The Hungarian government under domestic and foreign pressure

As I’m writing this post thousands are again demonstrating against the government. The crowd gathered in front of the parliament, which one of the organizers called “the puppet show,” and then is heading toward the Castle District, where Viktor Orbán is planning to move. The move will cost an incredible amount of money but, as one of the undersecretaries in the prime minister’s office said, the citizens of Hungary will be really happy once the prime minister moves to quarters befitting his position. Given the mood of these crowds, I very much doubt that that will be the case. The good citizens of Hungary who are out on the street actually wish Orbán not to the Castle District but straight to hell.

The demonstration was organized against corruption but, as usually happens at these mass demonstrations, the crowd went beyond the limited goal of the organizers and demanded the resignation of Viktor Orbán and his government. Fidesz politicians, it seems, have been caught flat-footed. They surely believed that these demonstrations would peter out. Winter is approaching and Christmas will soon be upon us. It was hoped that people would be busy shopping and preparing for family gatherings. But this time they were wrong. Suddenly something inexplicable happened: the totally lethargic Hungarian public was awakened. What happened? After all, the misuse of power and the network of corruption have been features of the Orbán regime ever since 2010 and yet the public was not aroused against its unrelenting abuse of power. Most people knew that Fidesz politicians are corrupt and that they stuff their pockets with money stolen from the public, but they felt powerless to do anything about it.

I see a number of reasons for this change in the Hungarian political atmosphere. I would start with the influence of the book Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist Mafia State, edited by Bálint Magyar, in which dozens of political scientists, economists, sociologists, and media experts published articles that presented for the first time a comprehensive picture of the institutionalized corruption which is the hallmark of the Fidesz regime. Fairly quickly the terms “mafia state” and “mafia government” became part of everyday vocabulary, and the government’s dealings came to be understood within the context of The Godfather. The sinister nature of the enterprise was slowly grasped.

A second reason for the optimism and activism was the success of the first two mass demonstrations against the “internet tax.” Viktor Orbán had to retreat. If he retreated once, more demonstrations might force him to reverse earlier decisions. The success of the first demonstrations gave impetus to the others.

Last but not least was the Hungarian government’s own stupidity when it decided to leak the news about American dissatisfaction with the National Tax Authority and the corrupt officials who tried extract kickbacks from at least one American company. Hungarians expected their politicians to be corrupt, but the news that high officials at the Hungarian Tax Authority were also on the take was too much for them. Moreover, they felt that they now have an ally, the United States of America.

According to most observers, U.S.-Hungarian relations are at their lowest point since the post-1956 period. U.S. policy toward Hungary seems to me at least to be finely calibrated. At the beginning we were told about the six unnamed people who were barred from entering the United States. A few days later we learned that the president of the Tax Authority was definitely on the list. A few more days and we were told that the president is not the only person on the list, there are a couple more. Another week went by and André Goodfriend, U.S. chargé d’affaires, indicated that there might be more Hungarians who would face the same fate as the six already on the list. Another few days and we learned from the American chargé that he had given the Hungarian government all the information necessary for investigating the cases. And it was not the “useless scrap of paper” Viktor Orbán pointed to. In plain language, we found out once again that the Hungarian government lies. And yesterday we learned from an interview with Goodfriend that the sin of Tax Office Chief Ildikó Vida goes beyond not investigating obvious corruption cases within her office; she herself was an active participant in the corruption scheme at her office. Of course, Vida is outraged, but she cannot do more than write an open letter to Goodfriend claiming innocence. As time goes by the Hungarian government is increasingly embroiled in a web of lies and Orbán’s regime comes to resemble ever more closely the government of a third-rate banana republic.

The good old days: George W. Bush in Budapest, June 22, 2006

The good old days: George W. Bush in Budapest, June 22, 2006

While the State Department is using the corruption cases as a club, Senator John McCain is pursuing his own individual crusade. The senator, who is no friend of Putin, has been keeping an eye on Viktor Orbán’s illiberal state and found it to be troubling. What we saw two days ago was his frustration that Hungary will again have a political appointee as an ambassador. As he emphasized over and over, Hungary is a very important country that deserves a professional diplomat. His outburst about Orbán as a “neo-fascist dictator” was a bit strong, although Orbán’s system does have features in common with some of the fascist regimes of the past. But the Hungarian charge that McCain is ignorant of the Hungarian political situation is entirely baseless. Once he calmed down, he put it into writing what he finds objectionable about Orbán’s illiberal state. At the time of the release of his statement on Hungary he wrote a brief tweet saying, “Deeply concerned by PM Orban eroding democracy, rule of law, civil society & free press in Hungary.”

