In Hungary they call each others liars

Life is certainly not boring in Hungary nowadays. Although yesterday we heard that the MSZP was not planning to bring up the largest opposition party’s very questionable financial dealings while in power, it seems that the socialists have changed their minds. What made them change tactics? The opportunity came when the court of appeals in Szeged handed down the final verdict in a case involving a group of singularly shady characters. The verdict, by Hungarian standards, is surprisingly harsh. One of the accused, László Radnai, received twelve years in the penitentiary for attempted murder. Although I don’t know the exact sentence for each of the men, altogether they received  sixty-four years. The verdict is final.

And what does this group of criminals have to do with party politics? Plenty, it seems. László Radnai and Zsigmond Csüllög, both of Kecskemét, established a company that soon enough ended up in bankruptcy proceedings. While their bankruptcy case was pending, the two asked for a 90 million forint subsidy from the Orbán government for the establishment of a thermal bath in Mosonmagyaróvár, very close to the Austrian border. Naturally, a company that had filed for bankruptcy was not eligible for any subsidy. Nonetheless, in the last days of the Orbán government, between the two rounds of elections when the Orbán government’s fall looked pretty certain, the money was granted in record time. This by itself looks suspicious, but what makes the affair even more intriguing is that the lawyer who handled the duo’s application was none other than Atilla I. Szász, a close friend and business partner of the Orbán family, who handled the equally suspicious case of Mrs. Orbán’s purchase of a vineyard in Tokaj. Perhaps it is not surprising that the thermal bath was never built (according to some reports I read there isn’t even a thermal water source near Mosonmagyaróvár), the money disappeared, and the two guys ended up in jail for other, unrelated crimes.

István Nyakó, the official spokesman of the socialist party, broke the party’s short-lived silence about Fidesz "misdeeds." Nyakó told the lurid story of the "mafia case" at a press conference, and subsequently he appeared on a variety of radio and television stations. To quote Nyakó, "while the Fidesz is trying to prove that the entire left is nothing more than a gathering of criminals, it is precisely the Fidesz who by now has a piece of paper certifying that its minions are the real mafia members."  Meanwhile Attila I. Szász calls Nyakó a liar because, according to him, he had nothing to do with the case.  (Can’t we all see a media feeding frenzy in the offing?)

Then comes the confrontation between György Szilvásy (previously undersecretary of the ministry of sports and youth, now undersecretary responsible for national security) and Zoltán Pokorni (one of the vice-presidents of Fidesz). In keeping with the theme of the day, they call each other liars. Their bitter exchange revolves around a telephone conversation between Szilvásy and Ákos Topolánszky, a former employee of the sports ministry, whom Gyurcsány fired when he became minister. Topolánszky gave an interview to HVG, a very respectable weekly, the other day in which he claimed that Szilvásy telephoned him and threatened him unless he withdraws his accusations against Szilvásy and Gyurcsány. Topolánszky claimed that Gyurcsány knew about the illegal subsidies given to certain "foundations." According to Topolánszky, Szilvásy told him that if he doesn’t shut up they will accuse him of all sorts of illegal activities and corruption that may result in three years in jail.

Well, now comes Zoltán Pokorni who immediately demanded Szilvásy’s resignation and announced that there must be a record of this telephone conversation because in every government telephone conversations are recorded by the office of national security and kept for twenty-four hours. He knows that from his days when he was minister of education in the Orbán government. Szilvásy’s answer: there is no such recording because such a recording would be illegal. He is going to court to sue both Topolánszky and Pokorni. This is where we stand.

The political commentators (political scientists?) can’t decide whether Gyurcsány is committing political suicide or whether this is an opportunity that may work in his favor. I belong to the camp that thinks that the Zuschlag affair is a golden opportunity to change the MSZP. A telephone caller today in Bolgár’s program came up with a brilliant idea. If the parliamentary members refuse to follow Gyurcsány’s lead, he himself is ready to go to the Election Committee and ask for a referendum on the seven questions. Well, put it this way: if the politically skeptical public ever had a chance to vote on these seven questions, Gyurcsány would be the hero of the day.