Zsófia Mihancsik: “Zero tolerance”–then let’s begin!

This is not the first time that I’ve provided a loose translation of Zsófia Mihancsik’s writing for English-speaking readers because I consider her to be one of the top analysts of Hungarian politics today. She is the editor-in-chief of Galamus, an excellent Internet forum. Galamus, besides offering outstanding op/ed pieces, also publishes Júlia Horváth’s translations of foreign articles in German, English and Russian while Mihancsik does the translations from French about the political situation in Hungary. For example, Professor Kim Scheppele’s articles on the constitution appeared in Hungarian on Galamus immediately after their publications. These translations fill the gap left wide open by MTI, the Hungarian press agency. Galamus also has volunteers from Sweden and Spain who offer their services to the “translation department.”

Mihancsik, in addition to the arduous task of running pretty much a one-woman show, often finds time to contribute articles of her own. The one that appeared today examines the Orbán government’s duplicity on the issue of anti-Semitism. It reveals to the foreign reader the kind of Hungarian reality that is normally closed to outsiders. Even those Hungarian speakers who pay attention to politics and the media may miss a sentence here and a sentence there that speak volumes about the real nature of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary.

* * *

On May 5 Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered his opening speech in front of the 14th General Assembly of the World Jewish Congress and stated that “today’s Hungarian Christian Democrat government felt that it was its moral duty … to declare a policy of zero tolerance against anti-Semitism.” On May 9 Péter Feldmájer, the president of MAZSIHISZ, said in an interview that Viktor Orbán’s “speech is satisfactory as a reference point but only time will tell what kinds of decisions will be made as a result.”

Between these two dates, on May 8, the new issue of the Demokrata, a weekly magazine, appeared and in it, on page 42, an op/ed piece by Ádám Pozsonyi entitled “Bacon” that included the following sentences:

I read in Magyar Hírlap that  a miserable fellow called András Gerő–I don’t know his original name–reviled the House of Árpád in some kind of libsi gutter-paper…. Should I get myself wound up about this miserable man who couldn’t adapt and wipes his shoes on the past of the people who gave him shelter? … It just occurred to me, breakfast, Mr. Gerő, don’t you want a little bacon? Please have some. I’ll give you some gladly. [Italics by Zs.M.]

This is what is called anti-Semitic talk. Even if the word “Jewish” is not used. After all, the Hungarian right and far right has a lot of practice in the genre. If Viktor Orbán has no ear for the coded anti-Semitic speech I will translate this passage for him. I don’t know his original name means that we know that this Jew had the temerity to Hungarianize his name. So, Pozsonyi makes sure that everybody understands that Béla Kun’s original name was Kohn, and Mátyás Rákosi’s Rosenfeld. So, they were Jewish.

The word libsi rhymes with bipsi, which means Jewish among the racists. It is the nickname for liberals, primarily used by those who consider everything that is not national and Christian–everything that is liberal/libsi, cosmopolitan, European, etc.–Jewish pollution. (The “libsi” gutter paper, by the way, is the prestigious weekly, Élet és Irodalom.)

This miserable man who couldn’t adapt and wipes his shoes on the past of the people who gave him shelter is a Nazi idea expressed by many. It is a variation of the “Galician vagrants” (galiciai jöttmentek) that was often heard in the last ten years. So, the Jews immigrate from God knows where while the Hungarians give them shelter but the the Jews, because of their character, turn against the accepting Hungarians. (Exactly the same way the left turns against the nation, which is another favorite Orbánite turn of phrase.) The Jews desecrate everything that is holy for the nation, mostly because of their always doubting minds.

Bacon naturally means pork, which an observant Jew cannot have. For the author of Demokrata it is totally irrelevant whether the person in question is Jewish or not, or if he is religious or not. The mention of bacon here is about the humiliation of someone outside of the nation who cannot eat the national food of Hungarians. He was an outsider and he remains an outsider.

So, I think that in the name of “zero tolerance” Orbán must have a little chit-chat with Demokrata‘s author.

Before anyone tells me that it is unfair to expect a reprimand of an anti-Semitic author by the prime minister, let me explain why I think that Viktor Orbán should rise to the occasion and do something. Why? Because we are not talking about an independent publication but a branch publication,  a party paper, a mouth-piece, a hired organ. We are talking about a paper that has a political boss in whose interest it functions and on whom it depends.

