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 has done.