An informer and his career: Péter Heltai

Fidesz was never too finicky when it was discovered that people in the party's ranks had had rather checkered careers. That actually a number of them were informers. A communist past wasn't an obstacle either, in spite of Fidesz's virulent anti-communist rhetoric. For example, it turned out that there were more former MSZMP members in the first Orbán government than in the socialist Horn government. Among the ministers one could even find former informers. And one Fidesz mayor actually reported on his own family.

The second Orbán government has a new informer scandal, this time with an international twist. It turns out that Péter Heltai, an immigrant from Romania who made a fantastic career in Hungary as a media mogul, reported to the Romanian Securitate on his friends in Cluj/Kolozsvár between 1982 and 1987.

Why is this interesting now? First, because Heltai's informer past became known only recently and, second, because it was Péter Heltai who wrote the bulk of the infamous media law and came up with the "brilliant" idea of centralizing the newscasts of public television and radio via MTI, the official Hungarian news agency. And it is his second wife, Athéna Görög, who is in charge of the firings at the public TV and radio stations. A nice couple.

Péter Heltai was born in Cluj in 1962 and in 1986 received a degree in philosophy and history at the Babeş-Bólyai University. A year later he left for Hungary where in no time he was employed at the Hungarian Academy's Institute of Sociology in spite of his lack of qualifications. His boss, Elemér Hankiss, was so satisfied with him that when Hankiss was named to be the new president of MTV he took Heltai along. In 1993 Hankiss was fired but Heltai remained in a high position until 2000. Obviously a clever fellow.

Between 2000 and 2010 he had several business ventures. He was, for instance, the founder and co-owner of InfoRádió, the first radio station broadcasting mostly news. But he worked at DunaTV and lectured on communication to journalists as well. Importantly, he also served as an advisor in Tamás Fellegi's company. 

All went well until Tibor Gáll, a fellow Romanian-Hungarian and an artist currently living in Berlin, asked the Consiliul Naţional pentru Studierea Arhivelor Securităţii, the committee that is responsible for the Securitate's archives, to identify the unnamed informers in his files he had received earlier. He learned at the end of November 2010 that the man behind the code name "Hegel" was his old acquaintance from Cluj days, Péter Heltai. Although Gáll's files contained reports by several hands, two of them were written by "Hegel." Both from 1985. Gáll wasn't the only one Heltai spied on. Several other dissidents from Cluj fell victim to Heltai's activities.

At first Heltai denied the charges altogether, which is a typical reaction from informers. Eventually he admitted that although he wasn't an official informer, in spite of the existence of documentary evidence to the contrary, here and there he had conversations with the representatives of the Securitate. He claimed that he had been blackmailed and gave no new information about the activities of his friends. He just repeated news that was already available from other sources.

However, the documents tell a different tale. Heltai became an informer in October 1982 and reported to Capt. Valer Rusu, who was in charge of affairs pertaining to Hungarian youth. Heltai turned out to be "an honest, reliable young man who arrives punctually and his reports are valuable and truthful. His political views are adequate and encouraging." He received all sorts of expensive and hard-to-obtain gifts from the captain for services rendered.

It seems that he was supposed to report on the people involved with the samizdat publication Ellenpontok (Counterpoints): András Keszthelyi, Attila Ara-Kovács, and Géza Szőcs. Keszthelyi left Romania in 1985 and Ara-Kovács in 1983. Keszthelyi later worked for the Medgyessy, Gyurcsány, and Bajnai governments. Ara-Kovács after 1990 was involved in the founding of SZDSZ, worked as foreign policy advisor to Gábor Kuncze, and served in the diplomatic corps. Géza Szőcs, currently undersecretary for cultural affairs in the Orbán government, after spending some time in Switzerland and Romania, also eventually settled in Hungary.

Between 1982 and 1987 Heltai wrote twenty-eight reports, primarily on Keszthelyi, Ara-Kovács, and Szőcs. But there were several others, most notably about Gáspár Miklós Tamás, political philosopher, who had left Romania for Hungary already in 1978.

In 1985 the Securitate procured a hard-to-get tourist visa for Heltai to visit Hungary in order to get close to Gáspár Miklós Tamás and inquire about a new undertaking of Attila Ara-Kovács–the Erdélyi Magyar Hírügynökség, a news agency reporting on the affairs of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania. Another task Heltai was supposed to carry out during his Hungarian trip in 1985 was to get to know more about the students of history at the University of Szeged who were publishing a semi-legal historical periodical called Aetas, a publication still in existence. In fact, this year the current editors are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the quarterly. The student editors of this periodical wanted to have young Hungarian historians from Romania publish, under pseudonyms, articles about Transylvanian history from a less biased perspective than the works of the official "court historians" of Nicolae Ceaușescu.

