NEB Yearbook 2016–2017
Réka Kiss, Zsolt Horváth (Editors)
2019. March 26.
Dear Reader, The Hungarian Committee of National Remembrance (Nemzeti Emlékezet Bizottsága, NEB) published its first yearbook in 2016, and now we proudly present our second one. Established by the Hungarian National Assembly in February 2014, the Committee was charged with the double task of scientific research and awareness raising. Beyond conducting systematic and comprehensive research on the communist dictatorship’s power mechanisms, key organizations, and cadre policy, and uncovering generations of individual and collective trauma, we also help preserve the memory of the dictatorship by informing public opinion on the subject and paying our respects to the victims of the Hungarian communist regime. The present volume provides an overview of the last two years of scientific research by the Committee, as well as the professional interests of the members of the Committee and our regular and contracted researchers. The studies presented in this yearbook are arranged in chronological order, and center around three major themes or avenues of research. The first group of studies focuses on certain aspects of the mechanisms of the Hungarian communist dictatorship. Gergely Krisztián Horváth provides an overview of the violent transformation of agricultural production between 1945 and the early 1960s, which led to the elimination of traditional peasant society as well as severe and lasting sociohistorical consequences. István Ötvös analyzes political trials in Hungary to demonstrate the strategic use of judicial instruments by communist leadership to achieve certain political objectives, which was a common practice in the dictatorial regimes of the Soviet Bloc. These also used methods beyond the law to oppress civil society, as shown by Barbara Bank’s overview of the history of internment, forced labor camps, and forced relocation in Hungary. Csaba Káli discusses the specificities of the communist cadre system, the recruitment of political functionaries, and the operation of the party apparatus in the “long” 1950s (from 1948 until the early 1960s). Anita M. Madarász presents another side of the dictatorial regime through a discussion of the early Cold War phase of British‒Hungarian cultural and diplomatic relations. István Simon gives an overview of the prison and detention agent networks of the political police in the Kádár era, which were special informant networks comprised of convicts and detainees who were recruited to carry out observation work at prisons and during political investigations. Gábor Szilágyi examines the history of legal and illegal financial aid to Western European communist parties, which was an integral part of the system’s working since one of its main traits was to support the political objectives of the Soviet Union. Lastly, Áron Máthé discusses the internal and external affairs of Hungary in the late 1960s with regard to Hungary’s participation in the August 1968 military occupation of Czechoslovakia, which was orchestrated by the Soviet Union to disrupt the Prague Spring reform process. The second group of studies focuses on one particular aspect of the communist dictatorship, the ideological struggle against religion in the form of the overt or covert persecution of the churches. From the very beginning, the atheistic communist party made significant efforts to eliminate religious traditions and their institutional framework, however, its objectives, strategies, and instruments might have changed over time. Due to the historical coexistence of several religious denominations in Hungary, analyzing the parallels and differences between the treatment and persecution of these churches provides an insight into the religious dimensions of communist oppression. In this volume, we included two case studies on the various aspects and correlations of communist church policy. Réka Kiss analyzes the political procedures initiated against the leaders of the Hungarian YMCA, the largest Protestant youth organization in Hungary to discuss the fluctuating objectives of, and state security involvement in communist policy towards churches and society; and Viktor Attila Soós reconstructs the murder case of János Brenner – a Catholic priest brutally murdered in 1957 for political reasons and beatified in 2018 as a martyr of the communist regime – and the relevant investigation and court procedures, which were deliberately derailed by the authorities to suppress the truth and protect the perpetrators. Finally, the third group of studies examines the history of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which is not only the most internationally well-known event of twentieth-century Hungarian history, but also constitutes an important chapter of the global history of the Cold War, as it marked the greatest challenge the Soviet Union had faced from its European satellite states. Although the Hungarian events of 1956 have been extensively discussed in national as well as international literature, the history of the revolution continues to raise open questions requiring further scientific scrutiny. In their studies, István Galambos and Martin Gulyás discuss the process of revolutionary self-organization and different types of spontaneously established democratic institutions by analyzing the operation of local revolutionary councils and workers’ councils, respectively. On the other hand, three studies focus on the reprisals following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Attila Szakolczai examines reprisal trials to analyze the logic of the investigation and court procedures, the specificities of the cooperation between the investigating and judicial bodies, and the political considerations and motives of communist leadership, while Kristóf Erdős and Gabriella Müller focus on two particular cases. Erdős examines the case of Lajos Gulyás, a Reformed pastor who was arrested, tried, and executed on false charges, and Müller discusses the trial of Géza Péch, a voluntary rescue driver who became involved in the rear-guard struggles of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 as a liaison between different revolutionary groups. Since its establishment four years ago, the Committee of National Remembrance has organized a total of thirty-three national and international scientific conferences and published twenty-five volumes. The members and researchers of the Committee have also held approximately 400 national and international awareness-raising and scientific presentations, and compiled several online databases available to the general public. We trust that this yearbook will give our readers an account of the past two years of research by the Committee, which continues its commitment to historical research, analysis, and interpretations of the events of the recent past for a better understanding of the mechanisms of the Soviet system in Hungary and the international dimensions of the communist dictatorship.