Category Archives: Hungarian politics

Two “Unite The Right” organizers and Hungary

A couple of months ago I wrote a post on far right western politicians in Hungary who found Budapest a place very much to their liking. At that time I talked about two Britishers: Jim Dowson and Nick Griffin. Viktor Orbán in his “address to the nation” told his audience that instead of admitting migrants from the Middle East and Africa, “we will let in true refugees: Germans, Dutch, French, and Italians, terrified politicians and journalists who here in Hungary want to find the Europe they have lost in their homelands.” The fact is that a number of people—nationalists, opponents of liberal values, members of extreme far-right parties or movements—have been gathering in Hungary for some time.

Today I will concentrate on two men who have had relationships with Hungary and who are closely connected to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville: Richard Spencer and Daniel Friberg. Both were involved with the organization of the rally and were scheduled speakers, but their speeches were scrapped due to the tragic end of the white supremacists’ demonstration.

Maybe I should start with Daniel Friberg, a Swede, who has been living in Hungary for some time. He is the co-founder and editor of AltRight.com, in addition to being a businessman connected to the Swedish mining industry. He is the co-founder and CEO of Arktos Media Ltd., which altright.com describes as “one of the world’s leading publishers of traditionalist and right-wing literature.” As for “traditionalist literature,” Arktos titles, according to Carol Schaeffer, “largely promote a viewpoint it characterizes as ‘alternatives to modernity’ that are critical of liberalism, human rights, and modern democracy.” It was Arktos that published full-text English translations of Russian theorist Alexander Dugin, “the intellectual guru of Putinism.” Friberg and his American editor-in-chief John B. Morgan moved the operation from the United Kingdom to Hungary in January 2016. (I should add that since then Morgan left Arktos and joined Counter-Currents, a white-nationalist publishing house and website also partially based in Budapest.)

With Friberg and Arktos moving to Budapest in early 2014, it made sense for Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank, to organize The National Policy Institute Conference in the Hungarian capital in October of the same year. Although by that time several American, French, and Swedish right-wing extremists lived in Hungary, Viktor Orbán decided not to allow the gathering on Hungarian soil, allegedly because propagating white supremacist messages is unconstitutional. Therefore, he instructed Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, to prevent the speakers and organizers from entering the country. But there was a problem: there was no legal way of stopping these men from entering Hungary. And indeed, no one interfered with Richard Spencer, who after landing in Vienna took the train to Budapest.

Once it became clear that the Hungarian police had no authority to deny him entry, the decision was made to forbid the conference. But as TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, pointed out, such an action was also illegal. Even white supremacists have the right to express their opinions. But the Hungarian authorities’ bag is full of tricks. Spencer and about 40 of the would-be participants decided to spend the evening prior to the opening of the conference in a pub. Suddenly at least a dozen policemen arrived on the scene and asked Spencer for identification, which in this case would have been his passport. Hungarians are required to have their IDs on them at all times. Spencer, however, wasn’t carrying his passport. He was therefore arrested and held in jail for 72 hours, after which he was deported from Hungary. Because of the Schengen Agreement he was banned from all EU countries for three years.

Source: Népszabadság / Photo: Miklós Teknős

Before he was arrested and deported, Népszabadság had an interview with Spencer, from which we learn that one of the reasons the Institute chose Budapest as the venue for the conference was the presence of Arktos. He never contemplated holding the conference in Germany because of that country’s anti-hate laws. He thought that in Hungary they would be safe. And now, he said, he is confronted with “this political persecution.” He also expressed an aversion toward Jobbik because of the party’s “Asian fantasies,” which emphasize Hungarians’ relations with the Turks and other Central Asian people. From the interview we also learn that Spencer had friendly contacts with some Hungarian journalists. I assume these journalists came from Magyar Hírlap and perhaps Magyar Nemzet. Certainly, in later years Friberg was a welcome visitor at Magyar Hírlap. In the middle of 2016 the editors ran a whole series of articles about him as well as interviews with him.

Despite this unpleasant encounter, Spencer keeps his eyes on Hungarian events. For example, he reads The Hungarian Free Press, which he labelled as “neither Hungarian nor free nor a press,” in which he found an article about Zsolt Bayer. Bayer had just published an article in which he portrayed the current refugee crisis in Hungary and Europe as a racial war intended to annihilate white people. Based on this article, Christopher Adam, the author of The Hungarian Free Press’s opinion piece, concluded that “Fidesz is now more extreme than the ominous opposition party” Jobbik. Spencer agreed with Adam because “from an identitarian perspective Orban and his party are far sounder ideologically than Jobbik, whose leaders believe, perhaps accurately, that Turks are their brothers and sisters. Orban, on the other hand, has spoken of ‘Europe for Europeans.’” He found the Orbán quotation in an article about the prime minister’s 2015 speech at Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad, which appeared in Hungary Today, a government propaganda publication. At the end of the article Spencer comes to the conclusion that Bayer, and perhaps Orbán also, have been reading the literature of the alt-right because “Bayer does not speak the language of your standard European ‘ethno-nationalist.’ And it is Hungarians—and not us … at least not yet—who are in the position to realize the ideals of identitarianism.” So, Hungary’s prospect for achieving Spencer’s ideal society is far greater than that of Western Europe and the United States. Obviously kindred souls.

