A recent discovery of parts of a literary heritage in the archives of the former dictatorship’s secret service. The manuscript of a lost Hungarian comic book was found in the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security. The story of the lost and found book reveals a lot how the people of Hungary were deprived of their liberties and properties, and also how the regime wanted to change their reading habits. It also highlights a very disturbig part of Europe’s heritage.
Pál Korcsmáros (1916-1975) was a Hungarian newspaper and book illustrator and one of the first eminent authors of Hungarian comic books. The Hungarian Communist regime exercized a full monopoly over book publishing, not only to prevent political opposition, but also to promote the goals of the regime. The regime wanted the working class to read carefully selected literary classics, and comic books were thought to prevent the working class from getting used to read thick volumes. Comic books cold only be published if they helped the main goal and made the classics available to those who were not yet prepared for the hundreds of pages. For this reason, the first generation of Hungarian comic books are all adaptations of patriotic Hungarian novels and classics of the 19th century.
Pál’s uncle, Nándor Korcsmaros, a writer and journalist, despised the Communist dictatorship and emigrated with his sister, Anna to Austria the year after the fall of the 1956 uprising against the regime. The regime did not let families of emigrated Hungarians to maintain family ties. Emigrants were treated as traitors and enemies, and their personal belongings were confiscated or retained. The family tried to send his manuscripts after him in private letters, four pages in each envelope. Nándor died in exile three years after the revolution. His sister, Anna tried to collect his literary heritage for publication and sent an Austrian citizen to try to smuggle the manuscripts through the border. Pál, the book illustrator helped collecting the manuscripts and put one of his comics into package. He hoped that his popular comic book adaptation of The Three Muskeeters may be published in Western Europe, too.
The secret service learned about the dangerous ‘Liberal-burgois’ conspiracy and confiscated the whole package in 1960. The ‘conspirators’ were not imprisoned, but ever after the ‘consiparcy’ they were under the scrutiny of the secret service. A spy followed their moves and their telephones were wire-trapped. The ‘evidence’ of their conspiracy went into the vast archives of the secret service. Althogh Pál could work as an illustrator in the rest of his life, he was denied access to his manuscript. This manuscript was found recently in the publicly searcheable archive of the former Communist and Nazi secret service archives. Pál’s grandson inherited the intellectual properties of his grandfather. He had been publishing the comic classics for years and he promises to come out with reprint of The Three Muskeeters as soon as possible.
The secret services of the Central European dictatorships collected all sources of information on any available media. The information collection usually violated all possible fundamental rights, from privacy of the home or letters to outright theft of personal belongings. The secret services used vast networks of ordinary people to acquire more and more information. Many people were forced into this ‘network’ after they had been blackmailed with secrets of their private lives. The heritage of these services is one of the most disturbing and controversial topic in the countries that have returned to the rule of law and democracy. Some countries give back all information, even documents that had been shredded, like Germany. Hungary has made only a small fraction of the information available for research, and gives access to people involved in each document, people observed (those about who the former state security organizations collected data), ‘network people’ and ‘operative links’ and some recognized ‘third parties’. Both approach has its legitimate arguments: the victims of the unlawful data gathering, especially people who were spied on, must have a right to decide on the information of their private lives. The publication of the archives makes future generation aware how they can loose their liberties. On the other hand, researchers and reader may obtain such personal information that was collected with the violation of privacy rights.
What makes this case special is that this not only reveals a personal tragedy and the loss of privacy in the Communist dictatorship, but also the infringement of other fundamental rights to property and copyright. The destruction of personal liberties went together with the destruction of the liberal arts and the forums of freedom. The author of these comic books was stripped from his property, and for 33 years the heirs of the intellectual properties were also stripped from their rights. Not to mention the readers in Hungary, who had to wait for a generation for the re-publication of this classic comic book, and the readers in Western Europe, who have lost the possibility to get a decent publication of Hungary’s eminent comic books maybe forever. I hope that the spy story increases the marketing chances of this lost book.Dániel Antal