“He did not tolerate, nor could he tolerate, that Hungarian society should sink into the miasmatic swamp of tyranny without a word being said.” – Gépnarancs
“Life is happy, just bitter.” – Iván Andrassew
The Hungarian writer and journalist Iván Andrassew lost his long battle with cancer Wednesday afternoon at the age of 62. Left-wing daily Népszava (The people’s voice), for which Andrassew wrote for much of his professional career, announced that it will hold a candlelight memorial for him at 4 pm on Saturday in Budapest’s Szent István park.
Over the course of his extraordinarily varied and prolific career, Andrassew won numerous awards for his many books, biographies, novels, novellas, short stories and poems. He contributed numerous articles to a broad range of literary and news magazines, including Élet és Irodalom (Life and Literature), Hócipő (satirical magazine) and leftist daily Népszabadság (The people’s freedom), to name but a few.
During the final months of his terminal illness he kept a blog documenting his valiant struggle to retain his vitality and his humanity in the looming shadow of his own mortality.
Below is a moving tribute to Ivan Andrassew followed by his last eight blog posts written in November 2014 which we have translated into English for want of a better way to celebrate the life and mourn the death of a literary giant and a great human being.
Ivan went because he had to go. We remained here, and we have yet to realize just how great a loss it is that we’ve experienced. If I say the most talented journalist died, then I’ve not said enough. Because I must add that he was also the most honest and the bravest. The most special of those who today lay words instead of mines.
Every line radiated that unique Andrassew habit that could only be characterized as the maximum humanitarian understanding and some kind of completely special, unique way of seeing things. He was incapable of remaining unfeeling towards any kind of suffering. His eyes were sharp, like an eagle’s. He saw everything, he felt everything, and he wrote everything. If today’s newspaper industry could have a role model, it should be him. We should measure ourselves to him, if we dare. For we only bare a fraction of the huge talent and deep humanity that would not leave him be. That is good, because this way we could read from day to day what he thought worthy of mention. He saw the essence of things, and not with a little humor or huge empathy. And he made others see. Would we were capable of one quarter of what he was!
He was eternally honest. He never wrote anything untruthful, not even by mistake. But even in his private life, too, he never said a bad word. True, he was compulsive. He was strong, wise, and right. It’s a great thing what I can say about him: In this accursed journalism industry where everyone is at each other’s throats, I don’t know of him having any enemies. He didn’t. Neither enemy nor anyone upset with him. And it was precisely this endless honor and honesty and strict logic and deep humanity which made him an enemy of the current system: he did not tolerate, nor could he tolerate, that Hungarian society should sink into the miasmatic swamp of tyranny without a word being said.
And he was brave. He could look anyone straight in the eye if necessary. But he was never aggressive. He stood firm in the face of the goj bikers as well, just as we know of examples where he would stand firm anywhere, anytime. He was not afraid of power, he was not afraid of the truculent, or the highwaymen, or the urchins, because he knew he was right. He was a man. An upstanding, strong, honest man.
He was the man.
When I received news of his illness, I just shook my head: I would not have thought that an ant hill would dare attack a giant oak, or that it could do him harm. Since he was so strong, so brave, I didn’t believe he could get into trouble. But once again the vile, accursed disease attacking from many directions won, even though he fought a battle worthy of an epic. He never complained, either. Just objectively informed us about the events and his condition—just as is worthy of a journalist.
A true journalist.
I last met him at the Szabadság square protest. He was not well. How could he have been? And yet he still went and stood his corner. He went because he felt his place was there among the protesters for Hungarian democracy, regardless of how many or how few there were. He would have gone alone.
He went because he felt obliged to take a stand.
And he felt that obligation was more important than suffering.
He was a man. He was the man.
His lines were the most special of those of the free Hungarian press that can still be read..
Iván, you showed us an example of what a journalist should be.
Now it is up to us to be like that.
Actually you didn’t die.
You became a standard: we have to rise to your level.
The last eight blog posts of Iván Andrassew:
Saturday, November 1st, 2014
I’m still waiting
A couple of weeks ago I spoke with my son a bit more seriously than at other times. I gave him fatherly exhortations: if he doesn’t tell his mother in time, that is immediately, what notes were added to his record by the class principal or teacher, or even the school director, then he will be far worse off later. For sure there will be shouting, but it is also possible that he won’t be allowed to watch TV or to use the computer, etc. Everything will be known anyway, so concealing it is pointless. As well as ridiculous. Not to mention that you will lose the trust of your rightfully sorry Mama, which will be extraordinarily difficult to get back later.
I was expecting on the occasion of last week’s world anti-poverty day that information would come to light about domestic poverty and they would release the Statistical Office’s report. But no! Even though the elections are behind us, and the shameful numbers are being leaked. On the basis of which it would be the obligation of the government to resign. In a civil-, not a work-, based state.
In its place we heard arrogant bluster and pathetic lies about world class achievements. Now I am waiting to find out who they will arrest this week for the world class results of corruption. And how Orbán announces his resignation. In disgrace.
