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Hungary: Prime Minister Says He Was A Counterespionage Agent

Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy today admitted that he had been a counterintelligence officer in Hungary's communist secret police more than 20 years ago. He made the admission in a statement to parliament following allegations by a Budapest newspaper yesterday and today.

Prague, 19 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Hungary's Socialist Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy today sought to portray his collaboration with communist counterintelligence as a patriotic act in the interests of Hungary.

In the waning years of the Soviet regime of Leonid Brezhnev, Hungary's foreign economic policy grew increasingly independent of Moscow as Hungary sought to develop closer economic ties with the West. Hungary joined the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, in 1982 despite muted Soviet opposition. Medgyessy's remarks indicate that his task among other things was to prevent Soviet agents from harming Hungary's efforts to join the IMF.

Medgyessy stressef he could only admit his collaboration once the interior minister granted him the right to speak out, because he said "these activities are secret."

"I worked in the Finance Ministry between 1977 and 1982 in the department of international financial relations as a counterintelligence officer. For five years, I helped prevent foreign informers from obtaining Hungarian secrets and from blocking Hungary's admittance to the IMF," Medgyessy said.

And as Medgyessy put it, "A counterintelligence officer is not a spy. He is doing a job that serves the interests of the country."

The right-of-center daily "Magyar Nemzet" yesterday and today published documents alleging Medgyessy began collaborating with the secret police in 1961 and alleging that the interior minister at the time, Andras Benkei, promoted Medgyessy, identified as agent D-209, to the rank of first lieutenant in Hungary's counterintelligence service, tasked with protecting the economy.

Medgyessy's spokesman insisted the documents are false and said the prime minister plans to file a libel suit against the daily.

Medgyessy, a 59-year-old economist, held various positions in Hungary's Finance Ministry between 1966 and 1987. He became prime minister last month after his Socialist Party beat the incumbent right-of-center FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party in parliamentary elections.

Medgyessy said yesterday he will resign if he feels "confidence in me is teetering in any way."

Members of parliament from the Socialists' coalition partner, the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats, last night voted to accept Medgyessy's resignation should he offer it and are considering calling for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.

FIDESZ chairman Zoltan Pokorni said "Medgyessy's personal and moral crisis could become the republic's gravest constitutional crisis yet."

In an interview with the daily newspaper "Magyar Hirlap" on 26 May 2001, Medgyessy declined to go into details of his past activities beyond saying that, "There are situations in one's life when, in the interests of national sovereignty, it's necessary to take steps that protect the country's interests against foreign intelligence, be they the KGB or Western ones."

In his address to parliament today, Medgyessy called for changing laws to enable the publication of the names of all police informers who participated in domestic surveillance activities, including members of intelligence, counterintelligence, and military intelligence agencies under the communists.

Allegations of communist collaboration have rocked politics in other formerly communist, Eastern European countries. In Poland in 1996, Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy resigned after the interior minister alleged Oleksy had spied for Moscow by maintaining contacts with a Soviet intelligence officer who remained in Poland after the collapse of communist power in 1989. Oleksy insisted he was the innocent victim of a smear campaign by right-wingers.

In the 1990 parliamentary elections in Czechoslovakia, People's Party chairman Josef Bartoncik was forced to resign over public allegations he had been a communist agent. Other parliamentary deputies were confronted privately when the region's first screening law was adopted in 1991. Some left quietly, while others refused and had to face the allegations publicly.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, who lived in exile in Britain for two decades, is alleged to have collaborated with the Czechoslovak secret police, the StB, as agent Kato. Extensive excerpts of his files were published as a book two years ago. Kavan insists he did not collaborate. Similarly, former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar has dismissed allegations that he collaborated with the StB as agent Doktor.