Show trial

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People's Court in Nazi Germany. Trial of Adolf Reichwein, 1944

A show trial is a public trial in which there is a strong connotation that the judicial authorities have already determined the guilt of the defendant. The actual trial has as its only goal to present the accusation and the verdict to the public as an impressive example and as a warning to other would-be dissidents or transgressors. Show trials tend to be retributive rather than correctional justice and also conducted for propagandistic purposes. The term was first recorded in the 1930s.[1]

China[edit]

Following the formation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Communist Party of China under Mao Zedong began a massive socioeconomic and political campaign called the Great Leap Forward, which lasted circa 1958–1961. During this time, many thousands of people classified as elements of the bourgeois like wealthy landlords were rounded up, given show trials, with some receiving executions.

Between 1 and 2 million landlords were executed as "counterrevolutionaries" in Communist China.[2]

After the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, show trials were given to "rioters and counter-revolutionaries" involved in the protests and subsequent military massacre.[3]

Chinese writer and dissident Ma Jian argued that Gu Kailai, the wife of purged Communist Chinese leader Bo Xilai, was given a show trial in 2012.[4]

Japan[edit]

1600–1868: The Tokugawa government cracked down on Japanese Christians via methods such as fumi-e (picture stepping). Widely used to maintain religious homogeneity, the fumi-e trials were quite like Salem witch trials. In the fumi-e "trial", if you were unable to step on a wooden plank which had a picture of Jesus on it, you were labeled Christian and summarily executed. In order to survive, some Japanese Christians fled to the remote mountains, where their practices devolved into strange arts and customs by the time Japan was again 'opened to the west' in the 1850s.

Russia[edit]

Main article: Moscow Trials

Show trials were a significant part of Joseph Stalin's regime. The Moscow Trials of the Great Purge period (1937–38) in the Soviet Union are characteristic.

The authorities staged the actual trials meticulously. If defendants refused to "cooperate", i.e., to admit guilt for their alleged and mostly fabricated crimes, they did not go on public trial, but suffered execution nonetheless. This happened, for example during the prosecution of the so-called "Labour Peasant Party" (Трудовая Крестьянская Партия), a party invented by the NKVD, which, in particular, assigned the notable economist Alexander Chayanov to it.

Some solid public evidence of what really happened during the Moscow Trials came to the West through the Dewey Commission. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, more information became available. This discredited Walter Duranty, who claimed that these trials were actually fair.

According to declassified Soviet archives, in 1937 and 1938, the NKVD arrested more than one and a half million people, of whom 681,692 were executed.[5]

Eastern Europe[edit]

Captain Witold Pilecki, former prisoner at Auschwitz during a show trial made by communist authorities in Poland in 1948
Main article: Eastern Bloc politics

Following some dissent within ruling communist parties throughout the Eastern Bloc, especially after the 1948 Tito–Stalin split,[6][7] several party purges occurred, with several hundred thousand members purged in several countries.[6][8] In addition to rank-and-file member purges, prominent communists were purged, with some subjected to public show trials.[8] These were more likely to be instigated, and sometimes orchestrated, by the Kremlin or even Stalin himself, as he had done in the earlier Moscow Trials.[9]

Such high ranking party show trials included those of Koçi Xoxe in Albania and Traicho Kostov in Bulgaria, who were purged and arrested.[7] After Kostov was executed, Bulgarian leaders sent Stalin a telegram thanking him for the help.[9] In Romania, Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu, Ana Pauker and Vasile Luca were arrested, with Pătrăşcanu being executed.[8] Stalin's NKVD emissary coordinated with Hungarian General Secretary Mátyás Rákosi and his ÁVH head the way the show trial of Hungarian Foreign Minister László Rajk should go, and he was later executed.[9] The Rajk trials led Moscow to warn Czechoslovakia's parties that enemy agents had penetrated high into party ranks, and when a puzzled Rudolf Slánský and Klement Gottwald inquired what they could do, Stalin's NKVD agents arrived to help prepare subsequent trials. The Czechoslovakian party subsequently arrested Slánský himself, Vladimír Clementis, Ladislav Novomeský and Gustáv Husák (Clementis was later executed).[8] Slánský and eleven others were convicted together of being "Trotskyist-zionist-titoist-bourgeois-nationalist traitors" in one series of show trials, after which they were executed and their ashes were mixed with material being used to fill roads on the outskirts of Prague.[8] By the time of the Slánský trials, the Kremlin had been arguing that Israel, like Yugoslavia, had bitten the Soviet hand that had fed it, and thus the trials took an overtly anti-Slavic and anti-Semitic tone, with eleven of the fourteen defendants tried with Slánský being Jewish.[10]

The Soviets generally directed show trial methods throughout the Eastern Bloc, including a procedure in which confessions and evidence from leading witnesses could be extracted by any means, including threatening to torture the witnesses’ wives and children.[11] The higher ranking the party member, generally the more harsh the torture that was inflicted upon him.[11] For the show trial of Hungarian Interior Minister János Kádár, who one year earlier had attempted to force a confession of Rajk in his show trial, regarding "Vladimir" the questioner of Kádár:[11]

The evidence was often not just non-existent but absurd, with Hungarian George Paloczi-Horváth’s party interrogators delightedly exclaiming "We knew all the time—we have it here in writing—that you met professor Szentgyörgyi not in Istanbul, but in Constantinople."[10] In another case, the Hungarian ÁVH secret police also condemned another party member as a Nazi accomplice with a document that had actually been previously displayed in glass cabinet of the Institute of the Working Class Movement as an example of a Gestapo forgery.[10] The trials themselves were "shows", with each participant having to learn a script and conduct repeated rehearsals before the performance.[10] In the Slánský trial, when the judge skipped one of the scripted questions, the better-rehearsed Slánský answered the one which should have been asked.[10]

Romania[edit]

As the end of the 1989 Romanian Revolution neared, First Secretary of the Communist Party Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena were condemned to death and shot dead by a firing squad after a Stalinist-style trial in a kangaroo court.[12]

Western Europe[edit]

The Cadaver Trial was a posthumous trial over Catholic Pope Formosus held in 897. The Dreyfus affair was a show trial in France in 1894, where a Jewish captain, Alfred Dreyfus, was accused and convicted of spying for the German Empire and exiled.

North America[edit]

In late 1692, various people in Salem, Massachusetts were accused of practicing witchcraft and consorting with the Devil in what became known as the Salem witch trials. Fifty-nine people were sentenced to hang, nineteen people were executed, one was killed by crushing, and five died in prison.

The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927 was one case in which two anarchist Italian immigrants were accused of an armed robbery in Massachusetts. Both were executed, despite international appeals and widespread criticism of the evidence used to convict them.[13]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ OED (2014): "show trial".
  2. ^ Busky, Donald F. (2002). Communism in History and Theory. Greenwood Publishing Group. p.11.
  3. ^ Show Trials in China: After Tiananmen Square, Mark Findlay, Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 352-359. Published by Wiley-Blackwell
  4. ^ China’s Show Trial of the Century, Ma Jian, Project Syndicate, 2012-08-20
  5. ^ Abbott Gleason (2009). A companion to Russian history. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 373. ISBN 978-1-4051-3560-3. 
  6. ^ a b Bideleux & Jeffries 2007, p. 477
  7. ^ a b Crampton 1997, p. 261
  8. ^ a b c d e Crampton 1997, p. 262
  9. ^ a b c Crampton 1997, p. 263
  10. ^ a b c d e Crampton 1997, p. 265
  11. ^ a b c Crampton 1997, p. 264
  12. ^ Nicolae și Elena Ceaușescu: „Împreună am luptat, să murim împreună!“ Adevărul, 19 December 2009.
  13. ^ Frankfurter, Felix, "The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti,"The Atlantic, 1 March 1927, retrieved from [1]. Accessed on 11 Jan 2014.

References[edit]

  • Bideleux, Robert; Jeffries, Ian (2007), A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-36626-7 
  • Crampton, R. J. (1997), Eastern Europe in the twentieth century and after, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-16422-2 
  • Hodos, George H. Show Trials: Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 1948–1954. New York, Westport (Conn.), and London: Praeger, 1987.
  • Showtrials Website of the European Union
  • Balázs Szalontai, Show trials. In: Ruud van Dijk et al. (eds.), Encyclopedia of the Cold War (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 783-786. Downloadable at https://www.academia.edu/6129700/Show_Trials