Béla H. Bánáthy (Gyula, Hungary, 1 Dec. 1919 – Chico, California, 4 Sept 2003), was a linguist, systems scientist and a professor at the San José State University and the UC Berkeley. Bánáthy was the founder of the White Stag Leadership Development Program whose leadership model was adopted across the United States; founder of the International Systems Institute and its innovative "conversation"-oriented conference structure; co-founder of the General Evolutionary Research Group; an influential professor of systems theory; and a widely-read and respected author.
When Bánáthy was nine years old, he became the troop leader and during one national holiday, led the troop in a parade. About that time, the entire troop spent two weeks camping at a church camp at Leányfalu, north of Budapest. The church groups lived in wooden barracks, but Bánáthy's troop stayed in tents, "as Scouts are supposed to do."
The family moved about from Banathy's birthplace of Gyula, to Mako, Hungary, about southeast of Budapest. He joined the regular scout program of the Hungarian Scout Association and "Csanad Vezer" Troop 92. The troop had over 50 Scouts and 30 "small scouts" during the 1930s. They held their monthly troop meetings on Sunday in a large gimnazium (secondary school) and met weekly every Saturday as a patrol. Bela reported, "Our weekly patrol meetings focused on scoutcraft and Scout spirit and guiding us to move through the various stages of advancement in rank."
The Hungarian Scout program had four stages. During the first three years, Bánáthy advanced three stages. The last stage required Bánáthy to earn 25 merit badges. This last stage was called Turul, after the mythical bird of Hungary. From spring to fall, as weather permitted, the patrol had many outings. Every summer the troop went on a two- to three-week long summer camp.
Members of Bánáthy's troop attended the 1933 World Jamboree where he would make a life-changing decision. Up to this time, Bánáthy had decided to follow his father into the ministry. Bánáthy wrote,
Also in 1933, Bánáthy attended the regional patrol leader training week. Later in 1934, Bánáthy and six other members of his troop traveled to the National Jamboree in Poland. They camped in a large pine forest and visited Krakow and Warsaw. The Polish government hosted a banquet for all of the Scouts in the Presidential Palace. In 1934, he was awarded the best notebook prize of the national spring leadership camp and in 1935, he was invited to serve on the junior staff of the same camp at Harshegy, Budapest.
In 1935, the troop traveled to the Bükk Mountains in northeastern Hungary for their summer camp. As a Senior Patrol leader, Bánáthy and two others took a bicycle tour in advance of the summer camp to preview the camping site.
In 1940, General Farkas, the commanding officer of Ludovika Akadémia (officer training school), whom Bánáthy had met at the 1933 Jamboree, invited Bánáthy to teach junior leader training at the academy. He also asked Bánáthy to organize a Scout Troop for the young men, 19 years and older, which was a common practice within the Hungarian Scout Association at the time. Bánáthy found a passion in training the young men in officer's leadership skills and became the voluntary national director for youth leadership development and a member of the National Council of the Hungarian Scout Association. He was commissioned in the armored infantry later that year and met his future wife Eva Balazs during this time.
Hungary was generally an unwilling member of the Axis, and Germany continually pressured it to play a greater role. Pál Teleki, whom Bánáthy had met at the 4th World Jamboree, was Prime Minister. He and Regent Miklós Horthy tried to keep Hungary out of the war, though their national pride prompted them to seek a reversal of the geographic injustice of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. This Germany promised them. Through the Munich Agreement of 1938 they gained part of Czechoslovakia, and via the Vienna Awards they gained additional territory.
In Yugoslavia, the Yugoslavian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lazar Marković, went to Vienna and signed the Tripartite Pact. On his return, Air Force General Richard Simovic executed a bloodless coup d'état, after which he refuted his country's signature on the alliance. This threatened Germany's planned invasion of Russia, potentially exposing its southern flank. Germany planned to force Belgrade to remain part of the Axis and suggested that Hungary should also attack. Teleki refused, and the Germans asked permission to transport their troops across Hungary.
The British, with whom Teleki had had a long relationship, sent word via the Hungarian Minister in London that they would declare war if he assented. Teleki heard soon afterwards that Regent Horthy and Hungarian General Werth had permitted the Germans to cross Hungary's borders. On 3 April 1941, he took his own life. Winston Churchill later wrote, "His suicide was a sacrifice to absolve himself and his people from the guilt in the German attack on Yugoslavia… Parts of Yugoslavia were annexed to Hungary, in response, the United Kingdom broke off diplomatic relations on December 1 that year. General Farkas was soon named by Regent Horthy as the country's new Chief Scout.
