Tag Archives: János Kenedi

Gábor Vona is trying to cast doubt on Viktor Orbán’s past

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Interior Minister Sándor Pintér have faced some hard times in the last couple of months. There is, for instance, the Jürgen Roth story about Dietmar Clodo’s testimony that Semion Mogilevich may have bribed both Pintér and Orbán in the 1990s. This story might have induced Pintér to prepare the ground for the possibility of foreign attacks on both him and the prime minister. He added, of course, that whatever foreign secret service agencies have on them are forgeries.

And now Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, is challenging Viktor Orbán about his alleged past as an informer.

The topic came to the fore two years ago when Lajos Simicska, Orbán’s former friend and the financial brain behind Fidesz, talked about the prime minister’s alleged involvement in the state security apparatus in 1981-1982 when he spent a year between high school and university in the Hungarian Army.

Questions about Orbán’s past are not new. Already in 1991 János Kenedi, one of the top experts on the state security apparatus in Hungary, after examining the relevant documents, declared that Orbán, if anything, had been the victim of intelligence gathering and was innocent of any wrongdoing. That testimony, however, didn’t put an end to speculation. Here and there someone finds a piece of evidence that stirs up suspicion again. One such occasion was the discovery by László Varga, director of the Archives of the City of Budapest, that Viktor Orbán’s dossier, titled “Viktória,” whose existence was a known fact, “had disappeared.”

What has been disturbing all along is that Orbán refuses to say outright that he never, ever reported on anyone in his life. At the time of Simicska’s accusation in 2015, Hír24 asked him this question. Orbán’s answer was not a categorical denial. He said that “the facts speak for themselves. All information is available on the internet. I suggest that you study them.” Magyar Narancs, commenting on this statement, asked: “Why can’t the prime minister’s office or the press secretary or he himself put together a simple sentence: ‘Viktor Orbán was not an informer and never reported on anyone.’” A good question.

Now, two years later, Orbán still refuses to utter this simple sentence. At the moment, the release of informers’ names is again a matter of debate in the Hungarian parliament, and Gábor Vona used the occasion to inquire from Viktor Orbán about his possible involvement. “Mr. Prime Minister, I know that during your military service you were in contact with the secret service. I also know, Mr. Prime Minister, that there was a member of your family who during the 1956 revolution was working for ÁVH as an agent.” Orbán’s answer was almost identical to his earlier response to the same question. “All documents are available on the internet, study them.” That was not enough for Vona, who then asked: “Do you have the courage to declare that ‘I have never been an agent and I didn’t report on anyone either in writing or verbally?’ Do you dare to declare it?” Again, Orbán refused to affirm it in the first person singular. Instead, he said that “naturally I was on the other side, just as all of us here. We were on the other side; we were the ones who were persecuted; it was in our apartments that they planted listening devices; we didn’t cooperate with any kind of service.”

Gábor Vona questioning Viktor Orbán

Not only did Orbán refuse to answer these simple questions but he wasn’t really truthful about the ideological commitment of the leaders of Fidesz in the 1980s. In 1985 László Kövér imagined himself and his friends in Fidesz as the future leaders of the existing regime, that is, the socialist people’s republic under Kádár or perhaps, given Kádár’s age, some younger, more dynamic leader. The “college” where these boys and girls from the countryside received extra educational opportunities was created to be “a school for political leadership.”

As for all those Fidesz members sitting in the parliament, who according to Orbán “were on the other side,” that is also an exaggeration. Several important Fidesz politicians were actually members of MSZMP, the party established by János Kádár and others during the days of the October 56 revolution. Just to mention a few: János Martonyi, György Matolcsy, István Stumpf, Sándor Pintér, András Tállai, Béla Turi-Kovács, and Péter Harrach.

