The number of historians, archivists, community activists and academics of all stripes, interests and backgrounds to sign the petition aimed at saving key documents preserved by the Historical Archives of Hungarian State Security has risen to 842, as of 2:30PM, on Tuesday, February 22, 2011. Many thanks in particular to Heather Morrison of the Habsburg list, who agreed to forward my message to all subscribers, as well as to Kenneth MacWilliams, who sent this on to former classmates and colleagues at the Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School and Oxford. Thanks also goes to ActiveHistory.ca, which published an article on this petition last Friday, and to all who have helped to circulate this. Please let me know who you are, and I would be happy to list you on this website and in our upcoming booklet.
This past weekend, while communicating with János Kenedi, I mentioned that we could reasonably expect to gather 500 signatures. Just three days later we are barely shy of 1,000–double the goal set just a few days ago. I have also heard that the Embassy of the Republic of Hungary in Ottawa has received many of your e-mails expressing concern over the fate of Hungary’s state security archives. Many thanks to all of you who took the effort to write! If you did not ‘CC’ or ‘BCC’ me on this message, I would ask that you forward a copy, if at all possible, as well as any response that you might have received. As our goal is to ensure the survival of essential archival documents in Hungary, I am also trying to ensure that I properly document this campaign, including all letters of concern and protest sent to the embassy.
As always, I appreciate the comments posted on the petition and I am including a selection of these below:
Professor Geoffrey Hosking (University College London):
“As a historian of the Soviet Union, I can testify to the importance of preserving the archives of any regime, but perhaps especially of ‘evil’ ones. They are the only guarantee that we can attempt to fully understand the way they worked, and thereby do our best to prevent their ever appearing again.”
”I am a French historian of the 17th and 18th centuries. Even in their wildest moments the leaders of the revolutionary Terror did not countenance the systematic destruction of the archives of the “immoral” old regime of monarchical France. Nor, at the Bourbon restoration, did the restored monarchy contemplate the destruction of all revolutionary archives. The plans by the Hungarian government are some of the most extreme I have ever encountered, and will deprive a huge number of living Hungarians of the chance of ever understanding what crimes were committed in their name, and what they actually were living under. I write this, for what it is worth, as a visceral anti-communist and friend of the centre-right establishments of the newly-freed eastern European states. I urge the Budapest government to change course.”
“Documents cannot be immoral themselves. They are an important proof or at least trace of past crimes against humanity not only for hungarians but of course firstly for their people and future generations. Destroying these documents means collaborating with past perpetrators and criminals and is an immoral act therefore itself. This absurd act won’t help Hungarians to come to peace with their past.”
Dr. S. Phillips:
“One must not erase the past, because one considers it immoral. By that reasoning, all documents relating to The Holocaust/Shoah should be destroyed too. I would have thought that those who consider the late Hungarian Secret police’s records to be immoral would want to keep these documents to remember what happened and and avoid future repetition.”
Emeritus Professor Richard Rathbone:
“Civilization demands the preservation of all available records irrespective of whether these present us with a congenial picture. All polities and societies have elements of their pasts which embarrass those of us who inhabit the present. The best way of preventing the re-emergence of what the Hungarian deems to be “immoral” is to ensure that we know everything we can about that past.”
Professor Tom Scott:
“Under no circumstances should the Hungarian state be allowed to destroy these archives. Are the Hungarian authorities not aware of the extraordinary step taken by the German government to make Stasi files available to all concerned? This is the model which should be followed.”
“No matter how ‘immoral’ the contents of government documents may be perceived as being, they are nonetheless a part of that nation’s history, and it is vital for future generations to have access to their past in order to fully understand their own culture and learn lessons for the future. To destroy them would not only deny the heritage of the people, but also deny future generations the opportunity to learn from mistakes made and avoid making them again.”
John H Y Briggs:
“This concerns me particularly as a British Council visitor to Hungary as long ago as 1975, when I lectured in Budapest, Szeged and Debrecen, returning to the last named university a little later I think for the 40th anniversary of the establishment of their English Department. More recently my visits to Hungary have been through the agency of the Reformed Church in association with my responsibilities in the World Council of Churches. The loss of this archive as it now exists would be a serious undermining of free investigation of issues of critical international importance.”
“I am driven to ask whether this proposal is a matter of ignorant vandalism or whether someone is trying to destroy evidence that incriminates him/her. Being ‘immoral’ has nothing to do with it. In fact, it is precisely the documentation of ‘immoral’ regimes that should be available to historians in order to enable them to create an accurate record of important events. DO NOT SUPPORT THIS LAW.”
Dr. Rowena E Archer:
“This is an extraordinarily short sighted view and for the true history, and ultimately stability, of the country, the roots of its development, however unpalatable these may be for any one group at any one time need to be preserved. It is a natural human instinct to preserve the record of the past, not to destroy it. In recent disasters in England it has been striking how families fleeing flood or fire have reached first for the photographs or other records of their lives – not their transient and replaceable possessions.”
Professor David Blackbourn
“I urge the Government of Hungary to abide by the norms of scholarship and archival preservation and not to engage in actions that would destroy an irreplaceable heritage. Preserving documents from earlier times does not signify approval of their contents; it is simply what all responsible societies and governments do.”
Christopher Adam | firstname.lastname@example.org .