Tuesday, 11 September 2012


Béla Biszku, a link with the past

Today is András Pető's birthday, and the anniversary of his death.

There have been speeches in the assembly hall of the Institute named after him in Budapest and small ceremonies at Farkasréti cemetry where his ashes repose and outside the flat in Stollár Béla utca 4 where András Pető lived for much of his time in Budapest.

András Pető lived and died a long time ago and the particulars of his time, so vital and vivid when they happened, are largely confined to the memories of a dwindling, elderly few. But that past is not entirely another country, however remote it may seem...


Béla Biszku was was a high-ranking member of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party. From 1957 to 1961 he had held the post of Interior Minister, in the years following the 1956 uprising. In 1963 he was Secretary of the party's Central Committee, and he hurt his lower back in a sports injury. On the personal recommendation of a fellow high-ranking Party-member he went to see András Pető in the flat at Stollár Béla utca, no great diversion as it lies close by the big white office block that was Party Headquarters.

András Pető asked him to jump 
I told him that I couldn't because my back hurt, but he told me to jump anyway.
This was followed by daily visits to the Institute in Villányi út, at eight o'clock every morning, seven days a week for three months. Béla Biszku recovered and after a year's break took up sports again.

This is extracted from Judit Forrai's interview with Béla Biszku, part of the rich material that she collected for her book of personal recollections of András Pető, published in 1999. Continuing his account of András Pető, Béla Biszku recalled –
He was an incredibly precise and painstaking man... He was very strict and also very warm-hearted. His love for children and what he achieved for them was fantastic...
[He] always encouraged me to believe that I would recover. He developed a course of exercises specially for me... I was also very run down psychologically, and he even managed to get me back on an even keel in that respect...
After the exercises we talked, and Pető told me that – although in fact I had already heard it from others as well, that he had to fight very hard to keep his Institute independent of the Ministry of Health. I couldn't understand why this should be important to him, and he explained to me that it was because his treatment was basically a matter of educating the patients....

Pető visited Party Headquarters and the Party Committee regularly, because I would introduce him to the people in charge of this subject...
There is more on the micro-politics around the Institute around that time, and personal stuff too, for example –
First of all, I am very grateful to him for what he did for me, and for the chance to have got to know him because, although he was outwardly a very dour man, he was actually very warm-hearted when he unbent. He had four separate fatal diseases, an incarcerated hydrocele, and he had terrible trouble with his stomach and lived on a very strict diet... everything was totally unsalted and he ate only vegetables and potatoes, no meat at all, or only very rarely. The two Cerberuses who guarded this strict diet were Mária Hári and Mrs Székely. Oh, they quarrelled all the time...
Béla Biszku kept in touch over András Pető's few remaining years. He had followed the progress of the Institute in the years that followed, and when interviewed by Judit Forrai he bemoaned the growing influence of finance (totally at variance with András Pető's own principles) and the problems of maintaining standards.

He also let slip an interesting aside 
Moreno … came to visit Pető in 1962. He has an enormous argument with Moreno. Pető did not like the way that Moreno worked. Moreno wanted to heal his patients by letting them act out their problems. I don't want to go into details, because I only know about it superficially...
Somehow this rings true, perhaps truer than the unquestioning hagiographic accounts of the congruity of their two approaches.


It is fifty years since Béla Biszku's sports injury. Or, you could say, only fifty years.

One of the dwindling few whose memories of András Pető live clearly on is Julia Devai, stretching back to the late forties and the very dawn of conductive pedagogy. Her detailed memoir soon to be published by Conductive Education Press, specifies Béla Biszku's condition in 1963, and of greater general significance, its pivotal role in finally rescuing András Pető and his Institute from the Ministry of Health –
Biszku had ischialgia [hip pain] and heard about Pető and went to him. Pető had a special trick of treating ischialgia, which he wrote down in a book published under a pseudonym. Biszku and Pál Ilku [then Minister of Education] then arranged that the Conductive Education Institute would become a ‘high school’ [college].

Yesterday, it was reported that Hungarian authorities have arrested Béla Biszku 

A former interior minister of Hungary, Béla Biszku, who oversaw the crushing of the 1956 revolution, has been arrested on suspicion of war crimes.

He is the first of the 1956 Communist leadership to face a criminal inquiry. Mr Biszku, 90, is accused of failing to protect civilians in wartime, and of responsibility for ordering security forces to open fire on crowds. He denies the charges, for which he could face a life sentence. Prosecutors want him put under house arrest."

'Today...prosecutors have detained and heard as a suspect Béla Biszku, one of the key designers and one of those responsible for the reprisals that followed the 1956 revolution and uprising,' said Budapest's acting chief prosecutor, Tibor Ibolya. 

Mr Biszku is the only surviving member of the Communist Party's interim executive committee from 1956. The uprising against Hungary's communist dictatorship and its submission to the Soviet Union began in October of that year and toppled the government. But within three weeks it was crushed by a Soviet invasion.

'Good shape'

Mr Biszku is accused of responsibility for ordering the security forces to open fire on crowds in Budapest and Salgótarján in November and December 1956. About 50 people were killed in those two incidents alone. Further charges, relating to his role in allegedly interfering with the courts to ensure heavy sentences, including the death sentence for the revolutionaries, may be added. At least 226 people were executed.

Two days before his 91st birthday, Béla Biszku went quietly when police officers came to his home on Monday morning. Mr Ibolya said he was in good physical shape, but he had refused to make a statement to prosecutors.

One of the mysteries of the case is exactly why it has taken so long. It is 22 years since the fall of communism, and 44 years since Hungary signed the 1968 New York Convention on bringing those responsible for war crimes to justice. In 2011 the so-called Biszku Law was drawn up, allowing for the 1968 New York Convention to be incorporated into Hungarian law. In February this year, the Budapest Prosecution Service began an investigation, in reaction to an individual complaint against him...
What a tangled web is history, and how contradictory its rights and wrongs.


Makk, A, (2012) Dr. Pető Andrásra emlékezünk, PAI Hirek, 6 November

Dévai, J, (2012) Personal memories from the days of the beginning of Conductive Education, in G. Maguire and A. Sutton (eds) András Pető, Birmingham Conductive Education Press, pp 45-69 (forthcoming)

Forrai, J. (1999) Memoirs of the beginnings of conductive pedagogy and András Pető, Budapest, Új Aranyhíd/Birmingham Foundation for Conductive Education (interview with Béla Biszku: pp. 125-30)

Thorpe, N. (2012) Hungary 1956 counter-revolutionary Bela Biszku arrested, BBC News, 10 September


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