Hungarian Political Humour in Romania and Hungary

Zsigmond, Győző (Articol)

“The present study, based on collections of political jokes from the second half of the twentieth century, contains a concise presentation and analysis of political jokes from the end of the socialist-communist era in Romania and Hungary, and from the first decade of the new political system. The collection has been made by the author in Transylvania from 1977 onwards till the present day with the help of Hungarian (mostly), Romanian and German informants, using media, including also the Internet after 1990. As a form of resistance, as products of an activity of protest, these jokes are also of documentary value. From some points of view these highly popular pieces of oral literature complete our knowledge concerning this genre and socio-semiosis. The author compares the political jokes collected in Hungary with those collected in Romania (particularly in Transylvania), and points out the similarities as well as the differences. For example, their interethnic, international character is interesting, together with the manner in which they present a special humour, that of a national minority (here that of Hungarians living in Romania), and the way the different political and economic situations support the creation of different jokes. Although not examined sufficiently, jokes are probably the liveliest form of folk creativity of our times. Research in folklore has recently concentrated on some political jokes, but there are still many questions left unanswered, many facts are still obscure and further research could lead to very interesting findings. For communities using a common language but living in different territories and under different conditions – as Imre Katona’s and my research work on the jokes of 1998 shows – the telling, understanding and explanation of gestures and jokes do not prove to be a problem, although the variants can be substantial (cf. Katona 1999; Zsigmond 2001). The jokes of the same people may differ depending on whether they are the majority or a minority group. The question arises: what happens when the jokes react to the same incident? How do jokes employing gestures change after the change of the political system? We will try to provide answers in this study. Imre Katona and the undersigned collected the political jokes of 1998 at the same time – in Hungary and in Romania respectively. At that time we were responding to Vilmos Voigt’s request, now I venture alone as Imre Katona has regrettably died since. I tried to be extremely meticulous about the circumstances of the gathering of the data. As I reside in Romania in the Transylvanian town Sf. Gheorghe/Sepsiszentgyörgy, but work in the capital, Bucharest, I have had obviously plenty of opportunities to record the jokes of this region. At the same time I spent about a month in Budapest in November and December 2001, I resorted to the help of acquaintances and friends from all over Hungary, and of course I also used the Internet in my research work. The “golden age” (1965-1989) of political jokes in Romania is over. This has been proven by comparing the collection of jokes between 1990 and 1997 to previous years (cf. Zsigmond 1997: 10). The results of my collection of 1998 compared with the one carried out equally painstakingly by Imre Katona reinforces my belief that there is a recess, but that the genre is still alive in the current political democracy. Ever since the change of the political system jokes serve less as political weapons, however, they are still needed as sources of both entertainment and protest. Our political jokes are of documentary value when establishing the presence, weight and ratio of specific problems in a given time-frame.”

Cuvinte cheie: documentary value, Folklore, Hungarian political humour, Hungary, oral history, Oral literature, political jokes, romania, and special humour of a national minority

Revista de etnografie și folclor / Journal of Ethnography and Folklore

2012, nr. 1-2