I will not be terribly original today. I was so struck by the logic of an article about the Orbán government’s plan to make the Hungarian Socialist Party and its leaders collectively and individually responsible for all criminal activities of the communist parties that existed in the past in Hungary that I decided to share it with you. The article appeared yesterday in the on-line publication Galamus and was written by Ferenc Lendvai, a professor of philosophy.
Lendvai looks at the question from a strictly legal point of view. The basic thesis of the proposed bill is that the communist party and its related establishments during the Kádár period were criminal organizations. This category is not unknown in history. For example, during the Nuremberg trials certain organizations were considered to be criminal formations. Hitler’s National Socialist Party fell into that category. But the proposed Hungarian bill goes one step further when it claims that the leaders of this criminal organization are individually responsible for the upkeep and guidance of an oppressive regime and for the betrayal of the country. No statute of limitations can be applied.
This is problematic proposal. No one was condemned at Nuremberg for simply being a member, even a leading member, of the Nazi party. Everybody who was punished was sentenced for specific crimes committed. The second problem is the vagueness of the charges. How can anyone formulate specific crimes from the perspective of general historical or moral value judgments? How could anyone active in Kádár’s party in the 1970s or 1980s be charged specifically “for the liquidation of the multi-party system with Soviet military assistance after World War II”? Even more bizarre is the contention that present members of MSZP might be responsible for ordinary crimes committed for political reasons. In legal terms all this is nonsense. The claim that in this case the statute of limitations does not apply is also on shaky legal grounds because earlier the Hungarian Constitutional Court ruled that these crimes were neither war crimes nor crimes against humanity.
Lendvai also finds it ridiculous that the Orbán government wants to reduce retroactively the pensions of people in leading positions in János Kádár’s party and use that money for the mitigation of injuries caused by the existence of a dictatorship. The two things have nothing to do with one another. The benefits these people receive were allotted on the basis of existing laws. In West Germany everybody received state pensions without looking at his political past or without moral judgment of his behavior.
But the most important problem is the question of “legal continuity.” MSZP indeed considered itself to be the legal successor of MSZMP but only as far as the party’s property was concerned. It is quite a leap to claim that just because MSZP inherited some, though not all, of the property of MSZMP it is also criminally responsible for whatever MSZMP did. The way the bill is written, the authors try to make the following argument: if the party received some of the property it will have to share the blame as well. This is sophistry, says Lendvai. If I receive a piece of property I’m responsible for what? For the property. Both West and East Germany were the legal successors of the Third Reich and they paid war reparations and compensation for damages. But they were not responsible for Hitler’s war crimes and crimes against humanity. The socialist party in fact divided up the former party’s properties. Fidesz received part of it as well. At the time, the distribution of MSZMP properties was settled to everybody’s satisfaction.
The only question that still must be settled is whether MSZP is the heir to MSZP. To make it clear in the Hungarian context. The Hungarian bill talks about “jogutód” (legal successor) but the question is whether it is “utódpárt” (heir) or not. The question is not whether MSZP inherited some MSZMP property or whether some current members of the party were also members of MSZMP but whether the two parties are similar in outlook and mentality. Clearly, MSZP and MSZMP in this respect are miles apart. There is a party, the Magyar Kommunista Munkáspárt, that is definitely an heir to MSZMP. Its leaders proudly accept the heritage of János Kádár. On the right, there is Jobbik which is a new party but which shares the ideology of neo-Nazi parties which were banned in Germany and some other western European countries. Interestingly enough, the Orbán government threatens with extinction a party that has nothing whatsoever to do with the spirit of MSZMP while it doesn’t seem to be bothering either the Munkáspárt or Jobbik.
And while the young Fidesz members are busily trying to find culprits there are at least three ministers in the current government who were party members: János Martonyi, György Matolcsy, and Sándor Pintér.
Here is a far from complete list: Viktor Orbán, high school and later university KISZ secretary; István Stumpf, MSZMP member and deputy chairman of the Patriotic People’s Front; Sándor Pintér, MSZMP secretary; János Martonyi, MSZMP member; Zsigmond Járai, MSZMP member; Mihály Varga, KISZ secretary; György Matolcsy, MSZMP member; Imre Boros, MSZMP secretary; István Mikola, vice chairman of the Patriotic People’s Front; Péter Harrach, MSZMP member; Béla Turi-Kovács, MSZMP member; János Fónagy, MSZMP member; Tamás Deutsch, KISZ secretary; László Kövér, KISZ secretary and research associate at the Social Policy Institute of the MSZMP; Imre Kerényi, MSZMP secretary; Rózsa Hoffmann, MSZMP member; Imre Pozsgay, MSZMP Central Committee and later Politburo member; Mátyás Szűrös, Secretary of MSZMP’s Central Committee.
It will be difficult to be even-handed in this dirty business. But, it is unlikely that the currrent holders of power want to be even-handed. Brick by brick they are trying to build a dictatorial regime where this piece of legislation might be pulled out from the desk drawer when the Orbán government feels threatened, which might be sooner than we think. However, it is hard to imagine that they would be allowed to ban a perfectly legitimate democratic party in the middle of Europe and within the European Union. Although they may try because by now I’m convinced that they have completely lost their sense of reality.