Corruption at the highest level? It looks that way

Eleni Kounalakis’s book on her tenure as U.S. ambassador in Budapest has prompted quite an uproar in Hungary. I have already spent three posts on her book. Here I simply want to call attention to the couple of sentences that caused the opposition to cry foul.

Kounalakis, discussing the Orbán government’s preferential treatment of Hungarian companies, relates the following story:

Minister of National Development Lászlóné Németh told me that every week she sat down with Orbán, looked over the list of public works projects, and decided which ones to prioritize and which bids to accept. “If a Hungarian company’s bid is competitive with one from an Austrian or German company, then yes, they will win,” she explained. “Why should German companies be building Hungarian roads? And if Közgép is the only Hungarian company that can do it, why shouldn’t they continue to win the bids?”

As Kounalakis rightly points out, Hungary’s EU membership requires it to treat all EU-based companies the same as its own. “Rather than creating a transparent and predictable business environment that would allow Hungarian companies to rise up through open competition, Prime Minister Orbán appeared to be closing competition to all but a few companies, whose success he sanctioned.” (p. 253)

Mrs. László Németh and Viktor Orbán after her swearing in ceremony as minister for national development

Mrs. László Németh and Viktor Orbán after her swearing-in ceremony

This information was a political flashpoint. Leaders of the Demokratikus Koalíció were incensed, and Együtt threatened to sue Viktor Orbán himself. On May 17th, Orbán was asked by a reporter whether it was true that every week he sat down with the minister of national development to discuss the fate of certain large projects. Orbán didn’t deny it. In fact, he claimed that this was the legal and proper way of handling such matters. As Népszabadság concluded, “even today it is the government that decides which projects should win.”

Well, this sounded pretty bad. And so Fidesz issued a statement accusing Ferenc Gyurcsány’s government of corruption, adding that DK should be the last party to say anything about the current government’s misdeeds. Soon enough several government officials also decided to comment on the case, trying to save face. Mrs. Németh naturally claimed that Eleni Kounalakis misunderstood her. She and the prime minister didn’t discuss who should win. Rather, these conversations were about priorities, about ranking projects according to their importance.

The “Kounalakis affair” was even a topic at the Wednesday cabinet meeting. Defense is usually not enough for the Orbán government. Viktor Orbán and his cabinet members believe that the best defense is a good offense, and therefore János Lázár accused the former ambassador of publishing the book for the purpose of “earning a little extra money.” At that point I almost fell off my chair laughing. Lázár doesn’t seem to have the foggiest idea about AKT Development and the immense wealth of the Tsakopoulos family.

DK plans to get in touch with Eleni Kounalakis and will also turn to the European Commission’s European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). DK’s argument goes something along the following lines. Before the book was released the State Department went through the book carefully and didn’t object to the inclusion of such sensitive information as Viktor Orbán’s personal decisions about projects financed by the European Union. That this piece of information remained in the book is not surprising given the U.S. government’s concern over corruption in Hungary.

We don’t know whether Mrs. Németh and Eleni Kounalakis were alone when this conversation took place, but given the diplomatic protocol the former ambassador describes in detail in her book it is unlikely. Therefore, this indiscretion of Mrs. Németh is most likely known by others from the U.S. Embassy staff. Moreover, after every such meeting copious notes are taken, which are immediately sent to Washington. The only question is whether the State Department wants to get involved in this case. I somehow doubt it. And even if they did, it would still be almost impossible to prove what everybody suspects–that it is Viktor Orbán himself who determines the fate of bids for practically all government projects. Let’s put it this way: if you’re close to the prime minister, you win a disproportionate number of bids. Just witness the success of Orbán’s son-in-law and Lőrinc Mészáros, the mayor of Felcsút, who is sometimes described as the prime minister’s front man.

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István
Guest

It took almost three weeks for Fidesz to figure out what was in the Amabassador’s book. Really not too impressive, she actually went further than the comments being cited and made generalized statements about how the economy was rigged. Did Fidesz miss those passages?

Webber
Guest

They didn’t miss those passages, they just didn’t understand what could possibly be objectionable about the practice and were a little surprised to discover that it might actually be illegal. They think the “right” people are winning tenders in this manner, and they are just “creating a right-wing elite.” (this was one of Orban’s promises from 1998 – to replace the leftist elite with a right-wing one, meaning “now we’ll embezzle to the right”). Also, they adore the idea of Orban making decisions in this manner – to them, he is like a “good king,” beyond criticism because anointed by God through the election.
In their bizarre world, even if this is illegal, it is highly moral.

