János Lázár’s fight with Budapest and Norway

Until now I don’t think too many people ever heard of Nándor Csepreghy, who originally hails from Cluj/Kolozsvár, Romania. In 2002 he moved to Hungary to enroll as a student at the University of Szeged, where he majored in history. A year after his arrival he was already heavily involved in Fidesz politics. His political career began in Fidelitas, the youth organization of Fidesz. As a party activist he was full of rather innovative ideas, some of which, like a video called Gyurcsány Twister, did in fact manage to twist the truth quite a bit. In 2008 he was sent to the United States to study campaign strategies, where he obviously learned something. In 2010 he was the campaign manager for a Fidesz candidate for parliament who easily defeated the MSZP mayor of Szeged, László Botka. In 2012 he was at last rewarded with an important government position. He became undersecretary in charge of government investments “of special importance.” It is in this capacity that Csepreghy has been in the limelight recently.

He has two uncomfortable tasks to deal with. He is negotiating in Brussels with the office handling the Norwegian funds, and he has the unpleasant job of telling the citizens of Budapest that the government will not award the city funds to upgrade the metro. Without these funds metro line #3 may have to be closed because it so old and technologically behind the times that it has become outright dangerous.

In addition to his degree in history Csepreghy also majored in communication, “concentrating on public relations.” Again, he learned well. He talks in full sentences and usually has ready answers to uncomfortable questions. It is perhaps not his fault that he has to deliver messages from his boss, János Lázár, that turn out to be politically unwise, which later he is obliged to cover up.

This is what happened in the case of the Budapest convergence funds. He explained that Budapest cannot receive anything from these funds because they are meant primarily for underdeveloped regions. And, of course, everybody knows that Budapest and Pest County are the most developed regions in Hungary. The inhabitants are  better educated and average salaries are the highest in the country. There was only one problem with this explanation: there are no such regional restrictions on funds in the convergence program. In an interview he helpfully suggested that perhaps the city of Budapest could take out a loan, which the government would guarantee.

Surely, Csepreghy is too low on the totem pole to make announcements of this sort on his own. I’m certain that he was just a messenger of János Lázár, who a couple of days later sent another message to Mayor István Tarlós through Csepreghy: he should lobby in Brussels for more money just as his predecessor Gábor Demszky did.

János Lázár and istván Tarlós

János Lázár and István Tarlós

Once Olga Kálmán of Egyenes Beszéd (ATV) pointed out to Csepreghy that the allocation of funds is entirely up to the government, he had to take a different tack. So, he continued this way: It is true that one-fifth of Hungarians live in the capital, but the government has an equal obligation to areas outside of Budapest. Therefore, the government decided to allocate the money to needier areas, which is only fair.

A day later Csepreghy came up with another story. No decision was made that “all financial resources would be taken away from the capital.” But the amount will be less than would be necessary for the modernization of Budapest’s transport system.

Meanwhile  news reached the public that János Lázár has a fairly grandiose plan of his own for his birthplace, Hódmezővásárhely, where he was mayor between 2002 and 2012. He would like to build a tram-train between Hódmezővásárhely and Szeged (23 km). Tram-train is a light-rail public transport system where the train functions as a streetcar in urban centers but between cities uses railway lines. Whether this is the best way to spend billions, I am not sure. I read that currently very few people use the train between Hódmezővásárhely and Szeged; most of the people use the bus. Apparently daily there are only about 8,000 trips between the two cities. Some people pointed out that no town exists anywhere in the world with a population as low as 40,000 that has its own streetcar system.

After about three days of silence Tarlós decided to say something about the grim news. He tried to be conciliatory, stressing that he and Viktor Orbán would find the necessary funds for the #3 metro line. Up to now Budapest has received 635 million forints, but the renovation would cost about 200 billion. The city sent detailed plans and financial estimates to the government. János Lázár, however, claimed in a public forum in his home town that they had received nothing from Tarlós’s office. Who is telling the truth? I’m almost certain that Lázár isn’t.

The question is why the government would want to pick a fight with Tarlós and why they would strip Budapest of all the money promised in 2013. It makes no sense to alienate the population of the city a few months before the municipal election. Well, perhaps Viktor Orbán and his minions think that, thanks to the new electoral law that was dutifully signed by President János Áder today, the election results are sewn up. With the new provisions the opposition won’t have a chance. Or it might be that the government is trying to curry favor with the rural population who are hurting and who think the inhabitants of Budapest get far too big a slice of the common pie. In any case, Brussels favors upgrading Budapest’s transportation system.

