Political Justice in Budapest after World War II

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135 pages incl. 30 figures, cloth

In Hungary, which fell under Soviet influence at the end of World War II, those who had participated in the wartime atrocities were tried by so called people’s courts. This book analyses this process in an objective, quantitative way, contributing to the present timely discussion on the Hungarian war guilt. The authors apply a special focus on the gender aspect of the trials.

Political justice had a specific nature in Hungary. War criminals began to be brought to trial while fighting was still underway in the western part of the country, well before the Nuremberg trials. Not only crimes committed during the war were tried in the same frame but also post-war ones. As far as the post-war period is concerned, legal proceedings regarding these crimes were most often launched on the basis of Act VII of 1946. This act of law concerned “the criminal law protection of the democratic constitutional order and the republic” and its basic aim was to facilitate the creation of a communist dictatorship and to deal with perceived or real enemies of the regime.

LEGAL BACKGROUND TO THE PEOPLE’S TRIBUNALS AND THEIR OPERATION IN HUNGARY The System of People’s Tribunals and the Actors in the Process The Crimes and the Range of Punishments Controversies Surrounding the Law on People’s Tribunals

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY Method of Approach Preparation Phase Pilot research Expert roundtable Training of the Encoders The Final Questionnaire Research Phase Sampling procedure From filling in the questionnaires to the data files Preparing the data files for analysis Several Notes on the Methodology and the Findings

ANALYSIS OF THE PEOPLE’S TRIBUNAL CASES Types of Cases Distribution of the types of cases over time Characteristics of the Case Files Analysis of the Various Actors in the People’s Tribunals Summary of the Demographics of Defendants and Witnesses in the Various Types of Cases Lawyers Characteristics of the People’s Tribunal Cases The length of trials and the number of hearings The role of witnesses at the people’s tribunals Judgments Effect of the composition of witnesses on judgments

A GENDERED ANALYSIS OF POLITICAL JUSTICE IN HUNGARY IN THE AFTERMATH OF WWII Women in Political Justice: Stereotypes and Reality about Women Perpetrators Witnesses Court Judgments Women People’s Judges Summary: Gender in political justice

JEWISH IDENTITY AND THE PEOPLE’S TRIBUNALS Characteristics of the People’s Tribunal Cases Defendants and Their Characteristics Witnesses and Their Characteristics Court Judgments Jewish Identity and the Practice of Political Justice


"The authors and their team made important investigative work for, directly or indirectly, gathering the colossal amount of information. In order to dig into the 500 selected cases (100 cases per year, 1945-1949), they elaborated a questionnaire containing many lines about the trials. The questionnaire tried to cover various aspects of the cases: sociodemographic data of the defendant, the lawyer, the indictment, the hearings, the sentence and the witnesses. In spite of the very poor precision of the data from the documents, some of conclusions they reached are really spectacular."
"Ilidko Barna and Andrea Peto have produced a study of the postwar trials in Hungary of those guilty of crimes under the former, German-allied regime. These trials have not received much attention from scholars outside of Hungary, so this addition to the literature on transitional justice is to be welcomed. The trials were explicitly political; the members of the “people’s tribunals” were drawn from the five principal political parties that constituted the ruling Hungarian National Independence Front, and as the authors point out, this settling of accounts with the former fascists and their fellow travellers was distinct from the trials of opponents of the new Communist regime that came later. They were surprisingly badly organized and ineffective, with large numbers of acquittals, therefore do not correspond to stereotypes of what political justice looks like."