London Letter

I accuse Nagy’s murderers

BEVERLEY BAXTER August 16 1958
London Letter

I accuse Nagy’s murderers

BEVERLEY BAXTER August 16 1958

I accuse Nagy’s murderers

London Letter


If any Canadian visitors to London had been in Westminster Hall on a recent day in July they would have seen a collection of MPs making their way to what is known as the grand committee room. The occasion was the showing of a film called Hungary Aflame which, according to custom, had to be sponsored by three MPs. In company with a i.iberal and a l.abor member I made the necessary third gj sponsor.

We assumed that the film would be tragic, probably exciting, but rather out of date. History moves rapidly these days and, after all, the brutal massacre of Hungary belongs to the past, even though it be the recent past. Yet despite an important debate in the Commons the grand committee room was crowded with socialists and Tories alike.

So the lights were lowered and on the screen began the showing of that terrible yet uplifting tragedy when the Hungarians rose in their fury with the ancient cry: "FreeI dom or death!”

Let us agree at once that the nature of the film was bound to arouse fierce resentment against the Russians. The wounded and the dead were all Hungarians, and we did not see the tragedy of young

Russian soldiers who also died or || were wounded. Yet heartbreak has |

no nationality. |

As Shakespeare knew so well there is an ennobling quality in l

tragedy. We saw before us young |

men with their lives before them deliberately choosing death rather than slavery. We saw women tending the wounded under fire and sharing the fate of the freedom fighters. The dead and dying were everywhere, yet the survivors g

fought on until at last they were exhausted.

But the story was not finished.

The great heart of humanity went out to the Hungarian street fighters |

in their terrible plight. Their courage had lit a candle that burned like the midday sun. In the film we were shown a plane from Communist Poland arriving with supplies of blood plasma for the Hungarian wounded. Food, clothing and medicine came from Austria.

In the streets the people threw |

their money into collection boxes.

On the border the Austrians were helping and guiding refugees to §j

freedom. ^

And in Budapest the heroic dead were being buried by men and women with tears in their eyes and hatred in their hearts. So fierce

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and sustained was the resistance of the freedom fighters, so furious was the outcry from the outside world, that the Russians were obviously startled and shocked. An armistice of a sort was announced on the loud-speakers and M. Nagy took over the government of the country by permission of the Russians. Thus there came the false calm of exhaustion.

But one does not need any unusual gift of imagination to realize the reaction in Moscow. Supremo Khrushchev may have many faults but he is not lacking in realism. l.ooking out upon the straggling empire of communism with Marshal Tito taking his own line, with Roland looking to Yugoslavia for guidance and co-operation. with Hungary aflame and with the civilized world condemning the Russian hierarchy as murderers of men and destroyers of nations, he must have felt the warning of fate.

Meanwhile that lovely, lazy city of Budapest with its shattered cafés, its ruined houses and its dead and dying heroes was trying to reconstruct some kind of life amid the ruins. My mind w'ent back to my first visit there in the early Twenties when in an open-air café Alexander Korda, the film producer, sipped his absinthe and said to me: "Hungary is not a nation, it is a state of mind.” That was a witty piece of flippancy, yet there was more truth in it than there seemed at that moment. It was the state of mind that sent the young men into the streets against the tyranny of Russia.

But to return for a moment to the film at Westminster. On the screen we saw the people in the shattered streets waiting for a loud-speaker announcement from the Russian headquarters. In the committee room of the great Westminster Hall we heard the fateful words of the Russian spokesman to the effect that M. Nagy would be placed at the head of the government. To the crowds on the streets it was a victory. Budapest, that city of gaiety and grief, had won the battle—or so it seemed.

That w'as as far as the film took us. In the hospitals were wounded men who wept w'ith relief and joy. Hungary was to be given back its liberty. Hungary was to have a Hungarian at its head. The Russian troops were beginning to pull out.

So the film came to an end with young people laughing and with older people daring once more to hope. A brave country had won a brave victory. Budapest was in ruins but some day, some time, it would rise from its ashes and be beautiful again. So much for the film.

