It is perhaps not surprising that it was György Bolgár who introduced the call-in-show to Hungary in 1992 and recently began a series in 168 Óra entitled "Things that can happen!" which concentrates on the not quite truthful statements of politicians. Bolgár spent five years in the United States as the foreign correspondent of Magyar Rádió. At the time call-in-shows were unknown in Hungary, and Bolgár's superiors were at first not too enthusiastic about the idea. What would happen if somebody says something on air that is not quite appropriate? However, he persevered and his show became a favorite with the listeners. Subsequently he left Magyar Rádió and moved over to Klub Rádió. The program is still a favorite, mostly with liberals, although it is quite obvious that right-wingers also frequent his program if for nothing else but to phone in and argue with him.
As far as fact-checking is concerned it is not exactly a strong suit of Hungarian journalism. Sometimes well known journalists are unfamiliar even with recent events that have been all over the media. Maybe they only write and never read! György Bolgár's knowledge of Hungarian and foreign affairs, by contrast, is really remarkable. Occasionally he jokingly says that he is not a walking encyclopedia, but he is close to it. Moreover, he is a diligent man. If he is not sure of something he looks it up. Something a lot of people don't bother to do.
I would like to sample some of these fact-checking shorts of the last week or so. On March 22, Bolgár starts with Viktor Orbán who, by the way, refuses to give him an interview and with good reason. Bolgár concentrates on a recent speech of Orbán in front of Hungarian businessmen. According to Orbán for some years now it has been the practice of the Hungarian government to hide the true economic situation of the country and "falsify the budget's numbers." As a result the country lost its credibility and its creditworthiness in international financial circles.
After quoting a statement Bolgár considers to be untrue he always leads off with the same sentence: "However, the fact is…." This time he continues that the Hungarian government didn't falsify any data. Instead it predicted more favorable results than eventually materialized. But that is not the same thing as actually falsifying numbers. Hungary's creditworthiness wasn't lost because the government falsified figures but because banks were unwilling to lend money in general and especially to a country as indebted as Hungary. However, adds Bolgár, in the last half a year Hungary's creditworthiness has been restored somewhat and by now the Hungarian government is able to borrow from international financial institutions. Something Orbán will also be able to do if he becomes the prime minister of the country.
A day later, on March 23, Bolgár's next victim was Gábor Kubatov, Fidesz's "party director." Kubatov is a simple auto mechanic who was discovered by Viktor Orbán to be a political wizard. Kubatov on HírTV claimed that the socialists ever since 1947 have been doing nothing else but slicing away at their opponents from the inside. (Actually he used the verb "leszalámizni" which is a reference to an alleged saying of Mátyás Rákosi, the Hungarian Stalin. It means that by cutting off slices from a stick of salami it becomes smaller and smaller and eventually it disappears.) The socialists, continued Kubatov, in this way managed to get rid of the Christian Democratic People's Party, the Smallholders, and MIÉP. Inside elements secretly working for the socialists ruined them.
Bolgár rightly points that "the fact is" that Rákosi with these tactics managed to achieve a one-party system while the socialists today couldn't accomplish this even if they wanted to. It is true that the Christian Democratic Party fell apart, but their members didn't end up in MSZP but in Fidesz. As for the Smallholders' Party it was in coalition with Fidesz, and perhaps József Torgyán could tell Kubatov "whether Fidesz or socialist politicians stood behind the counter in the butcher shop."
Zsolt Bayer, the notorious anti-semite and political hack, on Echo TV, perhaps the most "radical" television station in Hungary, said that in the 1970s the Israeli air force shot down a Hungarian commercial plane with 270 Hungarians aboard. He added that the Israelis decided to shoot the plane down because they suspected there was an Arab terrorist on the plane.
"However, the fact is" that an investigation into the incident failed to discover who shot down the MALÉV plane. At the time because of the civil war in Lebanon most airlines stop flying to Beirut. MALÉV didn't. It is true that the day before the incident the Palestine Liberation Organization opened an office in Budapest, but the PLO delegation left a day later on another plane. We also know that on the plane there were only 60 passengers and not 270. In those days MALÉV didn't have such large planes. Moreover, out of the 60 passengers there was only one Hungarian national and of course the 10-member crew. All others were foreigners. As for the perpetrator we simply don't know.
And let's finish up our survey with Viktor Orbán again. This time in connection with the affair of the two Israeli spy planes. Pilots from small countries, including those of Hungary, don't have enough space at home to practice the art of flying. Countries belonging to NATO can fly over each other's territory easily. They simply have to announce that a plane from such and such a country will fly over another country's airspace at such and such a time. Friendly nations that don't belong to NATO, like Israel, must ask for permission. This time Israel asked permission from Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to have two of their planes fly over; at Ferihegy, the Hungarian national airport, they were supposed to almost land but in the last second return to higher altitudes. Every country granted the appropriate permissions, though Turkey insisted that the Israeli planes carry no spy equipment.
Someone familiar with the details of the flight plan of two Israeli planes leaked the information about their arrival at Ferihegy. So there was a reporter on hand with a video camera. What followed was the typical Hungarian operetta. Neither the Ministry of Defense nor the National Security Office knew anything about the Israeli planes so the Hungarian government didn't look too good. Eventually everything was sorted out. It is the job of the Chief of Staff of the Army to grant these permissions. On paper he is supposed to inform the National Security Office, but there are so many of these flights that the two offices tacitly agreed not to bother to inform each other. The Ministry of Defense, according to the current rules and regulations, doesn't have to be informed.
Now we can return to Viktor Orbán's reaction to the Israeli planes. He said that it was amusing, or rather incredible, that the Ministry of Defense claims that it didn't get any information about the flight of Israeli spy planes in Hungarian airspace. And he continued: "I thought until now that they are the first ones who know about such things and immediately react. Either they force them down or oust them, or whatever. There are ways to handle such a thing."
Indeed there are ways to handle such a thing and perhaps the current practice is not the best, but can you imagine what would have happened if the Israeli planes that had permission to fly over Hungary would have been forced to land or chased away by Gripen fighters or even worse shot down? At the end Bolgár adds: "I am really curious what will happen to such planes after Viktor Orbán is the prime minister of the country. And what can that 'whatever' be? Will they go out to the airport to wave at them?"
I always enjoy reading György Bolgár's short pieces in the series "Things that can happen!" I learn a lot. For example, I knew nothing about the fate of the MALÉV plane on its flight to Beirut.