August 15, 2017

Alcohol and sex: The case of LMP’s Péter Ungár

We left the youthful leaders of Momentum, a new political formation with lofty ambitions, at their three-day festival, which was supposed to attract new followers and produce much needed cash for the fledgling party. Unfortunately, the number of attendees was low, and the festival was a financial flop. I also reported on the revelation that the party has had financial support from at least two businessmen, one of whom at least wanted assurances that Momentum would not cooperate on any level with MSZP or DK. In that post I also reported that Edina Pottyondy, a member of Momentum’s board of governors, quit her post two days before the festival’s opening. A few days later another board member resigned.

These two resignations cannot be a coincidence. There must be some very real differences within Momentum’s leadership for that to happen. At first I thought that perhaps the differences of opinion centered on the sources of financial support, but eventually I came to the conclusion that the bone of contention between András Fekete-Győr and some of the others in the leadership was strategic: to remain entirely independent or to work with others for the common goal of removing Fidesz from power. Péter Juhász of Együtt was trying to convince LMP and Momentum to join Együtt, Párbeszéd, and the Two-Tailed Dog Party to create a new political formation called “New Pole” (új pólus). The politicians of these smaller parties became really excited when an opinion poll indicated that such a formation could receive 16% of the votes nationwide. LMP showed some interest in the idea, but without Momentum the idea would have been stillborn.

If I had any doubts about the reasons for the departure of two leading members of Momentum, the news that “a vote of confidence was submitted against the whole board” confirmed my conviction that the internal strife had to center on the strategy of the charismatic András Fekete-Győr, who is adamant about total independence, which will in his view eventually lead to Momentum’s becoming the premier political force in the country. Fekete-Győr survived the vote of confidence. At the same time Momentum decided that not only is cooperation with other parties out of the question; so is even talking with politicians of other parties. Whether this decision was wise, only time will tell.

Concurrently with these happenings, there was an incident that elicited incredible interest from the media. On August 9 azonnali.hu, a trendy new internet site, learned that Péter Ungár, a member of the board of LMP, was thrown out of Momentum’s “Opening Festival” by security guards. A conversation with Ungár couldn’t shed much light on the subject because he had been too drunk to remember the details.

Péter Ungár is a very rich 26-year-old who a few months ago became one of the leading lights of LMP. At the age of 15 his father, András Ungár, died. His mother, Mária Schmidt, court historian of Viktor Orbán, his older sister, and Péter suddenly became exceedingly wealthy. Péter Ungár still has interests in the family enterprise, and from an interview I read it is clear that he has no intention of selling his stake.

Although it is difficult to find too many details about Ungár’s life, given his very recent appearance as a public figure, I learned that he most likely received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Edinburgh. At the age of 17 he had the opportunity to work for the 1998 campaign of Barack Obama. He published a series of articles on the American election in the old Hírszerző.hu, which in 2010 was purchased by HVG. In 2009 and 2010 he published a couple of articles in konzervatorium.hu, which as one can gather from its name is a conservative publication. Sometime after 2012 he enrolled in a master’s program at Central European University.

From Ungár’s conversations with the young crew of azonnali.hu it became evident that this is not the first time he has drunk to excess. Initially, the Momentum leadership was pretty tight-mouthed about the details of Ungár’s expulsion, not just from this particular event but from all future events Momentum organizea. Eventually, however, the public learned that he tried to crawl into the tent of a girl three times and that he told another girl how good he was in bed.

It was inevitable that sooner or later Ungár’s behavior would cause friction between Momentum and LMP, especially since two internet outlets connected to LMP stood by Ungár and made light of his behavior. Or, at least, this is what Tamás Soproni, vice-chairman of Momentum, claims. He showered vulgar epithets on the whole leadership of LMP, whom he called left-lib, pseudo intellectuals. Ungár’s friends and his party should at least remain quiet and not defend this kind of behavior, he warned. Some important people in the democratic opposition also considered the incident so serious politically and morally that they suggested Ungár’s immediate expulsion from LMP.

LMP is not rushing to follow this advice. They first want to have an investigation of the case, which apparently Ungár himself asked for. One possible reason for the party leadership’s hesitancy to act in haste is that reflektor.hu, a relatively new internet site that is close to the party, might be financed or even run by Ungár. I base my opinion on what Ungár had to say about his role in reflektor.hu, which has been full of articles critical of Momentum. He explained that there is an editorial board that is responsible for these published articles. He had nothing to do with them.

The case is embarrassing for LMP, which over the years has been sensitive to women’s issues. It is the only party in Hungary that has a female quota. LMP has a dual chairmanship, held by a man and a woman. The same is true of LMP’s parliamentary delegation. LMP is also one of the moving forces to get the Orbán government to ratify the “Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence,” normally referred to as the Istanbul Convention (2011). Hungary signed the convention in 2014, but a year later the ratification was voted down by the massive Fidesz majority. Nothing has happened since.

