News / Europe

Hungary Tries 92-Year-Old Communist for War Crimes

Former Communist Party leader Bela Biszku listens to judge Szabolcs Toth (top C) during his trial in Budapest, Hungary, March 18, 2014.
Former Communist Party leader Bela Biszku listens to judge Szabolcs Toth (top C) during his trial in Budapest, Hungary, March 18, 2014.
Reuters
A former senior Communist Party official went on trial in Hungary on Tuesday charged with war crimes over the suppression of the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising, in a landmark case that may help the country face up to its communist past.
 
More than two decades after the fall of communism, Hungarian prosecutors have charged 92-year-old Bela Biszku over his role on a committee of the Communist Party they say was involved in ordering the shootings of civilians during protests in Budapest and in the town of Salgotarjan in December 1956.
 
The trial has drawn strong domestic media attention ahead of a national election on April 6. It became possible under a law passed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party that says war crimes and crimes against humanity do not lapse.
 
In the packed Budapest courtroom, the front row was partly occupied by lawmakers of the far-right opposition party Jobbik which initiated the proceedings against Biszku in 2012.
 
Biszku, who was one of Hungary's most powerful leaders in communist times and is the first to stand trial, walked into the courtroom with a cane.
 
Wearing a gray suit and dark blue-rimmed glasses, he responded to the judge in a firm voice: “I do not wish to testify.”
 
Biszku has previously denied all accusations against him.
 
The 1956 uprising against the Soviet-backed government in Budapest represented the first major threat to Moscow's control of eastern Europe since the end of World War Two.
 
Hundreds of people were executed and tens of thousands were imprisoned after the revolution was crushed by Soviet tanks. Biszku then served as interior minister from 1957-1961.

Shootings
 
Prosecutors say Biszku was a member of a committee of the Communist Party in 1956 that created armed militia to maintain order and carry out retaliations after the revolution was crushed. They say this party committee directly governed the leading body of the militia, the so called Military Council.
 
Prosecutor Tamas Vegh said Biszku had abetted the shooting of several people in Budapest on Dec. 6 and in Salgotarjan on December 8, 1956, in a war crime that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. But Biszku's lawyer Gabor Magyar said the accusations were unfounded.
 
“With relation to the shootings it needs to be proven that a political opinion expressed in a political committee was a specific call for action, based on which somebody fired guns in Salgotarjan or Budapest,” Magyar told reporters. “I think there is no written evidence ... that would underpin this.”
 
Magyar added the trial should have been delayed until after the election as it could become part of the political campaign.
 
The ruling party of Orban, a staunch anti-communist, says the trial is long overdue and that those who committed serious crimes during the communist era should be held accountable in the same way as former Nazi war criminals.
 
In the sleepy mining town of Salgotarjan in the north of Hungary, people still vividly remember how at least 46 civilians were shot dead by armed militia during the December 8 protest.
 
Janos Fancsik worked as a doctor in a local hospital that morning when he heard gunfire and soon after people started to bring in the wounded and the dead.
 
“The dead were all lined up in the backyard of the hospital. As far as I can remember, there were around 30-40 bodies,” Fancsik said. “They were all civilians, there was not one of them in uniform or with weapons.”
 
Fancsik, who still lives near the square where the killings happened, said most people in Salgotarjan probably welcomed the  Biszku trial, adding: “Old age does not exonerate somebody from crimes that do not lapse.”
 
His friend Eva Tomes, who narrowly escaped the shootings when she walked her two small children home that day, said she thought the Biszku trial had come too late.
 
“Opinions are deeply split. Everybody says this should have happened much earlier, not now,” Tomes said.
 
In a 2010 interview with public Duna television, Biszku said he had “served the people” as interior minister and had done nothing he could “be held responsible for.”

You May Like

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Maria from: Germany
March 18, 2014 1:09 PM
let me tell you something America, Hungary in Europe is known as the stinky armpit of Europe... along with Romania and Moldova Albania and Greece.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs