“Communists handling a register – equals forgery.
János Kuhinka and ErnőOrmódi[Ordódi], iron founders, occupied the local registry of Kispest during the dictatorship [the 1919 Hungarian Soviet] and performed the duties of a civil registrar. Because of this, they were prosecuted by the Royal Prosecutor’s Office of Pest Region for forgery of public documents. Kuhinka was charged on 305 counts of forgery, while Ormódi was charged on 180 counts. They were tried by the Royal Criminal Court of Pest Region before the council of Justice János Szálé.”
The popular liberal newspaper Az Estcovered a very interesting and—highly unusual— criminal case with the brief summary above. This case raises many questions about the criminal proceedings against communists after the 1919 Hungarian Soviet (henceforth: Soviet). If we also take the fact into account thatOrdódi and Kuhinka were eventually acquitted in court, this unique case becomes very revealing about post-World War Hungary and its political consolidation process.
In March 1919, the government of MihályKárolyi collapsed under a series of external and internal crises. The mantle of leadership passed to Bolshevik leader Béla Kun in a bloodless coup and thus began a brief period of communist rule in Hungary. In the “glorious 133 days”—as it was romanticized in Hungarian politics of history during Cold War-era communist rule—a myriad of social reforms was passed by the revolutionaries. They, among other things, annulled the use of noble titles, legalized all illegitimate children (those born out of wedlock), and greatly facilitated marriage and divorce procedures. The latter led to many new marriages in the short timeframe of the Soviet.
Since the Soviet upheld the view that workers should seize the means of production, it came as a natural conclusion that the working class should also take part in public administration. Despite most communist leaders being members of the “intelligentsia”, they engaged in heavy anti-intellectualism, arguing that public officials were “bourgeois” and estranged from the needs of the common man. Blue-collar workers were therefore encouraged to perform state functions. For example, the administering of a local register.
Kispest was a town of roughly 60,000 people near the end of the war. Despite its huge population, relative urbanization, and very close proximity to Budapest, it was not elevated to the rank of city until 1922. Being in the “factory zone” of the capital, worker movements had significant support around the area. Many residents and former local Social Democrat political activists of Kispest rose to influential positions in the Soviet. Ferenc Rákos, Chair of the Budapest Revolutionary Tribunal; AladárHikádé, his deputy; and Ede Chlepkó, Commander-in Chief of the Red Guard were all from Kispest.
János Kuhinka and Ernő Ordódi, however, were not prominent, feared, or loathed revolutionary leaders. We know very little about Kuhinka: neither his exact age, nor his activities before or after the Soviet. All that seems certain about him is that he was an iron-fitter and had a large family.
We have a bit more information about Ordódi: he was a 39-year-old iron turner, who had long been a member of the Social Democratic Party of Hungary (MSZDP) before the Soviet and kept on supporting them in the Horthy era. He was rather wealthy for a turner, owning a house.The court case gives his wealth as “owning some fortune,”, while the overwhelming majority of the defendants were classified as “fortuneless.” Apart from working as a registrar, he was also in charge of the nationalised five film theatres in the city during the Soviet.
While it was not unheard of in the era that forgery prosecutions came out of the chaos of a regime change or of the actions of bad-faith actors, this prosecution came to be because of a systemic reason, namely the denial of the Soviet as a legitimate government. The communist cases or communist processes – as they were officially referred to in the early 1920s – were constructed on the legal basis that the Soviet was wholly illegitimate. The Bolshevik experiment was seen through the lens of the contemporary criminal law as a mob, which occupied the functions of the Hungarian state, and which for selfish monetary gains conspired to fuel a class war and the hatred of the “bourgeois class.” The legalization of this view was established via two government decrees by the government of István Friedrich.
Since every official of the Soviet was seen as acting on behalf of a criminal organisation, many seemingly ordinary acts could have carried a basis for prosecution, and even non-political administrative action was transformed into common criminality through invoking provisions from the criminal code. Requisition of certain goods—a quite common occurrence in an era of economic blockade, shortage economy, and rationing—thus became simple extortion. An arrest carried out by Soviet police or a conviction by a laic court became illegal restraint. From this perspective, the Royal Prosecutor’s Office of Pest Region did not overreach when charging Kuhinka and Ordódi with hundreds of counts of forgery of public documents for keeping the marriage records on the town registry.
