Király Béla, 1. 10. 1988, Budapest, Hungary


Location Budapest, Hungary
Date 1. 10. 1988
Length 18:12

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Talking about the direct intervention of Soviet Armed Forces into Hungarian domestic politics, the most dramatic event was the arrest of Béla Kovács. Béla Kovács was a very outspoken Head of the Smallholder Party, the dominant party in the Parliament, who considered democracy very seriously and that was a cap… capital crime as a measure, right. Now, the Soviet pressed the government to suspend his immunity by the Parliament and then be tried by Hungarian court, but the Parliament at that time, in 1947, was still not willing to do it. Since the Hungarian authorities showed such a kind of independence, the Soviet interfered and this man was arrested by Soviet-uniformed secret policemen at the steps of the Parliament when he left the Parliament. Now, I don’t have to turn to smaller events if the head of the largest democratic party could be arrested by Soviet authorities is demonstrate the degree of Soviet interference in Hungary’s democracy…, domestic.

After 1948 then the Soviet Embassy was such a huge institution, which was not an embassy in the diplomatic sense, it was an operation centre, which then channelled the Soviet order for different Hungarian institutions including the secret police.

How were the armies of Central Europe Sovietized?

Now, the whole story of the armies is very strange and interesting. After 1948, the armies were let to rot in all over the area because the Soviet army present, the Soviet garrisons were considered more than enough for so to say national defence in quotation mark. All the armies of East Central Europe then from 1948 fall began to be developed into the largest modern peacetime armies of any of these nations, it was completely connected with the Tito-Soviet rift and from that time on, the development of these armed forces and the control of them by the Soviet was parallel to how the secret police was already controlled by the Soviet before. In the Ministry of Defence there was a lieutenant general with a huge staff, I mean a Soviet lieutenant general with a huge staff, in every department of the Ministry. There was a Soviet adviser with an interpreter and with a small staff. And the Soviet system went down to the army corps division, up to the regimental level, every command post had its own Soviet so-called advisers, but that really was a separate Soviet command system in Hungary which could have led the army in peace or war, even without the input of the Hungarian command structure, it was a total control.

How did the party exercise control over the army?

It was parallel to the Soviet control. First of all, in the centre, the armed forces were the only ministry, field of activities, which did not have a secretariat in the party bureaucracy. In the party bureaucracy for every minister there is a secretary, a secretary for agriculture, for heavy industry, there was, from 1948 it was Sovietized, the whole secretariat for the armed forces were transfor…, -ferred into the Ministry, in the Ministry under the Soviet system they established so called Main Political Directorate. The Main Political Directorate within the army was simultaneously a party secretariat, here the division between the party and the state gradually faded away. And this Main Political Directorate in the army, the head of which was the first deputy of the minister, had all slit agencies down even farther than the Soviet adviser, because it went down to the company level. And with the Soviet system, they introduced the politruk system. Until the Sovietization, the political officer of every command was an assistant of the commander, now he became the co-commander. And beside every commander there was a communist politruk, and no command was valid without the politruk countersignature. So strong was the political, the party control of the army, plus now these politruks had a separate tool in the hand, every regiment and battalion had a communist party cell, this communist party cell acted under the command and control of the politruk. In other word the soviet control was complete from top to bottom, the communist party control was complete from top to bottom. And then the secret police now, which was another Soviet institution, had its own post also down to the regimental level. There were three Soviet party and secret police control over the whole, and that was totally uniform in all the East Central European armies.

As commander in effect of the Hungarian army, can you tell us about plans to invade Yugoslavia?

Yes, now, every East Central European armies would have participated in the invasion. There were however countries which did not have common border with Yugoslavia, that was Poland and Czechoslovakia. We did not know exactly where they were supposed to be thrown against Yugoslavia but we were informed that they will participate too. You must not forget at the time Albania was also still a loyal Soviet ally. So that at the push of the button, all of these satellite armies would have crossed the Yugoslav border and would have occupied certain territories. In the case of Hungary, the Hungarian army would have crossed the Danube, build a so-called bridgehead on the southern shores of the Danube, and that was the end of the mission of the Hungarian army. From this bridgehead, huge Soviet troops which were supposed to be mobilized and deployed in Central Hungary, they would have run through the bridgehead. The honour of occupying Belgrade, the capital city of the heretic, was reserved for the Soviet army.

Where did this plan to invade Yugoslavia come from?

Absolutely ready-made from the Soviet Union. They brought in Soviet maps, in Soviet letters, of course what the Hungarian army was at the time was also Soviet design, the new army now, the hugest peacetime army Hungary every had was also created, organized, equipped, commanded, indoctrinated, trained by Soviet pattern, Soviet textbooks were the basis. So, the Soviet knew more, much better than I so to say where and how many. Now, according to Soviet plan, this army was supposed to be concentred between the Danube and the Tisza River and where, which division goes where, it came from Moscow, the Hungarian general staff really had a task to translate, translate it into correct Hungarian.

