Hungarian author, dissident Gyorgy Konrad dies, aged 86

Budapest (AFP) –


Acclaimed Hungarian author and anti-communist dissident Gyorgy (George) Konrad died Friday aged 86, his family told the Hungarian state news agency MTI.

Considered one of Hungary's finest writers, Konrad, whose novels and essays were widely translated around the world, died at home after a long illness.

Born in 1933 into a Jewish family in the eastern city of Debrecen, he grew up in the town of Berettyoujfalu close to the Romanian border.

In June 1944, he narrowly survived the Holocaust by jumping on a train to Budapest a day before the deportation of the town's Jewish population to Auschwitz. Almost all of his school classmates perished.

"I became an adult aged 11," he wrote in his autobiography "Departure and Return" (2001).

Konrad took part in Hungary's failed anti-Soviet uprising in 1956 but unlike his sister and several hundred thousand refugees, Konrad decided to stay.

Konrad's first novel The Case Worker (1969), based on his experiences as a social worker dealing with children, was translated into 13 languages.

Later working as an urban sociologist, he co-wrote an essay that tackled social problems in new housing estates but rankled with the communist authorities.

His second novel, The City Builder, notable for its experimental language and form, was not published for political reasons.

Between 1973 and 1988 his books were almost constantly banned, first published outside Hungary or by underground so-called "samizdat" publishers.

One of the most internationally known Hungarian writers at the time, Konrad was elected president of the PEN club worldwide writers association in 1990.

The recipient of several literature and state honours at home and abroad, in 1997 he also became the first foreigner elected as head of Berlin's prestigious Akademie der Kunste.

Konrad was also a key figure in the dissident movement that led to the end of communism in Hungary in 1989.

He co-founded the liberal SZDSZ political party in 1988, and decades later became a harsh critic of current Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Orban was the "most toxic politician Hungary has known since the fall of communism," he said after the government launched a media campaign against the liberal US-Hungarian financier George Soros in 2017.