Zoltán Kovács, Viktor Orbán’s international spokesman in Brussels

Today I will try to squeeze three topics into one post. Two will be short, more like addenda to earlier pieces. The third subject of today’s post is new: the stormy meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on Hungary.

The Albert Wass Library in Tapolca

As one of our readers pointed out, György Konrád incorrectly said that the János Batsányi Library was renamed after Elemér Vass, a lesser known Hungarian painter, that it was instead named after Albert Wass. The reader was correct. Moreover, what Konrád left out of his brief story at the very end of his interview with Olga Kálmán on “Egyenes beszéd” was that the name change actually took place in 2006. Tapolca’s town council has had a solid Fidesz majority for years. Why the city fathers decided in 2006 that Albert Wass was a more important representative of Hungarian literature than János Batsányi is a mystery to me. Anyone who’s unfamiliar with the works and politics of Albert Wass should read my summary of his activities.

The Gala Event at the Ferenc Liszt Academy

A friend who lives in the United States happens to be in Budapest at the moment. Her family’s apartment is very close to the Ferenc Liszt Academy, so she witnessed the preparations for the arrival of Viktor Orbán at the Academy, where he delivered a speech at the unveiling of the Hungarian “miracle piano.” According to her, there was no parking either on Nagymező utca or on Király utca. The police or, more likely TEK, Orbán’s private bodyguards despite being called the Anti-Terror Center, set up three white tents equipped with magnetic gates, the kind that are used at airports. The distinguished guests had to go through these gates before they could share the same air as Hungary’s great leader. By six o’clock the TEK people, in full gear, had cordoned off a huge area. Hungary’s prime minister is deadly afraid. Earlier prime ministers never had a security contingent like Viktor Orbán has now. I remember that Ferenc Gyurcsány used to jog with scores of other ordinary citizens on Margitsziget (Margaret Island) with two guys running behind him at a distance. Well, today the situation seems to be different.

Hearings of  the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs*

The announced agenda was “The Situation of Human Rights in Hungary,” specifically the pressure the Hungarian government has been putting on nongovernmental organizations and civic groups, especially “Okotárs Alaítvány,” about which we have talked at length. That’s why three civic group leaders were invited from Hungary: Tamás Fricz, founder of the Civil Union Forum; Veronika Móra, director of Ökotárs Alapítvány; and Attila Mong, editor of Atlatszo.hu. In addition, two experts were present: Barbora Cernusakova from Amnesty International and Anne Weber, advisor to Nils Muižnieks, commissioner for human rights of the Council of Europe. The Hungarian government was represented by Zoltán Kovács, international spokesman from the prime minister’s office.

Although the main topic was the Hungarian government’s attack on civic organizations that are critical of the Orbán government, during the two and a half hours speakers addressed other human rights issues as well: media freedom, censorship, homelessness, and even Viktor Orbán’s anti-immigration statements.

The first half hour was spent on procedural wrangling between the European People’s Party members of parliament, including naturally the Fidesz representatives, and the rest of those present. Kinga Gál (Fidesz) presented their grievances. The EPP representatives wanted to invite at least three civic groups close to the Hungarian government, arguing that after all in addition to the two NGO’s critical of the government, Ökotárs and Átlátszó.hu, there were two international organizations (Council of Europe and Amnesty International) represented. They failed to convince the majority, however, and therefore only Tamás Fricz was left to represent the NGO that organized two large pro-government demonstrations in the last few years. Tamás Fricz opted not to attend. I suspect that his declining the invitation in the last minute was part of an overarching strategy to make the hearings totally lopsided. Everybody on one side and only a government spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, on the other. Such a situation could easily discredit the proceedings. However, as it turned out, it was Zoltán Kovács himself who was discredited, though not before the EPP MEPs had walked out of the hearings.

Zoltán Kovács

Zoltán Kovács

I will not go into the content of the speeches since the readers of Hungarian Spectrum are only too familiar with the problems that exist in Hungary today as far as human rights issues are concerned. Instead, I would like to concentrate on Zoltán Kovács’s representation of the Hungarian position.

