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János Kádár’s autographs
Interview with his Private Secretary
Secretary-General of the Hungarian Socialist Worker’s Party /1956-1988/
Prime Minister of People’s Republic of Hungary /1956-1958, 1961-1965/
He was born 100 years ago on 26 May, 1912, Fiume, / now Rijeka in Croatia
In the 1960s I was a young school boy when János Kádár paid a visit to the small village Csenger (in eastern Hungary) where I used to live. In my elementary school I asked my Russian language teacher to let me go to the place where Kádár met people. There was a big crowd as everybody wanted to see and listen to the first man of Hungary. However, I was lucky to be able to go up to Kádár and asked him to give me his signature. I had a small graph paper excercise book and he signed it. It was my very first autograph. In 1963 he sent me his signed photo by mail.
Mrs. Nadja Barta was born in Moscow. During the reign of Stalin, her father was transported to the forced labor camp system Gulag where he did not survive. Nadja and her mother moved to Hungary in 1948. She became correspondent for Soviet Telegraph Agency /TASS/ and later for newspaper Pravda. She got a job at Kádár’s Secretariat in the 1960s and she became the Private Secretary and Russian language interpreter to him until his resignation. She was the interpreter at the official meetings and official discussions of Kádár with all Soviet leaders from Krushchev until Gorbachev. Now she is 86. She gave me an interview last year in May and September. (When talking about János Kádár, Mrs. Nadja ta always refers him as ”my Boss” – the author.)
-You worked with Kádár for nearly 30 years. Probably you knew him better than anybody else. What was he like as a boss and as a private individual?
Mrs. Barta: - As a boss he had a strong character. He worked very hard and demanded the hard work from his colleagues also. He started at 10 in the morning and finished work at 8-9- in the evening. He was not loud with anybody, but if he did not like something, he had a piercing look which was worse than a shouting. When he was leaving home in the morning, his guard telephoned us and we put the coffee on. After coffee he read official documents and newspapers. Having finished reading he visited his deputies in their rooms and they had a talk. After 2 p.m. he had his lunch, but only cold meal. He liked salami, cheese and tea. Having finished eating he had 20 minutes rest in his room. In the afternoon he had his discussion with other politicians. Late in the evening he and his wife went to the Foreign Ministry’ hotel where they had a hot meal. He smoked a lot, he used Hungarian made strong cigarette called ”Symphonia”. He was a polite, considerate person, he never forgot their colleagues’ name day. He always congratulated them.
– Kádár was famous for his simple lifestyle. Have you ever been to his house?
Mrs. Barta: – Yes, he was a puritan man. He lived in a small villa with three rooms. He did not normally invite other politicians to his home, but he made an exception with Krushchev and Andropov. I visited his home with Andropov. I was surprised that in his garden his wife kept chicken. So they had fresh egg every day. He did not watch TV. He had one, but he placed it to his cellar. He said it would be waste of time and instead of watching TV he read books. Although he did not have a university degree, he educated himself by reading. He was very intelligent and loved playing chess. Several Heads of State brought him a chess sets as a present when paying an official visit to Hungary. In Moscow once he played a party with Chess World Champion Anatoly Karpov. After the game Karpov said: ”Kádár was playing like a master.” János Kádár’s wife Maria was a very quiet, reserved person. They had no children.
– Having been the private secretary of János Kádár you met all Soviet leaders. Did he have a good contact with all, or did he like ones better than the others?
Mrs. Barta: – His favourite was Krushchev, probably because Krushchev helped him to get in power. Krushchev was not an educated person, but he was very sincere. They agreed in most issues, because they had similar political views in many questions. When Krushchev was deposed my Boss was really sorry for him. I remember my Boss sending some packages of apple to Krushchev as he liked the Hungarian apple very much. At that time Krushchev was in house arrest, and the Soviet officials were ordered by the Communist leadership not to forward any letter or parcel from abroad so they returned Kádár’s parcel, with label on it ”Addressee Unknown” … My Boss was sad. He had a good contact with Andropov also. He was the Soviet Ambassador in Budapest during the 1956 Revolution and they knew eatch other from that time. Andropov was a very intelligent man and he wrote poems. After the official meetings, he often recited his own poems… At the beginning my Boss got on well with Brezhnev. Brezhnev respected my Boss and always wanted to know his opinion about important questions. At the end, when Brezhnev became ill, he changed, and it was difficult to discuss any subject with him. Similar to Andropov, Brezhnev also liked poems very much, and he usually read poems for us after a meeting. He was fond of singing. He had a deep voice and sometimes he sang for the delagation when the official work had finished. My Boss and Brezhnev enjoyed hunting.
Here is a photo about a hunting in the Soviet Union, showing my Boss, Brezhnev, Podgorny, two officials and me. Kádár did not like Chernenko, he found the Soviet leader self-willed, unelastic person. But he understood Gorbachev. By the way I remember the photo of my Boss and Gorbachev you sent to our office for signing. My Boss signed it, and next time we travelled to visit Gorbachev we had that photo taken with us and my Boss personally asked Gorbachev to sign it for you. Did you still have that photo?
– Yes, of course. It was in 1986 when Gorbachev signed it.(On the photo you can see the exact date: 28.II.86.- the author.) Would you tell me something about the relation between János Kádár and the West-European Heads of State?
Mrs. Barta: – He had good and cordial contact with many leaders from the West. He met Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, German Chancellor Willi Brandt, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher among others. He made himself understood with them. After a Budapest meeting with my Boss, Kreisky said: ”He is a very nice and kind man. What a pity he is a communist…” When my Boss died, Helmut Schmidt gave a friendly, warm speach about him.
– Kádár had a good sense of humour didn’t he?
Mrs. Barta: – Yes, he did. I will tell you a story. In 1968 the political circumstances were very serious because of the Prague Spring. My Boss did not want to participate in the Warsaw Pact operation. In this matter he had some hard discussions with Brezhnev. You should know, that when we met Brezhnev before that, he always kissed my hand. At that occassion when we met him, the atmoshpere was not so friendly. After the meeting I told my Boss. ”Comrade Brezhnev is probably angry with us since he did not kiss my hand” My Boss replied: ”That’s nothing Nadja, I lost much more. He did not kiss me on the mouth.” /Here is a photo of Kádár and Brezhnev signed by both for the author/
– Heads of State usually have a kind of secretary or a person who writes their speeches. Did Kádár have somebody who did this job?
Mrs. Barta: – No. He wrote everything himself by hand. Many times he preferred using a pencil. Here is a telegram of condolence he sent to the widow of the famous Soviet actor-humorist A. Raykin. /1911-1987/ He drafted and wrote it himself. When he was abroad and I was not with him, he always sent a postcard for me. This card is signed by him, also signed by President Pál Losonczi, Foreign Minister Várkonyi, and Ambassador Rajnai. On special occassions he dedicated a photo for me and for other people in the Secretariat.
- You were the Private Secretary and interpreter of the political leader of Hungary for almost 30 years. You know a lot. Why do not you write your memoires?
Mrs. Barta: – My Boss would not like it…
Mrs. Barta is in her appartment in 2011 with her Boss’s photograph
Dr. Zoltán Márián