As for Csepreghy’s other unpleasant task, negotiations with the Norwegians are not going very well. The government had to accede to the demand of the Norwegian government and abandon the idea of outsourcing the distribution of the funds to a private firm. According to Csepreghy, there was an understanding between the two sides concerning the fate of the larger amount handled by the Hungarian government. However, Csepreghy continued, no agreement was reached about the funds distributed by the NGO Ökotárs Alapítvány (Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation).

I am not at all sure that Csepreghy is telling the whole truth. Let me quote a Norwegian source, which I trust more. Here is the Norwegian government’s position: “Norway and Hungary have still not reached an agreement on lifting the suspension of the EEA and Norway Grants to the country…. Hungarian authorities have initiated an audit of the EEA Grants-funded NGO program strengthening civil society in Hungary. Responsibility for the program and any potential audits lies with the donor states. … Hungary must meet the requirements stipulated in the agreements, which means that the audit must be halted. At the same time, a solution must be found on the issue of the transfer of the implementation and monitoring of the Grants scheme out of the central government administration. Norwegian authorities have as a precondition that these outstanding issues must be resolved before the suspension of the EEA and Norway Grants is lifted. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is waiting for a response from Hungarian authorities before deciding if and how further meetings will take place. ” According to this summary, nothing has been resolved. Both the EEA Grants handled by the government and the Norway Grants handled by the NGO program are still suspended, waiting for a satisfactory response from the Hungarians.

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walesSilent
Guest

Orbans are operating on the monkey wrench way. They are ruthlessly terrorizing the partners of the Norwegian Fund. The many NGOs supported by Norway have been ultimately paralyzed.

They will need lot of luck to recover.

https://norvegcivilalap.hu/en/tamogatott

They will need good lawyers to file lots of claims against the orban regime, to get compensation for the blatant harassment.

As expected, most ordinary citizens remained silent in this affair.

D7 Democrats
Guest

“They will need good lawyers to file lots of claims against the orban regime, to get compensation for the blatant harassment.”

No point as they have no chance of getting justice through Orban’s courts.
And certainly the regime’s terror campaign (*strange* phone-calls at 2 o’clock in the morning, *strange* football hooligan types hovering around the entrance, not so *strange* NAV raids) will continue. But… for most of them, this is nothing new, Orban’s *war* against civil society began the day after he got elected in 2010 and the harassment and threatened violence, shortly after.

The majority will, however, survive, by hook or by crook simply because the majority (unlike the rest of the cowards in the country who surrended to the Fidesz thugs without a whimper) actually believe in the work they are doing.

“As expected, most ordinary citizens remained silent in this affair.”

As they did when the regime stole their pensions, raped their judicial system, closed down their free press. But that shouldn’t and won’t stop the small miniority in their fight for demeocracy.

Guest

“As expected, most ordinary citizens remained silent in this affair.”

Do Hungarians have only a clue?

D7 Democrat
Guest

Also interesting to see that Blikk has a typical trashy tabloid story about Mr Lazar’s “preference” for tax-payer financed trips to the French Riveira during his time as a local government mayor.

On the basis that Blikk takes no chances against the regime, this looks to be another internal attack on Lazar. He is too much of a liability now for the business wing of the Fidesz Mafia?

Caprice Goldberg
Guest

OT but concerning Blikk’s taking on certain members of the Fidesz elite:

Late last month Blikk published an open letter from Terry Black, a somewhat notorious transsexual here in Hungary, to Kerényi Imre, the loudmouthed homophobe discussed earlier in this blog. In the letter, Terry claims to have had a 2 month relationship with Kerényi and names 2 other male lovers he supposedly had.

Makes you wonder how much the current regime actually has on it’s highest members and how far they are willing to go to keep them in line (a tactic they likely adopted from their predecessors).

