Ferenc Gerlóczy

Tard 1936–1998

The people of Tard have ambiguous feelings towards Zoltán Szabó. On the one hand, they are proud of him; his book can be found on the bookshelves of many a home. It is understandable: The Situation at Tard, a sociography reprinted four times within a year, became so famous in Hungary that people often associate the word "situa tion" with Tard. On the other hand, they are annoyed with Szabó for getting the village’s name into in the newspapers". "I had but one obligation: probe the wounds as deeply as possible, so that I would be able to learn about the weapons that had caused them," Szabó wrote in his foreword to The Situation at Tard in 1936. The fact that more has been written about Tard than about any other similar village in Hungary can safely be ascribed to the impact of this book.

Tibor Simó’s choice of Tard for conducting a comprehensive sociological survey in the late 1970s was explained both by Szabó’s book, which could serve as a basis for comparison, and by the fact that Tard was "a normal village very close to the average", as Simó put it.

It was not always all that average. Upon his return from the Don Bend and a Soviet PoW camp, József Rózsa, a local teacher who had helped Szabó with his book, published an essay entitled Tard, 1947. In this he hailed the changes that had taken place, boasting that the village received more land from Prince Coburg’s estate following the 1945 land reform than did neighbouring Mezoý kövesd and Cserépváralja together, thus "the fields of Tard were extended, with plots allotted to 378 farmers." It was him who collected the data for the most memorable chapter of Szabó’s book in which children were asked "What did you eat this week?"

The music teacher Tamás Váczi, whose 1988 book featured characters based on real-life Tard inhabitants, himself posed the same question fifty years after Zoltán Szabó: "What did you eat this week?" "Since I am a day-boarder," one girl answered, "I eat all week what the others do. On Mondays a sandwich in the morning, and vegetables and soup at noon. Soup and pancake at night. On Tuesdays bread and dripping and tea.
Bean soup and pasta for lunch. Soup and meat at night." Another girl, also a day-boarder, said however that there was an even ing meal "only on Sundays". In this region saying "what a nice, fat child" is still meant as a compliment.

The people of Tard do not look on their place as "an average village". Here people take pride in everything that comes from Tard, and when there is news of a young man’s marriage, it always adds to the general delight to learn that the bride is also from Tard. Those who have emigrated—above all the "Canadians" and the "Swedes"—regularly return on visits. Even more regular is the return of those who have found work in Miskolc, Eger, Mezoý kövesd or Budapest. On All Saints’ Day or at the time of the local fair, Tard seems to be much more populous than it actually is.

In Szabó’s times, more than 2,300 lived in the village, and the population was grow ing: forty-eight on average died every year, against seventy one who were born. Today Tard has 1,598 inhabitants. Twenty-seven people died last year, and only seven babies were born. To make things worse, of the 1598 inhabitants fewer than 220 are in full-time employment; the others are pensioners (680), unemployed (112), children, and part-time or casual workers.

Ever since the land reform, there have been no estate owners in Tard; the economic elite is formed by three or four entrepreneurs with some capital to invest, who make a living from farming, running agricultural machine pools, or owning for ests. Those who have received compensation for properties seized by the Com mun ists now all work their narrow strips of land, with many of them complementing that with a plot leased from the local government. The co-operative is still functioning, and the intention is to keep it that way.

It is not only the people who have declined in number, so too have the animals. Back then there were still several hundred head of cattle and horses. Now there are fewer than a hundred cows, of which no more than sixty or sixty-five are put out to grass in the village’s common pasture. Today there are only two horses in Tard, the 273 cars are now the largest class of "livestock".

The ethnic and religious composition of Tard continues to be homogeneous. Almost all the villagers are Catholic; the small number of Calvinists or members of other denominations almost all moved into the village as adults. The Baptist minority, a sizable group even in Szabó’s time, has become an accepted denomination. They are regarded as the "hard-working strangers" with a higher-than-average standard of living. From time to time the sectarians, already mentioned by Szabó—Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals— still come over from neighbouring villages to proselytize, albeit with little success. From an ethnic view point Tard is perhaps even more homogeneous. "There are no ethnics here," people would habitually say, meaning that Roma no longer live in the village, not even on Gypsy Row.

When Szabó wrote his book, Tard’s only connection with the outside world, meaning Mezoýkövesd, was by telegraph. Even in 1993, phones meant a single booth outside the Post Office. For the past few years, almost all the homes have acquired telephones—all those homes whose owners applied for them and could afford to pay the basic rate. This means about 350 subscribers, not counting the public institutions. Around ten people are on the Internet, and there are at least twenty cellular telephones in the village. This is so regardless of the point that—in Zoltán Szabó’s words—the village is "on both sides of the ditch known as the Tard brook", and therefore the area is inadequately covered. Poor reception often plagues television viewers, too. However, in Tard not even those who could otherwise afford it have time to watch much television: the church bells of Tard first toll at 5:00 a.m., and by 9:00 p.m. most people are fast asleep. (At weekends a couple of dozen teenagers stay up until 3:00 a.m., dancing in a disco set up in a former stable).

Typically it is the women who are the bosses, rather than the men who, like elsewhere in Hungary, have a much lower life expectancy. Which is hardly surprising. The arrangement of the living quarters in the thatch ed cottage which is the local history museum shows that there was not enough room in the house for both men and children. As soon as the baby arrived, the man had to move out of the matrimonial bed, and into the "male quarters", a shabby room attached to the stable.

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