The Orbán government’s swift move toward the far right

I wrote about some of the people who received high awards from the Orbán government on March 15, one of the official national holidays in Hungary. They were either racist, antisemitic neo-Nazis or representatives of unscientific, bogus “scholarship” whose numbers have been growing in Hungary in the last twenty years or so. The greatest attention was showered on Ferenc Szaniszló, who received the Táncsics Prize from Zoltán Balog.

I left the story at the point that Zoltán Balog claimed that he knew nothing about Szaniszló’s program on EchoTV. He simply accepted the recommendation of the committee appointed by the Orbán government and made up of right-leaning journalists. Balog also insisted that he couldn’t withdraw the prize. Either Szaniszló gives it back on his own volition or everything remains as is. (I might mention here that when the writer Ákos Kertész made the mistake of saying something derogatory about Hungarians his honorary citizenship of Budapest was withdrawn without the slightest difficulty.) In any case, Balog wrote a letter to Szaniszló in which he practically begged him to return the prize. He did, but only after he delivered another of his harangues on March 18 in an extra edition of Világ-Panoráma. This extra edition was just as long as his other programs, but this time it dealt only with all the indignities he had to suffer from the “szocik” and the “liberok.” One shouldn’t have expected anything else, but at least at the end he announced that he would return the prize–but not to the ministry but to the U.S. Embassy!

Balog might have thought that his troubles were over, but then came the revelation in Heti Válasz, a right-wing, pro-Fidesz publication, that Balog hadn’t told the truth earlier. The committee didn’t recommend Szaniszló for the prize. In fact, as Ágnes Osztovits, who is on the staff of Heti Válasz, revealed, the committee endorsed only one person, a reporter for Magyar Rádió, out of the three who eventually received the awards. In addition to Szaniszló, Márta Ágnes Vertse of Vatikán Rádió was also picked by the ministry against the advice of the nominating committee. Moreover, Heti Válasz learned who promoted Szaniszló and Vertse. None other than the new undersecretary in charge of cultural affairs, János Halász. Balog doesn’t seem to have much luck with his undersecretaries. He couldn’t get along with László L. Simon, who after eight months was fired, and now here is Balog’s own man who immediately gets him into trouble. Both the American and the Israeli embassies officially protested and demanded immediate action in connection with the case.

Szaniszló became an international cause célèbre, although he wasn’t the only one whose recognition by the Hungarian government was questionable. Let’s start with the award of the “Magyar Érdemrend középkeresztje” to Gábor Széles, who is the owner of the very EchoTV that employs Szaniszló in addition to Zsolt Bayer. Széles is also the owner of Magyar Hírlap where Zsolt Bayer is senior editor. Or there is Kornél Bakay, the “archaeologist” who received the “Magyar Érdemrend Tisztikereszt (polgári tagozat)” on March 15. When he was the director of the museum in Szombathely in 2003 Bakay organized an exhibit entitled “Soldiers of Horthy, Arrowmen of Szálasi.” On the basis of this exhibit it became clear that Bakay is “an enthusiastic propagandist of the Szálasi cult.” After a huge outcry the exhibit was dismantled.

The government claims that these awards, decorations, and prizes demonstrate the “Hungarian nation’s recognition of and gratitude to those who represent the best of the nation.” So, let’s see what János Petrás, lead singer of the “nemzeti” rock band, represents because he also received the “Magyar Arany Érdemkereszt (polgári tagozat).” This pride of the nation said at the “Magyar Sziget” neo-Nazi gathering in 2009: “Those people–who are really not human as far as we are concerned–are misfits, inferior somethings. They are gay and they are proud of it….One day this breed will become extinct. They should go somewhere and live together but separately. We will pass a law that will state that we don’t tolerate this perversity.”

It is hard to imagine that all these awards, prizes, and decorations given to people belonging to the far right are simply mistakes. There is a concerted effort to court the Hungarian neo-Nazis. It is government policy. So is the whipping up of nationalist sentiment.

Orbán imitates members of the Magyar GárdaPhoto MTI / Attila Kovács

Orbán imitates the uniform of the Magyar Gárda
Photo MTI / Attila Kovács

This morning I was reading about Viktor Orbán’s latest Friday morning interview on Magyar Rádió when I noticed something that might be significant. Normally on such an occasion Orbán wears a suit but no tie. This morning it was brisk in Budapest. During the day, around 6°C. At 7:00 a.m. it was most likely close to O°. Yet Orbán appeared in a white shirt with a black vest. An outfit preferred by people who are close to Jobbik or the far right in general. Journalists noted, for example, that Attila Vidnyánszky, the new director of the National Theater, began wearing this type of outfit lately; he seems to have committed his career to creating a truly “national” theater.

