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:
Category Archives: Sources
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.
Mary Lynn Stewart
President, Canadian Historical Association
The Czech Centre for Human Rights and Democratization has written to Hungarian Ambassador László Szőke in Prague, in support of Hungary’s endangered archival collections and our petition campaign. In addition to the letter below, available for download in PDF format, Katarína Šipulová of the Centre wrote the following in an e-mail:
Dear Mr. Adam,
Our Czech Centre for Human Rights and Democratization deeply supports your activity aimed to preserve Hungarian archives. We took part and informed about the petition you organized in our newsletter and sent an open letter to his excellency L. Szoke, Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary in Prague, CzechRepublic. The Czech Republic, as one of the post-transitional countries in Central Europe, had to face similar legal questions and problems as Hungary. We, as an academic institution focused on research within the field of human rights, are highly aware of the importance of these archives. If you are interested, I attach the copy of our open letter to Dr. Szoke.
His Excellency Laszlo Szoke
Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary
Pod Hradbami 17, Praha 6, Střešovice
In Brno, 14 March 2011
His Excellency, dear Ambassador Szoke
I am writing you on behalf of the Czech Centre for Human Rights and Democratization to express our deep concern for the case relating to the Hungarian legislation which would permit the removal and destruction of the secret police, state security and Ministry of the Interior documentation recently stored at the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security in Budapest.
The Czech Centre for Human Rights and Democratization (CCHRD) established under the aegis of International Institute of Political Science, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic, represents independent academic center focusing on impartial scientific research within the field of human rights and democratization. As an organization dedicated to the analysis of human rights from both social science and international law points of view, CCHRD is highly aware of the need to protect and preserve the files creating the foundation for the future research of Hungarian collective memory. We strongly believe that detailed knowledge of history is necessary for better understanding of the communist era, its oppressive regime, and the search for the truth and justice.
There is nothing immoral about the preservation of files recounting the historical events and injustices. Quite to the contrary, many democratic states consider the opening of archives as one of the many steps towards combating the impunity. The access to the files that document activities of the former regimes is irrevocably connected to the transitional justice and national reconciliation. The very first attempt to deal with former secret police informers took place in Germany, where the Gauck-Behorde Agency was appointed to collect and administer the files of STASI. Similar experience is shared by the Czech Republic where the access to files from the communist era was established in 1996 and its widening represents one of the most discussed themes to these days.
Reluctance of the Hungarian government towards the release and free access to the documents is unfortunately not a new issue. In case Kenedi v. Hungary (Appl. no. 31475/05), the European Court of Human Rights held that “access to original documentary sources for legitimate historical research was an essential element of the exercise of the applicant’s right to freedom of expression.” Similarly, the opinion at the level of European Union is, that all states considering themselves democratic shall open all their archives to researchers 30 years after the occurrence of the events in question (e.g. The memory of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe, COM(2010) 783). The right to know the truth concerning past events about the perpetration of heinous crimes and about the circumstances and reasons that led to their perpetration is identified by the United Nations as one of the three core rights fundamental to preventing revisionism or denial and to the restoration of the rule of law in transitional societies (Set of Principles to Combat Impunity, UN Doc.E/CN.4/2005/102/Add.1).
We hope and believe, that the Republic of Hungary will follow the way led by other European democratic states, uphold its responsibility towards the victims of the communist regime, towards history and future generations and cease from the step which would lead into amnesia and oblivion.
On behalf of the Czech Centre for Human Rights and Democratization
On March 7th, 2011, Ambassador László Pordány responded to an advocacy letter sent to the Embassy of the Republic of Hungary in Ottawa concerning planned legislation that could lead to the destruction of archival documents. In his letter, Dr. Pordány wrote: “Although I feel it is slightly exaggerated that ’archives are the foundation of democracy’ (your words), but as a layman in this matter, I am willing to accept it. However, communism, under which I grew up, also teaches us that archives can also be (used/abused as) means or a base of tremendous human sufferings, torture and deaths (see e.g. the thousands of the trumped up charges of the 1950s, based on ‘well-founded documents).’ (…) Therefore, it seems not only totally acceptable, but in fact a mandatory requirement that the planned law give a priority to individual human rights, possibly placing them in at least a few well-defined cases above everything else. (Provided that this will actually happen, as I hope it will.)” Dr. Pordány also “predicts” that Resolution 1283/2010 will not lead to the removal of archival documents, although as the excerpt above from the same letter indicates, this may, indeed, happen in at least a few cases.
