Lex Biszku: Charge of homicide and high treason but can it be proven?

I have been planning to write about the so-called Biszku case for quite a while, and this is as good a time as any. It provides something of a break from day-to-day politics. It was way back in the summer of 2010 that Jobbik went to the police to demand an investigation into Béla Biszku’s denial of his allegedly murderous communist past that by then was a criminal offense. The Orbán government insisted that if the legislature passes a law on the denial of the Holocaust this piece of legislation must also include a reference to the genocide committed by the communists.

biszku then

Béla Biszku then

Who was Béla Biszku? No question, he was a hard-line communist who had a rather short but spectacular career in the Hungarian communist party, especially after 1956. Prior to the revolution he was among the lower-ranked party apparatchiks. He served as party secretary in several Budapest districts. Not really high positions. But after the revolution, he had a meteoric rise. First, he became party secretary of the whole of Budapest, a member of the Central Committee, and later of the Politburo. At the same time he was chosen as minister of interior (1956-1961) and later deputy prime minister (Sept. 13, 1961-Sept 27, 1962). His eventual dismissal stemmed from his opposition to János Kádár’s new, more moderate policies. For a number of years he remained the secretary of the Central Committee, a position that carried no real weight. In 1978 the party sent him into retirement at the age of 57.

For at least fifteen years or so no one was especially interested in Béla Biszku, who has been living in Budapest as a pensioner. How did he suddenly become the center of attention? Sometime in the spring of 2010 two associates of Mandiner, a more moderate right-wing online paper, had a lengthy interview with Biszku which was subsequently made into a film. They got permission for the interview under false names and identities. They claimed that they came from Márokpapi (pop. 460), the birthplace of Biszku, as representatives of the village leadership. They would be thrilled if Biszku would come visit them and talk to the people of Márokpapi. The old man was so moved that he agreed. During the interview he called the 1956 revolution a counterrevolution and showed no remorse about the very harsh reprisals while he was minister of interior. Otherwise, he denied any direct involvement in  individual cases that ended in death sentences or very long prison terms.

Béla Biszku now

Béla Biszku now

It was sometime after the release of the film that Jobbik decided that Biszku was guilty of a denial of the sins of communism. In my opinion, Jobbik either misread the law or misinterpreted Biszku’s statements in the film. The only thing Biszku did was to claim that the revolution of 1956 was a counterrevolution, which is no more than an opinion, whether we agree with him or not. So it’s no wonder that Zoltán Fleck, a liberal legal scholar, hoped that in case prosecutors bring charges against Biszku, the panel of judges would acquit him in the name of freedom of expression.

This was not the only attempt to get Biszku’s case to the point of indictment. Another suit charged him with crimes against humanity, but this was thrown out by the Budapest prosecutor’s office because according to Hungarian law one cannot be charged with a crime that was not part of Hungarian jurisprudence at the time. Crime against humanity is a new addition to the Hungarian juris corpus.

In October 2010 Ádám Gellért, a young legal scholar, brought different charges against Biszku. He claimed that Biszku was responsible for multiple homicides. Gellért specifically mentioned Pál Maléter, József Szilágyi, Miklós Gimes, and Imre Nagy for whose deaths Biszku was at least indirectly responsible. That charge was taken seriously by the Budapest prosecutor’s office and Gellért’s brief was sent to the Chief Prosecutor’s Office for an examination of the charges.

So by late 2010 there were at least two pending charges against Biszku: a denial of the revolutionary nature of the October events and homicide. The Orbán government decided to make the task of the prosecutors and the courts easier. They submitted a law to parliament that made it possible to charge Biszku and perhaps a few dozen other people with crimes against humanity by making it retroactively valid. This law, which of course was enacted, would allow Hungarian courts to treat these cases as war crimes that have no statute of limitations. The law has since been nicknamed Lex Biszku.

Throughout 2012 one could hear all sorts of speculations about what kinds of charges would eventually be leveled against Biszku, but it was only recently that the details of the indictment became known. As we found out, it took a whole year to come up with an indictment that might be able to stand on its own. It looks as if the prosecutors relied on one of Jobbik’s many charges which claims that Biszku as minister of interior was an accessory before the fact in several cases involving homicide. In addition, he is guilty of high treason, illegal imprisonment, and abatement.  These crimes if proven might carry a life sentence.

As time went by, more and more surprising charges emerged which, according to legal experts, will be practically impossible to prove: for example, Biszku’s connection to the firing at civilians in Salgótarján and in Budapest at the Western Station. A total of 50 people died in the two incidents. The connection between Biszku and the Salgótarján-Western station massacres was already investigated once in the early 1990s. At that time prosecutors turned the archives upside down but couldn’t find any direct link between Biszku, who at that time wasn’t even minister of the interior but a member of a temporary committee of the party handling the immediate work of getting things back to “normal,” and the two massacres. As far as we know, no new documents have surfaced since.

