Attila Ara-Kovács (b. Oradea, 14 January 1953), philosopher, politician, journalist, editor. His father was an economist, his mother a commodity expert; he had one sister. He completed his secondary-school studies at the Alexandru Moghioroș School (today Ady Endre Theoretical High School), the legal successor of the Ursuline Order convent school in Oradea. He did not carry out military service,as the military medical committee declared him unfit for service in September 1973 (ACNSAS, I210560/1, 27fv). Between 1973 and 1978, he studied philosophy (distance courses) at the Faculty of History and Philosophy of Babeș-Bolyai University, where he annually submitted an employment certificate in compliance with the distance education requirements. According to Ara-Kovács’s personal record kept by the Securitate, the unemployed young man living with his parents never set foot abroad. Ara-Kovács’s interest in Hungarian literature was already evident during his secondary-school studies and he further nurtured this interest as a student in Cluj-Napoca as well as in the Ady Endre Literary Circle in Oradea. As of 1978, “due to his nationalistic activity and manifestations” in the literary circle, his activity was monitored within the framework of a data collection-observation file. In addition to the reports drawn-up on him by the informant network, from the late 1970s the street shadowing of the target known as “Kos” yielded further documents and pictures. His correspondence was intercepted. This is how in 1981 the state confiscated photocopied material sent from Vienna which included the Hungarian translation of Paul Goma’s “Vingt ans après,” published in Cahiers de L’Est no. 8 (1976) under the title “In the Romanian Prisons.” Already at that time, apart from retributive instructions, the Securitate took measures in order to scare off Ara-Kovács’s acquaintances and to disinform his social circle (ACNSAS, I210560/2, 200; I210560/6, 29–31, 184–186v, 232, 265, 362–363). Their assessment was further complicated by the fact that in 1980 the State Council (Consiliul de Stat), following a positive evaluation by the Bihor County Party Committee, approved his marriage to Katalin Kovács, a Hungarian citizen. The authorities also consented to his emigration. Ara-Kovács renounced his Romanian citizenship. However, the Hungarian authorities did not issue an entrance visa before November 1982, after the Ellenpontok case had been sparked and publicised.
The violations of human rights and ethnic discrimination that intensified as of the second half of the 1970s in Romania, the experience gained as a member of the Ady Endre Literary Circle, together the failed attempt of the Hungarian intellectual elite of Oradea to launch a magazine in 1980, drove him to act. It was at his initiative that the most renowned Transylvanian Hungarian samizdat magazine called Ellenpontok (Counterpoints) was born. Between March and October, 1982, Ara-Kovács as a founder and editor published eight issues (sixty-five texts on 293 typed pages), primarily with the help of Antal Károly Tóth, Ilona Tóth, and Géza Szőcs. The house searches conducted by the Securitate on 7 November 1982 and harassment by the authorities did not stop him from compiling the 24-page ninth issue at the end of that same year (Tóth and Tóth 2017; Tóth 1994). On May 24, 1983 the Securitate instructed the customs authorities in Borș and Episcopia Bihorului to perform a strict check on Ara-Kovács who was supposed to leave the country for good the following day. Two days later, on the order of George Homoștean, minister of the interior, Ara-Kovács was placed on the list of undesirable persons for a period of five years (ACNSAS, I210560/5, 12, 15–16). Up until the change of regime, the Securitate closely monitored his activity in Hungary, especially his TV and radio broadcasts in 1989, as interviews with Ara-Kovács about human rights violations and ethnic discrimination in Romania became more and more frequent. His telephone conversations with family members and his correspondence with friends and acquaintances in Romania were intercepted on a regular basis (ACNSAS, I210560/7, 1–6, 10–15).