Dr. Pordány also suggested that the Hungarian government may not respond well to what he referred to in his letter as “aggressive petitioning,” but much prefers “well intentioned suggestions.” The ambassador notes that when the Hungarian government agreed to amend problematic media laws earlier this year, this compromise was also the result of “responsible consultation.” In fact, it seems reasonable to believe that unprecedent public criticism in the media and pressure by the European Union, just days before Hungary was scheduled to assume the EU’s rotating presideny, “helped” convince the government to change course.
To download the full letter in PDF format, please click on the link below, or on the image.
His Excellency György Szapáry
Embassy of the Republic of Hungary
3910 Shoemaker Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
The Society of American Archivists is deeply concerned about a recent decision by the Hungarian Ministry of Public Information and Justice with regard to the government archives. The Ministry apparently has decided to rectify historical wrongs committed by the former communist regime in Hungary by de-accessioning the surveillance files assembled by the nation’s secret police and Ministry of the Interior. These files are scheduled to be removed from the Historical Archives of Hungarian State Security and returned permanently to their subjects, who presumably will be permitted to destroy their own files at their discretion.
We believe that the Hungarian government is likely sincere in its desire to see moral justice done. The comment by Parliamentary Secretary of State Bence Retvari that, “a constitutional state cannot preserve personal information collected through unconstitutional means, because these are the immoral documents of an immoral regime,” is, it can be argued, legitimately noble. The wrongs committed against the freedoms of the Hungarian people during the former regime were many, not least of which was the violation of the fundamental right of citizens to be free from illegal surveillance by their own government. The files in question represent the worst abuses of a regime that thrived on distrust, suspicion, and institutional paranoia. Return of those files to the people who once were victimized by the organs of Hungarian State Security might well be seen as an attempt in good faith to restore citizens at least a small sense of the personal power and autonomy that was taken from them.
However, those same files also help to document a critical period in the history of the Hungarian nation and people. Leaving aside the potential richness of the information contained within the files themselves, they provide a crucial and unmatched documentation of the ways in which the government of the time interacted with the people it claimed to represent. To remove and destroy the files would be to do violence to the archival heritage of the nation, would create an unbridge-able chasm in the historical record, and would, we believe, prevent a full understanding of the history of the age.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, this decision could allow the Hungarian government to avoid a full historical reckoning with the abuses in its past. By deaccessioning and dispersing the files in question, the government is eschewing its responsibility as guardian of its document-ary record and its cultural legacy. By disseminating the records into smaller and smaller numbers and permitting individuals to destroy their own files, the government is compromising the possibility of a full and reasonable discussion of the moral issues surrounding the communist period.
Despite its best intentions, the government may, in fact, be concealing crimes and immoral acts committed by the former regime and its members.
The Society of American Archivists, which represents 6,000 archivists in the United States, urges the Hungarian government to reconsider its decision concerning these files. The records should be considered the property of the Hungarian nation as a whole and not that of any individual. They are the elements of a history that belongs to an entire people. No people, no nation, can ever hope to fully grasp the complexities, moral ambiguities, and human decisions that go into making history with an archival record that has been broken up piecemeal.
Helen R. Tibbo
President, 2010 – 2011
cc: SAA Human Rights Archives Roundtable
SAA International Affairs Roundtable
SAA Issues and Advocacy Roundtable
Download a PDF version of the letter from the president of the Royal Society of Dutch Archivists, Dr. Fred van Kan, to the Hungarian ambassador in the Netherlands, Mr. Gyula Sümeghy, by clicking here: KVAN_letter_sumeghy
Nestor Bamidis, president of the Society of Greek Archivists, wrote the following letter to József Tóth, Hungary’s ambassador in Athens:
His Excellency József Tóth
Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary
25-29 Karneadou Street
106 75 Athens
Dear Mr Tóth:
I am writing you on behalf of the Society of Greek Archivists (SGA), to express our deep concern for the Hungarian government’s decision to introduce legislation that would permit the removal and destruction of Hungarian communist secret police, interior ministry and state security files currently held at the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security in Budapest.
