Obituary: Tibor Cseres
Thursday 24 June 1993
TIBOR CSERES was a distinguished novelist who in 1986 was elected President of the Hungarian Writers' Association - in the first relatively free election of that body since 1956. He was also President of the Hungarian Writers' Guild (Irokamara).
Cseres made his debut as a poet in 1937 when he published a collection under the pseudonym 'Tibor Palos'. His first book of short stories, devoted to the life of the peasantry, came out in 1945. In his early prose he followed in the footsteps of such masters of realistic fiction as Zsigmond Moricz, though his criticism was directed against the enemies and detractors of the new socialist regime rather than its followers. After 1956 his stories began to show more interest in the psychological and moral conflicts of individuals than in social and political conflicts.
His first memorable novel, Hideg napok ('Cold Days', 1964), although short, played an important part in the process of national self-reckoning of the 1960s. It evoked the massacre of Serbs, Jews and politically 'suspect' Hungarians which took place in 1942 at Novi Sad in Yugoslavia, an atrocity for which the responsibility fell not only on the commanding officers with Fascist leanings, but on those Hungarian soldiers and gendarmes who 'just carried out orders' and, by implication, on the passivity and the moral inertia of Hungarian society. Cseres uses an interesting technique in this book: the events of 1942 unfold from the conversations and memories of four Hungarian soldiers waiting to be tried by the People's Court in 1945. A tight structure and restrained objective style characterise the novel, which was later on turned into a successful film with the outstanding actor Zoltan Latinovits in one of the leading roles.
Cseres was attacked by some critics for his 'biased' stance, for what was perceived as one-sidedness in highlighting Hungarian crimes and keeping silent about the crimes against Hungarians. He made up for this omission in 1991 when he published Verbosszu Bacskaban ('Vendetta in the Bachka Region'), a horrifying story based on eyewitness accounts relating the revenge killings by Tito's partisans and Serb nationalists who executed nearly 40,000 Hungarians in the twilight days of the Second World War.
Recent history was a favourite fishing-ground for Cseres. His novel Parazna szobrok ('Lewd Statues', 1979) is mainly devoted to the tragedy of the ill-equipped Hungarian Army sent to the Russian front in the Second World War. He also wrote several novels dealing with the fate of a Transylvanian family in the 19th and early 20th centuries against the background of Hungarian-Romanian conflicts and a biographical documentary novel on Hungarian statesman and exile Lajos Kossuth (En, Kossuth Lajos, 1981).
Tibor Cseres was born in the Sekler village of Gyergyoremete (today in Romania) in 1915, at a time when Transylvania still belonged to Hungary. He went to grammar school at Budapest and for a while was on the staff of a provincial newspaper at Bekescsaba.
During the Second World War he served in the Hungarian Army, but also found time to complete his education at the Hungarian University of Cluj (then Kolozsvar), where he obtained a degree in economics. From 1945 to 1947 he edited a daily newspaper at Bekescsaba and in 1947 he moved to Budapest.
Between 1951 and 1956 he was on the staff of the literary weekly Irodalmi Ujsag, a paper which led the writers' rebellion against the Stalinist party leadership in 1955-56, and thereafter wrote as a freelance. He was President of the Hungarian Writers' Association from 1956 until 1989.
Cseres received several literary awards, among them the Attila Jozsef Prize (three times) and, in 1975, the prestigious Kossuth Prize.
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