During the summer everything slows down. Soon members of parliament will leave for their summer holidays. Certain programs on KlubRádió will suspend broadcasting for the next two or three months, and ATV has only skeleton programming. One would think that political life must be really boring in Hungary. Nothing to discuss or analyse. But the funny thing is that there are so many topics worth thinking about or investigating that I simply cannot keep up with them. At the same time I don’t want to ignore them, so I decided to cover two topics today.
The Biszku case
You may recall that sometime at the end of May the Budapest appellate court ruled that the verdict of the court of first instance, which had sentenced Béla Biszku, János Kádár’s first minister of the interior, to a three-year prison term, was null and void. The fault lay with both the Budapest Prosecutor’s Office, which prepared the case, and the lower court judge who most likely felt pressured to produce quick results. Even Ádám Gellért, the young lawyer who was responsible for Biszku’s indictment, had to admit that the case the prosecutors came up with was unspeakably poorly prepared. The appellate judge had only two options: either to throw the case out or to acquit Biszku.
The reaction of the Budapest chief prosecutor, Tibor Ibolya, was not that of a “shrinking violet,” as his family name would indicate. (I saw him in action once with Olga Kálmán and in fact recommended viewing this interview in one of my earlier posts.) In his frustration and anger, he accused Biszku’s defense lawyer of “making a clown with cap and bells out of the court, which, instead of objecting, assisted him.”
The chief prosecutor of Budapest is not the only one who is upset. Ádám Gellért is also frustrated. At a conference held today, he offered a dangerous suggestion: a law should be enacted that would transform political responsibility into a criminal act under certain circumstances. A right-wing historian, Tibor Zinner (Veritas Institute), went even further. He wouldn’t mind having a law that would allow the sentencing of people already dead.
Since Biszku is 94 years old, by the time the prosecutors, judges, legal scholars, and historians decide what can be done with high-ranking communist politicians who may be responsible for the deaths of people after the uprising of 1956, he will most likely be dead.
What’s happening with the Hungarian Gripens?
During the first Orbán government (1998-2002), under mysterious circumstances, Viktor Orbán went against the advice of his military advisers and acquired 16 Gripen fighter planes. The cabinet had been expecting an announcement that Hungary would purchase F16 planes from the United States. Instead, out of the blue, Orbán announced that he had decided on the Swedish Gripens. The decision was suspicious at the time, but it became even more so after we learned that the Saab Group, manufacturer of the Gripens, was quite generous when it came to “convincing” its customers. I wrote about the Gripen scandal at least three times: in August 2007, March 2009, and September 2012.
Now we have a Gripen scandal of a different nature. On May 19, one of the 16 fighter planes was totally destroyed while taking part in an exercise in the Czech Republic. The Hungarian public has learned nothing since about the cause of the accident. The Hungarian planes are leased because the country’s finances didn’t allow for an outright purchase. The original arrangement was that after a certain period Hungary would be able to take full possession of the fleet. But eventually it became clear that the country couldn’t even keep up with its monthly payments. In any event, the plane, which is a total loss, is probably a further strain on the Hungarian military budget. The financial situation of the military is so bad that, as Magyar Nemzet sarcastically remarked, although the planes have been in Hungary for nine years, “they didn’t manage to buy a single bomb for them.”
And then, less than a month later, another accident happened, this time in Kecskemét, the Hungarian airbase. The plane is not totaled, only damaged, but the pilot who had to catapult from the plane, just like a colleague in the Czech Republic, injured his spine. This time, it looks as if the accident was due to technical difficulties. Something is very wrong with either the Gripens or the Hungarian airmen and servicemen, or both.
Imre Szekeres (MSZP), minister of defense between 2006 and 2010, commented on these accidents on Facebook. According to him, perhaps the biggest problem is the lack of flying time. Szekeres suspects that there is not enough money for fuel. The pilot of the plane that was damaged in Kecskemét had eight hours in the air this year. Moreover, apparently it is not known how many planes are actually flyable. Two are definitely not, but there was a third plane that was returning from Sweden where its pilot had received flying instruction. It never reached the Kecskemét base but had to force land in Košice/Kassa. No one knows in what shape that plane is.
The Hungarian Air Force, with its inexperienced pilots and its ailing planes, will soon be responsible for the defense of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Beginning in August, it will be spending four months on a Lithuanian airbase. Since these countries don’t have air defense capabilities, other NATO countries protect them on a rotating basis. We can only pray that no one decides to attack any of these countries between August and November.