Babes in arms: LMP’s encounter with Viktor Orbán

A commenter adding his own observation to the news that the prosecutor's office is charging Ferenc Gyurcsány with "abuse of office" on the basis of a complaint filed by András Schiffer (LMP) in October 2009 said something very clever: "In his political life Viktor Orbán has managed to fillet much bigger fish than András Schiffer." Because let's face it, it is somewhat strange that the prosecutor's office is bringing charges against Gyurcsány not as a result of Gyula Budai's investigations of the Sukoró real estate swap but on the basis of an old complaint about a lack of transparency. The complaint is that the King's City project was deemed so economically significant to Hungary that some of the cumbersome bureaucratic hurdles could be dispensed with. There was nothing terribly unusual about this decision. For example, just recently the Orbán government gave this special status (kiemelt jelentőségű) to the expansion of the Audi factory in Győr.

Orbán shrewdly decided that it's better to stick with the old LMP charge than to have his "commissioner" go to the prosecutors with his own charges. This way, he can kill two birds with one stone. One, he can say to the world that he had absolutely nothing to do with this dirty affair and, two, he can ruin LMP. Because judging by the first reactions to the news that the culprit behind this latest assault on the former prime minister is not his arch-rival but András Schiffer, an important man in the liberal camp, the public outcry against LMP among the anti-Fidesz forces will be considerable.

As it is, some people are deeply suspicious of LMP. One commenter called the party the Trojan horse of Fidesz; another suggested that the logo of LMP should be a carrot. "A little green on top and orange at the bottom." I'm sure that LMP will not emerge from this affair well. First of all, a few months ago there was well-founded information about serious strife within the party. Apparently there is a liberal and a more conservative faction. If I had to guess, the main topic of the debate within the party is most likely its attitude toward MSZP and Ferenc Gyurcsány. The more "liberal" faction probably favors closer cooperation with other anti-Fidesz forces while the conservatives hold that the party should remain at arm's length from both. In strategizing for the municipal elections the conservatives won out, but LMP suffered after they refused to consider an independent candidate supported by both LMP and MSZP for the post of mayor of Budapest. LMP did much worse in October in Budapest than it did in April at the national elections.

Now, these two factions can sit down again and figure out what to do. Because it will look mighty bad if the Orbán government with the help of the ever-ready prosecutors tries to put Ferenc Gyurcsány into jail because a year and a half ago András Schiffer went to the prosecutor's office with his own rather flimsy charges.

Schiffer has been trying to act as if all is just fine: the Hungarian justice system is working well. He hopes that more cases will be investigated and he mentions the town of Esztergom as one possible place where an investigation would be in order. (Of course, he knows that nothing of the sort will ever happen in Esztergom.) At the end he expressed his surprise that "it took the justice system that long to act." Surely, Schiffer cannot be so naive. The justice system waited until the time was ripe. Gyurcsány began to be active politically and therefore it was time to slam him into jail or at least drag him through a lengthy court case that will divert his time and energy away from politics. While the investigation is dragging on, newspapers can be full of complicated details of alleged wrongdoings which no one really understands but everybody thinks must be dreadful. At the end it really doesn't matter whether he is found innocent or not. He will be damaged goods.

András Schiffer's comments in the last few days were anything but reassuring. His interview on Olga Kálmán's "Egyenes beszéd" was unconvincing and he himself was unsympathetic.

Since his original charge there have been new developments in the Surokó case where two important people involved in the real estate swap claimed that everything was in order and that neither Gyurcsány nor Bajnai intervened in any way in the business dealings between Joav Blum and the Hungarian agency in charge of selling state properties. No one committed any crime and both men are convinced that a show trial is being prepared.

Ferenc Gyurcsány himself made no secret of his conviction that the prosecutor's office is "the extended arm of Viktor Orbán." It is most likely so, but Orbán remains in the background while the pawn in the foreground is none other than András Schiffer. I wouldn't be surprised if the small LMP leadership is in total turmoil at the moment.

Some people are convinced that Schiffer is no more than a puppet of Viktor Orbán. I wouldn't go so far. I rather agree with the commenter on the fish fillets. If Schiffer had any sense he would stop trying to defend his actions and come up with a more truthful line: he went to the prosecutors in October 2009 because he wanted to call attention to his new party and he didn't think that Viktor Orbán would use this case as the basis of his legal assault against Ferenc Gyurcsány. He might add that he was used.

