08. 30. 2006. 18:14

Art and politics – part five

László Najmányi

They say that about 7% of the total population of Hungary worked for or collaborated with the feared secret police in Hungary. What happened to these people after the change of the regime? Most of those who are still alive and employable are doing well. They became politicians, curators, and heads of cultural institutions.

They say that about 700,000 people, or 7% of the total population of 10 million, worked for or collaborated with the State Security Bureau, the feared secret police in Hungary, during the years of Communist dictatorship. Other, more official sources, which are not necessarily more reliable than the unofficial ones in this part of the world, set this number at 200,000, or 2% of the population. No outsider knows the exact number of former secret police officers, agents and informers in Hungary, because, fifteen years after the fall of Communism, the identities of most are still kept as state secrets. How many of these shadowy figures were employed to spy on, control and manipulate artists like myself? Tens of thousands, perhaps, during the half-century long age of fear. The communist government completely misread the power of arts. They were hysterically afraid of artists, and they did their best to detain the evolution of arts. What happened to these people after the change of the regime? Most of those who are still alive and employable are doing well. They became politicians, curators, and heads of cultural institutions. They can’t send artists to prison or force them into emigration anymore, but they can still control the public media and direct the flow of public funds, which are supposedly distributed to support culture.

They say that the system change in Hungary fifteen years ago was largely conducted by the collapsed regime's secret police. They assigned agents to all of the newly formed political parties, from left to right, in numbers hard to guess. Some sources claim that 80% of the representatives in the country's first freely-elected Parliament were former State Security employees. Other sources talk about 30%. Several metric tons of top-secret files were destroyed by State Security employees before they were caught in the act in 1989-90. The exact number of the Communist secret agents in the Parliament and in the five successive governments since the system change will never come to light, due to the sheer quantity of shredded agents' lists and other destroyed top-secret documents – also due to the absurd laws that still block the unveiling of dark secrets from our past. Yet, we can estimate their formidable bargaining power from the fact that no former secret police employee was ever put on trial, even though for decades they tortured and killed thousands of citizens and controlled and destroyed the lives of millions. Some low ranking army officers - miserable, ailing old men by now - were put on trial in recent years for ordering their troops to fire on demonstrating civilians during the revolution in 1956, but even the most notorious torturers and killers were allowed to go free if they were on the former State Security Bureau's payroll. "That was the price we had to pay for our freedom," Hungarians often say. Others believe that the same shadowy, ruthless organization still runs their government and the economy, an organization which has held total power over the country ever since the last World War.

At the time of Hungarian democracy’s inception, the abolished State Security Bureau had huge hidden assets. They were the best financed branch of the government, with a secret budget. They had cash, gold, foreign currency, valuable properties, a well-equipped communication system and a great arsenal of sophisticated spying devices. They employed the best experts in the country and had a network of collaborators in all walks of life. They infiltrated the legal system. They also had connections to main players in the economy, to the underworld, to big-time gangsters, to hit men, to professional burglars, and to networks of international terrorists to whom they gave shelter in the 1970s. They maintained both legitimate and illegitimate contacts with politicians and high-ranking intelligence officers of foreign powers, on both sides of the crumbling Iron Curtain. In addition, they were supported by a talented army of paid or blackmailed journalists and media personalities who spread false information to conceal the facts about the spy organization's past and present activities.

With such an overwhelming advantage against the amateurish opposition forces, the former State Security operatives could easily re-establish their network after the fall of Communism. They were street-smart. They were used to having power. They knew how to get it, and they knew how to perpetuate it. They had no intention of giving it up. In the classic scenario, the best way to assure their own and their children's and relatives' future security, to reward their friends and collaborators, and to control others was to place them in various positions within the secret network, making them politicians, media professionals or heads of industry, etc. If only 30% of the young Hungarian democracy's politicians were former secret police agents fifteen years ago, it is hard to see why their numbers in Hungarian public life would have decreased in recent years. If anything, their numbers have most likely increased, as more and more relatives and friends were rewarded within the network.

(To be continued)

Tags: László Najmányi