All the participants delivered their speeches in English with the exception of Zoltán Kovács, whose English is actually excellent, but, as he admitted later to György Bolgár, he decided to speak in Hungarian so his words wouldn’t have to be translated. In brief, Kovács’s message was addressed not so much to those present at the meeting but rather to Hungarians at home who could admire his effective defense of their government. The trouble was that what he considered to be simply a vigorous defense turned out to be aggressive and disrespectful. Calling the hearings of an EP committee “the fifth season of a soap opera” did not go over well, to put it mildly, especially since he added that “by now neither the actors nor the script writer knows what means what and what they want to say.” He called the charges against the Hungarian government “half truths or outright lies” and said that the members present were prejudiced against his country.

The reaction was predictable. Many of those who spoke up reacted sharply to Kovács’s speech. They were outraged that Kovács talked about the European Parliament, which “represents 500 million inhabitants of the European Union, in such a manner.” It was at this point that Péter Niedermüller (DK) told Kovács that as a result of his behavior “you yourself became the protagonist of these hearings.” Kovács later complained bitterly that Niedermüller spoke out of order, which in his opinion besmirched the dignity of the European Parliament.

A Dutch MEP inquired whether the Norwegian or the Dutch government, the German chancellor, everybody who ever criticizes the Hungarian government is part of this soap opera. Finally, she announced that she is sick and tired of the so-called “Hungarian debates” which are no more than “dialogues of the deaf.” What is needed is a new, effective mechanism that monitors the affairs of the member states yearly. A Swedish MEP “was beside herself”and warned Kovács to watch his words. “The European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission all say that there are problems with human rights in Hungary. So, then we all lie?” Another MEP called Kovács’s attitude “contemptuous cynicism” and offensive because after all he said that 500 million EU citizens don’t live in a democracy and that the EP commission doesn’t function according to democratic rules. He told Kovács that what’s going on in Hungary at the moment is “the tyranny of the majority.” Kovács was not moved. In his answer he repeated his charges and indicated that as far as the Hungarian government is concerned “the case is closed.”

A few years back Kovács served as government spokesman, but after a while he was replaced by András Giró-Szász. Viktor Orbán remarked on that occasion that “it is time to see some smiles” when the spokesman makes his announcements. The remark was on target. Kovács would resemble Rasputin if he let his very dark beard grow. One has learned not to expect smiles from the man, although on official photos he tries hard. After his removal from his high-profile position he spent some time in the ministry of human resources responsible for, of all things, Roma integration. But last year he was reinstated as “international spokesman.” I don’t know why Zoltán Kovács was considered to be more fit to be a spokesman of the Hungarian government on the international scene than he was at home. His reception in Brussels was not exactly promising.

*Video streaming is now available here:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/content/20150116IPR09871/html/Committee-on-Civil-Liberties-Justice-Home-Affairs-meeting-22-01-2015-0900

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Minusio
Guest
“Finally, she announced that she is sick and tired of the so-called “Hungarian debates” which are no more than “dialogues of the deaf.” What is needed is a new, effective mechanism that monitors the affairs of the member states yearly. A Swedish MEP “was beside herself”and warned Kovács to watch his words. “The European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission all say that there are problems with human rights in Hungary. So, then we all lie?” Another MEP called Kovács’s attitude “contemptuous cynicism” and offensive because after all he said that 500 million EU citizens don’t live in a democracy and that the EP commission doesn’t function according to democratic rules. He told Kovács that what’s going on in Hungary at the moment is “the tyranny of the majority.” Kovács was not moved. In his answer he repeated his charges and indicated that as far as the Hungarian government is concerned “the case is closed.” I am quite happy that, finally, some other Europeans are calling a spade a spade when it comes to Hungary. And that they get angry! However, I still don’t have the foggiest why Merkel has to come to Budapest. Perhaps… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

I guess we all know to whom the ‘soap opera’ reference was aimed at.

