The Hungarian mafia war

As I reread yesterday’s post, I realized that I failed to capture both the tone and the importance of what happened yesterday in Hungary. Many commentators consider the “media war” between Viktor Orbán and Lajos Simicska to be the most serious political crisis of the last twenty-five years, a crisis that may cost Viktor Orbán his political career. I agree. February 6, 2015 was a critically important day.

Simicska’s outburst offered us an opportunity to peek behind the curtain of Viktor Orbán’s regime. What we see there is devastating. Hungary is being governed by a crime syndicate, something outsiders had told us, but until yesterday we had no inside confirmation. Now we know. If you try to leave, if you fall from grace, you can easily imagine that your life might be in danger. The members of this mafia family are immoral and dangerous thieves, ready to do anything. In fact, they are more dangerous than an ordinary mafia family because in their hands is the entire state apparatus–the power of legislation, the judiciary system, the police, the army. As Ildikó Lendvai said on Facebook, “Media war? Oh no, mafia war… War of gangsters broke out.”

Viktor Orbán in nice company Source: Die Welt / Photo Getty

Viktor Orbán among his friends and comrades
Source: Die Welt / Photo Getty

Yesterday I couldn’t quote Simicska’s exchanges with reporters at any length because of all his obscenities, some of which I simply didn’t know how to translate. The Budapest Beacon, however, took up the challenge and translated the interview between Simicska and József Nagy of Hír24 in its entirety. You might want to take a look.

Simicska seems determined to go all the way with his fight. He doesn’t hide the fact that he knows all the dirt behind the rise of the Young Democrats, the crew from the István Bibó College. If he decided to tell all, Viktor Orbán would immediately fall from grace. But can Simicska reveal everything he knows about the old crew–Viktor Orbán, László Kövér, János Áder, József Szájer, just to mention the top leadership that gathered in the second half of the 1980s? Simicska might be terribly upset at the moment, but once he has calmed down he should realize that he cannot reveal the criminal activities in which these men have been involved over the years without implicating himself. He must also have figured out long before he decided on an open attack that his decision will have severe financial consequences. He can say goodbye to his lucrative business ventures, which have been conducted exclusively with the government. Of course, it is possible that Simicska decided that he is rich enough and therefore no longer needs the prime minister’s help. Perhaps he stashed away his billions somewhere outside of Hungary. In any event, Viktor Orbán seems to have the upper hand here because behind him is the power of the state. But we shouldn’t underestimate Simicska, who is an exceedingly capable fellow and a skilled manipulator. Even his former friend Viktor Orbán had to admit that “Lajos is the cleverest among us.”

For the time being the top leaders of Fidesz decided to act as if nothing happened. They made sure that the state television’s evening news buried the “news of the day.” First they talked about the excellent performance of Hungarian industry. This was followed by a story on the government’s efforts to create more jobs. Next they announced that the government decided to have a “national consultation” to determine whether Hungarians want illegal immigrants or not. Only then came the news that the editors of Magyar Nemzet, HírTV, and Lánchíd Rádió had resigned and that Simicska gave several interviews, but what he said was not reported, allegedly because of the obscenities. Not a word about his disapproval of Orbán’s pro-Russian policies or his accusation that Hungary today is building another dictatorship.

In my opinion, those people, including the Fidesz leadership, who think that this whole thing will blow over are wrong. Their argument is that very few people will even hear about the incident. I disagree. Both Origo and HVG have close to a million readers a day, and the news about the Simicska-Orbán affair has been all over the internet. Those who don’t use the internet will hear the story from colleagues at work, from neighbors, or on the streets. Even a right-wing blog, Jobbegyenes (Straight right), argued that Orbán made a mistake in turning against the right-wing media developed and financed by Simicska. Both the Antall government and the first Orbán government tried to rely exclusively on state television and radio but both had to realize that this was not enough. Once Fidesz loses power, it will also lose MTV and MR and then what? It was Simicska who between 2002 and 2010 created the pro-Fidesz media empire that made the 2010 Fidesz victory possible.

I gather from an interview with Sándor Csintalan, who currently works for Lánchíd Rádió, that a certain percentage of Lajos Simicska’s business profits has been turned over to Fidesz for at least the last fifteen years. It was Simicska’s money that kept Fidesz financially comfortable. A great deal of that money, of course, came from the European Union. The EU not only kept the country afloat economically; it also unwittingly poured money into Fidesz coffers. But now, it seems, Viktor Orbán believes he no longer needs Simicska’s financial help, especially if that assistance comes at a price, meaning political influence.

