The Orbáns and Hungarian gentleman farmers

I just raced through Krisztina Ferenczi’s new book, Narancsbőr (Orange peel). Since I usually read her articles about the Orbán family’s dubious financial dealings, I was familiar with most of the details. Ferenczi’s earlier book was about the Orbáns’ brief encounter with viticulture in Tokaj. They got burned when it came to light that Viktor Orbán as prime minister used his influence to receive a substantial state subsidy for their newly acquired vineyard. It was only through a clever legal trick that Orbán’s skin was saved. Since then he has been super clever and has avoided any kind of business venture that may get him into a tight spot as a possible recipient of subsidies either from the European Union or from the Hungarian state. It is true that his wife, Anikó Lévai, owns some agricultural land in Felcsút, but officially at least it is leased to János Flier, the former electrician I was talking about yesterday and one of Orbán’s likely front men in Felcsút. Lévai claims that the subsidies she is entitled to actually go to Flier. When Ferenczi asked Flier about it, he replied: “You ought to ask her how it is exactly” (Tőle kellene megkérdezni, hogyan is van ez). Flier is obviously not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

So, the Orbáns who got burned with Tokaj are now very careful. And yet the incredible wealth Orbán’s two close friends in Felcsút, Lőrinc Mészáros and János Flier, amassed made the inhabitants of the village more than suspicious. They are convinced that Viktor Orbán is an active business partner in the growing Mészáros-Flier estates. Perhaps he is the majority owner of them.

Ferenczi found many signs that this is probably the case. She talked at length with people who work on the cattle ranch owned by Mészáros, which Viktor Orbán visits frequently. It seemed obvious to them that Orbán is not just a casual visitor there. “He had something to do with the enterprise.” It also came to light that the charolais cows of Orbán’s new son-in-law are also part of the herd of 3-4,000 animals which, by the way, are kept, according to Ferenczi, under terrible conditions. I might also add here as a footnote that in the past at least the people who worked there officially received only 65,000 forints a month; the rest, 35-45,000 forints, illegally changed hands under the table.

Yesterday an article about the new stadium in Felcsút appeared in The New York Times with a picture of the half-finished stadium right next to the Orbáns’ country home. It is perhaps the best picture I have seen of the two together and leads me to believe that the modest abode the Orbáns built in 2003 will not be there for long. If the stadium is a “jewel box,” as Orbán once described it, the peasant adobe house 20 feet away is a jarring eyesore. And that leads me to the very good possibility that the Orbáns have a very much more elegant dwelling in mind: the former country house of the Hungarian Habsburgs nearby. The building was badly damaged during World War II, but it looks as if the Orbán family has plans to rebuild it in its earlier splendor. Viktor Orbán’s father, Győző, who apparently besides his quarry also has a real estate business, purchased the whole remaining estate a few years ago.

Who were the Hungarian Habsburgs? The founder of the Hungarian branch was Archduke József, the much beloved palatine (nádor) of Hungary (1776-1847), who became a patron of art and an important promoter of the development of Budapest and the country in general. It was he who acquired a large piece of land in Alcsút and built a beautiful palace there. He and his family settled in Hungary for good. The last Archduke Joseph (1872-1962) who played a role in Hungarian politics was actually born in Alcsút. By all indications some of the remnants of Archduke Joseph’s estate are in the hands of the Orbán family and, according to some information Ferenczi received on the spot, work has already begun. The site is off limits to strangers. It is guarded by security personnel as well as by a kuvasz named Nárcisz (Daffodil). Orbán admitted that the family has a ferocious dog called Nárcisz, but, he added, “it is in Felcsút.” I guess he didn’t want to say that the animal is actually guarding part of the Archduke Joseph’s estate owned by his family.