Why did this plan stop? Why did Stalin stop this?

Well, see, here you only can rely on assumption, but a learned assumption of mine is, and I have certain factors which could support this idea is, and I am very strongly believe in it before, because of Korea. When in 1950 summer, the North Korea invaded South Korea, the idea was that Mao Tse-tung and the west is a paper tiger and would not resist. Now, when America and then the allies resisted and went into counterattack, Stalin came to sense this, Stalin in that respect, probably the only respect, he was rational. He did not want to clash with the west. He went as far as he could go without clashing with British, French, American troops. He believed that America, west is not a paper tiger.

Why did Stalin really hate Tito’s Yugoslavia?

I believe that the question should be given to a psychiatrist you know, because Tito was the most doctrinaire follower of Stalin, the only thing what rationally one can surmise is that the Stalin megalomania of one-man leadership with he, his leadership won the war, etc. etc., he just could not tolerate the slightest diversion from his lie…, line. And still since Tito did it, Stalin hated it seriously, religiously.

What is the real function of the people’s armies in Central Europe?

Now, I would rather speak about the Hungarian because this absolute uniform pattern is gone since ‘56 and ‘68. Still, there are similarities, the main function, in function Hungary is more labour than national defence, they are used in harvest, they are used in road building, etc., I don’t go to Hungary but friends come back and talk about this phenomenon, no one considered the Hungarian army anymore as a war machine.

What is the core of party control, party will, what keeps them there?

There is a tremendous psychological effect of the Soviet presence in Hungary. They don’t demonstrate, they don’t show themselves purposefully but you see them. And everybody knows the huge Transdanubian Soviet garrisons, like in Hungary, like in Poland, like in Czechoslovakia, they know that they can go so far. And if they go a step behind then the Soviet Army is there and would interfere. No other institution has anything similar in the effect on the Hungarian’s mind that the Soviet Army which so to say condemned them to behave.

How popular and widespread was the support for the ‘56 uprising?

How popular was what?

And, and how popular was support and widespread was support for the 1956 uprising?

How popular was the Hungarian uprising among the…

The people.

The people. Well first of all it was not an uprising, it was a revolution, and a revolution in the proper sense, if theoretical or otherwise. Since 1848, when Hungary also fought against two huge reactionary forces, the Habsburgs and the Romanovs, since 1848, there was never such a nation unity as it was in 1956. The idea of the revolution, multiparty and parliamentary system, pluralistic society, freedom in a broader sense, had such an appeal that again, since 1848 Revolution there was no such unanimous view and such national unity than it was in 1956.

How brutal was the Soviet reaction to the uprising?

Here again we don’t know, see, as far as the brutality of the Soviet aggression is concerned, numerically it would be very difficult to, but the best estimates is, that killed in battle with the Soviet Union goes to up to 1,500. Those who were executed is between 1,000 and 2,000. Which is more than all the terror regimes in Hungary since the 1848 Revolution was suppressed, the Habsburgs did not execute so many like Kádár did. And in addition to the death, which of course is the most sordid thing, the 200,000 people who left the country is such a bloodletting that the whole thing together is something the Hungarian nation has to pull themselves together to, to survive you know, it is horrible.

You described the Hungarian Revolution as successful, what did you mean?

I even told that the Hungarian Revolution was victorious. Why do I say that? Because a revolution is a domestic affair, in which the old regime is abolished and the new one is successfully established. Now, both things happened in Hungary, the old regime was abolished, the Communist Party itself dissolved itself, recognizing the absolute defeat of the old totalitarian system.  A multiparty system was set in its place and in November 1956, there was no force on the right, on the left, on the centre, on anywhere, who would have dared to challenge the authority of the new regime. As a domestic affair, and the revolution was the domestic affair, the Hungarian Revolution was a complete victory. That the Soviet forces arrested the Government and suppressed the revolution is, I mean the Government, it does not change the historical fact that the revolution as a domestic affair was victorious.

Was the Hungarian army inhibited in this resistance to the Soviet invasion by the political leadership by Imre Nagy?

Well, see, Imre Nagy did his best to avoid bloodshed. It was partially of man of reason; we can’t win vis-à-vis the Soviet in a pitched battle. Number two: he was a patriot, he was very much afraid of bloodletting of the Hungarian people, consequently he, even after it was crystal clear that it was no more just Soviet movements but a new Soviet aggression was carried out in Hungary, he completely forbid me to make an announcement that we are in war, and thereby relieve the soldiers and the freedom fighters from earlier restrictions.  He only made this tame statement when a world collapsed in his, when the parliament was already surrounded by Soviet troops, then he went to the radio and stated that the Soviet Union raided Hungary, in other words we were in war.  But that he wanted to prevent with any possible means.

What hopes died for the people in Easter Europe in ’56?

The last vestiges of the hope that communism, particularly the Soviet type of system, can solve any human problem, that is what died in Hungary in 1956.

What was, why was Kádár’s repression so brutal?

