A different kind of media war: Lajos Simicska versus Viktor Orbán

What a day! A shakeup–no, an earthquake–at Magyar Nemzet, Magyar Nemzet Online, HírTV, and Lánchíd Rádió, all part of Lajos Simicska’s media empire.

For those who have been following Hungarian politics over the last few years Lajos Simicska needs no introduction. He was the favorite oligarch of the Hungarian prime minister. His companies won about 40% of all government contracts financed by the European Union. What fewer Hungarians remember about him is that in the early 1990s it was Lajos Simicska who saved Fidesz from financial collapse. As Zsolt Bayer, a friend of both Simicska and Orbán, admitted, “without [Simicska] there would be no Fidesz today.”

This is not the place to go into all the gory details of this financial rescue operation. Suffice it to say that the young democrats received a piece of property from the Hungarian state for a party headquarters, which they subsequently sold. They invested the proceeds in all sorts of business ventures that failed, one after the other, leaving behind millions in company debt and unpaid value added taxes. It was Simicska and a lawyer friend of his, Csaba Schlecht, who came up with the master plan. They “sold” the failed companies to bogus individuals who couldn’t be traced. Among them were homeless people who for a few forints agreed to go to a notary and sign anything that was put in front of them. Two of these people became especially infamous. Simicska and Schlecht got hold of the passports of a Turkish guest worker in Germany, Ibrahim Kaya or, as he is known in Hungary, Kaya Ibrahim, and a Croat named Josip Tot. The scandal broke during the first Orbán government, and naturally the police made no serious effort to find the culprits. One could say that Fidesz was born in sin.

For the better part of a year rumor had it that the relationship between Orbán and Simicska had soured. All sorts of hypotheses were put forth about the reason for their fallout. The most prevalent was that Orbán no longer wants to be beholden to one person and would like to widen the financial circle around Fidesz. Soon enough there were signs of Orbán’s efforts to loosen the ties with Simicska, and of Simicska’s response. By last fall a number of journalists who were absolutely devoted to Viktor Orbán were sacked at Magyar Nemzet. In early January we learned that Orbán no longer wants to help the Simicska media empire with advertisements by state companies. These media outlets have to stand on their own feet; he will throw his financial support behind the state television and radio. It was clear that something was brewing, but what really brought matters to a head was the announcement yesterday that the Hungarian government will substantially lower the advertisement tax on RTL Klub and, instead, every media outlet, even the smallest ones, will have to pay a 5% tax on their advertising revenues. That was the last straw for Simicska, who went on a rampage today.

Source: Magyar Narancs / Photo: Dániel Németh

Source: Magyar Narancs Photo: Dániel Németh

First, Simicska got in touch with Népszava last night and told the social democratic paper that “the media war will most likely become total” from here on. He told them that he considers the government’s proposed tax on advertisements “the latest attack against democracy.” In an interview with Origo he claimed that it is not money that is his first consideration, but “what will happen if one day Viktor Orbán scratches his head and decides that he will double the tax?” In brief, he is complaining about the same thing the German businessmen did to Angela Merkel.

When Simicska really lost his cool was early afternoon after he learned from his own paper, Magyar Nemzet, that Gábor Liszkay, editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet and CEO of HírTV; Ottó Gajdics, editor-in-chief of Lánchíd Rádió; Gábor Élő, editor of Magyar Nemzet On Line; Péter Szikszai, deputy CEO of HírTV; Péter Csermely, deputy editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet; and Szabolcs Szerető, deputy editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet, had resigned. Their conscience, they said, does not allow them to work for a paper not in the service of Viktor Orbán.

Well, at that point Simicska went berserk. The man who in the last twenty years hardly ever appeared in public and who never gave an interview suddenly gave interviews to everybody who phoned him. He answered the phone himself and, in response to questions, spewed an array of four-letter words. First he talked to József Nagy of Hír24 and allowed him to publish their recorded conversation. He accused Viktor Orbán, whom he repeatedly called “a prick,” of being behind the resignation of his top management. He also talked about a war between two men, one of whom will fall and that fall can be “physical,” which may mean death, but he is ready even for that. “They can kill me! They can shoot me or there will be a hit-and-run accident.” From an interview with Origo we learned that Simicska and Orbán haven’t talked to each other since last April.

