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The Lives of Others, Balaton edition

He found a house on Tamás-hegy for writer Tibor Déry, Örkény completed his novel Tóték when staying with him, and he was drinking partner to poets Gyula Illyés and Lőrinc Szabó. The name of Gábor Lipták is known perhaps only to anecdotes or Balaton guide books, despite the fact that the prominent poets, writers and artists of the era were frequent guests at his house in the 60s and 70s. It might have escaped public attention, but not that of the Ministry of Interior: for 20 years, the Füred-based writer unwittingly played the lead in spy story

The villa once owned by Gábor Lipták stands discreetly hidden behind a few tall birch trees by road 71 in Balatonfüred. Its gates used to be open to writers, sculptors and artists: in the 50s, 60s and 70s, the host used to drink with literary figures, such as László Németh, Tibor Déry and Gyula Illyés - and even novelist István Örkény snored on his dining table, drunk on the Lipták wine.

Although the building today belongs to the Magyar Fordítóház Alapítvány (Hungarian Translators House Foundation), its history hasn't disappeared without a trace. One of its rooms is still called, as poet Lőrinc Szabó used to refer to it, mirelit (deep frozen) room - since the poet used to sleep and be cold here -,  and it still has the robust wooden table from the 1500s, which Lipták supposedly traded from a Soviet soldier for a bottle of wine. One of the room is the archive of Lipták's correspondence with writers and artists, as well as his scrapbook that contains drawings and other pieces of art created after nights of drinking. The same room also showcases a black dossier written and compiled with far fewer artistic inclinations.

The Ministry of Interior placed Lipták under surveillance from 1948, and his dossier grew to 800 pages throughout the years. The writer and his wife could only suspect the existence of the dossier, but could not be sure of it.The records quote his personal chats with Illyés, Szabó Lőrinc and Örkény and their criticism of the system word by word.


The writer publicly confronted the authorities in 1955. He was umpire to regatta, where two people got into trouble due to an unexpected storm. Lipták notified the police speed boat, which failed to leave fats enough, so the writer said that democratic police wasn't worth much. The resulting police case dragged on long with regular interrogations and numerous hearings of witnesses, but in the end it was dropped. It resulted, however, in closer surveillance, and the Ministry or Interior opened his file in 1962, under the codename "Historian".

He was also suspicious since he had no registered job in Balatonfüred. His wife (known to locals as Pulcsi néni - Aunt Sweater) worked in the folk art shop, but it couldn't have brought them much. Still, they had frequent guests: 'His income is cca. 1000 HUF monthly, while his expense reach about 4-5000 HF - how can he afford it, if not by espionage?' stated one of the agents in a report.

The estimate was exaggerated: the days of the Liptáks were spent humbly. They earned money time to time if Lipták could sell a few of his writings to a paper or if one his guide books were published, thanks to his connections in writers' circles. They did have a lot of guests, but the menu was cheap and simple, mostly lángos or whatever the guests brought:

As Lipták discussed this period in one of his books: 'If anyone were to look around in our old house, he would have taken mercy of the guests at once. Faded vests, sailing coats, shorts, and discoloured shoes and socks adorned the honourable company, in which the more tattered the merrier were people. It wasn't much trouble feeding them, since their needs were similar to their clothes, and everyone knew in those years especially, that people like us didn't have the means of playing host. Hence, they brought whatever they could to the table.'


The artists from the west staying at the Lipták villa also caused much headache to authorities. These arrived through the Magyar PEN Club and the Institute of Cultural Affairs. Consequently, they accused the writer of espionage, trading currency, and treason. According to the officer in charge of his file, lieutenant Sándor Ratkó, the Historian worked on turning the loyal persons visiting him against the Party through his false information and fearmongering. They could, however, never prove these claims.

Thanks to its vivid social life the Lipták villa was perfect for the surveillance of a number of writers and artist. Gyula illyés had a summer house in Tihany, sculptor Miklós Borsos  and painter Elemér Vass also lived there. Writer László Németh moved to Sajkod at the time, while Tibor Déry moved to the nearby Tamás-hegy. Poet Lőrinc Szabó, novelist István Örkény and the others were frequent guests at the Liptáks' home, so it became the centre of their social life.

The bugs were installed in the small house on the same lot, and some of Lipták's local acquaintances were recruited as agents. Among others, a fellow writer of Balaton guide books and the caretaker of his vineyard also reported on him.

In her compilation for Fordítóház, Éva Monspart there are several reports about the bugging of the place. The agents reporting about Lipták offered a detailed a description how the tenant of the given house was let in on the action. It was performed on 8 February 1962, when the Liptáks visited Hévíz, their cleaning lady had a day off, and the wife of the tenant were called to the local Council building so she wouldn't know about it


We don't know whether Lipák knew about the whole surveillance issue, but he was very careful with local guests. For them the gates of the house weren't automatically open, they were escorted in by the housekeeper, and if they were non grata in the given company, they were turned down with reference to Lipták's important literary tasks. The moles were quite annoyed by his cunning. The one under the "Földvári" codename often added sarcastic comments to their reports: 'The pomposity of Lipták is a typical example of an enemy grown brash.' He was also accused of socializing with famous writers to satisfy his vanity, to be able to sell his writings, being only an insignificant, mediocre writer.

His guests, on the other hand, valued his opinion and criticism. In summer 1966, when Örkény stayed in the house, he knocked on the door of Lipták and asked him to read a manuscript. The host did not hesitate and by 5 AM, he declared it was a masterpiece. Hence, Lipták was the very first to read the novel The Toth Family, which later was translated into several languages.

He was similarly close to other writers as well. László Németh never failed to invite him to the premiers of his pieces in Budapest. Lőrinc Szabó brought him and his wife books, and Gulya Illyés wrote an ode to him.

According to the moles, Lipták talked to the folk writers differently than he did to Örkény. For 20 years, 4-5 agents worked on uncovering him, with little success. Their reports lacked enough substance and had too many of the 'probable' and 'possible'. In the meantime, Gábor Lipták did what he could to live happily. He and his wife loved to travel, but they were rarely grated a visa, so in a game with Illyés, they divided the Balaton into Italian regions, and crowned themselves emperor of each. When they wanted a French dinner, they picked snails from the garden in lack of import seas snails.


The growing file, of course, had its effect on his life: as time passed, his writing were less and less accepted by papers, and his radio commissions also ended. Hence in time, his small vineyard became an important source of income for him. The agents then tried to accuse him of wine falsification.

In harmony with the practices of the time, Lipták also 'lengthened' the wine: he poured water onto the once pressed pomace, let it soak, and pressed again, adding sugar to the grape juice afterwards, creating hedge-wine. The vintner working for him was also a mole, but he couldn't support his accusations, since the laboratory In Budapest examining the wine samples found everything in order. Perhaps, Lipták had a few connections there.

„Boat Lipták will never sink” – the writer used to tell his guests, and was proven right in the end. After 20 years of surveillance, the system failed to find a grip on him - and of course the Party's literature policy couldn't allow cases to happen that would have scared loyal intellectuals away.

In the end the III/III-1 Department of the Veszprém County Police of the Ministry of Interior issued a summary on 19 APril 1968, with a new suggestion included: after compromising him, Lipták should be recruited as an agent, since his guests are interesting from the operative point of view. Finally, a head of department closed the file with the words that Lipták cannot be recruited.


In lack of an heir, the Liptáks left the house to the Translators House. Their express wish was that the house should continue to serve literature after their death. Although the Translators House Foundation often has to fight for survival, the local government of Füred and state aid have helped them along.

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