The Greatest Compliment: Being Sentenced to Prison for Trying to Overthrow the State

Tamás Kiss was a second year law student from Szeged who participated in the drafting of the 16 Points put forth by the Association of Hungarian University and College Unions (MEFESZ). He later took an active role in the revolution first in Budapest and then in Szeged in the south of Hungary. According to his recollections, even before the revolution, the authorities had planned to send one of their most heavy-handed leaders, György Marosán, down to Szeged to “put things in order,” but since Marosán had made clear even before anyone could foresee the revolution that he was only willing to “negotiate” with weapons, the party leadership quickly reconsidered things.

Not long afterward, Tamás Kiss found himself with some weapons of his own. Not only did he take an active role in the Budapest protests of October 23rd and the revolution that grew out of it, but over the following days he also participated in the events going on in Szeged. Kiss joined the national guard in this provincial university city, which meant protecting various buildings or structures as well as performing street patrols to maintain order. He also oversaw the protection of the local secret police building which was deserted by then. The national guard laid down their weapons on November 4th, which meant that Tamás Kiss was forced into hiding until April 1957. It was then that he was lured into a trap: Kiss received a summons from his university regarding a disciplinary hearing that would discuss his participation in the national guard.

Kiss rather naively believed that if the university was going to be the one to call him to account for his actions, then the dictatorship would not, consequently he went in for the discussions. Unfortunately for him, the secret police were waiting for him dressed as civilians and arrested him on the street. During his interrogation, Kiss could not deny his participation in the national guard due to the many witnesses against him. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in 1958 for organizing and leading a movement to overthrow the People’s Republic of Hungary. When announcing the sentence, the judge said that the reason he received such a long sentence was because Kiss knew that his actions were capable of overthrowing the dictatorship of the proletariat. To this day, Kiss considers this one of the greatest compliments he has ever received, even if that was not exactly what the judge intended.

Bence Csatári