Clumsy attempt at discrediting Paul Lendvai, critic of Viktor Orbán

This morning I found an article in Magyar Nemzet with the sensational headline "Michael Cole was the code name of Lendvai–the complete article." Of course, the full text of this particular piece is available online, unlike the American ambassador's op/ed article a few days ago. By the way, Magyar Nemzet's answer to the extremely polite criticism of Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis is also not available online. But the reported headline says it all: "Hands off Hungary!"

After reading the full-page story of how Paul Lendvai, a renowned Hungarian/Austrian journalist, was in fact an informer in Kádár's extensive spy network, I had the distinct feeling that I had read the bones of that story somewhere else. Soon enough I found the origin of Magyar Nemzet's "great discovery": Paul Lendvai himself in an article published in the January 16, 2006 issue of Élet és Irodalom. The title of the article was "The Rise and Fall of Michael Cole."

In the article Lendvai writes that "as a Christmas present" he received from the archives of the Hungarian secret service almost 400 pages of material about himself. After a careful reading of the material Lendvai identified most of the code names of the informers involved in his case. For example, the famous sports reporter György Szepesi, an honorary citizen of Budapest today, was reporting on him under the code name "Galambos." Another man Lendvai managed to identify was László Endre Loránt, MTI's Viennese correspondent whose code name was "Urbán." And with "Urbán" we arrived at "Michael Cole."

"Urbán," Lendvai suspects, wanted to make a career within the organization by claiming knowledge of Austrian politics ordinarily not available to an MTI correspondent. Therefore he made exaggerated claims of special information coming from Lendvai who by the late 1960s managed to develop fairly intimate relations with leading Austrian politicians. Every time "Urban" sent something to the officer to whom he reported in the secret service apparatus he added: "Information from Lendvai." The officer in charge of "Urbán" decided that "Urbán" might be able to convince Lendvai to work for the Hungarian national security organization and therefore opened a file for him under the code name "Michael Cole."

Meanwhile "Urbán" was transferred back to Budapest and his successor, "Herczeg" (András Heltai), was unable to provide such colorful reports allegedly coming from Paul Lendvai about Austrian politics. "Herczeg" started to be frustrated: he couldn't get anything out of Lendvai. Therefore "Herczeg" suggested putting pressure on Lendvai by using the Hungarian secret service's connections with other "friendly countries" to deny visas to Lendvai. To no avail. After a year and a half, "Herczeg" decided that "Michael Cole" was useless and gave up his efforts to convince Lendvai to cooperate. In the summer of 1965 the file of "Michael Cole" was closed for good.

And now we can return to Magyar Nemzet's latest crime against responsible journalism. First of all, the unnamed author of the article claims original research in the archives of the state security service. He notes that last year Heti Válasz, a right-wing weekly, already published an article in which it reported that Lendvai had cooperated with the state security services of the Kádár regime. Lendvai denied the accusations then, but Magyar Nemzet has found new evidence.

Magyar Nemzet is not satisfied with falsely calling Lendvai an informer but also denigrates him by saying that Lendvai, who left Hungary in January 1957, "posed as an expert on Eastern Europe and made a decent living out of it, but surely he didn't brag about the fact that he managed to receive 'the Eastern European expert' status with the active help of the Hungarian secret service." And why this sudden interest in Paul Lendvai? Because "the Austrian journalist of Hungarian descent is sharply critical of our country, the right-wing government, and its leader, Viktor Orbán." But, for pete's sake, couldn't Magyar Nemzet do a better job of discrediting this heinous critic than digging up and embellishing on a five-year-old story told by Lendvai himself?

The article is full of inconsistencies and inaccuracies. For example, the author of the article claims that Lendvai was a member of MSZMP until he left Hungary. Well, he most likely was a member of MDP (Magyar Dolgozók Pártja), but it is highly unlikely that after the revolution he rushed to join MSZMP which at that time was hard pressed to find any takers. Magyar Nemzet also claims that Lendvai was one of the authors of the infamous four-volume history of the Hungarian "counter-revolution" that appeared in 1957. Considering that Lendvai left Hungary in January 1957 via Poland, it is hard to imagine that he was actually involved in writing the so-called "White Book."

Then there is a fairly lengthy quotation from "Urbán," who on the one hand reports that "Lendvai would like to have a regular relationship with the Hungarian Embassy" while, on the other hand, he also says in the same report that Lendvai "didn't want to go to the Hungarian Embassy because he is afraid that we want him to work for the Hungarian intelligence."

