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To not clog up the diary, here is some update on the story of the Oscar-crowned director who was exposed as an informant - first reactions, and then a development a week ago that shed much more light on the backstory. (And at the end, I post the usual links to earlier diaries on Hungarian politics.)

The initial responses were, well, from my viewpoint, disgusting. The director, István Szabó, gave in interview in which he presented what he did (informing the secret service about his classmates and teachers during his time at the film directors' school almost 45-50 years ago) as a heroic act of disguise to protect one of his classmates, who took part in armed resistance in 1956 and there was filmed evidence for that hidden collectively by the people at the film school. This had a rather stark contrast with the guilt and self-criticism apparent with hindsight in all his films, and even more apparent in past interviews dug up by newspapers.

140 liberal intellectuals signed a petition declaring that they still value him highly because of his work (so life achievement absolves denunciation? The Elia Kazan problem), and there were diverse attacks on the publishing paper, accusing them of ulterior motives or not giving context or strange timing (despite the fact that that weekly journal has an eight-year on-going series on spies).

What was interesting was that those still living of those whom Szabó reported on were to the most part very conciliatory. In fact I read of only one stronger criticism, still one focusing on Szabó's version of saving a classmate - and saying Szabó really wanted to save himself. Szabó later withdrew the claim but didn't apologise. Others also criticised the story of the hidden filmed evidence, pointing out that the person Szabó identified with his classmate has been reliably identified as someone else.

As now usual during every big spy exposure scandal, some other exposures followed in fast succession. One was a former cardinal of Hungary - probably another case when controlling the informant was more valuable to the dictature than the information he delivered. (He signed in the seventies after seven years of harrassment.) The other was the self-exposure of a classmate of Szabó. And this one was really interesting.

It was especially interesting as he wrote up his recollections during a previous spy scandal 3 years ago, but only dared to publish it now - so it is kind of an idependent check on Szabó's version. He, Szabó, and a third, since dead classmate (out of a class of 10) were arrested when leaving a theatre early 1957 - in the framework of a wide 'pre-emptive' clampdown on students whom the regime feared would revolt again in March. All three became informants (without knowing the others became too), from this one's story, with the simple blackmail of killing their career.

From this guy's account, what in Szabó's reports I thought to be enthusiastic forthcoming information, turned out to have been exactly what was demanded. Another interesting angle was that informants had to fear that if they had been to a collective event, another informant was present, and if they left out something the other didn't could get them into prison.

This guy also recounts the story of finding that filmed 1956 material on which they recognised a classmate, and everyone colectively keeping the secret - so this was true, people must have mis-recognised him, on the other hand this wasn't the reason behind becoming an informant. Also, this guy was the "I'm a coward but a saboteur" type informant: he would be ditched after giving unsatisfying reports and not keeping appointments and playing an idiot.

In the end, my impression is that in the case of Szabó, three motivations mixed, with about even weight, and not without cognitive dissonance: his wish for a bright career, still being a faithful believer in the regime, and protecting friends by filtering the information the secret service gets. It also looks like he apparently did little damage to his fellows in the end, though classmates who died since may have more grave stories.

  1. After a bizarre press vs. politicians court case, an introduction of parties & history since 1989.
  2. The workings of non-issue-based politics: the tragicomical double referendum on barring hospital privatisations and giving neighbouring countries' ethnic Hungarians double citizenship.
  3. Bush and Hungary: why the nominal centre-left (now governing) is pro-Bush and the nominal centre-right opposition anti-Bush.
  4. Campaign season opens - half a year early.
  5. Further in the campaign, October polls and nonsensical rhetoric (how can you give preferential treatment to both the elites and the poor?)
  6. The juiciest of the many storm-in-the-bathtub scandals: Mata Hari in Budapest
  7. A foray into history (not much to do with recent Hungarian politics, but some further perspective for the debate on Turkey's accession to the EU).
  8. European Dream: where would Hungarians like to live?
  9. Hungarian Orange (no relation to the Ukrainian version): on a clever opposition poster campaign and its contrast with reality.
  10. On another poster campaign by the same party - how to outsource negative campaign, and how it can be made to backfire.
  11. Of Socialists and Presidents.
  12. On The Mephisto Behind Mephisto and exposed spies for the former 'communist' regime.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Feb 17th, 2006 at 05:29:31 AM EST

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