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Labor Action, 21 February 1949


William Barton

Diplomatic Cold War Skirmishes
Follow Mindszenty Frameup Trial


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 8, 21 February 1949, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The trial of Cardinal Mindszenty in Hungary has become a major incident in international diplomacy as the Hungarian government demanded the recall of U.S. Minister Chapin and two American legation officials, while the U.S. State Department asked the first secretary of the Hungarian legation in Washington to leave.

The conviction of the Cardinal has been openly condemned by President Truman, Secretary of State Acheson and British Foreign Secretary Bevin. The Pope has excommunicated anyone connected with the prosecution. The UP reports that the Hungarian Foreign Minister charged Truman with “brutal attempts’’ jto interfere in the internal affairs of the country.

Meanwhile fifteen Evangelical clergymen have been arrested in Bulgaria for “espionage.” Unlike the Hungarian situation, where there is a contest between the mighty powers of the Church of Rome and the Kremlin, these churchmen represent a small, weak, non-militant section of religious Bulgarians. The Dmitrov regime seems bent upon destroying any possible center of future opposition and doing its bit for its side in the cold war. The Evangelical clergymen surely represent no “clear and present” danger.

Cardinal Mindszenty and his colleagues have appealed their sentences. It is possible that the Hungarian Stalinist government may wish to demonstrate its “benevolence” and slightly quiet the hornets’ nest the trials have stirred by shortening the sentences. Or it may wish to demonstrate the toughness of its side in the international conflict by holding firm. For it is difficult to view these trials as mere cases involving individuals and institutions within a particular country. Everything becomes another weapon in the eversimmering East-West conflict.

The irony of this stage of the conflict is that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church becomes identified with the struggle for human freedom. As Labor Action has pointed out, in Hungary the church is a source of continual opposition to the Stalinist brand of totalitarianism. As such, its power cannot be too long tolerated by the Stalinists. Since it is an international organization with its headquarters elsewhere and its membership widely distributed, the church cannot easily be absorbed into the Hungarian state, even if a practical basis were worked out to compromise ideological difficulties.

This is not true of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Since the early days of the war, a strong liaison has been worked out between the Moscow Metropolitan (church leader) and the Kremlin. As in Czarist days, the Russian Church has become an instrument of state policy, particularly in the non-Russian lands subjected to Russian imperialist domination. It is an additional means for securing ties to the “motherland.” Thus, the New York Times correspondent Arnoldo Cortesi reports a process of forcible conversion of both Greek and Roman Catholics to the Russian faith in Rumania. He announces that “not even freedom of worship is conceded to the Catholic Church of Greek rite.” It is not religious belief or practice that is here at issue, but the need to squelch potential opposition. The arrest of the Protestant ministers in Bulgaria, a country almost entirely Greek Orthodox in religious background, further substantiates this analysis.

Rulers Fear People

There is no doubt that this tightening up is a result of the typical constant fears of totalitarian rulers – fear of internal opposition, fear of international opponents, possible fear on the part of the Russian rulers of anything that might assist the creation of more Titos. The Hungarian prosecutions, with their nauseating Stalinist atmosphere of staged confessions, are part of the pattern of consolidation in the one country in the Stalinist orbit where native opposition retained some strength.

Its army is supposed to be over the limit granted by the peace treaty. Visitors claim that there appear to be three times as many police in Budapest as in pre-Stalinist times (under the fascist Horthy regime). Near the Austrian border, every village has two to three score policemen, where there formerly were none. The inhabitants of these villages are not allowed to leave after 7:00 p.m. without informing the police. Janitors in Budapest must report any inhabitant absent for two days; if he stays away another day, the police investigate. Secret police are all over; from the Nazi-fascist background of the judge in the Mindszenty trial, it is not presumptuous to believe that some of the internal spies have been recruited from the same crew that faithfully served Horthy and Hitler.

It must be emphasized that no government undertakes such elaborate and expensive measures in protecting itself unless it is seriously fearful of its populace. The defense of the Hungarian and Bulgarian churchmen against the frameups is a campaign in defense of liberty against terror. Without in any way concealing their antagonism to the reactionary political force which is the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, without ceasing to oppose the propaganda purposes to which the frameups are being put by the opinion-makers of the Western side in the cold war, socialists must support that defense. A defeat for the Stalinists on this count would aid in tearing down their apparently imposing, jerry-built structure in Eastern Europe.

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