Gyula Obersovszky – The journalist saved by the Noble Prize winner

In the 1980s there was a magazine called Sportfogadás (Sports Betting). Every Saturday morning, I excitedly waited for my father to come home with a copy from the newsstand. But the real fun began when he arrived home, since we were both in a soccer pool and followed the recommendations written in Sportfogadás. The names of the international soccer teams were like a whole different world for me, so I pronounced the distant city names in awe, such as Bari or Campobasso. I didn’t know where they were specifically, but to me they symbolized the promising and unreachable West.

The editor-in-chief for Sportfogadás was Gyula Obersovszky, who for his significant role during the 1956 Revolution was exiled to this magazine. For an intellectual like him, becoming the editor of a magazine that focused on sports odds was a form of exile within the world of journalism.

During the revolution, Obersovszky participated in the siege of the radio building, and was also the editor-in-chief of Igazság (Truth). After the revolution he edited the illegal Élünk (We Live), and the two newspapers are considered among the intellectual driving forces of the revolution. Arrested in early December 1956, he was convicted in June 1957 of incitement and sentenced to four years in prison. The prosecutor appealed for a longer sentence, and on June 24, 1957, the Supreme Court sentenced Obersovszky to death for organizing against the state. This sentence was met with international protest, and consequently in the summer of 1957, the Chief Prosecutor raised a legal protest that suspended the sentence. A new trial was held that sentenced him to life in prison. Obersovszky was released from prison in 1963 as part of the general amnesty.

What makes this figure so interesting is the international outcry and response that his death sentence provoked. The Hungarian émigré community in the United Kingdom, with the support of Arthur Koestler, approached the Nobel Prize-winning Bertrand Russell, who added his weight to the public protest aimed at János Kádár to change the sentence. Ultimately, they succeeded.

Obersovszky’s life path toward the revolution can otherwise be considered typical for an intellectual of the Left. He was born in Pécs in 1927, was raised by his grandparents and completed his studies at the Academy of Drama after the Second World War. He worked in worker theatres, but by the mid-1950s became disillusioned with the system and was increasingly critical of it.

“Gyula Obersovszky was a fairytale hero,” one of his friends wrote of him. “He was different from the others. He was in fact the hero of a wonderful story, and that’s how his memory will live on in the heart of future generations.”

Obersovszky published his poetry after the system change, among them the poem entitled Téged Meséllek a Szélnek (I Speak of You to the Wind): “I speak of you to the wind, let it take you north and south, let it give your taste to the meadow, your eye, its beautiful color to the sky”.

Looking back at Gyula Obersovszky’s life journey, it is worth emphasizing that he honestly believed in communism, but after seeing the dictatorship in practice during the 1950s and its atrocities, became disillusioned with it. Together with his friends, who were also writers and poets, they spent long nights discussing how to fight for Hungarian freedom. When the opportunity arose during the 1956 Revolution, they fully immersed themselves in it, even endangering their own lives. Obersovszky escaped the hangman’s noose due to international outcry and afterward he was able to scrape by, but it was the system change that finally permitted him to be fully rehabilitated, and allowed him to pursue his literary career.

Eszter Zsófia Tóth