National security documents, the Hungarian case

Hungary is unique among the former Soviet satellites in East-Central Europe in the sense that it is the only country where the list of the approximately 200,000 informers is still not available to researchers and the general public. Of course, some partial lists have been compiled but they are not official and if a person on the list decides to contest the revelation the former informer almost always wins in the courts. The historian who reveals the details always loses as, for example, Krisztián Ungváry who had to pay a few millions here and there for compensation although the information he provided was most likely correct.

In the last twenty-two years all parties seemed to have a strong desire to keep the information secret, most likely because a fair number of their top politicians were themselves involved. After the 1990 elections, Miklós Németh, the last prime minister of the old regime, gave a list of about 200 names to the new prime minister József Antall, who was horrified. Apparently so many of his personal friends, political allies, and members of the MDF parliamentary delegation were involved with the domestic spy system developed by the Kádár regime that he must have come to the conclusion that making the list available would be political suicide.

SZDSZ, then the largest opposition party, offered the Demszky-Hack Bill that would have made available the list of informers who had played or who planned to play political roles after the change of regime. That proposal didn’t receive the full support of even the SZDSZ delegation, and it was greeted with considerably less enthusiasm by the small MSZP caucus.

Krisztián Ungváry, in an article that appeared in komment.hu about two weeks ago, describes the difficulties the members of parliament between 1990 and 1994 faced. Kálmán Kéri (MDF), the oldest member of parliament who had a sterling reputation, was recruited by the Ministry of Interior’s III/III section, but because he consistently gave misleading information to the authorities he was let go. As for Árpád Göncz, the president between 1990 and 2000, 100 pages are missing from his documents kept by the Ministry and now available to select historians.

Interestingly, the little that was done to uncover the murky past of the national security office was accomplished not by the party that claims to be after the evil communists of the Kádár regime but rather by the socialist-liberal governments between 2002 and 2010. Ungváry thinks that one reason for this conspicuous silence is the heavy involvement of some of the Christian churches in the spy network. As we know, these churches are close allies and supporters of the current Fidesz-KDNP government.

It took ten years before research could be conducted in the archives that were specifically set up to store the vast numbers of documents kept about those under surveillance. However, the politicians made the work of historians as difficult as possible. It was during the Medgyessy government that the first attempt was made to reveal the secrets of the internal security network. According to Law 2003 III. §4 only those historians could do research in the archives who had begun their research earlier. Ungváry notes that if one took this requirement literally, no one could do any research in the archives because the archives were not available to researchers prior to 2003. Moreover, the archivists make the lives of the researchers very difficult because historians cannot search the material themselves; they have to rely on the not so cooperative staff. Not all of the material is available on the spot; some of the documents are stored elsewhere. The cost of copying is very high: 103 forints per page.

A typical document from the Archives of the Internal Security Service

Perhaps the most serious problem is that the law governing the availability of these documents was written in such a way that it shields the identity of the informers. Three criteria must be met in order to call a person an informer: (1) he reported in secret, with a cover name; (2) he signed a document that testifies that he agreed to be recruited; and (3) he received some benefit as a result of his activities. So, even if there are hundreds and hundreds of pages of information written by a person and his handwriting is identified, he still cannot be considered to be an agent unless his signature is on the document of his agreement to serve. And then one still has to find documentation that this person received some benefit as a result of his work. Ungváry points out that the law was intentionally written in such a way that no agent could ever be called an agent since 90% of the informers received no benefit for their activities. Moreover, it was not compulsory to sign the so-called File B (B for beszervezés = enlistment). So, the lawmakers knew that the law they voted on had been concocted in such a way that the secrets of the identity and activities of the agents would remain hidden for a long time to come. Ungváry calls the law “immoral.”

So, this is where we stand now. András Schiffer (LMP) turned in a bill that would have made the complete list of informers available, but the great majority of Fidesz-KDNP members of parliament, including Viktor Orbán, didn’t even allow it to be discussed on the floor.

One problem with this reluctance to make everything available is that bits and pieces of information are revealed without proof. For example, kurucinfo published facsimiles of documents implicating Viktor Orbán himself.

Although Fidesz-KDNP promised to come to some kind of resolution of this thorny problem, I don’t hold out much hope that the list of informers will be released during the tenure of the second Orbán government.

