Defeat, But Diluted
THE SAME MESSAGE WHICH AUTHORIZED ME TO RECRUIT GUY also brought the instructions from my headquarters which I had awaited since my May visit to Washington. I was disappointed, and no little bit surprised, to see that I was given authority to organize an escape chain, and disburse funds as necessary, up to a total of twenty-five persons, of whom ten were to be leading political figures and fifteen at my discretion, including members of the network itself. These were, of course, the minimum figures I had set when seeking Peter's temporary authorization. The limitation seemed artificial and unnecessary to me, but I decided nor to look a gift-horse in the mouth - to take what I could get and worry about the limitation later.
I was also specifically instructed to ensure that Paul was among those taken out, and it was suggested that the sooner the better. Obviously Paul had friends in high places. As I had never had any intention of abandoning Paul, I thought the instruction gratuitous, but to mention the fact would serve no purpose.
Most serious, however, the instructions contained not a word about what steps might be taken in political support of those Hungarians still fighting the Communist seizure of power. I must admit that I didn't really expect such instructions, but I had come to hope very strongly for them. The elections had now been announced for August 31, 1947 - as my headquarters well knew, but so far as my instructions were concerned it was as though they didn't exist.
In the state of innocence then prevailing in the American Government about the possibilities, even necessity, of covert political operations, such an omission was not surprising. In the circumstances all that could be done was to read between the lines of my instructions and to make some careful guesswork on the basis of known official, diplomatic policy. So far as my instructions were concerned, it seemed clear that if I was authorized to arrange the escapes of political leaders whose safety was endangered by their courage and persistence in resisting the Communists, then by implication I could certainly tell them before they under-took such risks that they could at least count on this much. But was the latter truly a logical implication of the former? The answer is that it was a logical implication, but it was not a correct political implication, as will become clear.
So far as known official policy was concerned, I had my own conversations in Washington, public American pronouncements - not the strongest of all reeds - and the guidance of Mark on which to rely. Without mentioning the details of my planned operations, I took up with Mark the political dilemma in which I found myself. I was authorized to save lives for political reasons, but without a word having been spoken as to the nature, purpose, definition, or substance of those political reasons. This gave me a very free hand - the dream of every secret agent. But it left unanswered the question of what I could do in prior support of those very political reasons which were admittedly the prerequisite justification for my saving lives - and for my guess as to the answer to this question I would ultimately be myself held answerable.
Mark agreed that we had very little to go on. My scepticism of Washington's mood, based on my conversations there, and on the fact of the peculiar limitation on numbers of persons, made me unwilling to risk what I had already gained in the way of authority by seeking any clarification of it. I therefore insisted we work it out on the spot, and I further insisted to Mark that I would take sole and full responsibility for the execution of whatever line we adopted. There is bureaucratic sin involved here, of capital degree - but bureaucracy cannot function, any more than life itself, without sin. The sin, of course, is that of apparently excessive local initiative. Today, with a functioning secret political operations apparatus, such improvisations would - ideally - be neither necessary nor possible.
There was every official and publicly proclaimed support for the basic thesis that the United States Government did not wish to see Hungary become the victim of a Soviet-backed Communist seizure of power. But it was also necessary to infer from the facts of American behaviour that the United States Government was not willing to take truly effective steps to block such a seizure - whatever may have been the combination of domestic and strategic reasons for that unwillingness. In brief, the United States wanted the maximum result possible for the minimum price. Mark's and my task was to estimate what locally constituted the practicable maximum result and the minimum price.
The practicable maximum was not too difficult to define. It was any result in the elections which would either pit an effective brake on the Communist time-table, or would alternatively force the Communists to steps which would publicly demonstrate the falsity of their claims to have come to power through popular support. The former was doubtful, but the latter was possible. It was this which set the price, for it was precisely the matter of those "steps" the Communists would take which constituted the risk for those fighting the elections. To have encouraged men to incur those risks on even the implication that, if successful, the United States would be able and willing to nullify those risks - when it was apparently not - would have been political irresponsibility of the worst sort. It would have boomeranged in bitterness and hatred against the United States for years to come.
