THERE are some 250 conscientious objectors to military service in Hungary. Trials of conscientious objectors (C.O.s) often are closed and it is almost impossible to go to prison to meet them or even to discover where the prisoners are kept.
A Hungarian peace activist, Olga Dioszegi, wrote to PEACE on May 8 that conditions for imprisoned C.O. Zsolt Keszthelyi improved after Radio Free Europe and the BBC reported on his beating. After this publicity, authorities put those beating him into another cell. However, the authorities have also refused to let Keszthelyi's friends and relatives contact him.
There is much debate in the Hungarian Communist Party over conscientious objection. Peace activists and dissident Catholics from the base communities movements met with Lubyas, a representative of the Hungarian Communist Party, after petitioning Janos Kadar for the release of imprisoned C.O.s. In the thirty-minutes exchange Lubyas maintained that military service had also been compulsory in the fascist Horthy army during World War II. Imprisonment of C.O.s was also justified on the basis of the similar policies of France and Switzerland.
Despite Lubyas's rigid refusal, the Hungarian Peace Council was negotiating about alternative civil service in March when a member of Hungarian democratic opposition was invited to participate. Hungarian General-Secretary Grosz has talked with Cardinal Paskai of the Hungarian Catholic Church and the Hungarian Council of Ministers has placed on its agenda the formulation of legislation to recognize conscientious objection. Peace activists fear that authorities will use unarmed physical work within the army as a way of punishing those whom they consider politically unreliable. Also, such civil service assignments may be of longer duration than military service and thus resemble the forced labor service of the army in the Stalinist period.
During this debate, no improvements have been made to the condition of C.O.s. Amnesty International chose Keszthelyi as a political prisoner of the month . He still has not, however, been recognized by the Hungarian government as a political prisoner. p