Physical force used against Hungarian journalists

We have seen signs of nervousness and even some fear in Fidesz circles despite all the polls that show the party leading with a comfortable margin. Fidesz politicians should be superbly self-confident, but instead they increasingly act like besieged soldiers in a fortress. Perhaps the clearest expression of that feeling came from Viktor Orbán himself when, during a recent visit in Győr, he asked the 50 or so admiring elderly ladies to root for him because he “at times is encircled and has the feeling some people want him to perish” (időnként be van kerítve, és úgy érzi, el akarják veszejteni). Enemies inside and outside the country have been making every effort to put an end to the splendid experiment that has made Hungary the most successful country in Europe and if possible to remove him and his party from power. I believe that it is this fear that has been making Fidesz politicians increasingly belligerent in the last couple of years.

Of course, these so-called enemies are largely creatures of their own making, but the fear may not be totally unfounded. At the moment the Orbán regime is the victim of its own mistaken policies. Although the regime, under internal and external pressure, is acting aggressively, this doesn’t mean that its actions are based on self-assurance. On the contrary, aggressiveness is often the manifestation of desperation and insecurity.

Verbal aggressiveness against foreign and domestic adversaries has always been the hallmark of Fidesz discourse, but lately it has often been accompanied by physical force. In the last few months the victims of Fidesz frustration were journalists, who more often than not happened to be women.

Let me start with the non-violent case of Katalin Halmai, who used to be the Brussels correspondent for the by now defunct Népszabadság. In December 2016 Halmai, working as a freelancer with a valid press pass, was told to leave Orbán’s press conference in Brussels. Halmai meekly followed instructions and left the press conference. After her departure one of the journalists asked Orbán about George Soros, to which he received the following answer: “A man of proper upbringing doesn’t like talking about people who are not present. Especially not if the journalist who represents them is also absent,” referring to Katalin Halmai.

This vicious remark was something new and unexpected, but by now I think we can say with some certainty that it was not an off-the-cuff quip but an indication that members of the critical press are viewed as agents of foreign powers and thus are to be eliminated one way or the other. Fidesz Deputy Chairman Szilárd Németh, in his primitive brutality, said: “I don’t consider the men and women of the media empire supported by Soros real journalists just as I don’t regard the pseudo-civic groups supported by Soros civic activists. They tend to provoke, and their activities amount to being mere agents” for foreign interests. Journalists whose media outlet receives any money from abroad are enemies of the nation. From here it is but a single step, which at times has already been taken, to conclude that all journalists who are critical of the government are also agents. In the last few days we heard several times that George Soros wants to overthrow the Hungarian government. Anyone who with his or her critical writings assists this effort is equally guilty. Unless someone stops Viktor Orbán, the fate of critical journalists may be similar to that of the journalists who languish in Turkish jails for treason.

Recently there have been three occasions when physical force was used against female journalists. The macho Fidesz guys usually don’t take on other men. They prefer women, who can be intimidated or easily overpowered by sheer strength. Halmai in Brussels, instead of refusing to leave the premises where she had every right to be, walked out. Moreover, a few minutes later when Viktor Orbán, wanting to sound magnanimous, called her back for a friendly chat not as a journalist but as a Hungarian citizen, she even obliged. Women don’t want to create a scene. I think she made a huge mistake when she left the press conference and an even greater mistake when she accepted Orbán’s qualified invitation for a friendly conversation.

In January of this year the spokesman for the ministry of national economy grabbed the microphone out of the hand of HírTV’s reporter when she dared to ask a question which Undersecretary András Tállai didn’t like. On May 3 another reporter of HírTV was prevented from conducting an interview. The brave Fidesz politician twisted the arm of a female journalist when she asked a couple of questions the official didn’t like. But these were trivial matters in comparison to what happened to a female reporter for 444 two days ago.

