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Ottilia Solt 1944 - 1997

educator and underground journalist who fought for the rights of the poor in Hungary

Ottilia Solt

Ottilia Solt

Ottilia Solt was born in Budapest into an intellectual family: her father was a doctor and her mother a teacher. In 1967 she graduated in Hungarian philology and Philosophy and started to work at the Institute of Economic Studies. She took part in research conducted by Istvan Kemeny on the living conditions of the poor and helped organize the social science and economics lectures that Kemeny gave, initially at the university and then in his own home. In 1972 she left the Institute of Economic Studies and took up a job at the Institute of Education, where she continued her sociological research. Kemeny participated in this research illegally and under a false name, because he had been dismissed and was banned from publishing the results of his own work. In the summer of 1977 Ottilia set out for Paris, where Kemeny was then living in exile, in order to hand him several articles and publications forbidden in Hungary. At the border the material was confiscated and she was arrested. Her trial ended with a warning from the police, the loss of her job, the withdrawal of her passport, close surveillance and the risk of a penal trial if she committed the same offence again. Despite the dangers, Ottilia was not to be deterred: she took part in numerous initiatives organized by opposition circles and in acts of solidarity with the signatories of Charter ’77 in Czechoslovakia. She worked in a primary school and then as a librarian. In 1979, along with other members of the Kemeny circles, she set up the “Fund in Aid of the Poor”. In 1981 she lost her job definitively and suffered constant threats from the police, but she refused to be intimidated: she joined the editorial staff of the underground magazine “Beszelo”, where she published the most important programmatic documents of the democratic opposition, especially in the field of social and political analysis. She was signatory to all the protests against human rights violations and joined the main opposition initiatives organized to mark the anniversary of the 1956 revolution and Hungary’s National Day on 15 March. Despite constant surveillance by the police, telephone tapping and repeated searches in her home, in 1988 she played a decisive role in setting up the “Network of Free Initatives”. She also helped draw up the programmatic declaration entitled There is a way out, published in the same year in “Beszelo” in order to turn the Network into a political party with the name of “Association of Young Democrats”. She was a member of the party’s National Council right from its inception. On 15 March 1988 she was stopped by the police and interrogated at length. In 1989 she took up a research post at Budapest University’s Institute of Sociology and helped the underground magazine “Beszelo” emerge into a legal weekly. She remained a member of its editorial staff until 1995. In 1990 she was elected a member of parliament and joined the social commission, acting as vice president until 1994, the year in which she withdrew from political life.

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Dissidents of totalitarianism

in Central Europe's communist regimes

The so called "dissent" in the communist regimes of Eastern Europe cannot be just reduced to the simple notion of an "opposition" as its definition would suggest, but it should be above all considered as an attempt to build a "parallel polis" based on the responsibility of every citizen and aimed at occupying the spaces where cultural, social and human freedom are allowed, as wrenched from the totalitarian rule over the social fabric. Members of Charter 77 and Solidarnosc, such as Vaclav Havel, Radim Palous, Jacek Kuron and Adam Michnik, have always underlined that “the power of the powerless” consists in winning over fear through the empowerment made possible through a collective assumption of responsibility, witnessed by the exhortation to "live the truth" within a society based on lie. Ver often their "dissent" consisted in a way to claim the enforcement of laws, such as the ones about freedom of conscience, or the international agreements subscribed by their countries, such as the Helsinki Accords. This was the origin of a broad movement that was able to condition the behaviour and mentality of the public opinion, up to the point in which, letting aside Romania, the totalitarian rule was overthrown in a peaceful way, without shedding blood, with the rise of a new leading class recognized by the majority of the population and ready to take on government responsibilities.