What we had in mind was the ability to offer to save the lives of a relatively few leaders. But to offer this in advance to such leaders, as a means of encouraging them to act, would have been a betrayal of the masses who were expected to support their fight, and for whom no such rescue would be available. It would be tantamount to buying an effort. No long-term policy can be constructed on such a basis; in time its falsity and undependability will show, and the cost of defeat be multiplied a hundredfold. Mark and I therefore agreed that I would refrain strictly from any such advance offers of rescue for political purposes.
Members of the network were obviously not included in this agreement. Furthermore, I was under specific instructions to inform Paul that he would be helped to escape - even though his role in Hungary had now become predominantly political rather than intelligence. I saw him, with Jane, to inform him of my instructions concerning him. He looked surprised. "No," he said. "That's not the way it is. I'll tell you.'' And then his politeness came to the fore, and he smiled, ''But do thank them, of course."
Mark's and my decision naturally did not preclude political conversations in advance of the elections with those anti-Communist leaders who sought them; obviously they would be necessary. As a leak of such conversations could be seized on by the Communists as evidence of American intervention in Hungarian internal affairs, we decided that Mark would direct any initiative for such talks to me. This naturally would tend to draw some attention to me, but at the same time I was, by definition, expendable I could be disowned by the American Government; Mark could not. My line with them - weak as it was - was simply to be that the United Stares Government would favour any purely Hungarian efforts to stop the Communist steamroller; and that it would co-operate with any democratically-elected non-Communist majority in the future (were such a miracle to happen). If this seemed weak to them, and insufficient assurance on which to risk their followers, then that could not be helped. That was the true situation. However, I also decided to argue that the future of Hungary merited their efforts, if they could accept the inevitable risks. Hungary had suffered after the war because of the policy of her leaders to accommodate themselves to the Germans; the same error should not now be committed in the face of Soviet aggression and expansion. A clear expression of Hungarian protest against Soviet aggression might not stop the juggernaut; but it would be historically valuable to Hungary at some future date. Or so I argued as it happened, millions of Hungarians felt the same way then, and even more millions were to feel that way in 1956.
Mark also agreed to refer to me any political leaders who might come to him seeking escape. The first such, shortly after our conversation, was one of Hungary's most extraordinary political characters. Father Istvan Balogh had been the priest of a small rural parish, and active as an independent in local politics. He appeared in the Debrecen Provisional Government as Under-Secretary in the Prime Ministry. Not a very tall man, Balogh weighed some 270 pounds. He was a Rabelaisian type in his personal tastes: he relished eating and drinking, and all the material comforts and pleasures of life. Politically he was a Renaissance priest-politician; he was, I personally believe, the master practitioner of politics in Hungary during the period. Cunning, shrewd, intelligent, he was an invisible presence in every intrigue and political manoeuvre, advancing and retreating, exploiting and conceding. His policies were perhaps too personal, but no accretion of genuine political power exists without at least one such genius as Balogh pulling important strings in some nominally unimportant office. (A few days after the initial success of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, a Hungarian politician came to me and, more in seriousness than in jest, said, "This Revolution cannot succeed." I asked why he was so sure. "I do not see Balogh anywhere on the scene," he replied.)
Balogh gave me lunch in his luxurious villa in Buda. After lunch we strolled in the garden. Very matter-of-factly he said, "I am threatened with arrest. I do not have much time to decide. Can you help me to escape?" This was typical Balogh. He considered it unnecessary, maladroit and impolitic to make the full statement: "I am threatened with arrest if I do not co-operate with the Communists in some plan they have for me, I do not have much time to decide whether I can stay here, play their game and ultimately outwit them, But there is nothing to decide, really, unless there is an alternative. The alternative, if it exists, is escape. Can you tell me if it does exist? If not, the decision is made for me. If it does, I will make the decision."
I replied that I was willing to arrange his escape - although I reminded him frankly that his easily recognizable bulk would make the matter more than usually difficult. Guy had told me that he would be ready to operate in about two weeks from our first talk, I therefore told Balogh that I could do nothing about actually removing him from the country for one week, but that I would undertake to hide him in the interim if he was in immediate danger. He listened, reflected a bit, and then said simply, "I will let you know my decision."