Below I republish Senator McCain’s statement on Hungary because I find it important and because it proves that, regardless of what the Hungarian government says, McCain (undoubtedly with the help of his staff) knows what he is talking about.

Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban came to power in 2010, antidemocratic constitutional changes have been enacted, the independence of Hungary’s courts have been restricted, nongovernmental organizations raided and civil society prosecuted, the freedom of the press curtailed, and much more. These actions threaten the principles of institutional independence and checks and balances that are the hallmark of democratic governance and have left me deeply concerned about the erosion of democratic norms in Hungary.

These concerns are shared by many. A ruling by the Venice Commission in 2013 found that Prime Minister Orban’s constitutional changes threaten democracy and rule of law in Hungary, stating that the amendments ‘contradict principles of the Fundamental Law and European standards,’ and ‘leads to a risk that it may negatively affect all three pillars of the Council of Europe: the separation of powers as an essential tenet of democracy, the protection of human rights and the rule of law.’

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned Hungary’s media laws, saying that they create a climate of fear and media self-censorship, even after critical changes were made to account for previous complaints from the European Commission. ‘The changes to the Hungarian media law only add to the existing concerns over the curbing of critical or differing views in the country,’ said Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE’s representative on Freedom of the Media.

The European Central Bank has repeatedly warned that Prime Minister Orban’s government is encroaching on the independence of its central bank, calling for him to respect the independence of monetary policymakers and condemning attempts by the government to threaten central bankers with dismissal if they oppose government policy.

And just last month, six Hungarians were banned from entering the United States over alleged corruption. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend reportedly called the ban a warning to reverse policies that threaten democratic values, citing ‘negative disappointing trends’ in Hungary and a ‘weakening of rule of law, attacks on civil society, [and] a lack of transparency.’

Democracy without respect for rule of law, separation of powers, and the protection of economic, civil, and religious liberties is not only inadequate, it is dangerous. It brings with it the erosion of liberty, the abuse of power, ethnic divisions, and economic restrictions – all of which we have witnessed in Hungary since Prime Minister Orban took power. Prime Minister Orban has justified his actions by calling for a new state model based on ‘illiberal democracy,’ but his vision defies the core values of the European Union and NATO. These alliances are founded not only on the principle of democracy, but also rule of law and the protection of individual liberty and fundamental freedoms. All members must remain committed to these values.

Meanwhile both Hungarian and foreign newspapers are full of stories about the demonstrations and about McCain’s characterization of Orbán as a “neo-fascist dictator.” As the Hungarian prime minister continues to come under attack, both from within and from without, it’s unclear how he will fight back and how effective his counterattack will be. If the proposed Sunday store closings are any indication of the government’s new game plan, the counterattack will be a colossal failure.

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Istvan
Guest

Today Magyar Szo in Vojvodina did what it called an “editorial summary” of Senator McCain’s comments on the floor of the US Senate yesterday. What is remarkable about this editorial was it included this sub-headline: Zoltan Kovacs said Sen. John McCain’s use of the term “neo-fascist dictator” did not refer to the Hungarian government per se. “Kovács Zoltán szóvivő szerint John McCain szenátor az „újfasiszta diktátor” kifejezéssel nem a magyar kormányfőre utalt.”

When one reads the text of the editorial, none of the additional information and clarifications made by Senator McCain’s staff that he was referring to PM Orban directly when he made that comment is noted in this editorial. This gives us all a pretty good idea of how these comments are being spun in Vojvodina.

See http://www.magyarszo.com/hu/2543/kulfold_magyarsag/119253/Bek%C3%A9rett%C3%A9k-az-amerikai-%C3%BCgyviv%C5%91t.htm

American Népsszava published in New York City got it completely right stating the newspaper fully endorsed Senator McCain’s comments and went further stating “Orban is not a “neo-fascist” but a fascist dictator.” To see this article go to http://nepszava.com/2014/12/magyarorszag/az-an-udvozli-mccain-szenator-bejelenteset.html

Mrozek
Guest

Excellent analysis! You are absolutely correct when you write that “the Hungarian charge that McCain is ignorant of the Hungarian political situation is entirely baseless.”