The younger members of Fidesz would obviously like to bury the sins of their elders. Only recently, in connection with the demand for the list of informers, János Lázár declared that they were only victims and therefore their identities should be shielded. The real culprits, he claimed, are the former members of MSZMP who “denied the freedom and self-determination of the Hungarian people.” They are the ones who are traitors and who should never have any role in political life. One would like to remind Lázár that in 1989 there were 800,000 party members in Hungary. Moreover, if Fidesz professes to have such a pristine past, it should get rid of those politicians on their side of the aisle who were not exactly on the “other side.”

Viktor Orbán answering Gábor Vona

After the Vona-Orbán encounter, speculation abounded that Vona might have received damaging information about Orbán from Lajos Simicska, especially since Simicska’s son Ádám just recently optimistically announced that Jobbik will win the 2018 election with a two-thirds majority. (At the moment Ádám Simicska’s prediction has a zero percent chance of materializing.) Vona in an interview on ATV denied that he has any new information, but he added that if he learns anything he will not hesitate to make it public.

According to people close to Simicska, he makes no secret of his plan to release “seriously compromising documents” on Orbán close to the election. He talks quite freely about the circumstances surrounding his break with Orbán and keeps repeating that “it is his obligation to do everything in his power to facilitate the overthrow of the prime minister.” According to Fidesz politicians, Orbán as well as the leading members of the party consider Simicska a serious antagonist who “has money to spend and nothing to lose.”

March 21, 2017

Will communist-era internal security files finally be open in Hungary?

At last the archives of the huge internal security network, currently stored in the Alkotmányvédelmi Hivatal or AH (Constitutional Defense Office), an idiotic name for one of the many offices dealing with national security, will be transferred to the Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltár/ASzTL (Historical Archives of the National Security Services). On March 6 a lengthy report on the “study of the pre-1990 data preserved on magnetic tapes” was released by a working group of the National Remembrance Committee and the Historical Archives of the National Security Services. Three days later the Hungarian government approved the transfer of the material.

Over the years socialist-liberal governments, at least halfheartedly, supported opening the archives, but right-wing governments categorically rejected the idea. For example, one of the most vociferous opponents of opening the archives of the feared III/III department of Kádár’s ministry of interior was Péter Boross, the arch-conservative interior minister and later prime minister in the early 1990s. As for Fidesz, the Orbán government’s reluctance is demonstrated by the fact that in the last seven years LMP turned in 14 proposals to make all documents pertaining to the workings of the internal security apparatus of the Rákosi and Kádár periods accessible. These proposals never got out of the parliamentary committee on judicial affairs.

The present report focuses on one aspect of the vast archival collection of the secret services: “the study of the magnetic tapes.” The existence of these tapes first came to light in 1995, although the initial reaction was one of denial. At that point I belonged to an internet political discussion group in which one of our members, who had been employed by the ministry of interior, had first-hand knowledge of the existence of such tapes. Once their existence could no longer be denied, those who didn’t want the content of these tapes to be revealed announced that they could no longer be read because the recording was done on by now obsolete equipment. Of course, this was just a diversionary tactic. Years later, in 2007, it was Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsán who at last set up the so-called Kenedi Commission, a group of researchers familiar with the history of the internal security apparatus. It was that commission which asked a group of IT experts to find a way to make the tapes readable. One of these tech gurus gave a fascinating description of how they managed to accomplish the task. By the way, I should mention that the material on these tapes was made secret until 2060. I don’t know which so-called democratic government decided that the “secrets” of the Kádár regime must be preserved until 2060 (when, presumably, everybody who’s implicated will be dead), but I will note that the Kenedi Commission was promptly dismantled by the Orbán government.

As opposed to other post-communist countries, Hungary allows only extremely limited access to communist-era documents. The East German archives were opened immediately after the regime change. Somewhat later both the Czechs and the Slovaks put all their material online, and anyone can comb through it to his heart’s content. Knowing the “enthusiasm” of the Fidesz government for transparency, I doubt that such a situation will exist in Hungary as long as Viktor Orbán is prime minister.

