The Politics of Archives and the Fraught History of Queer Hungary

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 9:10 AM
Delaware Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Anita A. Kurimay, Bryn Mawr College
My paper “The Politics of Archives and the Fraught History of QueerHungary” examines the deliberate silencing of non-normative sexualities that characterized political regimes in Hungary prior to 1989 and its effects on the contemporary politics of sexuality.  It highlights how different Hungarian political systems—the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the conservative interwar Horthy regime, and post-World War Two Communism—were all, albeit for different reasons, invested in the concealment of queer sexualities. 

I demonstrate how prior to World War II silencing was driven both by wanting to protect high-profile aristocrats and by beliefs about minimizing the spread of “homosexual disease.”  Containing sexuality and particularly homosexuality gained new importance during the Cold War.   My paper argues that following the establishment of the Communist Dictatorship in 1948 homosexuality was used to blackmail and to turn people into informants for the price of keeping their sexuality “secret.”  Thus, both homosexuals and the Communist Party were invested in suppressing knowledge about non-normative sex.  Consequently, in spite of the radically different politics of Hungarian regimes from the end of the nineteenth century until the end of the Cold War, authorities and most members of the sexual minority had a stake in limiting the acknowledgment of a queer presence and past. 

The paper examines the consequences of the scarce and fragmented sources of queer past on contemporary politics.  It argues that the purposeful silencing of discourses and sources on non-normative sexuality produced a collective misremembering about the past. Without a history, a distorted memory of the past serves as a means to portray the emergence of sexual minorities as the negative consequence of democratization.   At the same time, the lack of a collective memory provides the queer community with no usable past with which to counter these arguments.