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Obituary: Gyorgy Marosan

Gyorgy Marosan, politician, born Hosszupalyi Hungary 15 May 1908, died Budapest 20 December 1992.

GYORGY MAROSAN, who was nominally Janos Kadar's deputy for six years after the crushing of the Hungarian uprising in November 1956, was known to Hungarians as the man who twice betrayed his Social Democratic Party and his country in general.

On the first occasion, in the spring of 1948, Marosan was instrumental in bringing about the fusion between the Social Democrats and the Communists which led to the creation of a Stalinist organisation, the Hungarian Working People's Party. On the second occasion, in 1956, he opposed the revival of a separate Social Democratic Party during the heady days of the uprising and afterwards contributed to its repression along with that of the other non-Communist parties.

Marosan's behaviour was all the more reprehensible to his social democratic comrades given the fact that he had joined the party in 1927, at the age of 19, while he was working in a bakery. He had received very little formal education but later spent considerable time with prominent social-democratic intellectuals. He became a trade- union official in the 1930s, rising to the post of General Secretary of the Food Workers' Union in 1939. During the Second World War, when he served as secretary of the Social Democratic Party, he was arrested several times on the orders of Hungary's right-wing authorities. Meanwhile, Marosan had another problem on his hands: hiding his Jewish wife and her family at a time of increasingly severe anti-Jewish persecution. His personal courage at the time was never in doubt.

After the war Marosan emerged as the leader of the Social Democratic Party's left wing. In fact, by any standards he was more of a crypto-Communist than a social democrat and, as deputy general secretary of his party, he played a key role in purging the social-democratic movement of its right-wing, centrist and moderate left-wing activists. In early 1948 he and the Communist head of the state's security apparatus, Mihaly Farkas, stage-managed a rowdy rally of the Social Democratic Party where Communist activists, posing as social democrat delegates, voted to expel dozens of leading officials from the party. That paved the way for the merger between the two parties - in which the Communists devoured the social democrats - and to the establishment of a one-party state. At the time of the unification Marosan declared that while he would always stay a social democrat, he would endeavour to become a better Communist than Farkas himself.

Marosan remained in the leadership for two years until he was arrested one night in the spring of 1950 by the secret police who took him away in his pyjamas. Like other victims of the Stalinist purges, he was charged with a bizarre catalogue of crimes, such as spying for the British and Yugoslav secret services and having been a police agent of the former right-wing regime led by Miklos Horthy. By his own admission, Marosan signed the confession prepared for him only after his interrogators threatened to arrest his whole family. At the subsequent trial, he was sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment.

Marosan was released at the beginning of 1956 when he became one of the beneficiaries of Nikita Khrushchev's thaw. After some initial reluctance, he rejoined the Communist leadership, becoming at the same time a deputy prime minister. His career was then closely linked to that of Kadar, another victim of the Stalinist purges. Both of them were prepared to return to office even while their former persecutors were still in power.

During the 1956 uprising Marosan stayed in the background. When Kadar formed his pro-Moscow government under Soviet tutelage at the beginning of November, Marosan was appointed his deputy. But characteristically, he first heard about his appointment from listening to the radio - another sign of his readiness to serve almost any administration in the Communist era. Although he was nominally Kadar's lieutenant, Marosan had relatively little influence. His role was to improve the Kadar regime's image. Marosan was a good public speaker with a penchant for plain speaking and demagoguery.

But Marosan's plain speaking repeatedly got him into trouble and his second term of office came to an abrupt end in 1962 when he was summarily dismissed from the party Politburo and from all his other posts. By his own explanation Marosan had opposed the Sino-Soviet split and later he claimed to have told Kadar to 'tell the bald Ukrainian (the Soviet leader, Khrushchev) to leave us out of the circus and avoid having to condemn the Chinese'. He was also sceptical about Khrushchev's claims that the Soviet Union would catch up with and overtake the United States by 1970. What also annoyed Kadar was Marosan's insistence at the time that the ongoing purge of Stalinists should include self-criticism - a particularly sore point for Kadar who had been part of the Stalinist repressive apparatus before he became one of its victims.

After his fall from grace in 1962, Marosan became a non-person for two decades. He joined a workers' choir and began writing his five-volume memoirs. Until his illness began a few years ago, he used to start every day with an early morning swim, during which he would loudly denounce former Communist friends who had become too liberal for his taste. In the early 1980s Marosan re-emerged into the public light, giving occasional interviews. Following the effective dissolution of the ruling Communist Party in October 1989, he was elected honorary president of the orthodox Communist splinter party. More recently, the advocates of taking legal action against the former Communist leaders picked Marosan as one of their targets for his role in the retribution that followed the 1956 uprising.

Marosan retained his Communist beliefs which he had acquired while he was still nominally a social democrat. Throughout his political career he betrayed a high degree of naivety. Other, more skilful politicians found it easy to manipulate him. He was prepared to stay in office in the Stalinist period and during Kadar's post-1956 years of terror. On both occasions he was discarded when his services were no longer required. After his retirement, his greatest frustration was, perhaps, not so much the lack of power but the absence of opportunities for playing a role in public. Marosan was a populist who had always enjoyed the part of a public speaker.

(Photograph omitted)