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.
Christopher Adam

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3 responses to “No response from Hungarian government on archives

  1. Concerned citizen

    A response by the Government would mean that this campaign is taken seriously, and would only serve to raise the profile of the campaign. For this reason it is extremely unlikely that a response will be given.

    A reasonable expected action is to wait for the citizens of Hungary to form an opinion. After all they will vote in the next election in Hungary and therefore they matter in Hungarian internal politics. Let’s face it, the only people who have a chance to influence this outcome is the Hungarian voters if they make their voices heard. It is notable that the proposal would give extra rights to the Hungarian people. They would receive the files and gain the right to decide what they want to do with them, publish them fully put them in a drawer show them to their friends etc etc. While the campaigner’s proposal would take rights away from the Hungarian people, so their position is unlikely to be extremely popular within Hungary. Of course it is possible that some Hungarians would give up their rights if convinced by arguments, or for other reasons such as protection of former communist agents, who would be embarrassed by eventual mass publication of files (as can be expected if all people get the right to publish the files, a lot of people will inevitably go for “publish” by simple rule of large numbers)

    However, people who have no voting rights in Hungary are irrelevant as far as Hungarian internal politics are concerned.

    Meaning that the number of signatures collected from non-voters is unlikely to be convincing of any elected politician. Undue outside influence is usually regulated in any political system. For example in the US foreign nationals are banned from attempts to influence USA internal politics such as giving monetary donations to political candidates.

    No country wants a political system which can be influenced by outside meddling making the decision and voice of it’s citizens irrelevant.

  2. I suspect that the campaign is being taken seriously, even if Ambassador László Pordány in Ottawa might see this as little more than rabble-rousing. I wonder if Dr. Pordány’s decision to address me as “Adam” in his letter was just an oversight, or an indication of hostility towards the whole issue, and to me personally. Dr. Pordány’s response to the Association of Canadian Archivists–which you can read on this website–perhaps suggests the latter.

    Bence Rétvári will meet with a group of archivists on March 31, 2011 to discuss the resolution. It is the legislation that you seem to support which will strip Hungarian citizens of their rights to access secret police files. If a file containes information on Zsuzsi, Feri, Kati and Jancsi, but Feri is the first to walk away with the originals, then the rest will no longer have the chance to view any of these documents. Our proposal is to make everything available, preserve the originals and let survivors, as well as academics, walk away with photocopies of any and all files.

  3. Gábor Egry

    It seems there is some progress, although Mr. Tyekvicska was not quite eager to contact the government. :) However, with the credibility of the present administration I would advise everyone to expect surprises.

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