Hungary in the Spotlight
Just a few weeks after recent national elections, the long-established
daily paper "Magyar Nemzet," identified Hungary's new
prime minister - barely installed in office - as an informer in
the communist secret police.
Since in 1990, at the time of the regime change, Hungary decided
not to pursue and punish the many who - one way or another - served
the communist regime, it is not unusual to find communists in various
important positions. In 1994, they were even elected to run the
country for a term, reconstituted as "Hungarian Socialist Party."
But an informer as prime minister is something new. According to
the published document, Péter Medgyessy was promoted to first
lieutenant of the secret police in 1978 when his services under
the code name D-209 became even more important than before. All
that time, Mr. Medgyessy appeared to be working at the Ministry
of Finance - which, until now, is all the voting public was allowed
to know. What has become clear is that his real superiors (controllers
and paymasters) sat in the dreaded Ministry of the Interior, overseer
of all state security, including counter-espionage.
Mr. Medgyessy was able to form a government of the Socialist Party
at the end of May because the Free Democrats agreed to a coalition.
Even so, his majority is almost as slender as that of the Democrats
in the U.S. Senate. Back in 1990, the Free Democrats organized their
party to ensure that communists would never again touch the levers
of power. While they have long abandoned their original charter,
an informer of the communist secret police as prime minister appeared
more than they were able to swallow.
Still, after initial signs of an impending earthquake, the Free
Democrats must have struck yet another deal, for any talk of withdrawing
from the coalition - and thereby forcing a resignation of Mr. Medgyessy
- disappeared literally in the dead of night. Apparently, they were
content with a public apology for not informing the voters before
the elections, which Mr. Medgyessy provided repeatedly and with
gusto. While doing so, he also assured the electorate that he had
harmed no one, and that he had undertaken this assignment in order
to "assist Hungary's entry into the International Monetary
Fund." Even if we believe Mr. Medgyessy's somewhat far-fetched
story, unpleasant questions remain. The published document which
confirms his promotion in 1978, gives the year of his entry into
the service as 1961. That was a time when the Hungarian government
- no doubt on Soviet instructions - was still engaged in hanging
teenagers for participation in the 1956 uprising. Sooner or later,
details of his service during those long years will have to be disclosed.
As well as ending up with fabulous riches in a poor country, Mr.
Medgyessy was appointed deputy prime minister under the Soviet occupation.
Considerable services rendered by him appear reasonable to presume.
Incidentally, Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, president of the,
now ruling, Socialist Party was still writing books of effusive
praise about the Bolshevik Party, and the Soviet Union as the sole
source of economic bliss in the world, during the 1970s.
Under these circumstances, it will not come as a surprise that
methods used during the communist decades have acquired a new currency
in Hungary. The office of the prime minister owns the printing plant
which, under long-term contract, puts out the daily issues of "Magyar
Nemzet," the newspaper that broke the story. That printing
contract has been cancelled without notice or negotiations.
Further, a general "political cleansing," affording
room for personal vendetta, is under way. A widely reported example:
the new Minister of Culture dismissed the music director of Budapest's
famed Opera House, effective immediately. The reason? The music
director had been appointed under the previous government. That
his contract had another four years to run was nullified by the
fact that, some time ago, he had failed to cast the wife of the
present minister in a leading role.
For the first time in a decade, serious demonstrations took place
in Budapest and, also for the first time, serious police action
was deployed against the demonstrators - often elderly, retired
people. It is difficult to gauge whether the story has run its course,
or is this important NATO ally still in the middle of a crisis.
Adverse commentary around Europe appears to be fizzling out after
some considerable initial concerns. The Washington Post, so very
worried about NATO that use of the term "living sphere"
by the previous Hungarian prime minister caused it to raise the
specter of "extreme, toxic nationalism," has yet to comment
on the fact that the alliance now includes a leader who, as opposed
to saying something, has done a whole lot of things.
And, as yet, no one knows for sure just what Péter Medgyessy