The Russians Have Confessed Everything about Rákosi, Gerő and Imre Nagy

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  • 2021. September 15.

By means of the documents handed over, the resurgent Russian–Hungarian archival cooperation makes it possible to gain an insight into the operation of Comintern, and therefore the network of Hungarian communists living in the Soviet Union, as well as into the everydays of betrayals and executions.

The archive documents focusing on the network of the Communist International (Comintern) and the Hungarian Communist emigration in the Soviet Union will be displayed as an online exhibition organized by the Committee of National Remembrance (NEB). The exhibition consists of written and visual documents from Russian archives, most of which have been unpublished in Hungary and are hard to access. The originals of the digital copies on display that are linked to individuals who played a role in the sovietization of the Hungarian political, economic, academic and cultural life after 1945, and they are kept by the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI).

The name and role of Comintern, which was in power between 1919 and 1943 have been forgotten by today, although it was not merely a world organisation gathering communist parties into a loose association, but also place to assemble the cadres of the much-awaited and planned world revolution, and it was primarily responsible for their training. The organization that had been most centralized from the early days was under the influence of the Soviet party leadership, however, it did enjoy some independence in the beginning. Stalin eliminated that after he came into power, and controlled the operation and cadre policy of Comintern just as firmly as that of the Soviet party. The representatives of the Party of Communists in Hungary (KMP) were present at the establishment of the organisation, and Hungarian communists can be found in the leadership and among its functionaries throughout its history.

Although a part of the documents had been known to scholars, a number of elements are made public for the first time. The handwritten or typed notes and letters in Russian or German reveal life paths that are burdened with betrayals, accusations and executions. Some ‘darkness’ could be found in any member of the communist emigration, and survival was often a narrow escape. Looking at the exposed life paths, one might even feel sorry for the functionaries who betrayed their comrades and fellow warriors for their own privileges and positions, but also in exchange for their own lives, and who lived in constant fear. Réka Földváryné Kiss, chair of the Committee of National Remembrance announced the exhibition to be a part of a long-term cooperation, the first major result of which was the handover of records of Hungarian citizens who were taken to the gulag. Also, another result of this bilateral cooperation between archives is the collaboration with the institution in charge of the archived documents from before 1953. The aim of this exhibition is to raise the public’s attention, there is a volume to be published, displaying a larger scale of documents, which are selected from ones about the operation of Hungarian communists in the Soviet Union. The book is planned to make these accessible for scholars as well as for the public. At the moment the documents include only those of the party apparatus, as majority of the records during the operation of secret services is classified and therefore inaccessible to scholars to this day.

Some of the documents on display had already been accessible for scholars earlier, another part had been mostly unknown in Hungary. The documents that arrived as part of the operation of the Russian–Hungarian Archival Joint Committee can provide further details about the operation of Rákosi, Gerő, Imre Nagy and Révai before 1945, which is lesser known to the public. It is clear for example, that the cult of personality around Rákosi was taking shape as early as the 1930s, during the Spanish civil war. In the newspapers made by the prisoners of French internment camps, which are included in the exhibition, one can read sentences claiming that ‘Rákosi is the greatest Hungarian of our time’, ‘a Hungarian genius’. It is evident from the documents that the parties of the Comintern did, in fact, build a parallel illegal apparatus, and there was a comprehensive cooperation among the local cells of the world revolution with the help of forged passports and other, illegal means. It is of particular interest that in the documents one can come across names of people who could have played major roles in the life of Hungary instead of the real historical figures, but they fell victims of the Stalinist terror – in many cases due to police reports that became a daily habit at the time. We can learn about the imported power mechanisms in Hungary after 1945, how internal fights and elimination took place, what kind of means were used in order to take and retain power. As secret service documents remain to be unavailable for scholarly examination, we are only scraping the surface of genuine knowledge. It is apparent however, that the establishment that came into power after 1945 was one that had seen a lot and survived everything.

In terms of the special nature of the documents, Attila Kolontári, researcher of the relations between Hungary and the Soviet Union revealed the lesser-known fact that there is Hungarian delegate in Moscow. At the moment it is Gabriella Müller filling the position, and the task of these professionals is to excavate documents with Hungarian relevance, send home their copies as well as to coordinate the joint project on the spot. He also drew attention to the fact that the collection on display does not contain the whole document in many cases, rather, it shows a kaleidoscopic picture of the Hungarian communist emigration in the interwar period.

We can gain insight into certain moments of more Hungarian communists, many of whom played part in the sovietization of Hungary after 1945. For me personally, the group of documents concerning Stalinist repressions was most informative. How did the Hungarian communist emigration survive cleansings (the majority failed to do so), how did they experience this period, what kind of behaviour did they display? In the documents one can come across functionaries reporting on each other as well as their self-justifications. Knowing the operations of the communist parties, everybody had some kind of case going on concerning party discipline, something that could be revisited any time: fights between fractions, statements to the police after arrests that resulted in disciplinary procedures, things like that. Everyone could be forced into having to explain themselves.

The exhibition can be visited under this link on the website of the Committee of National Remembrance

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kommunisták Szovjetúnió Földváryné Kiss Réka