Whether the LMP leadership will be able convince András Schiffer to change his line of argument I'm not sure. He doesn't look the kind of guy who would ever admit a mistake. But if he persists and if his party doesn't distance itself from him I fear LMP will be in big trouble as far as its rather fragile electoral base is concerned.

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Minusio
Guest
Independent judges are the last an autocrat needs. “Dubya” Bush made apponting like-minded judges to the Supreme Court a routine procedure when Congress was in recess, and there couldn’t be any hearings. By giving the judiciary system a hair-cut, Orbán intends to further his pet power-retaining project: Put all his own people into positions of power. If you create a lot of vacancies at the top you will have lots of candidates vying for a top job. Nowadays they don’t need a partybook to get on in life, but they will be dependend on a strong recommendation from someone who matters and is Fidesz. To me that is the whole reason. What next elections? I base my prediction on the ruthless way in which Fidesz changed the election law for the communal elections last October practically over night. They’ll do it again, but smarter. Or in 2014 Hungary is in such dire straights that an emergency situation will have to be declared during which there is no time for an election… Or elegibility criteria will be cooked or whatever else these crooked minds can come up with. I don’t believe in any decisive manifestation of “the will of the people”… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest
There are two problems here. At the General Election the Hungarian Electorate was faced with a choice. To vote for a party painted as being ‘Totally Corrupt’ although nothing has yet been proved. Or to vote for a party which had no Manifesto and promised nothing except ‘pie in the sky’. The Hungarians chose the latter. They have chosen to be hoodwinked by a man who was at that time and still is an obvious megalomaniac and con-artist. His sole intent is to enslave the whole country for power and financial gain for himself and his cronies. The Hungarians did this at a time when men are fighting and dying just rid themselves of a similar tyrant who is quite happy to kill women and children to stay in power. As Count Széchenyi implied, in his diaries, about the Hungarians, ‘What a load of rogues!’. Our Hostess asks a question * “But what can the European Union do?” * At the moment nothing except pass warning messages which of course will be ignored. Paul – It is only when the Bill becomes an Act (even if it is a constitution) that Europe can take action. You must not anticipate an… Read more »
Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

By way of factual comparison, I came upon an article about the same topic in the State of Ohio, where the mandatory retirememnt age of judges was raised to 75. http://www.dispatchpolitics.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2011/04/13/copy/amendment-would-raise-age-limit-for-ohio-judges.html?sid=101
There are two interesting facts about the Ohio judges. First, the are elected by the people directly. Second, since they are required t retire at 75, they cannot stand for election past age 69.
It is also well worth noting how the good people of Ohio go about changing their constitution. The law is proposed in the House and passed by the House and the Senate and then put on the ballot for the next general election.
BTW, Ohio is one of 32 states that set a mandatory retirement age for judges. The rest of the states have NO such limit.

Kirsten
Guest

“In the longer term I see only protests, ending in riots and blood, as OV becomes increasingly more paranoid and unable to contemplate opposition.”
I would still suggest instead a concerted effort of those that are disappointed now to define a minimum requirement to take Hungary back on a democractic track. Simply to be prepared (it could reduce the need for bloodshed if an alternative programme were in place).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “Simply to be prepared (it could reduce the need for bloodshed if an alternative programme were in place).”
Today Gyurcsány pretty well said the same thing. The opposition has to have a worked out program and it will take time.

Paul
Guest

They do not have time. Just look at how far OV has gone in just a year. Imagine what he’ll do in another three.
The only thing I feel optimistic about at the moment is the fact that there will be no Russian army to quash the revolution this time around.
Unless, of course, OV’s mate Putin decides to help him out…

Member

@Kirsten You said “need for bloodshed”. It sounds awful, but probably you are right. I just saw the pictures of the recent law enforcement union protests. Cops, firefighters, etc. Thy had a couple of funny banners, like one firefighter held this: “Small fires: please bring in, big fires: announce 1 month early” or “40 hours work, 8 hours gift to you”. They were opening fire hydrants along the way, so cops had show up to watch them. Cops against cops. Who is the brutal cop of 2006? I wonder what will happen when riots brake out?