Perhaps the most revealing interview with Simicska was conducted by Magyar Narancs. Here he insisted that he “maximally disapproves of the government media policy” which in another interview he explained involves dividing media outlets into three categories: those who are absolutely loyal to Viktor Orbán and the government; those who here and there are critical; and the enemies. Of these three Orbán can tolerate only the absolute loyal ones and will systematically eliminate all the others.

Apparently Simicska doesn’t like Viktor Orbán’s pro-Russian foreign policy either. And let me quote him verbatim on the topic. “No, I don’t like it at all. I grew up at the time when the Soviet Union was still here and I don’t have pleasant memories of the activities of the Russians in Hungary. I can’t really see any difference between the behavior of the former Soviets and the political behavior of today’s Russians.”

At this point the interviewing journalist interrupted and reminded Simicska that, according to rumors, his disagreement with Orbán has more to do with business than anything else. For example, he was left out of very profitable business transactions connected to Russian natural gas. But Simicska insisted that “there are more important things in life than money.” He and Orbán initially got together “to dismantle a dictatorship and the post-communist regime. It turned out that this is not an easy task. One must work at it. But I did not join Orbán to build another dictatorship to replace the old one. I’m no partner in such an enterprise.”

After the journalist reminded him that he and Orbán have been close friends for thirty-give years and therefore it must be hard to part in this way, Simicska said, “I must admit that it is a great disappointment. I thought he was a statesman, but I had to come to the conclusion that he is not.”

Simicska didn’t have much time to waste. As he said, Magyar Nemzet must be published tomorrow and he has to appoint a completely new top management. Moreover, Gábor Liszkay, editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet and CEO of HírTV, was a shareholder in these companies. Simicska had to buy him out. Within a couple of hours the deal was completed. Simicska apparently paid Liszkay 100 million forints or “thereabouts.” Gábor D. Horváth, the only top journalist who didn’t quit, became the editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet, and Simicska himself took on the role of CEO of HírTV. And who became the editor-in-chief of Lánchíd Rádió? You won’t believe it. The same old Csaba Schlecht who managed to “sell” the bankrupt Fidesz companies to Ibrahim Kaya and Josip Tot.

I’m looking forward to seeing the articles published in the “new” Magyar Nemzet tomorrow and the days after. Will the pro-Russian and anti-American articles still appear, or will there be a noticeable change in the coverage of Hungary’s relations with Russia, the European Union, and the United States? If yes, then Simicska’s claim to having serious disagreements with Viktor Orbán’s foreign policy can be taken seriously. Otherwise, it is just a lot of hot air.

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kave
Guest

May I offer a haiku on this occasion?

“Orban is geci”
Works in English or Magyar
Schadenfreude complete.

tappanch
Guest

Fidesz MEP Deutsch, as Orban’s internet commissioner, is waiting for ideas from people about what kind of things the Hungarian government should restrict on the internet !

https://www.internetkon.hu/internet-szabadsaga/

Istvan
Guest

Lajos Simicska could end up like Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky did in Russia when Putin put him in jail. Possibly Simicska and Khodorkovsky can have coffee together in Switzerland once this is all over. I am sure like Khodorkovsky that Simicska has fully loaded Swiss bank accounts. It was really fun to listen to the recording of Simicska ranting about OV, thanks for the link.

Live long and prosper
Guest

I wonder what Viktor is doing tonight?
What merriment is Viktor pursuing tonight?
The candles at his house, they never burned so bright,
I wonder what old Viktor is up to tonight?
(With apologies to the songwriters of the 1968 film ‘Camelot’)

tappanch
Guest

The new management of the Hungarian Treasury has published their first data about the gross government debt, after a 5-week blackout.

2014-12-31: 23,881.1 billion
2015-01-30: 24,735.3 billion, a juicy 3.58% increase in a single month.

