2 / 2022

Gabriella Unger

Lúdas Matyi and a pigeon's wing

Stories of lost-and-found objects

The files of the Historical Archives do not only contain paper-based documents, photographs, or flyers, but also objects. These were included in the files for different reasons: some by the state security, which seized them as evidence during an investigation procedure, others were attached to the file during the operational work of the service. The latter includes objects which were usually small, unique utility or memory gadgets. These were used by agents who were trained in Hungary and sent abroad to contact a Hungarian operational officer there. Part of the agent’s training was to contact a person with a pre-planned password (usually a question-and-answer) and show him a pre-defined object known by him. Other objects attached to operational work are for example small details of graffities, which were sent to technical examination, a pack of stolen tobacco or even a wing of a messenger pigeon. The article shows some of these objects, or, more precisely, the stories of the people the objects played a part in.

Zoltán Pál

Agent reports from the Institute of Literary History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1958-1964)

The article introduces the early history of the Institute of Literary History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences based on state security documents. Literary historian László Szekeres worked in the institute in the first years of the Kádár Era. The Political Investigation Department recruited him to be an agent on 4 May 1957 by using compromising data. Szekeres joined the Institute of Literary History in 1958 and wrote reports under the alias “Barna Sziklai” about his colleagues to the political police. Persons he reported about included István Sőtér, Tibor Klaniczay, József Szauder, Sándor Fekete, Endre Gerelyes, Miklós Szabolcsi, József Béládi, Mihály Czine, György Bodnár, Ambrus Oltványi, Sztoján Vujicsics D., Béla Pomogáts, etc. The documents he wrote provide an insight into the everyday life of the institute, the debates and conversations of the scholars who were working there. As the Institute of Literary History was an important institution of the intellectuals of Budapest and one of the most significant research centres of Hungarian literary historians, a detailed analysis of Sziklai’s reports can contribute to having a better knowledge of the history of humanities intellectuals in the Kádár Era.

Lukács Krajcsír

“Hammer” in slippers, or the story of the British “activist” who left London for Prague

In late 2008, an article circulated in the British media: Cynthia Roberts, who stood as a Labour Parliamentary candidate and was member of the Labour Action for Peace (LAP) movement, worked for the Czech security service (Státní bezpečnost/StB) from the mid-1980s. In fact, she was not only an agent of the StB in the United Kingdom, but she even moved to Prague and helped the communist secret police to achieve the “downfall of capitalism as soon as possible”. The journalists found and asked Mrs. Roberts about the truthfulness of the obtained Czech documents, but she refused to answer.

Was Cynthia Roberts really a spy? Were the quoted documents real? Or was it just another attempt to discredit the Labour Party?

To answer these questions, it was necessary to search and examine the archival documents held by the Archiv Bezpečnostních Složek (ABS) in Prague. This paper does not focus exclusively on the life and activities of Cynthia Roberts, but it also provides more details about the situation of the Czechoslovak intelligence in London in the second half of the 1980s – this was necessary to make it understandable why the agent codenamed Kilburn/Hammer was a “special catch” for the StB.

István Bandi

An overview of the activities of the Intelligence Service of the Securitate with a special focus on the illegal border crossings of the Western border section (1968-1989)

In the last thirty years of the Romanian Communist dictatorship, one of the routine tasks of the counter-intelligence units of the Securitate was the prevention of those who wanted to leave the country for the West illegally and those who had fled across the green border and later returned. The number of illegal border-crossing cases was especially high across the Yugoslavian border from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s. A change occurred in statistics in the middle of the 1980s as the number of those crossing the Hungarian-Romanian border illegally outnumbered the cases along the Yugoslavian border earlier. In the late 1980s, there was a significant number of ethnic Hungarian Romanian citizens among those leaving the country illegally, which urged the responsible counter-intelligence organs to implement serious measures. Embedded in a frame of organisational history, this paper aims to provide an overview of the specially targeted activities of the Romanian counter-intelligence before 1989.

Attila Novák

“The commenters did not condemn Israel’s aggressive behaviour”

“The commenters did not condemn Israel’s aggressive behaviour”

The article introduces unique documents about Hungarian Jews’ reactions to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. In a document dated 6 June 1967, Imre Miklós (1927-2003) – vice chairman of the State Office for Church Affairs (ÁEH) at the time – sent his report about the “Jewish” situation to “Comrade” Bakos at the Budapest Party Committee, who was (probably) identical with Zsigmond Bakos (1924-?), the then first secretary of the Party Committee of District VI. The opinions expressed in the report show remarkable anxiety. For example, among those who attended the Jewish “headquarters” in Síp Street (Budapest) from all over the country, there was a person who called Egyptian President Nasser “Hitler”. Those who raised their voices spoke in a tone of elemental solidarity with Israel.