McCain’s foreign policy advisor is Kurt Volker and he certainly “knows what he is talking about.”

buddy
Guest

Jon Stewart’s take on the Bell confirmation vote is really a must-see:
http://thedailyshow.cc.com/video-playlists/w8wjcp/the-daily-show-20031-highlights/la1hcf

googly
Guest
Let’s not get excited about a few thousand people in Budapest demonstrating against Orbán. I’ll start to believe there is a change afoot when there are serious demonstrations in cities like Győr, though even then all Orbán has to do is label the protesters “agents of the Americans”, and rally the faithful to counter-demonstrate (or just pay them), then lower some fee for something (like utilities, again). He has literally hundreds of answers to these demonstrations, and they will fizzle out like the earlier student demonstrations. One thing this can do, though, is start to bring some changes in the opposition parties, to the point that people become disgusted with the way MSZP has essentially handed the recent elections to Fidesz. Once MSZP really reforms (or is destroyed and replaced by a relatively honest leftist party, maybe a splinter faction), there is a slight hope of success in the next elections, nearly four years hence. Remember, MSZP hung onto power after 2006, despite massive demonstrations and a collapse in their support. They are amateurs at holding power, compared to Fidesz. The only thing that will bring early elections that might be enough to truly change the system (overturn the “constitution”)… Read more »
Istvan
Guest

Yes Buddy it was amazingly funny, in particular because of the underlying truth that Ms Bell who was born ans raised in a suburb next to Chicago has absolutely no knowledge about Hungary. Worse yet
Colleen Bell married into her job. Her inlaws developed the soap opera she today produces. As an American Hungarian I find it to be a slap in the face. There are numerous loyal American Hungarians with many skills who could have represented our country far more competently. I hope she listens to advise well from the State Department professionals.

Guest

In effect googly advices the demonstrators to give up.

buddy
Guest

For all of you concerned about Hungary-US relations, no need to worry. Orbán said today he supports suing Andre Goodfriend. I’m sure that will make things much better.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Extradition of a diplomat can be asked only in the case of felony. André Goodfriend is a diplomat and cannot be sued in Hungary for defamation.
Mrs. Vida could apply against the watchlist in the USA. In that case the US gov. will open up the files. So she will think twice before opening that pandora box.

tappanch
Guest

Orban this morning:

“The independence of Hungary is under attack”
“I am not willing to become a vice king in Hungary” [he wants to be the king]
“I talked to the chair of NAV [Vida] yesterday.” …
“We should start an anti-defamation suit against [Mr Goodfriend]”
“We are not a colony”
“Brussels attacks our utility rate cuts”

from 1:38, 180 perc, http://www.mediaklikk.hu/kossuth/

No comment on my part.

kinga
Guest

@Istvan

The Hungarian minority in Voivodina is almost entirely in the hands of fidesz-loyal poeple, whether it is minority newspapers, theatres, civil organizations we talk about. It’s a small and quite concentrated community unlike the ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, so it’s rather easy to organize and control them from Budapest. Voivodina was a very important part of Fidesz’ get out the vote machinery at the April general elections. There are hundreds of thousands of people (I’m guessing just like in Ukraine, many have no ethnic Hungarian origin at all) who got the Hungarian citizenship from Serbia, and who are immensely thankful to Orban because it allows them to work and move to Western Europe.

tappanch
Guest

Orban on fideszization:

“It is not the most important thing that the [newly acquired Budapest Bank] should be in state hands, but it should be in Hungarian [private] hands.”

tappanch
Guest

Industrial production, January through September 2014 [2013], in billions of HUFs

for domestic consumption 8710 [8850], – 1.6%
for export: 13769 [12294], +12.0%

LwiiH
Guest

“We should start an anti-defamation suit against [Mr Goodfriend]”

Orban knows he can’t sue Goodfriend. All he can do is withdraw is have him withdrawn from the list of people who can work as US diplomats in Hungary. If won’t do that because if he does that will surely result in retaliation from Washington.

@tappanch, so, the Bank was bought by the state to be passed into private hands… awesome!

beg
Guest

Arpi Habony was seen at Budapest Airport waiting for the Moscow flight. Could have been her in laws since his girlfriend is Ukrainian/Russian or he could have waited for Surkov’s people.

googly
Guest

Jean P,

What is wrong with you? Have you regressed to your childhood? Your comment was not only uncalled-for, it was completely without basis. Just because I caution against over-exuberance does not at all mean that I am not happy for the demonstrations and not hoping they get bigger.

If you have a problem with my analysis of the situation, why don’t you act like an adult and dispute me with logic and observations? I could easily make a childish comment in return, such as “according to Jean P, we should start applying for jobs in the new government, because these demonstrations will overthrow Fidesz by Christmas, ushering DK into a 2/3 majority all by itself.

