the Berlin Wall fall (1989) and the dissolution of the USSR (1991) Hungary regained control over its fate and transformed itself into a parliamentary democracy in the early 1990s. The country leaves from behind the Iron Curtain with a GDP of about $ 30 billion (1989), jumps to $ 114 billion in 2000, and after joining the European Union (May 1, 2004), stabilizes its GDP around $ 180 to $ 190 billion by 2013, reaching $ 283 billion by 2017.[5] With the concomitant fall of the population growth rate, the country sees its per capita GDP jump significantly, especially after its joining of the European Union.

Nevertheless, this per capita GDP rate does not jump upward just because of economic growth. For several reasons such as individual liberty restrictions, centralized economy implemented by the Soviet authorities that came to dominate Hungary definitively from 1956 on, the concomitant discouragement of the country’s production model that had traditionally been based on private initiative, all these together triggered a sharp decline of the index denominator. The country moved from a positive population growth rate of +1.37 as of 1952 to a steady decreasing movement, reaching the worst mark of -0.47 in 1984, with a slight recovery afterward, stabilizing around -0.30 as of 2012.[6]  After crossing the zero mark downward in 1982, Hungary did not present a positive population growth rate anymore. In other words, a prolonged political crisis and the lack of stimulus to production that put at risk the very subsistence of families had a direct impact on the country's fertility index, and Hungarian women started to have fewer children. According to comments from those living in Hungary today, a typical Hungarian family has a maximum of two children[7]. Thus, the upward evolution of Hungary's per capita GDP rate is a result of a persistent decline in population growth since the 1950s. Hungarian GDP growth, therefore, has to be carefully considered, which does not belittle the real expansion of the economy as a whole, and the country's return to favorable living conditions, compared to the long period that motivated the mentioned migratory waves.

Conscious about the serious problems that a declining population may represent for the country's future - a more than common condition in Europe as a whole, not only in Hungary - the first act of the Hungarian government elected in 2010 was the approval of the double citizenship law, aiming to modify population frame. This policy has allowed the number of citizens legally considered as Hungarians jump positively by around one million individuals from 2010 to 2017. [8]

Those unfavorable economic and political conditions that promoted Hungarian diaspora for more than a century seemingly have been reversed and the country entered the 21st century showing a sustained growing movement, living under an independent democratic system, which gradually came to mean an attractive alternative for those who once walked the path of emigration. This conjuncture started to motivate and beckon to the old dissidents who began to tread the way back "home". Vissza disszidálni, as they would say in Hungarian, or “backward dissidents”.

This positive picture, it seems, aroused the interest of the Hungarian dissidents for their former motherland, such as cousins ​​who have not met for many years. Despite having created new roots in their countries of adoption, those who have never ceased to nourish their Hungarianness, or Hungarian spirit even abroad – magyarság in Hungarian –,  begun to see concrete opportunities for a "re-union". And the inhabitants of the motherland also became interested in the social, cultural, economic, and scientific achievements of the dissidents, those distant relatives who lived around the world but still nurtured the traditions of their Magyar ancestors alongside their new nationalities. These groups started to take an interest in each other, mutually discovering each other, so to speak, and the desire to strengthen ties between the Hungarians living in the mother country and the Hungarians in the diaspora naturally woke up.

One of the outcomes of this mutual interest was, for example, an organization called Magyarország Barátai Alapitvány, i.e., Friends of Hungary Foundation[9]. Very briefly, this foundation aims to create a more comprehensive and accurate public image of both Hungary and Hungarians, regardless of where they live in the world, as a bridge linking Hungarian public and academic personalities and their peers living abroad, those who also feel proud of being Hungarian. As the Foundation president says, "they are informal ambassadors of our country and improve the reputation of Hungary”. The Foundation members, spread around all continents, receive up-to-date information about Hungary and feed the Foundation with information on the achievements of the diaspora Hungarians. Although only recently established – 2011 –, the Foundation has already organized five world events in Budapest, with around 200 members from all over the world, including three from Brazil.

As part of its achievements, a rather sui generis Hungarian book was published by the Foundation in December 2017 entitled Visszidensek: a neologism using the words "vissza" + "disszidens" = visszidens, "back dissidents”, or re-migrants, referring to people who migrated back to Hungary. In fact, the term was coined by Gyuricza Gábor, now resident in Hungary, but born in Brazil, who was an active member of the Hungarian community in São Paulo and today is one of the representatives of Brazil in the Friends of Hungary Foundation. According to the president of the Foundation, who signs the book's preface, "We gave so much to the world, to the world's cultural heritage. Nonetheless, we also owe a lot to the world because we received so many things that contributed to our evolution”. It is full of pride that he presents the theme of the book and tells us that the Foundation recognizes the value of those who, having cultivated their Hungarian culture abroad, decided to tread the path back to the motherland.

Reading Visszidensek is like reading varied versions of my own life story. My story and of so many immigrants who had been forced by the circumstances to leave behind their homeland, life, friends and family, their history, pull up their roots and make them thrive in other places, other cultures and languages.

