Commissioner in defense of people’s savings: Gabriella Selmeczi

I assume not too many people remember Gabriella Selmeczi’s unfortunate encounter with Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor. I think even fewer remember her trouble with Tesco where she refused to pay for some baked goods she consumed on the spot. The lady, it seems, is accident prone.

Her beginnings were humble. Father finished agricultural “technikum.” Technikums were introduced in the Hungarian school system in 1950 as high schools for professional training. Graduates at the age of eighteen could start careers as technicians. In 1983, however, he decided to launch a business, a fast-food establishment called “Landoló falatozó.” “Landoló,” because it was close to the airport in Budaőrs where planes “land.” Gabi (as she calls herself even today on her website) after finishing high school became a waitress in the family restaurant. Two years later she was admitted to the Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátó Főiskola, a college that is supposed to train people to work in restaurants and hotels as middle managers. Later she finished journalism school in Esztergom and for a short while worked for the local television station in Budaőrs.

Armed with this rather modest academic background she got involved with Fidesz back when Viktor Orbán headed a radical liberal party of young democrats. She organized a Fidesz group in Budaőrs and soon enough caught the attention of “the boys,” as the Fidesz leaders were called in those days. Perhaps they liked her seductiveSelmeczi Gabriella, 1994 blue eyes. (I know that’s catty, but she does look like something straight out of a Tennessee Williams play.) In no time Selmeczi was a member of the party’s steering committee and later one of the vice-chairmen. In 1994 she became a member of parliament and has been an MP ever since. She has been assigned primarily to committees that deal with local government, health, and social issues.

When in 1998 Viktor Orbán won the election and formed a coalition government with the Smallholders, she was picked to be one of the undersecretaries in the prime minister’s office in charge of social security. It was at this time that she ran into trouble. After spending only a few months on the job she, along with István Balsay, another undersecretary, had to resign. Népszava learned in May 1999 that Selmeczi, Balsay, and Béla Gyuricza (an ailing Fidesz member of parliament) sent a letter to Senators Jesse Helms and Joseph Biden. The letter, signed by 31 Fidesz MPs, asked the senators to name Steven M. Jones, a high-ranking financial manager of Lockheed Martin, as the next U.S. ambassador to Hungary.

One could ask: what on earth did Selmeczi have to do with Lockheed Martin? Simple. She had a boyfriend, Gábor Rónai, who was the lobbyist for the firm in Hungary. Lockheed was not only lobbying for Hungary to buy F-16 planes; it was also hoping to receive an order for the computerization of the Hungarian social security system. As it turned out, the IT business didn’t materialize and, as we also know, a couple of years later Orbán against the advice of his military experts decided to buy Gripen instead of F-16 planes. Balsay, who was the mayor of Székesfehérvár at this point, had received assurances from Lockheed that if Hungary purchases their planes the headquarters of the giant firm will be in Székesfehérvár.

This was a scandal that by its very nature didn’t stop at the borders of Hungary. CNN reported on the event, and there was considerable pressure on Viktor Orbán to do something. The scandal even reached the White House and the State Department. Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright expressed their total confidence in Ambassador Peter Tufo, who still had two years to go. Balsay and Selmeczi resigned, most likely not on their own volition. Gyuricza, who was Orbán’s national security advisor, was already in the hospital dying of cancer.

The Tesco story was also ugly. Selmeczi ate some croissant-like item while shopping and, when she was reminded by an employee that she will have to pay for it at the cash register, she hit the ceiling. She made a scene about her status and about her “diplomatic passport.” Yet Selmeczi remained an important member of Fidesz and its parliamentary faction.

And now what do we see? Selmeczi is returning to her earlier “field of expertise,” social security. The most interesting aspect of her current activity is that while now she is warning people of the pitfalls of private pensions funds, at the time of their introduction in 1997 she was an enthusiastic supporter of the idea. But I guess for some people this kind of double-faced behavior doesn’t cause any heart palpitations.

As for her qualifications, I have my doubts. It seems that while she was an MP and gave birth to two children, she also managed to get a law degree from the Catholic University. No mean feat. She learned another language as well. In 1994 she claimed have a mid-level exam in English and by now she also knows German. The only thing missing from her resume is a stint at Goldman Sachs.

If Viktor Orbán is serious about compensating people for their losses because of his decision to withhold payments to the private pension funds, the task before Gabriella Selmeczi will be enormous. As far as I can ascertain, she has no background in finance whatsoever.