Ron
Guest

On pusztaranger 12 days worth of links of various newspapers, magazines and blogs in German. Hungary is hot abroad.
http://pusztaranger.wordpress.com/

Kirsten
Guest
Mutt, I reacted mainly to the worry of Paul that this will end in “riots and blood”. I am not at all convinced that this is necessary but I do not have too much knowledge about how conflicts are dealt with in Hungary. 1956 was violent, 1989 was not violent, 2006 was violent but what exactly the violence in 2006 meant I am unable to rate (in Berlin there is nearly every year violent protest of some groups on 1 May but this is not considered to be a general protest of “the nation” against the government). The protest against OV and the current government has so far been non-violent. So why exactly other contributors think that violence is the only possible outcome I try to find out through reading their comments. But in what I concur is that the probability that protests will be violent increases if there is no alternative available that could serve as a platform or starting point for a non-violent dismantling of OV rule. I think that this is all that I wanted to say. Only recently I learned that this very steady change of the regime in Spain, which appears to have been successful… Read more »
GW
Guest
Kirsten, The whole question of a “reckoning with the past” has a very curious history in Hungary. There was never any significant public discussion of the matter in 1989, but there was, effectively, a consensus that, with the system imposed from without, there had been a tacet social contract post-1956 between the government and the governed that the government would assure the maximum freedoms and highest standard of living possible in the East Block so long as the system as a whole was not challenged. Under so-called “goulash communism”, as bad as things got, one could usually point honestly at neighboring countries and note that “they had it worse.” This means that, by the time of the change of systems, nearly all citizens has come to a mode of working, with at least a minimum degree of complicity, within the system. Every major post-89 politician had had a career or education within the system, thus when the question of “reckoning” came up, it was a question of everyone or no one. A real movement towards reckoning came with the opening of the “Terror Museum” at the end of Orban I, which was contentious in its division of exhibitions between sins… Read more »
Member
We can look at the Kadar years as an unspoken social contract but I doubt this crossed the minds of the ordinary citizens. They may have “appreciated” in a way the relatively better living conditions (IMHO in East-Germany was better to make the difference between Germany and Germany less apparent). Also the shock of 56 still lived on for a long time – the “governed” didn’t want to march on the streets for a while. The dictatorship was also very efficient. The people jailed in 56 and 57 and released from prison in 2-3 years later provided an abundant and easy source of informants in exchange to getting their life back. The fact that the change happened so smooth in 90 probably can be attributed to the huge amount of Kadar informant among the top brass of the by then democrats. By my opinion, after the power consolidated in the hands of the Antall government, they had to start going after the ex-communists. Posthumous Kadar trial, dissolving the MSzP, etc. The should have made them to run the gauntlet for a bit. That could have brought some closure. I’m not sure why this wasn’t happening. Definitely not because we didn’t… Read more »
Paul
Guest
My ‘it will all end in blood and tears’ view is not hyperbole, it is based on my understanding of OV’s character and on the history of such struggles. My assumption is that, by the time Hungarians wake up in significant numbers, it will be too late, any meaningful democratic means of removing the government, or even protesting against it, will no longer exist/be permitted. But, if you can’t use democratic means to get things changed, what do you do? Initially, at least, the only answer is to take to the streets (as in the recent protests in North Africa and the Middle East). However, by then OV’s hatred of criticism or opposition will have reached paranoia proportions and he will try to stop the demonstrations. There are several ways this will happen (not mutually exclusive): he may by then have crack riot squads trained up and ready to be deployed, or he may just use the same poor old untrained, unprepared coppers that tried to cope in 2006, or (and) he will give the nod again to the Jobbik ‘guards’ and the skinheads. It doesn’t actually matter which of these things happen, as they all lead to the same… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest
Paul to some extent I agree with your scenario. The Mighty One (Orban Victor) honestly believe that it is his destiny to (and since his visit to Rome the divine right) rule Hungary. He is a bad tempered very aggressive man with all the diplomatic finesse of a run-a-way freight train, who detests critism and will not listen to anyone or reasoned argument. There is a photo in this blog which illustrates this. It shows the President of the European Union José Manuel Barroso with his best diplomatic smile proffering a ‘flipper’ and OV storming past as if Barroso was a door man. He is the sort of man who will kill those he rules and justify it by calling them traitors. As far as I can remember the Hungarian Regular army has never given fire on the Hungarian people. So as you say, his Mightiness will give the nod to Jobbik and the skinheads. In a riot suppression role they would be useless. They are undisciplined and do not have the necessary training. To stand in ‘Riot Formation’ takes a level of discipline equal to that of a Roman Legionary. Not easy to instil in the wide variety of… Read more »
Ron
Guest

