NOVEMBER: “THIS TROUBLESOME PRIEST”
A few weeks before the revolution, I received a legal brief that was to change my life and the life of my country. András Tőkés, a Târgu Mureş high school teacher and the priest’s brother, asked me to personally represent László Tőkés at a court appeal hearing in the west Transylvanian town of Timişoara.
Tőkés’s outspoken opposition to the antics of Ceauşescu made him in those days one of the few people courageous enough to openly defy the totalitarian machine. But his conflict then was not strictly with the dictator, but with his own Reformed Church (Calvinist) bishop, a Ceauşescu stooge charged with stifling this priest’s dissident activities. The chosen method for this assault was that Tőkés be removed from his current residence in Timişoara and transferred to a new out-of-the-way parish where he would presumably be able to do less damage. Tőkés was contesting the legality of this unsought-for transfer.
I must confess that I was frightened, but I felt that if László was resisting oppression so heroically, then it was unacceptable for a lawyer from the Hungarian minority to refuse to represent him. For if a Romanian solicitor had entered the case, it could have been viewed like this: “See how isolated Tőkés is within his own community, how the Hungarians in Romania have no solidarity with his stand.” I am certain this is the way it would have been interpreted by the Securitate secret police and the propaganda machinery.
The initial written defence had been prepared by a solicitor colleague from Târgu Mureş, fellow-Hungarian Zoltán Cziprián. But he was unable to travel to Timişoara for the hearing.
When I advised my Romanian solicitor colleague, Liviu Hurga, the chairman of my local College of Solicitors of Mureş County (of which Târgu Mureş is the centre), that I would write the appeal in the Tőkés case, he asked me why, since Cziprián was Tőkés’s solicitor. My answer was that Zoli Cziprián was ill. But why exactly you? Well, because I am not ill...
At the same time, a certain employee of the Interior Ministry asked me whether I wanted to become a martyr of the Hungarians. No, I answered with a heavy heart. I only want to live up to the responsibility of being a solicitor.
He wanted to dissuade me, at any cost, from travelling to Timişoara. For with a solicitor present in court to represent the client, it would become an open hearing, and many people – possibly also foreign journalists – would hear what legal and human injustice was being prepared against László Tőkés.
Finally, however, Maria Bobu, Ceauşescu’s Minister of Justice, declared that if the defence solicitor in the case thought it necessary, she was entitled to travel to Timişoara for the hearing. But such tensions made me a nervous wreck.
I knew in addition what had happened to Ferenc Bálint, the party secretary of the beer factory of Reghin. At a show event organised in Bucharest at the behest of Ceauşescu he was not prepared to condemn the History of Transylvania edited by Béla Köpeczi, a member of the Hungarian Academy of Science. After he refused to read out a text written by others, he “fell by accident” from the sixth story window of his hotel. His funeral was supervised by the Securitate and they did not allow the coffin to be opened.
So it was that, come the first hearing on November 20, I forgot to take along the case file and my solicitor’s retainer! I travelled to Timişoara in my own car under the protection of my Romanian mechanic neighbour, Titus Giga.
In Timişoara, after a journey of 400 kilometres, I noticed my oversight. Luckily, my wife had noticed it too and was already following me by train. Thus we were together in Timişoara, watching the November 19 broadcast of the Hungarian Television Panorama programme. Viewing the images from Bulgaria of the fall of the long time dictator there, Todor Zhivkov, she bet me a bottle of champagne that Ceauşescu would be overthrown by Christmas. Is the woman always right?
At the November 20 hearing to my surprise the Romanian solicitor of Timişoara retained by the local Reformed Hungarian bishop – the Ceauşescu stooge – requested that the hearing to be adjourned. He said he had not had sufficient time to prepare for it.
I believe there was an ulterior motive. Hungary’s own Communist leaders were showing an increasing interest in the tribulations inflicted on the Hungarian minority in Transylvania. And, even at the cost of breaking Warsaw Pact solidarity, they were speaking out ever more sharply. I believe the Romanian Communists were afraid that the absence of the Hungarian Communists as guests at the upcoming Romanian Party Congress would be linked by public opinion to Hungarian displeasure over the anti-Tőkés hearing. And they did not want to spoil the festive spirit of the re-election of Ceauşescu.
We obtained an unusually short postponement, and a week later I again had to travel to Timişoara. On the train I was accompanied by my Hungarian childhood friend János Hegedűs (“Cimbi”) who said that if I had accepted the case, he must accompany me for my safety.
On this second visit, I desired very much to meet the man I was now representing, László Tőkés. After the first hearing I had not dared to go to his home. In Romania the solicitor receives his client in his office and is not supposed to go to his home. And in such a case as this, it was especially wise to be careful. I had to behave in such a way so as not to give the Securitate any ground for a move against me. Nor did I want to appear in their eyes to be “some kind of a hero”, who as an international unknown was ripe for killing now rather than later.
