The newest outrage: Decision was made to destroy the archives of the secret service

Well, this will solve the problem. According to an announcement made yesterday, all the millions and millions of documents that were written by busy agents and informers reporting on their fellow citizens "will be made public." On the face of it, that might even seem a welcome piece of news. After twenty years of wrangling over the issue at last we will know the names of the informers and their victims. But the devil is in the details, as the saying goes, and it is very true in this case.

"Made public" for the Orbán government actually means destroying the documents. But the government instead is giving the false impression that it is being both morally righteous and protective of the rights of the citizenry. The claim is that the rights of the victims are paramount and therefore the victims or their descendants will receive the original documents. Afterward these people can do anything they want with them. So, these documents will be gone. And the rest? I assume in defense of the innocent victims, the authorities will destroy them. Or at least some of them. They might save those that could be useful in the future for purposes of blackmailing their political opponents. And they can do anything they want because there will be no one to watch over them. The Kenedi Committee, composed of three independent historians and asked by the Bajnai government to oversee the selection of documents that can be released, was just told that their services are no longer needed.

The decision is absolutely outrageous. The government is planning to destroy an important part of Hungary's recent history. As it stands now, certain parts of the documents could be studied by historians. Moreover, people could go to the archives and receive copies of documents in which their names are mentioned. However, I talked to people who received practically blank pages: the authorities redacted everything that they considered to be "secret" information. Also, researchers could only guess the number of informers and often had difficulty ferreting out their real identities.

The national security authorities tried to hide the fact that the names of the informers and their code names had been stored on magnetic tapes. Apparently about 50,000 of them. First they denied the existence of these tapes, but when there was just too much evidence to the contrary they claimed that the tapes are no longer readable by existing technology. That turned out to be a lie as well. On December 6, 2009, the government spokesman finally announced that the data had been rescued and had been copied onto a more modern, I assume digitized medium.

In March 2010 János Kenedi, a historian of the period particularly knowledgeable about the activities of the secret service, accepted the job of heading a committee that would "analyze the data found on the tapes." Kenedi thought that it would take them a year to complete the job. In April Kenedi announced the names of two other historians and archivists who would make up the committee: Mária Palasik and Gergő Bendegúz Cseh. Kenedi also announced that "there is a chance that as a result of careful historical research we will be able to come up with the numbers, names and code names of informers between 1944 and 1990." Well, no longer!

Although the demise of the Kenedi Committee was announced only yesterday, Magyar Nemzet as usual knew about the decision a week before. On December 9 an article appeared under the headline "Will the informer lists become public?" The paper learned that the decision had already been made that "people who had been watched and reported on will be able to get to all the pertinent documents." Magyar Nemzet added that in this case there will be no need for the work of the Kenedi Committee.

The Kenedi Committee was authorized to evaluate and select data found on the tapes but yesterday's decision, if I read it correctly, goes beyond the question of the tapes. Bence Rétvári (KDNP), undersecretary in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, was talking about all documents pertaining to the activities of the secret service. According to him a "constitutional democratic state cannot keep personal information collected illegally by an immoral regime." The documents currently in the Historical Archives of the National Security Service (Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára) will also be given to the victims or their descendants. Only documents pertaining to the activities of the informers will be stored there.

This is an absolute outrage. Orbán and Fidesz have scant appreciation of history. For example, alone in the history of the Hungarian parliamentary system the Orbán governments kept and are keeping no minutes of cabinet meetings. And now they are destroying the reports of the informers allegedly because of privacy issues.

It is hard not to suspect an entirely different reason for the mass destruction of documents: self preservation. I'm certain that already during the first Orbán government when László Kövér, the second most important man in the party, received the seemingly insignificant position of minister without portfolio in charge of the national security offices and archives, his real job was to collect and destroy documents that would implicate some of the ministers and party leaders. However, everybody who knows the documents claims that it is very difficult to catch everything because copies of the documents might crop up in some unexpected places. This way, the powers that be no longer have to worry. Moreover, they themselves, without any civil control, can pick and choose what to destroy and what to keep.

Below you find I letter I received a couple of hours ago from Christopher Adam, a lecturer in the History Department of Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

****

In what serves as a very disturbing development for anyone with an interest in Hungary's Cold War history, the Hungarian government is preparing to enact a new law which may lead to the blatant, politically-motivated sanitization of the country's communist past. Allegedly out of a concern for privacy rights, citizens who were spied upon or observed by the previous regime's state security officers may now not only ask to view their files at the Archives of Hungarian State Security in Budapest, but may also remove these preserved archival documents from the reading room, take them home and have them destroyed.
 
