Category Archives: Hungary

Béla Pomogáts: A legend’s reincarnation

Béla Pomogáts is a historian of literature and a literary critic whose main field of interest is twentieth-century Hungarian literature, including works by writers living outside the current borders of Hungary. He is the author of the encyclopedic study Newest Hungarian Literature, 1945-1981 (1982) and of several books on Hungarian writers in the neighboring countries. 

Béla Pomogáts began his studies at ELTE in 1953. I followed him a year later. Both of us majored in Hungarian, and both of us became members of the Revolutionary Student Committee during the 1956 October Revolution. While I left and found safe haven in the West, Béla paid dearly for his activities with years of incarceration and unemployment.

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According to the official announcement, on Friday July 17th the earthly remains of Sándor Petőfi, which had been brought back from the Siberian Barguzin, were buried. The story went viral despite the summer heat, when the major players in public life would rather spend their time at Lake Balaton (or on the Adriatic) than at funeral services.

The Barguzin skeleton was discovered a quarter of a century ago in far-away Siberia in a forgotten cemetery of a barely-known settlement by a scientific expedition, whose initiators and experts were Ferenc Morvai, a businessman, István Kiszely, an anthropologist, and Edit Kéri, a former actress. Later they quarreled, and for many decades the Barguzin skeleton became enwrapped in a veil of oblivion more mournful than any shroud.  Twenty some years later a solemn reburial has taken place, and its energetic organizers have by turns been makings statements. I only quietly want to say that among them there is not one person with any professional credentials. The only one who might have been considered to be qualified is the late István Kiszely, an eccentric scientist, who earlier as a Benedictine seminarian in Pannonhalma cultivated an intimate relationship with the Kádárist state security apparatus.

The lunatic fringe at the "reburial." Népszabadság / Viktor Veres

The lunatic fringe at the “reburial.” Népszabadság / Viktor Veres

A quarter of a century ago there was also great interest in the discovery in Transylvanian Hungarian circles, although I don’t remember that the Hungarians of Kolozsvár/Cluj, Nagyvárad/Oradea , or Marosvásárhely/Târgu-Mureș took the sensational news reports at face value. Both the Hungarian scientific community and public opinion continued to accept the established view that the poet was the victim of a Cossack lancer’s weapon during the battle of Segesvár (today Sighișoara) near Fehéregyháza (Albești). (I myself, as the president of the Hungarian Writers’ Association as well as the president of the Vernacular Conference, have repeatedly paid tribute at the older monument next to the highway and later at the new Petőfi statue erected a few years ago.) I, along with the scholars who have intensively studied the art and life of Petőfi, didn’t think to question the time and place of the death of the poet. Today’s Petőfi scholars unanimously reject the legend of Barguzin.

András Dienes, Petőfi in the War of Independence (1958)

Dienes’s book is the most authentic and detailed work on the poet’s activities in the last year of his life. One reason that I’m referring to Dienes’s book is that he was my much respected older colleague in the Literary Studies Institute of the Academy of Sciences. Before the war Dienes was a gendarme officer who at the end of the war joined the anti-fascist resistance movement. After the communist takeover he spent long years in Mátyás Rákosi’s prison on trumped-up charges. He was rehabilitated in 1957 and from there on dedicated his scholarly life to the study of Sándor Petőfi. While writing the book, he also did research in Romania. It turned out that the mass grave which most likely contains Petőfi’s remains is inaccessible because a large-scale industrial site was built on top of it.

The transylvanian contingent / Nészpabadság / Viktor Veres

The Transylvanian contingent. Népszabadság / Viktor Veres

Although it is unlikely that Petőfi’s remains will ever surface, Dienes relied on testimony and historical documents that indicated the date and place of the poet’s death.  There are many such documents: Hungarian army officers, Austrian generals, the contemporary press, and memoirs all support the literary historian’s chronicle of Sándor Petőfi’s last hours.