Some political scientists tried to concoct a political rationale for Momentum’s forceful position on the Ungár incident, viewing it as an excuse for Momentum to turn its back on any kind of cooperation with the smaller parties. I am certain that this is not the case. Momentum has been adamant from the moment it announced its intention to become a party that it would not negotiate with any other party. Fekete-Győr’s strategy is still in place, though, if you ask me, this is not the end of the story.

As for the coverage of the case, among the many editorials there was only one that was thoughtful. It was written by Adél Hercsel of HVG. She talked about the futile conspiracy theories that were invented and the relativization of sexual harassment and excessive alcohol consumption. The country is again in two camps: those who make light of the Ungár case and those who harshly condemn him. Empathy, which is in short supply in Hungary, is absent. This young LMP politician may be behaving the way he does because he has problems that should be addressed. I can recommend this thoughtful essay to those who are interested in this troubling case.

August 14, 2017

Charlottesville from a Hungarian perspective

White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, yesterday afternoon “to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back.” The event ended in tragedy: a full-fledged terrorist attack by a white supremacist. In the end three people were dead and 19 injured. This was the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States, and ironically it was committed not by an Islamic extremist but by a man who is most likely an admirer of the president.

David Duke, the former KKK grand wizard who was one of the organizers, announced before the event that the neo-Nazi rally was the fulfillment of President Trump’s vision for the United States. Duke was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump as far back as the Republican primaries. In turn, Trump was reluctant to disavow him when asked to do so by the Anti-Defamation League. He claimed that he didn’t know enough about the group or David Duke. Just as he was unwilling to repudiate his white supremacist followers back in February 2016, he is equally averse now to name the real culprits of the terrorist attack. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides,” he added for emphasis. Most Americans found Trump’s statement, which “couldn’t distinguish between the instigators and the dead,” morally unacceptable. David Duke was also unhappy, but for a different reason. “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” he tweeted.

Some commentators believe that it was Trump’s public show of admiration for Andrew Jackson that told white nationalists their time had come. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, considered it fitting that Trump was honoring Jackson, whom they call “a white supremacist extremist.” The group created a poster with a quotation from Bannon: “Like Andrew Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement.” Trump’s admiration for Jackson also lent credence to the position of Steve King (R-Iowa), a Tea Party conservative for whom America looks very much like the country from the days of the Founding Fathers. King does not welcome immigrants from Central and South America or the Middle East because “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” I should add that Steve King is a great admirer of Viktor Orbán and his regime. In March-April, when Orbán moved against Central European University and the NGOs, Steve King was elated. “Prime Minister Viktor Orbán leads the way again,” he tweeted. “Marxist billionaire Soros cannot be allowed to influence U.S. elections either.”

Given this background, it is perhaps more understandable why some leading Republicans and Democrats are demanding the immediate removal of Steve Bannon and his sidekick Sebastian Gorka from the White House. These critics call both of them “alt-right neo-fascists.” For example, Richard Painter, who was the chief White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, said in an MSNBC panel discussion that “Breitbart News is a racist organization…. This is Breitbart News that you’re watching on the streets of Charlottesville.” For good measure he added that “Bannon needs to be fired, Sebastian Gorka and the rest of the fascists or we have to remove this president.” Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego called Trump “an absolute racist” on a SiriusXM radio show. He recalled that Trump had refused to comment on the attack or show his support for the American Muslim community in Bloomington, Minnesota. Moreover, his adviser Sebastian Gorka suggested on MSNBC that the bombing may have been faked “by the left.” One ought not to be surprised, Gallego continued, because Trump has surrounded himself with racists like Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and Stephen Miller.

So Sebastian Gorka is back in the news big time. Not that he has been quiet in the last few months, but at the beginning he was mostly defending himself against charges of being a member of the Vitézi Rend, a knightly order created by Miklós Horthy for heroes of World War I. I have written many articles on the subject, most of which appeared on Hungarian Spectrum. The Vitézi Rend wasn’t a fascist or Nazi organization per se, but after Hungary entered World War II the order ended up on the U.S. State Department’s blacklist of pro-Nazi institutions. On the other hand, given the anti-Semitic nature of the Horthy regime and the anti-Semitism of the governor himself, no Jews could be admitted to the order regardless of military valor. Gorka steadfastly denies his membership, but current leaders of the Vitézi Rend confirmed his participation in the group. We also know that Gorka was involved with an extreme-right group that made its appearance in 2006 during the long vigil of hundreds of people on the square in front of the parliamentary building. He was as well a regular contributor to the anti-Semitic Demokrata, a still existing periodical under the editorship of András Bencsik, a friend and colleague of Zsolt Bayer.

