At age 11, filmmaker George Csicsery became a Hungarian Boy Scout at a boarding school outside of Buffalo, New York. In 1988 he received some 16mm film shot at that boarding home in 1959. Troop 214 embarks from this footage to explain why there were Hungarian Scouts in Buffalo in 1959.
Csicsery knew he would make Troop 214 the day he saw the home movies shot in Buffalo by the late Rev. Louis Kövari, Sch. P. in 1959-1961. The crisp 16mm black & white and color footage became the impetus for the production. In 1989 Csicsery documented the St. Stephen's Day procession in Budapest with leftover stock from another film he was working on at the time. The presence of the Scouts as honor guards in the procession—for the first time since before 1948—became a second element in this documentary that covers broad swaths of Hungarian and cold war history.
In addition to the film shot around Buffalo between 1959 and 1961, the archival material on Hungarian Scouts goes back to 1924. Some of it documents the highly publicized 1933 Gödöllö World Jamboree, a Hungarian-sponsored event attended by thousands of scouts from around the world.
Key Interviews in 1994
Károly Grósz, the last Communist prime minister, was interviewed at his country estate in Gödöllo. He spoke about his own positive experiences as a Scout during World War II, and about the failures of the KISZ movement and the Pioneers during the Communist era. He condemned the Communist Youth League (KISZ) for its dogmatic and slavish adherence to ideology.
András Ugron is a Budapest city architect and very active Scout leader. We filmed him at a Scout camp near Solymár in the hills west of Buda, where earlier that day, Ugron and the Scouts around him had erected a Transylvanian gate. The gate has a peculiar history; it was first displayed at the 1933 World Scouting Jamboree held in Gödöllö—the historical high point of Hungarian scouting.
Mátyás Ivasivka is a music teacher and world famous choirmaster at the renowned Louis the Great High School in Pécs in southern Hungary. Mr. Ivasivka had been in charge of a spontaneously organized underground Scout network throughout the 1950s. He took us into the Mecsek hills outside of Pécs to the site of the secret campgrounds and rock caves where the Scouts had met illegally until 1961, when the risk of discovery became too great. In these woods Ivasivka and Csaba Nyárfás told stories about those days and sang the Scout songs Ivasivka had composed as alternates to the banned Scout anthem. They then took us to an 11th century church at Mánfa that the Scouts had used for religious services during their camping trips. Afterwards, more interviews yielded anecdotes and descriptions of life during the 1950s. Ivasivka allowed us to use several of his choral orchestrations.
László Surján: Head of the Hungarian Scout Federation, and the leader of all Hungarian Scouts, Surján was interviewed at the headquarters of Hungarian scouting, a building in the hills of Buda donated to the Scouts by the government in the 1990s. Surján provided a detailed history of Hungarian scouting and addressed some of the contemporary issues, including co-existence with a revamped Pioneer movement, grumbling from younger leaders about the leadership being out of touch, and differences with Hungarian Scout leaders from the United States.
At headquarters we also interview Jozsef Ormay, who was present in 1948 when the Pioneers confiscated the traditional Scout camp at Csillebérc in the Buda hills. “I watched them rip the phones out,” Ormay told us. Csillebérc was our next stop.
Csillebérc, once the center for the best and brightest of Hungarian Pioneers, is now designated a Youth Center. A vast parade ground with a circle of monumentally tall flagpoles—but no flag in sight—is but one of the skeletal remains of the ornate settings for the grand socialist pageants of the recent past. The only sign of ideology anywhere is a lonely stone statue of a Young Pioneer, a spray of flowers clenched in a fist raised over his head in a salute. The banner fluttering behind him proclaims the Pioneer slogan “Forward.” His nose is broken. When did it happen, I wonder? Was it political vandalism, or just an act of hooliganism by rowdy teenagers?
Our drive-through shot of the spacious grounds took us through only a portion of the hundreds of acres at Csillebérc, an impressive piece of parkland real estate. Once the property of the Scouts, Csillebérc was confiscated by the Communist Party in 1948 and turned over to the Pioneers, who still administer the complex and maintain their offices there. We filmed at the sites where much of the archival footage touting the internationalism of the Pioneers was shot during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1994 Csillebérc’s most important tenant was the American International School. The archival film of the Pioneers juxtaposed with our own footage of American students on the same wooded pathways highlights the ironies of history.
At Csillebérc we interviewed Peter Rácz, current (1994) president of the Pioneers. Looking around Rácz’s office, it is hard to tell what kind of business is conducted here. In fact, the Pioneer office has not a single image of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, or of any Hungarian socialist leader. There are no red flags, hammers or sickles anywhere. Nor are there posters proclaiming solidarity with liberation movements in Central America or Africa in the struggle against capitalism. A decade ago these items had been ubiquitous. The logo of the reconstituted Union of Hungarian Pioneers is a Disneyesque squirrel holding a Hungarian flag. At the center of the flag is a campfire with a red flame. That red flame is the only evidence of any connection with the organization’s past. Thus, part of the interview is dedicated to discussing the absence of the Pioneer uniform—the white shirt and red kerchief—worn worldwide by organized socialist youth. Rácz explained that there is no uniform requirement for today’s Pioneers. He is conciliatory about the Scouts, and magnanimous, saying there is more than enough room in Hungary for several youth movements. True, the number of Pioneers has shrunk from 1.5 million in 1988 (when membership was still unofficially compulsory) to between 65,000 in 1994. But the Scouts number only around 30,000, which means the Pioneers still reach more young people than the Scouts.
Our video tech in Budapest, János Tarcsa, had been telling stories about his own high school Pioneer experiences. I asked him to repeat them on tape. He reluctantly agreed, and became the last interview of the 1994 shoot. János was young enough to admit that he had never heard of the Scouts until after 1989, and discussed the peer pressure that made it “advisable” to be a Pioneer at his high school. His stories are about the camaraderie he experienced, but also about the cruel social exclusion of students who refused to join, and the rituals of public humiliation inflicted on these students.
Filming in the United States
In August 1995 and 1996, the activities of Hungarian-American Scouts were filmed at jamborees and camps held in upstate New York. These scenes show second- and third-generation emigré children struggling to speak a language that is already foreign to them. Ironically, because of their prolonged isolation from Hungary, the emigrés and their children have preserved traditions in a more pristine form than their peers in Hungary, but these young Scouts radiate a romantic idealism about the old country that is sometimes humorously distant from reality.
Key Interviews in the U.S.
Gábor Bodnár (1920-1996) founded the Hungarian Scouts Association in Exteris in refugee camps in Germany in the late 1940s, and remained at the hem of the movement until his death. The interview with him was conducted at the Fillmore camp in 1995. He recounted the story of how the movement arouse from the refugee camps and spread thoughout Europe, the Americas, and Australia. He was instrumental in arranging the revocation of the ban on scouting in 1988 and the seamless restoration of scouting in Hungary that followed.
Imre Lendvai-Lintner is the current leader of the Hungarian Scouts in Exteris, continuing the work started by Gábor Bodnár’s generation.
During its long production history—spanning 20 years—Troop 214 evolved into a human commentary on the Cold War. It holds lessons about how this period of conflicting ideologies molded the lives of participants on both sides, and how the effects linger in an odd blend of subsided hostilities and nostalgia.
The film was edited by George Csicsery and Gabriella Koncz during 1996 and 1997 at Duna-TV, which broadcast the film in Hungary. The DVD released in November 2008 on DVD contains both the original Hungarian version, and an English subtitled version of the entire 60-minute film, along with four extra features in English that were shot in the United States in 1995 and 1996 and finally assembled in 2008.
© 2004- George Csicsery