(Of course, the December 31 number was artificially lowered by technical tricks)

http://akk.hu/object.66000632-c26c-465c-b259-d5a7f09e7dee.ivy

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@tappanch And the website’s name is a delight to French ears.

tappanch
Guest

y/y change of the January gross government debt: +8.28%

tappanch
Guest

@Marcel Dé

The spelling is different, n’est-ce pas? I do not think straight French women like the word…

tappanch
Guest

What I fail to comprehend in the y/y debt numbers is this:

On the one hand,

Growth of the net debt > growth of the gross debt > 8%

On the other hand,

Reported deficit to the EU < 3%

This is a bit of a contradiction, isn't it?

tappanch
Guest

… regarding the fact that the GDP did NOT grow by 5.4%

Paul
Guest

An earthquake indeed! Who’d have thought Orbán could be this careless?

Paul
Guest

OT – BBC report (our old friend Thorpe) on Kosovo illegal immigrants crossing Hungary:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-eu-31154596

tappanch
Guest

Simicska’s Magyar Nemzet under brand new direction quotes Rasmussen about a possible Russian attack on a Baltic country.

http://mno.hu/kulfold/balti-allam-elleni-orosz-tamadastol-tart-rasmussen-1271692

On the other hand, the articles about domestic politics continue to support the Fidesz party.

http://mno.hu/belfold/regi-bun-hosszu-arnyek-1271698
http://mno.hu/belfold/lazar-a-gyerekek-90-szazaleka-ingyenes-etkezest-kap-majd-1271688

tappanch
Guest

@Istvan

Khodorkovsky is Jewish, so it was not difficult to put him in jail. Simicska is not (although I already saw comments today that made him an “honorary” Jew to be eliminated)

Nagy Pista
Guest

It is not Orbán – and his henchmen – that Simicska has to worry about, but the Russians. If Simicska kicks the bucket of fecal material which is the dealings of Orbán and the Fidesz in the last 25+ years, and because of it Orbán ends up out of power, Putin will lose his puppet inside the NATO and the in EU.

I would be very hesitant to get on the same plane with Simicska when he leaves for a week of well deserved vacation.

Member

SQUALOR AMONG THIEVES

What is striking is what low-lifes both Orban and his foes (and former school buddies) like Simicska really are. And they are dragging the whole country down with them — enough of the populace along for the ride willingly to furnish Orban with an on-paper 2/3 majority twice in a row, enough to make a shambles of the Constitution and the rule of law. It is embarrassing. It is sinister. And how much worse will it have to get before the populace finally decides to rid itself of the whole shameful lot?

petofi
Guest

Wow. I didn’t know that if you scratch a billionaire you’ll find a democrat.

gdfxx
Guest

The interview with Hir24 just confirms what was said many times on this blog: this whole group is a gang of the worst kind. The language Simicska is using is probably worse than what one could hear in any Mafia movie. And I guess he was until recently an insider. So this is the level of this “leadership”, now it is in the open. If they are reelected into a majority ever again, I would say that petofi – not Sandor, but the one in this group of commenters – is right (as much as I would hate to admit it).

petofi
Guest

@gdfxx

I would trade all the brownie points of ‘being right’ for the opportunity to live in a country led
by decent, law-abiding men under the rule of law.

Guest

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leviathan_%282014_film%29

The Russian film Leviathan is a master piece that everybody ought to see. Among other things it demonstrates the horrendous foul language used within a corrupt mafia. Although the film was released in 2014 it was first shown in Russia two days ago, and all the bad words were, according to Russian law, muted out. They could only be enjoyed by those who can read lips. Not so with Simicska’s recent interviews.

Peter
Guest

@tappanch: I submitted a question to the Deutsch consultation:

“Do you support that the ban on Sunday opening in the retail sector be withdrawn?”

akarki
Guest

Magyar Nemzet has been pro-Russian, anti-US and anti-EU for well over a decade, perhaps for longer. It’s not just the readers who expect this line, but the entire staff is like that, they can’t change overnight. I agree that we have to wait and see if something substantial happens or not. By the way Metropol and ClassFM are more important that these media and also Heti Valasz is Simicska’ and Andras Stumpf a youngish pro-Orban pundit also left to Mandiner yesterday (he of course attributed his sudden leave to other factors, but nobody believes those).

