Prosecutors charge communist-era leader in Hungary

A former Hungarian interior minister seen as one of the main architects of repression after the country's 1956 anti-communist uprising has been charged with publicly downplaying the regime's crimes, prosecutors said Thursday.

Bela Biszku was charged because of comments he made during an appearance on state television on Aug. 4, 2010 in which he said he had nothing to apologize for, said Gabriella Skoda, the spokeswoman of the Budapest Chief Prosecutor's Office.

Last February, Hungarian lawmakers made it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison to publicly deny, call into question or minimize the Holocaust. In June, the law was amended to refer instead to crimes against humanity committed by the Nazi and communist regimes.

Biszku, 89, became interior minister in the wake of the anti-Soviet revolution, when over 220 people who participated in the uprising were executed and many thousands imprisoned or persecuted.

Biszku, considered a hard-liner within the Soviet-backed government led by Janos Kadar, stayed out of the public eye after Hungary's return to democracy in 1990.

He resurfaced last year after the release of a documentary film about his life that included lengthy interviews with him. Biszku and his family attempted to block the film's release because the filmmakers had initially misled him about their intentions.

Skoda said prosecutors acted on a complaint filed by parliamentarian Gyorgy Szilagyi of the far-right Jobbik party.

Speaking on state-run Duna TV in August, Biszku said he considered the 1956 uprising to be a "counterrevolution" that was trying to restore a capitalist system.

"I consider 1956 to have been a national tragedy of which I was victim," Biszku said, adding that he had nothing to apologize for and that lawbreakers had been justly punished afterward.

Biszku denied any direct involvement in the executions and repression which came after over 100,000 Soviet troops and nearly 4,500 tanks invaded Hungary on Nov. 4, 1956, crushing the armed resistance that started on Oct. 23.

Biszku claimed that the executed, including Prime Minister Imre Nagy, were not the casualties of political show trials but had been condemned because of their crimes.

Historians, however, say there is ample documentation proving that Biszku was a key figure in the repression. For many years after the revolution, for example, he was part of a secret communist party group that directed the work of the courts.