Testimony of the Petőfi literature

Since the appearance of András Dienes’s book, several studies by literary historians have tried to clarify the circumstances of Petőfi’s death whenever public interest re-focused on the subject. After many decades of calm, at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s a kind of “literary retrial” took place, which inspired people’s imaginations. In September 1988 Edit Kéri, earlier an actress in Győr who was imprisoned after the 1956 revolution, approached Ferenc Morvai, a businessman of means whom the media nicknamed the “boiler king,” and asked him to sponsor an expedition to Siberia to find the poet’s earthly remains. According to Kéri, the poet didn’t die on the battlefield near Segesvár but, along with many other Hungarian soldiers, was captured by the Russians. In the Barguzin cemetery, she claimed, there are a number of graves belonging to these captured soldiers. The idea of a Siberian expedition prompted fierce debates and a host of scientific (and pseudo-scientific) publications.

Articles that appeared in periodicals and newspapers reported the news about the excavations in Barguzin as a genuine scientific sensation. The Hungarian public learned that the members of the expedition even found the name of the poet–Aleksandr Petrovics, the original family name of the poet–on one of the graves In 1990, Edit Kéri summarized the results of the expedition in a book titled Petőfi in Siberia?! I must admit that Kéri did report some of the doubts surrounding the remains, but she still considered the skeleton to be that of Petőfi. Soon after, another book by Géza Szabó detailed the history of the excavation of the grave itself. A few months later a real Petőfi scholar, Sándor Fekete, felt that it was time to raise his voice and published a book with the title Siberian Contagion: Resurrection of the Petőfi Legend and Its Reburial. It was serious re-examination of the existing evidence, and it debunked the newly created Petőfi legend. Soon enough more works appeared, among them Lajos Szuromi’s Petőfi’s Russian Poems?, Miklós Veszprémi’s How Did Petőfi Die? and, in Russian, A. Tivanenko’s Petofi v Barguzine. Two publications that I would call “academic” came out subsequently. One was a series of essays edited by László Kovács titled Not Petőfi!, in which well-known Petőfi scholars such as Sándor Fekete, József Kiss, Imre Lengyel, László Harsányi, and several Russian academics wrote studies. In 2003 László Kovács appeared with a book of his own titled Illusion: The Fiasco of the Siberian Petőfi Research, which is the best summary of the history of the whole affair.

Two quotations, two publications

The first quotation is from Sándor Fekete’s Siberian Contagion: “The book which is in the hands of the readers is a document and a medical history of an age. … We cannot take up the examination of the bizarre and irrational ideas which have made such an impact on the repressed national consciousness, the result of outside and domestic influences. This time we should just concentrate on this particular case.”

The second work, a thorough and convincing monograph by László Kovács, presents all the legends that are related to Sándor Petőfi’s death and his alleged Siberian exile. “All the findings of the social and natural sciences contradict the false identification, but the decisive argument is the poet’s spirit that he left for us in his writings…. Whether the supporters of the Siberian legend knew or felt this I have no idea. I can only conclude that they submerged the topic in demagogic nationalist sentiments and shaped it into a political question…. They called those who stood against this falsification of history the enemies of the nation,” demanded a referendum, and wanted to turn to the European Court of Justice.

Finally, I would like to call attention to the latest issue of Rubicon, a historical magazine for interested laymen in which there is a collection of instructive and readable articles about “Petőfi of Barguzin.” In particular, I am thinking of two articles by Róbert Hermann, “Segesvár–Death of Petőfi,” and “Did they take them or not? The fate of Hungarian prisoners-of-war of the 1849 Transylvanian campaign.” I also found László Kovács’s “The phantom of Barguzin” and Balázs Gusztáv Mende’s “Alexander Petrovics of Barguzin” useful. Here we learn that the Russian army didn’t take prisoners-of-war to Russia. In fact, they turned them over to the Austrians.

Is there a  lesson to be learned?

