The Show Trials

From the middle of the 19th Century to 1945 in Hungary the criminal procedure was usually used for what was suitable and needed: reconnoitering and reconsidering the indictable offence.

For the foundation of investigating the criminal procedure the principles phrased in 1897 served which principles were: official procedure, directness, verbalism, contradictory procedure, publicity, the law of accused person for getting to know the total investigation matter, equality of client in the judicial section, the guaranties of the personal freedom, free balancing the evidences, the principle of accusing. This system remained until 1951, but the new law didn’t refuse these principles, too, it emphasized their importance. Beside such regulations we can not believe that the criminal justice is imperfect. The practice of the Supreme Court is very important in the process of judgment, but the local courts often turned off from that, so with searching them together we get a representative picture about the investigations.

The principle of equality before the law which was in the constitution written in 1949 and later in the Law of Court System doesn’t show up even in the law of criminal procedure. In the 1st paragraph the discrimination appear, because it says that for half of the society only the education, for the other half the judgment is needed. In the practice those principals could count on other punishment whose social origin had a negative judgment, in contrast with a member of the working class. Moreover in the massiveness of judgment it was important that the accused person was valuable for the power. However the class categories were not consequently accepted, because more and more workers and poor farmers began to protest against the oppression, and call them to account for the loud unredeemed promises of the propaganda. Thus a new category independent from the social origin was created which consisted of everybody who judged or crossed the intention of power also at the smallest level. This is the „ideological class enemy”. Who was judged as a class enemy by the policy that person wasn’t taken a citizen with equal law to others. The investigative authority didn’t refuse its indignation, if the citizens with second class took it a bad thing. But they weren’t allowed to publicize this discrimination. An old woman on the kulak list „who knew even her future” told an officer: „I don’t worry about the place (??), because we will be taken away”. For this declaration (that) only the officer learnt the woman got immediately arrested with false propagandize.

The primitiveness of categorization system had to been hidden by making a scientific picture using several factors. In the case of an accused man in 1950 the court of first instance took his noble as an aggravation, but the fact “joining the workers and earning money with his hands” as an extenuation.

The power explored that the criminal procedure was not only the means of the jurisdiction, but the means for policy objectives. With such these means the structural change of society, the change of ownership, the transformation of the ideological façade and the extermination of political enemies could be managed. There was no objection for removing that person who didn’t make a fault, because he was accused with a crime committed not.

The essence of show trials was to have a concept (e.g. breaking the religion, extermination of village enterprises), which were a basic concept to break down the civil society and to build the exclusively monopole power. These were distortions of real facts or a system of unreal statement of facts which were helped with evidences made after and mock witnesses. Of course, some show trials had a real reason, the accused person committed a foul. But its judgment was much stricter. Maybe not the committed foul was punished, but what was the reason – usually an evidence for it was not found, so he was judged with only an assumption. A good example is when two farmers determined as kulaks fired up on their fields. By accident the fire expanded further, but the detriment was not too big. The Producer Cooperatives had the neighbor field, so the court sentenced them to death with the prosecution of hazarding the property of the folk.

The first and most cruel termination of the show trials in Hungary was that eleven years from 1945 to 1956. Following a Soviet model there was a beginning of building legal actions and creating evidences here, too.

here was a huge number of legal actions against kulaks, clergymen and the citizenry. The legal actions against persons or social groups were made for the order of the highest political leadership, but sometimes that leadership made the plan of them.

At first the political police made an investigative plan, in which they determined the accused and arrested persons, made evidences and made witnesses to make a confession. Usually the issue consisted of a main legal action and more extra-actions linked to that main one. In the main legal action the main accused person, and in the others the witnesses were judged, so nobody remained as a witness.

The base of the trial was a self-confession, which was pulled out from the witness or accused person with torture, extortion or promise. This self-confession the court accepted without reservation. Beside the confession there were weak material evidences rarely. The favorite means of authority were the gun secretion issues. In such this case there seemed to be a legal search at the accused person’s home with the presence of witnesses, and by accident before the witnesses they found a gun that was hidden by the police earlier.

The show trials had several methods after their goals. One part of them – where the chosen person had to be bumped – was investigated secretly and at quick time, without any publicity. The audience on the court belonged to the insiders, so the organization of the trial didn’t need a big foresight.

The exhibition trials had an other situation. These were not always, but usually show trials. Mainly they were held when the government wanted to show a punishment to the public, using it as an example against the enemies of the system. These trials were like a theater with learned literal confessions and rehearsal. This organization was really needed, because the workers were forced to listen the radio transmitted live them. However the confessions of witnesses often had incredibly conflicting statements. According to one opinion these faults showed to the public that the power of government was unlimited. In the democratic states the police and the court arrest and judge the real evildoers, but the power of government was huge in those countries where they could make anybody to confess or take part so.

For the power using generally these show trials the independent magistrates were also enemy. According to the constitution “The magistrates are independent, and they are subjected only to the law”. A law accepted in 1950 took the Supreme Court under the control of Minister of Justice, and the authorities had a personal relationship with the magistrates and the prosecutors, telling “the influence of the party had to be assured in the political cases”. But the majority of the judiciary wanted the fair investigation and the independent jurisdiction. A law accepted in 1948 finished this independence formally, too, and then till 1956 from the old magistrates 1100 – 70% of the jurisdiction – lost his job.

Ágnes Németh