After his emigration to Hungary in the summer of 1983, Ara-Kovács founded the Erdélyi Magyar Hírügynökség (Hungarian Press of Transylvania, HPT). Although the first report, issue no. 1983/1 recorded 20 May, a date prior to Ara-Kovacs’s emigration, as the date of foundation, this was presumably just a means to mislead the Securitate, as in the case of Ellenpontok. According to the report, the Romanian authorities made the members of the agency “operate anonymously and apply the utmost precaution regarding their information sources.” According to the programme-setting report, the agency “does not cooperate nor does it maintain contact with any opposition group in or outside the country or with any underground media product or publisher” and “its contacts abroad are only limited to the forwarding of information – in accordance with international practice – to other information channels.” It stipulated as its sole purpose “to inform, with due authenticity and precision, everyone concerned, and those rendered concerned through their solidarity with the destiny of the Transylvanian Hungarians, about the endless terror in present-day Romania.” The first report was drawn-up on 15 June 1983, whereas the last was dated 22 September 1989. The year of foundation yielded the fewest reports (27 items), while the most reports (129 items) were drawn-up in 1987. During its more than five years of operation the private agency drew up a total of 584 reports. Primarily, the agency provided non-officially collected news and background materials concerning the Hungarians of Transylvania, in the beginning only in Hungarian but later in English as well, and thus it became an important information supplier for Western human rights organisations (Erdélyi Magyar Hírügynökség Jelentései 2018; Timár 2018).
Until 1990 Ara-Kovács worked as an editor-in-chief at the Európa Publishing House. In the period 1990–1993 he was editor of the Hungarian-language programme broadcast by the ORF (Austrian Radio and Television) in Vienna, then until 1999 he worked as a political analyst and expert for EuroConnect in Paris and Hongkong. During the 1990s, he cooperated with several Hungarian and foreign magazines, such as: Élet és Irodalom, Magyar Narancs, HVG, Beszélő, Alto Adige, and Die Gemeinde. Between 1999 and 2000 he was editor-in-chief of Szabad Demokrata Hírlap. His public and political activity was determined by the fact that already from the beginning he was drawn to left-wing and liberal ideology. Accordingly, from 1998 to 2002 he was the head of the bureau of foreign affairs of the Alliance of Free Democrats (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége, SZDSZ). In the meantime, between 2000 and 2002, he worked as a chief counsellor in foreign and security policy for the Bureau of Parliament. He was also assigned diplomatic missions. In the interval between 2002 and 2008, he was first the deputy head and then the acting head of the Division of Strategic Planning and Analysis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Between 2007 and 2013 he was the director of the Republikon Institute – Budapest Centre of Foreign Policy. In June, 2014 Attila Ara-Kovács was assigned by the board of the Democratic Coalition (Demokratikus Koalició, DK) the position of head of their foreign affairs cabinet. As of 2015 he became a member of the party presidency as well. In the past decades, beside his regular activity as a publicist, he has appeared on various TV and radio programmes on a regular basis, voicing his opinion on topics such as foreign policy, geopolitics, security policy, culture, multiculturality, and migration (Ara-Kovács’s blog page 2016).
- Budapest, Hungary
Ivan Aralica was born on 10 September 1930 in Promina near Knin, and attended primary school, or the ‘people's school’ (pučka škola) in Puljani. His family had peasant origins, and his father Filip served as a soldier in the artillery regiment of the Royal Yugoslav Army in Otočac; his mother was a housewife. During World War II, young Aralica joined the Partisan units as a courier at the age of 14, and after the Partisans occupied Knin, he continued his education at the Knin gymnasium. In his second year, his father had to withdraw from the school, because he lost the right to residence in the student dormitory. On the basis of Aralica's family income, the authorities made an evaluation that he was a “kulak's son,” that is, the son of a wealthy peasant, who was a class enemy under the Marxist-Leninist ideology. Obeying his father's will, Aralica enrolled again the first grade of the Electrical Engineering School in Zagreb, where there were no accommodation costs, but was soon expelled for political reasons (inappropriate comments regarding collectivisation). In the aftermath of that incident, Aralica's father let the young boy to enrol the Teacher Training School in Knin (also known as the ‘Preparandija’), where he graduated in 1953.