The remnant of the Habsburg Palace, Alcsútdoboz Source: Wikipedia Commons

The remnants of the Habsburg Palace, Alcsútdoboz
Source: Wikipedia Commons

As I was reading about the landholdings of Viktor Orbán and Anikó Lévai it occurred to me that this unexpected yearning to be “lord of the manor” (földesúr) is typical of Hungarians who may have achieved great wealth or fame in some other endeavor but think their life is not fulfilled without having some land and preferably a sizable and elegant palace to go with it. One of my favorite Hungarian novels is Kezdetben volt a kert (In the beginning there was the garden) by Anna Lesznai, first wife of Oszkár Jászi. The book is largely based on her own family’s story. The grandfather, a well-known Jewish doctor who amassed a fortune, feels that his life is not complete without owning land. He buys a large estate somewhere in the Uplands (today Slovakia) only to realize that this kind of life is not for him. But then comes his son who finds it very much to his liking. The assimilated well-off Jewish family becomes like their non-Jewish noble neighbors next door. Many of these Jewish gentleman farmers eventually received nobility in the second half of the nineteenth century.

I also read stories about 1956 refugees who made it in the United States or in western Europe and who after 1990 went in search of neglected manor houses and country estates in Hungary. Now they are gentleman farmers. A favorite hobby investment was viticulture. Neglected old vineyards were bought up in Tokaj, and with some state subsidies the new owners planted new vines and are currently trying their hands at producing quality Hungarian wines. A good example of this kind of 1956er is Dezső Kékessy, earlier a business partner of Viktor Orbán. He has a vineyard in Tokaj and also bought a country estate.

In her book Ferenczi recalls a film in which Anikó Lévai talked about her ardent desire to return to the soil. After all, she came from peasant stock. Her father finished only six grades. We don’t know how much land her father had, but she referred to him as a “kulák,” a rich peasant. She hoped, she said, that once her husband retires from politics, she could perhaps start “a somewhat larger organic farm.” I learned while researching this post that the Habsburg archdukes had a “model farm” (mintagazdaság) in Alcsút. Perhaps one day on the old Habsburg lands Anikó Lévai can run an organic farm.

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Guest
An
April 4, 2014 6:17 pm

I read somewhere that quite a lot of Fidesz MPs own land and has been amassing land for quite some time. I’m not sure how much of it is the “love of land” and how much is it is sheer speculation. Land is good business… first, there are the EU subsidies one can milk as a land-owner. Second, Fidesz was playing land into the hands of their own for peanuts, under fair market value. But even at fair market value land is fairly cheap in Hungary and many expect that the value of land will only increase, so a lot of these land purchases are speculative.

That’s probably not the case for the Orban family. I think Orban is truly aspiring to recapture some kind of pre-war aristocratic glamour and wants to join the ranks of the old world landowner aristocracy… too bad that word doesn’t exist anymore. To some extent he and some like-minded conservatives are working on recreating it, but I think this enterprise is rather delusional.

Guest
Ron
April 4, 2014 6:21 pm

She hoped, she said, that once her husband retires from politics, she could perhaps start “a somewhat larger organic farm.” I learned while researching this post that the Habsburg archdukes had a “model farm” (mintagazdaság) in Alcsút.

Dream on girl. VO needs to go on. He made too many enemies. If his reign is over they will go after him. With or without Peter Polt. See what happened to Silvio Berlusconi. Although he is not in jail (yet), they do not left him alone.

Member
April 4, 2014 7:43 pm

small note about the dog’s name, Narcisz.
The name of the flower is Narcissus, unfortunately the English version does not have to much to do with the original name.
The flower’s name comes from the Greek mythology, from Narciss who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. He killed himself in desperation. The flowers supposedly originate where he died.
“Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity, or egotistic admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, that derive from arrogant pride.”

How fitting.

Guest
Petersen
April 4, 2014 8:10 pm

Ron: Orban will be untouchable. You are most naive if you think that any prosecution office (let alone the police) will investigate anything and the courts etc. will dare to go against him in any way. What you fail to understand is both Orban and his wife are clever lawyers. In fact most of the core Fidesz people are lawyers from Áder to Kövér to Lázár to Papcsák to Szájer (aka Mr. Handó) to Navracsics to Martonyi to Laszlo Trocsanyi ad nauseam, each with a circle of friends and clients in the system. This is the generation which is now in the top positions in the courts and the prosecution, without Polt or not. I am guessing that you have never met any living Hungarian judge or prosecutor or constitutional court judge. These people grew up together, many of them were there in the Bibo College and their wives and friends certainly were there. This is a quasi-mafia of lawyers, and in a small country. Italy is just a huge country with strong regional cultures and Berlusconi and his people could not entirely dominate the courts and the prosecution even if they wanted to. Berlusconi’s power clique was not made… Read more »

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 1:39 am

@Petersen

Most of the “clever lawyers” you mentioned (Orban, Kover, Ader, Lazar) have a law degree, but never worked as lawyers.

