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The long shadow of Communism

February 27th, 2012

Remembering the victims of the Communist past, conservative intellectuals blame left-wing and liberal elites for trying to relativize the crimes of the Communist dictatorships. A liberal commentator, on the other hand, accuses the right-wing government of only symbolically distancing itself from post-Communism.

The language of Communist ideology is still alive. Most Hungarians think the same way as they did during the former regime. Institutions can easily be reformed, but it takes time to change the mentality and the illusions of a society,” Mária Schmidt tells Heti Válasz. Ms Schmidt is director of the House of Terror, a museum and memorial devoted to the crimes of the Communist and the Nazi regimes, now celebrating its tenth anniversary.

In an interview on the national day of remembrance of the victims of Communism, the conservative historian argues that Hungarian left-wing elites try to monopolize the commemoration of the crimes of the Nazi past, while neglecting or relativizing the wrongs committed by the Communist regimes. Schmidt finds this approach intolerable; since national solidarity would entail sympathy for all compatriots who suffered under past dictatorships. “National solidarity must override class-based hatred.”

In Magyar Nemzet, László Gy. Tóth also rejects the view that Communism was less horrible then Nazism, an assumption, according to the right-wing political analyst, which is prevalent among liberal and left-wing elites. “Many regard the victims of Communism as if they were casualities of national catastrophes, and remember them as if their fate was inevitable.” He adds that even contemporary democratic socialists like to believe that there are some useful ideas in Communism. But by trying to replace what they regard as “the bourgeois order”, the “social engineers” of the left necessarily violate the basic principles of human dignity and individualism. Tóth accuses them of, in the act, opening the way to “a new Socialist dictatorship”.

In a side note, Tóth finds it highly regrettable that in Hungary the files of former agents of the Communist secret services are only available to a limited extent. Most importantly, the names of the thousands of agents who are today not public figures cannot be published.

On Monday, the LMP submitted a draft to Parliament which proposed that the documents of the secret services be opened and, with the exception of data which would risk the security of active agents or the interests of Hungary, the lists of past Communist agents should be disclosed. The bill was supported by the Socialists and radical right-wing Jobbik, but was voted down by the governing majority. A law passed under the left-wing-liberal government in 2004 provides access to all citizens to the data collected on them. Researchers have unlimited access to those files released by the secret services to the public archives. They can ask for photocopies with the names of former police officers and informers, but can only publish the names of the latter if they are public figures. The controversy on the issue erupted in the early 1990s when a confidential list of former informers was circulated in political circles, with the names of dozens of right-wing MPs on it. Liberals have demanded the full disclosure of all files ever since, with very limited exceptions, and accuse their conservative opponents of safeguarding Communist secrets. Interestingly, right-wingers also accuse the liberals of communist sympathies, since many of the founders of the anti-communist dissident movement (the cradle of the liberal SZDSZ party) came from Communist families who reported voluntarily to the authorities, without ever being recruited as informants.

Its reluctance to support the proposal to open up the files of the secret services shows that even Fidesz has not fully distanced itself from post-Communist practices, Ádám Kiss contends in Hírszerző. The liberal commentator admits that the establishment of the House of Terror Museum (set up by the previous Fidesz government and sharply attacked at the time by the liberals) helps Hungary learn about and remember the Communist past, but he also suggests that historical reconciliation cannot be completed until the names of Communist era secret agents are made public.

Kiss fears that without the full disclosure of the secret documents and the names of all the agents, many Hungarians will have false nostalgic memories of the late Kádár regime, and will remember it only for its full-employment policy and cheap commodities.

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