According to Bence Rétvári, a secretary of state in Hungary's Ministry of Justice, "A constitutional system cannot preserve documents collected through anti-constitutional means, as these are the immoral documents of an immoral regime." The government decree makes it permissible to remove and destroy irreplaceable archival documents. Were Rétvári's warped logic also used by authorities in other countries, we could no longer produce histories of the world's most dictatorial and genocidal regimes.
 
Anyone who has worked with these state security documents knows just how difficult it is to define who did and who did not collaborate with the previous, communist regime. There were many forms of collaboration with the secret police, including people who were actually agents themselves, as well as "ordinary" citizens who served as so-called "community contacts;" who met with state security officers, in order to provide information on their neighbours. Others collaborated with communist authorities out of fear. Access to as much of the surviving record as possible allowed professional historians to produce histories of this period which took into account the various forms and levels of collaboration, whilst also showing just how deep cooperation with the former regime actually ran in society.
 
It is very difficult to see the destruction of Hungarian archives as anything other than a crude political move on the part of politicians who are concerned about potentially unpleasant and embarrassing documents on their relationship with the former regime that may one day be found by historians. Such documents may even suggest that some of the most fervent anti-communist politicians today were of a rather different opinion only two decades ago.
 
I have been able to collect and copy a few hundred pages of now potentially endangered documents from the Archives of Hungarian State Security during my own research and I hope that historians will reproduce as much as possible of the preserved material, before it is lost forever. It is a very sad prospect that the Hungarian government–including a prime minister who spoke out strongly against dictatorship 20 years ago–may now make it impossible for historians to study and share their research on the country's communist past.

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Jo Peattie
Guest

As an Archivist I am very concerned about this decision. I have had in my care some very sensitive and politically challenging documents. The idea of destroying documents because we do not like what they contain is abhorent. In order to interpret and analyse the past we must have access to documents chronicling it. I realise that the information contained within this archive is sensitive but there are still ways of making documents available. It is possible for historians to study the documents and publish their results without identifying individuals.

Mutt Damon
Guest

I say burn them all. They just keep breeding hatred. After 20 years I don’t care who was a commie spy. Sorry for the historians but they will have enough s*t to dig in from the present governments.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Mutt Damon,
it is not a question of hatred, it is a question of sanity to know how many of those informers became fervent nationalist and/or functionaries of Fidesz, Jobbik, MSZP or LMP.
But Fidesz is keen on destroying the archive in order to hide certain things.

Rigó Jancsi
Guest

No government was really keen on publishing more information than necessary. But it is strange that Fidesz wants to destroy the archives, though they always claim that the socialists are the bad guys and survived unchanged from communist times. The archives are the best source to prove such a claim. They themselves must have terrible secrets in the archives if they take these measures.
When I was in school, we discussed in lengths the fall of the Republic of Weimar, and it was strange to see all the steps that lead to the end of democracy, and to wonder why nobody had stopped this process. All the information seemed to have been there at that time, and nonetheless it all happened. I get the feeling that we live in similar times again. Democracy and the rule of law are in danger, we see it happening step by step. It’s happening openly, by daylight. But people still cheer and follow Orbán. I would like to see history books in 40 years…

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
I am always very worried by ‘State Archives’ especially those created by the police/security services. My concern is not that they exist but the degree of accuracy of the information in them. This will range from the ‘substantially correct’ though ‘wishful thinking’ to the ‘deliberately malicious’. The informants were very often under great pressure from their handlers to ‘dig the dirt’. The other worry is the interpretation placed on these archives by the analysts (be they the original ‘Security Analysts’ or latter-day Historians). The Security Analysts were under pressure from their superiors to justify their existence to the Political Leaders. Some ordinary common place doings could easily be interpreted as something close to ‘high Treason’. Hungary, to its detriment, is all too fond of living in the past. The past is past, learn the lessons and then forget it. Hungary must learn to live for today and tomorrow not yesterday. The historians who use such archives as sources and the archivists for whom these archives are their ‘raison d’être’ will not like it but I would either seal these archives, under a time lock, for 100 years (or more) or let the ‘Red Wind’ run through (burn) the whole confounded… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

@Odin’s Lost Eye: “The past is past, learn the lessons and then forget it.”
Exactly, why not just forget Trianon.

