János Lázár: A Portrait

As 2015 winds down, Hungarian politicians feel compelled to give fairly lengthy interviews. I already devoted a post to János Kövér’s interview in Pesti Srácok, a right-wing publication allegedly heavily subsidized by the government. Today I’m going to concentrate on an interview of János Lázár which, miracle of miracles, he decided to grant to the social democratic daily, Népszava.

Why is this interview unique? Because the unwritten rule, handed down by Viktor Orbán himself, is that important politicians, especially cabinet members, never have anything to do with opposition papers. Even second-string politicians are reluctant to engage with the left-of-center media, with only a few notable exceptions. Nándor Csepreghy, the newly appointed deputy to Lázár, is a fairly regular visitor to ATV and Klubrádió. So is Gergely Gulyás, the recently elected deputy chairman of Fidesz.

A lot of speculation surrounds the person of János Lázár, who occasionally makes comments unflattering to the Fidesz leadership. In his short speech to the Fidesz Congress held on December 13 he pretty well indicated that party loyalty doesn’t replace talent, hard work, and professional knowledge. He also openly admitted that the Young Democrats (fiatal demokraták = Fidesz) are not so young anymore and their followers are also aging. This is the kind of thing Fidesz politicians on the whole don’t talk about.

Anyone who follows Hungarian politics knows that Viktor Orbán and his team hate press conferences where reporters can actually ask questions. Q&A periods are cut short, and reporters from the opposition media usually aren’t called on.

That’s why Lázár’s “innovation” of having weekly free-wheeling press conferences called “kormányinfó” (government info) is something of a revolution in government communication in the Orbán era. Between March 26 and December 16 35 sessions were held, during which Lázár was ready to answer questions from reporters of government-critical media, including Népszava. In fact, at the very beginning of the interview Lázár made it a point to thank Népszava for its participation in these sessions and added: “I cut myself free of my colleagues’ media fight.”

Lazar janos3

One should not conclude, however, from some of Lázár’s bravado that he does not share the fundamental beliefs of Viktor Orbán. It turns out that even the weekly “government info” was Viktor Orbán’s idea, despite the fact that he is the last person who would answer questions for two hours.

When it comes to important things, Lázár is 100% behind Viktor Orbán. For example, he doesn’t seem to realize how Orbán’s policies divide the nation; he doesn’t want to see how the prime minister incites people against each other and against the refugees. Perhaps from the inside it is not as obvious as it is for those of us who watch political events from the outside. He sounded genuine when he expressed his belief that the kind of political hatred we see day in and day out is restricted to election campaigns. He believes, or pretends to believe, that the “national consultations” are a legitimate way of finding out people’s opinions. He denies that the “refugee question” has anything to do with party politics. He insists that the overwhelming majority of refugees are “economic migrants.” And one could continue. He seems to believe in the righteousness and correctness of his government’s policies.

One gets the impression that there is a sharp distinction between the original Fidesz team, formed during their college days, and the newcomers, like Lázár. As he put it, “among the founders of Fidesz there is very strong solidarity. They can indeed finish each other’s sentences. They are like that. They think alike.” Still, on the surface at least, Lázár seems to genuinely admire these people: Orbán, Kövér, Áder, Szájer. They are “the grand masters of politics” in Hungary. And he seems to have a very low opinion of some of those who have shown up lately around Fidesz and the Orbán government.

Because Lázár is a loquacious sort, he often expresses himself more clearly on certain subjects than does Viktor Orbán, who is a master of double talk. Here is a typical honest comment:

We don’t want to deepen integration any further. From our point of view the EU is first and foremost an economic community of interests and values and not a political one. And now they want to force political values on us. … Hungarian society cannot and will not accept these values as its own…. Brussels wants to shove down our throats the deepening of integration, and to that end it uses the migrants. We don’t want to give up more of our sovereignty. The most important question of the next ten years from Hungary’s point view is how it will be able to preserve its independence. This is the essence of Fidesz’s politics, we look at everything through this lens. We want more Hungary and less Brussels.

Lázár also seems to accept most of Orbán’s misconceptions about the state of the European Union and Hungary’s place in it. One such misconception is that the engine of Europe’s economy is Eastern Europe. Indeed, in the last few years economic growth in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania has been very strong. Hungary had one good year in 2014, but because of Orbán’s mistaken economic policies it is only now that Hungary has managed to get back to where it was in 2008. Moreover, in large measure economic growth in Eastern Europe is the result of the incredible amount of money these countries receive from Brussels. In Hungary’s case, in the last two years 5-6% of the GDP came from convergence funds.

