Government to revive communist-era direct lines

August 16, 2017

Photo: Fortepan/FSZK Budapest Collection/GYÖRGY SÁNDOR

The Hungarian government plans to re-establish the telephone network that directly connected ministries and state offices during the communist regime, reports Magyar Nemzet.

Two government decrees recently published in the official bulletin signed by Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén require that the following entities be connected via a non-public, cable telephone network:

  • Polity and policing authorities,
  • Government offices,
  • State hospitals,
  • Public administration bodies maintained by the government,
  • The National Office for the Judiciary, and
  • The National Media and Infocommunications Authority.

This network will likely be established by the National Infocommunications Service Company (NISZ). Although the investment’s exact costs were not disclosed in the bulletin, Magyar Nemzet notes the Ministry of Interior alone allocated HUF 307 million (USD 1.18 million) for this purpose and the government will consider the cost of the network during the planning of the 2019 budget.

According to the decrees, the affected state and government bodies must terminate their current telecommunication subscriptions by June 1, 2018. Affected bodies will only be allowed to avoid this deadline if, according to their current contract, termination would result in penalties.

The closed cable telephone network might be followed by a closed mobile network. According to the conservative print daily, Minister of Interior Sándor Pintér, Minister Overseeing the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár and Minister for National Economy Mihály Varga have already been tasked with preparing a proposal for such a mobile network. This is strange, knowing that the government signed a 39-month contract with Magyar Telekom as recently as February for Telekom to provide the government with 200,000 SIM cards.

The predecessor of the proposed network, the so-called “K-line”, was established in Hungary in 1947 on the order of communist leader Ernő Gerő. The telephone network was born out of necessity, as in the postwar years there was no stable and safe telephone network to handle the strategically imperative flow of information. The network steadily grew during the decades of communist rule, and at its peak in the 1980s it had some 3,000 stations in the country. Access to the network was formally granted by the government. The “red phone” became a status symbol since only the most important cadres had access to the line, for instance leaders of the communist party, editors-in-chief of the bigger newspapers, and company and union leaders.

The plan to re-establish this phone network, along with the Ministry of Interior’s plan to establish a central storage of citizens’ private data accessible to state authorities, points to the Fidesz-KDNP government’s increasingly troubling tendency of adopting measures typical of authoritarian, non-democratic states.