Orban, Kover, Ader have never worked. Period.

THey went from school straight to politics.

If I were a genuine lawyer, I would be offended if someone had called them “lawyers”.

As far “cleverness” go: if you can change the rules of the game retroactively, you do not have to be clever to win.

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 2:02 am

The opposition should drive home one message today:

The voters should not confuse two of the 10+ fake parties on the ballot sheet with them.

The united opposition has an “EGYÜTT” party in it (Bajnai) and called themselves “ÖSSZEFOGÁS” for months.

But the dummy parties “EGYÜTT 2014” and “ÖSSZEFOGÁS PÁRT” on the ballot sheets have NOTHING to do with the opposition!

They can take away 2-3% of the votes by their misleading names.

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 2:13 am

Here is a nice summary about the Fidesz apparatchiks. The only problem is I discovered the site only today – I wonder how many people have seen it at all?

http://egyenesen.hu/

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 3:13 am

Please notice that the Hungarian Treasury failed to disclose the new gross debt numbers that would include the full amount of the new loan of 3 billion dollars.

The last time they provided the weekly debt number was 12 days ago.

Guest
April 5, 2014 3:28 am

A bit OT but interesting:

Archduke József (the Palatin) not only was interested in botany but also the Gypsy folklore and the “Gypsy problem) and had ideas to solve it – how?

At least that’s what the German wiki says about him and Alcsutdoboz:

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcs%C3%BAtdoboz

“Über die Flora des Gutes in Alcsút und über die in Fiume durchgeführten Experimente in der Pflanzenzucht berichtete Erzherzog Joseph Karl Ludwig von Österreich in wissenschaftlichen Publikationen. Seinen Rang unter den europäischen Gelehrten erreichte er auch dadurch, dass er sich mit der Folklore und der Sprache der Zigeuner beschäftigte. Die ersten Ansätze zur Lösung der Zigeunerfrage in Ungarn sind mit seinem Namen verbunden.”

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 4:00 am

Election officials have found a few hundred more nomadic voters between 11:30 last night and 9:30 this morning (the cut-off time was 4 PM yesterday afternoon).

The new final number is 120,552

http://www.nvi.hu/dyn/pv14/vertaj/hu/igstat.html

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 4:09 am

The changing numbers of the “átjelentkezők:

Domestic voters registered to vote for their home district from another district inside Hungary:

March 25: 40,994
March 27: 49,164
March 28: 54,086
March 29: 62,095, corrected to 62,096 on March 30, corrected to 62,108 on March 31
March 31: 71,495
April 02: 80 570
April 03: 91,204 at 0:30, just after midnight
April 03:105,126 at 11:30 PM
April 04:120,318 at 11:15 PM
April 05:120,552 at 9:30 AM

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 4:26 am

List of MP candidates in one district (the order of the parties is different from the party list!)

#1 – EGYÜTT 2014 PÁRT – fake
#3 – ÖSSZEFOGÁS PÁRT – fake
#4 – Fidesz
#5 – united opposition [a.k.a. ÖSSZEFOGÁS that includes Bajnai’s EGYÜTT ]
#9 – LMP
#10 – Jobbik

Guest
SolomonFierce
April 5, 2014 4:33 am

FYI, the ruins of the Hapsburg manor – at least the one indicated by the Wikipedia Commons picture is in an arboretum accessible to the public. I’ve been there several times.

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 5:01 am

Respected Clients [of Budapest]

Our services [including the databases for handling voters’ addresses and their changes] will not be available between April 5, 4 PM (Saturday) and April 7, 8 AM (Monday) due to necessary technical maintenance.

http://www.kormanyhivatal.hu/hu/budapest/hirek/technikai-karbantartas

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 5:07 am

The address change offices in Budapest are open until 2 PM today.

