A proposed law may lead to the destruction of Hungarian secret police documents preserved by the Historical Archives of Hungarian State Security
In what serves as a very disturbing development for anyone with an interest in Hungary’s Cold War history, the Hungarian government is preparing to enact a new law which may lead to the blatant, politically-motivated sanitization of the country’s communist past. Allegedly out of a concern for privacy rights, citizens who were spied upon or observed by the previous regime’s state security officers may now not only ask to view their files at the Archives of Hungarian State Security in Budapest, but may also remove these preserved archival documents from the reading room, take them home and have them destroyed.
According to Bence Rétvári, a secretary of state in Hungary’s Ministry of Justice, ”A constitutional system cannot preserve documents collected through anti-constitutional means, as these are the immoral documents of an immoral regime.” The government decree makes it permissible to remove and destroy irreplaceable archival documents. Were Rétvári’s warped logic also used by authorities in other countries, we could no longer produce histories of the world’s most dictatorial and genocidal regimes.
The proposed bill on how to deal with the country’s past is a stunning example of bureaucratic idiocy mixed with a wish to sanitize the historical record for political purposes. Bence Retvari, the parliamentary secretary of state at Hungary’s Ministry of Justice, announced that it is unethical for a democratic state to preserve in its public archives the “immoral documents of an immoral regime.” As such, the government will soon make it possible for affected citizens to remove and destroy original, irreplaceable documents on the country’s communist past. The documents in question include thousands of secret police files currently available to professional researchers at the Historical Archives of Hungarian State Security, as well as a separate collection of unreleased data on over 50,000 communist state security officers, encrypted on magnetic tape.
Both collections are sensitive, but documents declassified over the past 10 years have been essential to understanding the nature and scope of four decades’ worth of communist rule in Hungary. The prospect of government bureaucrats removing irreplaceable documents from public archives because they are deemed “immoral” harkens back to Europe’s darkest twentieth century dictatorships. Using the government’s warped logic, they might as well go all the way and destroy the records of interwar Hungary and light a fire under the boxes of documents detailing the history of the Habsburgs.