The present system is quite restrictive. Individuals can ask for their own file if such a file exists. If in that folder he finds a cover name, he can ask for the informer’s real name. But an ordinary mortal can conduct “research” only if he can prove that the person he is researching is a public figure. And only approved historians who can demonstrate a real need to do research in this field are allowed to use the stored archival material. Details of the procedure and the appropriate sections of the 2003 law are given on ASzTL’s website.

Even if one gets permission to do research on public figures to find out whether they were informers, the 2003 law governing accessibility to this material was written in such a way that even if it is perfectly obvious that X or Y was an informer, it is almost impossible to prove it. The law demands supportive material that more often than not is simply not available. For example, the law requires a signed agreement between the security services and the informer or a handwritten report from the agent. It has often happened in the past that the “maligned victim” dragged the historian to court and won because these demands were not met. Historian Krisztián Ungváry claims that as long as the 2003 law is in force nothing will change. For the time being all public figures can rest easy: their “sterling reputations” are being protected by the Hungarian government.

The procedure a historian must go through at ASzTL reminds me of my own experience in the Hungarian National Archives in the 1960s. One had to define one’s research topic quite narrowly–in my case, the foreign policy of the Friedrich government in 1919. I wanted to look at the transcripts of the cabinet meetings. Instead of giving me the full transcripts, the staff extracted only those parts that dealt with foreign policy. One was at their mercy. I assume the situation is similar at ASzTL. Let’s assume that in order to get a full picture of a specific case one needs to look at files on others. Surely, according to the present rules, this is not allowed.

Some people claim that nobody is interested in the issue. Who cares? people say. It was a long time ago. Why disturb the past? It is over with. At one point Bence Rétvári (KDNP), at the time the political undersecretary of the justice department, came up with the brilliant idea that the whole archives should be dismantled and that anyone who has a file should just pick it up and take it home. This kind of talk totally disregards the fact that the history of those 40 years requires an understanding of the enormous network which over the years might have had about 200,000 members. Ever since 1990 the issue has been discussed back and forth, committees have been formed, but governments made sure that the public would know as little as possible about the potentially checkered past of present-day politicians.

In 2002, after the public learned that Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy had been a paid officer of the counter-intelligence unit of the ministry of interior, a committee was set up that became known as the Mécs Committee after Imre Mécs (SZDSZ), its chairman. The commission, because of Fidesz’s obstruction, got nowhere. But apparently those members of the commission who had access to the files found at least ten politicians from the post-1990 period who had worked for the internal security forces.

In fact, as far back as 1990 Miklós Németh, the last prime minister of the old regime, was said to have handed over a long list of former informers who had important positions in the newly formed parties and later became members of parliament or members of the Antall government. This list of informers was leaked by someone called “Szakértő 90” in 2005 and is still available on the internet. In the interim historians have published several articles about the shady past of public figures–for example, János Martonyi, foreign minister in the first and second Orbán governments. He was one of the people who successfully sued Krisztián Ungváry.

It would be high time to set the record straight, but I have my doubts.

March 12, 2017

Reverberations after Lajos Simicska’s revelations about Viktor Orbán

Lajos Simicska’s revelations about Viktor Orbán’s alleged involvement in the state security apparatus in 1981-1982 have given rise to accusations and counterclaims. And all the larger papers have published timelines of the allegations that surfaced here and there about Viktor Orbán’s possible informer past.

The controversy began in 1991 when a dossier surfaced at the Military Security Office (Katonai Biztonsági Hivatal), which handled the leftover documents from the ministry of interior’s III/IV Military Counterintelligence Unit. At the time the Antall government asked János Kenedi, one of the top experts on the state security apparatus in Hungary, to investigate the contents of the folder. Kenedi came to the conclusion that Viktor Orbán had been a victim of intelligence gathering and was innocent of any wrongdoing.

