The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gyorgy Konrad, writer and dissident in communist Hungary, dies at 86

Gyorgy Konrad, a writer and sociologist who was a major figure of Hungary’s dissident movement while the country was under communist rule, died Sept. 13 at his home in Budapest. He was 86.

His family said he had been gravely ill but provided no further information.

Known internationally for his 1969 novel “The Case Worker” and his 2007 memoir “A Guest in My Own Country: A Hungarian Life,” Mr. Konrad was considered a steadfast advocate for individual freedoms. He was president of the writers’ association PEN International from 1990 to 1993 and president of the Academy of Arts in Berlin from 1997 to 2003.

After the communist regime lifted a publication ban on him, Mr. Konrad described himself in 1990 as “a 57-year-old novelist and essayist. Hungarian in language and citizenship. Of the Jewish faith. The father of four children from two marriages. Wardrobe rather modest, but does own several typewriters.” He later had a fifth child, born in 1994.

Mr. Konrad was a widely respected figure with a soft-spoken radicalism. Under communism, with its emphasis on subjugation of individual needs to the collective good, his belief in the sovereignty of every human being were considered subversive.

Born to a prosperous Jewish family on April 2, 1933, in Debrecen, eastern Hungary, Mr. Konrad and his immediate family survived the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of numerous relatives. He spent his childhood in Berettyoujfalu, near Debrecen, until his parents were deported to Austria in 1944.

Allowed to visit relatives in Budapest, Mr. Konrad, his sister and two cousins found refuge in a safe house under Swiss protection. A day after their departure from Berettyoujfalu, the remaining Jewish residents of the town were deported and nearly all were killed in Nazi death camps.

Notable deaths in 2019: Elijah Cummings, Cokie Roberts, Toni Morrison and others we have lost this year

Don Imus | Don Imus, who spent more than half a century in radio and television skating along the edge of propriety and occasionally falling into the abyss of the unacceptable, died Dec. 27 at a hospital in College Station, Tex. He was 79. In a roller-coaster career in which he grew chummy with prominent politicians, repeatedly got suspended or fired for offensive cracks, abused drugs and touted health foods, Mr. Imus won a loyal following, made millions and transformed himself from a bad-boy DJ into a host whose program became a nearly mandatory stop for presidential candidates. Read the obituary (Richard Drew/AP)

In Budapest, Mr. Konrad studied at Eotvos Lorand University and finished his studies in 1956 despite being expelled twice. As punishment for his role in the aborted anti-Soviet uprising in 1956, he lost his job and was unemployed for three years. He had joined the National Guard during the uprising, but, as he wrote, “never used my gun, only took it for walks.”

In the early 1960s, Mr. Konrad worked as an editor at a literary monthly and then from 1965 to 1973 was a social worker and wrote studies on sociology. His first novel, “The Case Worker,” was inspired by his job as a children’s welfare officer and was condemned by the Communist Party.

The book described the bleak lives of the working poor, painting a picture in stark contrast with the official party line. The novel sold out its first printing of 6,000 in days, but a second edition was not allowed until after the collapse of communism in 1989.

His essay-like “The City Builder,” a view of totalitarianism through the experiences of an architect, was banned in 1973, but a heavily edited version appeared four years later.

Along with a friend, Ivan Szelenyi, Mr. Konrad wrote “The Road of Intellectuals to Class Power,” but the manuscript was confiscated by the secret police in 1978 because it contradicted the party notion that workers were the country’s ruling class.

Mr. Konrad and Szelenyi were both arrested and given the option to emigrate. Szelenyi left the country, but Mr. Konrad opted to stay and support Hungary’s dissident movement. For years, his writings appeared in the illegal underground “samizdat” press.

In 1983, when he won the Herder Award, conferred by German and Austrian universities, no announcement of the honor was made in Hungary.

He and his family survived in part because of royalties from the publication of “The Case Worker” in English and other languages.

After the collapse of communism, Mr. Konrad played a high-profile role but refused invitations to become a politician. As president of Berlin’s Academy of Arts after the fall of communism, he worked to promote writers and artists from Eastern Europe and received numerous international awards for his literary achievements and human rights activities.

Survivors include his wife, Judit Lakner; and five children.

— Associated Press

Read more Washington Post obituaries