Her own website shows a person of rather simple interests who is focused on women’s and self-help issues: health, self-improvement, “inner equilibrium,” “reasons for greater appetite,” “the emotions of babies,” “better use of leisure time than television,” and other such fascinating subjects.

One wonders whether it is really true that Fidesz, in spite of the party’s immense success at the polls, lacks competent experts. Of course, in their eagerness to get rid of everybody who ever held a responsible job in the last few years they fired first-rate people and filled the positions with political appointees or simply with friends. A good example is the newly appointed head of the environmental inspectorate in charge of the area where the red sludge covered acres and acres of land and three villages. The new chief inspector is a former secretary of Zoltán Illés who himself is ill suited for the job. Illés fired practically all the competent staff, from the heads of the national parks to the civil servants dealing with environmental issues.

György Matolcsy’s own expertise is questionable, and now he fired the man who knew everything there was to know about putting together a budget. For the time being, his job has not even been filled. But even the most important decision makers seem to be ignorant of European Union rules. Levying taxes on telecom companies, for example, would seem to show that Matolcsy and Orbán have no idea about the Union’s ban on extra taxation of such firms. (The more callous and yet more intellectually generous suggestion would be that they are simply throwing as many revenue raising schemes as they can against the wall and seeing what sticks–or what the EU is willing to swallow in the interest of Hungarian economic stability.)

So far, their efforts seem to be motivated almost exclusively by political considerations.  Panem et circenses.

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Guest
Paul
October 17, 2010 6:07 pm

Judging by the advertising in Hungary, looking like an under-age Barbi does you no harm.
Meanwhile, back in the 21st century…

Guest
Johnny Boy
October 17, 2010 6:18 pm

Admit it: you envy her for her looks.

Guest
Paul
October 17, 2010 7:14 pm

I’m twice as sexy – and twice her age!

Guest
October 17, 2010 10:18 pm

Interestingly, when I went to her web-site, my browser (Chrome)came up with an warning page entitled “Malware Detected!” and with the words “The website at http://www.selmeczigabi.hu appears to host malware – software that can hurt your computer or otherwise operate without your consent. Just visiting a site that hosts malware can infect your computer.”
Hmmm…yet another warning about Gabi.

Guest
whoever
October 18, 2010 1:24 am

‘Illés fired practically all the competent staff, from the heads of the national parks to the civil servants dealing with environmental issues.’
Well, to be fair, the old team obviously weren’t perfect, as it appears they failed to raise the flag in the case of huge resorvoirs of toxic sludge only trapped by a rotting, cracking wall. But I agree, appointing cronies certainly won’t help!

Guest
Odin's Lost Eye
October 18, 2010 3:03 am

Oh my gosh! Professor I think you have bowled them a ‘googly’ this time. I wonder just what Fidesz’s writers are going to give ‘Johnny Boy’ to translate this time. From the past few months I have noticed that someone high up in Fidesz wishes you were not writing this column. It seems to be worrying them badly. The fact that it is in English means that very few people in Hungary can read it. So why are they so concerned? Is it because you are letting too many ‘cats out of the bag’? Or are they just annoyed that the whole world is not chanting “Yea yea verily yea” whenever OV (the Mighty One) opens his mouth and speaks? Or are they worried that a professor from an American ‘Ivy League’ university is writing it. Is it that it is in English and that it could be being read in the ‘Chancelleries of Europe’ and by the EU Commission its self. Mr Paul Hellyer I suspect that this infection was put there deliberately after the Fidesz troops noticed the link. If I were you I would update my virus checker with the latest updates and do a full scan… Read more »

Guest
Paul
October 18, 2010 5:51 am

I get the same problem – “Malware Detected” (I’m running ‘avast! Antivirus’).
I suspect this isn’t really a trojan, just some script on the website that’s not working properly, probably trying to put a cookie on our PCs but doing it in such a way as to make it look like a trojan to the anti-virus software.
Or possibly someone has hacked her site. But it’s more likely just poor programming/maintenance.
I tried to email her to tell her about this, but, somewhat ironically, the virus checked has blocked trhe site so I can’t even mail her! (But, no worries, I’m sure Johnny will get this sorted out.)
All very odd when you consider Fidesz’s usual slick PR operation. It’s beginning to look like the wheels have come off now they’re in power (or perhaps they just don’t care any more?).

