94-year-old Communist-era party functionary Béla Biszku has received a suspended prison sentence for complicity in war crimes for his role in role in reprisals follwing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
The Municipal Court of Budapest, however, exonerated him of the charges of ordering the shooting of a total of 49 anti-communist protesters in December 1956 and the beating of academics in March 1957 in its ruling, handed down yesterday. The court said it was unable to establish that Biszku, as a member of the Provisional Executive Committee of the then newly formed Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party served as the instigator of the shootings. It said there was no evidence that the shootings were even ordered by the Communist leadership. The court’s reasoning behind the suspended prison sentence was that Biszku was complicit in the crimes because he had failed to hold the actual perpetrators to account.
Béla Biszku (L) with Communist leader János Kádár in Parliament (photo: mult-kor.hu)
Biszku was indicted in 2013 for his role in the Provisional Executive Committee’s setting up a special police force, directly controlled by its members, which was then responsible for firing shots at the public, including unarmed protesters. Biszku’s role was qualified as a war crime. In 2014, a lower court declared Biszku guilty of instigation and complicity to homicide and sentenced him to five and a half years in prison, but in June of this year, a municipal appeals court annulled that ruling and ordered a new trial. Both the defence and the prosecution appealed the ruling. Gergely Gulyás, deputy chair of ruling centre-right Fidesz party, welcomed the ruling and said that it was “obvious” that communist leaders bore a criminal responsibility for developments in late 1956. He added, however, that compared to the crimes the sentence was much too lenient.
Előd Novák, deputy leader of the opposition radical nationalist called the sentence “outrageous” and said that announcing the ruling was “equal to a denial of communist crimes”.
A hard-line Communist, Biszku served as the country’s minister of interior between 1957 and 1961 and successfully avoided prosecution in the two decades following the fall of the regime. On 10 September 2012, he was placed under house arrest on charge of suspicion of committing war crimes. He is the first politician of the 1956 Communist leadership to face a criminal inquiry. He is accused of failing to protect civilians in wartime. In addition, he needs to hold responsibility for ordering the security forces to open fire on crowds. In case, he is found guilty of the charges brought up against him that he has indefatigably denied, he could face a life imprisonment. His trial was scheduled to begin on 18 March 2014.
On May 13, 2014, he has been found guilty of war crimes during the suppression of the October 1956 uprising against communist rule. He was convicted of ordering security forces to open fire on civilians, killing 49 people, and was sentenced to five years and six months in prison. Biszku was also found guilty of other charges, including denying crimes committed by the communist regime – a crime in Hungary, like Holocaust denial. However, the Metropolitan Court of Appeals set aside the first degree sentence and ordered a new trial on 1 June 2015.
photo: Szabolcs Dudás/origo.hu