Now let us bring the story forward to late June of this year. The United Nations special committee on Hungary met in New York and adopted a statement deploring the execution of Imre Nagy, General Pal Maleter and their two companions. The committee described the executions as "this latest tragic event in which these men, symbols of the hope of a nation for freedom from foreign domination. were secretly sent to death in circumstances which call for exposure, in violation of solemn undertakings that their persons would not be harmed, and

in defiance of the judgment and opinion of the United Nations.”

In what country, asked the United Nations committee, were the condemned men tried? Where did the executions take place? What was the precise form of the indictment?

Meanwhile from Belgrade came the news that the Yugoslav ambassador in Budapest had delivered a strong protest against the breach of agreement which promised that Nagy and his companions would have safe conduct on leaving the Yugoslavian embassy, where they had gone

In the Yugoslavian embassy in Budapest where Nagy and his friends were enjoying sanctuary a Yugoslav diplomat was shot dead by a Russian patrol. After the Russians had pledged their word that neither Nagy nor his friends would be harmed or punished if they left the Embassy. they were arrested and sent to Rumania. Later they were perfunctorily tried and executed.

I wice the improvised Hungarian government, dominated by its communist* leaders, had violated a solemn agreement with Yugoslavia, first by breaking a legal agreement with Yugoslavia when it failed to ensure the safe return to their homes of the men concerned, and secondly when it broke the promise that no punishment would be indicted on Nagy and his associates for past political activities.

But is all this of really vital importance to free nations separated by oceans and mountains from the maelstrom of Central Europe? Merely to ask the question is to answer it

Western civilization is faced with this challenge and this terrible problem. Russia is a member of the United Nations,

and already that organization in solemn session has pronounced the Soviet "guilty of the attempted murder of Hungary.” The right of Khrushchev to be the dictator and the high priest of world communism is supported by the might of Russian armaments and the docile subservience of the people whom Khrushchev rules.

It is not a crisis that can be solved by threats or even by war. So completely has Khrushchev established his police state that no man in Russia dare give words to his thoughts unless they are in accord with the party line. Russia, the most powerful country in Europe, is guarded by a propaganda wall which truth cannot surmount.

Yet this little brandy-swilling dictator knows that under modern conditions anil with complete control of all sources of information and education he can keep the truth at bay within his own borders. Today it is not easy to displace a dictator.

II the case of Hungary could be put fairly to the Russian people I believe that they would give expression to the horror that they felt. Or is that wishful thinking?

Only a month ago I went to a reception at the Russian embassy in London in honor of the Moscow Players who were giving a special season of plays in Russian at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Even without a word of Russian at my command I found their performance of The Cherry Orchard an exquisitely humorous and charming experience. The players whom we met at the embassy were as pleasant and human as they could be.

Is there no way of scaling the propagantia wall that keeps the Soviet people

ignorant of the truth about the outside world? It is not enough for individual politicians and newspaper editors to condemn the rule of murder in Hungary. I he blood of the murdered Nagy is on our conscience even if it is not on outhands.

Are Poland and Yugoslavia next on the list? Was the murder of Hungary intended as a warning, or was it an announcement that in no communist conn try will good faith, honor or mercy be allowed to exist?

When the tilín came to an end we walked through the ageless splendor of Westminster Hall where the first parliament of all time assembled, where kings and queens as the first servants of the people lay in stately death while the mourners passed.

We cannot and must not put Europe to the sword to avenge the rape of Hungary and the execution of President Nagy, but we can raise our voices and ensure that the truth is given wings. Khrushchev should be summoned to the United Nations to answer for his conduct in Hungary.

Let us assume that he would refuse to go. Then let us proclaim it to the world that Russia holds that murder, foul murder, is essential to the reign of communism.

It was only a film we saw but it brought the naked truth to Westminster. I hope that nothing will prevent its traveling through the whole civilized world for it has a tragic, shameful yet uplifting story to tell.

Perhaps some day it will be shown in Russia — but not yet. ^