Yet there were statements in this interview that reflect a man who is somewhat different from the ordinary, run-of-the-mill Fidesz “aparatchik.” I think he is honest when he tells us that being an ordinary member of parliament elected by his district was something that he found most fulfilling, and if it turned out that he has to go back to such a position, he wouldn’t be heartbroken. He speaks equally fondly of his time as mayor of Hódmezővásárhely where he apparently managed to desegregate schools to everybody’s satisfaction. He still regularly visits his district where he takes care of people’s problems. Long lines wait for him. He also talks fondly of his time as the head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, leaving me at least with the impression that he enjoyed his previous jobs more than his current one.

Finally, one more difference between Lázár and the people who can be seen around Orbán in the VIP section of the newly-built football stadiums. Orbán is an avid player of ulti or ultimó, a Hungarian card game, which according to Orbán is excellent preparation for becoming a successful politician. Lázár doesn’t play ulti and he cannot be seen in the VIP section eating sunflower seeds. As he said, “I’m not a member of the club.” He added, “While they watch football I work. This way everybody benefits.”

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John Donian
John Donian
December 26, 2015 4:31 pm

This site has hitherto been very clear with its position on matters, but I’m not clear at all on what this article is trying to say.

December 27, 2015 12:33 pm

Maybe it is meant to stimulate the internal war in Fidesz. They also read HS, I assume.

December 27, 2015 1:07 pm

Like the “war” between the SA and the SS which culminated in “The Night of the Long Knives”?

December 26, 2015 4:43 pm
December 26, 2015 4:57 pm

Don’t get fooled by Lazar’s ‘double speak’. He is playing a role of not always drawing the government’s line, but it is all a ‘play’. When he is giving a TV interview or talking to the media, he is always defending the government’s position even if it means to lie every step on the way. His proclamations are fabrications that have nothing to do with reality, and he knows it. But this being divorced from reality doesn’t stop him giving repeated performances of the same lies again and again… One of his trademarks is his ever smiling face whilst speaking, but behind his smiles it is the same ruthless and calculating person that is typical of the Fidesz leadership, whose only interest is to stay in power no matter what.

December 26, 2015 7:47 pm

Lazar is simply doing his high-wire act between two buildings, while hoping not to fall on the ground. He in fact will try to push Orban aside when the time comes, and hopes that the opposition will be pleased. Right now Orban needs him for a few reasons: he is relatively young, so brings down the average age of Fidesz, he is relatively the most intelligent from the upcoming Fidesz politicians (Rogan? haha), he knows too much…. He is cocky because he can be. Lazar to Fidesz politics is like the billionaire gas pipe fitter, Meszaros to Felcsut.

December 27, 2015 9:34 am

Mr. Lazar’s comment on working while others watch football….

Maybe no wonder the opposition is always playing ‘catch-up?’ I’d think it looks good for Orban to have one of his leaders take a somewhat different position in some cases to the ‘run-of-the-mill’. ‘Newcomers’ probably know they have to work even harder if they weren’t original insiders.

I don’t know though what he’s likely to do say when he has to deal with geography in the form of say standing by a ‘Rubicon’ that must be forded with all its consequences . At this time his apparent intelligence keeps the other guys in the party on their toes. Nothing like competition to keep the political juices flowing. Orban has to like that with the fellows who are working for him. Competition works wonders.

And one question I would have for Mr. Lazar is whether he feels he’s someone’s employee or a guarantor and caretaker of Hungary’s freedoms in all of its manifestations for all its people.

December 27, 2015 9:50 am

Didn’t Lázár also say once:
If you have nothing, then you are nothing?
A really strange kind of character imho!
“Lázár has also been criticized in the past for having a taste for the high life, as well as making disparaging comments about the less fortunate.”
“Meanwhile, last spring his travel expenses for trips abroad landed him in hot water, and more recently it was revealed that he had bought a property in his son’s name in one of the most exclusive parts of Budapest for HUF 60 million, an amount of money critics said could not be accounted for by his official sources of income. [444.hu]”
And having an official car that costs more than 100 000€ seems a kind of provocation to me in Hungary …

December 27, 2015 10:53 am


Concurrence re the car provocation, wolfi7777. One-hundred-thousand euros equal half the cost of the house he bought.