Istvan
Guest

Zoltán Kovács comments to the EP are similar to those made by the President of the American Hungarian Coalition Maximilian Teleki last month in Washington DC when he said that politicians and governmental bodies are not reliable sources to determine whether or not human or democratic rights are violated in Hungary. Yet no one in the Hungarian American community here in Chicago seems in the least upset by Teleki’s comments with the exception of myself I guess.

my-regime-review
Guest

The Chicago and the New Jersey Hungarians love any neo or classical fascist rulers of Hungary, with a few exceptions.

These people have heard so many terrifying anti-communist tales from the parents and grandparents that orban or horthy or szalasi are all welcome rescuers.

The next good leader will have to cleanse Hungarians from the ugly prejudices to make Hungary a free European country.

The time will come when young and old will honor Gyorgy Konrad instead of Albert Wass. (Huba, forgive me!)

Guest

@my-regime-review
January 22, 2015 at 8:32 pm

Interesting.

Here in Australia people of (non-Jewish) Hungarian background are mostly Hungarian fascists and Nazis – to this day! – former Arrowcross activists (nyilasok), members of the pre-war Hungarian gendarmerie (csendőrség), fascist army officers or Horthy government bureaucrats, their children or grandchildren.

Always avoided them like plague, and I am sure the sentiment is mutual.

petofi
Guest

I just took a gander at Kovacs’ CV.
Past mention of Cambridge (or was it Oxford?) has been excised.
(And who would believe that? I for one thought that, at best, he might have audited a summer course…) So now, what appears are those universities of the highest standards (in the land) Veszprem and Szeged.

Hijjah!
‘Jobban tejesitunk!’

petofi
Guest

@ Mike Balint

“…and I am sure the sentiment is mutual.”

You, you hooked nose parasite…inhabiting the woods and looking for 10 year-old virgins to soil and suck out their blood for you matzah.

(Ain’t the Hungarian imagination a thing of beauty and a joy forever?)

Guest

@petofi
January 22, 2015 at 10:30 pm

Yeah, ain’t it? Describes me to a tee.

petofi
Guest

@Eva

Just an idea: have you done a piece on how that transvestite, former Catholic, became head of a jewish organization?

Zsolt
Guest
Anyone; who is attacking the government who decreased the utility costs are wrong and goes against the 2/3 of Hungary; who in the past year three times elected them! But; seriously… this government, inclusive this speech and the language of the speech and the intention of this speech is perfectly mirroring the mind of Hungarians. Who are not reading but only one type of news, because all others are liar, trust me it was so sad on the street. And, let me “blame” the EU a bit… when EU was founded nobody could expect such politicians who -for an election- would do doublespeech and would use all the small possibilities what is given by the system. I would say it was hardcoded. But the ‘founding fathers’ of EU beleived if they declared the values and common goals of them only those are joining later who has the same values. And, there is no any protection in the system. Whatever Mr. Kovács supports and works for is payed job. I would not like to believe that an educated man of Oxford ( correct? ) would ever believe such stupid things what the FIDESZ does. Even, as I am a “liberal jewish”… Read more »
Dcek
Guest

Politics is a reality show. The voters (watchers) are the Hungarian voters, not Brussles politicians.

Orban or Kovacs don’t want anything to do with Brussels people because the Brussels politicians and bureaucrats just don’t matter, by law they have zero leverage over Orban. This system was designed so so it was already a huge gesture from Kovacs to even travel to Brussels.

So such events are necessarily treated as shows for Hungarian supporters who want to see their boys fighting with them bad Brusselites. Kovacs fought and the Hungarian fideszniks had a field day, at least the fidesznik politicians are still ballsy, the way we like them to be.

petofi
Guest

As I cast my eye over the field of the most recent comments…I see not a few Trolls feeding..

mortdecai
Guest

Love is in the air…(see photo).

These Eastern-Europeans are playing these Western-Europeans like a new Super-miracle piano. I bet Merkel will be all smiles too, which is all that matters.

The Western-European people without fail play their assigned parts in the play, they always show that they adore and respect the dear leader, the Strong Man of Europe. They always do. Orban would be stupid not to take advantage of Western politicians, wouldn’t he?

