We all know the meaning of the word: “favoritism shown to a relative (as by giving an appointive job).” The word and the concept of course exist in Hungary. One of the novels of Zsigmond Móricz (1879-1942) is entitled Relatives [Rokonok]. The book, which I reread recently, is about small-town corruption where municipal government jobs are allotted to various relatives. István Szabó was so taken with the book that he made a film based on it a couple of years ago.
Nepotism is alive and well in Hungary, yet some people act as if they never heard of it. This is the case with László Majtényi, currently head of Országos Rádió és Televízió Testület, better known as ORTT. Majtényi graduated from law school in 1975 and soon began a career as a lecturer at the Budapest Engineering School. Between 1990 and 1995 he worked for the Constitutional Court, and it was here that László Sólyom and László Majtényi came to know each other. In 1995 he was appointed ombudsman in charge of privacy issues. In 2001 he was not reappointed. Viktor Orbán and his party had someone else in mind. Majtényi, without a job, decided to organize a research institute dealing with politics. In 2007 Sólyom, his old friend, decided to renominate him as ombudsman, but his nomination failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority of parliamentary votes. Sólyom as usual was furious at the failure of parliament to endorse his choice. Majtényi, for his part, wrote a long, tedious, obsequious piece praising Sólyom to the skies.
This year Sólyom, together with Ferenc Gyurcsány, nominated Majtényi to head ORTT, an organization that keeps a watchful eye on Hungarian radio and television for possible violations of the media law. And parliament ratified the nomination. In his new post Majtényi has already endorsed a ruling against the media. Klub Rádió aired an ad for Vasárnapi Hírek, a Sunday paper, that loosely quoted from Genesis: On the first day God created such and such, on the second … and on the seventh one reads Vasárnapi Hírek. ORTT ruled that this ad violated the religious beliefs of Christians. A better judgment might have been that it was a primitive ad that would never have seen the light of day on Madison Avenue. And that, I don’t think, is against media law.
A few weeks ago Majtényi appointed László Sólyom’s son-in-law to be spokesman for ORTT. Sólyom’s son-in-law is a journalist who for a while worked for Magyar Nemzet and later for Heti Válasz. The latter publication is a decidedly right of center weekly. When he was employed by Magyar Nemzet, I’m not sure. Let’s hope not recently. Interestingly enough, another ombudsman in charge of the environment and also nominated by Sólyom employs the same son-in-law as press secretary. These two appointments by two nominees of the president of the republic didn’t go unnoticed. György Bolgár phoned Majtényi and asked whether he didn’t find this whole thing a tad awkward. Majtényi, who normally doesn’t have any trouble finding the right words, was practically speechless. His eventual excuses were lame. For example, that the job was not well paid. That the son-in-law is an excellent journalist. And finally, he admitted that it never occurred to him that there was anything inappropriate about this particular appointment. Did he know, asked Bolgár, that the same person is the press secretary of another ombudsman, also nominated by Sólyom? Answer: no.
József Debreczeni, who is no friend of László Sólyom, was appalled and wrote a scathing article in Népszabadság (July 27, 2008) about nepotism in general and this case in particular. The title of the article was “The Propriety of the President.” Debreczeni recalled actions of past presidents, prime ministers, and ministers, and the only really horrendous nepotism he could discover was linked to József Torgyán. Torgyán and Sólyom? Debreczeni finished his article by saying, “I’m badly shaken.”
I’m not going to go into the details of the afterlife of Debreczeni’s article, but a couple of days later Majtényi wrote an answer to Debreczeni. The answer is not much better than the feeble explanation he gave to Bolgár. However, he attacks Debreczeni, hitting below the belt. “Among close acquaintances it is rumored that the problem with Debreczeni is his admiration of Somebody and his hatred of the political adversaries of that Somebody, coupled with an annoying lack of knowledge of the topic at hand.” I don’t think I need continue. Majtényi did something at best questionable, at worst wrong. Insulting somebody else will not rectify that decision.