By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– A former Communist-era Interior minister of Hungary was forced to celebrate his 91th birthday in custody Thursday, September 13, after he was detained for his role in the bloody suppression of the country’s 1956 Revolution against Soviet domination.
Béla Biszku is the first of Hungary’s Communist leadership to face a war crimes investigation for his alleged role in crushing the anti-Soviet revolution in 1956.
In statements Hungarian prosecutors said the former Interior minister directly supervised a Military Council that ordered the shootings of civilians during protests in Budapest and in the eastern Hungarian town of Salgótarján in December 1956.
Prosecutors say in Salgótarján alone at least 46 people were shot dead by Hungarian and Soviet armed forces in December 1956 as part of reprisals that followed the revolution.
Hundreds of people were executed, including the famous Revolution-era Prime Minister Imre Nagy.
Devoted Christians and religious leaders were also targeted by the Soviet-backed regime in which Biszku played a prominent role. Those targeted included vocally anti-Communist Hungarian Catholic Cardinal József Mindszenty, who lived in the U.S. Embassy of Budapest for 15 years after the 1956 Soviet-led invasion of his country. He finally agreed to go into exile and died in Austria in 1975.
Biszku has denied war crimes charges for which he could face a life sentence. Prosecutors want to keep him under house arrest.
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His detention comes shortly after the center right government of the fiercely anti-communist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, pushed through a law last year which stipulates that war crimes and crimes against humanity do not lapse.
The timing of the detention comes amid controversy.
Outside the neo-Ghotic parliament building in Budapest, former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány has launched a seven day hunger strike to ask attention for what he views as an effort by the current prime minister to end free and fair elections.
“He is permanently modifying the election law with the aim to not let the opposition, the people, defeat him,” he told Vatican Radio near a tent where he sometimes
“It means that if people decide two days before an election they want to vote, that this is not possible.”
Gyurcsány, who once led the Communist youth movement, referred to government plans that would force voters to preregister themselves for the upcoming 2014 parliamentary elections.
Prime Minister Orbán’s government says the registration is needed to streamline a system that already required ethnic Hungarians living in other countries to register, while others did not have to.
Critics also point out that Gyurcsány is a controversial figure himself, in part because of a voice recording that surfaced in 2006 in which he is heard saying that he and his party “had lied night and day” to voters about the economy to win an election.
“This speech will probably follow me the rest of my life. But it was as speaking to friends, to allow renewal in politics,” Gyurcsány told BosNewsLife.