Not a word about the angry report of "Herczeg" about the uselessness of Lendvai as an informer or that in 1965 "Michael Cole" disappeared from sight. The paper notes that Lendvai, thanks to the Hungarian secret service, was denied a visa to the socialist countries, but it acknowledges that in 1972 there was a change of policy. The Kádár government decided that "it has an interest in allowing [Lendvai] to visit Hungary on a continuous basis." As Lendvai himself explained in his 2006 article, the reason for this sudden interest in him was that in the intervening years he became a close friend of Bruno Kreisky, who in 1970 became the chancellor of Austria.

It is clear that Magyar Nemzet, which can be called the mouthpiece of the Orbán government, makes a concerted effort to discredit everybody who is in any way critical of the government and/or Viktor Orbán. Especially if that person is perceived as having wide influence outside of Hungary. And Lendvai does.


  1. Typical Magyar Nemzet. I only wonder how they dare to advertise themselves as “News, credibility, tradition” (Hír, hitel, hagyomány). Like in the case of the “philosopher scandal” when they claimed on 8 January that it was their original investigative journalism that unearthed the heinous embezzlement of research funds by scholars. In fact, as it turned out in the libel case, they were extracting and further distorting the (groundless) indictment of Gyula Budai (dated 5 January). Their profile should rather read as: “Lies, revilement, servility”. Quite like Pravda, or in Hungary the old Nepszabadsag used to be.

  2. Magyar Nemzet does not have to go to far to dig up dirt about previous beneficiaries of the Kadar regime if they really want to discuss the truth. They can start with Orban, continue with Orban’s dad, move over to Deutsch, and so forth. THe hypocrisy this so called “investigative reports” contain (beside the half truths) is very much sums up the whole modus operandi of Fidesz itself. I often wonder what would of became of Orban or for that matter Deutsch without Kadar? Orban supported the communists, then when the wind started to blow from the West, he jumped ship. Now the wind is blowing from the East and look at him now. He was against God but here is an opportunity to help his career, so he became a believer. Deutsch is even worst because the only thing he can call his own is his potty mouth and his underwear. Everything else is coming from the crumbs Orban tosses to him.

  3. I am surprised that all of the sudden working for a secret police is considered a problem. Two weeks ago it was an unimportant detail to work for the Securitate. And I also learned here that the files belong to their “rightful owners” (those who will receive the files when the archives are dissolved in the near future), so is not Fidesz cooperating with the “rogue regime” using their information to discredit people? I do not want to suggest that Paul Lendvai worked for the Hungarian intelligence, it simply does not fit even if he had done so.

  4. To write about Paul Lendvai: “”posed as an expert on Eastern Europe” shows the stupidity of those detractors. Books of Lendvai on subject matter have been published in several languages by serious publishers and he was for many years working in this capacity for the Austrian State TV.

  5. Complicated matter.
    No doubt, Lendvai is highly qualified journalist and historian.
    But according to wikipedia, he was involved with Kadar intelligence system.
    Just like many FIDESZ and Jobbik leaders and members.
    We need a civilized way to close those memories.

  6. free world: “But according to wikipedia, he was involved with Kadar intelligence system.”
    One doesn’t have to believe everything one reads in wikipedia. It depends who wrote the article.

  7. @free world: That info is coming from Heti Valasz and Magyar Nemzet, look at the references. These are the same unscrupulous right wing papers that started spreading these lies. Anybody could put anything on Wikipedia.

  8. This use of ‘English’ sounding code names intrigues me. ‘Joe Simon’ and ‘Johnny Boy’ seem to be following the same tradition.
    Mutt – is that book available in English? If so, under what title?

  9. I couldn’t find any English translations so far. He wrote the book in German, released it in 2010 and added a chapter about the FIDESz government in 2011 that was added to the Hungarian version. I guess that pissed of the “believers”.

  10. Off topic (but at least not as much as usual!) – I found a history book that was new to me in the local Alexandra today, ‘The Hungarian Transition – Parties and Movements in the Political Regime Change in Hungary Between 1987 and 1994’.
    It’s by Ivan Bába, who (from the little I read) seems to have quite strong connections with MDF. The book certainly seems to feature MDF almost to the exclusion of everything else, but then that might be inevitable, given the period covered.
    Typically for English books in Hungary, it is horrendously expensive (nearly 8,000 Ft, for a fairly slim volume – over £25!), so I thought I’d ask for people’s opinions before buying it. Is it worth reading?
    (It’s Hungarian published, by the way, so I’m very unlikely to find it cheaper in the UK – or at all.)
    JB might like to glance through it next time he’s in a bookshop, as one of the very few non-MDF photos is of a very young (and hairy) OV, making ‘that’ speech. Although I suppose JB and his ilk would rather forget about that particular chapter in Fidesz history…

  11. Paul, I do not know that book but searched for Ivan Baba and arrived at this site:
    If you look at who they are you will find:
    “The ICDT is a non-profit organization based in Budapest, Hungary which collects the experiences of recent democratic transitions and shares them with those who are determined to follow that same path. Instead of promoting democracy in general, the ICDT sets more concrete and pragmatic goals. The Centre strives to show how dozens of young democracies have made, and are making, the transition, so that those who set off on this difficult journey from dictatorship to democracy in the future may learn from the successes as well as from the failures.” I am speechless.