I guess Szazadveg is busy conducting polls now to find out whether Orban is expected to act by the voters to solve this challenge to his authority. Probably only a few people even heard about this incident.

The Magyar Narancs journalist also wrote on his blog that he had the feeling after the long interview that Simikcska was deeply afraid (retteg).

petofi
Guest

“Simikcska was deeply afraid (retteg).”

Even the criminals are afraid.

Time to read up on Kafka…

buddy
Guest
I’m of the opinion that there’s a good chance this whole thing will blow over really quickly, and Simicska’s comments about getting shot or hit by a car or whatever will turn out to be vastly overblown. I think Simicska’s most revealing comment was in his mini-interview with Népszabadság, when he said, “today I call him a prick. I might not tomorrow, because I’m angry [now].” That suggests to me that the whole point of causing a big ruckus was just to insult Orbán in the most demeaning way possible and make sure it gets printed and read by a large number of people. Notice how many times Simicska told journalists to take down his exact wording. Do not underestimate the enormous satisfaction you can get by calling our extremely-vain prime minister a “prick” in the media and get away with it. As my wife put it, “No one could have said that in the media about Rákosi,” which is prima facie evidence to everyone that Orbán is not as omnipotent as he would like to believe he is. One of the memes I saw yesterday was a billboard that said “Hungary’s Prime Minister” and showed Simicska’s face, which I… Read more »
Live long and prosper
Guest

@buddy: that’s not the way I see it at all – SL is a powerful businessman who became completely exasperated with OV’s way of ruining this country. As he said himself, he is no longer motivated by money (he has plenty). I believe he is sincere when he says only one of them can survive. And if anyone has the necessary dirt to bring down this government, it’s him. I’m hoping this will result in the end of VO’s power trip. It’s the most important political event of the last 8+ years. If VO survives this, I fear nothing will stop him. He would be more confident, and therefore deranged, than ever. For all who hope for an end to VO, this may have been the pivotal moment.

petofi
Guest

@ Live long and prosper

“For all who hope for an end to VO…”

Get a grip on yourself: for uppity challengers, Viktor probably has a polonium
sandwich or two…

Webber
Guest

I enjoyed Hír t.v. last night. The news readers, who spent the past few years lying with smiles on their faces, looked like they were in shock. There were even a few comments critical of government. I may even start buying Magyar Nemzet again.

There’s another aspect of all this related to that other media empire owned by Gábor Széles and containing Echo T.V. and Magyar Hírlap. Széles just gave an interview very critical of Simicska. Széles’s media has always been much, much farther to the right, and also more pro-Putin than Simicska’s ever was.

So I wonder – could all this be taken as yet another sign that Orbán really is going to fully embrace Putin and dump the West? I’m truly asking, because we’re all stuck now in the arcane, misty world of Kremlinology, or Orbanology.

Live long and prosper
Guest

@petofi: you seriously think he would resort to murder? I really hope you are wrong that things have reached that stage. But even if he did, it would also seal his fate – who would believe any denial in case of the unexpected death of SL? I think his play may have entered the final act. ….Unless he cancels the next election….

Live long and prosper
Guest

I highly recommend this Frontline documentary about Putin and his mafia state. Just under an hour long. Fascinating and, of course, worrisome for those of us who live in the states which Putin regrets losing control over. http://video.pbs.org/video/2365401766/

Ron
Guest

Shit happens. And this with Simicska is only now. I am sure he has some dirt on Fidesz and VO and they on him. So I do not expect major changes.

However, what worries me is why the opposition is soooo quiet, and when do they start to unite??

Fidesz rules, and I am afraid this will continue for a while, unless the opposition start working together.

Dijana Erakovic
Guest

It is interesting in Hungary as always. Thank you, Eva! 🙂

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