As if Buda-Cash, Hungária, and Quaestor weren’t enough, we have a new financial scandal, this time in Karcag, a small town half way between Szolnok and Debrecen. Right now it’s is hard to know how many billions of forints disappeared after Mrs. Sándor Dobrai, the co-owner of Kun-Mediátor, a travel agency, together with her daughters and grandchildren, packed up and left Hungary in a great hurry. The woman was a “highly esteemed” member of Karcag society, the mayor of the town said after the scandal broke. The town’s political leadership, with whom she had excellent relations, had no idea that for years she had been acting as a quasi-broker for perhaps as many as one thousand people in town, promising them a 20% annual return on their investments.
Here I will not dwell on the shady business of Marcsi, as she was known to the locals. I am more interested in those small towns where nothing can happen without the approval of Fidesz. Karcag is prototypical of the settlements I have in mind.
Karcag has been in Fidesz hands since 1990. In that year Sándor Fazekas, a 27-year-old lawyer and brand new member of the then still liberal Fidesz, became the mayor of the town. Fazekas must have done something right because he remained in his post until 2010. In 2006, when he last ran as a candidate for mayor, he received almost 80% of the votes. He also became a member of parliament that year.
Everything revolves around Fidesz in Karcag, where the party’s only apparent opposition these days is Jobbik, whose candidate, an elderly gentleman, received 22.69% of the votes. This is a fairly new development. Four years earlier Jobbik had no mayoral candidate, and MSZP’s man received 20% of the votes. Last year the parties of the democratic opposition didn’t even bother entering the race. The lone “independent” candidate received 9.83%.
When Fidesz won the national election in 2010, Fazekas became minister of agriculture even though, according to Zoltán Gőgös, MSZP’s agricultural expert, he “cannot distinguish the front from the back of a cow.” Indeed, his performance has been spotty at best, and his questionable dealings with Russia via Szilárd Kiss brought calls for his resignation.
In addition to Fazekas, there is another “distinguished” son of the town–Mihály Varga, minister of national economy. The anomaly in this group of high level Karcag politicians is Ágnes Vadai, formerly of MSZP and now deputy chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Vadai has not lived in Karcag since the age of 14, but she knows the situation in town well because her parents still live there. As she mentioned in one of her interviews, Karcag is so imbued with Fidesz ideology and a hatred of the “communists” that when she tried to buy red carnations at the flower shop she was told that they don’t stock the flower because it is part of MSZP’s logo. According to her, in Karcag everybody knows everything about everybody else, and therefore she finds it impossible to believe that the Fidesz city fathers knew nothing about the booming business of Mrs. Dobrai, especially since her relationship with town hall was close. Kun-Mediátor also owned a one-person television station that broadcast a two-hour program every evening, dealing mostly with local events. Fazekas as well as Varga appeared as guests on Mediátor TV several times in the past.
Of course, this proves nothing. It certainly doesn’t indicate that local Fidesz politicians were in any way involved in Mrs. Dobrai’s scheme. But then why does Mihály Varga feel compelled to write a Facebook note saying that “it is a well-known fact that during the 2002 and 2006 election campaign Ágnes Vadai received considerable help from the business group which also owns Kun-Mediátor”? Launching countercharges against political opponents is a typical Fidesz tactic, which I consider unfortunate because it calls, perhaps unwittingly, attention to their own possible culpability. The reaction from a commenter was that “in Karcag one cannot even go to the toilet without Fidesz’s permission,” and he accused the local Fidesz leadership of being involved in the illegal financial hoax. He mysteriously added: “ARE YOU PERHAPS AFRAID OF TALKING ABOUT ÉPKART?”
It was in 2011 that Tibor Szanyi called attention to a Karcag firm called Épkart Zrt., which was given preferential treatment when EU grants were handed out. The game was the same as that which the European Commission complained about the other day. The demands of the tender were such that only one company was eligible to apply and win it. Since then, Épkart has received numerous large jobs and the company has moved its headquarters from Karcag to Budapest. Last August the company even received an award from Sándor Fazekas for its excellent job in restoring the Grassalkovich Castle in Hatvan. Clearly, Fazekas, as the mayor of the small town for twenty years, and the owner of Épkart must be old acquaintances if not friends. Népszabadság learned a few days ago that Kun-Mediátor Kft., which also moved to Budapest, just happened to have the same address as Épkart Zrt. Moreover, it turned out that Épkart has been renting a building in Karcag to the two daughters of Mrs. Dobrai ever since 2013. Otherwise, Épkart denies any business dealings with Kun-Mediátor.
I’m certain that most people in Budapest and the few larger cities in Hungary have absolutely no idea of what’s going on in towns the size of Karcag. Just recently I read an article by Tamás Bod, the sole representative of the united opposition on the town council of Gyula, a town 90 km away from Karcag, close to the Romanian-Hungarian border. The mayor of Gyula received 67% of the votes. Out of the 14 members of the council eight are Fidesz, two represent a local group but usually vote with Fidesz, one is a member of Jobbik, and then there’s Tamás Bod. Bod used to be a newspaperman and was considered to be an enemy by the local Fidesz leadership even before he decided to enter local politics. For example, he was forbidden access to Fidesz events even in those days.
After he entered the race he was called “the shame of Gyula” and a “failed journalist” who was now trying to make a living as a politician. (By the way, he gets 48,000 forints a month for serving on the council.) They had a policeman “interrogate” him about a fist fight he allegedly caused miles away and used it as a photo op. He got a seat on the council from the compensation list. He is allowed to speak at council meetings for five minutes only, while the Fidesz members answer with 15- to 20-minute speeches. The local paper refused to let him answer an article by the editor-in-chief which reminded Bod “of the 1950s.” When he asked for remedy from a member of the board of directors, a literary historian, he was told that board members can deal only with financial matters, which Bod found strange since all three members of the board have a literary background. He is totally helpless, and the only thing he can say under the circumstances is “I hope I disturb you.”
If you take a look at the local paper, the Gyulai Hírlap, you will see that Tamás Bod is really trying, but in this town very few people would ever join Bod’s demonstration against Fidesz corruption.
At least in Karcag no one disturbs the work of the council as Bod does in Gyula. Fidesz and Jobbik members decide all matters. In Karcag the few people who don’t agree with the policies of the Orbán government must either hide their anti-government sentiments or pretend that they are a faithful followers of the party. It will be very difficult to break the stranglehold of Fidesz rule in these smaller towns where Fidesz functionaries have been in power for a decade or more.