Balogh had not specified how he would let me know. I in fact learned his decision when it was announced about ten days later that he was forming a new political party for the elections, and would publish a newspaper.
I didn't see Father Balogh again until the late autumn. He sent for me, and this time I found him in a palatial apartment in Pest. I wondered if he had now reversed his decision. Not at all. He explained to me at length how his party was keeping opposition to the Communists alive; because of this, he said, they were squeezing him on newsprint allocations for his paper. His proposition was simple: he wanted me to arrange for the shipment of newsprint to him from the American Zone of Germany. "And how can you get it into the country without the Communists confiscating it?" I asked, curious. Again, matter-of-factly, "I can arrange that." He continued. "You understand, I am nor asking for financial help. I can pay for the newsprint, although not in foreign exchange. You have perhaps heard of my art collection?" Indeed I had. He pointed to a small table behind my chair. "That, for example, should be worth a fair amount." I picked up a small painting in a standing frame. It was a Renoir. "Turn it over," he said. The reverse framed a Degas. In a way I was sorry to have to turn him down.
Father Balogh's was not the only new party to emerge for the August, 1947, elections. The Smallholders being completely fragmented, those who had composed its 1945 57 per cent. majority now undertook action in other parties. In place of the five parties which had contested the 1945 elections, ten appeared on the ballot in 1947. Sulyok's Freedom Party was by now forcibly disbanded, an example intended to be menacing to those who would attempt the same manoeuvre of rallying the broken majority into a cohesive unit. Nevertheless, the attempt was made. The problem revolved around the necessary authorization to form a political party. In addition to the four coalition parties, such authorizations were already held, since 1945, by the Catholics-the Democratic People's Party-and by a small, intellectual and liberal group called the Civic Democratic Party. The latter was composed of followers of Karoly Rassay, a perennial prewar oppositionist, a man of great personal influence, and probably Hungary's soundest politician, who had himself been inactive since the end of the war.
I arranged to have a talk with Rassay. His party was taking advantage of its authorization, but he himself was abstaining from the campaign. In the confused situation I feared too many splinter parties, and Rassay, so widely respected, offered a rallying point for a broad spectrum of non-Communist opinion. A man of great charm, he heard me out politely. Then he came to the point. "Very well. Let us suppose that I get out in the square on my soap-box. I even draw a good crowd. So much the worse for them. For what can you do when either the Russians or the A.V.O. come and cart me off to prison? For that is surely what will happen. Would you be able to save me?"
I answered that that would depend entirely on the circumstances. Rassay laughed. "Even that is not the point," he said. "Let us suppose that the circumstances were such that you could save me personally. What could you to do save all those who had gathered in that good crowd to hear me on my soap-box? They are the ones who would need saving, more than just one man. And there, I fear, you would be quite unable to do anything." An irrefutable argument.
I knew that Rassay was neither a coward nor a defeatist, and certainly no fool. "I assume, however," I asked him, "That we are speaking of certain personal situations; that you do not mean to say that no one should contest this election?" He smiled for just a moment, then was silent. Finally, quietly, he said, "No; I do not mean to say that." We parted, I feeling certain that Rassay's inaction ever since the war was the result of Soviet fear of his potential popularity and a consequent direct order to him to retire.
I had, shortly after my return from Washington, contacted Anna, the agent whose name had been given to me by my headquarters as a reliable source on Church matters. ([t should be clearly understood that my interest in Church matters had nothing to do with religious doctrine or sentiment; it was concerned solely with the existence in Hungary of a vital political issue of Church-State relations, and with the Roman Church as a European political institution. The same applies to my comments on Church personalities and policies.) Anna was a woman of outstanding character and great decency; nevertheless, I found her a bit fanatic. She was a Monarchist - not surprising in a country which had, until only two years before, been a Catholic monarchy for 1,000 years. To her, her religion and the Hungarian State were both bound up in the person of Cardinal Mindszenty, Primate of Hungary. She was part of a group who, selflessly and in ancient loyalty, gave of themselves and their remaining property to support the Cardinal in his role of unyielding last line of resistance to change.