Guest
oneill
April 5, 2014 5:42 am

“I am guessing that you have never met any living Hungarian judge or prosecutor or constitutional court judge.”

Petersen,

I have met quite a few in my daily work and you are, quite frankly, talking rubbish.

Orban may have caught the of echelons of the judicial system but believe me there is a deep hatred amongst “normal” judges of the regime and its rape of the legal system.

An understandable fear remains of Orban and his mafia but once (if?) the electorate ever does its job, then trust me 100% the majority of judges will take great delight in serving up justice to Orban and his henchmen. The keys will be thrown away, never (like the Godfather and the Fidesz mafia), to return

“What you fail to understand is both Orban and his wife are clever lawyers”

What you fail to understand is the difference between the word “clever” and “cheating”.

“Lawyers” is also not appropriate terminology.
They have no understanding whatsoever of the concept of “law” or indeed “justice”. Any two bob conman can change laws or constitutions, doesn’t make him a lawyer.

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 5:48 am

Open offices today, to handle address changes
(not all offices are open, not at all, I find their distribution revealing)

The large number of open offices in Hajdú-Bihar, Pest and Budapest county indicate large number of last-minute registration of Transylvanian and other voters at Hungarian addresses!!

Budapest
KEK KH (Központi – Central, 8AM-6PM)
All districts 8AM-2PM

Bács-Kiskun
Kecskemét, Kalocsa

Baranya
Szigetvár, Mohács, Pécs, Siklós,

Békés
Békéscsaba

Borsod:
Cigánd, Edelény, Szendrő, Miskolc, Tokaj

Csongrád
Szentes, Szeged

Fejér
Dunaújváros, Martonvásár, Székesfehérvár

Győr
Győr, Sopron, Pannonhalma

Hajdú-Bihar
Berettyóújfalu, Komádi, Biharkeresztes, Debrecen, Derecske, Létavértes, Hajdúböszörmény, Hajdúhadház, Hajdúnánás, Polgár, Nádudvar, Nyíradony
Vámospércs, Püspökladány

http://www.ugyfelkozpont.hu/letoltes/megyek_oi/hajdu-bihar.xls
Heves
Eger

Jász-Nagykun
Jászfényszaru, Jászárokszállás, Szolnok,

Komárom
Tatabánya

Nógrád
Salgótarján

Pest
Aszód, Budakeszi, Budaörs, Cegléd, Dabas, Dunakeszi, Érd, Gödöllő,
Gyál, Monor, Nagykáta, Nagykőrös, Pilisvörösvár, Ráckeve, Szentendre,
Szigetszentmiklós, Szob, Vác, Vecsés

http://www.ugyfelkozpont.hu/letoltes/megyek_oi/pest.xls

Somogy
Kaposvár, Nagyatád

Szabolcs
Nyíregyháza, Tiszavasvári

Tolna
Szekszárd

Vas
Szombathely

Veszprém
Balatonalmádi, Pápa, Veszprém

Zala
Zalaegerszeg, Nagykanizsa, Keszthely

http://www.ugyfelkozpont.hu/hu/megyenkenti_bontas

Guest
Manni
April 5, 2014 5:52 am

tappanch — thanks for spotting so many of the issues. The level of corruption is almost unimaginable now. I remember the atmosphere only a couple of years ago when the gerrymandered districts were still regulated in a government decree and any government could have amended it. Obviously if there was the slightest suspicion of foul play the constitutional court (always favoring the conservative side of arguments) would have intervened, especially as Fidesz would have gone berserk. Now, the gerrymandered districts heavily favoring Fidesz are just one of dozens of tricks. But remember: all is legal. These are smart lawyers at Fidesz. In the world of the oh-so-democratic and rule-of-law-worshipping international/transnational organizations that is the single issue that counts. Is it legal? Or not? Because if it is, the story is over. And it is. As we have seen from the EU’s approach towards Orban’s legal shenanigans. The Left has no idea, they probably do not even get half of these tricks as they don’t read this blog. You can have all the observers of the world watching and investigating, they will arrive at one conclusion: all is legal. Case closed. The Left needs better lawyers, for starters. Most importantly, even… Read more »

Guest
Ron
April 5, 2014 7:16 am

Wolfi: The building was not destroyed during the WWII, but after the war. When I was at that location people were telling me that the Kuria was destroyed by the Communist around 1950. Btw behind that facade is a monument a horse riding school developed and build by Eiffel. I wonder if it is still there?