Here are three reasons that I believe Viktor Orbán is responsible for what appears in Demokrata. After the lost election in 2002 he did two things. He organized the civil cells and he urged his followers to support media close to Fidesz. He said at the time: “I ask every member [of these cells] to subscribe to Magyar Nemzet, Demokrata, and Heti Válasz. Those of you who are better off should subscribe in the name of a less wealthy friend or acquaintance.” And he gave a website where the supporters could fill out the order forms for the above publications.

From left to right: Gábor Széles, András Bencsik, and Zsolt Bayer / fnhir24.hu

From left to right: Gábor Széles, András Bencsik, and Zsolt Bayer / fnhir24.hu

In an article that appeared in Magyar Narancs (April 20, 2012) we could read that Fidesz-led municipalities gave 26 million forints in the previous five years to Demokrata.  Another article that also appeared in Magyar Narancs (April 23, 2012) concentrated on the incredible amount of state-ordered advertisements these right-wing papers receive. Given the centralized nature of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán’s individual leadership style, one can assume that the largess these papers receive depends on “performance.” If they “behave” the money comes; if not, the money supply dries up.

Another reason to assume that the relationship between Demokrata and Fidesz is close is the fact that the paper’s editor-in-chief, András Bencsik, is one of the chief organizers of the “Peace Marches” that were supposed to show the world the incredible support Viktor Orbán has. But in addition to Bencsik, one could find among the organizers Ádám Pozsonyi, the author of the article on “Bacon”; István Stefka, editor-in-chief of Magyar Hírlap; Zsolt Bayer, senior editor of Magyar Hírlap; and Gábor Széles, Magyar Hírlap‘s owner

So, given the cozy relationship between Viktor Orbán and the extremist journalists serving him, it would be the easiest thing for Orbán if he were really serious about this new-fangled “zero tolerance” to say: “Boys, if once more you make anti-Semitic propaganda in your paper or on your television station there will be no more financial assistance. Moreover, you will not receive 3.2 billion forints for organizing peace marches. You will not receive any ads from state companies, and the municipalities will be told to stop payment. In a word, you will starve to death.”*

Moreover, I go further. That message shouldn’t just be whispered into the ears of the journalists at these newspapers but should be announced loud and clear to the Hungarian public.Everybody should understand what will happen to him if  he goes against “our Hungarian Christian Democratic politics.”

When that actually happens Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, can make an apology with good reason. If not, then only the shame remains–for us.

*Demokrata sold only 12,000 copies in November 2011.


  1. “After the lost election in 2002 he did two things. He organized the civil cells…”

    Éva you may have wanted to point out as well that these “civic cells” (or circles) were what was to become Jobbik. So basically Orbán is a co-founder of Jobbik.

    View Comment
  2. Minosio, you are right. In fact, Mihancsik did mention it in her original piece. So, I most likely should create a footnote about the civic cells. Tomorrow morning I will add another footnote to the piece. Okay?

    View Comment
  3. Telling quotes from Pozsonyi’s blog:

    “Old, happy times

    Order. Discipline. Laws. Rigid and firm frameworks for society that cannot be breached by every idiot. Walls that cannot be broken by the plebs [the poor]…”


    “Fortunately, I reject Darwinism, I believe in the inequality of people – the other, the alien causes prejudice and aversion in me”


    View Comment
  4. Zsofia MIhancsik is a talented journalist and translator but it seems she does not have the slightest affinity to politcs. This is exactly why liberals are doomed in Hungary. She can serve as a case study.

    Orbán did not start to organise civic circles: he started to organise a political community on a grass roots basis.

    He was told to do so by Republican advisors who – prior to Obama – built out the most formidable GOTV organisation ever, with a detaild data base, legions of activists and most importantly a loyal and disciplined party base (including financial donors).

    Until the left can be similar (like Obama’s organisation was) it is doomed, especially becuase the election system in Hungary is such now that a national network of party is needed.

    You can not win from the liberal and open minden Budapest, you need a well-organised rural support base (talent pool from which to select candidates, information on your supporters etc.).

    Orbán and Jobbik did what any sane party organiser would naturally do.

    Meanswhile the left was content and thought that Budapest will always compansate for the rural disadvantage. Bad luck. It will never compansate for it.