Although Biszku is an unsavory character who most likely committed an awful lot of crimes, there must be proof of these crimes. Unless the Hungarian prosecutors have come up with some new evidence that can link Biszku to these massacres or can prove that Biszku ordered the justices to condemn Imre Nagy and his close associates to death, this whole Biszku case will go nowhere. Even the Lex Biszku will be impotent if the prosecution fails to prove its case.

Finally, a brief note. It was only a few days ago that I read that a leading prosecutor might be dismissed for incompetence.  We don’t know who the person is, but the suspicion is that he was involved in those high-profile cases which the prosecution lost, one after the other. All were politically motivated, like the Hunvald case involving the former MSZP mayor of one of the Budapest districts. Or former Budapest Deputy Mayor Miklós Hagyó’s case. And these were not the only ones where the prosecution showed complete incompetence.

This Biszku case seems to be heading toward the same fate, that is, if Biszku lasts that long. I’m not even sure whether the prosecution or the Hungarian government believes or even cares whether Biszku’s wrongdoings can be proven. Most likely their only goal is to show how seriously they take crimes against humanity, especially if they involve the communists. Their eagerness in the case of László Csatáry who was charged with crimes against Hungarian Jews in 1944 was a great deal less visible. I think that the main aim is to show to Jobbik and its followers that they take all this very seriously and that their anti-communism can be translated into deeds. Otherwise, the outcome of the trial doesn’t interest them very much.

Viktor Orbán’s shameful speech on October 23

Viktor Orbán has delivered many distasteful and disgraceful speeches, but what he gave on October 23 as prime minister of Hungary, surrounded by members of the armed forces, was perhaps the most disgusting of all. He did that in front of “representatives of foreign countries, guests, and ambassadors.” I do hope that the government provided the opportunity for those who don’t understand the language to judge for themselves what kind of a man Viktor Orbán is. If not, here is a summary of the most upsetting parts of his speech.

Here I’m not going to recount all of the historical inaccuracies in the speech. Perhaps I will say a few words about them at a later time. Instead, I want to focus on the frightening message he sent to those who don’t support his government.

As far as the size of the crowd is concerned, people who have been following Fidesz mass rallies claim that this was perhaps the smallest crowd Fidesz activists managed to drum up. And one must take this phrase literally. Buses stood by in provincial towns while activists tried to entice people to board and go to Budapest to hear the great man. I hate to think how much this celebration of the greatness of Hungarians and the prime minister cost the taxpayers. Yet the crowd, despite claims to the contrary, was apparently not bigger than the rally of the democratic parties in Buda.

Both the military accoutrements and the choice of the location were deliberate. As for the trappings, although it is true that October 23 is a national holiday and a military parade is usually part of official programs, I don’t remember another occasion when a whole line of soldiers stood behind the prime minister while he delivered his speech. Given the content of the speech, one must postulate that giving a military flare to the occasion was deliberate. To demonstrate strength and make sure that everybody understands in whose hands lies the only power in the country.

Orban 2013 oktober 23

So what was Viktor Orbán’s message on this October 23? The prime minister, who allegedly represents the whole nation, sent the message that those who don’t share his vision don’t belong to the Hungarian nation. He transitioned easily from 1956 to 2013.

We know that the Hungarian freedom fight had not only heroes but also traitors. We know that all our wars of independence were defeated from abroad. We know that there were always people who helped the foreign enemies. Those who helped the Muscovites, men in Russian-type quilted jackets, red barons–depending what was in fashion. We know that in 2006, after sixteen years of democracy, on this day they were hunting us with guns. They led a cavalry charge against us, they beat peaceful celebrants with the flat of their swords. We know that this could only have happened because they had the government power in their hands which they used against their own people. We know, there is no question, that they would shoot at us today–hopefully only with rubber bullets–if they could…. The only reason they don’t is because at the last election the overwhelming majority of the people pushed them aside. We also know that the communists sold Hungary, the Hungarian people to speculators and the international financiers. We know that they were and always are ready to sell Hungary to the colonizers.”

Orbán continued his attack. They knew in 1989 that the people of the past were already organizing and getting ready to salvage their power. Just as they did in 1956 when it almost looked as if at last we were free. They were already organizing the recall of the Soviets and the retributions that followed. In brief, people of the democratic opposition and the newly formed MSZP that four years later, in 1994, received an overwhelming majority of the votes were no better than Ferenc Münnich, János Kádár, István Kossa, Antal Apró who on November 4, 1956 announced the formation of a new government under the protective umbrella of the Soviet troops.