There are others, however, who claim that there were documents indicating that the young Orbán wasn’t so innocent. Lukács Szabó, who was an MDF member of parliament between 1990 and 1994, claimed in 2002 that Prime Minister József Antall at one of the meetings of the parliamentary delegation indicated that the government had found “proof of wrongdoing in Orbán’s past.” Apparently, Antall repeated this statement to several MDF members of parliament. In addition, one of Antall’s undersecretaries in charge of the spy network confirmed the charge.

Then we have Péter Boross’s latest statement, which he gave to Pesti Srácok, described as a government financed internet site. Boross was an old friend of József Antall, who named him minister without portfolio in charge of the National Security Office and, a few months later, in December 1990, minister of the interior. Boross now claims that he “asked for all possible documents relating to Viktor Orbán, and from these documents it became clear that although he was approached by the officers of the ministry of interior he refused any cooperation with them.” Boross claims that he can prove Orbán’s innocence.

In 2005 an ad hoc parliamentary committee was formed to look into the financial affairs of the Orbán family. This was when Orbán bought a very expensive house in an elegant section of Buda, into which he poured an untold amount of money to make it suitable for the large family’s needs. About the same time he began building his weekend house in Felcsút. Orbán came well prepared, and I must say that I was somewhat taken aback by the incompetence of the co-chairmen of the committee. In any case Orbán, without being asked, released a number of documents relating to his alleged ties to the state security organizations. For a while these documents were available on the orbanvictor.hu website under the heading “Valóság” (Reality). In 2012, when Ágnes Vadai inquired about his possible ties to the state security apparatus, he republished some but not all of the documents that had been available earlier. One of the documents not released in 2012 was titled “Suggestions for the creation of social connection” and contained personal information about Viktor Orbán. According to the document, the “connection” began on October 20, 1981, shortly after Orbán began his military duties, and ended on August 20 when he “was discharged.” This would indicate that Lajos Simicska told the truth about Orbán’s reporting on his fellow soldiers during his time in the military.

Also in 2005 a retired colonel, Miklós Mózes, told Fejér Megyei Hírlap that “he had sat down a couple times for exploratory talks with [Orbán], but it soon became evident that he might be useful for several jobs but not for secret work with the state security organizations.” Mózes, however, said something else of interest. It happened that Orbán was called up for military service again a year after he finished law school. Orbán apparently “by mistake” was sent to Tata instead of Zalaegerszeg where, as Mózes reported, the KGB was interested in the young lawyer and asked Mózes to facilitate his transfer to Zalaegerszeg. It is not impossible that by that time the Russians had become interested in the new young politicians who might have important positions after the demise of the Kádár regime.

And now let’s move on to research conducted on informers by Csaba Ilkei, a historian whose sympathies lie with Jobbik. One of the documents that was not republished by Viktor Orbán in 2012 was a note in his own hand that is reproduced here.

Handwritten note

István Csáki was a major in the ministry of interior’s III/IV unit. “Temesvári” was the pseudonym of an informer who, according to Ilkei, was Zsolt Szeszák, at the time a student at ELTE’s Faculty of Arts but here only identified as “Fidesz insider.” “Győri Gábor” was also an agent who was presumably, as indicated by the arrow, in some way connected to László Kövér. What Ilkei wanted to know was how Orbán could know Csáki or the pseudonym of Szeszák.

And there are other gaps in the story. László Varga, the historian of the state security network, did not find Viktor Orbán’s dossier named “Viktória.” It disappeared.

And finally, why doesn’t Viktor Orbán say outright that he never, ever reported on anyone in his life? Yesterday Orbán was asked by Hír24 about the “informer case” and he even answered, which is an exception to the rule. This is what he said: “The facts speak for themselves. All information is available. I suggest that you study them. I find it sad that someone out of personal resentment would sink this low.” Magyar Narancs, commenting on this statement, noted that “although it is difficult to believe anything Lajos Simicska says, the question is lurking in the back of our minds: why can’t the prime minister’s office or the press secretary or he himself put together a simple sentence: “Viktor Orbán was not an informer and never reported on anyone.” Indeed, this is a legitimate question.