Exiles' move to Britain was 'comfortable'

November 1, 1996

The 40th anniversary of the Hungarian rising finds some of the intellectuals who fled to Britain after the Soviet invasion still active in academic life.

A recently completed study of their experiences since coming to Britain concludes that the standard models of intellectual migration, which were largely based on the experience of refugees from Nazism who went to the United States in the 1930s, do not apply to them. The study looked at 297 refugees, of whom 81 eventually came to Britain.

Jennifer Platt, professor of sociology at Sussex University and co-author of the Economic and Social Research Council-funded study with research officer Phoebe Isard, said: "The great majority were young - it was to a great extent a student revolt - while many of the refugees from Nazism were already well-established in their fields. This was reinforced by the very short period in which it was possible to get out of Hungary - only about three weeks - so it was very difficult for anyone with ties in the country to go. So the group was very skewed to young males."

Their circumstances on arriving in Britain were also unusual: "They received an unprecedentedly warm welcome, and special efforts, such as the creation of university places, were made on their behalf. It was also a time of full employment, although not of expansion in the universities. So there were jobs available, but not always academic jobs."

Many were readily assimilated into British life: "In some cases their qualifications and training were British, and they moved very comfortably into conventional British careers."

Engineers and scientists did particularly well: "There was a shortage of engineers and Hungary had very high standards. One refugee arrived one week, put his name on the professional register the next week, had three inquiries from employers and was in a job a week later."

Medical refugees included George Radda, who has just taken over as chief executive of the Medical Research Council.

There was a clear intellectual impact in philosophy, where people like the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos, who worked at the London School of Economics, had an important influence on debates within Marxism and the New Left.

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