Politics Member States

Hungary: Ghosts of the communist past

2 December 2010
Presseurop

Paul Lendvai at a public reading in Graz, Austria, November 2010.

Paul Lendvai at a public reading in Graz, Austria, November 2010.

Paul Lendvai, a doyen of Hungarian political journalism, stands accused of collaborating with the former Communist regime. And this revelation comes at a time of mounting political tension.

The revelations set the Hungarian media on fire. On 18 November the weekly Heti Válasz published an investigation, corroborated by five documents in the foreign ministry archives, showing that Paul Lendvai collaborated with the Communist regime.

An émigré in Vienna ever since the Hungarian uprising was crushed in 1956, Paul Lendvai is Hungary’s most famous political commentator. He recently put out a book entitled Mein verspieltes Land (My Squandered Country) painting a grim picture of present-day Hungary beset by resurgent racism and anti-Semitism.

Viktor Orbán, an out-and-out autocrat?

Unnerved by Heti Válasz’s revelations, Paul Lendvai wouldn’t answer questions from the press but explained that he himself had been followed by the political police. “It should come as no surprise that, unless they’re forced to, nobody just comes out and admits, ‘I was a real son of a bitch, forgive me’. Those who do are the exception, not the rule: that’s human nature,” regrets László Tamás on the site hirszerzo. But the left-leaning editorialist adds that “János Martonyi and Pál Schmitt” – one-time protégés of the Communist regime, now turned right-wing, currently foreign minister and president, respectively – “wanted to live. And live well. Paul Lendvai did too – seeing as he was the leading expert on Hungarian politics in the West. And they paid the price exacted by the dictatorship. That was that. But now they have to pay the moral price democracy exacts of them for their former opportunism.”

We’ve got to stop digging up the past

Six months after Fidesz (centre right) won the general elections by a comfortable margin, and as Hungary braces to take over the EU presidency, this affair adds new fuel to the ongoing controversy over the politics of prime minister Viktor Orbán, whom many consider an out-and-out autocrat.

On his blog, socialist ex-prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány is one of the few to come to Paul Lendvai’s defence. “I am disgusted. This affair is only half about Lendvai. Actually, it’s about the Hungarian right wing.[…] As for me, I support him in his struggle to make a case for his decisions of yesteryear.[…] And we’ve got to stop digging up the past.”

In the independent weekly HVG, János Pelle notes that “many are expecting that Orbán, rather than laying the foundations for a sturdier democracy, will impose an authoritarian system and, just like Putin, entrench himself permanently in power. The only way for him to refute these accusations will be through concrete deeds and gestures.” And yet, wonders this journalist and history professor at the rabbinical school of Budapest, “How come Western journalists are always so forbearing when it comes to left-wing governments, but harping on the Fascist peril every time Orbán gets mentioned?”