The November 28 hearing took place in a civilized tone. The strange thing, though, was that such a “simple” matter as the eviction of a priest from his residence and his relocation to a new place was being heard by the Romanian president of the county court, Elena Topala, and that the attorney-general of the county was also present.
The attorney-general was present as the representative of the Public Guardianship Authority. But instead of protecting the interests of the minor child of the Tőkés couple, he requested that the appeal be rejected, viz. that the entire family to be evicted, including the minor child and its pregnant mother.
After I left the court, many Hungarians surrounded me and asked. “Solicitor, why can’t our priest be the one whom we love?” (i.e. Tőkés) I almost answered. “That is exactly the point.” But thinking of the “ears on duty”, I said only: “Let us wait for the decision, maybe justice will be done.”
It has to be said here that the lawyer of the Bishopric’s office, Ramiro Virgil Mancaş of Timişoara, immediately reported in writing to the Securitate. He found it important to record that the congregation members present at the hearing showed a hostile attitude. In 1989 Mr Marcaş represented the Bishopric of Oradea in court against László Tőkés in the case of his eviction. At present he is working as a university lecturer.
What did I trust in? Perhaps I thought that my appeal may have been shown to the “competent comrade”, who may have been aware just how popular Tőkés was, and also to what extent the international press had followed the court case. I thought he might see that the authorities had made a wrong move, and that he might suggest the appeal against the priest’s transfer be upheld. The international standing of Romania would have improved at once. But the powers-that-be were no longer rational enough to reason so logically.
Four of us went to the Tőkés flat: his wife Edit, his father István, a young Hungarian from Dumbrăviţa (Ferenc Holló), who on both my visits to Timişoara stayed with me to provide protection, and myself. I was watching carefully to see if we were being followed, but noticed nothing suspicious. And at the church one part of which served as the minister’s living quarters I saw to my surprise that there seemed to be no guards. After a complicated doorbell ringing sequence, I heard the grinding of the iron bars protecting the door from the inside. László Tőkés appeared. He had a hunted look, in sharp contrast to what I now know to be his normal appearance of radiated calm. His eyes made me suddenly realise how unbelievably difficult it is to take a stand against the paranoid, totalitarian machine.
Having finally met the man, I formulated very carefully what I had to say to Tőkés. (Just how justified my caution had been was revealed in the subsequent trials of the Securitate officers in Timişoara after the revolution prevailed. For we learned then that every word of ours had been listened to by the “ears on duty”) I stressed to him that if he was arrested, he was entitled to ask immediately for a solicitor. I said he should refuse to make any statements until his solicitor arrived (at this moment I pointed to myself). I anxiously stressed that if the appeal was lost and the eviction order was implemented, he should not offer any resistance. The obstruction of the execution of the eviction order would be a criminal action, and if he committed it, he would be arrested. And in jail, anything can happen.
It is Romania’s fortune, and Europe’s fortune, that Tőkés did not abide by this solicitor’s advice of mine.
During my delivery of this lecture, Tőkés was called from the room to be told that the man, HoIIó – who had just previously helped him to unload a car – had been taken away by the police. When my own party left the Tőkés home, a not overly confidence-inspiring policeman stared at us, though said nothing. Next, a police officer at the end of the street saluted me! To this extent, at least, they were able to distinguish that this was the solicitor, against whom more subtle methods would have to be applied than against poor Holló.
Back at the courthouse, following my hearing with Tőkés, and while translating some written evidence into Romanian for the use of the court, I established a rapport with the Romanian court secretary, Elena Bungărdean. This was in late November. In the coming days, she was able to advise me privately, and with no names mentioned over the telephone, about every step in the Tőkés case: what was happening at any one time to Tőkés and his family, for what hour the eviction order had been set, etc.
Could the Temesvár Society (which was to become the torch-bearer of the joint struggle against the Iliescu-P. Roman regime taking Romania back to the bad old days) already have been functioning in these last days of the Ceauşescu regime? The demand in point eight of the Society’s post-revolution proclamation, that communist leaders and members of the Securitate should be barred from political life for a decade, was not achieved.
During the fearful days of Timişoara that were about to begin – the anti-Ceauşescu uprising when the guns were finally turned on the people – how could I have hoped that less than a month later I would be able to report as follows about this “simple little eviction case” in the newly-liberated Hungarian-language Târgu Mureş Népújság [People’s Newspaper, previously Vörös Zászló: Red Banner], or in the Romanian-language Bucharest Adevărul [Truth, previously Scînteia: Spark].
But in that brief respite immediately after the December revolution, there were a few hours when the truth could finally speak and be heard, and when the proper process of the law seemed to have dignity. And so I wrote: