A historical debate on the Tisza trial, 1920-1921

I arrived at today’s topic in a circuitous way. I had already decided to pick a historical topic, but first I thought I would say a few words about Ervin Szabó (1877-1918). He was an early adherent of anarcho-syndicalism but is best known as the chief librarian of the Budapest public library that is named after him. Shortly after István Tarlós (Fidesz) became lord mayor of the city, he was confronted with demands that Szabó’s name be removed from the Ervin Szabó Library and the square where the central library stands. Tarlós, who is easily swayed when it comes to changing street names which he finds politically objectionable, this time had the good sense to resist.

Árpád Szakács, the man who led the campaign against Ervin Szabó in 2010, is still at it, six years later. The only difference is that instead of writing in Magyar Nemzet he now writes in Magyar Idők. Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis. Back in 2010 I checked out Szakács’s academic qualifications to be a historian and found none.

Reading Szakács’s renewed attacks on Szabó as an extreme left-wing thinker, I thought I should acquaint readers with Szabó’s work and his importance in Hungarian intellectual history. But then I found something that was much more intriguing. Szakács correctly noted that Szabó and other members of the Galilei Circle were involved in planning the assassination of Prime Minister István Tisza (1861-1918). His resignation as prime minister, however, made their plan obsolete. But then, Szakács continues, “the fourth successful assassination attempt on October 31, 1918 was also connected to the Galilei Circle.”

The original official investigation of the assassination didn’t get very far because of the turbulent times, but the case was eventually reopened in 1920-1921. There were two separate trials, one military and another civilian. At the military trial dozens and dozens of witnesses were called, but most of them knew practically nothing first-hand about the case. Yet two of the accused received death sentences while a third faced a fifteen-year jail sentence. The civilian court sentenced Pál Kéri (1882-1961), a renowned journalist, to death and Marcell Gaertner, a chemical engineer, to 14 years. István Friedrich, former prime minister of Hungary, and László Fényes, former member of parliament, were acquitted.

I have a special interest in this trial because I spent a lot of time trying to make sense of the very confusing domestic political scene in the fall of 1919 when István Friedrich was prime minister. Friedrich had a lot of enemies, on both the right and the left. When I first learned that he was accused of aiding and abetting in the assassination of István Tisza, I immediately thought of a trial Hungarians call “koncepciós per.” The Hungarian term is a more precise description of a show trial because in such cases the “concept” that dictates the direction of the trial has already been determined.

I had microfilm copies of contemporary newspapers which daily described the details of the Tisza trial. I must admit that my head was spinning after reading some of the testimony. Although dozens of witnesses were called to testify, the prosecutor’s case was based on the testimony of only two witnesses: Sándor Hüttner, a first lieutenant, and László Sztanykovszky, an ensign. As Miklós Komjáthy, a legal historian, noted, their testimony, which changed several times, “had the stamp of obvious coaching.” Hüttner admitted that “by now I can’t separate what I know for a fact from what I heard from others.” The charges against Pál Kéri were outright fabrications. Yet he was condemned to death.

Both trials were a travesty, and the suicide of the investigation judge, which happened between the end of the military and the beginning of civilian trial, added to the suspicion that all was not well with the Tisza case. Before his suicide the judge complained that “he wasn’t allowed to do his job and his superiors were not satisfied with his investigating methods.”

Kéri’s speech before sentencing was moving. He told the court that he knows as much about Tisza’s assassination as what he read in the newspapers. With special pride he recalled that his engraver grandfather, who produced the Hungarian government’s first bills, the so-called “Kossuth bankók,” also ended up in jail after the failure of the 1848-1849 revolution and war of independence.

The fact is that we still don’t know who killed István Tisza. Perhaps we never will, but one thing is certain: it was not Pál Kéri who organized the plot, if there was a plot at all. Kéri escaped death by being rescued by Soviet Russia in a prisoner-of-war swap. Kéri, not being a communist, left Russia and settled in Vienna, where he became the editor of Bécsi Magyar Újság and later wrote for Austrian left-wing publications. After the rise of Hitler, he came to the United States via Spain and Portugal. He died in 1961 in New York.

Historians who studied the documents of the trial, Tibor Hajdu and Ferenc Pölöskei, are certain that it was the first “koncepciós per” (show trial) in the history of the country. Komjáthy is convinced that the real target was the October 1918 revolution and the democratic republic it established. Kéri was just its symbol.

On the other side are people like Gábor Vincze, editor of Nagy Magyarország (Greater Hungary), a historical magazine, which is described as conservative and Hungaro-centric. (One cannot help wondering who finances the so-called scientific workshop that produces this very expensive-looking magazine.) Another  historian who holds that the trial was fair is Zoltán Maruzsa, president of the Association of Friends of István Tisza.

