Here and there I have written quite a bit about László Kövér, but I don't think that my readers could have formed a portrait of the man who is considered by some the eminence grise of Fidesz. Officially he is only the chairman of the party's steering committee (választmány), not a position with high visibility. At the top there is the chairman of the party Viktor Orbán who has four deputy chairmen: Zoltán Pokorni (mayor of a Budapest district), Mihály Varga (the hero of yesterday's blog), Lajos Kósa (mayor of Debrecen), and Mrs. Pelcz, neé Ildikó Gáll (who taught economics). In addition to the chairman and his deputies there is Tibor Navracsics, head of the parliamentary caucus of the party. These people appear in the media far more often than Kövér, whose name in English means "fat." However,the word is that Kövér is the most important advisor of Viktor Orbán in questions of political strategy. I have no way of ascertaining whether or not this is true, but one thing is sure: Kövér and Orbán have known each other for a very long time. Ever since Orbán entered law school in 1983. According to recollections Kövér the upperclassman made quite an impression on Orbán the freshman.
László Kövér was born in Pápa in 1959 into a working class family with a long social democratic tradition. One can learn quite a bit about the family background from an uncle of his, József Kövér, who gave an interview to 168 Óra in 2002. According to József, the whole Kövér family was closely associated first with the social democratic and later the communist party. Grandfather Kövér was a printer and as such belonged to the worker's aristocracy. Grandfather was active in the trade union movement, and in 1936 he joined the MSZDP (Magyar Szociáldemokrata Párt). After the unification of MKP (Magyar Kommunista Párt) and MSZDP in 1948 he joined Rákosi's communist party (MDP). And after the revolution he was ready once again to become a party member in MSZMP. He must have been a fairly important man in the party because he was decorated with the Order for the Socialist Homeland, the highest decoration there was in those days. Uncle József, his brother László (our Kövér's father), and two of his sisters were all party members. The elder László became an independent artisan but apparently decided to give up his business because if he remained in the private sector (in those days he would have been called a maszek, someone who worked in the private sector [magánszektor]) his sons most likely wouldn't have been accepted as students at the university. So he became an employee of the State Water Company as a locksmith. Despite this background young László is virulently anti-communist. The communists were ruinous to the country in the past and, according to him, the so-called communists continue to ruin the country.
It took Kövér a long time to finish his university studies. Exactly seven years. He was a freshman in 1979 and it was in 1986 that he received his law degree. Apparently he wasn't enamored with legal studies; during his university years he also took quite a few courses in history at the Faculty of Arts. Beginning in 1983, the year Orbán entered law school, he became politically active. In his last four years (1984-1988) Kövér was a student counselor in the dormitory. In 1985 he took on another job. The politically active students began a publication called Századvég (Fin-de-siècle); he was a member of its editorial board. (Note that Századvég as a political think tank of Fidesz exists to this day.) In 1986 in addition to all his other activities he briefly worked as an associate researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences that operated under the aegis of the Central Committee of MSZMP. It was a short stint, but later in life it gave him grief. How could this fierce anti-communist work in any capacity for the central committee of the party? In 1987-88 he was the beneficiary of one of the newly established Soros scholarships. It was during this period that the politically active students in the dormitory established Fidesz on March 30, 1988. Kövér presided over the meeting.
In 1987 Kövér got married and in 1988 a son was born named Botond. A year later another boy, Vajk. Four years later Csenge who is apparently a girl. In brief, the children are all saddled with pagan Hungarian names. Vajk was St. Stephen's name before his baptism. Botond was a Hungarian hero who according to legend managed to make a huge hole in the metal gate of Byzantium with his mace. As for Csenge the origin and meaning of this old Hungarian name is unknown. I gather from this preference for Hungarian pagan names that our Kövér was already on the nationalistic side in the late 1980s when he and his party were considered to be ultra liberal.
Kövér has been in the political limelight ever since the late 80s. In 1989 he was considered to be one of the young, important politicians who took part, alongside Viktor Orbán, in the negotiations of the Round Table where the foundations of the new democratic Hungary were hammered out between the opposition parties on the one hand and the representatives of MSZMP on the other. In 1990 he ran successfully for parliament as the representative of the third electoral district of Veszprém County, that is Pápa and environs. Since 1994 he hasn't run as an individual in a district. He has always had a high ranking either on the nationwide list or on the list of Veszprém County. After Fidesz won the elections in 1998 the greatest surprise to me was the appointment of Kövér to the post of minister without portfolio in charge of the national security office. A really second-rate position for such an important Fidesz leader. The obvious question was: why did Fidesz attach so much significance to this office? One ought to keep in mind that at that point the organization still had all the documents relating to the activities of the secret service during the Kádár regime. He didn't stay in this position for long. Two years later, after championing to divide the position of prime minister and party chief, he catapulted into the job of party chaiman, replacing the somewhat reluctant Orbán who wasn't at all sure about the wisdom of the move.
Since then he has been on and off, mostly on, a member of the top brass of Fidesz. He doesn't appear frequently in the media, but when he does it usually means trouble because he is prone to say outrageous things. A lot of political analysts are convinced that a Kövér speech given in the heat of the 2002 campaign was devastating to the Fidesz cause. The gist of his message was that one ought to be upbeat and that the other side doesn't dare to think big, like having the 2012 Olympics in Budapest. Those who are so pessimistic should go down the cellar and hang themselves. It was easy to use this speech against Fidesz, and the other side took advantage of it. Ever since those who are no friends of his call him "the hanging Kövér."
Yesterday, perhaps out of frustration that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is satisfied with the Hungarian government, he vented. Those who don't sympathize with Fidesz claim that a few more appearances by Kövér and Fidesz will lose the elections. Tomorrow I will summarize the most outrageous portions of Kövér's speech and, if I still have time, will translate some comments that were written by readers of the article that appeared in Népszabadság. They are also priceless.