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Member

Eva: ” 90% of the informers received no benefit for their activities.” Yes they did. Maybe it was not so obvious, maybe just a visa to study somewhere, or a place for your kid in the university or a better position. It was always a pay out. The problem as I see it more to do with people did not sign any “spy agreement”. Many Hungarians were happily and willingly reported on their neighbors and coworkers about convertible currency being kept or sold, and so forth. The most interesting thing that nobody is really talking about are the records kept by the Hazmester. The hazmesters were not only responsible for maintenance, but for a long time they were the gatekeepers (literally). THe apartment buildings’ gates had to be locked at 11pm. If you came home after 11pm, you had to ring the Hazmester, who made a record in a big book about what time you came home. The Hazmesters had no idea what was this needed for bit the books were collected and kept somewhere, and some people were kept record on, and the record used against the,. Who read those records? Were were those books kept?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Some1: “Eva: ” 90% of the informers received no benefit for their activities.” Yes they did.”
Sure, but the law meant monetary reward. Did you read Péter Esterházy’s “Revised Edition”? He discovered that his father was an informer and the only thing he asked for his services that his son, Péter, get to university. For an Esterházy it wasn’t that easy otherwise regardless of his grades and entrance exam.

Paul
Guest

The Fidesz attitude doesn’t exactly fit comfortably with their usual stance – “there wasn’t a complete revolution/break with the past in 1990”. If they really believe this, they should have opened the archives at their first opportunity, so people could really have dealt with the past and moved on.
Ironic indeed, if the reason they are reluctant to do this is that there are too many compromised ex-communists in high positions in Fidesz-Jobbik. Maybe they are right after all – there really was no break with the past in 1990, the same people ARE still running/ruining the country?

Paul
Guest

Complete OT, in a strangely IT way – all this reminds me of the film The Lives of Others. Very much worth a watch if you get the chance. A feel-good secret police film – you don’t get many of those!

Member

“if the reason they are reluctant to do this is that there are too many compromised ex-communists in high positions”
I can also imagine that Orban the 5th pledged to the Pope not to disclose the documents about the members of Catholic church. Remember the dude, when he visited the Vatican shortly after he got elected? Maybe he’s got absolution in advance for two election periods for it. A “get out of hell” card valid for 8 years …

tigerente
Guest

They seriously don’t mind saying things that oppose each other, do they? They play nice in Brussels and then talk ill of the EU at home. They say they’ll get rid of all vestiges of communism and yet they prevent these documents to come to light… It’s Fidesz’s two-faced speech again.
As for The Lives of Others, it’s a wonderful movie. Too bad that there’s no counterpart in Hungary to those next-to-last scenes in the Stasi archives.

GW
Guest

Could there be any greater contrast between Germany and Hungary in the way the documents have been handled? Germany has just elected Joachim Gauck as Federal President, the man who, after the wall fell, became the first Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives, a position in which he tirelessly worked to critically examine the files, to allows victims to view their files, and to expose the crimes of the former State Security office.

riviera1
Guest

Here’s a question:
When will Joachim Gauck invite Schmitt Pal for a visit?
Would NEVER be too soon?
Long live Schmitt “what have I done” Pal!!

Member
This tsunami of communist spies came after the 56 revolution. The communist government suddenly found itself at a smorgasbord of vulnerable people. Thousands were involved somehow in the revolution. Many got convicted and jailed. I believe this was one of the reasons of the amnesties around 1960 – that is to organize these people in exchange to give their life back. Some played dumb to get out, some reported useless information, but the case officers were not stupid. Those who got their life back, like were allowed the get a diploma (remember the revolution started with students), they had to supply “actionable information”. In same cases the extent and length while the people stayed in the system is puzzling. Amazing how the case officers could sustain the psychological pressure for years to squeeze their assets. Some perhaps liked the James Bond thing … Bad joke. Sorry. I believe the supply and quality of the assets was getting diluted by the of the 70s and beginning of 80s as the opposition started get stronger. Regarding this I have a theory. We are not talking about the whole archives in this debate. I assume in the 80s, as the new democratic opposition… Read more »
Member
Eva, I do understand what you meant regarding 90% of informers did not receive benefits, but i just wanted to clarify to the readers that everyone who was an informer did it for a benefit and not because they believed in communism. THis is exactly the point, Orban became a Young Communist functionary for a reason, his father served the communists for benefits too, but now they are running around trying to say that people done it because they were communists!. They did not. THey did it for survival. Not to many had nothing to loose at the time. Orban very much reminds me to Ricky Fits’ father from American Beauty, a closet homosexual, who hates himself so much for being gay that he kills the man who he is in love with. Orban resents himself so much for whatever he was, or whatever he is, that he must kill anything associated with his past, because nobody else hate themselves for it so much as he does. Paul: “A feel-good secret police film” about The Lives of Others. I am sorry, but it was anything but feel-good… SPOILER! Just because the guy at the end came to his senses, he… Read more »
Guest

Yes, we Germans are proud that in the end (after that a**hole Wulff) we got a president with character – even if many people like me don’t fully agree with him, but that should be normal in a democracy.
The fact that Hungary can not come to peace with the communist past is really troubling me. At the same time Fidesz says they’ll take the politicians to court they say we’re not going to open the archives …
This is so obvious – a selective handling of the wrongs of the communist past, I’m really amazed of their stupidity and/or viciousness!