Member
Vox Populi Hungary’s (yes,not just Orban’s, not just Fidesz’s, not just Jobbik’s, but Hungary’s) permanent and (literally) ineradicable historic shame (piled onto the other shames it has been trying so hard to deny and erase) will be that even now — when the handwriting is not only all over the wall but all over the Internet, the press, the entire planet — enough Hungarians are still colluding in the Big Lie instead of facing the music. Of course, they are facing the material and financial music, whether they like it or not, whether they deny it or not. But the music I mean is the sound of the words: “Yes, we were duped: We were lied to and stolen-from (those of us not actually doing the stealing) by Orban and his cronies, and until now we have said and done nothing about it. Many of us knew it, but still we said and did nothing. Some out of fear, some out of dishonesty, some out of what now looks mortifyingly like an attempt to save face and salvage national pride — but it’s now evident that the effect of all that fellow-travelling with the corrupt leadership we supported (or did… Read more »
Ron
Guest

Stevan: Although I agree with your comment in general, I disagree with putting the blame entirely on the Hungarian population for not acting.

If you want to put the blame, also blame the EU for giving money for the projects. Again and again, and even on this blog, we were asking ourselves why the EU does not stop paying. We also predicted if the EU once stop paying from the funds, VO would not remain in power.for long.

I believe the EU has an demoralizing effect on the EU people by continue to pay Hungary. Back in 2012 the EU stopped paying due to not having proper systems in place. That is when Laser Johnny stepped in and promised to make the system work, and the EU believed him and continue to pay.

In that period Bajnai Gordon and other opposition were asking the EU to keep paying back in 2012. I wonder if they did not make a critical error there?

Webber
Guest

Stevan has also blamed the EU, repeatedly, for not acting adequately vigorously.
But the onus is, and has to be, on the people who elected these criminals the second time, in 2014, after it had become crystal clear to everybody in Hungary what these criminals were doing and how they operated (Schmitt, baltás gyilkos, Simicska, the state prosecutor, the gutting of checks and balances… the list from 2010 to 2014 is very long)
It is not Brussels’ fault. It is the fault of every person who voted for Fidesz in 2014.

googly
Guest
Stevan Harnad, You wrote: “enough Hungarians are still colluding in the Big Lie instead of facing the music.” and “But don’t ask me how to oust Orban” It is there that your argument descends into absurdity. I agree with you that nearly everyone in society shares in the blame for what is happening and will happen, but to say that somehow Hungarians in general are more at fault than the liars and scammers in government is to say that Hungarians should somehow be better than other nationalities, despite the failure of the educational system and the after-effects of 40 years of totalitarian dictatorship (and 20 years of authoritarianism before that). Average Hungarians can’t be expected to be able to see through all the propaganda and nationalism that can be purchased from sophisticated foreign political operatives unless there is a reasonably effective and widely-disseminated counter-argument presented by a legitimate opposition. Fidesz, probably in collusion with MSZP, has done a very effective job of fooling enough Hungarians into thinking that they are on the road to success, even though the majority of voters chose parties other than Fidesz at the last parliamentary elections (and how many by-elections for parliament has Fidesz won… Read more »
Member
The Pannonian Aquifers Good reply, @googly, if a little shrill (“absurd”?). I agree that the really evil ones are Orban & co., rather than all those who did not vote against Fidik. And I agree also that there are other countries with some elements of the same dynamics as those that prevail in Hungary, including the UK, France, Canada and the US — but to nowhere near the extent they have reached in Hungary, in any EU member or Western Democracy today. As to ousting Orban: You give some plausible scenarios for how he will be able to stay in power, but no hint of how to oust him. What makes me keep thinking there’s something odd in the (cultural) drinking water is that so many Hungarian expats who have been living abroad in democracies, with full linguistic and media access, for decades or even generations — including the major Hungarian/American and Hungarian/Canadian Assciations of long standing — are still rallying to Fidik’s defence today. If even they have somehow inherited those culttural blinkers, in broad daylight, that’s hard to attribute to Orban’s media monopoly and Hungarian lack of experience with democracy. Also, if you are defending Hungary, Nazi Germany… Read more »
petofi
Guest

Knowing the Hungarian penchant for cheating, and finding the ‘easy way’, I would say that the people do not want the system to change…they want to get rid of the present participants and take their place.