Saturday, November 1st, 2014
The cunning little ones
Americans are extremely cunning. Almost as much as Viktor Orbán. They announced that six prominent Hungarians had been banned from the United States for the unforgivable sin of corruption, but will not reveal the names, referring to an existing law. The government leaders and their hangers breathed a sigh of relief over the fact that they were not implicated in some bribery, and even started the customary call to arms, that this is an attack on the country, and that the communists and especially the liberals organized it all, all of which amounts to treason. Meanwhile one needn’t speak about government level corruption being the most serious form of treason in a strict sense of the word.
But it’s really all the same. The point is that the Americans took Orbán—after analyzing his character and his profile—not to cite a list of names, because that would immediately sweep even him away—even though it is impossible that he does not know the names. What resulted was that for days now everyone is suspicious of everyone else, those close to the government are collecting information about one another, and their bosses, because thy precisely know that sooner there will be a reckoning, and who only knew about the dirty deeds and didn’t report them may also end up in prison, if there actually turns out to be a threat of justice and service. Given how this looks, it doesn’t really.
Until then they insult the American spokesman. We are already to the point where he is the head of the Hungarian opposition. Although the fact that Orbán dared not call out his own workers guard, the Peace March, is a notable sign of weakening. Nor will there be a demonstration in front of the American embassy.
All of this is leading of course to the time when the leak the names of one or more, and many are implicated in Fidesz and its environment.
They mumble instead of consulting over who will be Orbán’s successor, since he could resign at any moment, because he has become ridiculous—and obviously Fidesz has to supply the new prime minister. Assuming a popular rising over the internet tax doesn’t sweep them aside and there is a new election. In any event an uncustomarily large number of Fidesz supporters participated in the 100,000 strong protest that is increasingly anti-Orbán. It is not likely that the CIA bribed them.
Nor is it likely that the cunning Americans recommended the taxing of the internet. Although if they are trying to discredit Orbán quickly, there is no better and smarter advice.
Sunday, November 2nd, 2014
Things have been spinning the past few weeks. First I learned that I have new tumors in my brain which they can only operate on if the conditions in my lungs are good. Then it turned out that they were: the tumors had decreased, as well as the morbidly obese lymph node. This is surprising because they did not receive any destructive treatment for months. It is necessary to poke around the brain because the one tumor is such that I could live for two or three years but in the meantime my right side would become paralyzed. Somehow I am in less and less a mood for all of this.
On the other hand I was able to write a short novel. (Élet és Irodalom contributor Krisztián) Grecsó wrote that he will put it in the next É.S.
If I become paralyzed anyway and I am forced into a wheelchair, then I would like this kind of dog.
Sunday, November 9th, 2014
Man is strange if he comes to power. Often he thinks he has the right, even the dedicated obligation to change human relations. There is little point to our telling for example to a party that we do not want something, he again and again produces his ideas to make the people happy.
But we never said that we are choosing people to retain the good, accepted things, perhaps to improve on them a little, and only replace those things if there is an obvious social need for change.
Of course do not even incidentally ask those in power what the people would like. The entire confusing internet tax idea will suddenly be presented, from which they must then skulk. And Viktor Orbán can be happy that the crowd hasn’t driven him away. Perhaps later if it turns out who and what crimes he was covering up for weeks with his lies.
In the meantime the KDNP comes up with its proposal to create the happy Sunday. It appears that its beloved followers do not really agree: on the one hand we don’t want several thousand people to lose their jobs, and on the other hand it is good in capitalism that we accommodate one another’s needs: if the retailor, the worker, and the buyer decide that it is worth it to stay open on Sunday, then it is up to them. (KDNP could obtain a lot of votes if it supported the labor unions in protecting the interests of Sunday workers against the effects of the squalid anti-worker laws)
Obviously nothing will come of the Sunday happiness, but it is a much larger problem that Fidesz which wields real power can destroy the academic high schools and the children by decreasing the numbers of students by half. The party that once lied that it was the party of civilians does not understand that the civil school system was not created by accident. Literacy is the basis for a knowledge based society. I know that it is hard to understand, but for the work-based society as well. Furthermore, for people’s welfare and happiness it is necessary to be able to recognize and enjoy the Harmonies. That can be learned for example through literature, drawing and singing lessons.
I note here that not even the communists could cause irrevocable harm, and in comparison to them the Orbán regime will barely have time to relentlessly destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.
It can happen that people want to be happy in a different way.
Monday, November 10th, 2014
I had an enormous déjà vu this morning. It’s been a long time when I was living in this same house and I started the morning by going down to the Kosztolányi Dezső square for a newspaper. And those days were the best when I immediately started paging through them to see whether they contained my writing. Now the feeling that accompanied me for many decades has returned. I bought the Élet és Irodalom (Life and literature) and I’m in it. Or rather the short and even sadder novella with the title Lepkék (Butterflies) which I wrote in under two weeks. And this is very good. I always thought such things don’t interest me any more and that I lost my vanity. Then it turns out of course not.