In my opinion every scientific debate, even the ones that include pseudo-scientific views, is useful, including the polemics surrounding the case of “Petőfi in Barguzin.” The reason for the usefulness of this debate is that it touches not only on the credibility of theories about historical events but also on the interpretation and assessment of Hungary’s place in the community of European nations. The credibility of historical writing is an absolute necessity in a nation that must not be jeopardized by pursuing seemingly interesting but hazy notions. Sándor Petőfi’s life ended with the defeat of the war of independence: it is in this way that his life is complete and whole. The poet’s life, and especially his death, is therefore not simply a series of facts or data but a very important motif in Hungarian national identity. An adult nation does not need legends, especially if they have been long refuted. We don’t have to search for, celebrate, and build statues in honor of Petőfi Barguzin. Rather, we must think of him as Petőfi of March 15, the revolution, the Transylvanian campaign, the poet, the politician, and the martyr of Segesvár.

Translated by Eva S. Balogh

A plagiarist educator? Yes, she will be the next principal of a Budapest high school

The following scandal might be a tempest in a teapot, but it typifies who gets ahead in today’s Hungary.

At the end of this school year the tenure of the current principal of the Antal Budai Nagy Gymnasium in Budafok / District XXII is coming to an end. According to the law, Mrs. Kiss, née Beáta Prim could be reappointed without an open application procedure if she is supported by the faculty, the students, and the parents. There is certainly no problem here. Kiss is liked by her colleagues: 42 of the 44 teachers gave her their support. So did the students and the parents. Yet on December 8, in a closed session, the city council at the suggestion of Deputy Mayor Zoltán Németh voted to have an open competition for Kiss’s job.

In addition to Mrs. Kiss’s application, there was an application from Mrs. Manolovits, née Orsolya Erdőközi, who turned out to be friends with both Deputy Mayor Németh and Mrs. Judit Bertalan Czunyi, undersecretary in charge of public education in the ministry of human resources. Czunyi is Rózsa Hoffmann’s replacement and unfortunately doesn’t seem to be much of an improvement. From the story that emerges, it looks as if Czunyi and Németh came to the aid of Manolovits, who a year earlier had failed to get a job as principal of a high school in Érd. The opportune moment was the end of Kiss’s term, which everybody believed would be automatically extended. Not so. An open application process began.

There is no question, Mrs. Czunyi, née Judit Bertalan is a faithful Fidesz loyalist

There is no question, Mrs. Czunyi, née Judit Bertalan, is a faithful Fidesz loyalist

The city council deemed both applicants’ qualifications and vision for the school’s future excellent, and therefore the final decision lay with the ministry. Faculty members and parents of the students by this point had no doubt that Malonovits, Czunyi’s friend from their university days, would be the winner. Petitions were sent to the ministry, demonstrations were organized, long debates were held during which a lot was learned about Malonovits. She was no stranger to the school. A couple of years previously she had taught Hungarian literature there. Apparently, she was not exactly an ideal colleague. Teamwork was not her forte. At one point she was appointed to lead the school’s literary society where she was supposed to work in tandem with the other Hungarian teachers, something she obviously was incapable of doing. Tensions rose and eventually she was removed from the position. At this point, giving no notice, she quit her job, leaving her graduating class high and dry just before their matriculation examinations.

Of course, what is happening in the Antal Budai Nagy Gymnasium is not unique. Ever since the nationalization of the schools the same routine has been followed. The tenure of a principal is up, but regardless of whether the person is doing an excellent job and could be automatically reappointed, he/she is removed and replaced by someone who has, as Népszabadság put it, “political tail-wind.” In fact, the appointment became infused with party politics when one of the Fidesz members of the council, head of the education committee, claimed that “one group of parents hand in hand with opposition parties stir up tension.”