Bánáthy served two tours on the Russian front in World War II as an armored infantry officer. In 1941, Bánáthy's unit advanced during a severe November ice storm within of Moscow. Wounded, he returned from the front to Budapest and married his fiancé, Eva Balazs, with his arm in a sling. In 1942, he returned to the Russian front with the Second Magyar Honved. Having grown the peace-time Hungarian Army very quickly from an initial force of 80,000, the rank-and-file of the Hungarian Army had undergone only eight weeks of training.
They were charged with protecting the 8th Italian Army's's northern flank between the Novaya Pokrovka on the Don river to Rossosh., part of the larger force defending the drive by the German 6th Army against Soviet General Vasily Chuikov's 62nd Army, which was defending Stalingrad.
On 13 January 1943, the Russian forces, an overwhelming force in numbers and equipment, began the Voronezh-Kharkov Strategic Offensive Operation on the Bryansk, Voronezh, and Southwestern Fronts. They rapidly destroyed the Hungarian Second Army near Svoboda on the Don River. During its 12 months of activity on the Russian front, the Second Hungarian Army's losses were enormous. With an initial force of about 200,000 Hungarian soldiers and 50,000 Jewish forced-laborers, about 100,000 were dead, 35,000 wounded, and 60,000 taken prisoners of war. Only about 40,000 returned to Hungary, scapegoated by Hitler for the catastrophic Axis defeat. "No nation lost as much blood during World War II in such a short period of time. Among them, Bela was seriously wounded and returned to Budapest, where he was to spend seven months recuperating from his wounds. After recuperating, he became a junior officer of the Royal Hungarian Army and served on the faculty of the Ludovika Akademia under Commandant General Farkas.
In July 1944 Bánáthy's mentor General Kisbarnaki Ferenc Farkas was Commander of the Hungarian VI Army Corps which had been garrisoned at Debrecen. He replaced General Beregfy, loyal to the Arrow Cross movement. During that month, Farkas was instrumental in beating back a Red Army attack across the Carpathian mountains. In early October 1944, the Red Army advance into Budapest was slowed by the Battle of Debrecen in eastern Hungary. On 15 Oct 1944, Farkas was named commander of the Pest bridgehead and then Government Commissioner for Evacuation. In early November 1944, the first Russian units appeared on the southeastern edge of Budapest. Bánáthy was able to get his wife Eva, one year old son Bela and two-week old son Leslie out of Budapest. Bánáthy's family, along with his commanding officers' families, found shelter at first in farmhouses, and later in bunkers, caves, and trenches.
The Siege of Budapest began when the city was first encircled on 29 December 1944 by the Red Army. Unable to replace the equipment and personnel lost in the Battle of Debrecen, the Hungarian Second Army was disbanded on 1 December 1944. The remaining units of the Second Army, including the unit in which Bánáthy served, were transferred to the Hungarian Third Army. Bánáthy continued to fight with the remainder of his unit against the Russians after Budapest fell on 13 February 1945. The Axis was striving to protect the last oil fields they controlled in western Hungary around Lake Balaton. However, by late March 1945, most of what was left of the Hungarian Third Army was surrounded and destroyed about to the west of Budapest in an advance by the Soviet 46th Army towards Vienna. The remaining shattered units fought on as they retreated progressively westward through the Transdanubian Mountains towards Austria.
Bánáthy's family with the other family members of the remainder of his military unit made their way west, along with tens of thousands of other refugees, about into Austria, trying to stay ahead of Russian advances. Temperatures through the time of their flight remained near .
Shortly after their third son Tibor was born, the family was moved to another camp, near a Marshall Plan warehouse, where Bánáthy began unloading sacks of wheat from railroad cars. In 1948 their fourth son Robert was born. Bánáthy soon found work in the statistical office of the warehouse. He was ordained by the World Council of Churches and became minister for youth among Hungarian refugees. He contacted the World Scouting Movement for assistance and was successful in organizing Scouting in the camps. He served as director of religious education of the Protestant Refugee Service of Austria, was editor of a religious youth service and of a Scout publication.