Orban has defeated these Western Europeans thoroughly. He continues to receive the money which is the sole European thing that matters to Orban (and that he could continue to be able to fight the EU and its clueless politicians), otherwise the EU has just no power over Orban, so the EU’s simply irrelevant to him.

http://444.hu/2015/01/23/orban-brusszelben-3/

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@mortdecai

Is love in the air? Oddly, there was no joint presser after the Juncker-Orbán meeting (during which relations with Russia and Ukraine were discussed).

Guest

Well, Orbán may think to have outmaneuvered the politicians in Brussels – but European and US business people are a different kind. As I’ve written before many/most don’t trust Fidesz with their idea of “a new law/tax every day” and will not invest in Hungary any more. That might be Orbán’s downfall in the long run – in combination with the ongoing brain drain.

I’m in Germany right now and from business people and the bankers that I have contact with I hear only bad things about the current situation and the government in Hungary!

The German media (from the conservative WELT to the leftist SPIEGEL) also have only critical remarks on Hungary right now!

tappanch
Guest

The European anti-fraud office, OLAF has found fraud in the “Heart of Budapest”, EU-supported project in Fidesz faction leader Rogan’s district 5. They have requested further steps from the European Commission and the Hungarian prosecutors.

http://vs.hu/kozelet/osszes/az-eu-csalasellenes-nyomozoi-elmeszeltek-a-budapest-szivet-0123#!s0

tappanch
Guest

The Hungarian Treasury (AKK) has failed to publish its weekly numbers about the gross debt of the Hungarian government since December 23, 2014.

tappanch
Guest

The number of “fostered” workers (közmunkások) peaked around the elections:

2014., in thousands

01: 198.4
02: 200.3
03: 209.1
04: 211.8
05: 98.8
06: 153.6
07: 179.2
08: 195.1
09: 202.3
10: 178.5
11: 165.7

The fostered workers and and an unknown number of people working abroad are used to manipulate the unemployment numbers.

Full-time fostered workers earn around 150 euros a month, much below the official minimum wage.

tappanch
Guest

The 150 euros is their NET wages.

my-regime-review
Guest

We will have to live with genius Hungarian politicians for very long time. They will race to leadership of changing regimes as their relationship to truth is very flexible.

The European Parliament will have many more fun days with them.

tappanch
Guest

@Dear Eva,

Of course, district 5 belonged to Rogan until October 2014.

Nicky
Guest

Re: Kovacs Zoltan, although this interview below (BBC Hardtalk) is three years old, it’s definitely worth watching or listening to:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/hardtalk/9678956.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/hardtalk/9678956.stm

Guest

Eva S. Balogh
January 23, 2015 at 6:34 am

A (non-Jewish) Hungarian in Australia does not need to be a former Arrowcross member, or a descendant of one, to be a viciously antisemitic nutter.

‘Right-winger’ is unfortunately a very mild and misleading way to describe the (non-Jewish) Hungarians and their descendants in Australia.

Among normal, sane Australians right-wing means right-of-center conservatives as represented in Australia mostly by the Liberal Party and the National/Country Party.

In that sense I am a right-winger too, because I vote Liberal.

(For your information: our ‘Liberal’ means exactly the opposite of your ‘Liberal’ in Canada and the States, in that over there, ‘liberal’ means social democratic or even socialist, while over here it means pro-market, pro-free enterprise, pro-capitalist, and its ideology is based in classical liberal principles. No doubt, just to make things interesting ….. after all, we are in the Antipodes here, where pre-Age of Discovery Europeans used to think that everything had to be upside down….

Péntek
Guest

Strohmen after Strohmen. Orban will probably purchase the Honvéd sports club.

The new guy (a kind of new Garancsi) had an interesting career in state administration. Apparently loved by the leftist governments promoted after promotion after promotion, but he was still liked by Fidesz after 2010. That’s when normally even fideszniks were fired in 2010 if they “collaborated” with the leftist governments. And now entrusted with a for Orban very sensitive and personal matter.

http://cink.hu/orban-megelegelte-a-belgat-volt-kormanytage-lehet-az-u-1681324300

Guest

…. and so much the pity.

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