It was becoming obvious that the parents would not be able to prevent Malonovits’s appointment, but they weren’t discouraged. They, most likely with the help of faculty members, became suspicious that Malonovits’s application might not be entirely her own creation. Members of the anti-Malonovits team turned to the Internet and, with the help of a plagiarism checker, found what they were looking for. Two years ago a Mrs. István Győri applied for the job of elementary school principal in Tiszaalpár, described as a larger village with a population of 5,000. That 2013 proposal was since placed online and hence was easily accessible. It looks as if Undersecretary Czunyi’s friend, who needed some help with her application, found it in Mrs. Győri’s prose.

Here are a couple of passages. You can decide for yourselves whether the new principal of a Budapest high school is a plagiarist.

Malonovits: I’m convinced that in today’s economic and social situation a leader must follow the managerial direction. Supporting the given institution and its environment, safeguarding its existence must be one’s primary function. I wish to emphasize professional innovation, the development of the given possibilities, outreach programs, and public relations. I especially consider it important to make our successes be known and to defend the institution’s interests.

Győri: I’m convinced that in today’s economic and social situation a leader must follow the managerial direction. I wish to emphasize professional innovation, the development of the given possibilities, outreach programs, and public relations. I especially consider it important to make our successes be known and to defend the institution’s interests.

There are several longish passages which Malonovits copied out from Győri’s application. In Népszabadság one can read them all, but here I think these short passages will suffice.

What was Mrs. Czunyi’s reaction? The ministry has neither the time nor the expertise to look into the case, she announced. In any case, it is too late. Mrs. Malonovits has been appointed. József Hanesz, the new director of the Klebelsberg Center (KLIK), the giant employer of all Hungarian teachers, took an interesting position on the case. On the one hand, he admitted that the texts were practically identical, but since Malonovits claims the text to be her own, it is not plagiarism. With such an acute mind it’s unlikely that he will be any better at running the show at KLIK than his failed predecessor.

What did Malonovits have to say about the accusation of plagiarism after the story broke? Nothing. On July 23, she released a statement in which she announced that her application was written in good faith and she is serious about working together with everybody. She is hoping that there will a mutual understanding of each other’s point of view. Otherwise, she wished everybody a nice summer vacation.

The parents, as of yesterday, still insist on pursuing the case which in their opinion endangers the recent academic achievements of the school under the leadership of Mrs. Kiss.

The rule book of ELTE’s Rector Magnificus

Yesterday I tackled some aspects of Hungarian graduate education that I find distasteful, unnecessary, and possibly illegal. One of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum called my attention to ELTE’s latest rule book, a staggering 175 pages, governing all aspects of the academic careers of doctoral candidates.

Reading this rule book, I got the distinct impression that the relationship between a student and the university  is quasi-contractual, with possible legal consequences. Among the rules, in this case relating to conditions that would disqualify a faculty member from being a student’s adviser, are passages from the civil code regulating family relationships. There are well over 100 paragraphs that may affect students’ academic careers. In addition to the main body of the document, there are eight appendices (each with several more paragraphs) and six supplements.

One cannot accuse the “Rector Magnificus” of the university of not being a thorough man. Everything is minutely spelled out. For example, the rule book explains that the academic performance of a doctoral candidate can be judged to be “insufficienter,” “rite,” “cum laude,” or “summa cum laude.” A student will pass his preliminary examinations only if none of the evaluations of his performance is “insufficienter.” This rule might seem too obvious to bother with, but at the same time it might just discriminate against truly original students. Let’s say a student gets two “summas” and one “insufficienter.” Goodbye, student.

This booklet is a perfect example of the mindset that, I fear, is an integral part of the whole culture. And if I am right, it doesn’t bode well for Hungary. With such an overly bureaucratic system, an organization–and even the state as a whole–becomes dysfunctional. In fact, János Lázár only recently pretty much admitted that this is the case.