The government decided to have a campaign to explain the real meaning of the questions and answers of the notorious “Stop Brussels!” national consultation. One hundred and twenty meetings will be held all over the country for the further enlightenment of the population. Although the government announced that 900,000 questionnaires have already been returned, this number (real or invented) is nothing to brag about considering that over eight million questionnaires were sent out. High government officials were instructed to hit the road. Mihály Varga, minister of the national economy, and István Simicskó, minister of defense, held the first such gathering in the Buda Cistercian Saint Imre Gymnasium in District XI. It was a public gathering, and 444 sent a female reporter to cover the event. She was planning to video the gathering but was told she had no permission to do so. She obliged, which again in my opinion was a mistake. No such restriction had been announced earlier. After the speeches were over, she received a telephone call, so she left the room to go into the corridor. When she wanted to return to gather her equipment, she was prevented from doing so. The local Fidesz organizer of the event, who turned out to be the program director of the ministry of defense, grabbed her telephone, deleted the couple of pictures she took, forcibly dragged her down the staircase, and threw her out on the street. Once outside, she phoned the police. When they arrived they couldn’t find the culprit, who apparently had split as soon as he realized that he might be in trouble. The reporter filed charges with the local police.

Fidesz embraces the adage that the best defense is a strong offense. It took them a few hours, but the District XI Fidesz headquarters eventually came out with a statement that accused 444 of sending out reporters to Fidesz events to provoke the members of the audience and disturb the proceedings. The organizers suddenly decided that the gathering was a private forum to which 444 didn’t receive an invitation. They are outraged at the journalist’s description of what happened, which included such words as “jostle,” “intimidate,” and “attack,” none of which is true. Therefore the Fidesz group in Újbuda will file charges against her for defamation.

Soon enough a demonstration was organized on the internet, and yesterday about one thousand people gathered in front of the District XI Fidesz office. Media-related associations are outraged because of the uptick in incidents of this sort. There is a concerted effort on the part of the government to obstruct the work of the independent media. Reporters are excluded from public events and are boycotted by state institutions.

Amerikai Népszava published an editorial yesterday which summarized the situation very well. “Orbán by now is irritated not only by the independent journalists’ activity but their sheer existence.” If Viktor Orbán keeps up his constant attacks on “foreign powers and their agents,” we may see physical attacks on journalists by Fidesz loyalists who blindly follow the instructions of their leader. Back in the fall of 2006 Fidesz employed such tactics, and later it used football hooligans to prevent MSZP from filing a referendum question that was not to its liking. But the mood of the country is different today, and I would advise caution.

May 7, 2017
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Observer
Guest

The regime’s minions are on the wrong side of the law (yet) – not even the police can seize cameras or phones without cause and proper procedure: remember the Felcsut drone incident – the police officer ordered Màrton Gulyàs first thing to turn off the camera. MG said “No, we are not turning it off” and that was it.

Preparing for such eventualities, turn on “back up” setting to Dropbox, iCloud, Google Photo, etc, where the photos will arrive a minute or so later. Vid take more time to transfer.

Doggo
Guest
” Journalists whose media outlet receives any money from abroad are enemies of the nation.” Are you talking about Russia Today, which is funded from Russia? They are certainly viewed as the enemy inside the United States. In fact a highly decorated general of the US military who was an Obama-era intelligence chief was viewed as an agent for this reason. He was disgraced for giving a speech at an event of RT and accepted money for appearing. And this was a general which position is assumed to be loyal to the US, yet he was immediately disgraced by accepting money from a foreign source. So why would the funding of a news organization be not extremely important? Or are you trying to make the point that the source of funding is not important at all? It is important especially if it is foreign funding as it is the case of Russia Today. People who receive foreign funding will be viewed as agents of a foreign power, simple as that. In the United States as well as in Hungary. The employees of Soros are just that, employees. But his influence is much greater than direct employees. There is much known… Read more »
Member

“And this was a general which position is assumed to be loyal to the US, yet he was immediately disgraced by accepting money from a foreign source.”

You are obviously talking about Michael Flynn, a retired general who was fired — by the Trump administration (and previously by Obama for incompetence) — for lying to Vice-President Pence about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US.

It’s important to note that Flynn was disgraced and fired because of this, not because of the reason you mentioned.

Member

Moreover, the speech that Flynn gave at the RT event was in 2015. Flynn was hardly “disgraced” as a result – in fact, he gave a keynote speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention and later became Trump’s National Security Advisor in 2017.

So much for your argument.