The author of the book, Gyuricza Péter, is an experienced journalist and a professor specialized in communication. He structured the format of the book in interviews. But not in half a dozen equal questions for all interviewees. On the contrary. He conducts each interview in a unique way, extracting an individual picture of each person, but considering the whole picture, conveying a life experience in which every Hungarian immigrant can recognize himself.

This first volume - I learned that there is already one more volume being printed – depicts the history of twelve Visszidens who went to live in Hungary after the system change. Gyuricza not only reveals the trajectory of their return, but also shows under what conditions they lived in Hungary before immigration, how they were forced to leave the country, a panorama of their immigrant lives, the way they faced the contact with other cultures, how they re-created or reinvented their lives abroad, and the way they managed to preserve or acquire - in the case of descendants of 2nd or 3rd generation - their Hungarianness, a central element of the book’s subject.

For this volume, the author chose three women and nine men, from the most varied backgrounds and trajectories. Several coming from Latin America, at least two fleeing the degradation provoked by Hugo Chavez government in Venezuela; others originated from Argentina, but with a career made in the United States; some of noble origin; others who never left Europe; and also our friend Gyuricza Gábor – a surname coincidence with the author of the book, but without any kinship – who was born in Brazil, therefore 2nd generation, but for several reasons decided to raise his children in Hungary.

As one reads the interviews realizes the anthropological wealth that the book presents, considering the author is also interested in the conditions his interviewees lived and experienced while in contact with the new cultures in which they come to live, besides describing differences they faced in their interaction with local cultures, even issues related to house construction styles. All these questions are of great interest to comparative cultural sociology, among others. One of the most interesting interviews in this sense is that of Jókay Kinga, who, perhaps due to the fact of being a doctor, has observed more intensely issues such as social conflicts among the groups which she had contact with, including the very Hungarians when she went back to live in the dreamt Hungary. Jókay makes it clear that during the first period of her moving back to the motherland she felt the strangeness of the Hungarian residents, a situation that only improved when she and her family began to have more contact with the Visszidensek themselves.

More keenly than the other interviews and confirming my own observations throughout the time I have been living here in Brazil, Jókay Kinga’s comments remind me Edward T. Hall’s Cultural Iceberg model.[10] Like it or not, we immigrants were educated within the cultural patterns of our parents, the standards they brought in their refugee luggage. Even if we live in Brazil, attend Brazilian schools, work in Brazilian companies, interact in Brazilian social environments, there is at least a part of our culture that will be naturally inherited from our parents. Mainly ethical and moral values. According to Hall's iceberg metaphor, there are some aspects of our cultural load that are "above water", that is, visible, but there is a large portion of this load that is "under water", that is, invisible, hidden beneath the surface. Hall states that the visible aspects are consciously acquired through learning, easily modifiable, and make up an objective knowledge. However, the invisible aspects are implicitly acquired, unconscious, difficult to modify, and make up subjective knowledge.[11] Summarizing, the visible aspects relate to publicly shown behaviors and beliefs, while the invisible aspects relate to patterns of values ​​and thoughts. Visible examples of the cultural iceberg are food, music, language, literature, arts, festivals and celebrations, clothing, etc. Among the invisible aspects we have the nature of relationships, body language, etiquette, social functions attributed to genders, expectations, attitudes towards social status, notions of modesty, way of educating children, concepts of justice, importance of individual space, to name a few.

Regarding these cultural aspects, in her interview, Jókay Kinga tells us, for instances, that when she lived in the USA and had a party, she never invited Hungarians and Americans all together, for the same party. For Americans, a party not only starts at the scheduled time, it also finishes at a previously agreed time. In youngsters’ parties in the USA, parents leave children and return later to pick them up. It is even known what subjects should not be addressed in a party, such as sex, money, and politics. Nonetheless, a Hungarian party is completely different. Everyone arrives late, and everybody stays for the party: kids, parents and grandparents. People laugh, dance, and speak loudly. There is no forbidden subject. In addition, everybody stays in the kitchen. Jókay ends her story saying: "For us this was good, as we realized it was possible to do both ways. Also, it is much easier to accept that in another family a third form may be normal." This is one of many examples of cultural differences that Visszidensek has.

Differences that sometimes cause visible oddities, other times don’t. For example, in 2014, when I was in Hungary for the first time since I left the country in November 1956, my first reaction upon hearing so many people speaking Hungarian around me in the streets and shops was of strangeness. It took me a good while to get used to the fact that Hungarian was not a language just spoken at home, with the family, or with the Scouts, and the friends at the Hungarian Club. In his interview in Visszidensek, Kraft Péter – the son of Hungarian parents but born in Buenos Aires – comments on exactly the same strangeness when he first arrived in Hungary. I felt somewhat relieved when reading Kraft Péter’s story. Identifying my own experience in his, I realized it was not a personal problem of mine, but a natural condition among the dissidents who continued to cultivate their Hungarianness outside the mother country.