Otherwise, as the White House “pit bull,” Gorka was often on television touting the greatness of Donald Trump, who was apparently thrilled every time he heard Gorka expounding on Fox News. Gorka’s first serious “political comment,” however, didn’t turn out too well. He gave an interview to BBC radio in which he said, in connection with Trump’s threat to North Korea, that “You should listen to the president; the idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical.” This comment went too far, and Gorka was forced to backtrack. He claimed that his words were misconstrued and that he was merely saying that the media shouldn’t ask Tillerson questions about military matters.

Gorka survived the Tillerson misstep, but this time he might be in more trouble because a couple of days ago, in a radio interview with Breitbart News, he belittled the danger white supremacists pose. “It’s this constant, ‘Oh, it’s the white man. It’s the white supremacists. That’s the problem.’ No, it isn’t.” And a few hours later comes the Charlottesville tragedy. Unfortunately Charlottesville wasn’t an isolated incident. In the decade after 9/11 the number of right-wing extremist attacks averaged 337 per year, causing a total of 254 fatalities, while Muslim extremists were responsible for a total of 50 deaths in the United States during the same period.

Is Gorka a racist? We have no idea, but some of his words are supportive of a racist culture.

The same question can be asked about Viktor Orbán, and pretty much the same answer given. Orbán’s views on the purity of European culture, which is under siege by outsiders, can easily be interpreted in a racial sense. Viktor Orbán is a devilishly clever politician who can rarely be caught saying something truly inappropriate or something that could be interpreted as a racial slur or as anti-Semitic. On the other hand, there have been innumerable occasions when he uttered sentences that were ambiguous, which only those who are familiar with the cultural context in which they are uttered can properly decipher. It is relatively easy to find Orbán speeches in which he talked about Europeans as a distinct group whose culture must be defended. At one point he even talked about ethnic purity, which his staff found too offensive and removed from the transcript of the speech, only to be found out and forced to reinsert it.

Racism is rampant in Hungary. According to a 2014 poll, 59% of Hungarians wouldn’t consent to a black neighbor and by 2016 80% wouldn’t want to live next door to an Arab. In the United States, according to the Brookings Institute, in 1958 44 percent of American whites said they would move if a black family moved next door; 40 years later, in 1998, the figure was 1 percent. By refusing to disavow white supremacists, Trump and his White House advisers may be helping to turn the clock back to the 1950s.

August 13, 2017

Transylvania in focus

Today’s post will be devoted to three subjects, all of which are related in one way or the other to Transylvania. The topics range from beer to the coming national election to a fifth-grade Hungarian language and literature textbook for Hungarian students in Romania. Since I spent the last two hours comparing a textbook written for children living in Hungary with that written for Hungarian students studying in Romania, I will start with the textbooks.

The Romanian Hungarian literature textbook is available in its entirety on the internet. Internet access to the textbook from Hungary is restricted to the first 16 pages, but from the table of contents we have a fairly good idea of what fifth graders are expected to learn. The verdict coming from educators in Hungary is that the textbook published in Romania is far superior to the ones children in Hungary use.

According to László Arató, president of the Association of Teachers of Hungarian, it is refreshing to read the book published by the Romanian ministry of education, especially when it’s compared to the old-fashioned, stodgy Hungarian textbook from Budapest. From the very first page the authors stressed that they consider the children partners, which is in stark contrast to the book children currently use in Hungary. While the Romanian textbook is full of contemporary writers’ works, the Hungarian equivalent got stuck at Sándor Petőfi’s ”János vitéz.” The choice of this poem didn’t surprise me a bit because Rózsa Hoffmann, former undersecretary in charge of education responsible for the “reform” of Hungarian education, said at least five years ago that it was an absolute must that children study this poem. Those who are unfamiliar with the story don’t deserve to enter college. Fifty-six pages of the 203-page textbook are devoted to the literary analysis of this poem. I might add that in my copy of Petőfi’s complete poems “János vitéz” takes up 53 pages.

While the Romanian textbook is full of modern texts and daily encounters among people, teachers in Hungary are supposed to teach children about metaphors, Greek myths, and the Bible. There is also a section of excerpts from Hungarian writers who describe different regions of the country, with an emphasis on patriotism. One item sounded promising: Ferenc Molnár’s immortal The Boys from Pál Street. But, as it turned out, the book was covered in only five pages–just the structure and plot of the novel plus the names of the characters. The final item in the table of contents made quite an impression on me. I kept wondering how anyone can teach 10-year-olds about the “theory of literature.” In brief, I feel sorry for all those children who have to sit through this literature course and am especially sorry that they have to analyze “János vitéz” for weeks on end. I’m sure that fifth graders find this textbook deadly. No wonder that children don’t like to read.