Árpád Szakács and Gábor Vince, two of the revisionist historians

Árpád Szakács and Gábor Vincze, two of the revisionist historians

Árpád Szakács, whose work inspired me to write this post, is the editor-in-chief of a far-right historical internet site called tortenelemportal.hu. He gave an interview to Magyar Demokrata, a far-right publication, in which he claimed that Hungarian historiography needs a total change of direction, something like Orbán’s revolution in the voting booths. He made no secret of his low opinion of those “older historians” who are not as well prepared as his generation. The work of these historians no longer serves the present and so should be discarded.

It would be fine if these people seriously investigated, for example, the Tisza trial and offered a credible argument against the earlier view that the trial was a sham. But no, Gábor Vincze offers as evidence the fact that “István Friedrich was acquitted.” Moreover, in order to label it a show trial, the court should have declared Mihály Károlyi, the president of the national council at the time of István Tisza’s assassination, guilty of aiding and abetting “when nothing of the sort happened.” Of course, these so-called arguments prove nothing. And Zoltán Mazsura contends that “after all, nobody was sentenced who was not guilty,” conveniently forgetting about Pál Kéri, who could have ended up in the gallows if not rescued by the Soviets.

Historical debates are healthy and necessary, but I wish that the “revisionists” would be slightly better prepared and not motivated by political considerations.

October 31, 2016
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Istvan
Guest

Eva I first what to thank you for your slow trigger finger in expelling various posters, it is a sign of maturity and tolerance.

Second it is my historical recollection that there were no less than three attempts on the life of Tisza that he survived so at least Árpád Szakács is correct on that point. To me it is astounding that the so called Association of Friends of István Tisza characterizes the Count as a liberal and a believer in parliamentarism (see http://www.tiszaistvan.hu/index.php/english ). I mean Tisza actually had opposition member of Parliament arrested on the floor, which led directly to one attempt to shoot him by an MP, that is some liberalism indeed.

My opinion is that this ideological flirtation with Tisza is part of the ideological support for Orban”s illiberal state and is an attempt to create some sort of Hungarian historical legacy for Orban’s Mafia State.

Observer
Guest

Hear, hear.

Wondercat
Guest

“I had microfilm copies of contemporary newspapers which daily described the details of the Tisza trial”.

What a wonderful personal library you must have — I truly am astounded.

Every day of HUNGARIAN SPECTRUM is worth my while. Thank you.

Istvan
Guest

My guess is that Eva was referencing the microfilm library at Yale University or through interlibrary loan. I use the inter library loan system here in Chicago at the Newberry Library of which I am a member as was my father. In fact through the interlibrary loan system for qualified researchers can even get microfilm or microfiche copies from Europe. There is a concerted effort to put much of this copied material on line and make it more avaiable to the public, but keeping that much data stored in severs has a cost and it is likely much will not be avaiable except on microfiche. By the way Eva has very serious academic credentials in the study of the period of Tisza and she knows of what she writes.

LwiiH
Guest

” The work of these historians no longer serves the present and so should be discarded”…. huh? Seriously? That should be enough to end anyone attempting to make any “academic” arguèrent I would hope.

Banning people with a different point of view is at the end of the day being just as intolerant as those we may apposé. However, being offensive, insulting or trying to impersonate someone else shouldn’t be tolerated here or any where for that matter. It’s a simple code of conduct that we should all try to follow in all of our communications

webber
Guest

Who says Palika is banned? How do you know that, if he is?
Eva did not say he had been banned. So, if he is, how do you know?

webber
Guest

P.S. Who are “we”? That is the term Palika likes to use, though he is not Hungarian.

webber
Guest

You are certainly not Hungarian.
You’ve made mistakes, you see. The name is the first. I’m sure it’s hard to believe there in Russia, but Slobodan Milosevic is not a hero for Hungarians – of any political leaning. His rule was not terribly pleasant for Serbia’s Hungarian minority, to put it mildly. Nice job getting the Hungarian spelling of the name right – but a major fail, nonetheless.
Then there are the errors you made above.
So, hello again Palika!

exTor
Guest

STS, you are part of a problem here in Hungarian Spectrum, webber, namely the flood of petty postings through which serious readers of HS have to wade. Nasty natterings, not necessarily just by you, dilute the seriousness of this forum, distract its readership.

