Why Hungarians hate politicians and politics: The case of Pécs

It was on September 26 that Magyar Nemzet published an article about the unusually high bonuses that the City of Pécs had paid out to some of the leading politicians and city employees during the city’s socialist period between 2002 and 2009. The author of the article seemed to be very well informed. He knew the exact figure, 3.1 billion forints, that had been spent on bonuses. The most favored official was the town clerk, a very high position in Hungary, who during eight years received 64 million forints over and above her salary. But she was not alone. Another city employee in charge of personnel during the same period received 41.7 million forints. MSZP deputy mayors routinely received on average about one million forints a year.

Where did the information come from? Naturally it could have come only from the Pécs City Hall. A little investigative work reveals that Magyar Nemzet‘s correspondent from Pécs is Máté Ciprián Bóka. In Pécs he is known simply as Máté Bóka, and he is the editor-in-chief of an Internet paper called “Pécs Ma” (Pécs Today). The scoop was too important to publish in a local online paper. It was certainly juicy enough to send on to Magyar Nemzet. 

And indeed. The article made a splash. The first reaction came from a local civic organization called Társaság a Közérdekű Adatokért (TAKA; Association for Public Information). They demanded the publication of all bonuses paid out by the city government in the last nine years. That naturally would have also included the last two years of the Fidesz administration. The current mayor, Zsolt Páva, became mayor in 2009 after the sudden death of Péter Tasnádi (MSZP). Páva had been mayor once already, between 1994 and 1998.

Meanwhile, Magyar Nemzet continued its campaign against the corrupt socialists of Pécs. Máté Ciprián Bóka approached Páva and asked him whether these figures were for real (as if he didn’t know it already!) and the mayor confirmed that the figures cited were accurate and in fact his administration is in the middle of investigating the circumstances under which these bonuses were paid out. The socialists led the city to the edge of bankruptcy and accumulated 31 billion forints of debt. While this was going on they paid themselves 3.1 billion forints in bonuses.

Indeed, it seems pretty incredible, but there was something that was a bit odd. Although TAKA asked for a complete list of bonuses paid in “the last nine years” Páva eventually published only numbers for the 2002-2009 period. Fidesz leaders of Pécs immediately moved into action and proposed setting up a committee that would investigate “whether the political leaders received these enormous bonuses legally or not.” Péter Hoppál, Fidesz MP and member of the Pécs city council, already decided that the MSZP politicians were guilty and therefore have to pay back the money they received. Or maybe they could donate their millions to the fund that was set up by the government to pay down the country’s sovereign debt.

In the first few days after the appearance of the article MSZP politicians offered no plausible answers to these accusations. The chairman of the Pécs MSZP tried to make light of the revelations by saying that after all the 3.1 billion forints was divided among 400 employees of the city. And, he added, Zsolt Páva currently has a higher salary than did László Toller and Péter Tasnádi, his MSZP predecessors. Well, that’s neither here nor there.

Eventually, the socialists found their voice. Most likely they received inside information on the basis of which they could argue a little more forcefully. They discovered that between 2009 and 2011 when Zsolt Páva was already the mayor 850 million forints was paid out to high-ranking city politicians and city employees. One of the Fidesz deputy mayors received 2.5 million forints during 2009-2010. He explained that it was actually “a computer error” which he simply didn’t notice until it was too late to return the money. (Another version: he protested but the money kept coming.) However, he eventually gave the money to charity. The deputy mayor went so far as to accuse the socialists of creating this “computer error” in order to drag him into this “bonus business.”

The Fidesz answer was denial. Páva claimed that in 2009 he allowed bonuses for city employees to the tune of only 34 million and politicians didn’t receive a penny. In any case, said Páva, bonuses are perfectly okay if the administration does a good job, but when it doesn’t giving bonuses is “morally wrong.”