Now let’s move on to a jollier subject: beer. Of course, not just any beer but the world famous “Igazi Csíki Sőr,” which I wrote about earlier. There was a trademark battle between a Dutch-Hungarian mini-brewery in Transylvania and the Romanian division of Heineken, the well-known Dutch brewery. For some inexplicable reason the Hungarian government decided to weigh in on the side of Igazi Csíki Sőr against Heineken. János Lázár and Zsolt Semjén traveled to Sânsimion/Csíkszentsimon to show their support. The government contemplated passing legislation that would discriminate against larger foreign-owned companies and promote the business interests of small Hungarian firms. And the government gave money to the company that produced the Igazi Csíki Sör. For a while patriotic beer drinkers boycotted Heineken and Igazi Csíki Sőr disappeared from the shelves as soon as it was put out. But these happy days for the owners of Igazi Csíki Sör didn’t last long. When the large breweries’ products are half the price of the beer from Csík, customer enthusiasm doesn’t last long. The mini-brewery decided that the government-favored beer will no longer be available in supermarkets. They will try their luck with direct distribution, providing home delivery to customers. I don’t know, but I have the feeling that this is the end of Igazi Csíki Sör. Market forces are simply too strong.

The last item is the intensive registration campaign the government has been conducting in the last month or so in the neighboring countries to entice ethnic Hungarians to vote in the 2018 national election. Those familiar with the details of the 2014 election know that Fidesz’s all-important two-thirds majority was achieved only because of the votes that came from Transylvania, Serbia, and Ukraine. Although Fidesz is way ahead of all the other parties in the polls today, Viktor Orbán leaves nothing to chance. In 2014 the government managed to register 193,793 voters in the neighboring countries, though only 128,712 of these were valid. A whopping 95.49% of them voted for Fidesz. Therefore, getting as many people registered as possible is of the utmost importance for Viktor Orbán and his party.

The government hopes that of the one million dual citizens at least 500,000 will vote in the election. The government had 332,000 registration requests by the time of the referendum on the migrant quota issue, in which dual citizens could vote. The intensive registration campaign since then has produced only meager results. In the last ten months the number of registrants has grown by only 18,000. The current figure is 350,000, with 148,000 from Romania, followed by Serbia with 40,000. Of course, it is possible that large numbers of people will register only in the last few weeks, but the goal is very ambitious.

Viktor Orbán himself sent letters to all dual citizens living abroad. In addition, the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség/RMDSZ or in Romanian Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România/UDMR), the only serious Hungarian party in Romania, is actively involved in the campaign, especially since Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad on July 22. The relationship between RMDSZ and Fidesz was not always amiable, but efforts to create a new ethnic political force to be used against RMDSZ failed. RMDSZ was the only Hungarian ethnic party left standing. Lately, RMDSZ and Fidesz have been working hand in hand for the reelection of Viktor Orbán.

August 12, 2017

The Hungarian socialists in turmoil?

Perhaps the most telling sentence on the state of the Hungarian Socialist Party came from its chairman in an interview he gave to Inforádió on August 7. In the interview Gyula Molnár tried to be upbeat. The public clash between László Botka, the party’s candidate for the premiership, and Zsolt Molnár, one of the top leaders of the party, is now behind them. Zsolt Molnár and László Botka have made peace, and the decision was reached to follow the party’s initial strategy, the lynchpin of which is the retirement of Ferenc Gyurcsány from politics. The chairman sounded upbeat until he uttered the following sentence: “I’m already afraid of the results of the August opinion polls.” Molnár’s fear is well founded. There is a very good possibility that the clash between the two well-known MSZP politicians will further erode the dwindling support for the socialist party.

MSZP’s leadership will not change strategy. As long as the politicians and the membership of Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) insist on Ferenc Gyurcsány’s presence on a common party list, there will be no collaboration with DK. Perhaps it was Gyula Molnár’s interview that inspired DK to publish an open letter to László Botka. Ágnes Vadai, one of DK’s vice-chairmen, posted it on her Facebook page. I assume DK is trying to make sure that the public will place most of the blame on Botka because of his intransigence concerning the person of Ferenc Gyurcsány. So Vadai stressed DK’s attempts to come to an understanding with Botka, though she emphasized that the DK community will not accept him as the leader of the joint opposition without the presence of its chairman. As she put it, “DK is not for sale either with or without its chairman.” Vadai ended her letter by saying: “You accepted the leadership role. If you’re successful, it will be to your credit, but if you fail, you will have to shoulder the blame.” Vadai added that if Botka rigidly adheres to his present strategy, he will place the democratic opposition in an untenable situation.

László Botka wasn’t impressed. First, he made fun of “the followers of Donald Trump’s Twitter politics,” meaning Vadai’s choice of Facebook as a vehicle of communication. Second, he indicated that he has no intention of changing his mind on the subject of Gyurcsány’s presence in the political life of the democratic opposition. His answer was a paraphrase of a line from a Szekler story. An old couple is sitting on the terrace. The wife turns to the husband and complains that he never tells her that he loves her. The old Szekler says: “I said it once. If there is a change I will let you know.” This story might capture one aspect of the Szeklers, who are known for their reticence, but it was impudent under the circumstances. It showed the arrogance for which Botka is becoming known nationwide. Moreover, a day later Botka accused Gyurcsány of not being a man of democratic convictions. Otherwise, Gyurcsány would support him, because he is the one who “proclaimed the strategy of victory” which will remove Viktor Orbán’s government.

