One doesn’t need a lot of imagination to picture the behind-the-scenes personal rivalries among government and party officials even in the best of circumstances. But lately, when the whole carefully built edifice is crumbling, these rivalries are accompanied by fear. A commentator recently called the panic that must have gripped the whole corrupt lot of Fidesz politicians “dread.”
Viktor Orbán is still the prime minister of Hungary, but he has been greatly weakened by the events of the last five months. While earlier no high official would ever dare to criticize him, today János Lázár, the chief contender for the job, openly faults the prime minister for certain decisions. The same is true about one of Orbán’s oldest friends, László Kövér, who made some critical remarks about the people with whom the prime minister surrounds himself nowadays. The mess that Orbán created in the wake of the collapse of the Quaestor Group must have strengthened dissatisfaction with his leadership within the party. In turn, it seems, Orbán’s paranoia, which is part of his psychological makeup anyway, has grown to such an extent that apparently members of his “personal army,” the Terrorelhárítási Központ or TEK, are instructed to report to him on his closest associates and friends.
TEK, the Anti-Terrorism Center, was created in 2010, a few months after Viktor Orbán became prime minister. In addition to combating terrorism that is, thankfully, not really a threat in Hungary, the TEK super-policemen were supposed to be responsible for the protection of President János Áder, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and László Kövér, president of the parliament. TEK is very generously endowed, and the members of this elite force get much higher pay than ordinary policemen. The protection they afford the top officials is extensive. The detail that was supposed to protect President János Áder had 80 members. Anyone who’s interested in TEK should take a look at an older post, “A brief history of the Hungarian anti-terrorist center.”
It looks, however, as if neither László Kövér nor János Áder wants members of TEK snooping around them. Kövér handled the situation by creating a separate guard for the protection of the parliament (Országgyűlési Őrség) that would also take care of his and his family’s personal safety. Now, as of April 1, János Áder decided that he had enough of Orbán’s spies following him everywhere, especially after he realized that his old friend Viktor Orbán knew about some of his meetings that were not on his official schedule. Áder has every reason to be worried because, as Kim Lane Scheppele remarked in one of her articles that appeared in Paul Krugman’s blog in The New York Times, “TEK has amassed truly Orwellian powers, including virtually unlimited powers of secret surveillance and secret data collection.” That includes secret wiretapping. So, if Áder suspects Orbán using TEK as a vehicle to spy on him, he can’t even be sure that his telephone calls are not monitored.
According to information received by Vasárnapi Hírek, Áder has for some time been trying to get rid of TEK. A few months ago he suggested setting up a separate unit to look after his safety, but that idea was apparently vetoed by Viktor Orbán. Áder didn’t give up, however, and eventually he managed to get rid of TEK by settling for members of the ordinary police force who were trained for the job. This couldn’t have been easy because the law that established TEK had to be changed in order to accommodate the new situation. The change also affected the status of the men who had been assigned to the president. The question was what to do with the extra men who, if dismissed from TEK, would have to return to the ordinary police force with considerably less pay. The problem was solved. From here on they will be responsible for the security of Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor.
Naturally, the head of TEK denies that it was at the request of Áder that the change was made. He insists that the decision was based solely on professional considerations. But the president must have serious issues with the work of TEK. The deputy director of TEK was supposed to be promoted to brigadier-general on March 15, but Áder vetoed the government’s decision.
Áder is loyal to the government, but here and there he shows dissatisfaction with some of the legislation sent to him for his signature. In such cases, he sends the legislation back to parliament for reconsideration. And most of the time the Fidesz parliamentary majority blithely ignores his objections. As Népszava says, “They consider him a puppet. A temporary solution. His humiliation must be intensified when stories circulate from time to time that Viktor Orbán will soon move to the place he now occupies.”
According to rumor, by now Viktor Orbán is so paranoid that about a third of TEK’s job is to spy on the prime minister’s associates whom he considers to be “dangerous.” TEK has, it seems, become Viktor Orbán’s personal spy network used against his alleged enemies. This development, according to Népszava‘s information, created dissatisfaction within TEK. They are so overworked that they often purposely “lose” the subjects they are supposed to track because they find the job demeaning.
No one is willing to speak on record about TEK’s real job, but if the rumors are true, this is “a greater scandal than [Lajos] Simicska’s outburst on ‘black Friday’ because the rupture within Fidesz is much deeper and more widespread than we have suspected.” Viktor Orbán, it should be noted, would be acting within the law in setting up a personal spy network. TEK has such wide powers that it is perfectly legal for the prime minister to use TEK to observe his closest associates, members of parliament, even his neighbors anytime he thinks they are plotting against him.
Although rumors about the real reason for Áder’s change of his secret service unit have been circulating for at least two weeks, the president has not contradicted them, which lends credence to the story. I don’t know whether to be outraged, hopeful, or both.