Fund for Supporting the Poor (SZETA)

The Fund for Supporting the Poor was established by intellectuals thinking out of the official party lines of Communist Hungary in the late autumn of 1979. Its founders were the following: Gábor Havas, Gábor Iványi, Gabriella Lengyel, Magdolna Matolay, András Nagy, Bálint Nagy, Katalin Pik and Ottilia Solt. Several other activists participated in the work for shorter or longer period of time. As during the socialist regime poverty was considered a taboo in the Hungary led by János Kádár, and authorities were likely to ban or prevent the activities of SZETA, its founders did not even try to make it a legal entity. According to its founding concept, SZETA was a spontaneous non-governmental initiative, with the purpose of helping those families in need who, in some way, fell through the official public safety net. Through sponsors they knew or had never met, they mainly collected money and clothing that they directly distributed to families. Apart from these benefits in cash and in kind, members also carried out social work on a voluntary base: they wrote applications and provided legal aid to their often illiterate clients. They started collecting money at the founding event, and sent out the first financial aid in December 1979. The recipients of these aids were chosen from the needy – mostly Roma – families that members of SZETA had met during their sociological fieldtrips. Apart from distributing financial aid on a regular basis, members also took part in various events organized by the political opposition as well as launching their own action. In March and June 1980, they started to raise funds reaching out to a wider network of people they knew, and wrote a circular letter beginning with “Call for supporting the poor”. In September 1980, they organized a fundraising concert, with pianist Zoltán Kocsis playing, which the authorities had banned. The same month they organized an exhibition and auction, where more than 200 pieces of art were sold – from this they bought a house for a poor woman whose children had been taken away by the state for lack of proper housing. Members of SZETA were permanently observed by the communist police. The founders had received formal police warning and were fined at the end of 1980, for being members of an illegal organization. In the summer of 1981, SZETA organized a two-week holiday at lake Balaton for needy Polish children. After the coup in Poland in December 1981, they started to raise funds for Polish children, as well as organizing a camp for the following year. In August 1982, however, the Hungarian and Polish authorities joined forces to prevent the trip of Polish children to Hungary. In February 1983, they published a literary and graphic anthology, „Feketében” (In Black) in small numbers – the publication had been organized for two years, as authorities had several times come close to thwarting their attempts (confiscating the printed books, etc.). In 1984, with no notice or formal disbandment, SZETA stopped working. Founder Gabriella Lengyel said: „everyone seemed to be busy with other issues at the time, and there was no research carried out like the ones the activities beforehand has supported”. She herself was with her newborn baby, others became editors of an illegal periodical, Beszélő, or were involved in other activities of the opposition. There was an attempt to revive the organization before the fall of the communist system, but as the founding members did not agree with the activities, nothing came of it. After the peaceful fall of communism, SZETA was reborn as a formal organization in 1989, with a new membership and leader, Bea Morvay; several cells were opened all over the country. At the same time, using the newly acquired legal possibilities several other NGOs with similar mission were created, and SZETA lost its significance.