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Wolfi: “The fact that Hungary can not come to peace with the communist past is really troubling me.”
Last night two former prime ministers were the guests on a new program at ATV called “Szabad szemmel.” Péter Boross and Péter Medgyessy. The former is dead against releasing the list of names for “national security reasons” and this time he added that making the list public would be hard on friends and family. Medgyessy is also against it. In his case, it turned out that he was working for counterintelligence. It was a huge stink.
Boross, the man whose hobby is Hungarian history especially that of the second half of the nineteenth century, barefaced announced how wise the men of the Compromise were when they burned the list of the Hungarians who reported to Vienna. Boggles the mind. Falsification of history is being advocated by this great lover of history. My opinion of Boross has never been sterling.
Medgyessy is a jerk too. He was a lousy prime minister who had to resign because he lost the support of both MSZP and SZDSZ and who after his fall accused his fellow politicians of a putsch.

Living with it in Hungary
Guest
Living with it in Hungary

So just as is the case with corruption, it appears as if there is enough complicity on all sides of the house that it’s in no one interest to bring it out. Further evidence that there needs to be a complete clean sweep of the current leadership. Just as is the case with corruption, someone needs to come clean in some what that can turn this to his advantage.. or out with the entire lot.

Kirsten
Guest

some1 (on “A feel-good secret police film” about The Lives of Others.): I found the film to be quite realistic except for the Stasi officer. He was the fairytale character in the film, not at all conceivable in reality. I had suggested to people who did not know the GDR from own experience to watch the film as a fairy tale when it comes to the “good guy” from the Stasi. Such persons did not exist. But many other aspects, the cynicism of the Stasi in particular, played by people who have not lived in dictatorship themselves, are correct.

Living with it in Hungary
Guest
Living with it in Hungary

Eva, to be fair, lets not forget that Gyurcsány is right in there with them. Isn’t him that wrote something along the lines that, we have the right to put the political opposition in jail and we should do so? Can you point to someone that is clean enough to run this country?

Kingfisher
Guest

I don’t recall Gyurcsány saying anything remotely like that – would like to know the precise context if he did.
Fidesz is in an awkward position because its own grassroots supporters, who generally enjoy their professed “anti-communism”, can see that you can bang that particular drum while covering up who were the agents. So it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Incidentally, did everyone see Lázár’s comments about Schiffer’s grandfather? That was pretty appalling although I’m not sure why I’m surprised.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Living with it in Hungary: “Isn’t him that wrote something along the lines that, we have the right to put the political opposition in jail and we should do so?”
Meaning Gyurcsány. There is no way that he said anything even resembling that.

Member
@ Kirsten: I would say high chool students in Hungary should watch Lives of Others as a a mandatory film versus learning how to keep horses, but then again, Hoffman would make it mandatory to show it as all Fidesz members were all like the hero Stasi officer, and all the others were like the current MSZP guys. I still d not understand the big secrecy surrounding the files. In Germany it is accepted that most people under WWII one way or another supported the nazis. It is a different story that many did not know what will unfold, and many were forced into it. In Germany only the exceptions are brought to light. In Hungary they try to feed the people wit the story that only a few were supporting the communist governments, and this is why important to release any information. Most people for Fidesz and from all the other parties (who were not children at the time) in some way supported the communists. It is simply the truth. We have to accept it. Orban either stand up and says that, and only brings up the names of those who actually “fought” against the communists or he must… Read more »
Living with it in Hungary
Guest
Living with it in Hungary

@Eva, Kingfisher, I believe it was in a letter that he wrote when he was the leader of the youth communist movement. Unfortunately my shallow google search didn’t bring up a reference.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Living with it: “I believe it was in a letter that he wrote when he was the leader of the youth communist movement. Unfortunately my shallow google search didn’t bring up a reference.”
I very much doubt the authenticity of this claim. Gy. belonged to the reformist section of KISZ and knowing his thinking then and after it is almost impossible that he said something like that. In fact, the opposite is true. He wanted to have a dialogue with Fidesz and the opposition.

steve
Guest

Sad story, sad comments.
The Kadar regime was a stain on Hungary’s history.
Too many people served it.
Too many people were blackmailed to serve it.
Many righteous Hungarians evade the responsibility and endorse the brutal oppression of today’s Orbans/Vonas by:
1. Shifting the attention to the Gyurcsany/Horn group’s exclusive past relationship to the Kadar era
2. Insinuating that the few Jewish communists as representatives of all Hungarian Jews
3. Accusing of the EU as the Soviet-like oppressors
4. Whitewashing the Horthy regime.
We need accurate reporting like this blog on the crimes of the Orbans/Vonas.
I want to see the recording of these crimes by a Hungarian group of lawyers (Hungarian Lawyers of Eternal Liberty)to have the exact acts of the many corrupting current Hungarian politicians and oligarchs on black and white.