OT as you may know Fidesz is open left right and center projects whether finished or not. Look at the photo gallery of NOL. http://nol.hu/galeria/Atadtak_a_Varkert_Bazart

Especially look at the guy in blue about RA, next picture he is escorted out. Apparently, there was a lot of hired security firms, each security employee was in suit.

Also it is nice to mention that the Varkert is not finished at all, and it will take another half year (optimistic) to complete it.

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 7:40 am

Eva S. Balogh :

tappanch :
Election officials have found a few hundred more nomadic voters between 11:30 last night and 9:30 this morning (the cut-off time was 4 PM yesterday afternoon).
The new final number is 120,552
http://www.nvi.hu/dyn/pv14/vertaj/hu/igstat.html

I’m somewhat baffled. Why so many “nomads”? Could it indicate high voting turnout?

No – it indicates 60,000 new citizens, mainly from Transylvania, who were registered at various, strategically determined Hungarian addresses in the last 10 days.

These people received their “address cards” yesterday afternoon and today.

Many of them will vote in Hajdu-Bihar county [some in Pest counties and Budapest] tomorrow. According to the Fidesz election law, if you cross the border, you can vote anywhere inside Hungary to any other district shown on your address card.

Guest
HiBoM
April 5, 2014 7:42 am

Anyone have any predictions what the voter turn out will be?

My fear is that it will be something like 55%. On the other hand, if was to creep up to 80% there is just a chance that the result could be rather closer than expected.

Guest
tivadar
April 5, 2014 7:45 am

This is really “weird”: for six elections the cross-voters numbered between 40-50,000 people. The number was more or less constant.

Now, the figure is 120,000.

Fidesz’ unparalleled get out the vote machinery is more than capable of deploying an extra 80,000 people from rural regions to battleground districts (for all this cross-registration activity, somehow people are not registering *into* surely Fidesznik districts).

Given the stability of the 40-50k number v. the variability of voters’ participation rates during past elections, it is not plausible to conclude that any possible increase in the general activity of voters can triple the registration figure. Some increase may be explained by the changing rules etc., but I am convinced that at least 60,000 voters (3/4 of the 80,000 increase) were moved by Fidesz. This would be a non-issue for Fidesz’ machinery.
Remember, all the new election laws had their own reasons, it is not by chance that the elections laws were made as they were.

Guest
HiBoM
April 5, 2014 7:45 am

tappanch, you mean that people be voting for a Budapest district while casting the vote on the Romanian border? Then that surely will make the vote counting incredibly difficult. Will the main voting stations have to wait for votes to arrive from six hours away?

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 7:58 am

# of “nomadic” voters tomorrow:

Budapest: 44,149
Pest county: 14,636

More than 5 thousand: Győr county
More than 4 thousand – Veszprém, Fejér, Csongrád, Borsod counties.

So let me modify my previous suspicion – lots of new voters received their address card in Hajdu-Bihar, Pest and Budapest yesterday and today. They will cast their votes mainly in Budapest and Pest county tomorrow, for any district in the country.

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 8:00 am

Oops. New numbers about the foreign votes are in.

143,776 arrived
95,301 processed
76,530 valid

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 8:06 am

This means that 17,328 new votes were dropped off at Hungarian consulates abroad this morning.

Guest
tappanch
April 5, 2014 8:16 am

Pace of processing of mailed-in and dropped-off votes

March 31: 11,202 – accepted as valid: 75.54%
April 01: 0
April 02: 17,852 – accepted as valid: 81.03%
April 03: 21,601 – accepted as valid: 80.39%
April 04: 22,797 – accepted as valid: 80.73%
April 05: 21,849 – accepted as valid: 81.63%

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