It does not diminish the Cardinal's stature as a religious symbol, nor the tragedy of his fate as a victim of wanton violence, to state that as a political figure he was unfortunately inept. Once, during the Paris Peace Conference, when the United States was labouring with little support to soften the harsh terms being imposed on Hungary, the Cardinal made a very strong public speech denouncing all of the claims of Hungary's neighbours against her. Mark had occasion at the time to talk with the Cardinal. On instructions from our Delegation at Paris, he pointed out the practical difficulties confronting us in our efforts for Hungary, and asked the Cardinal what, in his opinion, posed the greatest danger for Hungary's future welfare among three particularly severe demands being pressed at Paris. The eyes flashed, the studiedly graceful and impressive hands swept in great arcs, as the oracular voice intoned the musical syllables. His priestly interpreter turned to Mark, speaking with utmost softness and respect: "His Eminence speaks with the moral authority and philosophy of the Holy Church. He says only a cheap politician can answer your question."
From Anna it became clear that the Cardinal was at odds with his own Bench of Bishops, who by and large in political matters sought a less provocative and more liberal position in Church-State relations. At the other end of the spectrum, the Jesuits pressed and manoeuvred for a radical policy which would permit them to co-operate with the Communists. The issue at stake was which group would control the Democratic People's Party - the Roman Catholic political arm, which sought none the less to include Protestants within its ranks, on the model of the predominantly but not exclusively Catholic Christian Democratic parties of Western Europe.
In late July Mark suggested I talk with the Jesuits, who had approached him. The arrangements for the meeting suggested that I was dealing with an organization which knew my business better than I did. I was instructed to wait on a corner at a certain hour: a car passed, circled the block, and stopped to pick me up. The driver mentioned my name, motioned me into the car, and, without a further word, drove off by a circuitious route to a walled compound set in a forest in the hills of Buda. The security precautions were no less strict than those of the Vatican Secretariat of State itself - without the Swiss Guards, of course. The only trouble was that I knew from Edmund that this group was badly infiltrated by Division III of the A.V.O. This sharply limited what I could say, but I was none the less curious to hear what would be said to me.
I was received by two Jesuit fathers, who were courteous but forceful in their discussion. (Hindsight touches this conversation with stark irony: one priest was to end up in the A.V.O. prisons; the other - like Father Balogh - was to be defrocked and ultimately excommunicated. God and Caesar are not everywhere easily reconciled in our age.) They began by showing documents which they claimed were proof of Papal support of their work. They criticized all past non-Communist policy in Hungary, and stated that their projects provided a realistic answer to the problem of Soviet occupation and Communist domination. They were two: the Democratic People's Party and a broad and vigorous youth programme. They emphasized the latter most strongly, pointing out that they had the Minister of the Interior's permission for their programme. Then they stressed their need for funds - which they hoped the United States would provide. Their programme was summed up in the phrase which both repeated to me at frequent intervals: "We can create and maintain a Christian society in a Communist state." (This idea is still not entirely dead in the political debates within the Society of Jesus, and receives its strongest current support, in various versions, from French Jesuits and, astoundingly enough, Spanish Jesuits, who are interested in avenues for the exercise of Spanish national influence in Europe.)
My hosts' sure conviction of their capabilities in this regard left no room whatsoever for argument. Since I could not be certain but what my remarks would be promptly available to the A.V.O. and the Soviets, I had no desire in any case to argue. I therefore said that it would be quite impossible for the United States Government to assist any political party, since this would constitute an impermissible interference in Hungarian affairs. To this they responded that they could probably manage so far as the Party was concerned, and they appreciated my view. But the youth organizations, they stressed, were the heart of their programme and, they believed, the real answer to the Hungarian future. I suggested that this was surely a matter for the Church itself to aid, and I mentioned their assurances of Papal support. "The demands on the Holy Father are great," answered one. I did not mention that I knew that their difficulties with the Cardinal were blocking financial aid for them from both Rome and the Hungarian bishops. I instead assured them that I would certainly see that the appropriate authorities were informed of their views and work, but that they would surely understand that in the United States the separation of Church and State forbade Government support for the social or religious activities of any denomination. The atmosphere grew frigid, and I was escorted out.
