A Budapest court ruled that Lajos Orosz, 68, and Ferenc Toldi, 70, were guilty of crimes against humanity for their part in the massacre of 46 unarmed civilians during a demonstration in the mining town of Salgotarjan in December 1956. Both men, who denied killed anyone, were also stripped of their civil rights for eight years. Orosz said he would appeal.
The trial again underlines the difficulties of bringing to justice those deemed to have committed crimes under the former Communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe. Though Orosz and Toldi were convicted, 10 members of the militia unit were acquitted. Much testimony during the eight-month proceedings was contradictory, with no agreement reached on the reason the demonstration took place, the size of the crowd or the source of the first shot.
The trial was also fraught with legal complications. Because of a 20-year deadline under Hungarian law for bringing charges, the accused were charged with crimes against humanity as defined in the Geneva Convention, which has no time limit.
The biggest problem was a feeling that, as in eastern Germany, where several former border guards have been convicted of shootings at the Berlin Wall, the wrong people were being prosecuted. Many Hungarians would have preferred to see those responsible for giving the orders - senior Communists and their Soviet bosses - in the dock. The trial was the first time anyone had faced charges relating to the 1956 revolt, which was crushed by Russian tanks and Hungarian Communist militias. Those hoping for a serious reckoning with the uprising were quickly disappointed and interest soon waned. According to most observers, a majority of Hungarians want to draw a line under 1956 and the period of Communist rule in general.
The success of the Socialist Party, the successor to the Communist Party, in last year's general election has been interpreted as evidence of this tendency. Gyula Horn, the party leader and Prime Minister, was a member of one of the Communist militias that put down the uprising.Reuse content