The problem is the norms and values of the society as they’ve been entrenched for many years, especially by the Catholic Church.

The ‘happiest barracks’ in the communist world has been a sleight-of-hand specialist and the country has yet to be weaned off past practices…

First step to rehabiliation?
The Catholic Church has to own up to its role in communist Hungary, and in its role in the war years and the jewish holocaust in Hungary.

(Slim chance.)

LwiiH
Guest

Petition, all will cheat it is just that those in Eastern Europe face petals systems that immature, weak, I’ll defined, corrupted or some combination of the above. Most of the tricks these guys try to pull crumble when they come against more mature legal systems.

LwiiH
Guest

Stupid spell checking.. How it got pedal from legal…

0022
Guest

Was there a ghost writer involved with this book?

Has Fidesz tried to control that writer to come out positively?

Eleni was pretty clueless about Hungary, so given the speed, she could not write this book, according to my best guess.

Both the White House and the State Department were also responsible for her failed mission.

Webber
Guest

She had many years after her time as ambassador to write the book, and presumably she did it using her diary to refresh her memory. So, I don’t know what you mean by “speed.” She easily could have written that book with no help whatsoever.
Failed mission? In retrospect, it’s looking more successful by the minute.
What would be a “successful mission” in your view? One in which Orban’s government changed its practices because of what an ambassador told it?
No ambassador could achieve that, except possibly Stalin’s, or Genghis Khan’s.

Guest

Off-Topic

Veritas, Hóman Bálint, Prohászka Ottokár et al.

The primary implication and subtext of the rehabilitation of notorious antisemites like Hóman Bálint, Prohászka Ottokár or Tormay Cecile is that the ground is being prepared by the likes of Veritas and its Fidesz/Jobbik support base to rehabilitate state antisemitism or state sponsored antisemitism in one (covert?) form or another, irregardless of whatever mild objections might emanate from Brussels over this.

However, should the EU money tap be turned off as a result, Hungary would then immediately leave EU and NATO, and join the Russian orbit, in which case the reintroduction of overt Jew Laws could not be far behind, as once again Jew Laws would be the natural and inevitable consequence of a Hungarian populace thoroughly brainwashed by a tidal wave of official antisemitic propaganda.

Lucky that these days when push comes to shove, the remnant Hungarian Jews can readily bail out of their “haza” (motherland) before they too would end up getting slaughtered there, like their forebears.

Guest

Not too much OT and fitting with Mike’s comment:

Has anybody looked at that “analysis” of Kim Scheppele’s article by the people from the “center for human rights” that I managed to copy here (partially …) before it disappeared again?
There latest product seems to be this:
http://alapjogokert.hu/amerikai-meghallgatas-sokat-tanulhatnank-az-orban-kormanytol/
Strangely enough I can no longer find anything in English on that site – has it been deleted or am I just too stupid?

PS:
Now the “Scheppele report” has appeared again:
http://alapjogokert.hu/scheppele-merges-2/
Really nice: Scheppele “mérges” …

spectator
Guest

I have to agree with Stevan and ‘peofi’ – there is something fundamentally wrong, however it isn’t entirely the Catholic Church’s fault. Being Hungarian used to be enough.

“..the people do not want the system to change…they want to get rid of the present participants and take their place”

Anybody still remember that a few years ago there was a question directly to Orbán, how he could do such and such (I don’t remember the details, even if I quoted it here a while back) things now, when he was fighting against the old system then.
The answer is what really significant and speaks volumes:

“I didn’t struggled against the system, but its leaders!”

To take their place – my addition – and do just the same.

There is indeed a certain acceptance toward illegal/unlawful gains, as long as them has their own cut somewhere along the lines, the bigger the better.

As the already classic Hofi sketch expressed: corruption is what they left you out of…
Otherwise just the “normal Hungarian way” to do something.

As long as this particular way of thinking prevail, people gladly and willingly accept the vassal role, and no hope that they will make a move against these disgusting creatures.

spectator
Guest

There’s still a link alive regarding the ominous sentences I referred above:

http://mandiner.hu/cikk/20121105_nem_a_diktatura_ellen_harcolt_anno_orban

The essence:
„Tudja, én a nyolcvanas években nem a diktatúra ellen harcoltam. Hanem azok ellen harcoltam, akik csinálták a diktatúrát. Ezek az Önök párttársai voltak! Kérem, hogy ezt ne felejtse el! A diktatúra nem az égből ereszkedett alá, hanem emberek csinálták. Azok az emberek, akikkel Ön ma is egy pártban ül. Elnézést kérek, hogy erről vagyok kénytelen beszélni egy olyan időpontban és olyan helyen, amit nem ezért hoztak létre.”

