Bela Biszku

14.04.2016 ( Last modified: 12.08.2016 )
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facts

Béla Biszku was born on 13 September 1921 in Marokpapi, Hungary. After finishing six years of elementary studies and four years of state civil school, he received a locksmith’s apprenticeship in 1937.

Biszku became member of the Hungarian Communist Party in 1944. Between 1957 and 1961 he served as the Minister of Interior in the government of Janos Kádár, and between 1961 and 1962 he became the Deputy Prime Minister. From 1962 to 1978, Biszku was the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

In 1972, together with Zoltan Komocsin, and other fellow communists, he became involved in a plot to force Kádár to resign from virtually all of his public functions in an effort to return Hungary to a more orthodox Soviet-style line. However, instead, Kádár slowly removed Biszku from power. He was forced to retire in 1978 when he was replaced as Secretary of the Central Committee.

The uprising against Hungary’s communist dictatorship and its submission to the Soviet Union began on 23 October 1956. It was one of the largest revolts against the communist government in the Eastern Bloc but within three weeks the Revolution was crushed by a Soviet invasion. Suppression and punishment of those having participated in the anti-Communist Revolution ensued and Biszku is said to have been the chief director of the post-1956 reprisals. Biszku is accused of ordering the security forces to open fire indiscriminately on anti-Communist protesters on two separate occasions. One incident took place on 5 December 1956 at Nyugati railway station in Budapest and five people died as the result. The second incident occurred only three days later in Salgótarján, a city in the North of Hungary, resulting in 46 dead. Among them was also the Revolution’s leader, reform communist Imre Nagy.

After the rebellion, some 26,000 protesters were hauled before the courts, around 300 of whom were executed. An estimated 200,000 people fled the country during a brief period before the borders were sealed. Biszku allegedly personally intervened in court cases to ensure heavy sentences against the revolutionaries, including the death sentence.

From the end of communism, Biszku involved himself in revisionist causes trying to portray the Communist dictatorship in Hungary in a favourable light. In August 2010, Biszku appeared on TV claiming the revolution of 1956 was “a counter-revolution” that wanted to reinstate capitalism in the country. He also said that the punishment of those who took part in the revolution was correct. Biszku attracted attention on himself through this speech as it was contrary to Hungarian law, which prohibits to downplay the events that took place under communism or show them in a good light.

In 2011, the so-called “Biszku Law” was adopted, which abolished the statute of limitations on crimes against humanity and war crimes. On 17 February 2012, the nationalist Jobbik party filed an official criminal complaint against Biszku in a bid to have him tried under the new laws abolishing the statute of limitations on crimes against humanity.

legal procedure

In 2011, Biszku was charged with denying crimes against humanity.

On 17 February 2012, the nationalist Jobbik party filed an official criminal complaint against Biszku.

On 28 February 2012, the Budapest Prosecution Service began an investigation concerning his role in post-1956 reprisals against anti-Communist protesters. He was accused of failing to protect civilians in wartime and for ordering the security forces to open fire on protestant crowds on two separate occasions, as a result of which 50 people were killed.

On 10 September 2012, Biszku was placed under house arrest in Budapest on charge of suspicion of having committed war crime and crimes against humanity.

On 19 March 2014, his trial started and he expressed his refusal to testify, denying all the accusations. He was charged with war crimes over the suppression of the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising. The prosecution accused him of having abetted the shooting of several people in Budapest on 6 December and in Salgotarjan on 8 December 1956.

On 13 May 2014, Biszku was found guilty of war crimes against Hungarian civilians in the months following the 1956 uprising and sentenced to five years and six months in prison. The prosecutor, who demanded life imprisonment for Biszku, immediately filed an appeal. The defence appealed the verdict as well.

A Hungarian appeals court ordered on 1 June 2015 the retrial of Biszku. The court found that the verdict rendered at the first instance trial was “unfounded” and “not suitable for revision” owing both to errors in the lower court’s logic in reaching its conclusions and the over-reliance of prosecutors on opinions given as testimony by just one historian.

The new trial started on 2 October 2015 before the Municipal Court of Budapest. Biszku again pleaded not guilty.

On 17 December 2015 he was sentenced to two-year suspended sentence, with three years of probation. Due to his old age and poor health conditions, this sentence was not carried out. The Court exonerated Biszku of the charges of ordering the shootings, but ruled that he was complicit in the crimes because he had failed to hold the actual perpetrators to account.

Both the Prosecutor and Biszku’s counsel appealed the Court’s ruling.

Biszku died on 31 March 2016 at the age of 94, before a possible decision of the Appeal Court.

spotlight

Biszku is the last surviving member of the Hungarian Communist leadership and the first one to face a criminal inquiry for acts committed after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.