Rutgers University hosts symposium on Hungarian archival and media policy

On April 20th, 2011 at 4:00PM, the Scholarly and Professional Activities Committee of Rutgers University Libraries and the Institute for Hungarian Studies will be sponsoring a symposium entitled: “Hungarian Media and Archives Policies Today: Big Controversies in a Small Country.” The symposium will begin with an introduction by Jim Niessen, director of the Institute for Hungarian Studies, and will include 20 minute presentations by Christopher Adam (Carleton University) on the Hungarian government’s archival proposal and Tibor Purger (Rutgers University libraries) on the country’s new media laws.

Attila Pók, the director of the Historical Institute at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, will provide on 10 minute commentary on Christopher Adam’s presentation, while John V. Pavlik, the Chair of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers will comment on Hungary’s media laws. Daniel Kelemen, the director of the Center for European Studies will speak on EU policy concerning media and archival legislation.

The symposium begins at 4:00PM in the Alexander Library’s Teleconference Lecture Hall. All are invited to attend and the organizers will provide refreshments after the presentations.

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Népszabadság: the curse of the missing documents

Népszabadság, Hungary’s largest daily newspaper, published my Hungarian-language column entitled “The Curse of the Missing Documents” (Az irathiány átka), in which I explore how the loss of archival material in Canada following a 1954 government resolution led society as a whole to forget the injustice suffered by Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans in Canada during the country’s first national internment operations, between 1914 and 1920. As I explain in the Népszabadság article, neglected and vanishing internee cemeteries in Spirit Lake (Québec) and Kapuskasing (Ontario) are a testimony to how quickly we forget our past and the victims of persecution when archival documents are not safeguarded.

Kanada fagyos, északi erdőiben évente nyolc hónapon át mindent eltakar a hó. Beleértve a csendes vidéki utakat, a mezőket, a végtelennek tűnő kanadai síkságot és a romos, teljes feledésbe merült temetőket, ahol magyar, ukrán és más kelet-közép-európai állampolgárok földi maradványait temették el névtelenül, messze hazájuktól, egy idegen, kietlen és ellenséges környezetben.

Kevesen tudnak arról, hogy 1914 és 1920 között a kanadai hatóságok 8579, az Osztrák–Magyar Monarchia, Németország és az Oszmán Birodalom területéről származó állampolgárt internáltak embertelen lágerekbe. Egy 1954-es kanadai kormányrendelet utasítására megsemmisített levéltári iratok híján nemcsak az történt, hogy a társadalom megfeledkezett az ország múltjának egyik legsötétebb fejezetéről, hanem teret nyerhettek azok, akik tagadták a 24 internálótábor létezését. Évtizedeken keresztül újra és újra megszégyenítették az internálás áldozatait, akik többnyire szegénységben, időnként teljes nyomorban és egymástól elszigetelve élték le életüket, melyet örökre megpecsételt a kanadai kormány által tagadott első világháborús szenvedésük.

Nem csoda, hogy komoly aggodalommal figyelik a kanadai levéltárosok és történészek a magyar kormány az Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltárát (ÁBTL) érintő törekvését, mely a kommunista rendszer állambiztonsági iratainak széthordását és megsemmisítését eredményezheti. A helyzet napról napra aggasztóbb, hiszen még egy több mint kétezer neves nyugati tudós aláírását tartalmaz petíció, valamint hivatalos tiltakozó levelek a legnagyobb észak-amerikai és európai levéltáros- és történészszövetségektől sem tudták meggyőzni a kormányt arról, hogy ideje lenne őszintén válaszolni a kérdésekre és kritikákra, illetve nyíltan megvallani, hogy támogatják-e vagy sem a nemzeti örökséget képező levéltári gyűjtemények megóvását.

Rétvári Bence igazságügyi államtitkár még decemberben az „erkölcstelen rendszer erkölcstelen iratai” – azaz a kommunista múlt megismeréséhez elengedhetetlen gyűjtemények – az érintettek, vagyis a megfigyeltek általi széthordása mellett tört lándzsát. Most azonban néhány levéltárossal konzultálhat az ÁBTL az előző rendszer állambiztonsági szervei által készített iratok sorsáról. Csak remélni lehet, hogy az eredmény szerencsésebb lesz, mint a feloszlatott földrajzinév-bizottság esetében, ahol a Ferihegyi repülőtér átnevezésével kapcsolatos szakértői döntés néhány köztisztviselő állásába és megélhetésébe került.

Úgy gondolom, hogy valamennyi magyar történész és levéltáros számára világos lehet, hogy a levéltári anyag széthordása a történelmi igazságtalanságok feledéséhez, így közömbösséghez és végül a tagadáshoz vezethet. Amikor Loryl MacDonald, a kanadai országos levéltáros szövetség elnöke a demokrácia pillérének nevezte a levéltárakat, Pordány László, Magyarország újonnan kinevezett ottawai nagykövete válaszlevelében „enyhe túlzásnak” nevezte a kanadai tudós szavait, az ÁBTL megmentése érdekében indított, eredetileg kanadai kampányt pedig agresszív petíciózásnak, melyet rossz néven vehet a magyar kormány.