Guest
Johnny Boy
October 18, 2010 6:34 am

“Well, to be fair, the old team obviously weren’t perfect”
You are being very mild. There were no experts in position. Gyurcsány’s government has swept out every competent member of the staff under all ministries, even those few who were spared by the Medgyessy government.
All of those in office were political appointees. The ones put in place by Fidesz (far too few, only about 20% has been replaced so far – unfortunately) were experts first, before becoming Fidesz members.
Odin’s Lost Eye: I’m not instructed by Fidesz in any way. I bet Fidesz doesn’t even know about the existence of this small blog; it’s entirely my own little adventure that I post here.
I think most foreign readers find it at least suspicious that this blog does absolutely nothing else than violently attacking the new government and all of its available members, and expresses very little more than blind hatred. Conditioned readers of course find this unbiased and objective – yes, I’m referring to you – but few people are prone to be deceived by such intense loathing. It pretty much whips back on the author.

Guest
An
October 18, 2010 11:49 am

@Johny Boy: “…but few people are prone to be deceived by such intense loathing. It pretty much whips back on the author.”
You certainly have a point there. But be a little self-reflective. Do you realize that this characterizes your comments more than most people’s on this blog… and that it is not helping the ideas you are promoting?
Actually, I think you are inadvertently doing Eva a favor. She looks pretty objective and fair in light of your comments.

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Johnny Boy
October 18, 2010 12:52 pm

An: obviously not. My comments are pretty much restricted to factual content, whereas most posts on this blog (and the vast majority of what I’ve seen from you so far) are extremely low-standard, visceral enmities rambling about how Orbán is a troubled personality, how he only wants power and admiration, and so on.
You probably can’t even imagine how repulsive this is for people not contaminated with such intense hatred towards Orbán.

Guest
whoever
October 18, 2010 1:39 pm

‘The ones put in place by Fidesz (far too few, only about 20% has been replaced so far – unfortunately) were experts first, before becoming Fidesz members.’
Hmmm… I’m never sure about Hungarians and their ‘experts.’ And this is not specific to Fidesz, I hasten to add, but extends to all of the ‘tribes.’
With such weak research institutes, and an education system that peters out pretty quickly for most people over the age of 20, I wonder about these experts.
The fact that giving the wealthy a MASSIVE tax break is considered more of a priority, than boosting the education and research sector, says much more about the value of expertise, than those ‘experts’ drafted in by the Fidesz government. Lovely people, I’m sure.

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Eva S. Balogh
October 18, 2010 2:21 pm

An “Actually, I think you are inadvertently doing Eva a favor. She looks pretty objective and fair in light of your comments.”
These people don’t hear themselves.

Guest
John T
October 18, 2010 2:55 pm

Johnny Boy – I don’t think you’ll find many enthusiastic supporters of the MSZP on this blog. I think Eva is rather too charitable to MSZP, but its her blog so she can write what she likes and I’ll comment on it.
What I do have a disdain for is mediocrity and as far as I’m concerned, the Hungarian Parliament has been a disgrace to the people it serves since 1989, with a few exceptions. Most public officials seem mediocre too. Trouble is, anyone with competence doesn’t seem to get a look in at the moment.
As for Orban, I do get the impression that he feels he is fulfilling some kind of destiny. To me though, he just seems like someone who got the top job he’s wanted, but now he’s there he looks somewhat out of his depth, with no real talent to speak of. Just my opinion of course and if he proves me wrong, then I’ll applaud him and own up to my error of judgement.

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Paul
October 18, 2010 3:14 pm

“Johnny Boy – I don’t think you’ll find many enthusiastic supporters of the MSZP on this blog. I think Eva is rather too charitable to MSZP, but its her blog so she can write what she likes and I’ll comment on it.”
Apart from Eva, I can’t think of any.
But that’s the real world, not the bizarre Fidesz ‘reality’ that JB lives in.

Guest
Paul
October 18, 2010 3:20 pm

“I think most foreign readers find it at least suspicious that this blog does absolutely nothing else than VIOLENTLY attacking the new government and all of its available members, and expresses very little more than BLIND HATRED. Conditioned readers of course find this unbiased and objective – yes, I’m referring to you – but few people are prone to be deceived by such INTENSE LOATHING. It pretty much whips back on the author.”
This stuff is beyond parody.

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Eva S. Balogh
October 18, 2010 3:24 pm

JohnT: “I think Eva is rather too charitable to MSZP”
I don’t have good opinion of MSZP as a whole. There are a few people in that party I like but at the moment they are not in the leadership.
But then I am a realist. There are two parties one can choose from. I couldn’t possibly choose Fidesz because everything they stand for is alien to me. That leaves me with the other side. I liked Ibolya Dávid’s ideas and I liked some people in SZDSZ. Unfortunately, I can’t find anyone I like among the Fidesz leaders.
In brief, as a realist I have to stand by the anti-Fidesz side. It is that simple.