It is not for you to conjecture the ironies of another person’s reasoning of name choice. Szlobodan Milosevics as a ‘nom-de-poste’ is not on par with Zyklon B. You dont know for sure who is and who is not a troll. You have made mistakes in the past ascribing as troll turps certain individuals.

You do good stuff, webber, when you do good, namely when you write seriously on daily issues brought to the fore by Éva. Stay there. Stop sidetracking with your endless harangues that promote the like.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Member

Again, the sock-puppetry: “exTor” is a fake “exTor” (unless he or she was a sock-puppet all along). “Webber” is conscientious and well-informed and does not do nasty posts (though he or she does respond, compulsively, to just about every posting, however trivial, including trollery, and that does reduce the overall value of his or her posts, and it does clog and drag down the discussion, which is precisely the goal of the trolls who bait him or her).

There, now I’ve been dragged into responding to a stroller too! But Hungarian Spectrum currently seems to be under a stroller attack, and the spoor keeps being posted as fast as Professor Balogh can bin it. We could all help if we did not respond to the strollers. Once they see their emissions are just ignored and quickly vented it will no longer be worth their while. But if we keep giving them what they want, they will keep coming back for more.
comment image

Member

Query: Is it in order to protect their real identities from the possibility of Orbanian hacking and retribution that the legitimate regulars don’t post as WordPress or Gravitar or Google+ members instead of as guests, open to (fake) identity thefts?

Istvan
Guest

We called it in the Army “plausible denial.”

webber
Guest

Yes.

Reality Check
Guest

Steven , I am protecting my Hungarian friends and colleagues from any possible retribution. Perhaps a bit too cautious, but I wouldn’t want any of them to suffer because our association.

webber
Guest

Show-trials (kirakatper, koncepciós per) happened in Austria-Hungary even prior to WWI. The Agram (today Zagreb) Treason Trial and the Friedjung Libel Trial infamously demonstrate that. Here, also, witnesses were “confused” to put it politely. Documents were just too obviously forged, even for the judge. So, one could say that the Tisza trial was just a continuation of a certain Habsburg tradition.

webber
Guest

But there have been show trials – several of them. For example, the so-called Generals’ trials – and the result was, as in the trials in the old Monarchy. Those accused were acquitted, but only after having been held in custody for for a long time.
In any case, the use of show trials alone is not proof or disproof of dictatorship.

webber
Guest

There also was the Sukoro trial, in which the some of the accused said they were pressured to give false testimony against Gyurcsány.
In Hungary today, as in the old Monarchy, there is only so much a court will accept. A Rechtsstaat can be an autocracy, you know.

Member

Fidesz vice chairman Kosa moved Tisza’s sculpture to a more prominent place in Debrecen yesterday amidst a big celebration.

I think Fidesz loves Tisza, because Tisza vehemently opposed to giving voting rights to most people. In other words, he hated even the minimum requirement of modern democracy. Since 1945, almost all people over 18 have had the right to vote.

I checked the data from the 1910 census. In Hungary (excluding Croatia), there were 10,005,303 people over the age of 20, and 8,258,075 under 20. [the official census results contain a 15-19 year column, so I cannot establish the number of people under 18].

The number of eligible voters was 1,162,241 in 1910, i.e. 11.62% of the population over 20, or 6.36% of the total population. (The latter ratio is 80%+ today).

Fidesz contemplated restricting voting rights in 2011, and I think they have not given up on their plan.

Another remark.
Mr Maruzsa is also a government employee, Z Balog’s “commissioner” and the chairman of the “Education Authority”.

The official “newspaper” emphasized (see below) that Tisza’s Debrecen sculpture was first dedicated by Horthy himself 90 years ago.

http://magyaridok.hu/belfold/grof-tisza-istvanra-emlekeztek-debrecenben-1140145/

Member

Wow, there were also 1024 people of “unknown age” in the 1910 census.

Guest

Tappanch, re the right to vote:

Obviously women were not allowed to vote but what were the other restrictions?
I remember something about min age (25?) but what else?

And if I’m not mistaken under Horthy the right to vote was also severely limited – and in the villages the local overlord had the right to look at what you were voting for …

So in a way people are right who claim that Hungary never was a real democracy before 1989!

PS and rather OT:

As a schoolboy at the Gymnasium (my grandmother had some interesting old books …) I also was fascinated by the “3 class voting system” of the German Empire until 1919 which meant that the vote of a really rich guy like Krupp was worth as much as the sum of the votes of all his workers …

And haven’t some people in Fidesz already brought up that idea again to make the value of someone’s vote dependent on his money?

