Central and Eastern European Section


The history of the Central and Eastern European Section


Comparative research on the literatures of the Central and Eastern European region has always been part of the Institute’s program. First it was the World Literature Section, then the Section of Comparative Literary History that analysed the relationship between the literatures of Hungary and its neighbouring nations. Cooperating with the researchers of the respective countries, this program has yielded collections of essays published in both languages at the same time. This is how the Russian (1961), Czech-Slovak (1965), Polish (1969), and South Slavic (1972) volumes on the history of relations have come about, with rich material and many much-awaited studies. It was an important milestone in the boosting of Hungarian research on the region when an ambitious comparative conference was organized in Budapest in 1962, followed by the publication of the conference proceedings La littérature comparée en Europe orientale (1963), which also established the international reputation of the Institute in this field. Following this, the leading comparative researchers of our Institute (Mihály György Vajda, Tibor Klaniczay, István Sőtér, Miklós Szabolcsi) played an important role in the launching and editing of the series Histoire Comparée des Littératures de Langues Européennes, published under the auspices of AILC.

The section was established in 1986, headed by Endre Bojtár. The primary goal of the re-established small section is the comparative analysis of the literature of the nations between the Russian and German language areas, as well as the comparative analysis of their entire culture in a broader sense. During the 1990s the conditions facilitating complex-synthetic research were gradually created, with the ultimate aim to prepare the comparative literary history of the region. More than 25 young and mid-career researchers have joined our program so far, most of who have been engaged in the research as external contributors, as independent contractors. Beside the completed collections of essays and monographs, one of the most important results of the program is that the section has played an influential role in training young researchers. During the 1990s, five of our colleagues in the innermost circle of the workshop completed their doctoral degrees (Tamás Berkes, 1991; Péter Krasztev, 1994; Lajos Pálfalvi, 1994; Magdolna Balogh, 1995; Simona Kolmanová, 1998).

The first summary of the section’s research program was the collection of studies Keresztirányok. Közép- és kelet-európai összehasonlító kultúrtörténet (Cross Directions. A Comparative Central and Eastern European Cultural History), published in 2000. It encompassed almost the entire cultural history of the region in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, touching upon and interpreting the most important literary trends. During the 2000s we joined the work on the four-volume literary history of Central Europe prepared under the auspices of AILC (History of the literary cultures of East-Central Europe, 2004–2010). It must be noted that Endre Bojtár’s books and studies lay the groundwork for Baltic Studies, a specialist field previously unknown in Hungarian scholarship, making the Institute the center of this field.

A fundamental characteristic of our work is cooperation with regional partner institutions at different levels, occasionally also involving other researchers of the Institute beyond the members of our section. The international connections of the section have developed quickly in the last three decades, and especially fruitful relationships have been built with Slovak, Polish, Lithuanian, Czech, and Russian partner institutions and departments. The three current members of the section (Magdolna Balogh, Tamás Berkes, and Zsófia Kalavszky), despite the limitations in human resources, regularly publish in foreign periodicals and publications, and they participate in Hungarian and international conferences and projects. From the mid-2000s the section’s priorities have included cooperation with the Institute of World Literature SAS (Ústav svetovej literatúry SAV) in Bratislava, with whom we are currently working on the 2016–2018 project.

The members of the section have joined three international undertakings recently. Magdolna Balogh is participating in the Polish-Ukrainian project of the Instytut Badań Literackich in Warsaw (Polska i ukraińska proza kobieca okresu międzywojennego w perspektywie środkowoeuropejskim, 2013–2017, supervisor: Grażyna Borkowska); Tamás Berkes has joined the international project of the Institute of Czech Literature (Ústav pro českou literaturu), which is preparing a collective monograph for the 200th anniversary of the publication of “The Queen’s Court Manuscript” (Rukopisy královédvorský a zelenohorský v české literatuře a umění 19. století. Kolektivní monografie při příležitosti 200. výročí nálezu Rukopisu královédvorského, supervisor: Dalibor Dobiaš). In 2017 Zsófia Kalavszky, together with three Hungarian researchers of Russian studies, received a grant to establish a Hungarian-Russian research group. Thus, since 2018 she has been a member of the international project The Border Zone Paradigm: Russia and Hungary, Borderland and Crossroads in Cultures between East and West, to be completed between 2018–2020.