Dr. Barna Mezey, Rector Magnificus of ELTE

Dr. Barna Mezey, Rector Magnificus of ELTE

Oh yes, the “Rector Magnificus.” This is not a joke either. In the oath that is indeed compulsory, students must swear that they will always respect the Rector Magnificus and the Senate of the university. Hungarian students must swear that they will be “faithful to the Hungarian people” and will do their best to use their “knowledge to further the glory of their people and country.” But what about the student who actually thinks that the Rector Magnificus is a spineless character who doesn’t deserve respect and that in the Senate there are a number of people who really shouldn’t be there? Or what about the new Ph.D. who packs up and becomes a faculty member at a foreign university, where he presumably furthers the glory not of ELTE or the Hungarian people but the university at which he is teaching? Is he then not being faithful to the Hungarian people?

In any case, respect cannot be demanded, as the Rector Magnificus and the Senate insist. One either has respect for the university one attended or one doesn’t. No one demanded that I swear allegiance to the universities from which I graduated.  Graduation might have had a lot of pomp and circumstance, but the essence of the ceremony was the simple handing out of academic degrees. And this is how it should be.

By way of comparison I suggest you take a look at Yale University’s “Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Programs and Policies 2015-2016.” I am sure Hungarians who did graduate work in Hungary will be surprised by its tone, especially if they compare it to the Rector Magnificus’s rule book.

The other day we bemoaned the low ranking of Hungarian universities among the world’s institutions of higher learning. The most important consideration is “academic reputation.” Academics are asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best work is taking place within their field of expertise. The student-faculty ratio is also very important. These two considerations make up about 60% of the overall assessment. Another important component (20%) is based on the number of citations per faculty member. Thus, it should be quite clear why Hungarian universities are low on the scale.

One problem is that there are practically no English-language periodicals published in Hungary that a fellow researcher could cite. In 2012, I learned about an attempt to launch a new journal, the Hungarian Historical Review. I got so excited that I even sent them an e-mail lauding their decision to have an English-language historical periodical. But one publication is not enough. There should be many in all fields. I suspect that a lack of money had something to do with it.

The Orbán government is much more concerned with fences along the Serbian-Hungarian border, football stadiums, and lobbyists in the United States and in Germany than it is with higher education. In fact, Orbán thinks there are too many university students, and his government is making sure that there will be even fewer in the future. Therefore, I’m almost certain that the reputation of Hungarian universities will be further diminished.

But that is not the only problem. There is an appearance of rigor, manifest in the 175-page rule book, but in fact academic standards are low. More about that later.


The price of a Ph.D.: One has to swear to Fidesz’s Basic Law

On June 26 Judit Kende, a young social psychologist who just finished her Ph.D. at ELTE, wrote the following on her Facebook page:

This is what happened yesterday: I’m not a Ph.D. after all. It turned out that in order to get it I would have to swear to Hungary’s Basic Law, and this in my opinion was too high a price…. For example, the discriminatory sections of the Basic Laws limit the rights of LGBT people and the disabled and allow the criminalization of homelessness. So, by law I didn’t become a Ph.D.

She added that her situation allows her to be heroic because in two years’ time she will have a Ph.D. from the University of Leuven.

Reading this note, I had a very different reaction from hers. I wasn’t concerned with particular passages of the new Hungarian Constitution, however egregious they may be. I would have been equally outraged if I had learned that Ph.D. candidates had to swear to any constitution. “What on earth does the Hungarian constitution have to do with an academic title?” In a normal country, of course, nothing. Outrageous, I thought.

Of course, nothing of this sort can happen in Hungary without a huge public debate where people dissect the legal and political ins and outs of the case. In addition, a long article appeared by a certain Eszter Sebestyén with the title “A hysterical Judit Kende is lying,” in which the author went on and on about Judit Kende’s political motivations. Sebestyén accused Kende of being a member of a group that “ruined the left-wing prime minister Gordon Bajnai and demonized his predecessor, Ferenc Gyurcsány.” So, the attack on her came from the left, not the right. It was alleged that she is not a social psychologist but an ordinary social worker. It’s a shame, in Sebestyén’s opinion, that this course of study is awarded a Ph.D. degree, which of course is not Kende’s fault. Other anti-Kende articles followed that were, in my opinion, utterly beside the point. It matters not how many publications she has under her belt or the quality of her dissertation. What is important is that she received a degree which she cannot officially use because of a most likely illegal action on the part of the university. The inability to use the Ph.D. title on official documents wouldn’t by itself be a problem, but without the title she cannot apply for jobs that demand it.


