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

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    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.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora