When it comes to the commemoration of the 1956 Hungarian revolution, one usually pays tribute the Hungarian heroes who shed their blood for the of the nation’s freedom and blames the Soviet Union for its brutal intervention. However, we should also remind ourselves of the Hungarian bad guys, because many freedom-fighters could have spared their lives if the local communist leadership would have pursued different policies before and after the revolution. On one hand the enemies of the revolution were those who played leading role in the importation of the Stalinist terror to Hungary after 1945. On the other hand, the same label goes for those, who actively contributed either to the crushing of the uprising or to the reprisals that followed the revolution. In this week’s In memoriam 1956, we do not write about the heroes but the five most-hated figures in Hungary in the 1950s.
1. Mátyás Rákosi
Known as the “Hungarian Stalin”, Mátyás Rákosi (1892-1971) was the country’s fearful dictator between 1949 and 1953, who maintained his power by various kinds of methods of terror and oppression. Under Rákosi’s rule of terror, some 2,000 Hungarians were executed and up to 100,000 imprisoned by the newly-formed state security, or secret police, the AVÓ. Most notoriously, he had the popular Cardinal Mindszenty arrested, tortured, tried and imprisoned. But while Rákosi may have been effective in the murderous business of politics, he had no talent for running the country. His policies of collectivization, modeled on that of the Soviet Union’s, failed miserably, causing economic ruin and widespread famine. After Stalin died in 1953, Rákosi was replaced by the reformist Imre Nagy, who later became the martyr Prime Minsiter of Hungary’s anti-Soviet revolution.
2. Gábor Péter
Rákosi’s right hand man, Gábor Péter (1906-1993) was the head of the infamous State Protection Authority, which was responsible for much cruelty, brutality and many political purges in Hungary between 1945 and 1952. Born as a tailor’s son in 1906, he already took part in the Hungarian labour movements from the last years of the 1920s and joined the that time illegal Hungarian Communist Party in 1931. After 1945, Péter’s career rose quickly as he was appointed as leader of the Budapest Police Main Command Political Department (PRO), and later the leader of the Hungarian State Police State Protection Department (ÁVO) and the State Protection Authority (ÁVH). All of the three organisations were headquartered in the legendary building situated at the 60 Andrássy Avenue, which is today the House of Terror Museum in Budapest. In 1952, Gábor Péter fell from power but not as a result of his sins but an anti-Semitic purges in the party leadership.
3. Ernő Gerő
A former KGB agent, who also fought in the Spanish Civil War, Ernő Gerő (1898-1980) was one of the most powerful man in Hungary in the early 1950s. In fact, as first secretary of the ruling communist party, Gerő himself led the country only for a brief period, known as the ‘Gerő Interregnum’, just over three months before the revolution. However, he had been Rákosi’s close associate since 1948, and he was fully implicated in the terror as well as the industrialization and collectivization of Hungary. On the evening of October 23 he even made a speech on the radio and appealed to Khrushchev on the telephone for Soviet troops to intervene. His harsh radio statement, while emphasizing his patriotism, spoke in vague terms of “chauvinists”, “anti-Semites” and “reactionaries”, enraged the Hungarian people and contributed counter-productively to the spread of the uprising.
4. János Kádár
János Kádár (1912-1989), father of the so-called “goulash Communism”, is the most-known Hungarian communist, who was the General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, ruling the country from 1956 until his retirement in 1988. Kádár played crucial role in the suppression of the Hungarian revolution, this is the reason why he is still widely regarded as a betrayer of his homeland. Being secretly appointed by Moscow as Hungary’s new leader in late October 1956, he promptly asked for Soviet troops to intervene and “restore the status quo”. In the reign of terror that Kádár presided over after 4 November 1956, more than 300 Hungarians were executed, hundreds more were deported to the Soviet Union, and around 13,000 were jailed. János Kádár is also thought to be responsible for the execution of his former ally Imre Nagy.
5. Béla Biszku
A hard-line Communist, Béla Biszku (1921-2016) served as the country’s minister of interior between 1957 and 1961. He is known mostly for his role, qualified later as a war crime, in reprisals following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Biszku successfully avoided prosecution in the two decades following the fall of the Communist regime in 1989. On 10 September 2012, however, he was placed under house arrest on charge of suspicion of committing war crimes. He was the first politician of the 1956 Communist leadership to face a criminal inquiry. In 2015, Béla Biszku was convicted by a Budapest court of ordering security forces to open fire on civilians in 1956, killing 49 people, and was sentenced to two years and three months in prison. However, the posterior punishment was never implemented due to Biszku’s old age and poor health condition. He died in April 2016.
sources: wikipedia, historyinanhour.com, rev.hu, rubicon.hu and multkor.hu
PREVIOUSLY ON “IN MEMORIAM 1956”
1. THE FOUR BEST HUNGARIAN MOVIES ON THE 1956 REVOLUTION – TRAILERS!
2. RADIO FREE EUROPE – THE VOICE OF THE FREE WORLD BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN
3. WALL OF IMRE NAGY’S CABINET MEMBERS OF THE COUNCIL OF MINISTERS OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF HUNGARY
4. THE “LADS OF PEST” – THE TEENAGERS AT THE HEART OF ANTI-SOVIET RESISTANCE