And that brings me to another topic that raises my blood pressure every time I hear about it. What kind of an idiocy is it that dictates that people consider an academic title part of their legal name. In this country your official name is what is on your birth certificate unless, of course, you decide to change your name or you take your spouse’s name. If you want your friends and acquaintances to know that you received a doctorate (Ph.D., M.D.) it is up to you, but the official world is not interested in your academic title. Or, your students might want to call you “Professor So and So,” but since when do we consider that title part of one’s name?

Anyway, after all the useless chatter, TASZ (Hungarian Civil Liberties Union) came to Kende’s aid. Máté Dániel Szabó has taken up her case. Szabó finds it important that this “illegality at ELTE come to an end.” He added that they might be satisfied with a change in the regulation to make swearing on the constitution optional. Well, I take a more radical view of the matter. I would demand the cessation of the practice altogether.

Of course, I am no lawyer and I understand that TASZ will have to approach the case on the basis of existing law. It is not enough to say that the practice is indefensible. TASZ will argue that demanding a loyalty oath is illegal because it is contrary to the law on higher education. Their second argument is that it unduly interferes with one’s freedom of conscience. After all, there are religions that forbid their members to swear any kind of oath. Third, a sizable portion of Hungarian society has serious problems with some of the passages of the Basic Laws of 2011 since it reflects the beliefs of people with certain political and moral views. These last two arguments gain importance if the Orbán government thinks that a change in the law on higher education might solve the problem at hand.

I might add that this practice is not new. During the Kádár period doctoral students had to swear on the 1949 Stalinist constitution. At least before 1945 students couldn’t swear on the constitution because, like Great Britain, Hungary didn’t have a written constitution. During the socialist period no one could question the practice but today, when citizens have the opportunity, the issue should be pursued. It doesn’t matter whether it is the 1949, the 1989, or the 2011 constitution. Such an act simply has no place in a ceremony where doctoral degrees are awarded.

I wish Judit Kende the best of luck. And if I were her, I wouldn’t care about all the negative voices, this time from the left. I’m glad that she decided to be “hysterical.”

Fact checking Viktor Orbán’s latest speech

I know that some readers found Viktor Orbán’s speech more worthy of analysis than I did. To me, it was just more of the same. I did, however, decide to do some fact checking. Orbán’s assertions about the dangers immigrants pose to European civilization might be technically correct (and, yes, those immigrants include East Europeans, not just people from “alien” cultures), but he conveniently left out details and background information that give us a fuller understanding of the issues.

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Converting Catholic churches in France into mosques

A good example of this kind of distortion is Orbán’s claim that the situation is already so bad in Europe that Muslims “openly proposed that the French state should hand them Christian churches because they would gladly convert them to mosques.” The implication is that the number of Muslims is so high that they are overtaking France’s Christian population. Well, the story sounds a little different once one takes a look at the media coverage of the case. Dalil Boubakeur, a French Muslim leader, called for “the country’s abandoned Catholic Churches to be turned into mosques.” The French Catholic Church in the last decade closed 60 churches for lack of worshippers. Although 64% of the population describe themselves as Catholic, only about 4.5% (1.9 million) of them regularly attend services. There is a shortage of mosques, and Muslims often have to worship on the streets when the time comes for their prayers. Christian leaders earlier supported Boubakeur’s call for more places of worship. The head of the French Catholic Church only a few months ago told the media that “Muslims should, like Christians and Jews, be able to practice their religion.” There is nothing strange in that. Not too far from where I live a former Hungarian Catholic church is now a day care center and a Presbyterian church was converted into a synagogue.