After that, Aralica worked as a teacher in various Dalmatian villages and simultaneously studied the South Slavic languages and literature at the newly established Faculty of Philosophy in Zadar. He was the first student to receive a B.A. degree at this Faculty in 1961, and due to his merits he was immediately offered a position to head the Teacher Training School in Zadar (in 1965 renamed the Pedagogy Gymnasium). Aralica joined the Communist Party in 1951, finding membership a necessity for any kind of political engagement: “And the centre of all political power, from the top to the lowest cell of society, to companies, schools, local districts and tenant councils, was in the party organisations“ (Aralica, Slobodna Dalmacija, 14 April 1992).
Aralica himself emphasises the year 1966 as a breaking point in his political career and ascent within the party. At that time Aleksandar Ranković, the vice-president of Yugoslavia and head of State Security, was removed from office after “the surveillance affair ” involving Josip Broz Tito, and he was politically condemned at the Fourth Plenary Session of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY) held at Brijuni on 1-2 July 1966. According to Aralica, this event, accompanied by economic reforms and “the universal liberalisation of society,” resulted in the so-called “rotation of cadres,” that is, in the succession of a new generation to the leading political positions. This brought benefits to educated individuals such as himself, and prompted him to become politically active in the Communal Conference of the League of Communists (LCC) of Croatia in Zadar (Aralica 2014, 125).
Moreover, from 1969 to 1972, Aralica was a representative in the Parliament of the Socialist Republic of Croatia (Department of Culture), and in 1970 he was elected for the second time as the vice-president of the Communal Conference of the LCC in Zadar. Simultaneously, he held the post of president of the Zadar branch of Matica hrvatska (the Croatian literary-cultural foundation), and for a time he worked as the editor-in-chief of the journal Zadarska revija (Nos. 3-5/71). After the crackdown on the Croatian Spring in December 1971, in which he was particularly active at the local level, Aralica was expelled from the LCC (in the purge process called “differentiation”), forced to resign from his post as head of the Pedagogy Gymnasium, but due to his good connections in Zagreb he continued to work as a teacher. In the period known as the “Croatian silence,” he completely withdrew from political and public life and devoted himself to literary work. After the fall of communism and the introduction of the multi-party system in 1990, he returned into politics as a supporter of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and Franjo Tuđman. In the elections of 1993, he became a member of the Croatian Parliament and the vice-president of the Chamber of Counties (Županijski dom) until 2000. Aralica has been a full member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (HAZU) since 1992 and he is the winner of many literary awards.
Aralica admits that his literary work is intrinsically related to his own life experience and the real world around him. In his novels and stories, he dealt with historical topics as well as post-war social changes and the existential dramas of the marginal people from the Dalmatian hinterland. Literary historian Velimir Visković emphasises that Aralica was already in the 1960s writing strikingly critical stories “in which he analyses the modes of dogmatic consciousness, the hypocrisy that results from the domination of such a consciousness, and warped ethical norms; the old moral code had been destroyed, and a new one had not been constructed yet“ (Visković 1987, 7). Visković thinks that Aralica was among the very few writers in at end of the 1960s and early 1970s who was interested in social changes and the realm of “everyday problems“ alongside the problems of collective and individual morality. According to Krešimir Nemec, a certain amount of courage was required to deal with topics such as “deviant processes in the socialist political system, the breakdown of traditional morality, the decay of villages.” Nevertheless, such a socially critical fiction with a strongly manifested morality did not arouse great interest among the public, unlike Aralica's historiographical fiction dealing with “big themes” such as the “irrationality of power, the relationship between ideology and power, the art of ruling, national identity, heroism and the individual and collective ethos, the clash of religions, cultures and civilisations, etc.” (Nemec, 2010, 367-8).