Established in 1990, and a member of the International Congress on Archives (ICA), the SGA is the nationwide professional organization representing archivists in Greece. One of the fundamental notions of our profession is that archives are the basis of democracy, social justice and social memory.
We strongly oppose the concept that a democratic state cannot “preserve the immoral documents of an immoral regime”. On the contrary, we point out that records providing evidence of injustice hold accountable those responsible for any abuse of trust and power. Archival records provide evidence, by documenting the actions of public leaders, and protecting the rights of all citizens.
In Greece, we experienced a similar situation in the past: back in 1989, 40 years after the end of our civil war and 15 years after the fall of the colonels’ dictatorship, the Greek government decided to destroy the police security files, “to symbolically end an era of national disunity and guarantee a future of equality and egalitarianism among citizens”. Since then, an important part of our history, based on evidence concerning the involvement of the Greek people in the resistance during the German Occupation, the five years of civil war and the seven years of dictatorship (1967-1974), is for ever lost.
Removing documents from the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security because they are deemed to have been created by “immoral” authorities would only erase forever their “immoral” acts, together with the “moral” actions of the Hungarian people during the given period, and would thus undermine a fundamental pillar of democracy. Preserving the aforementioned archival material supports an accurate account of the past and ensures that collective and, even worst, selective amnesia do not prevail.
The Society of Greek Archivists believes that the Hungarian communist secret police, interior ministry, and state security files currently held at the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security have enduring value as reliable memories of the past. We urge the government of Hungary to take all steps consistent with professional archival practice to preserve these unique and important records. Anything less is an abdication of your government’s responsibility to uphold democratic values and to preserve and protect Hungary’s collective memory.
Seeing the fallacy of the Greek government on this issue, we recommend you do notcommit the same unfairness towards the citizens of Hungary: people write history, they do not erase it.
His Excellency Dr. László Pordány Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary
299 Waverley Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 0V9
February 24, 2011
Dear Dr. Pordány:
I am writing you on behalf of the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) to express our deep concern with the Hungarian government’s decision to introduce legislation that would permit the removal and destruction of Hungarian communist secret police, interior ministry, and state security files currently held at the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security in Budapest.
Established in 1975, the ACA is a national professional organization that represents English-speaking archivists in Canada. Archivists have a professional obligation to preserve authentic and reliable records for evidentiary and historical purposes. As archivists, we strongly believe that archives are the foundation of democracy, social justice, and social memory.
We reject the notion that a democratic state cannot “preserve the immoral documents of an immoral regime”. On the contrary, records that provide evidence of injustices hold accountable those responsible for abuses of trust and power. Archival records provide evidence documenting the actions of public leaders and protecting the rights of all citizens. As Canadian archivist Terry Cook states, archival records have allowed “citizens to seek justice in righting past wrongs, from aboriginal displacements to war crimes, from medical neglect to ethnic discrimination.” Removing documents from the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security because they are deemed to have been created by “immoral” authorities would only weaken Hungarians’ ability to hold those officials accountable and would thus undermine a
fundamental pillar of democracy.
Further, we strongly believe that de-accessioning these irreplaceable documents would impoverish Hungary’s archival heritage. It would undermine our ability to know and understand an important aspect Hungary’s past. Preserving the Hungarian communist secret police, interior ministry, and state security files supports an accurate account of the past and ensures that collective amnesia does not prevail. The Association of Canadian Archivists believes that the Hungarian communist secret police, interior ministry, and state security files currently held at the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security have enduring value as reliable memories of the past. We urge the government of Hungary to take all steps consistent with professional archival practice to preserve these unique and important records. Anything less is an abdication of your government’s responsibility to uphold democratic values and to preserve and to protect Hungary’s collective memory.
