Politics in Hungary

By Peter A. Toma; Ivan Volgyes | Go to book overview

6 Rule Adjudication

Well over a century ago Alexis de Tocqueville observed that mankind often respects "the mere formalities of justice long after the substance has evaporated," for the courts lend "bodily influence to even the mere shadow of law." 1 Between 1949 and 1960, the administration of justice in Hungary was at times no more than the enforcement of a "shadow of law," because in Communist political systems law, for the most part, serves the political ends of the regime. The form of justice instituted by the Communist regime in Hungary has been called "political justice" (by the late Professor Otto Kirchheimer), 2 "revolutionary justice" (by Andrei Y. Vishinsky), or "socialist law" (by contemporary Hungarian scholars). These political definitions are appropriate descriptions of the Hungarian Communist system of justice because since 1949 Party authorities have used the law for political ends. Under Rakosi, the law became above all an instrument of the state, serving the interests of the ruling elite.

In statist, dictatorial, or totalitarian societies the administration of justice is generally based not on abstract principles, but on the necessity of enforcing the political norms of the ruling elite. In such societies opposition to government policies (or the mere act of expressing a contrary opinion) is construed as an act against the state, punishable by the full weight of the law; anyone who strikes out against any element of what the state considers to be the law is a hostis, or an enemy of society, and as an enemy he must be punished.

Societies in which the law is administered according to the principles of political justice are not "lawless" states. Indeed, these states usually abide very strictly by the letter of the law. The substance of the law, however, differs from the principles of justice that have prevailed in Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. In the purge trials held under Rakosi, for example, the prosecutors and judges followed strictly legal procedures: the evidence was clear; there were witnesses whose testimonies condemned the accused; and the sentences were meted out legally. That the evidence was fabricated; that the witnesses were coached and lying; that the testimonies were false

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