Dark clouds on the Hungarian sky

József Debreczeni, who has been the most severe critic of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz, was dejected after the elections that delivered a two-thirds majority to Orbán's party. What he feared became reality, and he feared the worst. For a few months he practically disappeared from the Hungarian media, but then about three or four months ago he started publishing again. He came to the conclusion that Orbán is making so many mistakes that the "end" will come sooner than anyone expects. In 2002 Fidesz campaigned (unsuccessfully) with the slogan: "The future has begun." Debreczeni entitled his piece (Népszabadság, March 13, 2011) "The future has begun again."

Others are also noticing the change in public opinion and action. Adam LeBor entitled his article in The Economist (March 17, 2011) "Budapest's liberal awakening?" He talks about the "ruthless speed and determination to remake the country in its own image, centralising power, abolishing or taking over formerly independent institutions." The ruthlessness that has always been the hallmark of Fidesz is taking its toll on the popularity of the party.

Viktor Orbán's coterie of men and women who stuck out eight hard years with him in opposition in the hope of reward once Fidesz is in power are very, very hungry. One can hear daily about relatives of members of the government who are getting important jobs in the administration. Or millions being dropped here and there into the laps of "advisors" to the new office holders. Naturally these advisors are well known Fidesz supporters. Orbán was always very generous with the taxpayers' money when it came to paying off his supporters for services rendered.

And then there is János Lázár, the leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation. He is a relatively young man who has always taken advantage of his position, even when he was an ordinary MP in opposition. He knew how to milk the system and soon became the highest paid member of parliament. So, you can imagine his financial fantasies now that he is really, really important. First came his car, a top-of-the-line Audi with a price tag of close to $100,000. Of course, he didn't pay for it; the monthly 600,000 forint lease came out of the taxpayers' pockets. And naturally he didn't intend to drive the car himself; he had a chauffeur. Once this news came to light Lázár at first made some lame excuses as to why he needed such an expensive luxury car but in the end, most likely on his boss's urging, he relinquished the car and bought one of his own. However, the damage was done.

Even more uncomfortable is a tape that became public yesterday that contains parts of a speech of Lázár from 2008. In a meeting of the city council of Hódmezővásárhely Lázár made some unfortunate remarks about people who hadn't achieved anything in life in material terms and who in his opinion were therefore not worth anything. As it turned out, these remarks were taken out of context, but I must say that even in context they sound pretty outrageous. And people were outraged. Both MSZP and LMP demanded that Lázár leave politics, and about 350 people gathered in front of Fidesz headquarters to call for his resignation.

I wrote earlier about the hired college students who stood in front of Viktor Orbán while he delivered his speech on March 15th. Their job was to orchestrate audience applause at appropriate times during the speech. The taxpayers paid the students a total of 1.2 million forints, handed out in cash as the students filed by after the speech.

Then there is the case of Pál Schmitt, president of the country, who is quickly becoming a laughing stock. He wrote a few words in the guest book of a restaurant, and it turned out that in one sentence he made "two howling mistakes." Well, they are howling all right, especially since the two words are "state" and "president." The defender of the Hungarian language seems to have very serious problems with Hungarian spelling.

But his spelling problems are nothing in comparison to the suspicions about his past that have cropped up lately. In the late 1970s Schmitt was deputy director of the Astoria Hotel. According to historians of the secret police and counter intelligence, the Astoria was one of those hotels where some of the rooms were wired for the purpose of bugging foreign visitors' conversations. Historians argue that Schmitt had to know about these operations, he even had to cooperate with the secret police, because he was in charge of room assignment.

But that's not all. It was discovered that a year is missing from Schmitt's official biography. He left the Astoria in 1981, and his next listed job is director of the football stadium today called Puskás Ferenc Stadium. Yet, in fact, after leaving the Astoria Schmitt had another job, with the Fórum Szálló Szervező Iroda, which was responsible for negotiating deals with foreign investors who were erecting the Hotel Duna Interkontinentál.

The organization, as we have recently learned, was small. There were only five employees including Schmitt, Csaba Fenyvessy, another fencer, and Ferenc Csiba. Csiba and Fenyvessy used their positions to enrich themselves. It is a fairly complicated story of illegal currency exchange: Austrian schillings to Hungarian forints. In any case, the prosecutors went after them and eventually both were sentenced. Csiba spent five years in jail while Fenyvessy got a suspended sentence of a year and a half. Schmitt was a friend of both Csiba and Fenyvessy, yet historians studying the material could find absolutely no documents indicating that the authorities even questioned him. The suspicion is that someone removed the archival material.

The government has enough political problems, especially unfulfilled promises, and now it is being besieged by all sorts of scandals. It's hard for a government to maintain its support for long under such circumstances. Meanwhile the opposition is growing. Right now it is organizationally amorphous, but I suspect that we won't have to wait too long before the Facebook crowd finds its leader or leaders.

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Member

Schmitt was the deputy manager of the Astoria Száló …

Jano
Guest

I agree, the complete version is not much better than the cut one. Lázár successfully emerged as the János Kóka of Fidesz. And I doubt he’d be the only one.
On the other hand it is pathetic that the entire Hungarian media and the opposition parties took the report from kuruc.info without any sort of criticism or double checking (the uncut version of the speech would have been available). This is similar to Tomcat’s phone case with Tibor Szanyi a week ago. This clearly shows what alternatives do we have here…

Kymberlie R. McGuire
Guest

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cba
Guest

Very interesting. When Schmitt was selected it was leaked to the press that Kövér László had expressed opposition the appointment because of “holes in his CV”.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “On the other hand it is pathetic that the entire Hungarian media and the opposition parties took the report from kuruc.info without any sort of criticism or double checking”
Yes, it is incredible. I double check absolutely everything because I know only too well how sloppy Hungarian journalists are. They should have been especially careful because the info came from kuruc.info. Not the most reliable publication.

Kirsten
Guest

I had just a look at kuruc.info and it is definitely worth learning what they consider to be the topics of main interest (listed above; but would some of them not be against the law?). Given their portfolio I am surprised they classify the material about Janos Lazar “humor” and not “antimagyarizmus”.

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