Concern for Hungarian Archives

A militant during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 which eventuated in increased oppression of the country by its Soviet-backed Communist regime; photo: Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security

Archivists and historians are up in arms about a Hungarian government plan to allow Hungarian citizens to destroy any records about them, or that even mention them, that were kept by the country’s Communist-era security apparatus.

The Association of Canadian Archivists this week became the latest organization to call for abandonment of the plan.

The records, which were compiled by Hungary’s secret police, interior ministry, and state security services, are held at the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security in Budapest. Most are in the form of documents kept by the Communist regime, but the archives also include large stores of microfilms, and some moving-image records.

The government proposal to allow destruction of the records, which undoubtedly include details that would embarrass many high Hungarian figures, came to light when Bence Rétvári, a secretary of state in Hungary’s Ministry of Justice, said on a radio program: ”A constitutional system cannot preserve documents collected through anti-constitutional means, as these are the immoral documents of an immoral regime.”

That prompted an expert on the relationship between communist Hungary and Hungarian Canadian communities between 1956 and 1989, Christopher Adam, to launch the Hungarianarchives website ( and petition to coordinate protests.

There, Adam, a lecturer at Carleton University’s Department of History, writes: “In what serves as a very disturbing development for anyone with an interest in Hungary’s Cold War history, the Hungarian government is preparing to enact a new law which may lead to the blatant, politically-motivated sanitization of the country’s communist past.”

How? “Allegedly out of a concern for privacy rights,” writes Adam, “citizens who were spied upon or observed by the previous regime’s state security officers may now not only ask to view their files at the Archives of Hungarian State Security in Budapest, but may also remove these preserved archival documents from the reading room, take them home and have them destroyed.”

To parliamentary secretary of state Bence Rétvári’s claim regarding the immorality of safeguarding immorally gathered records, Adam says: “The government decree makes it permissible to remove and destroy irreplaceable archival documents. Were Rétvári’s warped logic also used by authorities in other countries, we could no longer produce histories of the world’s most dictatorial and genocidal regimes.”

Militants during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956; photo: Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security

“As archivists,” she added, “we strongly believe that archives are the foundation of democracy, social justice, and social memory.” An archive, she said, “ensures that collective amnesia does not prevail. Archival records provide evidence documenting the actions of public leaders and protecting the rights of all citizens.”

Archivists “strongly believe that archives are the foundation of democracy, social justice, and social memory,” she said.

Bruce Grant, president of ASEEES, sent this letter to Hungary's ambassador to the United States, György Szapáry

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