Defendants of such communist cases were tried in front of “special courts” set up solely for dealing with alleged crimes of the Soviet,where only first-instance proceedings were held, without appeal, even though the judgements were full of inconsistencies. In the case of a conviction, the guilty party had to begin serving the sentence immediately.
Both Kuhinka and Ordódi were charged with violating 391.§. (forgery of public documents) of the Hungarian Penal Code. The prosecution argued: “[defendants] having been working during the Soviet as state-mandated registrars and thus usurping functions from rightful authority, declared three-hundred five and one-hundred eighty-two couples married, respectively, […] exposing them to the injuria that their marriages may be annulled.”
Apart from their criminal charges, it was also noted that Kuhinka and Ordódi violated the 1894 Marriage Law on dozens of counts. By declaring couples married, they not only disregarded regulations that Bolshevik social views held to be obsolete, but sometimes they confirmed marriages without any witnesses or, in the case of minors, without parental consent. The validity of foreign nationals for a Hungarian marriage was also not verified.
In the end, however, the court acquitted the worker officials, dismantling the prosecutor’s claims about any forgery having happened. The council argued that the registry could not possibly be fake, as it held factually valid information from consenting parties. Furthermore, Kuhinka and Ordódi were not violating the law by acting as registrars, because, according to the Marriage Law: “The marriage is regarded as if it was held before a public official, if the person in question was regarded as a public official by the public opinion.”Even if the person later turns out to be an unauthorised public official, as long as neither marriageable party acted in bad faith, such a marriage was still valid.
Because of the peculiar legal standing of the defendants—they did not wrong anyone, despite not being legal registry officials—the court also dismissed the notion that Kuhinka and Ordódi would have committed crimes against the status of the family.The acquittal was possibly made easier by a ministerial order—incidentally the very same one that legally nullified Bolshevik acts and institutions. The 4038/1919. M.E. decree deemed every marriage declared under the Soviet legal and non-appealable by third parties, regardless of whether they would have been legal under the Marriage Act. This almost blanket provision could have provided leeway for the court to easily drop any related charges without engaging with their merit; I find it interesting that they nevertheless went out of their way to dismiss the indictment piece by piece. Remarkably, the court does not even mention this decree in the motivation of the verdict, and there is only a slight indication in the argument that the permissiveness of 4038/1919. comes exactly from the aforementioned paragraphs of the Marriage Act.
In summary, this case encapsulates brings to light not only the typical institutional mechanisms used in criminal proceedings against communists in post-war Hungary, but also the ambiguities in the system: The criminalisation of the whole Soviet, and the launch of a potentially all-encompassing wave of retaliation. An overly aggressive (albeit logical) approach on behalf of the prosecutors, and a much more nuanced perspective on the case from the court. Officials of worker background in the crosshairs. It is, however, also unique because forgery prosecutions were rather rare. After taking a look at the case of Kuhinka and Ordódi, this reluctance to prosecute forgery is understandable from the anti-Communist perspective: there were several more contestable functions in the Bolshevik public administration, not to speak of the policing or the laic judiciary.
Az Est, 27. 03. 1920. 5.
Az Est started in 1910 as a politically independent, but in tone more progressive-leaning daily newspaper. After 1920, it became a punching bag for the Hungarian far-right, as liberalism was (along with communism) blamed by many for the Treaty of Trianon. As the conservative authoritarian political landscape ruled by Regent Miklós Horthy and Prime Minister IstvánBethlen consolidated in the 1920s, the paper moved to the right.
 This was not the only „marriage boom” in the period; the first happened in November 1918, after the men came home en masse from the war.
 This fell mostly on jurists, as criminal courts were annulled and were replaced by “revolutionary tribunals”, which were laic courts operating in practice quite like kangaroo courts. However, they actually were the existing judicial power of the state in these months.
 He was either 42 or 45 years old. He was prosecuted on a theft charge in 1919 too, which gives his age at 42. This process, despite happening only a few months later, gives his age at 45. See: Budapest FővárosLevéltára VII.18.d. A jogszolgáltatásterületiszervei. BudapestiKirályiÜgyészség (1946- BudapestiÁllamügyészség) iratai. Büntetőperekiratai. 13/0871-1919.
