The answer: Victor Orbán’s empire strikes back

Lendvai Reloaded

Bálint Ablonczy
Last updated:
04:01 16-04-2014
12:49 13-12-2010

Paul Lendvai has not produced a credible refutation in response to Heti Válasz’s article of last week. György Konrád regards it as “very sad” that the journalist, who is of Hungarian origin, supplied information to the Hungarian embassy in Vienna on the 1985 Budapest opposition summit programme.

The best form of defence is a cautious attack. This is the strategy Paul Lendvai opted for after we proved last week with documentary evidence that he assisted the Kádár regime as a voluntary informer. In his statements the Viennese journalist accused our magazine of launching a political attack, yet he has not any taken legal action. 

Nor has he tried to claim that the (foreign ministry) documents that were published were forgeries. He has merely surmised that the documents do not contain his own words. "At the time this event (the 1985 cultural counter forum - ed.) was the subject of public debate, and it was natural that a diplomat of the Hungarian embassy in Vienna would comment in words that would satisfy his client," wrote Lendvai in his press release. János Nagy, the Hungarian ambassador to Vienna at the time, refuted this claim insisting on Klubrádió that his reports always faithfully rendered what was said.   

At the same time Nagy - who is presently the vice-president of the Hungarian Resistance and Antifascist League - also opted for the path of simplifying things. In his view Lendvai maintained normal communication with communist diplomats. While Lendvai claims that everybody had access to the programme of events that brought together Hungarian and Western intellectuals to discuss the issue of free speech, his warning in reference to confidentiality can be found in the English language documents, downloadable from Heti Válasz's homepage. According to the embassy report, the journalist asked for "discretion" in connection to supplying information on the programme. 

What does György Konrád, highlighted in the document, recall of the circumstances surrounding the event's organisation? "If this was how things were, then it is very sad," said the writer to our magazine in response to the fact that the Budapest authorities became aware of the opposition summit programme through Paul Lendvai. "It's true we didn't hide anything: I met György Kardos, the director of Magvető Publishers, in the days before the event.   

He had already heard at that point about something being underway. I told him to feel free to come along," recalls Konrád. In addition, he remembers that although it was planned that the counter forum would be held in the Intercontinental Hotel, it could not take place there and the lessors of the other three reserve venues also became reluctant in the matter. "That is why in the end we came together in István Eörsi's flat and later in that of the film director András Jeles. At the official cultural forum the communist diplomats spoke of writers' obligations, while we were discussing their freedom," recalls György Konrád.  

In her book titled The Secret Service in the Wings Mária Schmidt, the director of the House of Terror, analysed how the communist camp tried to manipulate Western public opinion. "During the Cold War Vienna was one of the most important points of interchange. Let's not be naïve, he must have had to give something in exchange for the right to film and conduct interviews; though this was the case on both sides. However, this does not necessarily mean espionage activities," claimed the historian to Heti Válasz. In her view there was only one thing that was not allowed in this ‘balancing game': to pass on information that could lead to somebody being harmed.     

From the foreign ministry documents we published it transpired that in his undertakings Lendvai had a far closer relationship with the Budapest authorities than what can be termed permissible. So much so that he lost his political perspicacity. In 1988 the journalist revised his volume published in 1986, in German, titled Stubborn Hungary, and published it with the subtitle From Kádár to Grósz. In this edition the following sycophantic approach disguised as musings, can be read about the party's secretary-general that came after Kádár: "How did yesterday's grey dogmatist become a shining paradigm of realism, and the confederate of those radical reformers against whom he had fought fifteen years ago?" In his volume, which appeared barely ten years later, Lendvai commented: "Perhaps the greatest error in my analysis of Hungary was that I overestimated the former prime minister, Károly Grósz, who was later promoted to secretary-general of the party."  

The liberal leaning newspaper, Der Standard, which often prints Lendvai's comments analysed our article as an act of vengeance: "It was just a matter of time before the empire struck back, which Orbán Viktor, the prime minister of Hungary, is building against such outstanding critics as Paul Lendvai," claims the paper. Die Presse, which is more objective than Der Standard, recognized the significance of the 1986 documents and went on to note that in Lendvai's case the accusation is not that he acted as a spy but rather that he rendered his assistance voluntarily. 

There is no doubt as to which of the two Austrian papers' interpretations Ferenc Gyurcsány embraced. In his blog the former prime minister stressed that this is a story that concerns the Hungarian right wing, which in his opinion persecutes anyone who thinks differently. Gyurcsány did not enter into an analysis of the documents but noted that "Lendvai was not a traitor and he was not a spy. I suspect he was not an eager opponent either. It would be fair to say that he belonged to the majority that made compromises of one kind or another with the authorities of Kádár's Hungary". The ex-prime minister did not respond to the following contradiction: even if many people in Hungary were forced to make compromises, what kind of pressure was Paul Lendvai under living in the free world?     

On the basis of the documents published by our magazine Lukács Ádám Petri concluded on Népszabadság's website that Lendvai was a voluntary collaborator for the Kádár dictatorship. "As such he harmed the opposition for a democratic Hungary and the memory of '56 at least to the extent that the Kádár regime can even be grateful." According to the journalist, who is the son of the poet György Petri, when Lendvai "supplied confidential information on the Hungarian cultural counter forum, he knew what he was doing was unacceptable, and that is why he asked the embassy to be discreet".

Speaking on ATV the key figure of this story tried to denigrate our magazine to the moral level of the communist regime by accusing us of using "the methods of the old days". What makes this accusation an absolute flop is that - unlike the Viennese journalist who was a member of the internal authority of the State Protection Authority, the journalists of Szabad Nép [Free People] and the head of the Hungarian News Agency's foreign affairs column - our magazine did not have the chance to examine the operations of the totalitarian communist state in the 1950s.


Heti Válasz called Paul Lendvai a spy. Our article did not say that but rather proved that he regularly collaborated voluntarily.

The Viennese journalist could not have worked with the dictatorship because he himself was under the surveillance of state security. The two do not exclude one another: in the Kádár system spies frequently reported on each other. 

The documents outline the usual journalist-diplomat relationship. In a communist state diplomacy, state security and the party leadership exist in the tightest possible symbiosis; whoever supplied confidential information to a diplomat also informed the leadership of the dictatorship. 

By the 1980s the system was no longer a dictatorship and Hungary was the happiest barrack in the Communist camp. Even after 1985 opposition figures were harassed and the system of informers still operated.

The programme of the cultural counter forum that Lendvai gave to the Hungarian embassy in Vienna was in general circulation. This is refuted by the English language document being stamped "confidential", and by the fact that Lendvai asked for discretion when he handed over the document.

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