Chapter 36 – KISZ, Life and Communism - A Circus of Pretence
Updated: Apr 6
Tales of a Teenage Spy - The Life and Times of Gábor Rimner
Photo: The way we were - Happy Campers. Gábor - that's him on the far right, with guitar - has dug out a photo, probably from 1974 or early 75 of a group at the Express camp. He has lost all other photos of the era, and does not know how this survived. He cannot recall any names of those in the group.
Chapter 36 – KISZ, Life and Communism - A Circus of Pretence
Of course, my unprecedented visit to the Soviet base was the exception to an otherwise unspectacular life based on love, leisure and labour – with the emphasis most definitely on first two activities whenever possible.
This is not to say I ignored espionage duties – far from it – just such opportunities were impossible to engineer, and my plans in that area remained focused on far more humdrum, long-term investments.
Hence, in line with US instructions, very early on I decided to join KISZ, the communist youth movement, and use it to provide both entertainment – you might say keep me out of trouble - and to enhance my circle of contacts – which you might say kept me in it.
KISZ – it's pronounced like the English word 'kiss' - was a very important organisation, and membership was almost de rigueur for every young adult. As a kind of foundation for my anti-communist mission, I tried to be a very diligent member, taking part in everything I could, and in the organising of trips and table-tennis tournaments.
I was soon given my 'reward', being selected for a training course on 'fostering political awareness among youth'.
It was a fortnight-long affair, at the village of Kismaros, about 40 km north of Budapest, on the Danube Bend, all attended by selected staff from impex foreign-trade companies.
Life at the camps quickly took on a daily routine. After we'd dragged ourselves out of bed, usually with hangovers, and had breakfast, the official day began with three to four hours of lectures on how we were supposed to convince our fellow Hungarians about the importance and perfection of communism.
Photo: First, the heavy stuff. A conference at the Kismaros camp, probably late 60s or early 70s. The slogan behind the speakers reads: Vietnam Shall Win!
Rather cleverly, it doesn't say exactly which Vietnam.
Aftter this dull nonsense, the fun started. We usually had some sports and games in the afternoon, followed by evenings sat around a campfire. Someone always had a guitar, flute or accordion, and we spent the rest of the night drinking, eating, screwing, and having fun.
It was really just one big orgy. This was also one of those things that nowadays it would be very hard to imagine or reproduce, but these events were typical of that era.
Photo: After the political lectures, students (as illustrated here) would invariably begin spontaneous discussion on how Hungarian steel production had outpaced that of Luxembourg, and the influence of Marxist-Leninist Dialectical Materialism Theory on how Deep Purple created Sweet Child in Time. Well, that was the theory. According to Rimner, some students were more into just creating children.
At the lectures, you had to keep a straight face, you weren't supposed to smile, laugh or comment. But usually, in the evenings, once you were past your first bottle of wine and your first girlfriend for that night, then people talked about everything, and not really with any inhibitions.
We always discussed the day's events and invariably concluded it was a big, big joke: one big circus.
Of course, this didn't include the lecturers, who only came in to talk, and then they went.
This was typical KISZ life. It was normal that nobody took it seriously. We sat in the lectures because we knew that was our duty. That was why we were given two weeks' paid vacation, that we would be sitting there listening to those idiotic things, trying to keep straight faced, despite the mad mantras being spouted by the lecturers.
And in many ways, KISZ camps were merely an unconstrained reflection of regular working life. I don't think more than 1% of Elektroimpex staff believed in the political propaganda dished out on a daily basis.
True, you couldn't joke about communism in front of Éva, the Éva who I'd accompanied to the Soviet base. She felt uncomfortable if the others in the room, who were mostly younger than her by 10-15 years, started making jokes that she wasn't supposed to tolerate.
But we didn't take her very seriously, and I don't think she was a genuine believer in communism at all. More like she knew bloody well that you had to keep up a front regarding your political beliefs in those days if you wanted a fast-track career. Gossip came and went, and pretty soon everybody knew everything about everyone, so if you wanted to progress up the job ladder, you kept stumm.
It's probably true that the majority of the population at that time no longer believed in the communist-socialist ideal, but my guess is that many still felt that the imperialist west, the capitalist countries and NATO member states were our enemies. That they were a threat to us, the peaceful, progressive minded socialist states of the east, and they wanted to colonise us and prevent the birth of real communism that would bring welfare to the peoples of the world. This was hammered into everyones' brains by the state-controlled media, and it was still having an effect.
But by the mid-70s, many, especially the youth, had no truck with the propaganda, and especially in places like the import/export companies, where employees knew foreign languages and had permission to travel abroad, we knew different.
Such 'soft' intelligence was certainly not up there with details of the Hungarian Army's battle plans for attacking Austria – and to this day I still don't really know if the Americans wanted information on this - but I spent quite a lot of time trying to describe the atmosphere that you could feel every day on the street and in the offices, because I thought it was important.
EDITORIAL UPDATE - My pal Tom, who lived in Kismaros through much of the 90s and early 2000s, wrote to say: The camp includes the Hotel Express. It lies between Veröce and Kismaros but most people think of it as being in Kismaros as the entrance was on that side and that's where people staying there would go out to eat and drink. Between 1976 and 1990 Kismaros and Veröce were united under the name Veröcemaros (until quite recently this name still appeared on the station maps/diagrams on some MÁV coaches.). When the two villages separated, Verőce got the Expressz tábor, due no doubt to some dubious jiggery-pokery.
I really can't think what he might mean by that last sentence.