I suspect that Orbán’s choice of clothing this morning was a conscious decision to be identified with the Hungarian far right. The outfit was certainly appropriate, given the content of the speech in which he made no bones about his determination not to accept lectures or limits on Hungary’s national sovereignty from Brussels. As one of the headlines in a paper reporting on the speech read, “Orbán: They shouldn’t phone here from Brussels.” And that was before it became known that José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, will in the future personally oversee all contested issues concerning the amendments to the Hungarian constitution. Perhaps it is not only telephone calls that should stop coming from Brussels. What about money?

41 comments

  1. Entirely OT, but thoughts on this would be appreciated:

    My wife and I were having our usual argument about whether Orbán is the saviour of Hungary or an anti-democratic autocrat tonight when she started quoting from an article that “proved” MSzP had been stealing Hungarian money and secretly keeping it offshore for years – enough money to easily pay off the Hungarian debt. I couldn’t deny this (apparently) because here it was in black and white (but unfortunately I couldn’t read it because it was in Hungarian!).

    She could provide me with no sources, so I did a bit of investigative work myself. and I would welcome comments on what I discovered.

    The piece she was quoting (which presumably had been posted on her FB) was from A Nemzeti InternetFigyelő (The National Internet Monitor) – NIF, a Hungarian site which claims to be an impartial monitor of articles/news relating to Hungary – http://internetfigyelo.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/magyarorszagot-kiraboltak-ezt-tudjuk-itt-vannak-a-tenyek/ The translation wasn’t good enough for me to determine is this was true, or if they were pursuing some political agenda, but I am automatically suspicious of anything with ‘National’ in the title, and even more so when the ‘About Us’ explanation ends in “God Bless Our Country!”.

    Strangely, the article on the NIF website (“Hungary robbed (as we know) – here are the facts…”) was published on 6 January this year, so why this is regarded as current news (nearly 3 months later) I don’t know. Even more oddly, the report the article refers to was itself published on 22 July 2012 – over 5 months before.

    The report in question is from the Tax Justice Network – http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/front_content.php?idcatart=2&lang=1, an organisation which appears to have genuinely good aims (it campaigns against tax evasion, off-shore tax havens, etc).

    The report itself is summarised here – http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/The_Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_Presser_120722.pdf Hungary isn’t mentioned at all in the report, but is one of the countries shown on an attached pie chart of estimated off-shore deposits – and this single mention is what the NIF article is based on.

    The figures quoted do look pretty damning though. Hungary is estimated to have 242 million dollars worth of off-shore money hidden away – more than Ukraine, Poland and Turkey, in fact Poland is the only other European country to make it into the top 20. Hungary comes 13th in the 20 worst ‘offenders’.

    And, because the data used for the report only goes up to 2010, NIF draws the conclusion that all this money was squirreled away between the change of regime and the start of the current government – and therefore, of course, the implication is that it all belongs to MSzP politicians, supporters and ‘friends’. The MDF government of 90-94 and the Orbán government of 98-02 are conveniently forgotten, as is the possibility that some of this money might pre-date the change of regime – or even relate to the first 8 months of the current Orbán government.

    But still, ignoring NIF’s apparent political take on this, 242 million dollars in off-shore accounts for a country of Hungary’s size and wealth is pretty damning, whoever actually owns it.

  2. @ Kirsten
    Paul de Wal?… no such person over here I guess.
    A lot of Pauls over here though….I hope there will be more. (smile)

  3. Re Putin and Orbán. Putin is a clever fox. He is not stupid to help out Orbán. Neither were the Arabs really interested. Orbán must realize that it is either the EU or nothing. But just getting the money and not obeying the rules won’t do.

  4. http://www.theparliament.com/latest-news/article/newsarticle/epp-leader-rejects-calls-to-expel-fidesz-members-after-hungarian-law-change/

    The EPP is absolutely crucial concerning the steps the EU will take in connection with the serious breach by Hungary of the European values of democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights.

    However, Daul, a French MEP, Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, said, “These constitutional changes in Hungary are complex but it has complied with the rule of democracy”.

    “but it has complied with the rule of democracy”????? Incredible!.
    So sigh, doesn’t look very promising unfortunately, right now.