  12. In today’s (Saturday’s) Nepszabadsag Paul Lendvai refuted the lies in a personal interview, saying more, or less what the above posting says. But he is also angry.

  13. Sandor: “n today’s (Saturday’s) Nepszabadsag Paul Lendvai refuted the lies in a personal interview, saying more, or less what the above posting says. But he is also angry.”
    Wouldn’t you be also angry? I would be furious.

  14. free-world: “But according to wikipedia, he was involved with Kadar intelligence system.” Anyone, and I mean anyone who have computer access can edit wikipedia. Fidesz’ marketing and pr departments are in overdrive for the last few years, with casting extras for public evens (remind you of the clapping students who were hired to be jolly for Orban’s speech), create giants from midgets, smooth over the past of some, and make up some past for others. I still believe that Hungarian election results are the final results between the marketing and pr departments of their respective parties. MSZp did not loose the election, it was their marketing department.

  15. By the way why do we care if he was involved with the communist secret service? He is not a public servant. He is a journalist. We read his books and articles and agree with him or not. If he reported on people, well, that’s not nice, but hey, he isn’t my beer buddy. The fact that he was or wasn’t a snitch has nothing to do with the truth in his writings. If he was involved I’d say he may even have more insight than the average writer so pay attention.

  16. Paul Lendvai should be reporting Magyar Nemzet to the new Media Council. They must have broken several of the rules in that article.

  17. Just checked out the Wikipedia article on PL and it’s awful – reads like a Fidesz press release!
    I started to edit it, but the whole thing needs rewriting. I’ve reported it as a “possible biographies of living persons violation”. I don’t know what happens next, but hopefully a Wikipedia editor takes some sort of action.
    It might help if others with a much better knowledge of PL (I don’t even like him – as a person or a writer!) could put some comments on the discussion page pointing out some of the ‘mistakes’ in the article.

  18. Kirsten – thanks for the link, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to use the internet!
    I’ve since Googled Iván Bába and found an ‘Ivan Baba’ who is Deputy Foreign Minister in the current government!
    Does anyone know if this is the same Ivan Bába? If so, I just saved myself £25!

  19. For me it seemed that he could be the one. After having posted this amazing link to an institution that conveys Hungary’s successful experience with transition from dictatorship to democracy through first-rate experts like Mr Martonyi I thought I should have written explicitly that you should perhaps avoid granting a Fidesz man the delight of being seen as an expert on the subject. (I wonder whether this institution has worked on EU funded projects that are set up to support countries that still strive to introduce stable democracies.)

  20. Kirsten and An, one of the dilemmas for Europe and people like me is that (whatever it’s failings are) the electoral process was free and fair. I heard of no irregularities, no thugs etc. The people Hungary chose and now they are beginning to realise that they were conned by all their political parties.
    One lot perhaps for profit/gain and the other two for power as well. The Hungarian people chose (all on their own). Some of us who were more politically sophisticated tried to warn them but being Hungarians they knew better and were conned and they made their choice.
    Now as usual they try to blame Europe.
    All that we Europeans can do is caution and wait for the various legal organs of the EU to act, which they will in accordance with the rules.
    That is when the ‘fur will fly’, the court orders will be made and ignored. Then the fines will roll in!

  21. @Ms. Balogh
    “One doesn’t have to believe everything one reads in wikipedia. It depends who wrote the article.”
    You are absolutely right. I do not remember who said/wrote this, but there are true events in history and there are historical writings.
    I just would like to know the TRUTH, without embroidery.

  22. Dear Odin’s lost eye:
    Yes, our dispute is not with the election of the current government; it was fair, free, and the results legitimate, an expression of the Hungarian peoples’ judgement on the last government and the platforms of the competing parties. Our dispute is with the conduct of the current government. Have they been wise in their policies? Have they kept faith with the principles of democracy, such that in four years time the people will once again have a chance to make a fair and free decision?

  23. Paul Lendvai is a communist! You have to be illiterate if you do not know this. I live in New Zealand and even in this far side of the world I have become convinced of this. So what more can one say about this man….he is lucky that the world does have the courage to do the same with communists as they do with Nazis.

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