Hungarian PM Admits to Spying Past

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy admitted Wednesday he was a communist secret service counterintelligence officer more than 20 years ago and proposed naming all politicians who had held such posts to avoid "political blackmail."

Moving to avert a political crisis over rightist newspaper and opposition accusations that he had worked for the secret police, Medgyessy told parliament he was a counterespionage officer at the Finance Ministry from 1977 to 1982.

This was a delicate time for Hungary as the central European state tried to edge away from the Soviet Union and open up to the West, secretly joining the International Monetary Fund in 1982 and sounding out European Union membership.

Medgyessy, who took office only last month after winning April elections, had threatened to resign if he did not have the confidence of his own Socialist Party and his junior coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats.

Free Democrat leader Gabor Kuncze told reporters his party backed the prime minister after it cut a deal to open up past secret service records to the public.

"There is no coalition crisis. The prime minister continues to enjoy the full support of the Free Democrats," he said.

Kuncze said proposed changes to laws governing secret service records would "prevent any further misuse of these by politically motivated parties."

The Socialists have unanimously backed Medgyessy, and there were signs Wednesday the Free Democrats would follow suit if the government amended laws to name those who served in the loathed Soviet-style domestic surveillance division.

Political turmoil could damage Hungary's EU bid just as it enters tough final negotiations to join the expanding bloc.

Medgyessy told parliament he would submit an emergency bill to release classified secret service data on those in political life. Keeping the records secret had allowed "political blackmail," he said.

"My aim is to create a clear situation in the issue of pre-1990 secret services, so that facts could not be used for political purposes," he said.

Government spokesman Zoltan Gal said proposals could be put to parliament as soon as Friday. "The prime minister and coalition parties are ready to face up to this, and I trust all opposition politicians are also ready," he said. "Publicity is the best defense against those who seek to manipulate," he added.

The rightist daily Magyar Nemzet published a photocopy of a March 1978 contract on Tuesday in which then-Interior Minister Andras Benkei promoted "Comrade D-209" -- alleged to be Medgyessy -- to the rank of first lieutenant in the country's spy-catching service.

Medgyessy, identified in the document by his date of birth and mother's maiden name, has called for it to be authenticated, His spokesman said Medgyessy planned to sue the newspaper for libel after it published a second document on Wednesday.

"I helped prevent foreign spies from getting their hands on Hungarian secrets and ensure they should not be able to block our joining the IMF," he told parliament.

"I would like to emphasize that a spy-catcher is not an agent, not an informant. Counterintelligence and intelligence are ancient professions and serve to protect the country."