Népszava, 01. 09. 1915. 10.; Népszava, 30. 07. 1922. 16.
BudapestiCzim-ésLakásjegyzék, 1928. (29.) Franklin Társulat, 1928. 591.
 Pest MegyeiLevéltár, XV.21a/1. Az MSZMB KB PárttörténetiIntézeteArchívumátólvisszakapottiratoklevéltárigyűjteménye 1919–1943.PestvidékiKir. Törvényszékenkommunistatevékenységmiattindítottbüntetőperekiratai. Büntetőügyekiratai. B. 2363/1920. fol. 1r.
TemesváriHirlap, 20. 11. 1928. 4. Retired notary acquitted on forgery charges.
Csonkamagyarország, 17. 01. 1922. 3. A registered child, who has never been born.
 The 4038/1919. and 4039/1919. M.E. Orders were issued on 19 August 1919, within three weeks of the fall of the Soviet. The former declared the months of Bolshevik rule a legal void, the latter provided the framework for swift mass prosecutions against those involved. See: MagyarországiRendeletekTára, 1919. (53.) Magyar Kir. Belügyminisztérium, 1919. 647-656.
 In the court proceedings, a typical giveaway of that legal thinking is that the Soviet is always referred to as „so-called Soviet Republic”, in quotation marks, as if it was a nickname.
 It was, naturally, not always clear where to draw the line between connected and nonconnected offence. For example, the maid of Bolshevik leader Béla Kun was explicitly not tried before a special court, stating that „she has held no position in the Soviet”. The secretary of Kun, however, was tried before such a court in a connected theft case of them. See: Budapest FővárosLevéltára. VII.5.c A jogszolgáltatásterületiszervei. BudapestiKirályiBüntetőtörvényszékiratai. Büntetőperekiratai. 4783/1920.
 For example, János Gergely „deputy of administration” [Bolshevik notary] of Kispest was acquitted on extortion charges in a case when he and others were requisitioning horses for the army under fixed prices. See: Pest MegyeiLevéltár, XV.21a/1.B 4167/1921. On the contrary, Richárd Stern, commander of the Factory Guard at Csepel Ammunition Plant, was convicted on sedition charges for participating in the local army recruitment process. See: Pest MegyeiLevéltár, XV.21a/1. B. 1124/1920.
 Pest MegyeiLevéltár, XV.21a/1. B. 2363/1920. fol. 3r.
 Such as the 10-month mandatory „waiting period” for recently divorced women before allowing them to remarry.
 The full legal majority age in the pre-war Kingdom of Hungary was 24 years and for marriage eligibility without parental/guardian consent, it was 20 years. The Soviet, while in power, lowered the majority age to uniform 18 years.
Marriage Law Act, 1894/XXXI. 30.§. (https://net.jogtar.hu/ezer-ev-torveny?docid=89400031.TV; last downloaded on 22. 12. 2022.)
 Marriage Law Act, 1894/XXXI. 42.§. a. (https://net.jogtar.hu/ezer-ev-torveny?docid=89400031.TV; last downloaded on 22. 12. 2022.)
 In the Hungarian Penal Code of the era, there were a handful of provisions for the protection of the status of the family. These aimed to, in the case of marriage, penalise those who married in a knowingly illegal way and knowingly or negligently allowed such activity. See: Act of Hungarian Penal Code on Felonies and Misdemeanors. 1878/V. 255-257.§. (https://net.jogtar.hu/jogszabaly?docid=87800005.TV&txtreferer=94500007.TV; last downloaded on 22. 12. 2022.)
 4038/1919. M.E. Order on the Provisional Rules of Jurisdiction. 4-5.§. MagyarországiRendeletekTára, 1919. (53.) Magyar Kir. Belügyminisztérium, 1919. 647-648.
 Pest MegyeiLevéltár, XV.21a/1. B. 2363/1920. fol. 4v.
 This approach, however, did not necessarily lead to acquittal at all. See for example: Pest MegyeiLevéltár, XV.21a/1. B. 5899/1919.