Within a short period Istvan Barankovics emerged as the leader of the Democratic People's Party. He was grudgingly accepted by the Cardinal, more warmly viewed by the Jesuits. A vastly cultivated man, of philosophical bent, Barankovics was essentially a compromise solution, but in spirit he was closer to the Jesuits. None the less, as the election approached even Anna waxed enthusiastic about him and the Party.
What with political conversations, a continuing flow of reports, encoding and decoding, the mechanics of clandestine meetings - mostly at night - and endeavouring to spend the necessary time at the Military Mission in support of my cover, I was not blessed these days with much leisure. Guy was wasting no time either. About three weeks after our last talk, he informed me he was ready to operate. From his police days he had found three unmetered taxi-drivers in Budapest on whom he knew he could count. In towns near, but not on, the border, and in the general region of his farm, he had found three more. At a point midway between Budapest and the border he had established a safe house - the property of a local priest. The Budapest cars would take our passengers to the priest's house. There they would be picked up by the local taxis and taken to Guy's farm. In this way the suspicion which would attach to a Budapest car wandering near the border was averted, and the rural cars were spared the long absences from their towns which might also have aroused comment. Furthermore, a reserve of three drivers at each end would avoid using the same car too often, plus insuring that one would be available when needed.
Ideally, the trip could be done in about five hours, allowing for back roads and with no delay at the midpoint. However, it was preferable to have a delay of maybe twelve hours at the midpoint to avoid suspiciously frequent traffic at the priest's house. There was also the problem of notifying the rural drivers. Guy declined to use the telephone, and relied instead on the mails, using a set of prearranged phrases. It increased the travel time to as much as three days, but it was secure.
In addition, Guy would visit his farm regularly to obtain information in the neighbourhood about the border patrols, their habits and general state of watchfulness, It was not necessary for Guy to be at the farm to assist those escaping; he had a caretaker at the farm in whom he had full confidence who would guide them to the crossing-point at a safe time. However, Guy also planned to secure alternative crossing-points; he had no desire for his farm to be under suspicion when it came time to use it himself. To avoid possible compromise of the facilities across the border, the names, addresses, and passwords of Hugh's agents in the Austrian border towns would be given by me, never in writing, to the refugees.
Guy beamed with genuine professional pleasure as he outlined all this to me, I felt a pleasurable excitement myself. We soon discovered, however, that we had overlooked one important item.
In the first two weeks we sent out eleven persons, made up of three Deputies of the defunct Freedom Party, whose immunity had been cancelled by the dissolution of Parliament in preparation for the new elections and who knew that arrest was a matter of days, their wives and children, plus a Rumanian girl, known to Mark, who had escaped from Bucharest on the Jewish underground, but had been discovered by the A.J.D.C. in Budapest to be non-Jewish and refused further help. In each case we came up against our oversight.
It was that we had no way of knowing whether the escape was successful until Guy made his next trip to his farm, or I made mine to Vienna. Hugh had no secure communications with me in Budapest, nor any right to communicate with Mark, and the Colonel in Vienna, who could have communicated with me via Peter in Switzerland - a round-about procedure - had no contact with Hugh, who was the only one to know whether or not the refugees had arrived. Telephone calls between Vienna and Budapest, saying, "The package has arrived," would be absurd. At the same time Guy wanted no communications from the rural drivers direct to him, either by mail or telephone, since it would link him to them in case of surveillance. Nor did he want his caretaker corresponding more than usually with him, and in any event that could involve as much as five or six days between the time a car left Budapest and the word was finally received by Guy. There was nothing for us to do but sweat the time out, Guy scanning the papers every day for the announcement of an arrest of persons trying to escape across the Austrian border. It was nerve-racking; I became an almost daily visitor to the bar where Helen, the cut-out, worked, to reassure myself that there was no disastrous news.