Member
I am still curious about some of the papers they may have about me. 15 years ago when I went and requested some information about the hearings I needed to attend in 7th District Communist Party in the 80s with the Lead of the District and so forth, about the telegraphs that were delivered with the place and early morning times of hearings I had to go to, they told me that they are not ready with compiling all the info. I never heard from them since. My life to live in Hungary was taken away from me as I was told I have no future in Hungary, no University, no further carrier in media, etc. (hence I ended up in Canada) (I do not think Orban ever had to attend such meetings by the way, and he is only a year older.) Yes, I still would like to know what data was prepared, who read it and so forth. I really do not care about those people, for that matter I petty them (just like I feel sorry for Orban for trying so hard), but I would love to go and and look them in the eye now, and… Read more »
Kevin Moore
Guest

@Odin: “The past is past, learn the lessons and then forget it. Hungary must learn to live for today and tomorrow not yesterday.”
@Kristen: “Exactly, why not just forget Trianon.”
Putting aside the obvious contradiction within Odin’s one sentence (how can you learn from a lesson if you forget it, that is, not forgetting ensures you learn the lesson) – let’s play.
What about forgetting the Holocaust?

Mutt Damon
Guest

Well, indeed, it takes some intelligence to understand the concept of learning from something and forgetting it. Or forgiving for that matter. We don’t spit the Germans in the face but we learned very well the lessons of the Holocaust.

Member

Funny how it is with the Hungarian Right, at the end of the day everythingseems to come back to the Jews.

Member

In order to create historical data (books, etc.) about the late Twentieth, early Twenty-first Century a serious historian will rely on factual documents in the future, not on fairy tales created by various governments. The motivation, the action and reaction of political figures can only be understood by looking at facts, and not by listening to fiction. In the future, when our current events become past events, one can look at everything in context. It is not the current government’s job to decide what data future historians can, must and need to use. By destroying documents you take away the opportunity from future generations to draw their own conclusion. THey will have to rely on censored data. How intelligent that is? It has nothing to do with vengeance, it has to do with admitting that we do not know everything best, and there are other people (future generations) out there who are better qualified to draw conclusions.

Mutt Damon
Guest

@Eva Let me get this straight. Individuals will have the right to destroy their OWN documents. Regarding the rest you only “assume” that those will be destroyed. Even if the rest of the files and collected information of the 50,000 informants will be destroyed I doubt they represent significant historical value, except a couple of “high profile” cases, like the ones about churches.

John G
Guest

@Mutt Damon : “we learned very well the lessons of the Holocaust.” Really?! Look around the world today and please explain what lessons “we” learned from the Holocaust?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon: “Regarding the rest you only “assume” that those will be destroyed.”
It is more than assumption. No one should be able to look at these reports because they might not be reliable and because the information was obtained illegally. Period.

Kevin Moore
Guest

@David: no. What is funny is that your kin completely ridicule themselves in the very second the Holocaust is brought into topic. You all expect us Hungarians to forget everything we’re sad about in our past, everything when we think we were treated unjust, but the whole world, including Hungary, should mourn the Holocaust endlessly.
This is thoroughbred Nazi thinking. “My pain is bigger than you, you are not entitled to have your pain, you should forget it (especially because I was the offender of your pain), my pain is superior.”

Mutt Damon
Guest

@Eva “It is more than assumption” Right. You have your informants … 🙂
I agree completely. No one should look at these. Wouldn’t the destruction take care of this? These files probably have a lot of personal information. If you had a specific target the real nuggets were sexual orientation and extra-marital affairs. Do you really want the “historians” read who was your father screwing in the 70s? The discussion of this topic on this blog shows why the these files should burn. It’s been 20 years. Let it go.

Mutt Damon
Guest

@John “what lessons “we” learned from the Holocaust?”
There are probably many things one can learn. Like if a populist, nationalistic government grabs all the power bad things will happen. Like 50 million dead, 6 of them Jews, in the 30’s. What did you learn?
BTW “We” by default means me and my buddies.

Mutt Damon
Guest

@Kevin What is this “your kin” sh*t?? Do you think everybody who disagrees with you is a Jew? Your the one who always throws in the H-Bomb into a discussion when you get cornered.