At the moment Simicska is spending a week abroad while his new editors are working hard to reshape the political messages of his television station and Magyar Nemzet. I watched HírTV ‘s newscast last night, and it seemed balanced and factual. In Magyar Nemzet an editorial appeared written by Attila Kristóf entitled “Whose responsibility?” in which he is critical of the Orbán government’s most recent unfortunate decisions. According to him, “some Fidesz politicians have a lifestyle that alienates some Fidesz loyalists.” There is already disappointment, a sentiment that might change into antipathy. Of course, at the moment there is no alternative to Fidesz. The author pessimistically remarks at the end that “we don’t know what kind of future is awaiting us.”

Neither does Lajos Simicska or, for that matter, Viktor Orbán.

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Paul
Guest

This puts Putin’s visit in a whole new light.

He was coming to visit his disciple, the strong man of Hungary, his route into the soft underbelly of Europe. But now he’s coming to see an accident prone politician who appears to have lost his mojo and who now has one of his best friends and greatest supporters very publically coming out in opposition to him.

Not quite what he had in mind.

I am reminded of Hitler’s meeting with Mussolini – he came to pay homage to his idol and mentor, but discovered only a self-deluded, weak minded fool, with nothing to offer him.

Member

Reblogged this on juliusjr.

gdfxx
Guest

I read the Budapest Beacon’s translation of the Simicska interview and their translation is not exactly accurate. The expression in question is translated as f*ck but the accurate translation is the vulgar interpretation of the word spunk. I hate to go into details abut such a topic, but I feel that the following explanation is needed for non-Hungarian speakers: the word f*ck, although quite vulgar, is frequently used in the American English, even by educated people, under certain circumstances. However, the Hungarian equivalent of spunk – in my experience – is only used by lowlifes.

steve397
Guest

When the mafioso starts to fight amongst themselves, the end cannot be far.

Member
Dear Éva: You already wrote many excellent articles and analyses on the corrupt kleptocracy of the Orban regime. I think you already established quite some time ago, that the viktor is a maffia leader and his Government is made up of hardened criminals, thieves and unscroupulous schoolmates and whatnot, dressed in suits and ties to deceive. The outburst of Simicska is an important milestone in the maffia family of Orban, here is one of his capos, who does not want to be demoted and put out to pasture. I am sure that there are many of his other capos who are working feverishly to reduce the damages. The contract is out on Simicska and a few of his loyal followers and partners in crime and viktor, the Godfather is still in control. He’s got the Attorney General, the Police Chief, the Supreme Court and the TEK on his side. No wonder Simicska bolted and left the country. I think most of your readers also knew from the beginning, that the viktor is running a maffia organization, disguised as the Government of Hungary. Unfortunately, the Hungarian people act the same as Sicilians, some benefit, participate in, and protect the Orban maffia,… Read more »
Member

We used the word “geci” in 3rd grade and didn’t even know what it meant. Let’s just say it is one of the most offensive profanities to describe a person.

Friday was a day when we didn’t know if we should laugh or cry. The crying part was, as the post describes it, realizing that life in Hungary depends on a couple old college roomates, beer buddies turned to hard core thugs. Reason doesn’t matter anymore. It’s chilling.

The laughing part is of course the good old eastern european survival instinct. Jokes to cope with that sh*t. The Hungarian internet meme-o-matic went to overdrive. I never had this much fun in one day on Facebook. Even my ardent Fidesz supporter friends could not resist the dirty jokes. Good sign.

Member

Mutt: In the US, obscenities are forbidden in the media, which can be seen, heard or read by children and or people in the daytime. We are not used to the profanities in regular, daily news media and I think that writers, TV reporters and especially the editors are primitive and unprofessional to allow such word being published. Newspapers should not publish pornography.
=====
I am not sure this war is going to be as bad and serious, as Simicska made it look. Orban and Habony planned this for a long time and damage control is in place.

Member

gybognarjr: “Orban and Habony planned this for a long time and damage control is in place”

Based on their current ongoing track record, O & H couldn’t plan their way out of a paper bag…

Member

Stevan: We can try to make our best guesses and in time we may see our errors and successes.

Member

…make that a wet paper bag they’re dreaming of fighting their way out of…

(Consider that my contribution to this weekend’s seminal memetics…)

petofi
Guest

@ S. Harnad

That’s very unfair: I’ve had to look up ‘memetics’ and I still don’t know what it means!
This is the weekend.
I am Hungarian and as dumb as a fart.
Please cease and desist in trying to stretch my mind…

Member

petofi: If you believe in genetic theory, you will not be enthused by the memetic theory, if you believe in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, you will not in Dawkins’ Theory. Dawkins could not explain fully his theory, nor can the transfer of meme can be replicated and observed in controlled condition.
Let’s leave memetic to advertisers and the military, fortunately politicians on the average like o see evidence of success and don’t risk their reelection on memetic engineering – yet.