MSZP hit back. They discovered that Páva gave himself 3 million forints worth of bonuses between 1994 and 1998 while mayor of the city. Apparently that was out of the ordinary. Mayors handed out bonuses, they didn’t receive them. As the MSZP spokesman, former deputy mayor Bertalan Tóth, pointed out, that money was worth a great deal more then than today. The socialists demanded the details of all bonuses given out since 1990. When Páva dragged his heels they threatened him with a law suit. So, eventually Páva coughed up a partial list. He claimed that data for the 1990-1994 period were no longer available.

Meanwhile the fight between the two sides is continuing in a rather ugly way. A few days ago some Fidesz supporters, perhaps with the encouragement of City Hall, put up life-size paper cutouts of the MSZP politicians who received bonuses. Here are a couple of pictures.

 

 

 

I assume nobody is surprised that Hungarians are fed up with both parties. Although it looked at the beginning as if Fidesz would come out the clear winner in this affair, in the final analysis both parties look as bad as they deserve to.

People by now are convinced, and not without reason, that most politicians are crooks. Hungary’s so-called “political elite” is regularly shown in the worst possible light. In Budapest, the current government does everything in its power to portray the other side as criminals while on the municipal level the party in charge is doing its best to discredit its opposition.

There is something to the accusation that dragging up old dirt is good only for diverting attention away from the difficulties practically all Hungarian cities currently find themselves in. Pécs’s financial situation is grave. The borrowing continued during the Fidesz period as well. According to MSZP, Páva added another 14 billion forints to the city’s debt. And then there was Páva’s foolish move to break the city’s contract with the French company that was managing the city’s water supply. According to an independent assessor Pécs might have to pay 9 billion forints in damages. Indeed, it would be much better if all city officials would work toward solving the city’s terrible problems instead of taking pleasure in discrediting each other. But it’s easy to discredit both sides as these lists of bonuses clearly indicate, much harder to be constructive.

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Ron
Guest

Surely, these cities, villages, parishes needs to publish their financial statements and/or report to a certain authority(ies).
I imaging this would be the county and/or ministry. If not that would be gross negligence.
If they do need to report and no questions were asked than that controlling body commits gross negligence.

mouse
Guest

I’m not sure if hate is the right word, I think despair is closer to the mark when I discuss Hungarian politics with local colleagues. One point that does keep coming forward though is the MSZP remains poisoned in the minds of many younger people by the quite successful campaign to associate them with the previous regime.
For me a more general question might be “why do Hungarians dislike other Hungarians” I thought I was alone in finding that behind the formal manners in the country there is a decided lack of empathy between Hungarians. Recently I discussed the point with some others and was surprised to find it seems to a common impression. So back to the question but I’ll make it a little softer. Why do Hungarians have so little time for their countrymen?

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Oh how all those oily little toads love getting onto the ‘Gravy Train’.
If the present Mayor of Pecs has managed to ‘liberate’ his fellow citizens from the burden of having to look after some Ft 26,748,000.
The population of Pecs is approximately 158,000 souls. The population of Hungary as a whole is about 9,980,000.
Using a pro-rata calculation on the basis of population the Victator should be freeing the Hungarians of the worry of looking after some Ft 1,689,526,000 in the same period. This is a mere 0.891% of Hungary’s estimated GDP.
His magnificence the Victator is not doing his duty at all well.

John T
Guest

I’ve said many times on this blog that I don’t think much of the political “elite” in Hungary, across all shades of the political spectrum. Until politicians and public servants recognise that they are employed to serve the countries citizens, rather than themselves, the situation will never change. Just as important is the need to make Central / Local Government politically neutral. Politics should be confined to Parliament and local mayors / councillors. But the Civil Service and all local Government below the CEO should be non political, with people hired on merit for their skill and experience to do the job, rather than political affiliation. So there is a need to clean up Government and make all the processes transparent, whether in finances or recruitment. But I can’t see it happening – there are too many vested interests involved to achieve this kind of change. And bearing in mind the corruption & other distateful practices that are ingrained in Hungarian society (tax fiddling, doctors top up, kickbacks etc.) there is hardly a moral, principled movement to push for change. The more dirt that comes out, the more politics resembles a steaming cesspool.

