In May I wrote a post about László Székely, the ombudsman newly appointed by the Orbán administration. In it I suggested that Székely’s appointment might have been a mistake on the part of Viktor Orbán. I noted that the prime minister had erred earlier in naming Máté Szabó as the new sole ombudsman. Szabó turned out to be a steadfast defender of human rights and the rule of law. I added that “it may happen again, but Viktor Orbán rarely makes mistakes on personnel choices.” Well, it did happen. Székely has been an independent ombudsman whose recommendations have rarely met with government approval. Now it seems that he may lose his job. Moreover, the case is an opportunity for a fresh attack against the Hungarian NGOs which receive Norwegian funds because the case involves TASZ, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, one of the recipients.
TASZ represents the Kék Pont Alapítvány (Blue Dot Foundation), which is involved in the prevention of drug abuse. It provides an ambulance service for drug addicts and serves as a drug consultation center. The Foundation also runs a number of centers where addicts can exchange their used needles for sterile ones. One of these centers is in District VIII, a rather seedy part of Pest. Máté Kocsis, the Fidesz mayor of the district, is a brash young man without much compassion for the downtrodden. His efforts “to clean up” the place usually employ inhumane methods. Recently he turned against Kék Pont’s needle exchange center. The staff was told that they have to stop their activities. TASZ, representing the foundation, appealed to the ombudsman’s office for a judgment last November. Their argument rested on the right to health. Used needles spread disease not only among drug users but also in the population at large. Moreover, TASZ stressed that needle exchange programs are recommended by the European Union. All in all, they had a strong case, and the ombudsman’s office agreed with them. The mayor, however, contended that the ombudsman’s office simply parroted TASZ’s arguments. He was also convinced that the ombudsman himself never read the verdict; he just signed his name to it.
How did we get to this stage? Well, it would be nice to know how Fidesz and its on-again-off-again mouthpiece, Magyar Nemzet, collude. Does Magyar Nemzet receive orders and documentation from Fidesz politicians or is it the other way around? I suspect that the former is the more likely scenario. My hunch is that Kocsis was infuriated by the recommendation of the ombudsman that he received on September 8. He managed to get hold of some e-mails from the ombudsman’s office that could be interpreted in a way that would serve the young mayor’s purpose. Magyar Nemzet is also not shy at presenting material it receives in a false light. Once the staff considers a story juicy and politically damaging it is ready to churn out one article or opinion piece after the other. That was definitely the case here. Since yesterday morning Magyar Nemzet published nine articles about the horrid collusion between László Székely’s office and TASZ. They seized the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: Székely did not turn out to be a willing tool and TASZ–well, it is one of those anti-government, anti-Hungarian NGOs.
It all started with a falsification of facts. The paper published a facsimile of an e-mail which was not an exchange between TASZ and one of the associates of the ombudsman’s office, as Magyar Nemzet intimated, but an internal memo between two officials in the ombudsman’s office. This e-mail, dated May 28, was an answer to a question from another official concerning the time of the decision’s release. The answer indicated that the text was more or less ready but that they would make an inquiry at the ministry and at the city hall of District VIII before its release. The appropriate officials will have 15 days to answer. Moreover, since both people will be on summer holidays, the decision can be released only after their return.
Immediately after the publication of this e-mail, Székely ordered an in-house investigation and found out within a couple of hours that it had nothing to do with TASZ.
Then came Magyar Nemzet’s second article, published after János Lázár had already announced that if the story about the e-mail was true, Székely must resign. From this second article it became clear that whoever lifted the documents from the ombudsman’s office had a number of e-mails concerning the Kék Pont case. This time the paper published an exchange between Péter Sárosi, the man who handled the case at TASZ, and Beáta Borza, one of the department heads in the ombudsman’s office. In his letter Sárosi inquired about the date of the release of the verdict because Kék Point already had a shortage of needles and in September they must close their doors. Moreover, he said, he himself will be going on vacation and he would like to be around when the decision is released. TASZ would like to make sure that the story gets into the media. The department head promised to talk to the lawyer who was handling the case and expressed her hope that they can help as far as the date is concerned. From that letter both Magyar Nemzet and Kocsis came to the conclusion that there was collusion between the two over when the document will become public. In his usual parlance Kocsis announced that “the drug lobby has already entrenched itself in the ombudsman’s office.”
This case is being taken extremely seriously in government circles. György Rubovszky (KDNP), chairman of the judicial committee, announced that on Monday László Székely must appear before them. It seems that Rubovszky has pretty much made up his mind. He released the following statement: “According to recent news, the office of the ombudsman, disregarding the expectation of its objective and independent inquiry, prejudicially cooperated with the organization that initiated the inquiry in the preparation of its content and the timing of its publication.” I don’t think Székely will be Hungary’s ombudsman for long.