Hungarian informers: The case of László Kiss of the Constitutional Court

I wrote a couple times about the reluctance of almost all Hungarian governments to completely open the archives of the informer network that operated under the aegis of the Ministry of Interior. See especially my blog of October 12, 2008, entitled "The Fate of Informers in Hungary." It was about that time that SZDSZ, the liberal party least likely to be tarnished by the past, demanded the release of the still withheld documents. But none of the other parties was eager to let their secrets become public. According to János Kenedi, one of the historians most involved in researching the documents gathered by the Ministry of Interior, 27% of these documents remain locked away from researchers.

The Associated Press released a collaborative work prepared by AP's resident correspondents in Poland, Romania, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. The title is "Communist-era Files Still Haunt the Old East Bloc." This report was picked up by more than one hundred newspapers all over the world. In it one can read such sentences as: "There is no other former Soviet satellite where there is such a lack of regulation about the files as in Hungary." The correspondent in Hungary adds: "that hasn't stopped the names of alleged former snoops from trickling out every few weeks or months, implicating personalities ranging from actors and athletes to priests and intellectuals."

But there are legitimately acquired dossiers that tell interesting tidbits about the activities of these informers. One person who is especially active in this field is the talented historian UngváryKrisztián Ungváry, who made a name for himself at a relatively young age with a monumental work on the siege of Budapest (1944-45) that was translated into English and published by Yale University Press. He also wrote several damaging pieces about the activities of Catholic priests who spied on their own parishioners, and he was the one who discovered that the famous Oscar-winner film director István Szabó was also an informer. Of course, as a result of his burning desire to tell the truth he has been sued right and left for at least ten years. And he always lost. Until now!

To everybody's great surprise he won his latest case. And there is no possibility of appeal. He won against, you won't believe it, one of the members of the Constitutional Court who demanded five-million forints non-monetary compensation (nem vagyoni kártérítés). (I must confess my total ignorance. I have been reading about all these non-monetary compensations for years and for the life of me I can't figure out what they can possibly be!) Here is a learned legal expert who put together a charge consisting of twenty-three points against the defendant and yet no dice. Mind you, the whole case dragged on for two years and in the lower court Kiss won, but the Budapest Appellate Court (Fővárosi Ítélőtábla) decided that, twenty-three points or not, Kiss was an informer just as Ungváry claimed.

To give some brief background. Ungváry wrote an article that appeared in Élet és Irodalom (May 18, 2007) entitled "Egy eljárás genezise: a Dialógus Pécsett" (Genesis of a Procedure: The "Dialogue" in Pécs). The "procedure" took place in 1981-83 at the University of Pécs. A group of students decided to start a "peace movement" known as "Dialogue." They really didn't think there was any harm in founding such a movement because, after all, the regime always at least paid lip service to "peace." László Kiss at this point was one of the party secretaries of the university. He suspected a terrible conspiracy and immediately began reporting to the Ministry of Interior's III/III group on the students and faculty whom he suspected. Another person Ungváry mentions as an informer was none other than József Petrétei, later minister of justice in the Gyurcsány government. Petrétei was then the KISZ secretary of the law school. Although Ferenc Gyurcsány was the KISZ secretary of the faculty of arts and sciences, he was not involved in either the peace movement or the reporting network. Information about the launch of "Dialogue" was, however, posted on the KISZ bulletin board.

Reading the details of the demise of "Dialogue," one can only agree with Stelian Tanase, the Romanian novelist who, after reading his own thick file, recorded some of his reactions in a book entitled "At Home We Whisper."  "It's all very Kafkaesque," he wrote. "Can you imagine the Securitate interested in something as banal as the color of your shirt?" This is very much one's impression when one reads the two-volume documentary collection compiled by János Kenedi entitled Kis állambiztonsági olvasókönyv (State Security Primer) or Péter Esterházy's fascinating book about his discovery that his own father was an informer (Javított kiadás/Revised Edition).

Finally, let me tell you: I'm delighted that Krisztián Ungváry and ÉS don't have to pay the 5 million non-monetary compensation. I'll bet Ungváry is terribly surprised because it wasn't long ago that I heard him say that in a Hungarian court there is no way of proving that anyone was ever an informer. Well, Kiss was. Justice Kiss was appointed to the Court in 1998 on the recommendation of MSZP and in 2007 he was reappointed for another nine-year term. Thus, our former informer will serve Hungarian democracy altogether for eighteen years. But at least now we have a "piece of paper" that proves that he really was an informer who reported on his students.

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Sandor
Guest

I would like to add my own speculation about the “non-monetary” compensation.
It is, when awarded, certainly monetary, that is it must be paid in money.
However, just like it is in the Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, there is a distinction between compensation for actual loss incurred and punitive damages.
Because most of these spies when outed, don’t suffer any actual monetary loss, so, they cannot sue for compensatory damages. They can only sue for punitive damages, for the loss of reputation and “good name.” Whether it was any good, or not in the first place.
Therefore, I believe this strange term; “nem vagyoni,” actually corresponds to our punitive damages.

Bob
Guest

Yes, the verdict is pleasant surprise! I think it is a turning point, Fidesz has to think twice to appoint János Martonyi, as foreign minister. His Communist “informant” connections may resurface again…

George
Guest

Did you mean: LÁSZLÓ Kiss…?

Jordans 3
Guest

This post really had me thinking about this particular issue in way I havent before. Its something I do believe we need to talk about more. Thankyou.