In the Country of the Naysayers

Beszélgetés Rajk Lászlóval

László Rajk is a Kossuth Prize-winning architect, a film production designer and a former member of the opposition who became an MP. He was involved in graphic art and designed covers for samizdat publications. We spoke about how his name was connected with Hungary’s first Holocaust exhibition at the Budapest History Museum in 1994, and in 2004 the National Museum’s permanent exhibition in the museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau, The Citizen Betrayed: A Remembrance of Holocaust Victims from Hungary. His works are characteristic and unmistakable, but he also stresses the importance of team work, trust and joint thinking. According to Rajk, politics and power usually permeate architecture. Many architects assert there is no political architecture, while for others it is always present. Politics and power are involved in the use of architecture, which has good and bad outcomes. You have to see who is uses it, and for what. The realisation through architecture of a political world view clearly shows the nature of a given political power, in fact it is also revealing in terms of who is providing the finance. When Rajk became an architect, architectural patronage was increasingly becoming the responsibility of local authorities, not only in the then socialist countries but everywhere in the world. Around the 1970s, imposing, image-creating buildings, which previously relied on private patronage, moved towards a different type of financing, when those in power realised that to a certain degree architecture could be their flagship of philosophical, ideological and political concepts, albeit indirectly. When he was involved in politics professionally, he realised quickly that architecture involved a bigger challenge than politics, so he returned to architecture, although the two are similar in many ways.  In the 1970s Rajk studied architecture at McGill University in Canada. While there he became familiar with Russian Constructivism, a trend forgotten for many decades. In the 1970s in Hungary it had virtually no trace, while it was all the rage in Western Europe and North America. While still studying he became a stage designer by helping to create designs for friends and acquaintances at the College of Dramatic Arts, and later when they became directors in a theatre or film studio they again offered him work. He always wanted to avoid fields of architecture dominated by politics, therefore he became a set designer and for the same reason worked at Iparterv designing factories. In the 1970s the scholar Mór Korach returned from Italy to Hungary and when asked for his observations he replied that it was a country of naysayers. The first reaction to everything was “No”, then the justification itself showed how smarter it was than the question.  The maximum attainable in Hungary with a new approach is a pat on the back after the “No”, and: “Don’t bother my friend, go ahead.”