“The Congress for Cultural Freedom: The Impact on Hungarian Intellectuals”

On Tuesday November 19th, The Danube Institute and Hungarian Review will welcome to the stage at Brody Studio Courtyard Roselyne Chenu, who in the 1960’s oversaw the activities of the Congress for Cultural Freedoms efforts in Eastern Europe, organised under the banner of the Comité d’écrivains et d’éditeurs pour une entraide européenne (European Mutual Aid Committee for Writers and Editors).

The Congress for Cultural Freedom, or CCF was  organized by the CIA in the 1950’s in reaction to the Communist Information Bureau’s (Cominform).  The Cominform conducted a systematic  campaign to sway the Western Intelligensia’s opinion favorably to Communism.  

 The gathering of 800 leading intellectuals at the Waldorf Astoria in 1949 to demand “peace at any price” with Stalin was a prominent example of the Soviet sponsored cultural conferences which sought to legitimize the communist ideology. 

The CCF emerged in 1950 as the West’s "most steadfast and effective focus of intellectual resistance to Stalin and Stalinism” according to Hilton Kramer, exposing the true nature and fraudulent culture of Communism.  It provided the link to the world beyond the Iron Curtain for many Hungarian artists, writers, and poets located throughout Eastern Europe.  Writing on the importance of the CCF, historian George F. Kennan made the following observation, in a 1959 letter to Nicolas Nabokov:

“I can think of no group of people who have done more to hold our world together in these last years than you and your associates in the Congress [for Cultural Freedom]. In this country [the United States] in particular, few will ever understand the dimensions and significance of your accomplishment.”

Ms Chenu recalls, “In 1974, my mailing list of Eastern Europe had something like four hundred names in it. I still have friendly relations with some of them – or their children – to this day. […]”

Joining Ms. Chenu to discuss the importance of the CCF isria Illyés who was a partner of Madame Chenu in recruiting Hungarian grantees for her program over many years and former Hungarian Ambassador to Paris, János Szávai, himself a beneficiary of the Congress’s programs.  

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