Well, you know, for that you have to sit in a Soviet chair, you know, because I definitely believe that it was not Kádár’s will. Kádár was a puppet at the time. His crime is that he gave his name to this reign of terror, it was a Soviet reign of terror, it was a Soviet mentality. A Soviet mentality which fits into the great purges, it fits into the collectivization and annihilation of 20 million people, etc., and the deportation of Tartars and Stalin killing his most close collaborators, that was the continuation of the Soviet mentality and Soviet method, it has nothing to do with Hungary.

Why did the Soviets want it to be so brutal?

I believe that they wanted to be absolutely sure that the Kádár regime will not be challenged. In other words, with a terror to make the atmosphere in Hungary for Kádár absolutely sick, you know, so no one will think of challenging the regime.

How stable is Kádár’s compromise with the Hungarian people?

Well, you know, originally a great majority of the Hungarian people accepted the higher life standard with silently accepting the continuation of a milder total regime, but still now, since at present, the life standard is rapidly decreasing, this very unstable compromise is going slowly downhill, and larger and larger is that group which never accepted it, the democratic opposition, the patriotic opposition, in other words the oppositions numerically is growing now.

Király Béla (1912–2009)

Király Béla

Béla Király, general staff officer, military historian and politician was born in Kaposvár in 1912 and died in Budapest on 4 July 2009. His father was a civil servant at MÁV (Hungarian State Railways), his mother a post office employee, and he had three brothers and sisters.

He graduated from the Pál Somssich Secondary School in Kaposvár, then was admitted to the Ludovika Military Academy with a scholarship, and was made a lieutenant in 1935. In the summer of 1940, he took part in the invasion of Northern Transylvania. Between 1940 and 1942, he graduated with honours from the Military Academy of the Hungarian Defence Forces (Honvéd Hadiakadémia). He took part in frontline service for three times, but requested his reinstatement into the ministry after the Arrow Cross takeover. In January 1945, now as a Major General, he received a military decoration from Szálasi. In March 1945, he was assigned to defend Kőszeg, but instead of fleeing to Austria with the Arrow Cross, he joined the Soviet troops. He was taken prisoner of war, but managed to escape with other fellow soldiers from the train to the Soviet Union. 

In the summer of 1945, he joined the Hungarian Communist Party. At the beginning of 1946, he became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Democratic Army and Chief of Staff of the First Rifle Division of Pápa. From 1947, he was Head of the Training Department of the Ministry of Defence, then from 1948 Deputy Commander of the Infantry of the Hungarian Army, and from 1949 its Commander. In April 1950, he became Head of the Higher Command Course, and in September he was promoted to the rank of Major General and became Commander of the Defence Academy. Like his fellow officers, he publicly denounced those arrested during the arrests that preceded the trial of the generals in 1950. In the summer of 1951, he was arrested on false charges of anti-state activities and sentenced to death at first instance on 15 January 1952, his sentence being commuted to life imprisonment by the Military High Court on 29 January 1952. He was released without rehabilitation on 2 September 1956.

During the revolution, he was reinstated on 30 October, and the next day the Supreme Court rehabilitated him. On 30 October, he was elected Chairman of the Preparatory Committee of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Committee, then Chairman of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Committee and the Revolutionary Defence Committee. On 31 October, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard and Military Commander of Budapest. On 4 November, in accordance with Imre Nagy’s orders, he forbade Hungarian troops to resist the Soviet’s overwhelming force. Seeing no other solution, he fled to Austria at the end of November.

In January 1957, he became Vice-President of the Hungarian Revolutionary Council in Strasbourg. He founded the Hungarian Committee, and in April 1957 the Freedom Fighters (National Guard) Association. He settled in the United States of America, where he received citizenship in 1965. In September 1957, he began his studies at Columbia University, where he earned a teaching degree and a doctorate in history in 1962, and taught at Brooklyn College. In 1966, he resigned from all 1956 western organizations and devoted his life to academic research and teaching. He became a professor of military history at Brooklyn College and the doctoral faculty of the City University of New York.

In 1989, he returned to Hungary and on 16 June he spoke at the reburial of Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs. He regained his citizenship and became a Member of Parliament as an independent candidate. In 1990, at the first free elections, he was elected to parliament as an independent MP, where he was a member of the parliamentary group of the Alliance of Free Democrats until 1994. He was a member of the National Defence Committee of the National Assembly from 1990 to 1993 and its Vice-Chairman from 1990 to 1991. In 1991, he was awarded the title of retired Colonel General. From 2000 to 2002, he was a military policy advisor to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Since 1991, he has been Honorary President of the Miklós Zrínyi Military Academy, and since 1996 of the International Association of Hungarian Historians. In 2004, he was elected an external member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

In 1946 and 1948, he received the Order of Merit of the Republic, and in 1949 the Order of Kossuth. Since 1991, he has been awarded numerous medals, such as the Presidential Gold Medal in 1997 and the Imre Nagy Medal in 2004.