“Polypgate” in Hungary

We know a little more today about this whole sordid affair than we did yesterday, but not much more. One reason for the news fog is the Hungarian parliamentary structure, where minority parties can chair parliamentary committees. The chairman of the committee on national security happens to be István Simicskó, nominally a member of the Christian Democratic delegation. As I mentioned earlier, this whole Christian Democratic delegation is really a fiction. There is no party behind it. There were originally some Christian Democrats, but their party disappeared; today's Christian Democratics got into parliament from the Fidesz list. Then some of them got the bright idea to form a separate delegation because that way Fidesz could increase its committee representation. And while they were at it they decided to put twenty-two people into the delegation in order to have a larger body than SZDSZ even if only by one member. Simicskó thus ended up in the Christian Democratic delegation.

The parliamentary committee on national security has been boycotted by Fidesz and Christian Democratic parties ever since last December because of the appointment of Sándor Laborc as head of the National Security Office. According to rumors, prior to Laborc's appointment the secrets of the National Security Office were "open secrets." Leak followed leak and these leaks most likely first went to Fidesz and from there to Magyar Nemzet. Eventually, the government got fed up and nominated Laborc in whom they obviously had trust. Fidesz (and of course its appendix, the Christian Democrats) were mighty upset and used Laborc's Soviet background as an excuse to vote against his appointment. The committee has eleven members and last April MSZP and SZDSZ had six members out of the eleven. Thus they had the majority. But then came József Gulyás (SZDSZ) who decided to vote with the opposition against the Laborc nomination. However, parliamentary committees have no veto power, and Ferenc Gyurcsány decided to go ahead with the nomination. Because the government needs only a simple majority vote in parliament to confirm an appointment, Laborc became the head of the Hungarian FBI. Fidesz was furious and decided to boycott the weekly meetings.

To complicate matters, according to parliamentary rules, committee meetings can be scheduled only by the chairman. Until now the following scenario took place. Simicskó, the chairman, scheduled the meeting in order to conduct ordinary business, but he and three Fidesz members were not present. But since the "polypgate" story broke, Simicskó has been unwilling even to convene the committee.  And, of course, without an official meeting nothing can be accomplished. Thus, on Tuesday Szilvásy couldn't present his evidence because it wasn't an official meeting of the body. Eventually yesterday Szilvásy, upon the request of the MSZP members, gave them a CD containing the alleged proof, but no official discussion of the evidence is possible because there is no scheduled committee meeting.

Once MSZP members received the "smoking gun" CD, Fidesz members also demanded a copy of the CD. Szilvásy obliged. Now the situation has become very complicated. Szilvásy is unable to make the CD containing the documentation public because he needs the approval of the people involved. And surely he will not get that approval. At the same time Fidesz decided to make public seven telephone conversations because László Kövér and Ervin Demeter, the people on the line, agreed. Apparently there are thirty-one telephone conversations on the CD. Fidesz made seven available and put them on the Fidesz homepage. Anyone interested can find the seven tapes here: http://www.fidesz.hu/index.php?Rovat=10033 Needless to say, Fidesz released only those tapes that they considered safe. Four out of the seven are no more than calls discussing the time of meetings. Kövér is especially careful about not saying anything on the telephone. There are three conversations between him and József Horváth of UD Zrt. and all three are only about future meetings. The fourth such conversation is between Demeter and Horváth, but this is a bit more telling. It turns out that Demeter had tried to reach Horváth earlier but his cell phone was off "because [Horváth] had a meeting with Laci [nickname of László Kövér]." From that one can gather that meetings between Kövér and Demeter, both members of the committee on national security, and Horváth were frequent. According to rumors there are close to two hundred such telephone conversations and SMS's.

On the disclosed calls Demeter asks Horváth some questions. One is quite innocent. There was a huge disagreement between Fidesz and the government concerning help from the National Security Office to check past activities of firms who will be getting European Union funds. That was interpreted by the opposition, rightly or wrongly I have no idea, as a national security check on their own people in the local government. One must keep in mind that in most of the local governments Fidesz is in the majority. When Fidesz complained and accused the government of not quite honest intentions, Szilvásy answered that this was the situation during their tenure as well. Demeter simply wanted to know from Horváth, then employed by the National Security Office, whether this was the case. So that was innocent enough.

The other Demeter-Horváth conversation was less innocent. It is clear from the conversation that Horváth was asked to check out Laborc's travels and his movements in general. That apparently belongs to the category of state secrets and therefore receiving such information must be illegal. The conversation Fidesz put on their homepage tells the sad story that the investigation was unsuccessful. "Unfortunately" Laborc was not paying a visit to Russia. Moreover, he doesn't even meet most likely secret service types attached to the Russian embassy. Not like his predecessor. Most likely, Horváth adds, he does all that purposely, although if he followed his real inclination he would be having beer with these security guys from Russia regularly.

In the last day or so Fidesz went all out, deciding that the best defense is a good offense. Again, the government is on the defensive and because of the legal restrictions the playing field is not exactly level. Szilvásy cannot say anything, can't give any proof, while Fidesz can come up with seven fairly innocent conversations. Meanwhile, most people who listened to the CD are convinced that UD Zrt. indeed acted as a shadow national security office. If this is true, Kövér, Demeter, and any other politician involved should be banished from political life. However, knowing the Hungarian situation, this is quite unlikely.