Given these unfortunate events, observers of the political scene on both sides of the aisle have become convinced that Gyula Molnár’s fears of a serious loss of support will force MSZP to drop Botka, who hasn’t shown the necessary political finesse or a willingness to keep communication open with the other democratic forces outside of MSZP. Government publications began to speculate that Botka’s days may be numbered. Earlier there had been voices suggesting that Gergely Karácsony of Párbeszéd would be an attractive alternative, but I can’t imagine that MSZP politicians would be ready to entrust a non-party member with that position. A couple of days ago Figyelő, the once highly respected financial weekly which has since been purchased by Mária Schmidt, Viktor Orbán’s court historian, came up with a replacement in the person of Ágnes Kunhalmi.

Source: nyugat.hu / Photo by Bálint Vágvölgyi

The 35-year-old Ágnes Kunhalmi has popular appeal that MSZP hasn’t really exploited. She was designated the party’s education expert. She does appear frequently in the media, but always strictly in that capacity. This is surprising because in the 2014 election Kunhalmi showed what she is capable of. Gábor Simon, an MSZP old-timer, was MSZP’s candidate in Budapest’s 15th electoral district (Pestszentlőrinc-Pestszentimre/District XVIII). Only a few weeks before the election Simon was accused of money laundering and was arrested. The party in the last minute replaced Simon with Kunhalmi, who in a spectacular campaign lost by only 56 votes. The Fidesz candidate’s slim margin was due to several phony parties with misleading names being encouraged by the government to enter the race. There were at least three such “social democratic types” of parties on the ballot (SZDP [67], MSZDP [52], Szociáldemokraták [128]). Later, when the democratic forces had problems finding a candidate to run against Fidesz-supported Mayor István Tarlós, I thought Ágnes Kunhalmi would be a perfect candidate. Instead, Lajos Bokros ran in the last minute. Although he is not a popular politician, he did surprisingly well, getting about 35% of the votes.

Soon after Kunhalmi’s name surfaced in Figyelő, the government publications were full of the news that “the dissatisfied MSZP leaders have already found the successor to Botka.” Origo seems to know that Kunhalmi, who is the chairman of the Budapest MSZP, is less than happy with László Botka’s decision to name József Tóth, the successful mayor of District XIII, as a kind of coordinator of the Budapest campaign, which under normal circumstances would be the job of the Budapest MSZP leadership. Yesterday Gyula Molnár denied in an interview on “Egyenes beszéd” of ATV that there is any intention of replacing Botka with Kunhalmi. In fact, their relationship is close. The party, including Kunhalmi, stands behind Botka. Moreover, MSZP will not change its initial strategy. MSZP has already chosen its 106 candidates for the 106 available electoral districts, though, he added, that can still be changed. In this scheme the other opposition parties would have a slim chance of winning any of the left-leaning districts.

Kunhalmi said that the election campaign will be in the hands of the Budapest Election Committee, which will be under the supervision of the Budapest MSZP leadership, which she heads. She and her team will, however, work with the party’s central leadership, with László Botka and with József Tóth. She added that she finds Tóth’s appointment an excellent idea because “there is a need to engage all successful left-wing politicians who can give new hope and impetus to Hungary after the long period of darkness under Fidesz.”

All of this optimism sounds too good to be true. Let’s wait for the polls, which will be coming out in late August. Perhaps, after all, the strategy will have to be changed and, with it, the person who will lead the team.

August 11, 2017

Extradition of Yerzhan Kadesov to Kazakhstan, with Hungarian assistance

In order to understand the ins and outs of today’s post about the extradition of Yerzhan Kadesov, a Kazakh national, from Hungary to Kazakhstan, I’m afraid I have to start with Mukhtar Ablyazov, the founder of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), a political party which was supposed to be a counterforce against the regime of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakh dictator who has been in power ever since 1984. Soon enough Ablyazov was accused of embezzling $5 billion from Bank Turan Alem (BTA).  He fled the country and settled in France, where he was subsequently detained by French authorities. Russia sought his extradition, but the human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch took up his case. Last December he was released on the grounds that Russia had a political motive in making the extradition request.

Yerzhan Kadesov / Source: Interfax.kz

It was not only Ablyazov who fled Kazakhstan but several of his colleagues, whose extraditions were also sought and denied for the same reason. One of the lesser associates of Ablyazov was Yerzhan Kadesov, who escaped from Kazakhstan in 2009, first settling in Ukraine. After a while, however, fearing that the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych might extradite him, he moved to Hungary in 2012. Two years later Kazakhstan issued a warrant for his arrest, and in 2016 the Hungarian authorities detained Kadesov on the grounds that he was a national security risk. A Polish human rights group called Open Dialogue Foundation moved into action on Kadesov’s behalf. They released an urgent call to stop the extradition, pointing out that there is a good possibility that “Hungary is in the service of the Kazakhstani dictator” in handling the case.