Tuesday, November 11th, 2014
I went to Doctor F. I took along a message from Doctor L., who expressed in writing that my lungs were so good that my brain was suitable for surgery and irradiation. Doctor K. called Doctor V.—who first operated on me one and a half years ago—and after conferring decided to send me already to the anesthesiologist. He even told his lady assistant to take care of this, but in the meantime decided anyway that perhaps the two small tumors should first be irrigated and then the larger one can be cut out. He told Doctor V. that it should be this way. Meanwhile they will monitor the larger tumor that is awaiting Doctor V. which must be taken out of my head. Then he warned that these interventions are risky. I noted what he said, thought on it, and then asked him anyway. The answer was that I could be paralyzed and could even die. And of course the same could be expected if we don’t do anything. Then I cunningly asked him whether I had any choice. “No”. (Later the greengrocer in the shop asked what kind of grapes I would like. I responded by asking if he had any of the small red ones. He said he didn’t, only the big ones. So that was what I could choose. I told thanks any way for the attentive question.
That there was no choice was the best answer possible, because I needn’t speculate or evaluate. A feeling of comfort welled up in me that once again Doctor V. explores and hacks away in my head. It is possible for a person to love a brain surgeon.
I have one and a half weeks to prepare for the new test of courage series. God tests those he loves, but he is not a democrat. It did not occur to him to give me the freedom of choice.
When I arrived home I made a brutally hot chili beans out of spite. (Alright, I’m lying, because I already soaked them that morning). I took it down to my younger brothers who live in the flat below me. (My sister-in-law feeds me every day). Mirkó came over, too. We ate the beans. And it was all good. Very good. Even they liked it. That’s what’s happening now. Life is happy, just bitter.
Thursday, November 11th, 2014
When Putaj, the little Buddha became an adolescent, and of course was still very thin, he asked a lot about my love. To tell him about it.
So I told him, because why not?
Once my friends brought me for me birthday many hundreds of beautiful palm butterflies. Not smuggled from Africa or South-America, but raised here in an incubator or some farmstead of the plain. My friends said that the instructions were that it is only necessary to watch over one: they don’t like it, and sometimes can’t even stand it, if I think of something bad. That was a wonderful day. The butterflies flew around and around, without ever colliding into one another. Some just landed on our food, mostly on my birthday cake, and licked the sugary cacao with their twirled tongues. They even paid their respects to the flowers that I got from women, because they tried to signal their love in this manner. Even if they knew that I could not love them because a woman fills my soul who I am only able to see rarely, but even then I cannot touch her.
If we listen—especially with closed eyes—the rustling was hilarious. Sometimes it seemed like a breeze, then a storm, and there were minutes when a gale was raging in the room.
Then it was all over: the breeze rustled the butterfly wings. And I all of a sudden started to be afraid, because an ominous silence was hiding in the depths of the breeze. I even fell asleep, as I usually do, if I am scared.
I dreamed that the cunning death, who I had defeated so many times, in the guise of a gray mist took me from the world, and my love never even knew that I was no more. She doesn’t even think of me. And in this way my spirit could not warn up in her aura, floating above the skin, if I am cold nothingness.
I slept a long time. By the time I awoke, my friends had gone. My sister stood in the middle of the room, on a beautiful carpet of dead moths. The poor thing sobbed.
Later she told me that she wasn’t crying for me, but rather was in despair because she couldn’t decide whether it was appropriate to vacuum up the moths or whether she should bend over to pick them up one at a time.
In the end we carried all of them in a bag to the creek. Later she said that a butterfly carpet was also spread out on the water, which slowly spiraled downward. Obviously, to the sea.
Thursday, November 27th, 2014
It was worth it
The picture that my son put on Facebook yesterday was taken just before the gamma radiation. This one was taken afterwards. I guess a kind of suffering can be seen in both of them. But I think Doctor V., who first operated on me, released me nearly one and a half years ago with “much suffering awaits you.”
It can be seen in today’s picture precisely what condition I was in after having to wait for four hours with my head locked in a cage without having eaten and thirsty as well.. They decide what the targets of the beams are on the basis of fresh recordings. And what came afterwards, that is also on my face.
The procedure itself was intangible and indescribable. I lay in a kind of pipe. In three installments over the course of an hour with my head tied down and screwed, and while I had been through such a thing before, I dreaded until the end whether I would become stricken with panic. Actually, my fear of panic was a permanent state of panic
With meditation I managed to avoid the meghibbanást (becoming mad). It is just that this was the most difficult test of courage to date.
But it was worth it. Yesterday two nurses helped me to take twenty steps. I woke up this morning, and my feet were walking as though they hadn’t heard about the tumors growing happily at home in part of me. At lunchtime in the presence of members of my family, I showed them my well-known and reviving dancing skills as well.
My eyes are not improving. My typing is not perfect. My speech is still sometimes impeded. But I hope that later they will work as well as my feet.
Iván Andrassew (1952-2015). Rest in Peace.