The section launched the lecture series Közép-európai Szeminárium (Central European Seminar) in 2016, which focuses on the current tasks of comparative research with the help of university colleagues studying our region. Endre Bojtár, who had been head of the section for 24 years (until 2010), passed away in 2018. His successor as head of the section is Tamás Berkes. 



Research projects

Comparative studies (supervisor: Tamás Berkes)

Few places conduct systematic research on Central and Eastern European literatures. Until recent times, comparative work was done almost exclusively in Slavic studies, based on a stated or assumed premise that presupposes a linguistic bond among Slavic peoples. These research projects in Slavic studies have respectable results, but on the whole they still contain some distortions, since they identify our region with “the Slavic world” (ignoring the Hungarian, Romanian, Baltic, etc. cultures). For three decades now, the section has subscribed to the approach that comparative research only results in fair results by studying Slavic and non-Slavic literatures together, which authentically delineate the processes of cultural history in our region.

Central European comparative studies are looking to find out what makes up the unique quality and unique cultural type of the literacy of the region. The Central European comparative studies founded by Endre Bojtár differ from the traditional approach of Slavic studies in that they build on a historical-typological approach that is independent of linguistic kinship. Historical typology also uses the work-centred approach of Structuralism and systematizes the semantic and poetic elements of individual pieces, thus reaching the concept of literary trend, which can be considered a basic auxiliary concept of regional comparative studies. This research direction encompasses both the Central and Eastern European connections of Hungarian literature and the typological analysis of the shared and divergent characteristics of the literatures of the region.

The concept of literary trend was established in the research practice of the section by Endre Bojtár’s A kelet-európai avantgarde irodalom (Eastern European avant-garde literature) (1977, in English 1992, in Serbian 1999), which established a school. Tamás Berkes’ book Senki sem fog nevetni (Nobody will laugh) (1990) on the grotesque trend of the 1960s was created in this spirit, as well as Magdolna Balogh’s Kiúttalan utakon (On dead-end roads) (1993) on catastrophist literature, and Péter Krasztev’s book on Central and Eastern European symbolism (Ismét újra kell születnünk (We must be born again one more time), 1994). This concept bore fruit to the typological model in which the reconciliation of the perspectives of literary value and historical presentation seems possible. According to it, the individual work of art in its specificity cannot be part of the story because only structures developed based on particular criteria can be part of it. Thus, the reconstruction of the historical process can only be done with the help of literary (and cultural history) trends. Therefore, there are no irregular authors who are “beyond categorization”, at best only those who fall between certain trends (thus creating a new trend), or parts of whose artistic career belong to several consecutive trends. A great writer realizes a certain trend (literary form, genre, style, idea, topic); at the same time, similar writers of other literatures can also be discussed together with them, in proportion with their significance. The process of literary history is sketched through the story of the sections delimited by “isoglosses” in this sense. Endre Bojtár’s book Hazát és népet álmodánk (Dreaming Homeland and People) was based on this concept, synthesizing the literature of the Enlightenment and Romanticism of the region (2008, in Slovak 2010).

Baltic studies (previous supervisor: Endre Bojtár)

With work spanning several decades, Endre Bojtár established Baltic studies, a field that had not existed before. After A Litván költők antológiája (Anthology of Lithuanian poets) (1980), he first published a Lithuanian language book (Kevés szóval litvánul (With a few words in Lithuanian), 1985), followed by a dissertation on the dramatic history of three Baltic countries in 1939-1940 (Európa elrablása (The ride-rape of Europe), 1989, in Czech 1994), and he published a synopsis of the intersections of Lithuanian history and culture (Litván kalauz (Lithuanian guide), 1990). Endre Bojtár published his magnum opus Bevezetés a baltisztikába (An introduction to Baltic Studies. The Culture of the Balts in the Antiquity, 1999) in 1997. Endre Bojtár’s oeuvre in Baltic studies was finally crowned with the Lithuanian-Hungarian dictionary Lietuviu-vengru kalbu zodynas (Vilnius, 2007).

