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

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    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.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.