Rigó Jancsi
Guest

Now that the peacock is already in the limelight, could we please bring it into concert, too? Let Kodály’s peacock fly!

John T
Guest

Mouse has raised an important point.
Arguably, the biggest hinderance to Hungary’s successful progress are Hungarians themselves. Clearly, through the centuries a lot of external factors have had a marked impact on how Hungarians view the world.
But I think Hungarian society today is way too insular and fails to grasp the “bigger picture”.
Hungarian’s as individuals do not (on the whole) like being told what to do, whether by a fellow Hungarian or certainly by a foreigner. You see this trait displayed on a daily basis by the poiticians in central and local government.
Additionally, too many individuals do not take responsibility for anything (understandable to a point because of the Communist system, but not 22 years on from Communism’s collapse). And nobody makes a mistake. If you add to that a strong streak of envy / jealousy, then it is no wonder that the country isn’t progressing.
There are too many people trying to screw each other and people see success as destroying their competitors, rather than trying to work together for the common good. This narrow view is so destructive.

Paul
Guest

Depressing stuff, makes me angry that these idiots are letting their greed help to destroy Hungary’s chances of ever developing into a post-medieval country.
The only positive I can take from this is that corruption seems so endemic in Hungary that there’s a pretty fair chance that most of the current Fidesz batch are on the take too – at the city/town level, if not at the top (although I suspect there as well).
Once some of this starts to come out (as surely it will), Fidesz’s whole ‘we’re better than the Socialist scum’ propaganda will start to look like the fiction it is.

Paul
Guest

Off topic – the FT have published a letter from Fidesz responding to their 8 October piece on the current state of ‘democracy’ in Hungary.
MEP György Schöpflin gives the usual Fidesz tojások in reply, but his final paragraph is quite interesting:
“The real danger to democracy in Hungary lies elsewhere, with Jobbik, the far-right party, which is successfully holding on to its 12-15 per cent support. Opposition voices at home and abroad seem quite unable to grasp that Fidesz is the most effective defence that democracy in Hungary has against Jobbik. If, as seems to be the case, the strategy of commentators like Mr Bremmer is to undermine Fidesz by discrediting it, they should really be careful of what they wish for.” http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ab635bee-f65a-11e0-86dc-00144feab49a.html#axzz1b1tPZctt
Original article: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bdd5667a-f02c-11e0-977b-00144feab49a.html#axzz1b1tPZctt
And so it begins. The Socialists are in such a pathetic state that they no longer need to be worried about. Now it’s Jobbik’s turn for death by black propaganda.
This shouldn’t take too long, as the factions within Jobbik will probably do most of the job for them.
One party state, here we come.
FT.com requires registration to read full articles, but it’s free. Both links originally taken from Budapost: http://budapost.eu/

Paul
Guest

And talking of Budapost:
“Ferenc Gyurcsány said in an interview that the platform is considering forming a new parliamentary group”
http://budapost.eu/2011/10/socialists-on-the-verge-of-a-split/
The long-awaited/feared split of the left?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul “Fidesz is the most effective defence that democracy in Hungary has against Jobbik.”
I just read the same letter by Scgöpflin. He is dead wrong. In factk, Orbán is very actively seeking the support of people who are inclined to vote for Jobbik. That’s why, for example, the appointment of Dörner to head Új Színház. Dörner could be often seen at Jobbik rallies.

Joseph Simon
Guest

Éva used to tell me repeatedly, when we were still on speaking terms, that MAGYAR NEMZET was a ‘rag’, not worth reading. Now she is using it as an authentic source. It is sad, though, the widespread corruption. We must have learnt it from the Americans.

