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The Culture Curators Want To Think For You

Salena Zito on

Sandor Mecs was a child when his family lived in the town of Szentendre, Hungary. Today, it is a picturesque town 20 miles north of Budapest that is lined with winding cobblestone streets, colorful centuries-old homes, cottages and churches. It is a tourism center with its flourishing museums, charm and proximity to the capital.

While the picturesque footprint was the same for Mecs and his family and thousands of other Hungarians 60 years ago, life in post-World War II Hungary was anything but ideal if you were a free thinker.

"At that time, we had become a Stalinized state of the Soviet Union, and Matyas Rakosi ruled the country for over seven years as a dictator who demanded no one strayed from the collective approved government thought," he said.

If you did, you disappeared.

"Everything in government was militarized, and everything in our culture, the arts, the media, where you shopped, was all part of the government," he explained.

There was no freedom of thought. You believed what the government and, by default, culture and new organizations told you to believe.

 

The government force was so oppressive that it established a secret police called the AVH, or the Allamvedelmi Hatosag, to make sure everyone thought the same and that no one dissented from whatever the government believed. Mecs explained, "My parents and family members lived in fear of people overhearing a conversation that might deviate from accepted thought."

He said his father understood that after the doomed Hungarian Revolution of 1956 failed, it was time to flee the family's home country.

"You have to understand when you leave, you leave everything behind, whether it is family members, belongings or the roof over your head," he said. "A week after the revolution, my dad realized we've got to get out of here, and we literally snuck across the border with Austria in the dead of night."

Back then, there were people who, for money, would get you safely across the border. "They were taking groups of maybe 20 people at a time and getting them past the barbed wire. One of the border guards actually caught the group that we were in when a very familiar face caught his eye," he said.

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