Kadesov’s case is closely tied to that of Zhaksylyk Zharimbetov, Kadesov’s supervisor at BTA, who in January 2017 was kidnapped by Kazakhstani security forces in Turkey, where he enjoyed refugee status. Soon enough Zharimbetov began “to reveal Ablyazov’s crimes.” Based on his testimony, the Kazakh court sentenced Ablyazov to a 20-year jail term in absentia.

The Kazakh authorities seem to be using Zharimbetov to convince other fugitives to return to Kazakhstan. This is what happened in Kadesov’s case. It seems that the Hungarians helped the Kazakhs in their endeavor by allowing telephone calls from Zharimbetov to Kadesov while Kadesov was in jail in Hungary. Moreover, Kazakh diplomats in Budapest were free to visit him. But ODF claims that Hungarian human rights organizations were prevented from providing legal assistance to the incarcerated Kadesov. The Kazakh fugitive steadfastly denied his guilt for about six months, but in the middle of June he confessed and asked to be extradited to Kazakhstan. ODF claims that Kadesov was pressured via threats to his relatives in Kazakhstan “with the knowledge and assistance” of the Hungarian authorities.

Index also got hold of the story, though fairly late in the game. Index’s source, I assume, was the Polish ODF. In the middle of June Index sent inquiries to the ministry of interior concerning the Kadesov case but got no answer whatsoever. This surprised the journalists because in the past they always got answers, even if they were fairly meaningless.

The first thought that came to my mind when reading this story was the Hungarian decision to extradite Lieutenant Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan. During the summer of 2004 NATO’s Partnership for Peace organized a two-month program for officers from the member states in Budapest. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan joined the Partnership when it was established in 1994. The young officers were supposed to study English in the Hungarian capital. Ramil Safarov, an Aziri national, purchased an ax locally, and one night when the Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan was asleep, he brutally hacked him into pieces. He practically severed the Armenian officer’s head. During his trial Safarov freely admitted that his only reason for killing Margaryan was that he was an Armenian. He showed no remorse for his crime. In addition, while in jail he attacked the guards, for which he received two and a half years in a separate trial. In 2006 the verdict was announced: he received a life sentence for premeditated murder.

Between 2006 and 2012 the Azeris tried to convince the Hungarian government to let Safarov serve his sentence in Azerbaijan, but the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments steadfastly refused the request, knowing full well that he would immediately be released since the Azeri government and people considered Safarov a national hero. However, after Péter Szijjártó’s visit to Azerbaijan in June 2012, a deal was struck between the Orbán government and the government of Ilham Aliyev for Safarov’s release from Hungarian custody. And indeed, just as predicted, Safarov was greeted at home as a national hero and immediately received clemency from the president. The minister of defense bestowed on him the rank of major.

A Kazakh fugitive who is extradited today won’t be as fortunate as Safarov. Other countries where Kazakh fugitives sought shelter–Great Britain, Spain, the Czech Republic–have all refused to extradite them to Kazakhstan and/or Russia. Hungary is the odd man out. I assume that by now Kadesov is already in a Kazakh jail, where apparently he can’t expect a fair trial. Of course, this case will not create such an outcry as the Safarov case did. After all, it was a murder case. Safarov’s release by the Hungarian government also had serious diplomatic consequences. After the incident the Armenian government broke off diplomatic relations with Hungary, adding that “the Armenian nation will never forgive” Hungary for what happened. Diplomatic relations between the two countries haven’t been restored since.

On the other hand, Hungarian relations with Kazakhstan have been close ever since 2012. Who can forget Viktor Orbán’s speech during his visit to Kazakhstan: “We believe that we are equal partners within the European Union but originally we were strangers there. When we go to Brussels, we have no relatives there. But when we come to you in Kazakhstan we are at home. This is a strange feeling that people have to go to the East in order to feel at home. Therefore, it is always with great pleasure that the Hungarian delegation comes here.” Surely, one cannot say ‘no’ to such a good friend. Denying extradition might spoil their wonderful friendship.

August 10, 2017

Hungarian politicians and Migration Aid’s “migrant resorts”

By now, I’m sure, many readers of Hungarian Spectrum who regularly follow the English- or Hungarian-language news from Hungary have heard the story of those refugee families who were offered the opportunity to spend a few days in a village at the edge of Kis-Balaton, a huge wetland habitat. As is clear from the name, the place is only a few kilometers from Lake Balaton. An Austrian benefactor offered three cabins to Migration Aid International, an Open Society Foundation-supported organization that is helping both the refugees who are still being kept in transit zones along the Serbian-Hungarian border and those who have been released and have been granted asylum and are currently under the “protection” (oltalom) of the Hungarian state. In the rest of this post you will see what this “protection” means in the current harsh reality of the Orbán regime.

Cutting to the chase: a Fidesz member of parliament, three mayors in the vicinity of those three cabins, and some of the less than charitable and enlightened inhabitants of the three towns swore that no refugee can have a vacation near them. They don’t care about these people’s legal status. They don’t want them nearby. In fact, as one of the mayors said, they don’t want them anywhere in Hungary.