Paul
Guest

JS in saying bad thing about the Americans shock!
JS – here’s a clue about corruption and who learnt it from who:
USA – 235 years old
Hungary – 1,011 years old

Member

Joseph Simon, as always you are missing the point. The whole point is that that Magyar Nemzet published some stuff just to prove how awful the Socialists are, but guess what “people in glass houses should not throw rocks”. THey attacked the MSZO for the same garbage what their well supported Fidesz is doing. It is just like you, you try to score points but you do not realize that you are attacking your own defense.

Member

@Simon Jozsi “We must have learnt it from the Americans”
2/3 of the Hungarian civil servants would be in jail here in the US if they lived here.

John T
Guest

Joe Simon has rather proved my point – someone else’s fault again!
Some1 – unfortunately, more time and energy is spent by both Left & Right on digging up dirt, than cleaning up politics and public administration. All rather pathetic.

Joseph Simon
Guest

At least Hungarian corruption is not ruining the world, whereas American greed has global implications. MUTT DAMON: How come Greenspan is not in jail.

Member

@Simon Jozsi “MUTT DAMON: How come Greenspan is not in jail”
Feel free to enlighten me why he should be in prison. That will cover you daily troll quota and you can get paid at the end of a hard-working day.

Kirsten
Guest
John T: “Until politicians and public servants recognise that they are employed to serve the countries citizens, rather than themselves, the situation will never change.” I thought that in only a few instances, the good behaviour of public employees and politicians follows ONLY from their “good manners”, in general this should follow from systematic controls. These are: elections, internal and external (free press, other media) checks and the willingness of people who do not misuse their positions in public administration for their own interests to apply for and fill these positions. Elections, because those politicians who tolerate this behaviour at any level of public administration, have to be replaced by those who are willing and capable of replacing the people who misuse the system. It needs a public that is outraged by this behaviour, but also actively demands a change in the system including the provision of better behaviour by themselves and the alternative candidates. (Which is crucial as it is likely that most people at some moment also do not play by “the rules”). Detesting the politicians is not really helpful; gathering people who want a change, appears more promising to me (even if that is labourious). The comment… Read more »
Member

This is a site from the state of New York:
http://seethroughny.net/
You can lookup the full payroll data for all public servants plus a lot more.
It seems that neither the FIDESZ or the MSZP is really rushing to come up with laws that will cap their own salaries. Hmmm, I wonder why … That’s why Hungarians “hate” politicians. Of course the problem is that we fail to realize that politicians are us not some kind of aliens shipped here from the Mars to screw us. National schizophrenia. This is again the “Balsors akit regen tep” (*) mentality. It’s time to change the anthem guys.
(*) Line from our national anthem : “Long torn by ill fate”.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Simon Jozsi
The problem in Hungary is there is no politically independent professional Established Civil Service. These people are independent of political influence. Their duties are laid down by Act of Parliament and they cannot be sacked or replaced at the whim of a Prime Minister (or a Victator). If the U.K. P.M. does not like his Chief Cabinet Secretary, tough luck.
Peculation and the like is rife in Hungary because the rules can be abused, but the so-called independent Prosecutor in Hungary turns a blind eye and concentrates on fatuous and fictional prosecutions of the Governments political enemies.
Oh Yes Mr Simon you have not yet told us why you think Mr Greenspan should be behind bars!
Mutt Damon
You wrote ** “”Balsors akit regen tep” – “Long torn by ill fate”.” **. The “Ill fate” suffered often lies directly in the hands of those who suffer it. As a contributor to an earlier topic wrote “The Hungarians are a race of charming children” to which Paul queried the use of the word “charming”. I see this scatter brained child like behaviour every day of the week.

Ron
Guest

Off topic: Two pieces of news that I received with mixed feelings as it may have a major impact on Hungary as to illegal immigrants.
The first is: http://www.politics.hu/20111019/fidesz-mp-proposes-change-to-citizenship-law/
The second is: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/serbia-faces-unlikely-surge-in-asylum-seekers-officials-say-they-are-on-stopover-to-west/2011/10/21/gIQAwkR92L_story.html
I believe that Hungary will be a target for illegal immigrants and Jobbik will use this as ammunition against Fidesz.

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