The Hungarian Human Rights Foundation is deeply saddened by the December 30 passing of Dr. Miklós Duray, the twice-imprisoned human rights activist, internationally recognized dissident, and signer of Charta ’77 in Czechoslovakia; towering leader of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia for four decades; Member of the Czechoslovak and Slovak Parliaments, author, geologist, and friend.
Miklós Duray’s long career of fearless activism for human rights began as a student participating in the 1968 Prague Spring. He continued his activism with Slovakia’s Hungarian youth groups and in Csemadok, a cultural association of ethnic Hungarians. By 1970, Czechoslovakian authorities banned him from Csemadok and all public activities. Though he had never joined any party, his name was on the Czechoslovakian Communist Party’s “blacklist” of 1971.
In 1978, he was one of the founders of the Committee for the Legal Defense of the Hungarian Minority in Czechoslovakia, an underground entity that published reports on human rights violations and the Czechoslovakian regime’s anti-minority policies. He maintained close ties with the Charta ’77 movement for civil rights in Czechoslovakia. As a result, the state subjected him to surveillance and other forms of harassment, including multiple house searches.
On July 23, 1979, police seized him at his workplace and subjected him to repeated interrogations.
In 1982, he was again taken away by police and interrogated over the course of several months, then charged with “subverting the state order” and arrested. After three months in jail, he was tried at the Bratislava City Court. The Charta ’77 group, as well as prominent Hungarian writers, issued statements of solidarity. Thanks to pressure from Western groups, including Amnesty International, the trial was suspended, and Duray was released on February 22, 1983.
In 1983, Duray signed the Charta ’77 statement and continued his activities with the Committee for the Legal Defense of the Hungarian Minority in Czechoslovakia.
Duray’s second arrest came on May 10, 1984, after organizing a protest campaign resulting in letters signed by 10,000 citizens. The protest was aimed against passage of a bill which would have endangered the continuation of minority-language schooling for Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarian inhabitants.
International groups came to Duray’s defense, including protests by numerous Members of the U.S. Congress (led by the Hungarian-born California Representative Tom Lantos); Amnesty International; the International Human Rights Law Group; the P.E.N. Freedom to Write Committee; the writers Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Allen Ginsberg and Kurt Vonnegut; and the U.S. Helsinki Watch Committee. One year later to the day, on May 10, his case was dismissed and Duray released. His release coincided with the 35-nation CSCE (now OSCE) Human Rights Experts Meeting held in Ottawa, and with a massive demonstration organized by HHRF on his behalf at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Ottawa.
He spent a total of 470 days in jail without being convicted.
After meeting Duray in Bratislava in the 1980s, HHRF co-founder László Hámos described his impressions:
“For me personally, the most appealing part of Miklós Duray’s conduct was that he avoided the easy and eminently reasonable path of remaining silent. Instead, he sized up his opportunities and identified that slender area of activity where, despite the odds, he could do his civic duty. Specifically: when the Czechoslovak regime officially embarked on their new education policy to reduce Hungarian-language education, Miklos responded not with despair or silent acquisition, but by going out and gathering 10,000 signatures in protest.”
From 1985-1988, Duray continued his work with the Committee, published on human rights issues in underground journals, and maintained contact with the Slovakian anti-Communist groups, as well as the Charta ’77 movement. The Czechoslovakian police then banned him from entering the city of Prague.
In 1988, thanks again to international pressure, Czechoslovakian authorities reissued Duray’s passport, and he was allowed to spend one year, with his wife, as a visiting professor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania; meeting with Hungarian and American groups around the U.S.
HHRF’s enduring friendship with Duray continued after the fall of Communism, the independence of Slovakia, and his continuing leadership roles as founder and president of the Co-Existence Political Movement. In July 1995, along with the two other leaders of the Hungarian Coalition Party in Slovakia, Duray participated in meetings with decision-makers in Washington D.C., organized by the Foundation.
To the very end of his life, Miklós Duray never ceased his activities on behalf of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. More broadly, he continuously sought out allies and movements throughout Central Europe, hoping to foster his vision of a truly European region where all ethnic groups can feel at home.
Miklós Duray was born on July 18, 1945, in the town of Losonc (Lucenec), Czechoslovakia. Both his father, a doctor of law, and his mother, a schoolteacher, lost their jobs in 1945 due to their „undesirable” (ethnic Hungarian and non-Communist) family background.
Following high school in Fülek (Filakovo) – after an initial rejection due to his family background and a year of factory work – Duray enrolled at the Komensky University of Bratislava to study geology.
His research at the Geological Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences focused on the geochemical composition of crystals. Due to his unwelcome political activities in 1968-69, he was initially barred from furthering his career, but eventually obtained a doctorate in geochemistry, with the title Rerum Naturarum Doctor from the Komensky University. He worked as engineer for the state road and bridge construction company, analyzing the geological aspects of road construction projects.
His wife, Dr. Zsuzsanna Szabó, passed away in 2018. Dr. Duray is survived by his son Áron.
Funeral services will be held on January 17, 2023 in Losonc (Lučenec), Slovakia.