    Now we have a situation that Orbán and Jobbik are completely embedded all over Hungary (inclduing bigger towns and formerly leftist districts of Budapest, such as Csepel), while the left has absolutely nothing outside of Budapest. Hell, last week Bajani talked before 50-100 people, when Orbán can organsie 100.000 within three days to the top of Kilimanjaro, certainly anywhere within Hungary. (I think it was Kecskemét, but it doesn’t really matter, in Baja he could not even organise a proper venure for himself).

    They have problems even to find candidates for municipality positions, let alone for regural elections. They are so disadvantaged that it cannot be comperended from afar: they have 10 years of disadvantage over Kubatov.

    Note also how they handle the tobbacco swindle. They can afford not to care, telling that it is only a “local issue” and that “there is no evidence for other wrongdoings”, “everyting (except for Szekszard where there is taped evidence to the contrary) was legal”. Their media which is the exclusivce source for about 40-50% of the voters (and consumed by the rest as well) say actually that it was the left wich h was trying to hijack the tobacco tenders.

    WIth the naivite and the crazy fixation on issues like anti-semitism and gay rights etc. (however important they are, and I agree they are indeed) the left and the liberals completely lost touch with the Hungarian reality.

    I mean that there are 25 more important issues and Mihancsik is fixated on Orbán’s perhaps only (in principal) agreeble action (grass-roots organisation)? Or the anti-semitism which is widspread and terrible but still affects a minor proprtion of the people (as opposed to unemplyoment) and is a symptom itself of deeper issues, which are not investigated by the left?

    View Comment
  5. Dearest Eva, for old times sake, may I promote my book?
    Title: Arty, Crafty, Nasty – by Melanie Zuben -available on Amazon.com/Kindle
    Thank you!

    View Comment
  6. Most of us on here agree that this regime is incredibly damaging for Hungary. Most of us agree Orban is a borderline psychotic and more importantly a dictator in the making. Yet, yet…

    In a free and legal election tomorrow he would win easily, albeit with not the majority he garnered last time. He controls completely not only his mafia/movement (“party” is no longer an adequate term to describe Fidesz) but also now the nation. He controls the parliament, the president, the legal process and, most importantly, the flow of information by which the vast majority of the population *learn* about the news.

    Complaining that Orban isn’t strong enough on anti-semitism or anti-Roma racism misses the point. He couldn’t give a stuff about Jews or Roma being attacked because he knows his target electorate well. He also knows the Hungarian mass media will tell Hungarians exactly what he wants them to hear on the subject.

    So, the problem faced by Ms Mihancsik is not proving that he is apathetic on or even an apologist for racism, anti-semitism, homophobia etc etc. He quite clearly is. The much more difficult job is first of all getting that message to the vast majority of Hungarians who get their news through the regime’s lapdog media *and* then trying to make that majority care it is important enough for them to do something about it.

    I have no idea of an answer to that particuliar problem but i do know that Orban has been most rattled when faced by small and concentrated episodes of civil activism and disobedience. Unfortunately, I think it is through that route any chance of effectively taking on this regime can succeed.

    View Comment
  7. The result of the government mandated 10% utility price CUTS in my own bills.
    The average of the same last months, 2013 vs 2012.
    There was no change in usage patterns, the same # of people live here.

    Electricity= 4.33% INCREASE.

    District heating+hot water= 9.52% increase

    Cold water+sewage+garbage+cooking gas= 17.83% increase

    So much for the 10% propaganda.

    View Comment
  8. And it’s truly extraordinary how the general public just don’t understand how blanket 10% utility cuts benefit only the rich … and, ultimately, will leave them with higher bills (one way or another) – same with flat taxes etc.

    View Comment
  9. Törpilla: “Zsofia MIhancsik is a talented journalist and translator but it seems she does not have the slightest affinity to politcs. This is exactly why liberals are doomed in Hungary. She can serve as a case study.
    Orbán did not start to organise civic circles: he started to organise a political community on a grass roots basis.”

    Number one: Mihancsik is not a politician but a journalist. Number two: Of course Orbán did set up a network of civic cells/circles. That Fidesz learned that from the Americans is beside the point. Number 3: Quibbling over what to call these circles is also immaterial. Call it grass-root organization, if you wish.

    As for whether Mihancsik should talk about unemployment because it is more important than anti-Semitism, The real topic of the article is not anti-Semitism Viktor Orbán’s duplicity. And unfortunately that is at the core of Hungary’s ills at the moment.

