Today Hungarians across the country and around the world remember the victims of communism, a day of symbolic importance. 74 years ago on this very day, a key politician of the smallholders’ party with an absolute majority in the Hungarian Parliament, was arrested by the occupying Soviet forces. The lawmaker’s arrest is regarded as the first demonstrative step of a plan in which the Communist Party was trying to establish a one-party dictatorship by ousting its opponents. The illegal detention of the politician became a symbol of the disregard of democratic rights, and well-characterized the almost half-century-long rule of the communist regime.
Béla Kovács, First Secretary of the Independent Smallholders’ Party (FKGP) was arrested on February 25, 1947, on charges of “anti-republic conspiracy.”
Despite having been a member of the National Assembly, even his parliamentary immunity wasn’t enough to save him from being unlawfully deported to the Soviet Union where he was kept in captivity for more than eight years.
The moment of Kovács’s arrest was an important step in the later communist takeover and had a sobering effect on many Hungarian politicians who had been hopeful that Hungary could remain democratic. For many, it was the definitive proof of the upcoming communist regime.
Accused of organizing “underground anti-Soviet groups” Kovács was detained in Hungarian and Austrian prisons until 1951, then taken to a gulag in the Soviet Union in 1952. He was sentenced without trial to 20 years of forced labor. Three years later in 1955, he was handed over to the Hungarian authorities, but could only regain his freedom in 1956.
During the Hungarian uprising of 1956, he was a member of the Imre Nagy government created against the Soviet-backed government as Minister of Agriculture and then Minister of State.
Following the fall of the revolution, he was forced to step down from office.
Statue of Béla Kovács in Budapest. Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI
He was a Member of Parliament from November 1958 until his death, but due to his illness did not take part in everyday politics. A few years after his release in 1959, he died at the age of 51. Kovács was rehabilitated by Soviet authorities only in 1989.
The bronze statue of Béla Kovács found in front of the Parliament was inaugurated on February 25, 2002, on the 55th anniversary of his arrest and detention.
The death toll of communist regimes is estimated at 100 million worldwide. In Central and Eastern Europe, the number of those who lost their lives to famine, forced labor camps, or cruel executions surpasses 1 million.
On June 16, 2000, Hungary’s National Assembly declared February 25th the Memorial Day for the Victims of Communism.
Featured photo illustration via Fortepan/Magyar Rendőr