An effort to save Hungarian books in Montreal

In early February, we reported on how 2,000 Hungarian books were thrown out by the Foyer Hongrois retirement home and we shared an image showing a garbage container full of books. We can now report on a more positive development: earlier this month 60 boxes containing some 2,500 Hungarian-language books remaining at the Foyer were packed up and prepared for transportation to Hungary, thanks to the help of Éva Dányi, head of the National Széchényi Library’s acquisitions department, as well as to librarian Angyal Bedross and Csilla Nemes, a scholarship recipient with the Kőrösi Csoma Sándor Program.  The news of this effort to save Hungarian books in Montreal and a photograph showing them boxed up for transportation to Hungary was shared by Enikő Nagy, a volunteer with a cultural association called Csillagösvény Egyesület, which is affiliated with the Hungarian United Church of Montreal.

Hungarian books in Montreal ready for transport to Hungary.

Zsolt Bede-Fazekas, owner of the Pannonia Hungarian Bookstore in Toronto, wrote a piece Friday commending this effort, noting that the focus seems to have been on the negative story from early February published in HFP and in the Kanadai Magyar Hírlap, with much less attention given to this new, more positive outcome. Mr. Bede-Fazekas then explained why he himself did not share the original news item on the destroyed books, remarking: “Why beat the drum to bad news?”

The original story in our sister publication, the Kanadai Magyar Hírlap, was shared and liked over 3,000 times on Facebook. News of what happened in Montreal spread far and wide, and quickly, and was picked up from us by other publications and media platforms. Media has a role to play in shining light on stories that would otherwise be buried or only known in small local circles, particularly when doing so might lead to more positive outcomes in the future. It’s possible that the National Széchényi Library already had plans in place to save the remaining books at the Foyer Hongrois some six weeks after we broke this story in English and Hungarian. But I should note that at the time, and in the days when the Foyer Hongrois faced significant criticism for what happened, nobody on the Board mentioned anything about the existence of such plans to save these books. As such, it’s certainly quite possible that the National Széchényi Library and others in Hungary acted after the media reports and outcry.

Either way, this is a welcome outcome. Keep these Hungarian books in Canada would have been ideal, but preserving them in Hungary is still a far better outcome than seeing them driven away in a garbage container on the icy streets of Montreal.

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