In another book called Foreign Soul,[12] the Hungarian born Judith Vero speaks about the strangeness she caused in her Brazilian schoolmates when, during the breaks, she unwrapped her sandwich stuffed with pepper or radish, while her colleagues ate ham and cheese sandwiches. Although the reaction among students is something visible, its implications have deeply rooted invisible cultural aspects.

While analyzing the Cultural Iceberg model and the dynamics of language evolution I recalled still something else. A commentary made by my Hungarian family in Budapest when they heard me speaking Hungarian back in 2014: "Such a 1956 accent you do have!" [13] Considering this observation from the linguistic point of view and analyzing the cultural issues Visszidensek made me revisit, I concluded that whatever common past we might have had – the immigrants who were forced to leave the country at some point in the past and our Hungarian relatives who continued to live in Hungary after we fled – the influence of the experiences we have lived in different social environments, the interaction with new cultural values ​​and their assimilation into our own cultural load, were responsible for differences in our development. However much we preserved or cultivated our Hungarianness outside Hungary, today we are even more distant cousins, so to speak.

Is it possible to eliminate this distance? Visszidensek are there to prove that yes, it is possible. Some of them, as we learnt from the book, helped (re)build Hungary after the system change, both in economic and diplomatic activity. Habsburg György, for example, became the Hungarian ambassador at the International Olympic Committee and worked actively in the attempt of electing Hungary as the host of the Olympics. Szapáry György, also of noble ancestry, contributed in the financial field as an economic adviser of the current government. Szekeres Szabolcs contributed as an economic and financial adviser for the reconstruction of Hungarian industry since the beginning of the new system, having moved to Hungary as early as 1993. Examples of successful Hungarians in their second homelands, as mentioned by the president of the Friends of Hungary Foundation, nowadays these people actively participate in the new democracy.

A portrait that the author of Visszidensek paints with vivid colors, through the interviews and the photo gallery at the end of the volume, is the way the immigrants preserved their Hungarianness abroad. Likewise people here in Brazil, they cultivated the language through Hungarian language courses and schools for their children and grandchildren, the Scout movement that played and still plays a fundamental role in the preservation of the Hungarian culture among the immigrants, and folk dancing groups. These are the main visible aspects that kept alive the new generation’s interest after the Hungarianness of their ancestors.

This Hungarianness was cited by some of the Visszidensek as the great motivation for returning to the homeland of their parents or grandparents. Other matters such as life quality and safety are also highlighted as motivation for becoming a Visszidens.

Still little studied in our academies, the subject of books like the Visszidensek has high relevance for anthropology, history and sociology of culture. Today only those who read Hungarian can enjoy the pleasure of reading Visszidensek and make contact with all the wealth of anthropological information that it reveals to us. But for all that has been said, I believe the book deserves to be translated and made available to the Brazilian public as well.



[1] GYURICZA, Péter. Visszidensek. Budapest: Friends of Hungary Foundation, 2017.

   ISBN 978-615-00-0236-1

[2] Economist, São Luis Faculty of Economy (BR) and PhD in Translation Studies, USP.

[3] This text was originally written in Portuguese for the Brazilian public.

[4] Considering the history of Hungary very briefly, starting with the death of the last king of the Árpád Dynasty in 1301, Hungary was ruled by a succession of foreign kings, then suffered the 150-year-long Ottoman Empire domination (1541-1699), after which it was ruled by the Habsburgs until 1918, when the country went through the turbulence that swept Europe in the 20th century, that is, Nazism and the USSR occupation, which closed Hungary behind the Iron Curtain. The period that definitively marked the country's transition to a parliamentary democracy, commonly called "system change", was marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the consequent dissolution of the former USSR on 12/26/1991.

[5] Consulted online in Sep/2018

[6] Consulted online in Sep/2018 at

[7] It is not difficult to find news on this issue, not only in Hungary, but also in the European Union as a whole. So much so that the Hungarian government started to offer financial support to families with children. This is what the article on this page informs us -   "The [Hungarian] government gives each family 33 euros per month if it has one child, 82 euros per month if it has two children, 322 euros per month if it has three children and 430 euros per month if it has four children. In addition, first marriages have discount on several taxes."

[8]  According to official statistics currently the population of Hungary totals 9.9 million, and in addition to these, there are about 1.1 million citizens who have regained their Hungarian citizenship outside the borders of the country.

[9] Friends of Hungary Foundation -  - accessed Sept/2018.

[10] Cultural Iceberg Model, in Beyond Culture (1976) by Edward T. Hall.

[11] The behavior patterns acquired by the infant through the patterns their educators transmit to them, being these educators their parents or not. It is something like "Do what I do, not what I say". In a nutshell, the behavioral model is transmitted subliminally.

[12] VERO, Judith. Alma Estrangeira – Pequenas Histórias de Húngaros no Brasil – Processos Identitários [Foreigner Soul - Small Stories of Hungarians in Brazil - Identity Processes]. São Paulo: Ed. Ágora, 2003.

[13] We fled from Hungary on November 11, 1956. The family consisted of my parents and their three daughters, when I was 7 years old.