Kirsten
Guest
some1: “In Germany it is accepted that most people under WWII one way or another supported the nazis.” Perhaps I am too critical but for me this sounds too generous. This is what is politically correct to say (and fortunately other opinions are sort of taboo). Now you have only few people left who were of adult age during that time so my information is based on what the generation that was born in Nazi Germany or soon afterwards says. And there are people, in my impression not too few, who will focus on the hardship endured by Germans after the war, or the fact that their parents did not know or could not act otherwise etc. An apolitical approach that will emphasise individual problems in dealing with the situation, leaving the broad picture aside. Quite similar approaches are used by people who lived in Communism, the individual situation of work and family (and how they coped with the “oddities”) will be emphasised and how this fitted into the system will be eclipsed. As regards the dominant interpretation of the “critical mass”, you may be right but I have heard from a number of people that what children learned in… Read more »
Martin Eden
Guest

Following what happened in Czechoslovakia and later in Czech and Slovak republics with these lists of collaborators I am not really sure if it is so great idea to reveal these documents. Many of the “collaborators” were actually blackmailed, some were trying to “dance” with the secret police and survive without saying anything important, many of them did not even know that some of the talks they had with authorities are reported. But most of all, these documents were brutally misused in political fight. It is easy to say that your opponent is informer, that it takes you years to clean your name and then at the end who cares. Funny thing is that the most important files actually disappeared, or there are pages missing (e.g. Meciar and many others). In other words, there is moral dilemma, that you may ruin live of many people, to publicly name and shame few really important.

Paul
Guest

OT – BKV and Csaba László.
Government pay off 5 bn Ft BKV loan at last minute (so that’s another 5 bn OV has to find with his creative accounting…)
And Csaba thinks: a) there’s now only a 50/50 chance that a deal will be done with the IMF, and b) Hungary can probably get by without the IMF loan.
See http://www.portfolio.hu/en/ for both.
As they say on UK exam papers – discuss.

Paul
Guest

And back on topic:
“The dispute over proposals to publish the files of former agents in Hungary’s communist secret services is just an “insider affair for intellectual circles”, Speaker of Parliament Laszlo Kover told Hungary’s public Duna Television on Friday.
Kover insisted that all secrets have been revealed already, and that he considered the whole issue “just something to chew on, an infinitely annoying pseudo-debate, a substitute”.
Kover added that “people have other fish to fry than to deal with those things”.
He also said that certain national security circumstances made it impossible to give total publicity to all that happened before the political regime change in 1990.”
http://www.politics.hu/20120319/fidesz-house-speaker-kover-says-informer-files-insider-affair-for-intellectual-circles/
(I love their urls – no need to read the story, the whole thing is in the url!)

Member

Kirsten: I truly believe that most individuals in Germany were duped into “nazism”. I know I am generalizing, I understand, but propaganda is very dangerous, and very persuasive as well as “pack mentality”. Just two days ago in London (Ontario) over thousand participated (many university students) in a riot, that started out as good fun for St. Patrick’s day. ARe those students all evil? No, I think not, but they have to bear the responsibility. I think Hungarans are duped in the same way as the nazis duped in many. They are pointing fingers at the “communists” and the same time they deny that they were “communists” themselves.

Mutt Damon
Guest

Today what would be important is a background check on all people holding public office or working in law enforcement. Politicians and judges would be the most important.
I don’t care if my corner greengrocer was a beagle. I don’t care about celebrities either. These bozos trying to blackmail the ordinary people, like “if I get a background check you should too”. Hell no! Want an office? Background check. You failed? Out. It’s simple.
Planet Hungary’s parliament in action: lot’s of smoke and nothing important get’s done. It’s always either the extremes or nothing.

Living with it in Hungary
Guest
Living with it in Hungary

+1 Mutt

Kingfisher
Guest

Politicians do already have background checks, as do various other professions.
It seems to me that Hungary either discloses the past in its entirety. Or it simply decides to let bygones be bygones, in which case, who did what in the communist period has to be completely forgotten.
Fidesz’s problem is that for most of its supporters (and not just its supporters), this latter option is anathema. And the first option has the potential to be very politically damaging.

Mutt Damon
Guest

@Kingfisher
I’m no secret servant and I feed on conspiracy theories only (and boy I love ’em) but I’m pretty sure that the parliament, judges, municipalities, law enforcement, all are still full of people who were TMBs (informants). Currently the FIDESZ, and the probably the other governments too, use this info to squeeze them. This should end with a pass/no pass open exam for all these people.

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