In Memoriam Gáspár Miklós Tamás

28.11.1948 – 15.01.2023

We have lost a very dear friend and colleague. Gáspár Miklós Tamás was an exceptional human being. Philosopher, writer, dissident, politician, parliamentarian––he was one of a kind.

Born in Cluj, Romania, a Transylvanian Hungarian, he grew up in a staunch cosmopolitan communist family who had been in the resistance, and who believed in the need for the broadest possible classical education from the earliest days. And so, the young Gáspár began reading and learning languages as a child. He said that he took Kant´s Critique of Pure Reason to read at age 14 and “I didn´t understand anything.”

He exuded a sense of nobility in the most positive sense. Maybe it had to do with what he himself called in an interview his “Victorian upbringing.”  Gazsi, as his friends called him, at times seemed stern––hautain, the French would say––yet at the same time he was a very warm and caring person.

He left Romania in 1978 because people of his “independent cast of mind” would at that time probably soon find themselves ostracized and in jail. Gáspár did not want to leave Eastern Europe––so he moved to Hungary. He taught at the Faculty of Arts of ELTE in Budapest (1979–1982) but not for long, his employment terminated very quickly because of his dissident views and his criticism of the regime. Criticism from an egalitarian, critical leftist point of view.

TGM, as he was also known, went on to teach in the US, Britain and France. He spoke English, French, German and Romanian as fluently as his native Hungarian.

He went from political left to political right, and then later at the end of the 1990s back to the critical left. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he engaged in Hungarian politics with the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) and served in the Hungarian Parliament between 1989 and 1994, becoming a notable figure in Hungarian political life.

He quickly became disenchanted with the “real bourgeois democracy” of the 1990s, with the fact that it did not deliver on its promises, and he went back to the left. Gazsi noted that “every generation has its disappointments.”

Gáspár was a close friend and colleague of the IWM, a coveted fellow who stayed at the Institute several times and greatly contributed to its intellectual life. In 1987 his stay was marked by a lecture on “Relativist Justifications of Tyranny.”

He contributed a remarkable and very personal chapter to an IWM edited volume on Brexit (Brexit: Farce und Tragödie, Passagen Verlag, 2019).

In 2017, he came for a longer stay at the IWM. I had the privilege of being his first next-door neighbor on the fourth floor, and we spent many an afternoon discussing the past of our respective countries and their differences, but also much broader questions. He was very engaging, deeply knowledgeable on history and theory, and always in the conversation there was a surprising, witty twist, a spark unique to Gazsi.

He came to the IWM for a final stay in April 2021. A video of his lecture given in April 2016 at the Institute on “Solidarity and Capitalism: Is Solidarity just a Dream in a Reified Society?” can be found here.

Gáspár Miklós Tamás, a true intellectual whose breadth of knowledge, deep engagement and sharp wit––but above all whose humanity and friendship––we shall greatly miss.

Ivan Vejvoda, Permanent Fellow