Now I know why it is so quiet at the EU regarding the new Hungarian constitution.
http://www.euractiv.com/en/central-europe/hungary-constitution-trojan-horse-authoritarianism-news-504128
The Socialist & Democrats group in the European Parliament has remained remarkably silent on the issue. S&D sources told EurActiv that its leader Martin Schulz wanted no controversy with the Parliament’s largest group, the European People’s Party (EPP), in a bid to secure his appointment as Parliament president in 2012. Fidesz is a member of the EPP.

Kirsten
Guest
Paul: “But, if you can’t use democratic means to get things changed, what do you do?” I thought that OV explained to us that some law is not actually “legitimate law” and that there can be some arbitrariness in it. And although I would not agree that all law based on what was passed during the Communist rule was not legal, I am quite sure that in critical situations there can be some policies that are not “legal” or “democratic” in a systematic way (based on law) but in a way that has public approval and allows for more or less orderly (at least generally non-violent) change. In 1989 I thought that many such steps were made. There was some “round table” debating, certainly without being “elected” and having legal rights etc. So there is a situation conceivable that this constitution will be suspended (or parts of it) in order to prepare a new one. Or that OV will start to lose support in Fidesz (I know I know, very hypothetical) and there will be people from Fidesz, MSzP and LMP or other parties that will agree on some first steps. It does not need violent demonstrations for it. But… Read more »
Paul
Guest

I was sort of joking about Putin coming to the ‘rescue’, but as I wrote it, I did wonder.
With Russia’s heavy lifting capacity and Hungarian airports (e.g. Debrecen) having military length runways for just such planes, it certainly would be possible to bring in enough hardware to help “restore peace” if the Hungarian government requested it.
Politically, it doesn’t sound likely, but Orbán will be desperate (as well as mad), and Putin is eager to put Russia back on the map as a country with real influence in Europe. The EU and the US would of course oppose it and make a lot of fuss, but would they actually do anything about it?
By the time they got round to doing anything, the Russians would have been in and out and ‘peace’ would have been restored.
I don’t really think this is going to happen, of course, but, in my 50+ years of watching European politics, I’ve seen stranger things.

Paul
Guest

“Orbán shrewdly decided that it’s better to stick with the old LMP charge than to have his “commissioner” go to the prosecutors with his own charges.”
The answer to my post on the other thread – barely before I’d asked it!
But I think we have the old ‘internal/external consumption’ thing again here. Orbán may be able to spin it this way for Hungarian media, but anyone outside Hungary who is half aware of the situation is going to see right through this.
It’s going to look just as bad as if OV was prosecuting himself. Hungary is going to come across as some sub-Saharan African ‘republic’ where the other side wins the election and scores are settled.
Even OV must know* that this just isn’t the way it’s done in the West and he is going to look like a barbarian at the civilised European table.
*or possibly not…

Paul
Guest

Just had a look at the LMP website: http://lehetmas.hu/
It’s worth a read, even if you are anti-LMP/Schiffer, it’s always instructive to see things from another viewpoint*.
For the non-Hungarian readers, there’s a lot in English, not just the few brief paragraphs you get on most Hungarian sites. The only drawback is that you have to register first – in Hungarian! Although it’s not a complicated registration process – if I can do it, anyone can.
*Before JB has his usual spittle explosion, I should point out that, not only have I often looked at both the Fidesz and Jobbik sites, I actually read the Jobbik manifesto – I bet there’s not many, even on here, who can say that!

