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Crackdown in Hungary

To the Editors:

As participants in the official and unofficial activities during the Budapest Cultural Forum last October, we were greatly alarmed to note the increased cultural repression that has been evident in Hungary since the close of the Cultural Forum. The Hungarian government is apparently engaged in a campaign of intimidation and harassment designed to destroy the activities of the independent publishing—samizdat—movement, now that the international attention surrounding the Cultural Forum has dissipated. Since November, the wave of house searches, raids, fines and police harassment raises serious doubts about the liberal image that the Hungarian government has projected in recent years and especially at the time of the Cultural Forum.

We deplore the recent crackdown on those individuals involved in samizdat, as well as on other Hungarian citizens engaged in the legitimate exercise of their human rights. Specifically, we are concerned about the following actions taken by the Hungarian authorities:

1) in November, just after the close of the Cultural Forum, Sandor Leszak was accused of “counterrevolutionary activities” and fired from his job as director of the cultural center in Lakitelik for having organized a literary exhibition;

2) on January 16, police searched the home of Jeno Nagy, the head of the samizdat publisher ABC, and confiscated journals and printing materials;

3) on January 24, a series of lectures by Hungarian writers at the Embankment Club in Budapest was banned;

4) in late January, a house search was conducted of one of the leaders of Vox Humana, a student group, and issues of their journal were confiscated;

5) on February 8, a demonstration organized by the Danube Circle and the Austrian Greens protesting the construction of the Hungarian Nagymaros Danube power plant was broken up by police;

6) on February 26, Jeno Nagy was fined 6,000 forints for violating the press law (average monthly wage is 4,000–5,000 forints);

7) on February 28, Budapest police raided an indoor swimming pool where samizdat was being distributed, searched several people, confiscated issues of Hirmondo and took Jeno Nagy to the police station;

8) on March 3, police searched the home of Gyorgy Gado, a samizdat publisher and leader of the Shalom Peace Group, and confiscated journals;

9) on March 7, Gado was fined 10,000 forints, and police raided the pool again;

10) on March 11, Jeno Nagy’s house was searched again and more samizdat was confiscated;

11) on March 11, Gado’s house was searched and his diary, address book and personal letters were taken, and he faces further fines;

12) on March 11, police raided the Malomto café, where Jeno Nagy was meeting with a small group, and confiscated samizdat from the participants;

13) on March 14, police raided the pool again and searched the house of Zsigmond Voros, a photographer, and confiscated samizdat and photographs;

14) on April 1, police raided a Budapest apartment and confiscated the entire sixteenth issue of Beszelo, one of the best-known samizdat publications, in addition to a duplicating machine, stencils and other printing materials. The two people in the apartment—Miklos Sulyok, a mathematician, and Isvan Csorba, a graphic artist—face charges of violating the press law;

15) on April 1, police again searched the home of Jeno Nagy, and on April 16, he was fined another 10,000 forints for violating the press law.

We fear that this evidence of escalating repression in Hungary calls into question the image of relative tolerance of the Hungarian regime. We call on all concerned with human rights and cultural freedom to join us in protesting these police actions and in supporting the independent publishing movement in Hungary.

Timothy Garton Ash, writer; Peter Blake, architect; Susan Sontag, writer; Rose Styron, poet; Per Wastberg, President, International PEN

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