Nonblonde
Guest
Istvan
Guest
Eva I am unclear about how the Norway Fund fits into Hungarian urban transportation. From what I understand almost all the external money going to Hungary comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) controlled by the European Commission. Moreover, the ERDF actually invests very little money into urban transportation projects, from 2007-2013 the total for all EU states was only EUR 7 billion, your essay indicates that just the #3 line project would cost 200 billion HUF or close to 10% of all ERDF expenditures for a six year period of time. The entire EU Reference Framework for European Sustainable Cities (RFSC) is really what can be called an aspirational document because there is no serious funding for the vision especially in larger Central European cities. It really doesn’t matter what the EU wants or what is ecologically prudent for Budapest, no matter how funds are shifted between rural and urban projects, no matter the containment of Hungarian corruption in the area of urban development projects that has existed under also under MSZP rule, there is simply not enough money for Hungary and other Central European States to even begin to implement the RFSC. Then we have the problem… Read more »
Member

Caprice Goldberg
June 18, 2014 at 4:29 am
OT but concerning Blikk’s taking on certain members of the Fidesz elite:

Late last month Blikk published an open letter from Terry Black, a somewhat notorious transsexual here in Hungary, to Kerényi Imre,

Please do not bring this blog down to the level of Blikk reporting that Fidesz uses for its PR too.

Caprice Goldberg
Guest

@Some1

Reread my post. It was in no way an attempt to lower the journalistic integrity of the blog, rather a comment on Fidesz’s own usage of Blikk to warn/tame its own – following D7 Democrat’s similar statements.

Nonblonde
Guest

Éva, I know, but the link “a norwegian source” is broken. Just helping 😉 Since this is my tax money, it’s important for me that the Norwegian government make a clear statement in this case.

Guest

Not too much OT:

A scathing tale by David Landry, an American journalist who lived in Budapest the last 19 years:
http://www.bbj.hu/opinion/hungary-loving-it-leaving-it_81081

I especially liked the term “Gulyás Dictatorship” – never heard it before, but it sounds very logical as an equivalent of the Gulyás Communism of the 80s.

He describes many problems of Orbán’s Hungary like we discuss them here – it’s almost uncanny!

I almost wanted to write “I enjoyed the article very much …” but of course that would be silly – I’m grateful that others see Hungary’s problems as we do.

petofi
Guest

@Wolfi

Thanks for Landry’s piece. I’m not sure who he meant by the MSZP turncoat in 2006. Was this the supposed person who turned the Oszod tapes over? Confusing.

Of course, Orban is frightening, but less so than the disgusting nature of Hungarians who haven’t
seen an opportunity for betrayal or self-profit-at-the-expense-of-fellow-citizens…that they haven’t
happily undertaken. If a very deep circle of Hell is reserved for Orban, than his ‘servants’ are
booked for someplace even lower. The lack of decency and integrity in the Hungarian political culture is sickening.

But let’s not leave out the mewing, sheep-like, fantasizing masses–their lack of curiosity and ignorance of civil procedure; of fairness; of a desire for an egalitarian society…and their Germanic, 1930’s style of tongue-hanging desire to follow a strutting little megalomaniac is so demoralizing
to one, like myself, who’s been invested in the Western notion of Progress. To see that the Judeo-Christian idea of improvement could be junked by a leader and a nation so cavalierly is terrifying in its implications.

Istvan
Guest
I too read the Landry’s piece and I totally understand it. Even if I did not share Landry’s optimism in relation to the transformation and development of Hungary in the 1990s, I share his depression after having just been in Hungary. These lines jumped out at me: “Meanwhile, the current prime minister has turned his back on the brain drain that sees this country’s brightest minds seek greener pastures elsewhere (nearly anywhere, really). A recent study showed the average Hungarian citizen living abroad transfers some $5,200 to their home country per year – an amount equal to more than 40% of the average annual salary: An ideal solution to keep anyone who might imagine alternatives away from dangerously influencing friends and family here.We’re now told that Hungarian unemployment is at an all-time low while the fact that some 6.4% of the employed are “fostered workers” drawing a maximum of 35% the already tiny average salary is conveniently obscured by muzzled news sources.” I had not been back to Hungary since the full impact of the global recession of 2008 hit the country and the deterioration of the standards of living I saw seemed to me to be significant. The admitted… Read more »
Guest

That piece by Landry is depressing in a way – like many of the discussions here.

A bit OT:

I just had three (of course my wife was with me …) with my neighbour and his wife – they are really nice people (though too much in the Fidesz direction for me and my wife …) and sometimes (or rather often …) I wonder how they manage.

A full time job with lots of extra hours – and a large garden where they grow most of the vegetables (including potatoes!) they need. And that’s a lot of work – every evening maybe two or three hours in addition to the housework/upkeep of the house like painting, insulating, installing new windows …

And I think they count themselves lucky because both of them have “safe” jobs … So they don’t complain!

It really reminds me of Germany (West) 50 or even 60 years ago.

