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.
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.