An
Guest

Schiffer is an idiot but I don’t think he is a Fidesz puppet. He is trying to play a fair game and fight corruption but at the same time he doesn’t realizes how he is playing into Orban’s hand.
Yes, both MszP and Fidesz has its corruption scandals, but what LMP fails to see that MSZP, tough has corruption issues among its ranks, is in essence a party committed to democracy. Fidesz is just as corrupt if not more; OV is autocratic, and as such, corruption and cronyism is an essence to Fidesz’s rule.
Thinking that both parties are the same is a huge mistake.
Yes, he and LMP will be “filleted” by Orban’s salami tactic.

Jano
Guest

I really like, that in the Fidesz fan club, LMP is usually described as SZDSZ 2.0, the MSZP fan club, now that they got a slap in their face when they tried to ally with LMP turned to offense. This simple thing makes me like them more. In many aspect they are a huge disappointment for me, but not not in this one. Most of their voters didn’t vote for them to side with MSZP (they would be actually betrayed by doing so). No matter if you like it or not, according to the polls, MSZP is still the most repulsive party for the voters. Siding with them is a political suicide and thus wouldn’t help the anti-Fidesz cause a bit.
An:”MSZP, tough has corruption issues among its ranks, is in essence a party committed to democracy.”
In your opinion. Other people don’t agree with that. That’s all. It’s surprising for me that as an allegedly committed democrat, you still try to express your opinion as the only possible way of thinking. That’s one of the things you seem to hate in Fidesz people so much.

An
Guest

@Jano: “In your opinion. Other people don’t agree with that. That’s all. It’s surprising for me that as an allegedly committed democrat, you still try to express your opinion as the only possible way of thinking.”
What’s that got to do with being a democrat? An opinion is an opinion, obviously. Whatever I comment on this blog, is my opinion… what does it matter how how strongly I feel about it? If your opinion is different, you’ll write that. Fine with me.
Your mixing things up here; even democrats can feel strongly about their opinions. A person stops being a democrat when he/she tries to silence other opinions… I did not do that.

Jano
Guest

An: Okay, I just felt a little down looking vibe towards anybody who’d dare to think otherwise. If it wasn’t there, my bad.

Member

What is this? The MSzP is trying to nuke it’s competition? Good ol’ Hungarian “Mohacs” manufacturing in full swing? Orban is laughing his butt off watching how his opposition is getting to each-others throat and we still have 3 years to go until the elections. Losers …

An
Guest

@Jano: Didn’t mean to have a down looking vibe towards any other opinions… just frustrated with LMP. And with MSzP. And with the lack of viable opposition to Fidesz at this point.

Jano
Guest

An: “And with the lack of viable opposition to Fidesz at this point”
Then we actually have a lot in common. Sorry then.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
I fear that for all his ‘Mightiness’ and OV and his ‘henchmen’ are going to get in to even deeper ‘Do-Do’ with Europe over this one. O.V. is not flavour of the month in the councils of Europe, firstly for his boorish behaviour (see the posting entitled ‘Hungary’s problems are not going away’). .Secondly for his recent enactments -the Media Law, this is not yet a closed item-. As to his ‘nationalisation’ of the ‘Pension Money’ well it staggers on in the Hungarian Courts, but something else is brewing, an action in the European Court to force the Hungarian courts to expedite the hearings. If the Hungarian Government tries to put Ferenc Gyurcsány, who is widely respected and liked in the E.U., into jail on some rather flimsy charges which were laid 18 months ago, I am afraid the ‘dung will start hitting the fan’. Ambassadors will be recalled and ‘charge d’ affairs’ left in their place. (a big diplomatic insult). The E.U. will start to drag its heels over grants etc. Mr Gyurcsány will not be without legal support, some of the sharpest ‘Legal Eagles’ in the world will appear at his side in his support. If as our… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

It’s so funny that there is not even the slightest hint of a thought that Gyurcsány may really have committed some crimes and the prosecution’s action is just.
Only political motivations are seen everywhere.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“He will be damaged goods.”
He is already damaged well beyond repair. Anyone with at least half a brain can see that.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“neither Gyurcsány nor Bajnai intervened in any way in the business dealings between Joav Blum and the Hungarian agency”
Then how come it’s their signatures spread there on all respective documents?
Were they forged signatures?

Johnny Boy
Guest

“The E.U. will start to drag its heels over grants etc.”
You crave so much for intervention on political grounds into the independent judiciary system.
That shows perfectly how big of a ‘democrat’ you are.