Feature Christmas 2008: Formative Years

Not becoming a communist doctor

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2953 (Published 12 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2953
  1. A P Barabas, retired surgeon
  1. 1Bury St Edmunds IP30 0DA
  1. andrasbarabas{at}hotmail.com

    Being a medical student in Hungary in the 1950s was not straightforward for A P Barabas

    Recently, I was miraculously reunited with my “Leckekönyv” (fig1). English has no satisfactory single word for a leckekönyv, but the Magyar-Angol dictionary defines it as a university registration document. Mine was issued in the autumn of 1953, and it records my progress through three years as a medical student in Budapest, Hungary.

    Fig 1 Registration document issued by the medical school of Budapest in 1953; it serves as a testament to the state of medical education under communism

    In 1953 Stalin died, and this triggered a power struggle in the Russian Politburo, closely mirrored by an upheaval among Hungary’s Muscovite leaders. How did the Byzantine machinations of the time affect medical students?

    Political events in Hungary, 1945-56

    • 1945—Free election in Hungary; the Communist Party suffers humiliating defeat

    • 1948—Stalin’s “salami tactics” launched to eliminate all opposition to communism

    • March 1953—Stalin dies; struggle between hardliners and reformers in the Kremlin begins

    • June 1953—“Stalin’s best disciple” in Hungary, Rákosi, forced to resign; Imre Nagy appointed as prime minister and initiates reforms

    • January 1955—Rákosi returns to power; Nagy branded a “right revisionist”

    • February 1956—Khrushchev makes a “secret” speech denouncing Stalin’s crimes

    • July 1956—Rákosi resigns (again) and leaves Hungary; Ernő Gerő appointed

    • 23 October 1956—Student demonstration turns into an uprising

    • 31 October 1956—Russians withdraw, start negotiations with Imre Nagy

    • 4 November 1956—Russians reinvade, crushing the uprising; Imre Nagy arrested and executed

    • November, December 1956—200 000 refugees flee Hungary

    The medical curriculum

    My leckekönyv records the subjects we had to study during my first semester (fig 2). Physics, chemistry, anatomy, and biology were taught, but we had few textbooks. This was partly because of postwar shortages but also because many of the heads of preclinical …

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