But in the case that wasn’t enough, he added that they changed their quilted jackets to suits, and tovarish to Tavares. The quilted jacket (pufajka) was part of the Soviet military uniform and was used by the newly formed paramilitary force that was set up by Ferenc Münnich since neither the members of the military nor the police were considered reliable enough to be entrusted with keeping public order. Tovarish in English means “comrade” and the similarity of the word to the family name of Rui Tavares, the Portuguese member of the European Parliament who is critical of the Orbán government, gives the Hungarian right an excellent opportunity to equate the European Union with the Soviet Union as the enemy of the country.

I could quote more of Orbán’s accusations against the European Union and the Hungarian opposition, but it would be repetitious. Instead, let us see what Viktor Orbán has in mind for the future. Especially for the next few months leading up to the election that almost certainly will be held in April. I can assure you: nothing good.

We are not ostriches. We will not bury our heads in the sand. We see that they are organizing again, they are set against us, they again ally themselves with foreigners. We can see that they again sow the seeds of  hate, discord, and violence. Anyone who followed the events in Baja knows how ludicrous these claims are. It was the local Fidesz politicians who cheated twice and who before the repeated by-election frightened the locals by driving through the district day and night and taking videos of everyone who exchanged a word with the candidate of the democratic opposition.

As opposed to the hate mongering democrats are the peace-loving Fidesz forces. There are no coincidences. The Peace March was called by that name not by accident. Because we, all of us, want a gentle, serene, peaceful life. However, peacefulness is not the same as simple-mindedness and being half-witted. It is not the same as inactivity. Because there is no peace without truth. Never was. And for the truth one must do something. That’s why the Peace March did the right thing when it repelled the colonization attempt. Thanks for it!

Source: Népszabadság / Photo: Simon Móricz

Source: Népszabadság / Photo: Simon Móricz

So, what do they have in mind? First, we will not watch idly and will uncover all their lies, all their falsifications, and the hundreds of their new tricks. It will be a hard fight but in this land freedom has a high price. Here Orbán interjects and warns his followers that they cannot rely solely on their government. They shouldn’t believe that the government alone will be able to defend the accomplishments hitherto achieved. Instead everybody in his place and in his field must complete the necessary work. Start organizing, come forward, join forces with us! There is no reason to be in a panic, but slowly we will have to start our machinery, must set up our troops in battle array just, as we did in 2010. Get prepared! Now we will finish what we started in 1956. We need everyone. The teacher, the physician, the shopkeeper, the worker, the truck driver, the university professor, the butcher and the owner of the flower shop, the young and the old. We need everybody. The most important thing is that we should get started. So you would know, as we knew in 56, that there is no middle road. Either we free ourselves or we will not be free.

Let me share a couple of reactions to this speech, starting with an older woman who this afternoon phoned into Klubrádió’s talk show with György Bolgár. She was extremely upset. What caused her anger were Orbán’s references to the people like herself who don’t stand in the admiring crowd. But she watched Orbán’s performance on television and was horrified. She saw small children sitting on the shoulders of their fathers who heard the prime minister say that there are people in this country who would shoot at those present on that square. What will happen if these children the next day in kindergarten or in elementary school ask her grandchild whether his grandmother is planning to shoot him or his parents because she attended the opposition parties’ rally? This is criminal, what this man does not only to the adults but also to children. He sows the seeds of hatred against those who are not his followers.

The other reaction came from Gordon Bajnai, who objected to the fact that Orbán under the guise of an official state occasion with all the trappings of his office and financed by public money basically delivered a party and campaign speech.  Bajnai continued: The followers of the government party are not the same as the nation. Orbánország is not the same as Magyarország. Fidesz, for the time being, is not the only party as in socialist times. You may well be the perpetual chairman of Fidesz, but even the perpetual chairman of Fidesz cannot be the perpetual prime minister of Hungary…. Many people felt aversion, some fear when you in front of a row of soldiers delivered your speech. Don’t try to recall the heritage of inauspicious times and don’t try to explain it away by recalling the customs of other nations. In Hungary and on the day celebrating 1956 this was more than tasteless!…

But the greatest indignation was caused by the content of your speech. You excluded people from the nation who are increasingly dissatisfied with your politics…. You have no right and no basis to brand any of your political opponents as the descendants of murderers. And it is truly shameful to claim that any democratic political group would shoot into the crowd…. This speech that incites hatred is unacceptable, especially from the prime minister who is supposed to represent the nation. This is perhaps the greatest scandal of free Hungary. Shame on you and if you still have just a little left of your former democratic self, ask forgiveness from those voters not present at the rally and who are as full-fledged members of the Hungarian nation as your followers.