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Spat over communist past of Hungarian Justice Minister's father

2019.11.28. 17:43

Hungarian Minister of Justice Judit Varga was forced to explain her father's involvement in communist counterintelligence after attacking opposition MEP and Vice President of the European Parliament Klára Dobrev on Twitter for her grandfather being a prominent leader of Hungary's communist dictatorship.

On Tuesday, Judit Varga tweeted about the Emmy award-winning Hungarian movie about the brutalities of Soviet labour camps Eternal Winter, urging Democratic Coalition's MEP Klára Dobrev to watch it:

 What the Minister refers to by calling Dobrev an "heiress of the oppressive communist regime" is the widely known fact that several of the MEP's relatives were involved in Hungary's communist dictatorship, most notably her grandfather Antal Apró, who was a prominent member of the state party and personally oversaw the show trial of Imre Nagy, the Prime Minister of the Hungarian revolutionary government of 1956, and announced Nagy's execution in the Parliament in 1958.

Hadházy: Think before you tweet

However, on Wednesday, opposition MP Ákos Hadházy responded to Varga's tweet on Facebook calling attention to the past of Varga's father, László Varga, who worked as a covert officer of the communist-era counterintelligence service known as the Department III/II of the Ministry of Interior Affairs between 1978 and 1983 according to his file on szigoruantitkos.hu, a website compiled by historians listing covert officers of Hungarian communist counterintelligence.

Hadházy wrote that the Minister should be more careful with such messages, and should step down just like Zoltán Pokorni (he was a former president of Fidesz who resigned in 2002 after his father's career in communist counterespionage was divulged). Hadházy added: "I would not have put on the old "fathers and daughters" record if Minister Varga didn't start it first. This little scribble just serves to warn her: think before you tweet."

Varga: I have nothing to hide

Judit Varga replied that Hadházy is trying to sensationalize information that she herself had revealed before being appointed as Minister of Justice, and she cited an interview from June, where she said:

"My father, trained in hotel and restaurant services, was offered a management job at the Avas Hotel in Miskolc as another chapter of his professional career. He told me that even he was shocked when he was notified a few months later that cooperation with the secret services is part of the job. He was ranked as a covert officer of the III/II department, and he was on the public list of the Emlékpont [secret service museum] in Hódmezővásárhely. This was widely publicized in Miskolc's local media in 2011, and we talked this through with my family. In 1983, my father said no to the secret services and left his coveted hotel management job. I was three at the time, who could think I owe an explanation for that?"

In the same interview, Varga also said she does not like to point fingers at ancestors and families of others, not even of opposition politicians, adding that not even the rage felt against the government can justify attacks against her about where her father quit from when she was three years old.

In her response, Varga stressed that she has nothing to hide ethically and legally speaking, as in 2006, during the heavy protests against former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány (who is currently DK's president and also Dobrev's husband) on the 50th anniversary of the 1956 revolution, she was there in the crowd when "the heirs to the same system ordered mounted police to charge at protesters and shoot their eyes out," providing legal help to victims and creating a foundation later for that same purpose. "Back then, where were the professors and MEPs concerned about the rule of law, and where were the Ákos Hadházys?" (By the way, Ákos Hadházy was a member of Fidesz at the time).

Ungváry: It's alright, just don't lie about it

One of the three historians behind szigoruantitkos.hu, Krisztián Ungváry also chimed in on the debate about Varga's father. Ungváry, a former fellow at the 1956 Institute said that it's not an issue if someone's ancestors or relatives have problematic pasts, as children cannot be responsible for actions of their parents and grandparents.

"What they are responsible for though is not to lie about it. The Minister does exactly that by claiming that her father resigned after the shocking realisation of what his job entails, and so does the pro-government media. It is a rather childish lie to assume that somebody did not realise for years what being a covert officer and doing network operations are about."

László Varga's file on szigoruantitkos.hu says he had "mature materialist thinking," "he is capable of satisfactory network operations, the hotel's director is aware of his covert status and provides him with conspirative protection." The file also mentions that during his five-year service, Varga was promoted from sub-lieutenant to lieutenant and has received 8000 Forint bonuses twice, which, as Ungváry noted, was a considerable sum back then.

The historian added that "the reason these lies are pathetic is that his father did not do anything special. He was building himself a petty state-party career as so many others had done at the time, and it's simply not worth it to blow smoke around it. Especially as even in the same party, there are more severe examples where people could face the pasts of their fathers and grandfathers." Finally, he noted that he is outraged over the Minister saying there is nothing to see here as she was the one who revealed this information: "Three historians revealed this information without Judit Varga in 2012. Back then, I did not even know who she was."

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