Guest
October 18, 2010 3:30 pm

Sarah Palin, too, is a person of rather simple interests… It doesn’t matter, as long as you have people supporting you who are even dumber.

Guest
Pete H.
October 18, 2010 3:50 pm

I generally find that most politicians and political parties do a good enough job of tooting their own horns. I don’t visit political blogs for the cheer-leading, but rather for insightful criticisms and the occasional praise when it is due. I can’t say that I am a fan of any political party in Hungary (anywhere for that matter) and that I find the focus on the super-majority party appropriate. If any of the opposition parties had any real influence I’d expect more critical coverage of them. As a foreigner, I don’t find Eva’s posts to be over the top, but I do recognize her frustration with the current leadership.
Thank you Eva for being one of my windows into Hungarian politics and culture. I do wish there were more English language sources, but I know of none outside of Politics.hu and I find their coverage superficial and most of the commentary childish or bigoted.

Guest
Paul
October 18, 2010 4:26 pm

Apologies for (yet another) post hijack, but, following on from Pete’s comments about Hungarian news in English, I discovered Hungary Around the Clock today (http://www.hatc.hu/index.php).
I’d appreciate readers’ opinions on this site. It looks OK, but you never know.
And, while I’m at it, the other news sources I use are the Budapest Times, the Budapest Business Journal, Politics.hu, and Pestiside.hu (and, of course, http://orbanviktor.hu/in_english_news!). I’d appreciate any thoughts on these too.
And finally, I’ve just run through the links Eva provides on this blog, and I’m afraid a little updating needs doing. The Blog of Hungary appears to have ceased to exist (at least it hasn’t been updated since April 2009), and the link for Caboodle.hu doesn’t work.

Guest
Johnny Boy
October 18, 2010 6:06 pm

Paul: “But that’s the real world, not the bizarre Fidesz ‘reality’ that JB lives in.” Couldn’t be farther from it. I could cite the old saying that states it is relative who is behind and in front of the bars. But that would be too easy of a score. The “Fidesz reality” is the reality of Hungary, and actually always has been, as it is with most of the educated Europe. Those whose focus is exclusively about practising power for corruption are prone to getting jailed, and it seems we’re going at it. It’s just too bad it took 8 years for most people to realize that they have been hijacked. But once they sensed it, the decision was more than conclusive. You simply don’t understand Fidesz one bit and think you got a picture of them by reading this ‘source’ whose frustration got stuck onto you. I sense you are very discontent but I also see you are completely unaware of the real reasons why Fidesz has won such a landslide victory. This pretty much proves that it’s you living a bizarre world turned upside down, not us. “This stuff is beyond parody.” No. What is behind parody is… Read more »

Guest
Eva S. Balogh
October 18, 2010 6:20 pm

Johnny Boy: For English readers who may wish to sometimes look at a frustration-free analyst source of high standards (certainly close to the governing parties) though, I suggest checking out this site: http://www.nezopontintezet.hu/en/index.php \
Oh, my God! The Nezopont Intezet. That’s a real laugh.

Guest
Paul
October 18, 2010 6:39 pm

Well, it looks like Johnny’s handlers have had too much of his purple prose and pulled him off the blog.
Bye, bye, Johnny, you won’t be missed. Bring on the next ‘ordinary’ poster who just happens to have inside information on what OV is thinking, and all the ‘facts’ and ‘figures’ of Fidesz policies at his fingertips. And who just happens to have hours of free time to spend on this “little blog” that “no one at Fidesz even knows exists”.
Odd, isn’t it, that people so sure of their beliefs are so quickly angered by any opposition or expression of doubt? Surely if you really believed in what you were doing, you wouldn’t mind opposition and critisism, as it wouldn’t affect you?

Guest
Paul
October 18, 2010 6:44 pm

Sorry, I just coldn’t resist reposting this bit:
“You all are so submerged in this ‘subcultural’ pond of yours that you don’t even realize it and you have no idea how it looks to the ‘outsider’.
The impetuous frustration and the amount of negative emotions that drive all of the posts and most comments on this blog are outright startling.”
And in the very next para:
“I think I myself made the mistake of sometimes getting carried away by it…”
You really couldn’t parody stuff as mad as this.