Why did you even bother to write a comment at all? This is what is wrong with the opposition in Hungary right now – thanks for giving us a little taste of it right here on Hungarian Spectrum.

tappanch
Guest

@beg
“Surkov”

Do you mean the Chechen-Russian Surkov, who served in Hungary between 1983 and 1985, and now an adviser to Putin?

tappanch
Guest

2007:
“Russia’s major university has marked the 125th birthday of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ”

“Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, was the first to speak at the conference, steering the discussion in quite another direction. In an obvious parallel between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and FDR’s United States, Mr. Surkov recalled that America’s GDP “almost halved” in the Great Depression just like in the crisis-ridden Russia in the 1990s. “Franklin Roosevelt rose to power at a time when media and finances were fully under the control of irresponsible oligarchic groupings which thought that democracy existed only for them,” he said in a clear comparison with the late 1990s in Russia.

“Democracy means justice for everyone,” the official said quoting President Roosevelt. “Freedom from fear and need is more important that freedom of speech and religious freedom.” According to the second-ranking man in the Russian president’s staff, Franklin Roosevelt embodied “supreme power of nation”. What is more, “he was that power himself”. Afterwards, Mr. Surkov noted that “Putin ought to use the potential of the presidential power to the full.”

http://www.kommersant.com/p741228/Putin_Roosevelt_Third_Term/

tappanch
Guest

Some fidesznik “cadres” have accumulated several government jobs.

Gabor Bodi, for instance, has four. The salaries also add up. He obviously works 32 hours a day.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20141205_Orbannal_is_tobbet_keres_az_allashalmozo

spectator
Guest

Eva, its not the point, not Orbán’s anyway.
He want to loyal people of Hungary – loyal to him: after all, who else are listening his weekly sermons – to hear just how tough their heroic leader is with these American ‘infidels’, no more.

By the other hand, they indeed are outright mad, no doubt.
Not to mention that being the loudest little rooster on the Felcsútian dung-heap has the added ‘benefit’ of total ignorance toward diplomacy and international law altogether.

Just look at the excerpt ‘tappanch’ posted, it speaks volumes!

Webber
Guest

Vida might try to sue, but I very much doubt that any court would admit the case.

Member

@Karl Pfeiffer Well, I think Orban find the perfect middle road. Instead of suing the USA Government he is going after Goodfriend. THe distraction still be there. I am still not sure if he will not sue the government.

beg
Guest

tappanch: Surkov, Putin’s Rasputin or Arpad Habony. This is an old profile.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n20/peter-pomerantsev/putins-rasputin

buddy
Guest

@Some1

Regardless of the feasibility/likelihood of actually suing the ranking diplomat at the US embassy, I think just the PM stating that he supports such an thing raises this spat to an entirely new level, don’t you think? Like, just when you think it can’t get any worse…

Calamari
Guest
@Webber I can very well imagine that the case will be admitted. Orban probably settled the matter with Tünde Handó (best friends with Orban’s wife and wife of Jozsef Szajer and co-head of the judiciary responsible for HR issues) that the case will be admitted and at least on the admissibility question there will be a many year long legal procedure. I can well imagine that some judges would assist to this, I’m sure it would look great on the CV for the next round of promotions (to be decided by Ms. Handó). Plus Hungarian judges very rarely reject cases out of hand (keresetlevél idézés kibocsátása nélküli elutastása), admissibility issues are usually tried together with the merits. This is actually quite a standard practice. There have been cases all over the world about private law issues like non-payment of utility fees by embassies (even the New York consulate of Hungary was embroiled in some legal matter, although it was a tax matter and did not reach the courts). The courts will likely reject the case — but only in the very end, which will be beyond Mr. Goodfriends term in Budapest. Until then Vida can show that she is an… Read more »
Bowen
Guest

Szabadsag ter …

They (the local government) have just erected a rather large nativity scene with a large numbers of christmas trees in front of the ‘victims’ monument.

It obscures the view of the Holocaust survivors’ memories placed there by protestors …

Member

Carpathian Basket-Case Cracking…

via @tappanch
“The independence of Hungary is under attack”
“We are not a colony”
“I talked to the chair of NAV [Vida] yesterday.” …
“We should start an anti-defamation suit against [Mr Goodfriend]”
“Brussels is attacking our utility rate cuts”
“I am not willing to become a viceroy in Hungary” [he wants to be the king]

Guest

Eva: “I highly recommend to take a look at the video of Orbán’s interview this morning. …… Watch his hands. Even if you don’t understand what he says his posture tells a lot about his psychological state.”

His hands are most of the time trying to liberate his neck. The diagnosis may be timor tentorium.

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