The Present That Has Passed
Hungarians from Romania in the Context of the 1989-1990 Regime Change

The events of the regime change 30 years ago are increasingly spoken of as history, even though they are still vivid in the memory of many of us and enmesh our present with their several extensions. In one of his books, political scientist József Lőrincz says that 1989-1990 is not yet the past, but “the present that has passed.” If we evoke the stories, surviving in different versions, of the recently ended socialist era and the 1989-1990 turning point, in fact we embark on a journey of interpretation of events that are still contested and that affect our present.

The exhibition The Present That Has Passed deals with three significant moments in the history of Hungarians from Romania – communism, the 1989 revolution and the following year – without aiming for completeness or uniform explanations. It draws on the experiences of the everyday person who lived through the historical events, and translates them into tangible spaces and surfaces by resorting to archival images and the documentation of research on these periods. The period of communism, revolution or regime change can be described not as an alternation of black and white, clearly positive and negative experiences, but rather as a series of nuances, sometimes traumatic, at other times leading to positive experiences and outcomes.

The exhibition is a form of communication that was intensively used in the period of communism to decoratively publicise the principles of modernisation, development and organisation. The exhibition The Present That Has Passed aims to create spaces for reflection rather than decorativity and monumentality: it does not encourage clear and unambiguous answers, but often the posing of well-formulated questions.

The first unit presents “what we put on the table” during the years of socialism. In this way, the tables (with their clean use of materials such as raw wood, metal and paper) and the objects placed on them convey themes with the value of phenomena. The spheres of themes are mostly identified with the conditions of the everyday person’s well-being, such as childhood, family, workplace, leisure, culture consumption, or the supervision of their strictly ‘controlled’ forms, forms and possibilities of protest and possible means of ‘escape’.

The key issue of the second unit of the exhibition focuses on the revolutionary events that changed the course of history. In December 1989, in the euphoria of the revolution, the camera was freed from its limitations and there appeared the man moving and making videos in the public space. In the moments of revolution, amateur and professional photographers and filmmakers could capture events authentically, even if at their own peril. At the same time, many people experienced the revolutionary events from their homes, in front of their television sets. Thus, the exhibition evokes the events of December 1989 in two different spaces: the euphoric revolution in the street and the revolution experienced in the home.

In the third unit of the exhibition, there reappear the thematic tables, the motifs that capture transitional phenomena. The self-organization of the Hungarians from Romania and their involvement in political life led to the triggering of several national events, in this way, the reconciliation between ethnic groups anticipated at the time of the Revolution led to a kind of awakening due to the events of Black March in Târgu Mures. Meanwhile, the uncertain event series of the regime change forced individuals to gain new experiences in ever shorter time frames and to adapt to change at an ever faster pace: to the rules of the capitalist market economy not experienced before, to the content assets of the emergence of political pluralism or to the trend of emigration, which offered the prospect of easier border crossing.

Although the time horizon of the exhibition ends in 1990, the shared history does not. It raises a number of questions that we must answer individually: what are the basic concepts that are still with us today – even if they have failed as political projects? What happens to the hopes and visions of the future that have not been realised, but live together with us? What is that we already have, what is that we are entitled to, what is that we are willing to fight for – and what price are we willing to pay for it?

Experts who provided assistance in the elaboration of themes: Katalin-Ágnes Bartha, József Gagyi, Tamás Kiss, Csilla Könczei, Árpád Töhötöm Szabó, István Gergo Székely, Zoltán Tibori Szabó, Tibor Toró T. Jr.

Contemporary artists participating in the exhibition: Sándor Antik, Imre Baász, Claudiu Cobilanschi, Attila Kispál, Ágnes-Evelin Kispál, Szabolcs Kisspál, Csilla Könczei, Dénes Miklósi, Szilárd Miklós, Ciprian Mureșan, Iulia Toma, Orsolya Török-Illyés, Ferenc Wanek.

Designers: Melinda Blos-Jáni, János Fodor, Dénes Miklósi, Beáta Molnár
Communication: Gergely Butka
Video: Péter Lepedus-Siskó
Graphic design: Dénes Miklósi, Tihamér Török
Website: Hitter Technologies
Production of furniture: Cobalt Studio
© Eurotrans Foundation 2020, President: Zoltán Levente Nagy