Reality Check
Guest
Doggo, a Fidesz propagandist, is turning this blog into a platform for OV’s agitprop. Every post for weeks now is hijacked by its parroting of the government’s spin. Opposition voices are one thing, however since this troll constantly lies it adds no value to the blog. The corrosiveness of this constant stream of propaganda only serves the regime. In one comment it both claims that 444 gets funding from Soros and that he has installed members on their board. It then writes “such agents should be exposed and named so the people know who is trying to interfere in their affairs, who is trying to influence things by using agents?” So, it is either making things up or it has information that back up his claims. It thinks they should be exposed – so it should go ahead and expose. How about it is given a chance to provide verifiable proof of its allegations, by naming the alleged Soros appointed board members, give proof that 444 and its parent company bowed to Soros’s alleged planting of his “minions”. Further, it should provide proof that 444 gets money from Soros. If it can’t do this, I’d like it kicked off of… Read more »
Member

444.hu has written about this alleged Soros connection already three weeks ago (https://444.hu/2017/04/18/olvasoinkhozhoznak ). They did get a grant from the Open Society (= “Soros”) Institute for developing a mobile app (for covering the election in 2014). And one of the shareholders/owners of the publishing company is the “Media Development Investment Fund” (or its daughter, an American investment fund called the Digital News Ventures), which, in turn, is supported, among others (such as state development funds of many Western European states), by the Open Society Institute. After seeing what happened to many other news media, the boys and girls of 444 chose this funding construction in order to be independent of Hungarian oligarchs and governments of any ilk.
So: in the enterprise which publishes 444, a minor share is owned by a foreign investment fund (which is, again, partly, connected to “Soros”), and this fund has two representatives in the direction of the firm (a minority, that is). But the owners are not interfering in the contents of 444, and, being a small minority, the foreign representatives (even if they would directly represent “Soros”…) could not “dictate” anything even if they wanted.

aida
Guest

I do not agree. He is make no a bad point quite well.

Hardy
Guest

Doggo fuck off

LwiiH
Guest

Please, there is no need for this. I believe any one with a brain a recognize the fallacies in Dogo’s conspiracy twisted arguments. RT is not considered an enemy of the state in th US. There are other countries running networks in the country also. France does and so does Germany. Prime example has to be BBC World services. The difference is of course the later services follow accepted journalistic practices where as RT is recognized as being a mouth piece of the ruling party.
And I must say that trying to blame Soros for all the ills seems like a great plot for yet another Bond movie.

exTor
Guest

I get the impulse, Hardy, however your response is intellectually and verbally base. Doggo has won if he is able to elicit the type of getback that you mustered. I am disappointed.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Guest

Doggo: “There is much known about Soros activities”

Does he have any nukes?

David North
Guest

Fidesz’s phobia about journalists echoes that of the Trump mob! But in the thumping defeat of Le Pen: I think we are witnessing the turning of the populist tide. My money is heavily on Merkel in August.
None of this augurs well for Orban, who is already in very hot water in the European parliament, or his unpleasant cronies in Poland. I expect to see much trimming by the Fidesz faction behind the scenes in Brussels accompanied by continuing rhetoric on the home front. This likely will convince fewer and fewer Hungarian voters. If only the opposition could get its act together!

petofi
Guest

“..turning of the tide..”

Don’t be too sure: the Russkies may have just ‘backed off’ . After all, the monstrous victory has already been won in the US. It’s the US that counts. If it gets termited, the West is good as done…

Istvan
Guest

I think it is pretty obvious Petofi that the tide inside the Trump administration has turned against the strategy of ultilizing Russia against China. General McMaster and Mattis never bought into it and have worked tirelessly to correct Trump’s disorientation on Russia. Now that Russia is openly arming the Taliban in Afghanistan there is a clear river of blood between the US military and Putin’s KGB game playing https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/the-latest-us-general-suggests-russia-arming-taliban/2017/04/24/6c9fc050-28f9-11e7-9081-f5405f56d3e4_story.html?utm_term=.383898d4a170

There is no question that the Russian SVR has done some national security damage here, but the greater danger now is pointless adventurism targeting both Iraq and North Korea on the part of Trump. Our military has some weaknesses in relation to seeking relatively easy wins against regimes with military pretentions. Hopefully there is some balance against Trump’s pompous nature that will prevent us from sinking into a quagmire that could cost thousands of soldiers and sailors lives for limited purposes.