    View Comment
  10. ‘The core of Hungary’s ills at the moment’…is the weak-mindedness of the electorate which has finally come home to roost: you can only take weak education and the mis-education of the church, so far. The electorate cannot distinguish between ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ only between ‘the lesser harm-to-me’. The Hungarian electorate is the 10-year old version of a responsible citizenry. Hence the success of these emotional, out-dated issues such as Nationalism, Identity, Honour, Past–all nonsense in the modern world of the 21st century.

    View Comment
  11. Törpilla here, I confess I wanted to be a bit provocative. She is a political journalist, dealing with current events. It is distinct from being a politician, surely, but still she is affecting politics (she perhaps even intends to), after all she is part of the fourth estate (or in Hungarian rather the fourth branch of government/power – Fidesz certainly sees media that way).

    In any case, I did not want to attack her personally, but rather wanted to show that liberal journalists seemingly find certain issues more important than others and that has uninteded consequences, ie the perception of leftist/liberal politics.

    I am pretty sure that she as her colleagues at Galamus or 168 Óra wrote five times more articles about anti-semitism than about the lives of unemployed people, the effects of capitalism on the lives of rural as well as on urban people (not about the economy in general), about the plight of people with foreign exchange loans etc.

    In short, what I wanted to say was that the liberal media (what is left of it) seems – to the masses (I mean the people who accidentally bump into it from time to time) – to be preoccupied with issues which are important to a small Budapest-based intelligentsia.

    The majority gets the impression that it is only these self-absorbed intellectuals who can afford to be bothered by gay rights, homeless people and the opression of romas, the rest (the majority) sees a reality in wich these issues are irrelevant or seen in an opposite way.

    By extension, this is the image people get about leftist politics. Not good. When (and look at Magyar Nemzet, though please not for long) “the conservatibves are working tirelessly on several fronts against multinationals, trying to control prices, taking back national assets” etc. — so it seems that they work for the majority, for the poor. The left simply cannot add anything to the discourse even if it could (it does not have the media, due to its shortsightedness and lack of direction and strategy).

    Interestingly, lately the right became much smarter in having the image as being representing poorer people, while previously they had the image that they cater only for the plutocracts. This latter perception is not the case any more (even if it is factually true perhaps). Look at Israel, where the right wing, conservative majority (which is getting entrenched) looks pretty anti 1%.

    In a democracy a politcian can only implement a policy if they can get at least a prularity of the votes cast (although at first past the post systems over time the election tends to be reduced to a two party competition, so a majoroty is eventually won by the winner). Now, for this to attain it takes much much more to deal with than anti-semitism or gay rights or homeless people, important issues these are.

    The problem is that the right wing policies (I am convinced that they do it often on purpose) prompt the left to react to these issues, but in doing so they forget to address more popular (and perhaps more important) issues such as energy prices. Never in the history of mankind could a politician assemble a winning (let alone stable) coalition of voters by addressing only issues that affect directly fractional percentages of the population. Democracy is inherently populist and has to be, there is no other way

    View Comment
  12. Compared to the situation in my homeland (Germany) I find this left/right situation in Hungary extremely strange – I’d call Fidesz just a populist regime that has more similarity with Chavez than with central/western European conservative parties.

    And as the name “populist” implies it’s very difficult to get rid of a regime like that – the usual way is a revolution, an economic breakdown (followed by a kind of revolution) or an intervention from outside.

    Poor Hungary!

    OT(Totally!) but maybe interesting for those living in Hungary:

    We bought this week asparagus (white) produced by the German family company Vetter here in Hungary (somewhere near Kecskemét) – and it was fantastic!

    At first we were a bit sceptical because it was so thin but it seems they export the thick ones to Germany – the thin ones are used for soup etc usually but these were really excellent!

    We got them at the local market – and at Tesco which was really a surprise, their vegetables often are no good.

    View Comment
  13. My mistake. Gyöngyös is friendly with the exiled Azeri leaders of Shusha, not with the Armenians now living in Shusha as I thought.

    View Comment
  14. @Törpilla, In brief you want the democratic opposition to outdo Fidesz in populist rhetorics. If Fidesz arbitrarily cuts utility bills by 10% then the socialists should demand a 20% cut. Instead of being honest about the dreadful state of the Hungarian economy, they should use anti-capitalist rhetoric like Fidesz does. Never mind that foreign capital refuses to invest in Hungary and the country’s economic prospects look worse by the day.

