Attila Harmathy passed away on August 30. With his death, the doyen of Hungarian private law, an internationally recognized figure of the discipline, and an exquisite cultivator thereof left us.
The first scholarly workshop in Attila Harmathy's academic career was the Department of Civil Law led by Gyula Eörsi at the Institute of State- and Legal Sciences of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. It was there that he wrote his first studies on contract law, as well as his first monograph on debtors' liability to sub-contractors, which was published in 1974. From a perspective of half a century, this book can still be mentioned as among the best of the Hungarian legal scholarly work of the epoch. It also demonstrates one of the general values of Harmathy's research method which can be recognized throughout his career: the search for the social movements behind legal regulations. Before examining legal issues, the work discusses questions associated with the social division of labour and co-operation. This attitude characterized Harmathy's wide-ranging academic career – his nearly four hundred scholarly papers – whether this involved administrative contracts, the effect of economic governance on contracts, the limitations of civil law regulations, the loosening of the boundaries between public and private law, and many other topics. In addition to Hungarian, he also published in the English, French, German, and Russian language. Instead of further enumerating the topics of his research, let us highlight here a guiding motif that accompanied Harmathy's scholarly activity almost from the beginning until his death: the role of the state in private-law relations. This is the topic about which he was able to grasp the changes in private-law regulation of the last two centuries. His last piece of work, published in English shortly before his death, also discussed these problems.
Attila Harmathy lectured at the Law Faculty of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest for more than sixty years. From 1974 onwards he was a teacher at the Civil Law Department, and following 1982 a university professor. This Department was his scholarly atelier for four decades. Taking advantage of the opportunities that opened up after 1990, the Department became involved in international joint research projects with Harmathy's active participation, primarily in co-operation with English and German research institutes. Between 1990 and 1993 he was the dean of the faculty. In this position he led the institution, with his gentle determination, into a world of new requirements. He played a particularly decisive role in the initiation and organization of the PhD education program. Published volumes containing the exigent works of PhD students eloquently prove the lasting success of his work.
Attila Harmathy taught as a visiting professor at several European and American universities: Université Aix-en-Provence-Marseille (1993, 1996), Université Pantheon-Assas, Paris II (2002), University of California Law School, Berkeley (1988), University of Iowa (2003), and Louisiana State University (2007). Furthermore, he lectured at many European and American universities and research institutes.
In addition to his activity as a professor and researcher, Attila Harmathy's work as a practising lawyer was also very significant. For decades he was the judge of the Permanent Arbitration Court organized alongside the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He played a decisive role in several processes of codification – among others, in the preparation of the 1977 revision of the 1959 Civil Code. He also took part in the final work for the 2013 Civil Code. The highlight of his practical career was undoubtedly his work as a judge at the constitutional court between December 1998 and April 2007.
Attila Harmathy's outstanding performance was recognized by several Hungarian (the Széchenyi Prize) and foreign (Ordre National du Mérite – Officier) honours. For his scholarly achievements, the General Assembly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences elected him a Member in 1993. The Academia Europaea and the International Academy of Commercial and Consumer Law also honoured him with membership. The International Academy of Comparative Law – Académie Internationale de Droit Comparé, of which Harmathy was vice-president between 1998–2004, published an appreciation of his career in the Revue internationale de droit comparé.
Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Law, Budapest, Hungary