Member

In order to be eligible to vote, you had to be

A. at least 20 years old
AND
B. not a woman [the law did not say a man, but NOT a woman !! 🙂 ]
AND
[
A. rich enough (see the complicated details in the link)
OR
B. a lawyer, a priest, an engineer, a physician, a teacher or a professor
]

http://1000ev.hu/index.php?a=3&param=5645

Guest

Thanks, it’s always about the money – in those societies.

Member

The most dynamic industry in Hungary to reduce the unemployment:

Jails !!

2018 plan [2016]

Prisons: 37 [29]
Inmates: 19,800 [18,200]
Capacity: 19,800 [13,800]
Prison employees: 11,500 [9,000]

The government allocated 100 BILLION forints for the 2-year plan.

http://www.vg.hu/kozelet/tarsadalom/toborozzak-az-uj-oroket-a-bortonokbe-477312

Observer
Guest

One has to bear in mind that currently the H prisons are sinificantly overcrowded by up to 40% (?). H has been criticized by many NGOs and EU bodies on that account.

zagi
Guest

Nick Thorpe of BBC says that the Hungarian opposition should be more generous with the government, it should display more goodwill toward the government.

I kid you not.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20161101_Magyar_keseruseg_nick_thorpe

Observer
Guest

I have the feeling that N. Thorpe is really confused , hope it’s not a health problem. How can he remain a correspondent to any serious media after certain reports is beyond me.

Guest

Á propos the escalating trollery.
In the first ever newspaper interview given by a serving MI5 boss in the 107 years since the security agency was founded, Andrew Parker warned against the growing threat from Russia. In the interview with the Guardian Mr Parker said: “(Russia) is using its whole range of state organs and powers to push its foreign policy abroad in increasingly aggressive ways – involving propaganda, espionage, subversion and cyber-attacks.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/31/spy-chief-says-british-intelligence-has-foiled-12-terror-plots-s/

zagi
Guest

According to Buzzfeed, Theresa May is meeting Orban next week.

I’m convinced that UK was good riddance. Once it’s out, even if in 2-3 years there will be no more such trolls within the EU – assuming that Le Pen, Wilders won’t be elected to be leaders which is admittedly a big if.

Given how the EU works, even after just one meeting Germany and France will have to give something to Orban. Tyrants can easily get away with everything for very very long.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/albertonardelli/theresa-may-will-meet-hungarys-controversial-prime-minister?utm_term=.bfX1ElRYa#.apm0N1jmJ

Guest

Maybe they’ll give to O what the EU is giving to Theresa May – a cold shoulder?

Guest

I don’t want to go on anybody’s nerves (as we say in German) but there still are two problems with wordpress – minor ones, ok:

I often find multiple copies of new comments, usually two but sometimes even four! So the real number of new comments is much less than what wordpress tells me.

Secondly though I’m logged in with WP I appear a guest …

Anyone know a way to change this?

Melanie Zuben
Guest

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

aida
Guest

I am sad to see the distinguished Professor Harnad involve himself in the rather time wasting “troll” or “no troll”, “fidesznik or not?” exchanges. It maybe OK in the hothouse atmosphere in Budapest.

webber
Guest

Unfortunately necessary.

aida
Guest

The professor is right. Most of the futile bickering and name calling will slowly destroy this valuable blog. Somehow it should be restricted to issues, ideas and evidence

Observer
Guest

And always a stab at any fidesz propaganda.

Observer
Guest
On topic, for a change: There is no “historical debate” here, or this act is not intended to be one. The whole episode is just one example of a total Kulturkampf of the worst kind, albeit still not in its worst manifestation (there is no public book burning, journalists are not beaten or killed, only fired and practically banned from work). See: – The new or reorganized, all richly endowed by the regime, “history” institutes, forums, museums like Veritas, Remembrance 1956, House of fates or Terror Museum, all busy rewriting modern history. – The rewritten school curricula, mainly, but not only, in history and literature to include very reactionary or clearly fascist figures and authors. – More than tripling of the numbers church run school. – Appointment of fidesz party soldiers to lead all higher education institutions, the Academy of Science and its institutes. – The deluge of monuments to, street/squares naming after very reactionary or clearly fascist figures. – The concentrating of power and resources in the arts, most importantly film making, in the hands of Orban’s commissars (no professional bodies) to “guide” the arts how “to serve the present”. – The onslaught on all independent media and turning… Read more »
petofi
Guest

@ Observer

After reading your list, I’m more certain than before that Orban couldn’t conceive or organize all this by himself–he had help…

petofi
Guest

American election:

Both candidates are toxic, but Trump is the greater danger for Canada–he’ll go after BC’s water to bind Californians to him for the long term.

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