Én viszont biztosan tudom, hogy mindazok, akik közömbösséggel, cinikusan vagy gyanakvással fogadják a nyugati tudósok kritikáit, azonnal értenék az aggodalmunkat, ha csak egyszer elutaznának az internáltaknak az észak-ontariói Kapuskásing nevű településen vagy a Québec tartományban lévő Spirit Lake-nél található romos, elhanyagolt, a teljes eltűnés szélén álló temetőibe. Kanada legelszigeteltebb és legkietlenebb tájain szembesülnének igazán a levéltári anyag megsemmisítésének valós következményeivel.

Christopher Adam

A szerző történész, a Carleton Egyetem történelem tanszékének oktatója, a kanadai szövetségi kormány által létrehozott első világháborús internálási alap és kárpótlási program tanácsadója.

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Hungarian Socialist Party responds to petition campaign

Attila Mesterházy, president of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), sent me a letter on 29th March 2011, concerning Resolution 1283/2010. Mr. Mesterházy agrees that Bence Rétvári’s statements on this matter portend the risk that material preserved by the Historical Archives of Hungarian State Security (ÁBTL) in Budapest may be scattered. The Socialist Party president also points to legislation enacted by his government in 2003, when a bill passed by Parliament established the ÁBTL. Mr. Mesterházy adds that the failure to preserve archival documents may result in the falsification of the historical record .  The Socialist Party president’s letter, in Hungarian, is published below:

Attila Mesterházy’s letter to Christopher Adam (29 March 2011)

Attila Mesterházy's letter to Christopher Adam

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Canadian Historical Association protests Resolution 1283

CHA protests Bill to destroy records of the Hungarian communist secret police 
 
March 8, 2011

His Excellency Dr. László Pordány
Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary
299 Waverley Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 0V9

Dear Dr. Pordány:

The Canadian Historical Association joins the ranks of historians and archivists from around the world in expressing our concern over the Hungarian Legislature’s preparation of a law which would destroy many of the records of Hungarian communist secret police, interior ministry, and state security apparatus currently held at the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security in Budapest.

The Canadian Historical Association/Société historique du Canada (CHA/SHC) is the oldest and largest organization representing professional historians in Canada. Founded in 1922, the bilingual organization is dedicated to scholarship in all fields of history. It has a membership of about 1000, made up primarily of historians engaged as professionals from all regions of Canada and abroad.

As we write this letter to you we are also making an argument to our own Canadian federal court with respect to granting access to historical security files in our own archives. We do so because the files of state security agencies are amongst the most important held in any country’s archives.    It is vital to the history and memory of the country and those citizens affected that the role of the state in monitoring and punishing its citizens be available and open.    This is the only way that a country and indeed the world can know, how a state has lived up to, or violated its responsibilities to its people. It is the only way for some of the wronged to seek redress. Only though awareness of the fact and frank discussion of the painful periods of the past, can a country seek reconciliation and move forward.

The CHA/SHC rejects the argument that because these records were collected illegally by an immoral regime they should be destroyed.   On the contrary, these are potentially the most valuable proof that the regime engaged in illegal activities.   The loss of this massive archive of state surveillance will wipe out the memory of a key part of the communist regime.

The CHA/SHC believes that the security files currently held at the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security have enduring value to Hungarians but also to the international community.  We urge the government of Hungary to take all steps consistent with professional archival practice to preserve these unique and important records. 

Yours Sincerely

Mary Lynn Stewart
President, Canadian Historical Association

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No response from Hungarian government on archives

László Pordány's very brief letter addressed to Christopher Adam

More than 2,200 Canadian, American and European academics signed our petition protesting Resolution 1283/2010 of the Hungarian government, which will allow for the removal, scattering and destruction of archival collections documenting the activities of the country’s former communist secret police. János Kenedi, the former chairman of the government-appointed commission into state security files, wrote an introduction to the petition document, entitled A Witness to the Past, which we submitted to the Government of Hungary, through the Hungarian embassy in Ottawa, as well as to the Delegation of the European Union to Canada. Hungary’s National Széchenyi Library has added A Witness to the Past to its digital collection and the document is now available on their website, as well as the site of the 1956 Institute, in Budapest.
 
The petition was sent by courrier precisely one month ago, but the Hungarian government has unfortunately failed to respond to the concerns raised in this document; those shared by thousands of scholars and a dozen academic organizations throughout Europe and North America. Other than a brief letter from Hungarian Ambassador László Pordány simply confirming reception of the petition (which you will find attached to this e-mail) the Hungarian government has sent me no formal response to this initiative whatsoever, despite significant media attention both in Hungary and abroad. As you may have seen, this story was covered by the Associated Press and picked up by dozens of newspapers around the world, as well as by The Economist and Radio France Internationale. Hungarian weekly Élet és Irodalom has published a handful of articles on the petition campaign since it began in December 2010. I was also interviewed on two occasions by Klubrádió in Budapest and wrote a column for Canada’s National Post.
 
