February 23 may be remembered as a “day of infamy” in the life of the Orbán government because it was today that, behind the scenes, somebody whose name we don’t yet know committed a criminal act. In a conspiratorial manner he organized an action that prevented a Hungarian citizen from exercising his constitutional rights.
István Nyakó, a former MSZP member of parliament, arrived at 6 a.m. in front of the building of the National Election Office, waiting for the office to open. He came with a question to be submitted for consideration about holding a referendum on the question of the Sunday closure of retail stores. (Yes, I know it sounds like Groundhog Day but, trust me, the story changes.)
Upon his arrival he encountered about 15 or 20 hefty skinheads, each with a folder in hand as if he were there on official business. As it turned out, the skinheads’ sole task was to prevent Nyakó from reaching the time clock ahead of an elderly woman and her young male companion, who was entrusted with handing her question to the authorities. And indeed, Nyakó clocked in four seconds after the woman’s companion did, although he tried his best to break through the human barricade in front of him.
Once the deed was done, the skinheads left without a word. The elderly woman steadfastly refused to answer any questions about either her identity or her referendum question. It didn’t take long, however, for the right-wing Pesti Srácok’s reporters to recognize the faces of at least two of the skinheads: Tibike Karkowski and Lóci Juhos who, according to their Facebook page, acted as security guards at the latest match of FTC’s women’s handball team. Juhos also works as a security guard at FTC’s Groupama Arena. According to Pesti Srácok, these two are not really hard-core extremists, but who knows what the reporters of this particular paper consider hard-core. Pesti Srácok’s hunch is that the heavies are freelancers.
Pesti Srácok might want to shield Gábor Kubatov, president of FTC (Ferencváros / Fradi) and vice-chairman of Fidesz. After all, as we learned recently, Pesti Srácok is in the pay of the Orbán government. In the last few weeks they published twelve pro-government articles, for which they were paid 1.5 million forints. Apparently, in Budapest journalist circles Pesti Srácok is known as Prosti Srácok, “prosti” being the abbreviation of “prostitute.” Others, like Magyar Nemzet, are not so accommodating; they point the finger at Kubatov. According to website of FradiMob, a Fradi fan club, the people who prevented Nyakó from reaching the time clock are “Kubatov’s men” who are employed as security guards by the club.
Then there is the elderly lady, whose identity didn’t remained secret for long. She is the wife of László András Erdősi, mayor of Herceghalom, a village of about 2,000 inhabitants 26 km. from Budapest. Erdősi is described by Index as someone who was a Fidesz supporter from the earliest times of the party. At first he was involved in Budapest politics, but by 2010 he ran and won as the Fidesz candidate for the mayoralty of Herceghalom. Something must have gone wrong between him and the party, however, because in 2014 he ran as an independent, and Fidesz ran its own candidate against him. But Erdősi won anyway. Whatever went wrong between Fidesz and Erdősi didn’t shake his wife’s devotion to Viktor Orbán. During her husband’s campaign against the Fidesz-appointed candidate, she was seen wearing a campaign button with Viktor Orbán’s picture captioned: “My prime minister.”
People on the scene at the National Election Office noticed that the word “Herceghalom” was visible through the transparent cover on the skinheads’ folders. So, I suspect that each of the men held a copy of the referendum question in case Mrs. Erdősi and her young companion had difficulty getting to the time clock ahead of Nyakó.
Of course, the intriguing question is who arranged for the skinheads to guarantee Mrs. Erdősi’s success. It is hard to imagine that Mrs. Erdősi, wife of an electric engineer, has skinheads among her acquaintances. It is also hard to fathom that this latest chapter in the battle against ever holding a referendum on the Sunday closing of stores doesn’t have something to do with Fidesz, which has every reason to fear the result of such a referendum.
Fidesz’s reaction was to blame the ineptitude of the socialists for this latest fiasco. In their opinion, the socialists are just stupid. They haven’t managed to learn the simple rules of submitting a referendum question to the National Election Office. Moreover, they themselves created the whole incident, and therefore “Fidesz condemns the whole affair and the socialists’ scandal-mongering.” This is what Magyar Nemzet called an “astonishing statement.” Origo asked its readers to vote on whom they suspect of organizing the anti-referendum action of Mrs. Erdősi and the skinheads. About 9,000 people have voted so far and 72% suspect Fidesz as the culprit.
Fidesz wasn’t alone in this dirty business. The party had its accomplices. First of all, the National Election Office, which has no intention, at the moment at least, of investigating the case. Then there were the policemen who went by the building but didn’t think it was necessary to stop by and check what the skinheads were up to. And, naturally, there is Mrs. Erdősi, who lent her name to such a disgraceful act. By the way, her referendum question was the following: “Do you agree that that the retail stores—according to Law CII of 2014—should remain closed on Sundays in the future?” This referendum question was accepted by the National Election Office. That by itself is an abomination.
Viktor Orbán wants to make sure that holding a valid referendum in this new illiberal Hungary will be impossible. He knows what a referendum can do to a government. It was Fidesz that pushed through the referendum on the question of co-pay and college tuition in 2008 which was so overwhelmingly rejected by the electorate that it shook the Gyurcsány government to its very foundations. He must have sworn that this would never happen to him. And he knows that his harebrained idea of closing stores on Sunday is very unpopular. If enough people voted in a referendum, this law would be rejected overwhelmingly. Such an action might gravely damage his government, which at the moment is under pressure from several quarters.
One of the MSZP MPs, Zoltán Gőgös, described this morning’s event as “the last flurry of a hapless dictatorship.” Perhaps this is too optimistic an assessment of the situation, but the government is in the kind of position that frequently leads to serious blunders. This latest assault on basic democratic rights may further add to the troubles of a party already feeling besieged.