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The Sacred Cause

The Europe that was Lost – Thoughts on Central and Eastern European Modernism

Tom Sandqvist

«This book is about Modernism and Avant-Garde movements in Central and Eastern European art around the last turn of the century. It sketches a surrealistic, bewildering, irrational arena. At the same time, we are offered a differentiated view on the complex whole of the avantgarde scene in Eastern Europe. The author takes us to dark soirées, scandalous dada theatrical performances, drunken bouts with loudmouthed reformers. Subjectivity stands against rationality, ethnonationalism against internationalism. Yugoslavian zenitism, Czech poetism, Hungarian activism, and other less-known isms, are proposed in exstatic outbursts in shortlived magazines. The pace is hectic, the commitment enormous, and the sheer force of strongminded individuals overwhelming. All in all, the inversed perspective seems alluringly fresh, with Eastern Europe as the co-producer of ideological content, instead as the receiver, or, even worse, the passive reflection of Western thought. I am impressed by the tolerance of much of the audience before and after the First World War: To be a genius seems to be just a matter of course. Karel Teige in Prague, Ljubomir Micić in Zagreb, Lajos Kassák in Budapest, and Jacek Malczewski in Krakow were tireless propagators of avant-garde art – but also of nostalgic messianism. How did they get away with this, at times, monomaniac egoism, one wonders. Sandqvist finds the answer in that subjectivity was the remedy for avantgarde artists as a defence mechanism against the repressive society and destructive socioeconomical forces.» (Jan von Bonsdorff, Professor, Uppsala University)


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4. In Budapest. Lajos Kassák, Activism, Constructivism, and the Hungarian Soviet Republic


112 out its own path and consciously ceased its activities until a time of “higher con- sciousness”, until its projected resurrection at the very end of the 20th century.276 In other words, they claim that the movement was consciously ended by its initia- tors and not by events or ideas determined by the general Zeitgeist, which sounds peculiar indeed. 276 Kujundzic – Jovanov 1998, p. 58. 113 4. In Budapest Lajos Kassák, Activism, Constructivism, and the Hungarian Soviet Republic It was definitely no coincidence when the good old Baedeker in 1903 recom- mended potential travelers to board the train at Ostbahnhof in Budapest, if they wished to go to Agram, Krleža s´ hometown. The readers were also informed that the train crossed the Danube only after two miles and that it stopped in Sárgogárd about ten miles later, where one could change to a train going to Báttaszék, if one did not want to continue to Kaposvár, a town with a little more than 17,000 inhabitants and two inns, Krone and König Franz Josef, from where the journey continued to, among others, Kaproncza, Körös, Veröcze, and Banovajaruga, only to arrive at the central station in Agram after exactly 387 kilometers. Certainly Agram was no big city compared to Budapest or Prague, nevertheless the service was excellent providing further trains to Vienna, Fiume, Banjaluka, Trieste, or Sarajevo.277 According to Baedeker, it was, in other words, natural to go to Agram...

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