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László VÉGEL
( 1941 )


1941 (1st February) born in Szenttamás (Srbobran, then Yugoslavia)
1959-64?? studies Hungarian at Újvidék / Novi Sad University and Philosophy at Belgrad University
?? contributes to the weekly Képes Ifjúság
1971-1980 edits the literary supplement "Kilátó" for Magyar Szó
1980-1992 TV screenwriter for Novi Sad Television
1987-1989 on the editorial board of Prolog in Zagreb
?? on the editorial board of New Symposion
currently working for the Soros Foundation in Novi Sad

1969 Mladost Award
1993 Soros Foundation’s Endre Ady Award
1994 Free Press Award
1995 Tibor Déry Award
2000 Golden Medal of the President of the Hungarian Republic
2000 „Jelenkor” Publishing House Award of Excellence
2001 Book of the Year Award
2003 Milán Füst Award
2005 Pulitzer Memorial Award
2005 Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic - Officer Cross
2009 Kossuth-Prize


War, history and ethnic minority life are each rich topics in their own right, and László Végel has experienced all three first hand. For him, events took a sharp turn for the worse during the NATO bombing campaign on Serbia in the spring of 1999. He began keeping a diary - not a conventional chronicle - but a fictionalised one in which his main protagonist appears in the second person, going underground to avoid harassment, moving from place to place with only a toothbrush and a pair of pyjamas. This character finds himself unable to identify with Serbian "triumphalism" and self-centredness. He documents the creation of a myth, the self-exculpations and lies, the ever-renewing ethnic conflicts that were sharpened by the ruined bridges over the Danube and the suffering caused by the bombing - all glossed over or ignored both by opposition activists and by intellectuals and upper classes, tucked away in their safe havens. After the NATO bombings, even those who had earlier protested against Serb nationalism were turned into loyal patriots, knowing or unconscious servants of the system: "... insidious delay. Time and time again. Nearly a century- long delay. We don't have to settle anything. Serbia remains the land of the innocent and the humiliated, and the two together equal hell. A squandered country. Her lost people will not come to terms with themselves. There is no time: soon, later, but not now. Nothing has happened... Things have happened as if nothing had happened." During his several months of living in illegality, Végel's narrator notes the contrasts between life in the cities of Novi Sad and Subotica, with their throngs of Serb patriots dancing happily, drinking coffee, or taking leisurely strolls, and that in his native village of Srbobran, with its mainly ethnic Hungarian populace (to whom the village's name is Szenttamás), where his mother dare not step out into the street. He writes about brief moments that would be inconceivable in peacetime: a couple making love on the roof during the bombing, an Albanian baker and the sunny boys having fun in Szeged, Hungary. Yet Végel was an exile and castaway even before the war started, neither a full-blooded Hungarian patriot nor an enthusiastic Serb revolutionary, and too resigned an intellectual for the liberals. The fate that Végel is reminded of is that of writer Sándor Márai, whose anguished diary of his forty-plus years as an emigrant in the USA is now seen as one of the major testimonies of post-war Hungarian literature. But Extraterritorial is in its own right a deeply serious book about a society living on illusions, a portrait of a reality that TV viewers tuning in to CNN broadcasts on the conflict cannot even begin to suspect. "These ominous, apocalyptic events confirmed Végel's status as an outsider... What he writes is not a diary: he pictures a frozen, absurd state of being..." (József Tamás Reményi, Élet és Irodalom) "Végel takes refuge in the realm of pure speech, in the deadly idea of this loving country..." (István Ladányi, Élet és Irodalom)

Homeless Essays

A person from a minority cannot be a citizen of one world while at the same time, as the heir of certain cultural values, having to wander constantly to another world. This inevitably leads to schizophrenia of the minority. When this is the case, one is only capable of complaining, finding consolation only in the culture of the mother country, and considering his own the culture of agony. One has to prevent this by accepting the responsibility of a European frame of mind that is a consequence of his situation, and by amalgamating an autonomous world of his own from the shattered mosaic pieces. By the act of creation he acknowledges his own culture, which ceases to be a culture of agony only if it is capable of creation. Whoever is not willing to recognise this, will exile the politics of the minority's identity into the dubious territory of ethno-centrism. (From the Publisher's Note / book jacket)

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