Loosely translated:
“You know, I didn’t fought against the dictatorship in the ‘80s. But I did fought against those who actually made the dictatorship. These were your party-comrades. Dictatorship didn’t descend from the sky, it made by people. The people which you’re sitting in the same party with. I apologise that I have to speak about this in such time and place which hadn’t been created for this.”

So, there wasn’t/isn’t any ideological conflict as a basis to Orbán’s acts during that times – or since – its “only” power, greed and dominance.

In this light much easier to understand, how he can change sides, religion or alliances on a heartbeat – these are only the means to reach the goal.

Nice fellow, for sure.

Guest

In his sermon on Pentecost Sunday the Pope spoke out against “sin and corruption”.
Very good, I thought, until I realized that the expression implies that corruption is not a sin.

Member

I agree with Balint. Orban is playing chicken with the EU but Orban would not take the country out of the EU. For them the EU is the source of their income. The whole Orban regime will collapse without the EU money, because Orban doesn’t have the guts nor the skills to run a real dictatorship. His bargaining chip is the Jobbik. He is threatening the EU with handing down the power to the brownshirts.

The only way out from this diabolic game is a new political formation that will win the election. But until there is food in supermarket and the sun is shining on the weekend the great Hunkies will not give a damn.

Depressing.

Guest

Just a small question:
Am I right in assuming that you meant “while” when you wrote “until”? 😉

Guest

I learned the word until in school seventy years ago. I have noticed that the word is now sometimes used in a different meaning from what I learned at that time. I shall not attempt to define the word as I understand it, I will rather avoid the word and rephrase my comment:

Very good, I thought, as long as I didn’t realize that the expression implies that corruption is not a sin.

Guest

Sorry for the misunderstanding, Jean!

My comment was for muttdamon! 😉

Miklos
Guest

It is an old and very precise Hungarian word the “kiskapu”. It includes corruption, know how, useful connection to accomplish or achieve something, which is not necessary proper or legal. Hungarians became masters during the Communist years to use a “kiskapu”. In my opinion it will take years until the Orban group could reach the corruption level of the Horn, Gyurcsany regimes.
With reference to the memoirs of Madam Ambassador, she included conversations with various politicians, which were strictly confidendial.

spectator
Guest

So you mean we should respect the confidentiality, and turn away our eyes, close our ears and minds of mere politeness, when it comes to our Beloved Leader and his malpractice, since the information disclosed it supposed to be confidential?

Did I read you right?

Otherwise the Horn and Gyurcsány regimes combined have not seen as much money as have been spent for the benefit of the true believers – AKA Fidesz oligarchy!

One more thing: please look up the definition of the expression “Conflict of Interest” – that’s the problem with Orbán’s doing – according to the memoire of the Madame Ambassador, that is.

A short version, just to make you started:
“Conflict of Interest
A term used to describe the situation in which a public official or fiduciary who, contrary to the obligation and absolute duty to act for the benefit of the public or a designated individual, exploits the relationship for personal benefit, typically pecuniary.”

googly
Guest

Miklos, I wonder how much experience you have had in Hungary lately. Orbán has taken over all the corruption that went on under Gyurcsány and elevated it to another level, as well as added his own. Just the stadium building alone is a whole new industry of corruption. Remember, Gyurcsány was rich before he entered politics, but everyone in Fidesz and affiliated with it who has gotten rich has done so solely through government (yes, even the Fidesz-linked oligarchs). It’s possible, however, that there was more corruption under Horn than there is now, but I don’t know how to measure that.

Miklos
Guest

Sorry Spectator, I take Madam Ambassador’s notes with a grain of salt.

googly
Guest

Miklos,

So if you doubt that what is in the book is true (even though nobody seems to be disputing anything she wrote), then you must also not believe that the privileged conversations she quotes from also happened, so, by that argument, she didn’t violate anyone’s confidentiality. Or do you only believe whatever might make her look bad?

spectator
Guest

Its your taste – bon appetite 😉

Guest

Not too much OT – just read in a comment on the Guardian’s US online site:
This might apply to Hungary too:

The definition of an honest politician around these parts is “Once you buy him, he stays bought.”

wpDiscuz