The anti-Communist Socialists were having great difficulties in preparing for the elections. I had one further meeting with Karoly Peyer and the others in his group. They knew perfectly well that they were worse anathema to the Communists than Nazis or the most reactionary landowner. They were fully aware that the most violent means would be used against them. Nevertheless, they were willing to enter the fight: their theory was that by forming an Independent Socialist Party they would, given half a fair chance in the elections, break the Communist grip on organized labour, and destroy the fraudulent claim of the Communists and their Socialist sycophants to a monopoly in speaking for the workers. They also hoped that in so doing they would mitigate the American anti-Socialist prejudice, and convey an authoritative warning to the Western European Socialist parties of the dangers of the Popular Front tactic. They asked me for no help of any kind. Indeed, in their difficulties I could have been of no help.
After breaking with the Szakasits leadership of the Party by means of a manifesto, Peyer and his followers had been refused authorization to form an Independent Socialist Party. Accordingly, Peyer had formed an alliance with Bela Zsolt, the leader of the Civic Democratic Party, which already had an authorization since the days of Debrecen. They were now called the Radical Party, and Peyer and other Socialist leaders were running on that ticket, hoping that their personal popularity among the workers would counter-balance the lack of a Socialist label. (The Hungarian workers understood the manoeuvre; the slogan of "the solidarity of the working class" continued, however, to bemuse Western Socialist theoreticians, and for years Peyer's action was the subject of acrimonious disagreement in the Socialist International. Even Anna Kethly, a latecomer to the Socialist fight against Communism, but for which she spent time in prison, came out to Vienna in 1956 as a Minister of State and emissary of the Inire Nagy Revolutionary Government, still denouncing Peyer's 1947 "betrayal of the working class.")
It was only after the elections that Sam spoke to me on behalf of the Independent Socialists' leadership. He said that they had decided it would eventually be necessary to send an emissary to the West, and he asked if I could assist his escape. I assured him that I would do so, and asked who it would be, "I don't know," he answered. "They'll pick one from among themselves, The others will stay." And so they did, at heavy cost.
Paul meanwhile had left the Smallholders' Party and joined in forming the Independent Party. This group was led by Zoltan Pfeiffet, a lawyer, former Under-Secretary in the Justice Ministry, and one of the principal Smallholder leaders in the anti-German Resistance. Pfeiffer, a man of outstanding courage and toughness, had acted as Bela Kovacs' lawyer up to the moment of his arrest by the Russians. It was the hope of the Independence Party leaders to recreate in effect the Smallholder Party, and its majority, under a new name-leaving the name of Smallholders to the now servile group running that Party. In an open political fight such hopes would have been subject to serious discounting by the ability of Father Balogh's, Barankovics's and Zsolt's parties to appeal to the same elements. This was, of course, a major element in the Communists' tolerance of Zsolt, their encouragement of Barankovics and their pressure on Balogh.
But as if this were not enough, the Communist-drafted election law, rammed through Parliament by threats and bribery, provided that 3,000 signatures were required from each district in which a new party wanted to run a candidate. The four non-coalition parties were therefore forced to compete against each other, not only in the elections themselves, but for even the number of constituencies in which they would stand. (There were two additional parties in this same position, other than the four mentioned here, but they were fractional and of no numerical importance.)
Notwithstanding these odds, the Independence Party fought on. Their success was such that the Communists began to resort to the strong-arm tactics they had used against the Freedom Party. In that case they had sent squads of thugs to break up the offices of the Party - with the police standing by, under orders to arrest, when the thugs had left, the surviving Party officers and employees for riot and disturbance of the peace. With the Independence Party the warning was even more direct Paul reached me through Jane one night in August, some ten days before the elections. We met by the Coronation Church; looking out over the lights of the city, with the smooth mass of the Danube flowing past, Paul's story turned the warm summer night into a shroud for evil.
Paul had been with Pfeiffer on a speaking tour along the left bank of the Danube in the villages to the south of Budapest. In one village Pfeiffer was addressing an orderly and attentive crowd when two truck-loads of men drove into the square. The men clambered out and pushed through the crowd, shouting about "fascists," and then assaulted the platform. Pfeiffer had been beaten into unconsciousness with bicycle chains; Paul had a severe gash in his left cheek, and was badly bruised and sprained; one man had several broken ribs. Paul recognized one of the leaders as an A.V.O. agent. With the speakers silenced, and the crowd dispersed, the thugs departed. Paul had brought Pfeiffer and the others back to Budapest - Pfeiffer's courageous wife insisting that he be kept in their apartment, which was also Party headquarters, as being safer for him than a hospital.
