Chapter 40 - My Interior Ministry Connections Pay off in Unexpected Ways
Tales of a Teenage Spy - The Life and Times of Gábor Rimner
As I related earlier [Chapter 31: BM – Letters of Fear and Dread – Ed], I'd begun my 'career' at the Interior Ministry with a regular, Friday afternoon stint translating passport details into Arabic at an office on the corner of Izabella utca and what is today Podmaniczky utca. Photo: An OTP advertisement on a block of
flats in Óbuda - photo taken in 1988 or 89.
It was hardly taxing work, it might take an hour, it might take three if there were a lot of visitors heading to Libya, but it was fine. Except, increasingly, I'd get a call in the middle of the night – “Gábor, can you come over? It's urgent. We've got an engineer who must catch the morning flight to Libya, but he hasn't had his passport done. Please get in a taxi and get here ASAP.” I'd do as bid, get to the building at 2.00 am or so, but the security guy then had to phone around to check that I had indeed been asked to report for duty, before issuing a special entry permit. It was all a bit of a palava, and after a few such urgent requests, the guards had obviously suggested to someone: fix this guy up with a pass. And so it was that I slipped into my wallet, along with my identity card, a permit stating: Interior Ministry BM, Entry Permitted 24 hours. At the time, I didn't think anything of it, but I was soon to learn how the power of those two letters – BM – could work to my advantage. In those days, at least in the evenings, the police would not infrequently stop people at random for an identity check. It was not especially nasty, but it was tiresome and annoying, a reminder that the state didn't trust its people and executed power over them. The cops were typically, as we say in Hungarian, bunkó - ignorant.
Well, one evening, walking with my wife in the city, we were stopped. I took out my wallet and handed over my opened ID card, with my BM entry permit next to it. The change in policeman's demeanour was instantaneous. “All in order sir! Is the lady with you?” “Of course, she's my wife.” “Very good, sir. Have a good evening.” Just like that! The officer handed back my papers, and with that, we were on our way, Andrea not suffering the humiliation of having to prove her identity. After that incident, I always 'happened to show' my BM permit when ever encountering a police ID check, and always with similar results. It was, perhaps, a petty thing, but it made me feel good to 'get something back' from the state's oppressive machinery. But it got better. As I mentioned, Andrea's aunt had pressed me to apply for a job at OTP Bank, based on my language skills. Her recommendation alone got me past the first interview with the personnel department and straight to the department head for foreign exchange. But after about 30 minutes with the man, I felt he wasn't impressed, and by then was only going through the motions. It was looking very much like one job I wasn't going to get, aunt or no aunt. “Well, Mr Rimner, thank you for all your answers. Is there anything you'd like to ask me about this position?” he enquired. Now I was sure he wanted me away and done with as soon as possible. so I had to make a serious impression, or this job was a gonner. “Sir, if you should consider me worthy of this position, I think there is something you should know in case it would interfere with the efficiency of my bank duties,” I said, laying it on thick. “Every Friday afternoon I have responsibilities at the Interior Ministry from two o'clock, and so wouldn't … “ It was magical! Just as with the police when on ID checks, the mere mention of those two words, and the world changed.
“Ah, Mr Rimner, but of course! Of course, we can always be flexible over such external responsibilities. I'm absolutely certain we can accommodate any such requests.” I couldn't even finish my sentence. From, 'When can we get you out of here?” moments earlier - the mood had turned on its head. It was, practically, a case of: When would you like to start? Well, it wasn't quite as easy as that, but a week or so later the letter came in the post that OTP would like to inform me that the job was mine, if I so wished. Somewhat bizarrely, my banking career was to commence on December 24, the beginning for us of Christmas and Éva's name day. (We Hungarians, even in Communist times, still held onto name days, rather than personal birthdays, as the time to celebrate our friends and colleagues.). And sure enough, on December 24th, on my first day at OTP, I was introduced to Éva. But I'll leave what happened then for next time.