Immigrant crime in Italy and the Scandinavian countries

To show how dangerous the immigrant population is, Viktor Orbán gave the example of Italy, where, according to him, one-quarter of the crimes that occurred in 2012 were committed by foreigners.

Italy is not the best example to illustrate the alleged gravity of the situation. In fact, it is something of an aberration in Europe, as can be seen from the fact that Italian prisons are extremely overcrowded. Officially prison facilities could house 45,000 men and women, but today 67,000 inmates are crowded into these buildings. A case related to overcrowding reached the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered the government to pay €100,000 to seven inmates who brought the test case. In Italy many people are being jailed for minor crimes. Sixty percent of the inmates are sentenced for less than three years. Thirty-eight percent of all inmates are drug offenders (14% in Germany and France and 15% in England and Wales). The Italian situation is also peculiar due to the inordinate number (42%) of pre-trial detainees (versus a European average of 28.5%). It is true that a large number of the prisoners are foreigners, but these people don’t come exclusively from Africa or the Middle East. A lot of Romanians and Bulgarians entered Italy in the last few years. Currently, there are about 150,000 Gypsies in Italy, largely from Romania, and their relations with the Italians are not free of friction.

Since Orbán also talked about the criminal behavior of foreigners in Sweden, I highly recommend a study published recently on “Immigrants in Norway, Sweden and Denmark” by the Norwegian Bureau of Statistics. After reading this excellent article, one realizes the absurdity of the picture Viktor Orbán paints of Africans raping blonde Swedish girls right and left.

Swedish law doesn’t allow the publication of detailed lists of inmates by nationality, but we know that the percentage of foreigners in the prison population is high in both Norway and Sweden: around 32-33%. And Norway’s detailed statistics about foreign nationals in prison are available. First of all, we are talking about very small numbers. In Norway there are only 3,842 inmates altogether, out of whom the highest number of foreigners (155) are from Poland. Lithuania and Romania follow, with 131 and 128  There are 56 Somalis;  47 each from Sweden, Iraq, and Albania; and 22 each from Denmark and Germany. From the data given in “Immigrants in Norway, Sweden and Denmark,” the ethnic backgrounds of Swedish prisoners are most likely very similar to the Norwegian ones. Both countries suggested at one point that perhaps these inmates could serve their jail terms in their countries of origin. Therefore, I suspect that the vast majority of inmates in both of these countries are not from war-torn parts of the Middle East or Africa.

Definition of rape in Sweden

Comparative criminal statistics are full of pitfalls due to the divergence among judicial systems, laws, levels of law enforcement, and a willingness to report crimes, especially when it comes to rape.

I think I should quote verbatim the passage in which Viktor Orbán brought up the high number of rape cases in Sweden.

And finally we should say a few words about something one should be bashfully silent about on account of political correctness. According to western police statistics, where large numbers of illegal migrants live the rate of criminality drastically rises, and proportionally with it the security of the citizens decreases. I will give you a few thought-provoking examples. According to the statistics of the UN–not the Hungarian government’s, but the United Nations’s–as far as rape cases are concerned, Sweden is in second place right after the South-African Lesotho.

Indeed, a frequently cited source when comparing Swedish rape statistics internationally is the regularly published report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, based on official statistics provided by each member state. The Office itself calls for caution when dealing with these comparative statistics. In Sweden’s case there is a broader definition of what constitutes rape than in most countries, but the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention claims that discrepancies in definitions of rape between Sweden and other countries can be mitigated by the results of yearly surveys conducted by Statistics Sweden. Here are some of the questions from the surveys: “Were you threatened last year in such a way that you were frightened?” “Are you anxious about crime in society?””What is the extent of your confidence in the way the police carry out their work?” According to criminologists, these surveys are better indicators of the level of criminal activities in a given country than the police reports submitted by the member countries to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime. On the basis of these surveys coming from ten different European countries, it can be safely said that “Sweden does not top the list.” In fact, it stands “around the average mark, which is also the case for assaults and threats, despite the fact that compared to other countries, we have many such crimes reported.”