Article 7
Guest

The one element of power that Viktor doesn’t control is the Hungaroam people and almost the moment they’ve had enough of his criminal activity, he’s a goner. I am guessing that throwing Viktor and his crime syndicate out of office is going to difficult, disruptive at best and perhaps costly, but there really is no other way.

All Simicska has to do is move himself out of Viktor’s reach and use the internet. After all he knows where all the bodies are buried.

Sooner or later Viktor will do that one thing that will allow the EU to act against him.

HiBoM
Guest

Given that Simicska was the one who buried the bodies, I think that is far fetched @article7

Nemigen
Guest

I agree with gdfxx that the term used by Simicska is – although getting more and more popular I’m afraid – is in itself the strongest possible taboo word in everyday Hungarian language (although its power can be increased when used together with similar words) and it does have a distinct lowlife edge, but I hear it more often by educated people too. It also means a person of bad intentions, someone vicious, so in a sense the terms was apt and used properly.

That word is a very serious insult, in fact I have never heard it being used publicly. And it was repeated over and over again by Simicska.

Blikk and Bors, print titles but read altogether over 300,000 people (and used often by the PR people of Orban and Rogan) also carried the story.

I agree that the news must have reached many undecided and even Fidesz leaning people.

Putin wouldn’t tolerate this kind of behavior for sure.

sebt
Guest

Those who don’t use the internet will hear the story from colleagues at work, from neighbors, or on the streets.

Case in point: even a beginner Hungarian speaker like me heard about it. On Friday a colleague came into the room laughing (in that way Mutt accurately described as “jokes to cope with the sh*t) and telling everyone about it. I’m surprised the index.hu server didn’t crash that day, as all it took was a Google of “index Simicska Orbán” and we were all reading it.

Some of the words had never been mentioned in my Hungarian language class, for some reason… 😉

Member

Interesting study on corruption with EU funds in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, if you can get by the rather torturous academic language that has apparently been translated from Hungarian to English. (You also get frequent proofreading errors, a hallmark of the “who cares” attitude that seems to be prevalent in Eastern European academia today.)

http://www.againstcorruption.eu/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/wp39_eufunds_corruptionrisk_cee2.pdf

Member

I’m just a bit hesitant about hailing the beginning of the end for the Orban regime. I’ve long argued that Orban will only leave power in one of two ways: In a pine box, or when he decides it’s time for Gaspar to take over. The news about Simicska makes me modify my analysis only slightly: Orban might now install a marionette like Lazar or Gulyas as prime minister (or in the position of president with expanded powers), but he will still be pulling the strings and reaping the corrupt benefits.

andysomos
Guest
Simicska (see Magyar Narancs Interview) says he turned against Orban when the prime minister outlined his plans for the future and he cut his political friendships with the Orban coterie at that time, that is since after Orbans second term elections in April 2014. Simicskas motivations to turn against Orban may have also had a self-interested fincancial cause but I have a feeling the brewing war between the two came to a head around Feb 5th when he found out the leading editors and decision makers of his own media empire were suddenly abandong ship and taking a new Orban-Fidesz offer to work on the New Media Empire that Orban had announced a week earlier. The new media empire of Orban is likely to consist of a beefed-up TV empire incl new news TV station in the style of Hir and Echo -TV and other print-media papers owned by Simicskas rival Széles Gábor. Besides the editors being torn away from his empire by Orban, the other element that infuriated Simicska was the 5% tax Orban is newly planning to flatly impose a 5% tax on ALL Media Companies gross income (incl. internet news sites) so as to make up for… Read more »
Member

I try to always look on the bright side and thus hope this is the beginning of the end for the Orban mafia in Hungary. The other thing this particular conversation has left me with is a new Hungarian swear word that I had not picked up in over 40 years of marriage to my Hungarian wife. The interesting thing is that it is not a bad word in English. After all, every sperm is sacred.

Member

Andysomos — Your analysis is good. Simicska is not acting out of any altruism to democratic principles.
A couple of question: You say you “tend to believe Simicka’s story of his anger against the diktatorship issue… where I think it must have sunk in that Orban was going overboard on the power grabbing and control features of his future dictatorship.” Why do you think this? The dictatorship never bothered Simicska when he was financing it. I find it hard to believe that Simicska suddenly woke up and saw the destruction that he himself had helped to create.

Second question: Who is Wells?

HiBoM
Guest

Gybognarjr, what you have written is gibberish. Dawkins has no “theory”, he advanced an interesting analogy which is useful in certain circumstances and it has been taken up and developed by others. It is not in conflict with Darwinism because it applies different non-physical phenomena.

Member

HIBOM: If there is enough proof for you that memetics works, it can be consistently and with the same results repeated, I am sure you will find it useful. I still don’t know, how is it related to Simicska Lajos and the Fidesz/KDNP Mafia War, but it does not matter.