After having himself experienced the removal from political life in 1972, Aralica's main literary interest became the relationship between the authorities and the individual, which is visible in his first popular novel, Psi u trgovištu (Dogs in the Market Place), where he presented the reign of Josip Broz Tito incarnated in the character of Suleiman the Magnificent as a person who stops at nothing to keep the title of ruler. “Do you think that I would have ever written ‘Dogs in the Market Place’ if I had not participated in the Croatian Spring [...]?” Aralica asked in an interview from 2004 (Aralica 2004). Thereafter, in the 1980s Aralica wrote a series of successful novels (Put bez sna [A Journey Without Dreams], 1982; Duše robova [The Souls of Slaves], 1984; Graditelj svratišta [The Builder of an Inn], 1986; Okvir za mržnju [A Framework for Hatred], 1987; Asmodejev šal [The Shawl of Asmodeus], 1988; Tajna sarmatskog šala [The Secret of the Sarmatian Eagle], 1989) and avoided directly political topics that could irritate representatives of the communist regime. Nevertheless, he was dragged into several scandals, which have been described in the current ad hoc collections. Visković has noted that publicity garnered through these dogmatic attacks, which were not directed so much against Aralica's literary output as against his political image and his participation in the Croatian Spring undoubtedly contributed to the rise of public interest in his works (Visković 1987, 10).
After Croatia became independent, Aralica's novels and stories became markedly patriotic, beginning with his preoccupation with the Homeland War (Gdje pijevac ne pjeva [Where the Cockerel Does Not Sing], 1996), with taboo topics such as Bleiberg (Četverored [A File of Four], 1997), and with the romans à clef (Ambra [Ambergris], 2001; Fukara [Rabble], 2002), in which he confronted his political opponents. Aralica compiled his political-publicist texts from newspapers and journals in several books (Zadah ocvalog imperija [The Miasma of a Withered Empire], 1991; Sokak triju ruža [The Street of Three Roses], 1992; Spletanje i raspletanje čvorova [Tying and Unravelling Knots], 1993; Što sam rekao o Bosni [What I Said About Bosnia], 1995, etc.). In them, Aralica polemically analysed topics such as Serbian imperialism, the making of the independent Croatian state, the relationship between the nation-state and culture and why multiethnic states are condemned to collapse.
A frequent topic in Aralica's works is the destructive effect of Party dogma combined with human misdeeds on individuals (The Dwarf, A Framework for Hatred) (Pešorda 2016, 149). In the novel Anastazija: oluje u tihom ozračju [Anastasia: Storms in a Tranquil Atmosphere] (1967, 20162), in the form of a dialogue similar to philosophical narratives, Aralica describes the way a closed, dogmatic mind, subordinated to the Party, thinks (incarnated in Anastasia Rubić). Through this female character, Aralica portrayed the post-revolutionary, milder character of the Party itself, which changed its mode of operation, but not its true nature (Pešorda 2016, 155). At the launch of this book, Aralica declared that Croatian literature had left communism untreated. “This is why I today write about this communism, because its models appear in everyday life,” he stressed. According to Nedjeljko Mihanović, Aralica was the first Croatian author who critically questioned the communist legacy in the novel A Framework for Hatred (Mihanović 2007, 228). However, in his assessment of the communist ideology, Aralica made the clearest point in his political essays Mentalni komunist [The Mental Communist] (2012) and Smrad trulih lešina [The Stench of Rotten Corpses] (2014), in which he takes aim at his political opponents. Even in his advanced age, Aralica continues to publish novels, the latest of which is Farrell, launched at the book fair Interliber in November 2017.
Aralica considers himself as opposition activist and communist dissident. In his words, although formally a party member, he did not share the worldview of his comrades. By referring to the Latin meaning of the word dissident (from dis-sedeo, to sit apart), he said during the interview: “I was sitting with them at the same table, but I was not one of them, I was not a sincere communist!“ (Interview with Aralica, Ivan).
- Zadar, Croatia
- Zagreb, Croatia
Tomislav Aralica is son of Ivan Aralica and a military historian, who possesses a large collection of historical weapons.
- Zagreb, Croatia