Bohemistics and Czech-Hungarian relations (supervisor: Tamás Berkes)

Research on Czech topics belongs to Tamás Berkes’ remit within the section, who first examined the history of Czech-Hungarian literary relations in his monograph Sárkány Oszkár (Oszkár Sárkány) (1998), then provided an overview of the defining literary ideas and ideological forms of nineteenth-century Czech self-perception in his book A cseh eszmetörténet antinómiái (The Antinomies of Czech Intellectual History) (2003). He presented at the first four World Congresses of Literary Bohemistics (Kongres světové literárněvědné bohemistiky, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010). He is responsible for liaising with Czech partner institutions (Ústav pro českou literaturu AV ČR; Kabinet pro klasická studie Filosofického ústavu AV ČR) and is the Hungarian supervisor and participant of several joint projects. He has written two chapters on Bohemistics in the four-volume Central European literary history prepared with broad international cooperation (History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe, Volume I-IV, ed. M. Cornis-Pope – J. Neubauer, Amsterdam – Philadelphia, John Benjamins, 2004–2010). He edited the volume Bohemia et Hungaria (1998), which provides an overview of the latest results of Czech-Hungarian literary relations, the Cseh dekadencia (Czech decadence) issue of Helikon (2014/1), and co-edited the collection of studies Hungarobohemica Pragensia, published in Prague in 2017. Since 2016 our section participates in the international project of our partner institution in Prague (Ústav pro českou literaturu AV ČR), which examines the reception of the Queen’s Court and Green Mountain manuscripts forged by Václav Hanka (Rukopisy královédvorský a zelenohorský v české literatuře a umění 19. století).

Slovak relations (supervisor: Magdolna Balogh)

Taking advantage of the opportunity to research old Hungarian literature (written in Hungary) and participating in the exploration of archives and sources has been in the interest of the Institute’s researchers, thus it was clear that we must strive for the closest cooperation possible with our Slovak colleagues. Results of this work include the volume Ami összehasonlítható, és ami nem (What can be compared and what cannot) (1989, eds. Magdolna Balogh and Tamás Berkes), which surveys the opportunities and limitations of comparison, as well as Dejiny a literatúra v kontaktoch (The connection between history and literature) (1989, ed. Eva Tkáčiková), and the 1992 conference Európai modernség (European modernity) in Budapest, focusing on the classical phenomena of the twentieth century, the 1994 Pozsony conference Irodalom és posztmodern (Literature and the postmodern), and the 1996 Budapest conference Én-koncepciók és a modern irodalmi formák (Concepts of self and modern literary forms).

During the mid-2000s the cooperation between the section and the Institute of World Literature SAS (Ústav svetovej literatúry SAV) became closer. This is when a conference was organized in Pozsony focusing on the phenomenon of reception, the results of which were published in the bilingual volume Az irodalmi recepció kreativitása – Tvorivost’ literárnej recepcií (The creativity of literary reception) (2008, eds. Judit Görözdi and Gabriela Magová). In the past decade we have cooperated with our Slovak partner institution within the framework of bilateral academic agreements, continuously extending the Hungarian and Slovak Literatures in Central European Cultural Space (2010–2012, 2013–2015, 2016–2018) project. Within this framework several study trips and guest lectures were organized, as well as jointly organized conferences and joint publications, most prominently the conference A történelmi regény kortárs közép-európai változatai (Contemporary Central European versions of the historical novel) in 2013 in Pozsony, the material of which was published in the 2014/2 thematic issue of World Literature Studies, as well as the Budapest conference discussing the mode of being of Central European Jewish literatures, published in the volume Választások és kényszerek (Choices and constraints) in 2015. The conference A szlovák irodalom magyarországi recepciója 1990 után (The post-1990 reception of Slovak literature in Hungary) (Slovak Institute, 2017) was organized during the latest project cycle.

Polish relations (supervisor: Magdolna Balogh)

Magdolna Balogh has participated in many Polish conferences in the past decade: in 2012 she held a presentation at the Fifth International Congress on Polish Studies in Opole, while in 2013 she joined the Polish-Ukrainian project run by the Instytut Badań Literackich (Institute of Literary Research, PAN) in Warsaw, which focuses on women’s literature between the two World Wars. In 2013 we welcomed internationally renowned professor Włodzimierz Bolecki (Institute of Literary Research, PAN) as a guest of the Institute.

