Writer, former President of the Berlin Academy of Arts 1997–2003
Guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 1977–1978
In 1997 György Konrád was the first foreigner to be elected President of the Berlin Academy of Arts. At the beginning of 2003 the Hungarian writer passed his office on to his successor, the Swiss writer Adolf Muschg. For more than 30 years, Berlin was something like a second home to Konrád. His publications were banned in Hungary when he first came to Germany as a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme in 1977.
As President of the Academy, I had the opportunity to set in motion dialogue between intellectuals in West and East.
He was born in Debrecen in 1933 as the son of a Jewish ironmonger and lost most of his family in Auschwitz. After the war, he studied literature, sociology and psychology in Budapest. He took part in the Hungarian popular uprising in 1956 and subsequently actively called for the democratisation of Hungary. He worked as a welfare worker and sociologist, and in 1969 gained international recognition with his debut novel: A látogató (The Case Worker).
His uncompromising social criticism soon aroused the suspicion of the Communist Party. He was arrested in 1974 and released again after worldwide protests. But was no longer allowed to publish in his home country. Scholarships took him to the United States and West Berlin. He wrote his novel A cinkos (The Loser) in Berlin in 1978. Konrád deals with the topics of freedom and human dignity in all his works, both in his novels – for example, Kerti mulatság (A Feast in the Garden, 1986), Melinda és Dragomán (Melinda and Dragoman, 1981) and Hagyaték (The Legacy, 1999) – and in his mosaic-like autobiography Kakasok Bánata, which appeared in German translation as Das Buch Kalligaro in 2007.
Numerous political essays made him known as a theoretician of a new Europe. He has long been regarded as an important builder of bridges between Central-Eastern Europe and Western Europe. This is why he was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1991 and the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen in 2001. He received Franz Werfel Human Rights Prize in 2007. From 1990 until 1993 he was President of the International PEN Club. In Berlin Konrád liked to speak out in political discussions with contemplative persistence – be it against the controversial Holocaust Memorial in Berlin or against the Kosovo War. Under his presidency, the Berlin Academy of Arts above all opened up a dialogue with intellectuals in Central and South Eastern Europe.