To the Editors:

This is an open letter addressed to the prime minister of Hungary. It concerns the trial of a Hungarian minority leader in Czechoslovakia. We would like to bring it to the attention of readers of The New York Review of Books and urge them to send telegrams to Prime Minister Lazar about this case.

To Gyorgy Lazar,

Prime Minister of the

Hungarian People’s Republic, Budapest

Dear Prime Minister,

As you undoubtedly know, Miklos Duray, born in 1944, a geologist and one of the leading figures of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia, has been tried by a court of the Slovak Socialist Republic for “hostile acts against the state.” The verdict will be announced soon. If convicted, Mr. Duray faces a prison sentence of between three and ten years. He is accused of having prepared and sent abroad a manuscript on the ill-treatment of the Hungarian minority of Slovakia. Mr. Duray prepared the manuscript as a member of the Committee for the Legal Protection of the Hungarian Minority in Czechoslovakia. In other words, his crime is to have spoken up on behalf of the close to one million Hungarians in Slovakia, and to have asked that they be granted the same rights enjoyed by other citizens of that state, namely the right to study, seek employment and engage in cultural activities in their own language.

We request the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic to use its influence and prestige to assure Mr. Duray’s freedom. If the necessity arises, it should take the responsibility of defending Miklos Duray upon itself. Were the Hungarian government to neglect this, it would contribute, by its silence, to a violation of the Helsinki Agreement. In fact, your government would surrender to the dangerously growing forces of extreme nationalism.

The fact that in East Central Europe linguistic and political boundaries rarely if ever coincide was the immediate cause of two world wars. In today’s tense international situation, we wish to raise our voice against anti-democratic nationalism wherever it manifests itself. We specifically address the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic, not only because the life and future of the Hungarian nationality in Slovakia is at stake, but also because in all of East Central Europe the Hungarian government has paid the most attention, since the ratification of the Helsinki Agreement, to the principles of democracy and minority rights. In assisting Miklos Duray in his efforts to protect human rights in Czechoslovakia, the Hungarian government would bear witness to its own democratic convictions.

The Hungarian government was not afraid to intervene in Czechoslovakia’s internal affairs in August 1968. It should not be afraid to raise its voice now on behalf of democratic rights guaranteed by an international agreement.

Irving Howe

Susan Sontag

Kurt Vonnegut

New York City

This Issue

March 31, 1983