Bribe for Gypsy votes?

Never a dull moment. The latest is, as it turned out, a hoax concocted by an "enterprising" reporter of HírTV. HírTV doesn’t even pretend to be anything else but the mouthpiece of Fidesz. But why would a reporter of this television station feel compelled to do something that is clearly criminal?

The story began a few days ago when István Tarlós, the independent leader of the Fidesz caucus in the Budapest City Council and Orbán’s choice to head the Fidesz referendum campaign, announced in one of the many interviews he gives daily that electoral fraud is a real possibility. Of course, the fraud can be perpetrated only by the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition. When pressed, he came up with some hypothetical possibilities, none of which sounded terribly convincing. I couldn’t figure out then or even today why Fidesz politicians resort to such primitive accusations. Do they consider the outcome of the referendum in doubt? Are their before-the-fact allegations meant to be an insurance policy in case they need to challenge the outcome? Hard to tell.

To continue the story: HírTV said it had recordings of two telephone conversations. In the first, a certain "Józsi Tóth," a Gypsy, can be heard phoning Viktor Tóth, campaign manager of János Veres, minister of finance who is also the parliamentary delegate of a district in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county. In it, "Józsi Tóth" makes veiled references to money. Viktor Tóth is obviously in a very noisy place; he also seems to be confused. He can’t figure out who this Józsi Tóth is and mutters something about discussing whatever is on Józsi’s mind later. There is, however, another recording: this time of "Viktor Tóth" phoning a certain János Balogh and offering money to Balogh for every Gypsy who does not show up to vote on March 9th. Well, at this point Viktor Tóth went to the police. He recognized the voice of the man who phoned him as that of László Tejfeles, a minority representative in the village of Nyírbogát. Later it turned out that the man who impersonated Viktor Tóth was a reporter for HírTV. Of course, the whole thing was a setup: János Balogh is the nephew of László Tejfeles. And Tejfeles belongs to Lugo Drom, a Gypsy organization that supports Fidesz. In fact, the head of Lugo Drom, Florián Farkas, is a Fidesz parliamentary member.

Before all this came to light, István Balsai, former minister of justice (then still a member of the MDF but by now one of the most vehement spokesmen for Fidesz) held a press conference in which he announced that the two recordings were proof of what they had known all along: already in 2006 Gypsies were paid off to vote for the MSZP. I assume that at the moment Mr. Balsai is quiet. Since his charge Tejfeles and Balogh have confessed, and I assume that the reporter’s identity is also known.

It is hard to imagine that this primitive hoax was the idea of the Fidesz leadership. I wouldn’t be surprised though if Florián Farkas were somehow involved. After all, how would a reporter of HírTV know who is a member of Lugo Drom in a god-forsaken village in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county?

But even if this hoax was not contrived high up on the Fidesz food chain, it is in keeping with their relentless campaign against János Veres. They first tried to bring him down by through guilt by association: a former business partner turned out to be a crook. However, the partnership lasted for only a short time about fifteen years ago. Then they tried to find something illegal and unethical about the business behavior of his sons. There too there were secret recordings. That didn’t work out either. Now here is this alleged fraud case. Not only does it not point to Veres; it ends up right back in the lap of Fidesz. It seems that the harder they try the worse things get. It’s enough to think of some of the blunders the Fidesz committed in the campaign of 2006. For instance, breaking into the server of an advertising company responsible for the MSZP campaign or the Magyar Vizsla case, a rag supposedly published by an independent civic organization but that upon closer investigation led to Fidesz headquarters through a fax number. These are dangerous games and if I were Viktor Orbán I would tell my minions to back off. Orbán has borrowed a lot from the playbook of the American Republican Party; he should also keep in mind what happened to Richard Nixon with his dirty tricks.

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Well, they say Viki is of partial gypsy ancestry.