Agent Files: The Devil Is in the Details

Index- 24.01.2021. (Balázs Ambrus)

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  • 2021. January 24.
Attila Viktor Soós (Agent Files: The Devil Is in the Details)

There is no such thing as an agent list. There were records, files marked Nr. 6, but a number of individuals who were employed in the state security network are not included in them. As parties of the opposition have resorted to the ultimate accusation of whitewashing the past, we asked Attila Viktor Soós, member of the Committee of National Remembrance (NEB) about the background of the notion.

In their document titled A korszakváltás garanciái [The Guarantees for A Change of Era] the parties of the opposition coalition promise no less than making “agent files” public, settling an issue which has been unresolved for thirty years. It is an appealing promise, but who is the opposition coalition talking about and what are they demanding?

As a matter of fact, two fundamental questions arise here. On the one hand, the term ‘agent files’ need to be defined, and on the other hand, what we mean by making public. Let us take the notion of agent first. It is a well-known fact that the political police organised under communist supervision had been collecting compromising information for political reasons on Hungarian as well as foreign citizens from its start in March 1945 until the regime fell. The work of the communist state security was assisted by many individuals. It is the agents who are most often mentioned, but there were a number of groups besides them, who supported the political police from the outside as part of their job description, or voluntarily. Such were the so-called official liaisons, social liaisons, infrequent liaisons or commissioners. None of them was formally recruited, therefore, they were, strictly speaking, not members of the “network”, they usually reported orally, so their identities cannot be revealed. The whole state security network is far more extensive and complex than merely agents, not to mention the official staff, the strictly undercover ‘SZT’ agents. At the same time, documents were also made outside the system of state security (police, ministry of interior), which were not filed, although they might provide just as interesting information about the past regime as the „agent files”. Let us not forget that the communist state security carried out tasks given by the party, so the ultimate users were those communists in power. Revisiting the past can only be comprehensive, if we keep that in mind. About 5 kilometres of documents is kept in ÁBTL (Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security), which is not an insignificant amount, however, it hardly covers all the matrix of aspects of our history after 1945. It would divert the research of the past, if only the documents in ÁBTL were to be dealt with, while there are plenty of documents in other archives, relevant to the real mechanisms of the regime.

Attila Viktor Soós (Agent Files: The Devil Is in the Details) 2.

(…) The M files (work files) composed of the operations of agents in the network did not survive in their entirety, there are some files completely missing. The B files contain the circumstances of the recruitment, and these are even more fragmentary than the M files. There are a number of agents who do not have M or B files, but their work and reports can be tracked based on the operative or investigational files of certain cases. According the legal criteria, an agent is a person with signed recruitment statement, can be identified as someone who handed in reports and received something in return. However, that in itself is insufficient, every aspect has to be examined separately. Individuals in the network were given aliases. Undercover associate, undercover commissioner, agent – these are the three categories, if someone is officially member of the network. Besides, we may come across other informants in the documents, who were not recruited and mostly were not given an alias. In many cases no documents survived, which could help to deduce the actual activity.

(…) Because each case is unique… Some were recruited, but they did not report, and others wrote some meaningless reports and then they changed their minds. The well-known story of István Csurka demonstrates that well, who was recruited in the post-56 retaliation under duress, but he did not report when he was released from custody. And yet, he was registered as an agent by state security for seven years. Does that mean he was an agent, the same way as someone whose reports ruined lives, just because state security considered him to be one and he signed a piece of paper? That is why academic research and interpretation cannot be spared when we talk about disclosing the past. On our website ‘Ügynöksorsok’ [Agents’ Lifepaths] we shed light on such critical cases with the help of historians, their interpretation of small details.

(…) Political decisions may be made about the documents that survived, but these are certainly not complete. As I mentioned, if the question of communist secret police is narrowed down to „the question of agents”, a lot of individuals and topics which are most important in terms of the operation of state security, remain unrevealed. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that state security was an important albeit not exclusive institution of the state party. The decisions of leading organisations and departments of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party are just as important in processing the era of the party state, but this approach would not involve those. That is one of the (many) reasons that at NEB, we examined the lifepaths of leaders of the party state, or the careers of detectives, prosecutors and judges who implemented the retaliation after 1956. (…)

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Attila Viktor Soós