The Attitude of Hungarian Political Elites to State Police and its Informers amidst Changes of Political System in the 1860s


The new imperial government in the period of Neoabsolutism, between 1849-67 aimed at establishing an unified, centralised state from the old-style dynastic empire, by reconstructing all the adminsitrative and judiciary institutions in Hungary. The state police and gendarmerie appeared as new institutions and soon became the hated symbols of the policy professed by the imperial central power. This study is focused on two periods of political system- and elite-change (1860-1861, 1867) in order to highlight the attitude of two different groups of the Hungarian political elite, the Conservatives and the Liberals, concerning the state police of the former political leadership and its informers. The study aims to assess whether confrontation, fact-finding, negligence and silence or endeavour to make use of it must be considered as the most characteristic motives in their standpoint. The reactions of the different groups of the Hungarian political elite, be they conservatives or liberals concerning the awkward heritage of the secret police (and its actual activity) were very similar. The essay outlines the attitudes of the Conservatives, who felt themselves to be interested in sweeping the traces of secret police operations away from the county archives and to contrast that to the attitude of the Liberals who, after the great political change of 1867 did not display any interest in secret police affairs. Moreover, the political self-image of the Hungarian Liberals and the ideals of collective passive resistance against Habsburg Neo-Absolutism in the 1850-60s had become closely interwoven. The phenomenon of collaboration with imperial centralist politics in any form, particularly with the state police as a symbol of the regime could not be reconciled with this heroic self-image. Launching a campaign for obtaining control over information regarding state police operations in the previous decades would have involved an open demonstration against the former repressive policy sanctioned by the monarch, that is, an open conflict with him and his closest colaborators. Hungarian political elites in government positions prefered to let bygones be bygones and to sweep the whole issue under the carpet.