Lajos Bokros, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), wrote that he full-heartedly supports this initiative aimed at saving endangered archival documents.
 
This week, 168 Óra, one of Hungary’s largest weekly magazines, published a detailed report on this issue, quoting prominent Hungarian historians, including Krisztián Ungváry, János Kenedi and László Varga. According to Dr. Ungváry, the government’s proposed legislation “is about as a realistic as a public bus route between the sun and the moon.” Mr. Kenedi notes that if legislation is enacted as proposed by November 30th, 2011, Hungary may follow in the footsteps of Bulgaria, in terms of the treatment of archival documents, where, at first, “they were sold in flea markets, next to onions and potatoes.”
 
The following organizations have mailed formal advocacy letters to the Hungarian government, in an effort to convince officials to reconsider the proposed legislation:
 
Association of Canadian Archivists – Addressed to Ambassador László Pordány in Ottawa

Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies — Addressed to Ambassador György Szapáry in Washington, DC

Czech Centre for Human Rights and Democratization – Addressed to Ambassador László Szőke in Prague

Royal Society of Dutch Archivists –Addressed to Ambassador Gyula Sümeghy in the Netherlands

Society of American Archivists — Addressed to Ambassador György Szapáry in Washington, DC

Society of Greek Archivists–Addressed to Ambassador József Tóth in Athens
 
Those who have initiated, supported and helped distribute this petition campaign, and who have all expressed clear concern about the implications of Resolution 1283/2010, merit a formal response from Hungary’s Ministry of Public Administration and Justice. Once I receive such a response from the Ministry, I will publish this on our website.
 
Thank you very much for your continued interest in this important matter.
 
Sincerely,
 
Christopher Adam
http://hungarianarchives.com

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Hungarian weekly magazine 168 Óra publishes report on archives

On March 23, 2011, the Hungarian political weekly magazine 168 Óra published a detailed report on the dangers that await archival secret police files, thanks to the Government of Hungary’s decision to create legislation that will allow for their destruction. Columnist Attila Buják notes: “With one year, the government decree will become law and until then, the Historical Archives of Hungarian State Security (ÁBTL) will be on ‘break,’ after which the collective scattering of documents will get underway.” According to János Kenedi, who wrote the introduction to our petition, State Secretary Bence Rétvári is nothing but a “small dot” and a “simple communicator” in a plan that is, in fact, led by others in the background. Historian László Varga  called the plans to scatter archival documents a sign of clear “stupidity,” noting that “whoever came up with this has never seen a state security document.” Varga  referred to the proposal as “well-intentioned, but an example of dilettantism.”

Rétvári promised to consult with historians, archivists and other academics, before finalizing his proposed legislation. But historian Krisztián Ungváry of the 1956 Institute in Budapest noted that there is precious little to discuss. “This plan is about as realistic as a public bus route between the sun and the moon,”--Dr. Ungváry noted.

The 168 Óra article also referred to the petition associated with this website. Attila Buják writes: “Canadian historian Christopher Adam launched an online petition and has garnered the support of prominent North American professors, who protest the ‘government-initiated sterilization of the communist past.’” Adam feels that the destruction of archival documents poses an even more serious danger than Hungary’s new media laws, as these laws can always be changed, but once archival documents are gone, they cannot be replaced.”

For the full, Hungarian-language article, click here:

http://www.168ora.hu/itthon/titkosszolgalat-ugynok-leveltar-retvari-allambiztonsag-szt-galszecsy-ungvary-72015.html

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Italian Association of Central and East European Studies supports archives petition

The Italian Association of Central and East European Studies (AISSECO-Associazione Italiana Studi di Storia dell’Europa Centrale e Orientale) published the following statement, in Italian, on its website:

“The Hungarian State Secretary for Justice, Bence Rétvári, filed last November a bill aimed at regulating the activities of the Historical Archives of Hungarian State Security (Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára – ABTL), which retains most of the documents produced by the Hungarian political police between 1945 and 1990. According to the proposal, within one year the Hungarian Parliament should enact legislation allowing victims of repression (including those on which state security illegally produced information files of a political nature) to have access to the source of their particular case. In essence, they are entitled to take it home and dispose of it as they see fit, possibly to destroy, since – allegedly – the democratic state has no right to preserve and provide for the of viewing maps and documents obtained and produced in conditions unworthy of a constitutional regime. The argument, however, hides a clear risk for historical research and the very future of an institution, the ABTL that, in contrast to its Polish counterpart or Romania, in the last ten years worked in the shadows, allowing thousands of Hungarian and foreign scholars generous access to the papers of former security apparatus.

The purpose of the petition is, therefore, to draw attention to the injustice of the Hungarian government that could be done in an attempt – in itself laudable – to come to terms with its history.”

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