However, the last document makes it clear that the State Office – in line with the position of the Hungarian top leadership – wanted to treat the war as a foreign policy event and did not link it to the situation of Hungarian Jews. The most important point of reference was János Kádár’s speech to the Political Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP PB) on 13 June. At the same time, there were some words in the party secretary general’s speech that could be interpreted as a kind of call for a purge. Although there were isolated instances of this, they – unlike in Poland – did not develop into an anti-Zionist political cleansing campaign, because the campaign itself, driven by top politics, was missing.

Tibor Takács

The Peaky Blinder(s) of Budapest, or what bad boys are good for

A bookreview on
Hatos Pál: Rosszfiúk világforradalma. A Magyarországi Tanácsköztársaság története.

[Bad Boys’ World Revolution. The History of the Soviet Republic of Hungary]
Jaffa, Budapest, 2021. 608 p

Pál Hatos’s book discusses the history of the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic. The work is based on a huge amount of sources (archival documents, newspapers, memoirs, books, studies, etc.), from which the author wrote an enjoyable and understandable story about one of the most controversial episodes in Hungarian history. Hatos examines a number of important issues, such as the ambiguity of women’s liberation in the male-dominated world of the Soviet Republic, which has received little attention so far. The best parts of the work are those in which the author deconstructs the myths of collective memory about the Soviet Republic, for example that it was “the rule of Jews”. The author keeps an ironic distance from his subject, but this is not always accompanied by an analysis of the subject and an understanding of the actions of contemporary actors. In the absence of analysis and understanding, everything in the world of the Soviet Republic of Hungary created by Hatos becomes bizarre, strange, absurd, and paradoxical.

István Papp

The fate of the peasant elite in pictures

A bookreview on
Tóth Judit: Kulákbánat. Kulákellenes propaganda a Ludas Matyiban.
[Kulaksorrow. Anti-kulak propaganda in Ludas Matyi]
Világok, Székesfehérvár, 2021. 334 p.

The history of wealthy peasants – or, using an expression of Russian origin, the kulaks – has been a popular topic in Hungarian history writing since the 1980s. Judit Tóth’s article opens a new and brave direction in the field of research, because she mixes the methods of traditional agrarian and media history. The instruments of propaganda against kulaks were diverse, including films, posters, documentaries, newspaper articles, and, last but not least, cartoons. The latter mocked and humiliated the wealthy peasants. The author analysed the cartoons of Ludas Matyi, the humorous weekly of the Hungarian Communist Party. The cartoons conveyed visual message and textual content as well. There were typical colours, animals, scenes, dresses, and slogans which were dedicated to kulaks.

The illustrators were committed to the aims of the Communist Party, but they were talented artists at the same time. Consequently, the political use of these cartoons was not obvious, the success was in strict line with the changes of official agriculture policy. Judit Tóth’s article is not just a collection of kulaks’ grievances, because she discusses the concept of the kulak, and the vague limits of the so-called kulak lists. The kulak question was not over in 1953 when this political category was cancelled officially, because as the leader of the Communist Party, Mátyás Rákosi stated in his infamous speech: „Kulaks will be kulaks, with or without a list.” The political language and practice of the political police and local party organs were not consistent, and therefore the style and effect of the cartoons were precarious as well.

Adrienn Joó

Master of Killing

The documentary film Master of Killing was screened at the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security on 4 May 2022. After the screening, the director of the film, Sándor Cs. Nagy and Dr Ágnes Györfy, clinical psychologist at the Hungarian Defence Forces talked about war and human behaviours.

The opening scene of the 2003 documentary begins with Vilmos Csányi, who describes human nature and humans’ relationship to war as follows: "Humans are highly adaptive creatures, which means that they can adapt to the most terrible conditions and live their lives in the most terrible conditions. There are positive aspects to this (...), but the inconvenience is that people tolerate being sent to be soldiers, they tolerate killing others and being part of plans that bring war. Unfortunately, we have to live with that".

The film is enriched by the presence of characters from many different cultures who present different perspectives on the nature of war and humans. The director interviews, among others, professional soldiers, a Jewish café owner in New York, a woman who survived the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and soldiers who fought in the Yugoslav Wars.

The responsibility of the media is also reflected in the film and the talk. Today we do not know which news are true and which information is in whose possession. The media refine the news about wars because it is not possible to report events in their full reality. In this case, however, they create a kind of video-game feeling where the horrors are placed into a different perspective and the viewer is not confronted with the real dreads.

The director also wanted to show the wonder of life in contrast to the horror of war. This symbol appears in the closing film frames, as a ray of hope...

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