Cult research (supervisor: Zsófia Kalavszky)

Precursors of the current research projects: In 1989 a working group was established to conduct cultural anthropology research on the cultic phenomena of literary culture, led by Péter Dávidházi and György Tverdota. Its main goal was to examine where the social practice of linguistic and ritualistic respect for great writers and their works originates, what latent religious archetypes it follows, how it influences the modes of interpretation and evaluation of literary works, and what political appropriation it is exposed to.

Literary cult research began in our section in 2010 in connection with Zsófia Kalavszky’s research area, although in effect it continued previous research, considering its institutional precursors. This research topic primarily includes the analysis of the twentieth-century operation of the cult and cults of Aleksandr Pushkin. To elaborate one part of this problem, Zsófia Kalavszky won the three-year János Bolyai Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2015.

The section, in cooperation with the CEU Institute for Advanced Study, organized the international workshop Literary Cults: Transnational Perspectives and Approaches on 10 June, 2016. The organizers of the workshop  Zsófia Kalavszky and Alexandra Urakova (Russian Academy of Sciences)  had two goals: to present the results and theoretical background of the Hungarian and Russian literary cult research that has developed independent of each other during the last few decades, as well as to continue developing the theoretical background of literary cult research with the help of researchers invited from different fields of study.

Pushkin edition. Összegyűjtött Művek (Collected works) (supervisor: Zsófia Kalavszky)

The aim of the research is to collect, publish, and analyse the twentieth-century and contemporary Hungarian translations of the Pushkin oeuvre, as well as writing texts on translation theory and criticism. In December 2008, the new Hungarian edition of Aleksandr Pushkin’s Collected works began with the publication of Evgeny Onegin.


Special projects


A magyar irodalom közép- és kelet-európai kapcsolatai és párhuzamai (The Central and Eastern European connections and parallels of Hungarian literature) – supervisor: Endre Bojtár (OTKA T 18465, duration: 1995–1998).

A magyar irodalom közép- és kelet-európai kapcsolatai és párhuzamai (The Central and Eastern European connections and parallels of Hungarian literature) – supervisor: Endre Bojtár (OTKA T 29138, duration: 1999–2002).

Czech-Hungarian literary relations: Encyclopedia of the Czech Hungarologists and Translators and Encyclopedia of the Hungarian Bohemicists and Translators – supervisor: Tamás Berkes (academic agreement, duration: 1998–2000). Partner: Ústav pro českou literaturu AV ČR/Institute of Czech Literature.

A magyar kultúra a közép- és kelet-európai régió kontextusában (Hungarian Culture in the Context of the Central and Eastern European Region) – supervisor: Endre Bojtár (OTKA T 43018, duration: 2003–2006).

Research of Old Literary Texts and the Role of the Vernacular Languages as well those of the Latin in the Bohemian Lands and Hungary – supervisor: László Szörényi, contact: Tamás Berkes (academic agreement, duration: 2006–2008, 2009–2012). Partner: Filosofický ústav AV ČR – Kabinet pro Klasická Studia.

The Diaspora Literature in the Regional Languages of Central Europe – supervisor: Magdolna Balogh (International Visegrad Fund, Small Grant, 2011–2012, duration: 10 months, project number: 11120232). Amount of support: 1.5 million HUF.

Hungarian and Slovak Literatures in Central European Cultural Space – supervisor: Magdolna Balogh (academic agreement, duration: 2010–2012, 2013–2015, 2016–2018) Partner: Ústav svetovej literatúry SAV. Amount of support for 2016–2018: 2 million HUF.

The Border Zone Paradigm: Russia and Hungary, Borderland and Crossroads in Cultures between East and West (Россия и Венгрия на перекрестке культур Востока и Запада: проблемы пограничья) – participant: Zsófia Kalavszky. Research group leaders: on the Hungarian side: Zsuzsa Hetényi (ELTE), on the Russian side: Natalja Zlidnyeva (Institute for Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences). Participants: Zsuzsanna Kalafatics (BGF), Gyöngyi Mikola (SZTE), Alexandra Urakova (IMLI), Polina Korolkova (Institute for Slavic Studies), Dmitrij Poljakov (Institute for Slavic Studies). Supporter of the project: RFBR/РФФИ, Russian Foundation for Basic Research/Российский Фонд Фундаментальных Исследований. Duration of the project: 20182021. Project number: 18-512-23002. The financial support received by the project is paid directly to the Russian partner, they finance the study trips, conferences, and the publication of the collections of essays.