Realestate agents in North America (and probably elsewhere) drive expensive autos to show that they are successful, thus enticing prospective sellers to list with them.

Perhaps Lázár manifests that same outlook with respect to his constituents. Maybe he feels that voters will buy into his pyramid scheme.

Trickledown economics is a Reaganite wetdream. The only place where the money’s going is into Fidesznik pockets.


December 27, 2015 10:13 am

Along with the other wellwishers, I want to thank Éva for her ongoing Hungarian Spectrum excellence. It is the main factor in the politicization of this Magyar neopat.

I dont know precisely why I like this article, which is one of the better ones. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t present János Lázár as a caricature.

I think that the upper-echelon Fideszniks (perhaps with the exception of Kövér) are more knowledgeable of Hungarian reality than they let on. They say certain things for public consumption, but believe differently.

Lázár seems a bit more aware and more open. That said, I can understand the befuddlement of the first poster [John Donian] as to the reason for the article. You seem almost wistful over Lázár, Éva.


December 27, 2015 11:17 am

There is no doubt whatsoever about what Lazar is and where he stands. He’s trying to play one of Fidesz’s “good cops” to some of the other “bad cops.” But he is every bit the same lying, amoral opportunist and yes-man as the rest of the Fidesz banda. (I would say that Eva has shown a rare moment of credulousness here.) Perhaps it’s because some of the other Orbanites have become so cynical, arrogant and sure of their power that they don’t even bother to disguise their amorality, whereas Lazar is catering for the sub-constituency that wants to see them as more tentative, humble and individualistic. And of course Lazar, younger than Orban, is angling for his future too, in addition to stashing away as much looted booty as the rest.

The probability that Lazar is one epsilon less corrupt, unscrupulous and dangerous than the rest is about equal to the probability that Simicska is.

December 27, 2015 11:30 am

Stevan, you nailed it!
Only in Hungary can someone like him be one of “the good cops” …?w=600

December 27, 2015 12:03 pm
Népszava did not ask even one question about systemic corruption in the Fidesz government and I suspect Lazar knows a fair amount about that. Let’s not forget that in 2014 origo.hu. caught in his travels on the Hungarian government’s budget, which led Lázár to pay back 2 million forints to the state budget. The highest accommodation cost for his travels were as follows: a three-day (ie presumably in just two nights) England trip of 920 thousand forints, a two-day trip to Italy at 582 thousand, an also a two-day Swiss missions in was 469 thousand forints per accommodation expenditure at only 4 or 5 star hotels. It also led the lead editor of the website being fired, allegedly under pressure from Lázár. Lázár said he was not involved in this decision and I doubt the truth of that claim. Here we have an interview from the newspaper that promoted the excellent books by Bálint Magyar and Júlia Vásárhelyi (Eds), Magyar Polip – a posztkommunista maffiaállam, but not a question is asked about Lazar’s role in the corruption discussed in this books. It looks to me that Lazar established ground rules for the interview and Népszava agreed to those rules. Not… Read more »
December 28, 2015 2:51 pm

Maybe, in another universe, Janos Lazar could have been somebody… perhaps even a game show host. As it is, he’s sold his soul to become the well-oiled enforcer for a increasingly capricious village strongman.

Janos Lazar can appear reasonable, and is always ready with cash to smooth over differences, which is also why he wants to ensure that all the revenue, whether from the EU or Norway or from Szazadveg’s extortion racket, is channeled through him. He needs to appear in charge, never showing weakness, even when he’s caught naked in the spotlight, as when his accusations against Hungarian civil society where shown to be completely unfounded. He’s clearly ready to stick his fingers in the eyes of all those he sees as competition. I suppose that among the three stooges that make up Viktor Orban’s current lowbrow consigliere crew, Janos Lazar is Moe to the Larry and Curly of Arpad Habony and Antal Rogan.

However, like the good finger puppet that he is, his master’s finger is firmly lodged up the appropriate orifice.

December 30, 2015 12:06 am

Anyone who thinks that Lazar has an iota of chance to out-manoeuver Orban has no respect for the ultimate gypsy conniving mastership of the latter.