Source: abcug.hu / Photo: András Hajdú

Many articles have been written on the subject in Hungarian, and yesterday The Budapest Beacon published a detailed summary of what happened in Keszthely, Hévíz, and Zalavár, three towns located in one of the busiest tourist areas of Hungary. Since the disgraceful story can be read elsewhere, I will approach the topic from a different angle. I wanted to discover its genesis.

It looks as if the journalists of Magyar Idők regularly check Migration Aid’s Facebook page. There they learned, most likely on August 2, that the organization’s activists were planning to spend the weekend getting the three cabins ready to receive the first three families. The journalist who got the job of inciting public opinion against Migration Aid and its plans was Áron Nagy, who subsequently wrote five articles on the unacceptability of allowing “migrants” to vacation anywhere near Lake Balaton.

The very first article was, most likely purposely, misleading. According to Nagy, “Migration Aid International in the outskirts of [Keszthely] is planning to give temporary accommodations to asylum seekers let out of the transit zones.” Migration Aid’s Facebook page was very specific about the status of the refugees. They were not asylum seekers. They already received asylum in Hungary. Migration Aid was equally clear about using the cabins for the purpose of providing short vacations for people in desperate need of some normalcy. The total news value of this article was the sentence I just quoted. The rest of the 450-word article was filler that besmirched the reputation of Migration Aid and made sure everybody knows it is connected to George Soros’s foundation.

The news spread quickly and naturally reached the local internet news site, Zalai Hírlap Online (zaol.hu), which got in touch with András Siewert, the operative coordinator of Migration Aid. Zaol.hu’s handling of the story was a great deal more professional than Magyar Idők‘sThey went to Migration Aid’s Facebook page and accurately quoted the description of the organizations’ plans for the cabins. Siewert explained that these people want to stay in Hungary and the organization is trying to acquaint them with Hungary’s history and culture. Zaol.hu asked whether Migration Aid was concerned about any negative local reaction, to which Siewert’s answer was that since the neighbors are mostly Austrians and Germans they don’t anticipate any trouble. What a sad commentary on the state of mind of Hungarians after two years of hate mongering.

By that time it became known that the three cabins are situated in the outskirts of Zalavár, a village of 1,000 inhabitants. Ildikó Horváth, the mayor of the village, learned about the refugees from Magyar Idők but found out only from zaol.hu that the three cabins are situated in Zalavár. Her reaction was swift: “As soon as this information reached me I took the necessary steps,” which “will serve the interests of the villagers.” What the mayor of Keszthely, a city 13 km. away, had to do with three cabins in Zalavár is hard to fathom. But it was clear from the zaol.hu article that by that time the mayors of the whole region had been in touch with one another, and they swore that they would use “all legal means” to prevent the families from vacationing anywhere nearby. Jenő Manninger, the Fidesz member of parliament representing the district, admitted that the visit of these families doesn’t mean permanent settlement, but this scheme of Migration Aid is dangerous nonetheless because it is part of the “Soros plan.” He added that “the authorities are already investigating the legal possibilities of preventing the organization of such camping holidays.”

In the next few days Magyar Idők did its very best to further incite public opinion against the migrants and their “vacationing.” Áron Nagy got in touch with Ferenc Ruzsics, the mayor of Keszthely, who said that these people have no place anywhere in the country. He accused Migration Aid of being underhanded, although we know that the organization announced its plans on Facebook. Magyar Idők also got in touch with Manninger, who announced that “in no way can the migrants settle, even if at the moment their camping is legally possible.” Quite a claim by a legislator who ought to know that these people have the legal right to settle wherever their hearts desire in the territory of Hungary.

Two days later Áron Nagy was at it again. In his article dated August 5 he complained that Migration Aid persists on going through with the original plan despite the outcry of the locals. In order to fill space, he went on and on about the exact location of the three cabins and tried to find contradictions in different journalistic accounts of the events. The whole article was a pitiful attempt at blackening the name of Migration Aid.

On the same day Áron Nagy also published an opinion piece titled “Migránssimogató” (Migrant Stroking), in which he proudly took credit for “exposing” Migration Aid. As a result of his first article, “those Hungarians who are considered by Brussels to be retarded folks disposed to fascist ideas cried out from Zalavár to Keszthely: not one of them here.”

And if that weren’t enough, Áron Nagy with a colleague, Kriszta Gidró, wrote another article on August 7 in which the duo repeated all their objections to Migration Aid as well as to “migrant resorts” anywhere in Hungary. They were especially infuriated by András Siewert’s insistence that migrants can live wherever they want and that in the future Migration Aid will continue to organize vacations for those who have already been granted asylum. Siewert also said that they have no obligation to ask permission to organize such outings. The journalists found it upsetting that “Migration Aid will continue to pursue its refugee advocacy actions.”

This story, I believe, is a good example of the way the Hungarian population is being indoctrinated, with the assistance of the government media in the service of Viktor Orbán’s policies. It is a shameful story of manipulation and duplicity.

August 9, 2017