Contributed by Iván Vitányi and Mária Sági
The origins of the Club of Budapest can be traced to two events that took place in the second half of the twentieth century. The first was the establishment, in 1968, of the Club of Rome, a progressive think tank with a worldwide base, particularly active in Europe. In Hungary it was led by Ervin Laszlo. The second factor was the particular rôle played by Hungary during the fall of Communism at the end of the 1980’s. Of all the former Soviet bloc countries, it was in Hungary that the transformation to democracy was the most ordered and peaceful, and totally without bloodshed.
There was a vast movement of opinion at the time – popular opinion, intellectual opinion; an opinion shared by the progressive echelons of high ranking politicians—that pointed towards the same conclusion, namely the need for a peaceful transformation in Hungary from a Soviet satellite to an independent democratic state. Agreement between the parties was negotiated with the result that free elections were held in May of 1990. József Antall, a liberal democrat, was elected Prime Minister. Soviet troop withdrawal commenced immediately thereafter and was completed within a year.
It was the opening of dialogue within the Hungarian political élite that led to the opening of the border with Austria, the historic event that precipitated the dismantling of the Iron Curtain.
Iván Vitányi, the senior author of this note, was a member of the political-intellectual leadership of the country. As Member of Parliament he took part in negotiating the transfer of power to Hungary’s first democratically elected government.
In the course of the 1970s and ‘80s, Laszlo came often to Hungary. The renewal of his long-standing friendship with Vitányi was instrumental in giving birth to the Club of Budapest. Laszlo had become an active member of the Club of Rome, and there was a surge of interest in the work of the Club in Hungary following the publication of The Limits to Growth (1972). This in turn raised interest in Laszlo’s work, especially his Club of Rome report, Goals for Mankind (1977)). Vitányi in turn became Director of the Institute for Culture in 1970, where Mária Sági was a researcher, and later principal collaborator. They worked together on numerous research projects in cultural sociology and social psychology.
Sági and Laszlo started collaborating in 1983. The Institute for Culture had called an international conference for December 1983, at which Laszlo gave a lecture on general systems and evolution theory. He was impressed by the Institute’s work, and fascinated by the research of Sági and Vitányi on generative ability in music. He particularly liked the use of thorough deep interview techniques in our socio-psychological researches, at that time this was not usual among sociologists.
Laszlo became affiliated with the Tokyo-based United Nations University (UNU), and in 1984, when Suzuki Sakura Mushakoji, Vice-Rector of the UNU was looking for research affiliates in Central Europe, Laszlo recommended the Institute for Culture. Agreement was reached, finances were secured, and the Institute for Culture began its research on European Identity. Work was completed in eight countries under the direction of Mária Sági, who at the time was the Institute’s principal researcher. Sági also headed the research on Hungary, collected the international results and compiled the final report. The report was published in Hungarian in the journal Valóság, and subsequently in English in a special edition of World Futures.
In 1984, backed by The Institute for Culture, Vitányi and Laszlo founded the European Culture Impact Research Consortium (EUROCIRCON). All subsequent international research projects were carried out under the auspices of EUROCIRCON.
The years between 1988 to 1992 were years of high drama in East-Central Europe, where a transition took place that was so fundamental that it would be more correct to call it a transformation. During this time Laszlo raised the idea of founding an international “artists and writer’s club” to partner with the Club of Rome, and focus in particular on the “soft factors” of the limits to growth: values, expectations, worldviews, and states of mind and consciousness. He suggested that Budapest would provide an ideal intellectual and cultural climate for this endeavor. The idea was taken up by Sándor Csoóri, then President of the World Federation of Hungarians, and the Club of Budapest was called into being. Laszlo was named President and was supported by a Board made up of Sándor Csoóri (poet), Sándor Sára (film director), Gedeon Dienes (dance historian), and Mária Sági and Iván Vitányi (cultural sociologists). The Club was given office space in the House of Hungarian Culture, where it remains to this day.
The Club got off to a slow start as its first General Secretary worked in tourism and did not devote sufficient time to Club activities. It was only in 1995 that real work began. By the following year preparations for the first conferences were well in hand, some two dozen world-famous personalities had joined the Club as Honorary Members (among them Mikhail Gorbachev, The Dalai Lama, Vaclav Havel, Liv Ullmann, Yehudi Menuhin, and Peter Ustinov) and the Club published the Manifesto on Planetary Consciousness, a document that states its fundamental objectives and enduring mission.