D7 Democrat
Guest

RTL has continued its multi-pronged attack on his regime on tonight’s news; Orban surely can not let this continue?

Kormos
Guest

@Wolfi re:It really reminds me of Germany (West) 50 or even 60 years ago.

..and this is the real difference between Germany and Hungary. 50/60 years….:-((
Please do not forget that Germany was a colonising power while Hungary was the lesser power of the Monarchy; thus sort of colonised.

EasySilent
Guest

can we describe the sad state of Hungary with daily blog entries without repeating ourselves?

can we shake up the indifferent and deceived population after all these scandals?

can we compensate the Hungarian people for all the destructive propaganda of changing regimes, and the brainwashing of various churches?

who has ever tried to straighten out the fate of this unfortunate nation?

googly
Guest

Eva,

When you tell Kormos that his/her comment is utter nonsense, it would be more useful to give a reason why you think so, e.g. Hungary also possessed an empire, or having an empire doesn’t matter in this regard, or the days of empire were too far in the past, etc.

o'buda
Guest

Kormos has tried to find an explanation for the utter failure of a nation, like I do it sometimes.

I would put the emphasis on the lies.

A nation that lives in lies, nurtures lies, will always suffer.

Kipling hit it very well. Where the fathers lied, the people die.

Hungarian fathers, leaders, priests, writers will have to refrain from lies, to save this nation from bad future.

When we all become like Gyorgy Moldova, we will a have a chance.

So between colonizing others, and colonized by others and themselves, lies have killed the chances of Hungary to become a nation like it was under Ferenc Deak.

Istvan
Guest
EasySilent it seems somethings merit repeating and will appear over and over again. One of those things is the actual deprivation of the mass of Hungarians since the 2008 downturn, because in so many ways as Landry, and posters on this blog including Eva point out the official government line presents a false reality. It is a reality that is difficult to accept so it is avoided. Clearly there is no common solution among the contributors to this blog as how to escape the low wage trap Hungary has entered. This was also reflected in the collapse of the left/liberals in the last elections.. What is clear is that Orban and his party play on the deprivation of the masses and blame the EU, former communists, even the Roma people, etc while still allowing the levers of corporate ownership to be transferred to more developed nations like Germany. What is really upsetting is that I go back to work here in Chicago and my co-workers ask about my trip to Budapest and extol on the wonders of the 5th district I am too deeply reluctant to explain what is happening there to non-Hungarians. In a way I must admit I… Read more »
Kormos
Guest

Yes Ms. Balogh. I have lots to learn. I just learned that there is no difference between Germany and Hungary. Germany was not a significant colonising power and Hungary was never colonised. So mote it be….

petofi
Guest

@ o’buda

What is this nonsense about ‘nationhood’ in the 21’st century?
Why not a valued, respectful member of the greatest community of nations called the EU?
This ridiculousness of ‘defending ones culture’..! It does not depend on a nation-state.
Look at jewish culture–it has been maintained, and flourished, despite the people being attacked
in nearly every venue they lived in. Never a question of the ‘culture disappearing’.

Hungarians should stop swallowing the rat-poison of Nationalism that people like Orban peddle.

Istvan
Guest

Petofi a balanced perspective on the reality of the EU in relation to Central Europe is also very helpful. I just read Jurgen Habermas’s book titled The Crisis of the European Union and he also gave a lecture on it in Budapest about a month ago. If you keep away from the economic complexities of the EU as Habermas’s does then a United States of Europe looks just wonderful, but when you dig deeper like Zoltan Polgatsa does you see the roots of the revival of nationalism being based on economic inequality within the EU.

Kirsten
Guest
But Istvan, even assuming that 2008 was the start of Hungary’s problems (which it was not), what Orban has been doing over the past years is just making matters worse. Yes, Hungary needs a development strategy, yes, Hungary has not lived up to its possibilities of 1989. All true. But how can a strategy based on “poverty theories” improve matters? You need to start first to believe that you are capable of more. And if so, do so. Do not start first to dwell on some colony theory also employed by Kormos, which states that if you were an underdeveloped area once, you will remain so forever. I think that the US certainly testify to the opposite. And the underdeveloped Holy Roman Empire (the colonising Germany before 1806) is a second example. It is the medieval thinking, this mourning about some lost glorious world (which never existed), that stands in the way. It is not too much of the “West” but too little. Too little understanding that for making a government work for you, people have to control it, and learn how to do so (learn from the Western experience). If Hungary was a colony in some sense, then perhaps… Read more »
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