As if all of this were not enough, the Communists had stacked the cards even more in their favour, leaving nothing to chance. Edmund sent me a report two days before the election, which events proved absolutely, and unfortunately, accurate.
As long before as October, 1946, the A.V.O. had received orders to prepare a list of potential opposition within the country. These were specified to be: former aristocrats, former politicians, former landowners, former Army officers, "B-List" personnel (those discharged from State employ in 1946 ostensibly for economy reasons), those who "spoke against democracy," "Right-wing" Socialists-i.e. followers of Peyer - "deviationist" Communists, former Nazis and members of the German Volksbund. (The last two were pro-forma: former Nazis belonging to the Communist Party were excluded, and members of the Volkibund had already, on Soviet instructions, been ordered deported to Germany.) By the summer of 1947, this list contained 1,160,000 names.
At the same time, the new election law authorized the Minister of the Interior to draw up new election lists, specifying several indisputable categories for disfranchisement-such as former Nazis, persons deprived of civil rights for criminal reasons, etc. Rajk's list of 1,160,000 names was sent to all the Communist district headquarters in the country, with instructions to challenge any voter on election day whose name was on the list. Meanwhile the Minister of the Interior's official new list of qualified voters was published. The list of those qualified to vote did not, of course, show how many were disfranchised. The number, however, was exactly 1,160,000 - out of an electorate of 5,000,000. (Among these were 168,000 "Right Wing" Socialists, and more than half a million persons who had voted for the Smallholders in 1945.)
Not content with this, the election law also provided for absentee voting in the sense that a voter was not required to cast his ballot in his own district. However, in order to vote outside of his district, an elector had to possess an authorizing certificate, known as a "blue card." The A.V.O. itself printed these, in the number of 750,000. These were then secretly distributed to local Communist Party sections - minus 150,000, which were, by secret agreement, given to the National Peasant Party's pro-Communist leadership. Not many ordinary citizens required a "blue card" - the election was on a Sunday - but those who did, for legitimate reasons, found them difficult to obtain. The Communists, on the other hand, rallied all the transport at their command - not inconsiderable - and truck- and bus-loads of Party henchmen went around the country, voting not just twice, but again and again, mostly, of course, in Communist districts.
On Sunday, August 31, the farce was enacted. Mark told me that all morning the American Legation - which had sent teams around the entire country to observe the proceedings - was deluged with calls from protesting Hungarian citizens. He had just received a call from a well-known and rather reserved lawyer, who spluttered in outrage that he had been disfranchised for "prostitution," when several British diplomatic observers trooped in and announced that they had visited four or five polling places, and never had they seen a more "orderly, well-conducted and honest election." The senior Britisher wanted the American Minister to report jointly with him in this vein. The American Minister calmly suggested they wait until the election was over.
The Government figures were, to put it mildly, interesting. The Communist Party emerged as the largest single party, with 22 per cent. of the votes. The Socialists dropped from their 1945 18 per cent. to 15 per cent. The Smallholders dropped from their 1945 57 per cent, to 15 per cent. The National Peasants, with their share of the "blue cards," stood still at 8 per cent. Barankovics's Democratic People's Party - with Church backing - obtained 16 per cent. Pfeiffer and his Independence Party took 14 per cent. Father Balogh's party had 5 per cent. and Zsolt's Radical Party, on which ticket Peyer ran, obtained 2 per cent. The splinter parties accounted for the remaining 3 per cent. Even these fraudulent official figures showed that 40 per cent. of the country voted against the coalition; 63 per cent. voted against the Communist-Socialist combination. But the figures are, of course, meaningless: to give them any validity, it would be necessary to take account of over a million disfranchised voters and of 750,000 votes cast no one knows how many times over.
The only figure which was meaningful was the Communists' own secret official estimate of their real vote. Edmund reported it to me from a source in Division I of the A.V.O. ten days after the election. It was 7 per cent.
We had suffered defeat, all right. But its bitterness was diluted with the honour and coloured with the courage of several millions of Hungarians.