Joschi
Guest

Szeles Gabor – a fellow media-owning oligarch, but loyal to Fidesz and to Russia – says that if Lajos Simicska (who is currently out of Hungary on a sleigh vacation) still has brains in his head, then he won’t return to Hungary anytime soon.

http://444.hu/2015/02/08/szeles-gabor-ha-simicskanak-egy-csopp-esze-maradt-akkor-belathato-idon-belul-aligha-fo-g-hazajonni/

Member

MAybe it is time for the opposition (but who are they?) to cut a deal with Simicska. Simicska has enough money to live off of, even if it is cut in half or third. How about names, dates, information in exchange for probation? I think the only things stopping Simicska now is the possibility of implicating himself and going to jail. Spare him form jail, let him keep most of his money, put everyone else in jail and confiscate everyone else’s dirty holding and money. It is a win-win, but for the Orban mafia.

cheshire cat
Guest
Admittedly, I haven’t lived in Hungary for one and a half decades, but “geci” in my experience is used almost exclusively by men, talking among men, talking about men and wanting to be really mean. Educated men or university students would wisper it if there were women around, or cough over it. Definitely much much worse than “fck” in English. To use it the way Simicska did, you’d have to be very low-class AND absolutely furious. Stemcellres, I have been with my English husband for 18 years, and he didn’t know it – we must be fine ladies, your wife and I … On the whole I’m quite a pessimist and tend to agree with Paul. Not much is going to change, especially if Simicska moves abroad to escape Orban’s prosecution. But Orban’s end has begun some time in the summer when he started to make one unusually stupid mistake after the other. Guessing the reasons it could be: exhaustion, running out of money and struggling between the Russians and NATO / EU. I don’t think he has any plans or strategies any more, he is improvizing 2-3 days ahead, just going with the flow. Some people say he might… Read more »
manci
Guest

Do we know for sure when and from which university Lajos Simicska graduated?

His wikipedia page doesn’t say anything on where he actually went, only that he lived at Bibo college (instead of Rajk which was for he közgáz people) which was part of ELTE (which at that time did not teach economics or business).

There are some references to him as dr. Lajos Simicska, like – in wikipedia – the Közgép official statement that he was the real beneficiary owner of Közgép which would indicate a law school doctorate rather than the phd or its predecessor the so-called ‘kisdoktori’ (the kind of thesis ex-president Pal Schmitt also wrote).

Bayer Zsolt wrote this in 1994 referring to him as dr. Simicska.

http://nol.hu/archivum/archiv-58249-42371

It’s a bit unclear to me.

Ron
Guest

Some1;”MAybe it is time for the opposition (but who are they?) to cut a deal with Simicska. Simicska has enough money to live off of, even if it is cut in half or third.”

The opposition is non-existent, the prosecution is in the the hands of a Fidesz person (Peter Polt). Btw the judges are controlled by another Fidesz person (Tünde Handó). The police, army and secret service are controlled by Fidesz.

Perhaps Simicska should ask political asylum in the USA or Canada, and then cut a deal with these countries.

Istvan
Guest
I think that this statement by Lajos Simicska quoted by Eva in a post reflects a deep sentiment among American Hungarians, that quote was: “No, I don’t like it (Orban’s pro-Russian stance) 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.” In the last issue of the Hungarian Review which is published by the American Hungarian Coalition (AHA) there is an essay by Géza Jeszenszky titled “Central Europe in the New World Disorder,” that denies Orban actually has a pro-Russian position which even Simicska now acknowledges. The essay states Hungary ended 2014 after three democratic elections with a “virtual festival of unstrained anti-government protests,” the country has fulfilled its obligations to NATO and the EU. The essay argues that Russia has overreached itself and is proving to be less of a power and less of a threat than it seemed, that Orban has adopted a “perfectly sensible economic outreach to the East” that is not the same thing as a… Read more »
Analog
Guest
If ever there was a peak of cynicism and lies then this must be it. The Zug, Switzerland based MET AG, the enigmatic “energy trader” close to Viktor Orban’s ‘friends’ made an interesting corporate video. As a reminder, MET was purposefully set up to syphon off about EUR 250m per annum (and it has been doing it for 4 years, so it’s 1bn and counting) from Hungarian taxpayers through a specially created legal loophole, a kind of special state license to make money. MET is the usual energy business middleman that is totally unnecessary that has been used by Russian energy oligarchs since time immemorial (Itera etc.) and now by a young generation of Hungarians with ties to the security services and eventually to Orban himelf. Benjamin Lakatos, the CEO and the main shareholder is a widely considered to be a strohman for Zsolt Hernádi, CEO of MOL, who does MET as a side business, but can Hernadi keep the profits which fall on his/Lakatos’ share? Of course with so much money now MET can trade on its own account and start to do real business like purchasing energy assets to be sold by Western investors which are leaving Hungary,… Read more »
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