This morning I found an article in Magyar Nemzet with the sensational headline "Michael Cole was the code name of Lendvai–the complete article." Of course, the full text of this particular piece is available online, unlike the American ambassador's op/ed article a few days ago. By the way, Magyar Nemzet's answer to the extremely polite criticism of Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis is also not available online. But the reported headline says it all: "Hands off Hungary!"
After reading the full-page story of how Paul Lendvai, a renowned Hungarian/Austrian journalist, was in fact an informer in Kádár's extensive spy network, I had the distinct feeling that I had read the bones of that story somewhere else. Soon enough I found the origin of Magyar Nemzet's "great discovery": Paul Lendvai himself in an article published in the January 16, 2006 issue of Élet és Irodalom. The title of the article was "The Rise and Fall of Michael Cole."
In the article Lendvai writes that "as a Christmas present" he received from the archives of the Hungarian secret service almost 400 pages of material about himself. After a careful reading of the material Lendvai identified most of the code names of the informers involved in his case. For example, the famous sports reporter György Szepesi, an honorary citizen of Budapest today, was reporting on him under the code name "Galambos." Another man Lendvai managed to identify was László Endre Loránt, MTI's Viennese correspondent whose code name was "Urbán." And with "Urbán" we arrived at "Michael Cole."
"Urbán," Lendvai suspects, wanted to make a career within the organization by claiming knowledge of Austrian politics ordinarily not available to an MTI correspondent. Therefore he made exaggerated claims of special information coming from Lendvai who by the late 1960s managed to develop fairly intimate relations with leading Austrian politicians. Every time "Urban" sent something to the officer to whom he reported in the secret service apparatus he added: "Information from Lendvai." The officer in charge of "Urbán" decided that "Urbán" might be able to convince Lendvai to work for the Hungarian national security organization and therefore opened a file for him under the code name "Michael Cole."
Meanwhile "Urbán" was transferred back to Budapest and his successor, "Herczeg" (András Heltai), was unable to provide such colorful reports allegedly coming from Paul Lendvai about Austrian politics. "Herczeg" started to be frustrated: he couldn't get anything out of Lendvai. Therefore "Herczeg" suggested putting pressure on Lendvai by using the Hungarian secret service's connections with other "friendly countries" to deny visas to Lendvai. To no avail. After a year and a half, "Herczeg" decided that "Michael Cole" was useless and gave up his efforts to convince Lendvai to cooperate. In the summer of 1965 the file of "Michael Cole" was closed for good.
And now we can return to Magyar Nemzet's latest crime against responsible journalism. First of all, the unnamed author of the article claims original research in the archives of the state security service. He notes that last year Heti Válasz, a right-wing weekly, already published an article in which it reported that Lendvai had cooperated with the state security services of the Kádár regime. Lendvai denied the accusations then, but Magyar Nemzet has found new evidence.
Magyar Nemzet is not satisfied with falsely calling Lendvai an informer but also denigrates him by saying that Lendvai, who left Hungary in January 1957, "posed as an expert on Eastern Europe and made a decent living out of it, but surely he didn't brag about the fact that he managed to receive 'the Eastern European expert' status with the active help of the Hungarian secret service." And why this sudden interest in Paul Lendvai? Because "the Austrian journalist of Hungarian descent is sharply critical of our country, the right-wing government, and its leader, Viktor Orbán." But, for pete's sake, couldn't Magyar Nemzet do a better job of discrediting this heinous critic than digging up and embellishing on a five-year-old story told by Lendvai himself?
The article is full of inconsistencies and inaccuracies. For example, the author of the article claims that Lendvai was a member of MSZMP until he left Hungary. Well, he most likely was a member of MDP (Magyar Dolgozók Pártja), but it is highly unlikely that after the revolution he rushed to join MSZMP which at that time was hard pressed to find any takers. Magyar Nemzet also claims that Lendvai was one of the authors of the infamous four-volume history of the Hungarian "counter-revolution" that appeared in 1957. Considering that Lendvai left Hungary in January 1957 via Poland, it is hard to imagine that he was actually involved in writing the so-called "White Book."
Then there is a fairly lengthy quotation from "Urbán," who on the one hand reports that "Lendvai would like to have a regular relationship with the Hungarian Embassy" while, on the other hand, he also says in the same report that Lendvai "didn't want to go to the Hungarian Embassy because he is afraid that we want him to work for the Hungarian intelligence."
Not a word about the angry report of "Herczeg" about the uselessness of Lendvai as an informer or that in 1965 "Michael Cole" disappeared from sight. The paper notes that Lendvai, thanks to the Hungarian secret service, was denied a visa to the socialist countries, but it acknowledges that in 1972 there was a change of policy. The Kádár government decided that "it has an interest in allowing [Lendvai] to visit Hungary on a continuous basis." As Lendvai himself explained in his 2006 article, the reason for this sudden interest in him was that in the intervening years he became a close friend of Bruno Kreisky, who in 1970 became the chancellor of Austria.
It is clear that Magyar Nemzet, which can be called the mouthpiece of the Orbán government, makes a concerted effort to discredit everybody who is in any way critical of the government and/or Viktor Orbán. Especially if that person is perceived as having wide influence outside of Hungary. And Lendvai does.