Guest

First: This “Kevin Moore” really is a stupid piece of sh*t !
In every discussion he introduces and shows his hate for the usual suspects …
Second:
Why don’t you follow the example of Germany ?
The institution and its procedure is described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Commissioner_for_the_Stasi_Archives

An
Guest

@Kevin Moore: One doesn’t have to be Jewish to acknowledge that the Holocaust was one of the most horrific, if not the most horrific thing that happened in the otherwise already rather horrific 20th century.
This has nothing to do whether Hungarians entitled or not to nurture their pain over the historical loss and injustice they suffered in the same century. Whether that is a productive attitude or not, that is a very different question. I think it is not. I think dwelling on the past does not make the country better or stronger. As one commenter on a Hungarian site put it: “looking into the past will only make you head into the future with your, how to say this nicely… bottom”.

Kirsten
Guest

@Mutt Damon: The information in such files can be trivial but it still had real implications. To keep such files could make it easier for later generations to understand how a system of spies and informers works, how it comes into being, who gains from it and why people do or do not co-operate. The intimate details are of course embarrassing but it is such information that could be used to blackmail people. And to learn that such injustice or pain can be inflicted by a Hungarian on a Hungarian (Czech on Czech, German on German, I do not want to suggest that this is a national trait) can be beneficial if it is still believed that a nation is or should be highly homogenous.

Sandor
Guest
Never mind the Holocaust! (if you can forget it.) How could anyone learn anything about the past without any sources? For example, if you are interested about what happened in the 1950s, you will be reduced to Szabad Nep and that is all you will have to go by. Now, everybody knows that the paper was a communist party mouth piece and propaganda device, so, not very helpful in finding out the facts. If there were no archives, there will be no sources, therefore, anybody can lie whatever they want about any events of the past. And the “new-age” mouth pieces will not miss the opportunity to do so. Meanwhile the entire intellectual community has one single consensus: the state of Hungarian politics and society is as lousy as it is because Hungary never faced her own past and never came to any understanding about the consequences of past mistakes. It would have been possible to do, because the sources were available to complete an inquest, yet it was decide that the effort is not worth it, because the outcome may shatter some of the Hungarians’ bloated self image. But once the archives are gone, there is no chance left… Read more »
Jo Peattie
Guest

This discussion does not make me happy. I have had the care of archives dating from 12th century to the late 1990s. If the next generation thought that it was okay to destroy documents that were painful or shameful then quite frankly there would have been little left. Archives would only contain land titles and the like. The events of the 1950s on to 1989 in Hungary were shameful. I can well understand why the victims of such abuse by an illegitimate state would baulk at the release of related documents. However the integrity of the Archive should be maintained. Documents could be closed for a period of time. I worked in Scotland and we quite regularly imposed closure periods on records in order to protect individuals. Up to 100 years was considered. However flawed the material it contains the Archive could at least give an insight into the events. Or would you prefer a history that was not open to dispute because any documents relating to it had been destroyed?

An
Guest

@Jo Peattie: I looked through the comments above and only one person agreed with the idea of destroying the archives. I think locking them up for 70-100 years would be a great idea.
Unfortunately, the Fidesz bulldozer won’t be stopped… The archives will be another victim of Fidesz’s constant re-fabrication of the past. I wish something could be done to stop this.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An: “The archives will be another victim of Fidesz’s constant re-fabrication of the past. I wish something could be done to stop this.”
And we didn’t even talk much about the documents that they will most likely not destroy but use for political purposes. There will be no one to look over their shoulders. They can do anything they want.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Although I’m not crazy about LMP but it is right about Fidesz actually becoming an accomplice of the secret service. See the MTI article: http://tiny.cc/h9sq9

latefor
Guest

An –
Looking into the past you will learn that history always repeats itself, sadly.
People never actually make the same mistakes, but mistakes will be made. This is the law of social cycles and this the reason we need enlighted moralists.

Kevin Moore
Guest

@wolfi: you are a piece of shit.
Satisfied?
Mutt Damon: you are Nazi-fixed. I never said a word about anyone being Jew and couldn’t care less about people’s origins. Your little mental cage shows when you are rambling about who being Jew.

Kevin Moore
Guest

@An: I will never, never acknowledge that the Holocaust was the most horrific genocide in history. I will never acknowledge it was more horrific than the Holodomor or the Ruanda genocide or the massacre of Indians by the Spanish empire.
Putting one genocide above the other is a pure Nazi thought.

An
Guest

@Kevin Moore: I was talking specifically about the 20th century. And no, I don’t wish to compare one genocide to another. A genocide is a genocide, and horrible no matter who the victims are.
So depicting the Holocaust as a terrible inhuman deed is a Nazi thought now? Man, you have some twisted line of logic.

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