Guest
Odin's Lost eye
October 19, 2010 4:12 am

Paul I only hope you are right. This site and its commentators have someone worried. As the last ‘Troll’ wrote ** “The “Fidesz reality” is the reality of Hungary, and actually always has been, as it is with most of the educated Europe.” * So perhaps you, I and our good hostess are not educated, if so I seem to remember a rather nasty little incident a few years ago where we the ‘uneducated’ had to deal with the ‘educated’ to try to return Europe to democracy
If the trolls will go away we might have a really serious and proper debate about the various topics placed before us. I somehow I do not think so. This blog is worrying/annoying/damaging someone. I bet they wish they had the “Great Firewall of Hungary” to put a stop to it. I must go as I have a small ‘Verge movement’ to bring into beat.

Guest
Pete H.
October 19, 2010 8:42 am

Johnny, in the spirit of open-mindedness I visited your link where I was met with this “Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and members of his Cabinet responded to the unprecedented industrial catastrophe as competent leaders capable of acting and communicating in the right way.” As someone who teaches environmental issues, I found Orban’s governments response in the first week to be a mixed bag and would give them no higher a grade than a C-.
Reading through several other posts I found most were trumpeting the Fidesz party line. No real analysis there, which always requires some level of critique.
Like I said, in a political website I am not looking for cheer-leading and the Perspective Institute seems to lack a disinterested perspective when it comes to Fidesz.
While it remains to be seen whether Fidesz is better for Hungary than the last eight years, Orban and his party are not gods and are therefore fallible. It is good to have people around debating the nature of their fallibility.

Guest
Paul
October 19, 2010 12:16 pm

I too looked at Johnny’s link. Of course, as a narrow minded, Hungary hating, neo-Communist, I shouldn’t have, but I just couldn’t resist.
Unfortunately, it’s a terrible disappointment. It’s just a series of ‘news reports’ or ‘articles’ (I’m not exactly sure what they are supposed to be), which are more or less straight cut and pastes from Fidesz press releases.
No comment or ‘analysis’ at all – despite having all these ‘specialists’ and ‘analysts’ listed. None of them seem to have contributed to anything.
All very odd, as no one from outside Hungary would be fooled for 1 second. So why do they go to all this trouble? It just makes Fidesz look silly.
Despite all his invective and wild accusations, JB wasn’t thick, so I honestly expected more from him than this. It was a rather feeble ending.
He came in with a bang, but he went out with a disappointing whimper.
We can but hope the same thing happens to OV and Fidesz…

Guest
Matt L
October 19, 2010 2:35 pm

You know, Fidesz supporters and voters really wanted someone like Lee Kuan Yew to run the country for a couple of decades. And who knows, maybe a little soft-authoritarian paternal capitalism might not be a bad idea.
Sadly, Viktor Orban is not Lee Kuan Yew and Hungary isn’t Singapore. Instead of a developmental dictatorship, Hungary is probably going to be saddled with Peronism-lite. A little bit of half-A$$ed reform, a lot of populist-nationalist rhetoric, and plenty of cronyism.
Maybe Fidesz ought to give Mr Lee a call… See if he’ll do a consultation?

Guest
Paul
October 19, 2010 4:23 pm

A thought provoking comparison, Matt. But I’m interested in why you think OV is no Lee Kuan Yew.
Genuine question – I don’t know enough about either man to be able to make any sort of judgement.

Guest
Mark
October 19, 2010 5:13 pm

“One wonders whether it is really true that Fidesz, in spite of the party’s immense success at the polls, lacks competent experts.”
I find it difficult to imagine how any competent expert would seriously counsel doing what the government has done with the private pension funds in a country with Hungary’s demographic profile or its serious need to increase its savings’ ratio. It is a short-term raid which will have so many deep-seated and damaging consequences long-term that it is really difficult to see it as anything other than utterly unhinged.

Guest
October 19, 2010 5:36 pm

Mark, given Orbán’s interview this evening he is convinced that his strategy will bring a sharp turn in the demographic process and boost growth. I’m furious and simultaneously resignated, as I will be here when this whole project collapses and someone will have to clean up the mess…
Funnily Matolcsy’s experts visited Estonia recently and in a communique praised its growth model as something to follow. (They mentioned the recent growth of fertility rate as well, however didn’t pointed out the significant differences in the child benefit system. http://hirszerzo.hu/profit/20101018_eszt_pelda_matolcsy_emberei) Apart from the ironic fact that they are praising neo-liberalism in its purest form the last politician doing it was János Kóka. Hopefully they will have the same fate in a similar time span.

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