    What Fidesz does is nothing but lying to the Hungarian people who are ignorant enough to believe him. Orbán and company takes away from the poor while fatten up their own frieends and supporters. A bunch of thieves.

    View Comment
  15. petofi :
    ‘The core of Hungary’s ills at the moment’…is the weak-mindedness of the electorate which has finally come home to roost: you can only take weak education and the mis-education of the church, so far. The electorate cannot distinguish between ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ only between ‘the lesser harm-to-me’. The Hungarian electorate is the 10-year old version of a responsible citizenry. Hence the success of these emotional, out-dated issues such as Nationalism, Identity, Honour, Past–all nonsense in the modern world of the 21st century.

    I have had the good luck to grow up and live a long life in a mature Western democracy. When I compare the political scene in Hungary with that of my own country I do not reach the same conclusion as Petöfi and some other HS regulars. I do not believe that the problems in Hungary are due to the weak-mindedness of the electorate, low standard of education, short-sighted self-interest and so on. We have plenty of that also in my country. I think that the situation in Hungary can be better explained by educational and moral deficiencies of the politicians. The problem is not at the bottom. It is at the top.

    The way to improve the situation in Hungary would be to teach the politicians the ten commandments of democracy.

    View Comment
  16. @ Jean P

    I don’t disagree; but sadly, the populace has been befuddled by the continuous lying and corruption of both Fidesz and MSZP. Still, able-thinking people ought to be able to distinguish sound policy with such ridiculousness as the 10% reduction–which is nowhere near 10%, either–of utilities. Can no one understand
    that companies will just cut back on repairs and the like, not on their profit margin? The populace has allowed Fidesz so many ‘benefits-of-the-doubt’ on the most spurious of excuses, usually a complete deflection of attention because of some imaginary attack on the country. Stuff for children, yet the people accept it.

    As for the political culture…I’ve been saying all along that one thing and one thing alone is needed for the opposition to win–a PROBITY CLAUSE for all members of parliament with stiff financial penalties and jail time for proven corruption. And in ‘financial penalties’ I would include the possible loss of the family home–let’s put the wives in charge of their husband’s
    behaviour, and the consequences thereof.

    View Comment
  17. “What Fidesz does is nothing but lying to the Hungarian people who are ignorant enough to believe him”

    Again, I would have no argument with you there.
    But in the world that we do live in how do we persuade those people that Fidesz are lyimg to them?
    I would love that people made their voting decision on the basis of fighting anti-semitism or protecting free-speech or defending the independence of the judiciary. But in Hungary it looks like they don’t. So what next?
    And don’t take this as an aggressive attack on you, most of us on here are fighting on the same side.

    View Comment
  18. @Oneill

    And there are plenty of topics to pick from but somehow (can it be their own share of the spoils?) MSZP never broach these subjects. One that pops into mind is the needlessly high cost of government borrowing, while the government insists on building useless soccer stadiums and parking lots. Why is this not being hammered home weekly, daily by the opposition??

    View Comment
  19. Petöfi, because, as I also wrote in the other thread, the opposition does not have a uniform answer to what to do about it, and also to what to replace this Fidesztan with. Which is why people will get “more of it” until the answers about what to do about it will become more focused. To this, Eva’s blog can make a (small) contribution because it is read by some. And before I read here again that it is preaching to the converted, my answer is: perhaps as regards the intentions, but not necessarily as regards the HOW TO.

    View Comment
  20. Csaba K. Zoltani :
    For a different perspective:

    Zoli, you’re such a card! Where have you been? I’ve been missing you in my ‘laughing room’.

    Jonas is just sharpening his right-wing credentials by his often-ignorant, comments on Hungary. (Sweeping victory? No. Garnering a majority on getting 68% of the 53% of the voting public is not sweeping.) But I won’t rehash other nonsense. Obviously, Jonas has fallen for several of Orban’s adroitly maneuvered canards; and based on that, he’s holding forth. Well, Jonas has to eat, too, I guess. (In time, when some Canadian Hungarians will enlighten him, it’ll be some measure of crow.)

    And you, Zoli, as always, are grasping at straws…or feathers, and very often, shitty ones.

    View Comment
  21. By the way, while I missed the boat on commenting on the performance of the WJC and the Hungarian jewish community….but pray tell, how did Orban escape mention of that sterling example of Hungaricum–
    Laszlo Csatary?

    View Comment

Comments are closed.