Hungary: A Controversial Interview With Former Communist Leader

We already wrote about the controversial film, Guilt and Impunity, made by two Hungarian journalists, who interviewed the former Interior Minister, Béla Biszku. Since the transition of 1989, he hadn't spoken to journalists, but Fruzsina Skrabski and Tamás Novák, journalist-bloggers of Mandiner (HUN), managed to interview him by telling him they were from his native village, Márokpapi, and were preparing an almanac on the famous people born there.

The film, which Skrabski and Novák defined as a documentary, has raised many questions about the communist functionaries’ responsibility for their acts and about how to deal with Hungary's pre-1989 history. The method that Skrabski and Novák used to make the film has raised questions about journalistic ethics.

As the public discussion of Guilt and Impunity continues, it turns out that people are interested in learning about Biszku's acts and calling him to account for his role in organizing the retribution against those who participated in the revolution of 1956.

On Monday, public television channel Duna TV broadcast an interview with Béla Biszku (HUN). Before she began to speak to the former minister, Duna TV's journalist Kata Apáti-Tóth emphasized that “the interview had been conducted on the basis of a well-defined previous agreement.”

Béla Biszku repeated his statements made in Guilt and Impunity: he said he did not regret his acts and the decisions made when he was in charge. He still considers the 1956 revolution a counter-revolution and, according to him, all the aggression used by the government at the time was justified because they were defending the political system. He also told the journalist that he would help a board of historians if they launched an investigation into the provisions made before the transition by the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party.

After the release of Guilt and Impunity, the far right party “Jobbik” asked (HUN) whether Béla Biszku—who lives in a very wealthy quarter of Budapest (Rózsadomb)—was still receiving a generous pension from the state for the simple fact that he had been a leading politician. Biszku denied allegations that he was receiving a benevolent pension.

Kettős Mérce had commented on the film about Mr. Biszku, and wrote a post on Duna TV's interview as well. The text, titled “Comrade Biszku and prime time” (HUN), harshly criticized the fact that someone whose guilt is evident could explain himself in a public television program:

[…] Luckily, Hungary is different, here one may do anything. Here Béla Biszku, who was the Interior Minister in the former People's Republic of Hungary, the “fist of the party,” the “tough guy” in the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party's Central Board, this 88-year-old gaffer can appear on Duna TV to explain what the socialist dictatorship—which he helped to operate as well—meant to him […]. […]

In our country one may do anything. Here a person like him can propose to set up a board of historians to investigate what happened exactly, acting as if all the Hungarian historians haven't been doing just that for the last 20 years. I say, in our country it is permitted for comrade Biszku to express his opinion and admit with a grim face that his pension is only 240,000 Forints [approx. 1,134 USD]. […]

The point of all this is: nothing will be done again. The documentary was screened, Biszku walked into the TV studio and didn't feel like he wasn't right for even a minute. Surely, they called a cab for him, which drove him back home to Rózsadomb. […]

I don't know what Duna TV's reasoning was behind this production, but one thing is certain: we cannot call a public dialogue the broadcasting of a previously recorded interview as a “half hour of hatred,” and afterwards, hermetically separated from the previous interviewee, we're expressing our horror with some professionals for a quarter of an hour. Considering the proportions and the bottom line, this method is far from just.

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