One of the highest-ranking Communist war criminals to be detained has been placed under house arrest in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, on suspicion of violating the rules and customs of war, an arrest that has waited 18 years.
The Hungarian news agency, MTI, reported that Biszku, an interior minister under Communism, was detained in connection with two incidents during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising in which he allegedly was part of a committee that ordered security units to open fire on pro-democracy demonstrators.
Biszku was not charged nor ordered to plead, according to acting Chief Prosecutor, Tibor Ibolya. Ibolya said all of the members of the committee could be detained for the same reason, but the other members were now dead.
The BBC says 90-year-old Biszku is the first member of the Communist leadership from 1956 to face a criminal inquiry. As such, he is the highest-ranking Communist to be charged with war crimes in Hungary, and possibly Europe, which has been very slow to take action against them.
The incidents about which Biszku is being investigated both involve Communist security forces firing on pro-democracy demonstrators. One such case took place in Budapest and the other in Salgótarján, during the Hungarian Uprising or Revolution of 1956, in which at least 2,500 civilians were killed and 250,000 fled the country.
The action by the prosecutor comes soon after the similar detention and house arrest of 97-year-old László Csatáry, who was detained on suspicion of crimes against humanity during Nazi deportations of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps in 1944, as Digital Journal reported.
The obvious unfairness of taking legal action against a person suspected of similar crimes in 1944 but not of persons suspected of crimes after 1945, such as those involved in crushing the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, has led to a great deal of anger in the country and calls for action against such serious violators of human rights, whether they were in the service of Nazism or Communism. The desire to act fairly towards victims of both totalitarian ideologies has been a major public issue in the Eastern half of the EU.
Ádám Gellért, an expert in international law and in crimes relating to war and International Humanitarian Law (or the laws of war) said in an interview on Hír TV:
“What happened was that the prosecutor’s office awoke from its Sleeping Beauty-like slumber and charged Béla Biszku with a crime that it could have done anytime over the past 18 years. If you think about it, this is a very strange situation.”
Gellért pointed out that Biszku was a member of the Temporary Committee of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, as the Communists called themselves at the time, which gave the order to open fire on the demonstrators.
Some soldiers were charged with shooting at civilians in 1999, but those who gave the orders, like Biszku, were only called as witnesses, something even the judge in the case found strange.
Crimes classified as war crimes or crimes against humanity have no statue of limitations.
A new law, called the “Biszku Law”, has now codified the crime in Hungary, but Gellért said the prosecution did not refer to this law, but to the violation of international norms and laws under wartime conditions, which in fact prevailed in Hungary in 1956.
He stressed that only the earliest stage of the legal process had started, Biszku had not been asked to plead. Unfortunately, the two others on the Committee had since died and so had the witnesses, although minutes and other written material were available.
Gellért, who had tried to bring the case to court in the past, pointed out that there were institutes in Rumania, Poland and Germany, among others, similar to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where investigations for suspects of war crimes and crimes against humanity were ongoing. He said Hungary needed such an institution for both Communist and Nazi crimes.