Hungarian informers of the Kádár regime: a new list

A new list of informers. This time it was the 56-Institute that made it public, a project ("Anatomy of a Day") on which they have been working for a year and a half. The Institute, established after 1990, is a workshop of able Hungarian historians whose research activity includes not only the history of the 1956 Revolution but also modern Hungarian history from 1944 on. They maintain a website (www.rev.hu/rev) that is full of useful information although I don't suggest that you try to reach it either today or for the next couple of days. The site is overburdened with curious readers. The informers that appear on the list are all connected to the reburial of Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs. July 16 will be the twentieth anniversary of their reburial, which marked the beginning of the end of the Kádár regime. Even that late, only a few months before the collapse of the regime and the proclamation of the Hungarian Republic on October 23, 1989, the spy network was still very much in place and hundreds of people were still willing to offer their services although by then the handwriting was on the wall: the collapse was practically inevitable.

Those who were still willing or who for one reason or another didn't have the guts to say no at that late date were numerous. The researchers of the Institute found 181 code names from which they were able to identify 110.The code names have been known for a long time, but when János Kenedi published his two-volume work (1996)  in which he gathered most of the relevant documents from the once secret archives of the ministry of interior, the names couldn't be released. As the matter of fact, even today the ombudsman is studying the list in order to ascertain whether the release of names belonging to people who are not "public figures" is legal. If I were the ombudsman I wouldn't waste too much time on this question because sooner or later when it comes to airing the dirty linen of the past this distinction between public and private figures will break down. It doesn't matter how hard some people try to prevent the dissemination of information about this network of informers, I trust that soon enough the truth (though necessarily incomplete) will be known. 

Although there are 110 names are on the list, the Hungarian media have concentrated only on the "famous" ones. On those who are public figures in the sense of appearing in the media today or who since the change of regime played some political role, even if for only a short time. The biggest splash was the "outing" of György Bárándy, the star lawyer who in spite of his advanced age (he was born in 1919) still represents clients in high-profile cases. Moreover, György Bárándy is the father of Péter Bárándy, minister of justice in the Medgyessy government, and grandfather of MSZP parliamentary member Gergely Bárándy. All three are partners in a six-man law firm called Bárándy and Associates. Another name that is quite well known to people who watch Hungarian television is György Nógrádi, a university professor (Corvinus University) who is a so-called expert on national security and everything else that happens in the world from China to South America. The third is János Kurucz who at the time was a journalist but as early as 1989 established a travel agency. I saw him not long ago on "Playback," the television program (MTV) recalling events of the late 1980s. The fourth name is Péter Tőke, another journalist who also wrote several novels under the pseudonym of Peter Sheldon.

The longest case history is that of Bárándy (code name Péter Bokor) because the researchers were lucky enough to find a 227-page work file on him from the 1960s. In it Bárándy recounts his tangled history. He started his activities in 1949 and because of his extensive connections abroad he was smuggled into Austria where he settled in Salzburg. From there he reported on his acquaintances and on CIC (Counterintelligence Corps of the U.S. Army) representatives. While most others did their work for "patriotic reasons" Bárándy received payment. However, after a few months the flow of money for one reason or other stopped and he had to return to Hungary. A few months later he was again smuggled into Austria. The man who enlisted Bárándy was a counterintelligence officer by the name of József Sármány of the military-political department (katonapolitikai osztály or Katpol). Being a spy in the Rákosi era was was not without its dangers. These people never knew when they would become victims of the Hungarian government themselves. Indeed, the top man in Katpol was arrested and executed, Sármány was arrested, and so was Bárándy who spent two years in the infamous Kistarcsa internment camp.

One would have thought that after this interlude he would have retired from the spying business. But no, by 1959 he was working for the II/5 section that was responsible for counterintelligence within the country. The officer under whom he served was József Horváth, who between 1985 and 1990 was the top man in the III/III section specializing in the gathering of internal information. In the late 1950s Bárándy worked for a law firm (in those days called lawyers' cooperative), and he busied himself with reporting on his colleagues. He wrote often and in detail, including such trivia as political jokes told by his friends. In 1960 he changed jobs and immediately began reporting on his new boss. He wasn't shy: he wrote that he was convinced that his boss was an "agent" of a foreign power. It seems that the officers who worked with Bárándy found him reliable and his reports useful. Basically all his life he worked as an informer. He moved from one section to another depending on need. He was considered especially useful because of his contacts with foreigners. At the time of Imre Nagy's reburial his job was to "properly" inform the French embassy about the events.

György Nógrádi (code name Raguza) was another high-ranking spy. He was enlisted to work for the network in 1981. At that time he was teaching at the Budapest Polytechnic University. He was supposed to inform the authorities about university affairs. Later he was transferred to a section that concerned itself with going after "hostile" propaganda materials produced in the country. In 1989 he happened to be abroad and was given the job of informing members of West German parties about the "real" situation in Hungary. He must have had key assignments and his bosses must have been very satisfied with him because he achieved the highest rank of "secret collaborator" (titkos munkatárs). Apparently he was in constant touch with representatives of the CIA and its German equivalent, the BND. I must say that I personally find Nógrádi objectionable. He is a bombastic fellow.

In comparison to Bárándy and Nógrádi the others were small potatoes. János Kurucz (code name László Gábor, enlisted in 1977) was a journalist. The only interesting thing about him is that he was the press secretary of SZDSZ in 1989. In this capacity he merrily reported on discussions of the SZDSZ leaders about the reburial. He received the job in order to influence the thinking of the "extremists" in a "positive" direction. Péter Tőke (code name Hidas) started his informer career in 1972 when he was working for Hétfői Hírek (Monday News). In 1989 he was the editor-in-chief of Reform. His task was to find out more about the plans of "independent" newspapers and to conduct interviews with important SZDSZ members.

Among those Rainer and his team couldn't identify was "Kakukk" (Cuckoo). Apparently he was one of the leaders of SZDSZ. Gábor Fodor would very much like to know his identity. If this is true, not even SZDSZ can claim that their party had absolutely nothing to do with the vast spy network operating during the Kádár regime.