OSA | Visions after the Fall: Program

Visions after the Fall: Museums, Archives and Cinema in Reshaping Popular Perceptions of the Socialist Past

Renata Uitz: Communist Secret Services on the Screen: The Adventures of the Duna-gate Scandal in and Beyond Hungarian Media

The Duna-gate scandal was undoubtedly one of the first cases which seriously tested the durability of the founding compromises of transition to democracy and the new constitutional arrangements in January 1990. For the many years to come, images associated with the Duna-gate scandal cropped up in the Hungarian media space whenever it hosted a hesitant and increasingly intricate public discourse on the exposure of people working for the Communist state security services (lustration) and on access to the files of the secret police.
The events at the center of the scandal were filmed in late December 1989 by Fekete Doboz (Black Box), an independent organization committed to documenting the events of transition to democracy in Hungary. The film recorded in one of the buildings of the Communist state security services shows a set of documents evidencing the continuing surveillance of opposition figures after the declaration of the republic on October 23, 1989. In addition, the camera records massive shredders in operation, images associated with the large-scale destruction of state security service files in the last days of the Communist regime.
The paper will track the many lives of the original footage in the Hungarian media space and beyond. It will discuss how these few minutes of a video journal edited by Fekete Doboz, defined the visual reference points of the story on the state security services and will trace the transformation of these visual symbols amongst myths in the making. The central image in the original footage is that of the giant shredder, wiping out the paper trail of the Communist secret service. In the early accounts of Duna-gate the images of the shredder are accompanied by commentaries by cast members, who contributed to placing the issue of agents and the problem of file access on the political agenda of the new democracy.
Over the years, however, after many drafts of lustration laws and regulations on file access, some people disappear from the visual record while others change profoundly on screen, before our eyes. What remains in lieu of a reliable reference point for the news coverage of exposed agents and developments in the file access saga is the image of a gigantic paper shredder. This is so, until the founders of Fekete Doboz remind us that the wrong footage of the wrong monster shredder started to appear as a casual background illustration to accompany the twist of the day in the coverage of the saga in the evening news.

Renata Uitz is an associate professor of comparative constitutional law at Central European University, Budapest, Legal Studies Department. She holds an LLM in comparative constitutional law and an SJD from Central European University. She is a member of the International Association of Constitutional Law and of the experts' council of the Institute for Law and Public Policy, Moscow. She used to be a correspondent for the East European Constitutional Review (1998-2003) and is currently a correspondent for the International Journal of Constitutional Law (I-Con). She is the author of the book Constitutions, Courts and History, Historical Narratives in Constitutional Adjudication (2005), and is the editor (with Andras Sajo) of the volume The Constitution in Private Relations: Expanding Constitutionalism (2005). In addiiton, she is the author of numerous articles appearing mainly in English, Hungarian and Russian on comparative constitutional adjudication and on fundamental rights issues. Her research interests cover theories and practices of constitutional review and constitutional interpretation, problems of constitutional adjudication and good governance in democratic transition, and the role of courts in constructing the constitutional subject.

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Date: June 10, Saturday

Time: 2.30-3 pm



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