It was about that time that the Hungarian Academy of Sciences published a three-volume history of Transylvania that caused serious friction between Romania and Hungary because the Hungarian version of the early history of today's Transylvania questioned the official theory of Daco-Romanian continuity. (It would be a major distraction to get into this particular historical controversy, but the upshot of the theory is that the inhabitants of Dacia were totally Latinized during a relatively short Roman occupation of the province. These Latin-speaking Dacians remained there after the withdrawal of the Roman army and survived the vicissitudes of subsequent centuries.)

In any case, the Romanian authorities suspected some kind of attack on the Daco-Roman theory with the help of dissident Hungarian students from the university at Cluj. In fact, Heltai did visit Szeged and reported that Tibor Gáll had close connections with the Szeged student editors and that the editor, Attila Greksza, "talks a lot of nonsense." Whatever that meant.

Heltai's informer past didn't seem to hurt his career. In fact, with Tamás Fellegi becoming a minister and a confidant of Viktor Orbán, Heltai has broken out from the confines of the media. He was seen travelling with Fellegi to the airport and accompanying the minister of economic development to Brussels where Fellegi was informing the committee of the European Parliament about the program of the Hungarian presidency of the European Union.

As far as the news of his informer past is concerned, most Hungarians have already forgotten about it. However, it is clear that Heltai, and now it seems even his wife, is playing an important part in building a Fidesz media structure and a propaganda machine. Well, that's how things go in Orbán's Hungary with all its lofty Christian values. But then the Golden Rule didn't make it into the new constitution.

 

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Katona Judit
Guest

It is absolutely inexplicable for me how it is possible for an ex-informer like him to be able to go on building his carrier as if nothing had happened. What kind of a country are we living in?!
Disgusting…

Member
It is very disturbing. An other proof of Orban and the Fidesz’ double standard. Orban and his buddies go across the border to preach about unity, freedom, national strength, all the bad the communists have done, and very much create a havoc where no havoc exists. THey clearly do this to strengthen their political status. I had a great marketing teacher and he told us this story, and I cannot really recall all the details, but the just of it was that, this service company had some obscure designation, and they built their marketing campaign around somehow hinting somehow, that this designation is the most important thing to have, and they are the only one who have it. They tripled their sale, and drove out many companies from business by the time the others woke up, and implemented their own campaign. THis is exactly what Orban does. Makes people aware for all the “good things” he does, and about his war about the imaginary enemies and how he protects the homeland. At the same time, business is usual for him, using anyone and everyone without any consideration if that person is befitting for the job, so just he can stay… Read more »
Andy
Guest

Their religion is power and money. Moral or ethics….who cares?

J727
Guest

the moral of fidesz is a shame to hungary.
the web is full with blogs on the media law.
http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/mar2011/hung-m02.shtml

Kirsten
Guest

Would such information be available also if he had worked as an agent for Hungary?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “Would such information be available also if he had worked as an agent for Hungary?”
Brief answer: no.

Kirsten
Guest

Then it may be complicated to use this piece of information, it could be unfair treatment if the agents for Hungary may be known only from hearsay or leakages. (But it depends on why the files are not made public.) But for me it has some strange flavour also because he worked for a country that gained territories from “Great Hungary”. At least this (if not the fact of spying) should disturb. Otherwise it is one big farce.

GW
Guest

Kirsten,
this is not a case of hearsay or leakage. In Romania, there has been a more thorough process of working through the atrocities of the Ceaușescu era than for the equivalent period in Hungary. Moreover, Romania has preserved its historical record while now, in Hungary, the present administration will allow individuals to remove and destroy their files, whether the subject was good or bad, thus eliminating ANY chance that the historical record will be made clear, let alone that perpetrators brought to some form of justice.
The cruel fact behind all of this is that those in Hungary who cooperated with and benefited from the old system are to be found in every part of the present political spectrum (thus rendering any complaint against the present MSzP by Johnny & Co. moot), while the real opponents and victims of that system are completely excluded and frequently defamed for “insufficient nationalism.”

Kirsten
Guest

GW, thank you for your comment. I was trying to relate it to some other ideas of Fidesz or perhaps ideas that are shared more broadly in the Hungarian society (and spying for Romania, in particular on Hungarian fellow citizens, is far from what I thought Fidesz holds dear).

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