  5. The Fidesz and Jobbik members feel empowered by their leaders.
    The leaders encourage verbal and physical violence against the outsiders.
    A large part of the Hungarian public is remaining silent and passive on this.
    The outsiders have to find their voice and defeat the forces of violence.
    The conflict is similar to the ones in Argentina, Venezuela, Syria, Iran.
    In most cases the local opposition to tyranny is unable to defeat the tyrants.
    An early phase of the Egyptian spring as carried by the masses in the sign of non-violence.
    The later phase gave again victory to the violent Egyptian parties.

  6. Unfortunately it is the most agressive, most ambitious side who will win. Those sielnt and reserved will lose. Agressivity is always rewarded.

  7. Éva – I wrote a comment on this thread at 9:03 pm on March 23, 2013, which is apparently still “awaiting moderation”. I’m not sure what this means, but could you look into it please?

    Thanks

  8. Paul :

    Éva – I wrote a comment on this thread at 9:03 pm on March 23, 2013, which is apparently still “awaiting moderation”. I’m not sure what this means, but could you look into it please?

    Thanks

    Sorry, Paul, I must have missed it but I corrected the mistake.

  9. Paul :
    Entirely OT, but thoughts on this would be appreciated:
    My wife and I were having our usual argument about whether Orbán is the saviour of Hungary or an anti-democratic autocrat tonight when she started quoting from an article that “proved” MSzP had been stealing Hungarian money and secretly keeping it offshore for years – enough money to easily pay off the Hungarian debt. I couldn’t deny this (apparently) because here it was in black and white (but unfortunately I couldn’t read it because it was in Hungarian!).
    She could provide me with no sources, so I did a bit of investigative work myself. and I would welcome comments on what I discovered.
    The piece she was quoting (which presumably had been posted on her FB) was from A Nemzeti InternetFigyelő (The National Internet Monitor) – NIF, a Hungarian site which claims to be an impartial monitor of articles/news relating to Hungary – http://internetfigyelo.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/magyarorszagot-kiraboltak-ezt-tudjuk-itt-vannak-a-tenyek/ The translation wasn’t good enough for me to determine is this was true, or if they were pursuing some political agenda, but I am automatically suspicious of anything with ‘National’ in the title, and even more so when the ‘About Us’ explanation ends in “God Bless Our Country!”.
    Strangely, the article on the NIF website (“Hungary robbed (as we know) – here are the facts…”) was published on 6 January this year, so why this is regarded as current news (nearly 3 months later) I don’t know. Even more oddly, the report the article refers to was itself published on 22 July 2012 – over 5 months before.
    The report in question is from the Tax Justice Network – http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/front_content.php?idcatart=2&lang=1, an organisation which appears to have genuinely good aims (it campaigns against tax evasion, off-shore tax havens, etc).
    The report itself is summarised here – http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/The_Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_Presser_120722.pdf Hungary isn’t mentioned at all in the report, but is one of the countries shown on an attached pie chart of estimated off-shore deposits – and this single mention is what the NIF article is based on.
    The figures quoted do look pretty damning though. Hungary is estimated to have 242 million dollars worth of off-shore money hidden away – more than Ukraine, Poland and Turkey, in fact Poland is the only other European country to make it into the top 20. Hungary comes 13th in the 20 worst ‘offenders’.
    And, because the data used for the report only goes up to 2010, NIF draws the conclusion that all this money was squirreled away between the change of regime and the start of the current government – and therefore, of course, the implication is that it all belongs to MSzP politicians, supporters and ‘friends’. The MDF government of 90-94 and the Orbán government of 98-02 are conveniently forgotten, as is the possibility that some of this money might pre-date the change of regime – or even relate to the first 8 months of the current Orbán government.
    But still, ignoring NIF’s apparent political take on this, 242 million dollars in off-shore accounts for a country of Hungary’s size and wealth is pretty damning, whoever actually owns it.

    Interesting if slightly alarming. I would guess that no single party is more to blame than any of the others. I remember during the first Orban government there were plenty of rumours about public money being paid to offshore companies that were apparently owned by top Fidesz politicians. There were of course scandals during the 8 years of MszP/ Sdsz coalition. Sadly it seems that there are plenty of corrupt politicians in all parties.

    It also seems that these politicians even share the spoils with the opposition. So while Fidesz were in opposition, they were still being given their share.

    The Bajnai government tightened up the rules on the use of offshore companies. Then when Fidesz came to power, they changed the rules back to make it easier to move money offshore again.

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