In 1949, with help from a Swiss foundation, Bánáthy assisted in establishing and was selected as the President of the Collegium Hungaricum, a boarding school for refugees, at Zell am See near Saalfelden, Austria. In the same year, the Communist government in Hungary seized the businesses belonging to the the Pallendal family, Bánáthy's in-laws. Because they were members of the social elite, there were seen by the Communist government as a political threat as was common in that time.
In 1951, in what was a common practice during this time, the Police arrived at dawn to seize the Pallendal family home with orders to deport the family. Those at home were arrested and immediately deported. Seven year old Bela and six year old Leslie, along with their grandmother and two aunts, were put aboard a freight train and sent towards Russia. As was the practice, the train stopped occasionally and a few hundred people were forced off. The Pallendal family was ejected in eastern Hungary, and an uncle was able to locate them and hide them from authorities in a small village in eastern Hungary.
Bánáthy accepted the job at the Army Language School, moving to Monterey in June 1951. There he met the founder of the Hungarian Department, Joseph Szentkiralyi (Americanized as St. Clair), who had also attended the 1933 World Jamboree. Coincidentally, Bánáthy's and St. Clair's wives rediscovered a girlhood friendship from Budapest. Eva found work in a restaurant on the Monterey Peninsula. Bánáthy resumed his interest in Scouting and community service. He served as President of his local Parent-Teacher Association and on the board of the local Red Cross. In early 1956, having become a United States citizen, with help from a United States Senator from California and the World Council of Churches, Bánáthy was finally able to bring his eldest sons Bela and Leslie to the United States from behind the Iron Curtain after nine years of separation. In the same year, Paul Ferenc Sujan joined the language school faculty, and Bánáthy learns that he too had attended the 1933 World Jamboree.
As part of his master's degree program in counseling psychology at San José State University, he wrote a thesis titled "A Design for Leadership Development in Scouting". This book described the founding principles of the White Stag program, which was later adapted by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America for, first, it's adult Wood Badge program, and afterward, as the de facto method for teaching junior leader training. (In 2008, the program celebrated its 50th anniversary.) Bela also taught in Sunday School and was on the Board of his church.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he focused his research on the application of systems and design theories and methodologies in social, social service, educational, and human development systems. In the 1980s he developed and guided a Ph.D. curriculum in humanistic systems inquiry and social systems design for the Saybrook Graduate School.
What was truly revolutionary about the International Systems Institute was Banathy's method for organizing conferences. Banathy observed that in traditional conferences, a few usually well-respected or prestigious individuals would apply to present "pre-packaged new ideas" to others. In typical conferences, presenting almost always carries more prestige than listening; the few present and share their wisdom with the many. This one-to-many or "hierarchical knowledge distribution system" slowed the sharing and spreading of ideas about which many people cared deeply if not passionately, as there was always limited opportunity for interchange among participants. This interaction was usually wedged into the the interstices of the formal schedule in the form of informal, spontaneous gatherings for which no record existed.
The notion that presenting is more important than listening aroused life-long antipathy in Bánáthy. When he formulated the leadership competencies of the White Stag Leadership Development Program in the 1960s, he described the passing of knowledge from one to another as "Manager of Learning." He wrote extensively about how the focus should be on the learner, not the teacher.
Bánáthy advanced a different vision for conferences, one that would allow everyone to fully engage. He proposed that everyone be given the opportunity to prepare and distribute papers to all participants in advance of the conference. And instead of listening to speeches, conference attendees took part in extended, non-hierarchical conversations about the conference papers. The conference proceedings were the result of these conversations. Bánáthy felt strongly that systems scholars from all over the world should be given ongoing opportunities to engage in extended conversations so they might put their expertise "actively into the service of humanity worldwide."
Bánáthy wrote, "We aspire to reap the 'reflecting and creating power' of groups that emerge in the course of disciplined and focused conversations on issues that are important to us and to our society." Participants at International Systems Institute gatherings have since the original meeting organized by Bánáthy in 1982 organized them around this principle and referred to them as "conversations."
He coordinated over twenty international systems research conferences held in eight countries, including the 1994 Conversation on Systems Design conversation held at Fuschl Am See, Austria, sponsored by the International Federation of Systems Research. He was also honorary editor of three international systems journals: Systems Research and Behavioral Science, the Journal of Applied Systems Studies, and Systems. He was on the Board of Editors of World Futures, and served as a contributing editor of Educational Technology.