If Béla Biszku feels this way, then who else does?

With a generation of well-educated Hungarians out in the career cold, there’s no need for old communists in the government.

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Béla Biszku is an 89-year-old man who served as Interior Minister from 1957 to 1961 in Hungary’s post-1956 revolution communist government. He claims he had little or nothing to do with the deaths and persecution following that uprising, though he is considered to have played a key role in suppressing it. Now, he is on the block with Hungarian prosecutors for minimizing the atrocities of those times.

“I consider 1956 to have been a national tragedy of which I was [a] victim,” is the statement he made to a documentarian in an interview that was broadcast in August. He went on to describe the punishments meted out by the Soviet-backed government of the time, "justified." It was a clear violation of Hungary’s law against such statements, in my view, and one he will now answer for in court.

But those very courts may be his only hope. There may be, in fact, some lingering old guard elements from before 1989, perhaps even reaching back to 1956, waiting to exonerate him. Perhaps a few of those remain who were bolstered in their legal careers for acting as he and a secret cabal of Communist Party leaders directed them, maneuvering through his 1972 attempted coup and keeping their heads down in 1989.

In most countries that left communism behind, at least a few people were prosecuted for their actions. East Germany’s former secret police are still despised, and often known for who they were. Former communists (especially security forces) in the Czech Republic are forbidden to work in government at all. In Romania, Nicolai Ceausescu was executed and the government torn down, practically to the gravel.

But Hungary "decided" to remain civil about the whole matter. No reviews of the bureaucracy, no investigations into the members of the party in government, and no removals from civil and judicial posts were undertaken. It was a very controlled affair, and it is somewhat generous of the population to have allowed such a path to be traced.

Sure, Hungary was once called the "happiest barracks" in the Eastern Bloc. But now, it’s time to gently relieve some of those soldiers of their duties. It is obvious that the resistance to the release of documents on the secret police and the criminal investigative service arise from the people who served in the Communist government. This cannot stand.

It’s shameful, really. Even now, there remain charges against people and convictions in their records dating from the persecution by people like of those deemed counterrevolutionaries. It’s a travesty that the records of those who were documented and watched, tried and sent away are partly available for destruction, but the names of those who made them miserable are off-limits. The Kenedi Committee revealed that the whole picture has been immutably altered anyways. Documents were pulped in the 90s at a staggering pace.

There is no need for a painful and visceral lustration of the government. The proceedings by which the remaining secret service and interior police forces are vetted and culled need not be humiliating or brutal. Quiet retirement and a quiet departure should be enough. But they still need to go.

I can find no justification for the continued employment of the people whose way of governing made so many miserable. Doubtless many of those still in government with ties to those years and that way of ruling still enjoy the perks associated with being "passed over" in the transition. But to strain the metaphor, that ain’t lamb’s blood on the door. That’s human blood, folks.

The universities in Hungary churn out thousands of qualified candidates whose prospects for entry into the government remain somewhat limited. Economists, finance specialists, bureaucrats and lawyers are plentiful and often underutilized. A common lament I have heard from young Hungarian careerists is the suspicion they face in offices dominated by grey-haired holdouts. One young auditor even claims she was vetted for ties to the current party in power (Fidesz) during her first year in government. There is something very wrong with that.

Would removing a few of these former oppressors via retirement (mandatory or "suggested") really wound the conscience of a country that has allowed nearly 22 years more time for them to accumulate pension benefits and salary?

I think not. As it stands, the smooth transition has served little purpose other than to embolden the cogs in that old machine to once again oppress people. In the mean time, the evidence of their past misdeeds is being erased, and along with it goes the hope of any justice for the people they harmed.

In 1972, Béla Biszku attempted to throw János Kádár out via a coup in favor of a harder-line communist regime led by himself. Kádár responded by promptly removing him from power. Hungarians have been patient enough. It’s time to tell 1989’s grey-topped holdouts and their lackeys and nephews that "the party is over."

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