Loryl MacDonald, President
Association of Canadian Archivists
Dear Ambassador Szapary:
I write on behalf of ASEEES, the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. We are the largest international professional association of scholars of the formerly socialist bloc, with just under three thousand members.
I joined with many of my colleagues in being startled by pending legislation before the Hungarian parliament that would withdraw the assurance of preservation of archives from, and relating to, the socialist period. However dim a view one might take of socialist rule in eastern Europe, I know of no one who would not insist on the careful preservation of its archival legacy, as required for best understanding this influential historical epoch.
Such legislation also challenges what has been the remarkable, tireless work of Hungarian archivists over the past twenty years. They have earned the extraordinary admiration of Hungarian and foreign scholars alike for their scrupulous cataloguing of papers from the socialist period, thanks to the country’s new intellectual freedoms. They managed to do this in periods of relative privation, for the good of the country, and for the good of scholarship more broadly.
The association very much urges Hungarian legislators to support this crucial historical database.
With kind regards,
Professor, New York University
Dr. Mária Palasik, one of the members of the recently disbanded Kenedi Committee and a regular participant at the Hungarian Studies Association of Canada’s (HSAC) annual conferences, observed in a recent e-mail that the European Union strongly supports the preservation of historical archival material and that the EU in particular has been a proponent of researching the nature of totalitarian regimes. On 2 April 2009, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a common statement on the continent’s recent history . For our purposes, Dr. Palasik highlights section ‘N’ of this document, which states that there can be no reconciliation without memory and without the preservation of the historical record.
The document also observes that for contemporary Europe to truly understand the scope of the crimes committed by dictatorial and totalitarian regimes, it must “support the exploration and documentation of Europe’s stormy past.”
Crucially, the EP document expresses “regret” that two decades after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, many post-communist countries still limit access to archival documents relating to the activities of the former regime, in the case of both professional researchers and private citizens. The EP asks that the EU’s ex-communist member states open or expand access to interior ministry archives, while also ensuring that these documents are not used to settle contemporary political battles.
Dr. Palasik’s summary of section ‘N’ is included below:
Az Európai Parlament 2009. április 2-i állásfoglalása az európai lelkiismeretről és a totalitarizmusról, külön ajánlom figyelmedbe az N pont/ 3-10. bekezdését!
3. hangsúlyozza a múlt emlékezete megőrzésének fontosságát, mert igazság és emlékezet nélkül nincs
megbékélés; ismételten megerősíti, hogy egységesen fellép bárminemű ideológiai háttérből fakadó önkényuralmi rendszer ellen;
5. hangsúlyozza: ahhoz, hogy Európa jobban tudatában legyen a totalitárius és demokráciaellenes
rezsimek által elkövetett bűntetteknek, támogatni kell Európa viharos múltjának dokumentálását, az erről szóló tanúvallomásokat, mert emlékezet nélkül nincs megbékélés;
6. sajnálja, hogy húsz évvel a közép-kelet-európai kommunista diktatúrák összeomlása után egyes tagál
lamokban még mindig indokolatlanul korlátozva van a személyes jellegű vagy a tudományos kutatásokhoz szükséges dokumentumokhoz való hozzáférés; hiteles erőfeszítést kér minden tagállam részéről a levéltárak, köztük a korábbi belbiztonsági szolgálatok, titkosrendőrségek és hírszerző ügynökségek irattárai megnyitására, ugyanakkor lépéseket kell tenni annak biztosítása érdekében, hogy a folyamat ne váljon politikai célú visszaélések tárgyává;
9. felszólítja a Bizottságot és a tagállamokat, hogy tegyenek további erőfeszítéseket az európai történelem tanításának megerősítésére, illetve az európai integráció történelmi teljesítménye és a tragikus múlt, illetve napjaink Európai Uniójának békés és demokratikus társadalmi rendje közötti éles ellentét hangsúlyozására;
10. úgy véli, hogy a történelmi emlékezet méltó életben tartásához szükség van az európai történelem
átértékelésére és a modern Európa valamennyi történelmi vetületének Európa-szerte történő elismerésére.