Istvan
Guest

Correction not Iraq in the above but Iran.

petofi
Guest

Sorry, Istvan, but I see that you can’t bring yourself to fathom the fact that Trump is a Russian ‘asset’, no less than Orban.

The rottenness of American Democracy issues from the top–that is, from their politicians who have long sold out to the big moneyed interests like Wall Street, oil, health lobby…and the like. Hillary the billary would of been much the same, with a twist of lemon because she’s a bitter woman…

csipsz
Guest

It may well be that agressiveness against women is liked by voters and Fidesz sensed this demand. Treating women the way they should be treated (pénz számolva, asszony verve jó) is downright positive for many voters and women themselves have accepted this state of affairs.

Unfortunately Hungarian women are often weak and submissive (like Halmai and the 444.hu reporter were, who are by the way quite young) and interestingly they themselves don’t like to vote for women. They also internalized that notion that only a man can be a real leader and a person in position of authority is entitled to be aggressive.

A neglected aspect of the Macron – Le Pen contest was the fact that Le Pen is a woman and just like in the US with Clinton many voters were uncomfortable with awarding her the presidential post. Many French voters couldn’t bear the thought that a women could be the ‘first citizen’.

I think Fidesz will escalate and continue to be more aggressive. Many people anyway like to watch others (especially weaker people) beaten up and humiliated. And if there’s a demand supply shall follow soon.

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘I think Fidesz will escalate and continue to be more aggressive’

For certain the intimidation-aggro factor has been ramped up courtesy of the situation.

Hope things don’t get physically awry in the ‘democratic republic’ if the dogs get loose but if they do there should be a chance that the last living Nuremberg prosecutor , Ben Ferencz , gets in there to hold them off by helping to put the fellows who can’t ‘keep their hands to themselves’ in jail.

Not for nothing is Mr. Ferencz still around at 97. At this time a symbolic watcher keeping cautionary vigil on all who just can’t seem to ‘keep their hands to themselves’. The EU
perhaps one stupefyingly day ahead may have to bring the ancient fellow under 5 feet back to contribute to another important legal and moral enterprise. Some dogs have been growling for the longest time.

And let’s hope the football pitches stay a nice green. It might get tough down the road when a meetup of more than 5 Fidesztias at a stadium isn’t exactly the time to sing to the tune of ‘Happy Days are Here Again’. 😎

petofi
Guest

If the Russians let go the leash on Fidesz, they’ll all scamper off shore after their mone…and then, the hordes of Jobbik will take over. (From the frying pan into the fire.)

Member

Intimidation is not unique to Fidesz. Janos Veres used it for HirTV (back when it was Fidesz’s mouthpiece), Janos Koka’s spokesman used it on yours truly. In general, Hungarian politicians despise the free press. Using physical force, however, is a level to which only Fidesz descends.

aida
Guest

For the time being. Fidesz plays with fire.

If, as you think, Hungarian politicians hate the free press, we have a major problem.

Member

The MSZP, SZDSZ and related groups have tolerated the free press as a necessary evil. A handful of political leaders, even former commies such as Ildiko Lendvai, are staunch supporters. But my former colleagues at Nepszabadsag have told me horror stories about backroom political influence from the MSZP – which, after all, owned 30% of the paper.

webber
Guest

Zsolt Bayer – for those who speak Hungarian – advocating severe beating of protesters: https://444.hu/2017/05/07/bayer-zsolt-a-taknyukon-es-a-verukon-rangatna-ki-a-civileket-a-parlamentbol

Guest

A very interesting and detailed critical report on the “illiberal” Hungarian and Polish regimes and their fight against the free press:
https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/hungary-poland-orban-pis-press-freedom
Just two examples:
Press freedom in Hungary and Poland is suppressed not by decrees nor by threat of imprisonment or execution, but by financial machinations, legislative maneuvers, and political pressure.
And it continues in the same critical vein:
The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, which measures freedom of media and journalists in 180 countries, now ranks Hungary sixty-seventh—down from twenty-third in 2010. The index cites outsized government influence as the main reason for this precipitous decline.

Many points made here are repeated by the authors:
Jakub Dymek is a journalist and commentator in Warsaw.

Zsolt Kapelner is a philosopher, lecturer, and journalist in Budapest.

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