A new commission will soon be established to search high and low for the sinners and sins of communism. Fidesz suddenly has a burning desire to know who was responsible for crimes committed during the Rákosi and Kádár regimes. Once they set the criteria for palpable guilt, it looks as if some punishment will be meted out to those responsible. For the time being it is not clear what the punishment would be, but there has been talk about reduced pensions. The guilty may also be barred from public office. How do we decide who was guilty and who wasn’t? Gergely Gulyás, the rising star of Fidesz, muttered something about people who reached at least the position of president of the county council (megyei tanácselnök). Isn’t it a blessing that László Sólyom’s father-in-law is no longer alive. He was the all-powerful party secretary of the County of Baranya!
This commission will be made up of experts and they will be busy for a while. Fidesz politicians mentioned 15-20 years. So, they will have to be thorough. I’m curious who the experts will be, but I doubt that the Orbán government will employ those historians who have been working on the history of 1956 and the Kádár regime in the last twenty years. After all, in 1998 when Orbán formed his first government one of his first acts was to deny government support to the 56-Institute that employed these historians. The second time around the government simply closed the institute as a separate research unit.
I also doubt that historians who have been closely involved with research of the available informer documents–László Varga, János Kenedi, or Krisztián Ungváry–will be chosen because in Viktor Orbán’s eyes these people are suspect. Their views on history don’t coincide with the interpretation preferred by the right. In any case, some of the people on the right–and this group unfortunately even includes László Sólyom, former chief justice of the Constitutional Court and later president of the republic–talk blithely about “the true history of 1956.” This is a concept that has reverberated for a long time in historical circles, so I’m very much afraid that the politicians creating this commission of experts will expect “the definitive and true history of communism in Hungary.” A frightening prospect.
I’m also somewhat puzzled about what these people hope to find. What kind of new information will they be seeking? We pretty well know by now the facts concerning the communist takeover and its stages between 1945 and 1948. Thanks to the opening of the Soviet and Hungarian archives we have a fair idea of the circumstances of Kádár’s sojourn to Moscow and his return to Hungary. Good biographies have been written of Rákosi, Kádár, Aczél, and many more of the important communist leaders of the period between 1948 and 1989, and I’m sure many other biographies are in the making of some of the lesser characters. So, for historical research one doesn’t need a commission set up by the government.
How are they going to decide who was responsible for the fairly smooth running of the regime of János Kádár, especially in its last two decades? I’m afraid everybody who lived under the regime would have to share the burden. Everybody was a cog in the machine, even the porter who sat at the factory gate. Without their cooperation there couldn’t have been the consolidated Kádár regime that by the 1970s was even popular. Some might say that I’m trivializing political responsibility when I’m talking about the whole Hungarian population as part of the regime. So, let’s move up the ladder a bit: there were 800,000 members of the MSZMP (Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt). Every factory or office had a party secretary, every high school had its own KISZ (Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség) organization with a fairly large membership and a KISZ secretary. And then there were the pioneers. After all, they were politicized as well.
Then there were the intellectuals who did research, wrote history, fiction and poetry, or worked for newspapers and publishing houses. There were the diplomats who served abroad. And, of course, there were many other fields that in one way or another depended on the goodwill of the party. All these people had to make compromises with the regime and practically all did.
In brief, no commission is necessary to learn how the system worked. This commission is not being set up for this purpose. Its purpose may be to postpone or perhaps avoid publishing the list of informers. It may also have something to do with the current economic and political situation since such an investigation and the punishments that follow might turn people’s attention away from their daily economic difficulties. It might also serve as an instrument against political opponents. After all, not long ago Fidesz labelled the entire MSZP, by virtue of being the “legal successor” of MSZMP, a “criminal organization.”
I can already see thousands of letters being received by the Commission on National Remembrance written by politically correct citizens calling attention to some of their neighbors’ alleged sins during the communist period. After all, János Lázár found András Schiffer’s demand to make the list of informers public the highest impertinence (pimaszság) because his grandfather served as ambassador to Norway for a while although he had his own share of prison time and even a death sentence later commuted.
As Krisztián Ungváry said to the Index today: we don’t need a commission, we need to enact a law that would make public the list of informers. But that’s exactly what Fidesz wants to avoid.