It is almost certain that Sweden’s broader definition of rape is responsible for the high numbers reported to the United Nations. Rape cases have been on the rise since 2005, when Sweden reformed its sex crime legislation. In addition, the Swedish police have improved the handling of rape cases in an effort to decrease the number of unreported cases. Sweden’s statistics simply cannot be compared to those of Lesotho. In fact, a European Union survey on sexual violence against women, published by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention in 2014, placed Sweden below Denmark and Finland.

I might add that according to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, in 2013 70,326 men and women were found guilty of crimes. By the fall of 2014, 18,439 people were behind bars. Italy with a population of 60 million has 67,000 inmates, while Hungary with 10 million has almost 20,000. It looks as if Hungary does not need immigrants to compete with Italy when it comes to crime and punishment. So much for Viktor Orbán’s attempt to causally link immigration and crime.

Demographic realities and Viktor Orbán’s ideas on immigration

Over the past thirty years Hungary has been sliding toward a demographic disaster. And the slide has only accelerated of late. In 2010 the population fell below 10 million. In the first five months of 2011 10% fewer babies were born and 2.7% more people died than during the same period a year earlier. The second Orbán government was keenly aware of the problem and tried, in its own way, to remedy the situation with all sorts of financial incentives, which didn’t work. In 2012 Fidesz MPs delivered optimistic speeches about the beginnings of a baby boom, only to have the Központi Statistisztikai Hivatal (Central Statistical Office) announce in May that 3.6% fewer babies had been born between January and May of 2012 than between January and May of 2011. Between 2010 and 2014 the country’s population decreased by 158,000. And that doesn’t count the 350,000-800,000, take your pick, mostly young people who are working abroad.

Despite the government’s program to entice young couples to get married early and produce at least two or three children, recent studies show that, in fact, both men and women are waiting longer before having their first child. And even if some miracle happened overnight and suddenly all the hospitals were filled with babies, it would be only a quarter of a century later that there would be any beneficial impact. A recent study by the Népességtudományi Intézet (Demographic Institute) predicts that, if current trends continue, by 2060 Hungary’s population will be under 8 million.

Of course, Hungary is not the only country in Europe with very a low birthrate, but according to Péter Mihályi, a professor of economics at Corvinus University, if we ignore the former Soviet republics, it is only Bulgaria that is in worse shape than Hungary in this respect. From government propaganda one gets the distinct impression that Viktor Orbán’s concerns stem from nationalistic considerations. A fear that can often be heard in right-wing circles is that Hungarian speakers will one day be virtually nonexistent and the language will disappear. Mihályi, by contrast, looks at the situation from the point of view of an economist and recommends systematic and well-directed immigration policies as a solution.

In 2001 Viktor Orbán himself realized that the steady decrease in the population and its concomitant aging could be effectively remedied only by inviting immigrants. In 2001 he delivered a speech before the Amerikai Kereskedelmi Kamara (AmCham) in which he outlined a plan according to which in the next five years Hungary could welcome several million immigrants. Otherwise, he said, the country could not maintain its rate of economic growth. He claimed at that point that “Hungary could easily provide livelihoods for 14 million people.” What kinds of people did Viktor Orbán have in mind? Since in connection with immigration he also talked about the forthcoming admission of Hungary to the European Union, he was perhaps thinking of western businessmen settling in Hungary in search of economic opportunities. He also pointed out that every year several thousand ethnic Hungarians from the neighboring countries settle in Hungary. He certainly didn’t have in mind Muslims from the Middle East or refugees from Africa.

Lately, one often hears about the hospitality offered to Croats and Serbs escaping the ravages of civil war in Yugoslavia. In 1991 about 50,000 people arrived from the northern Slavonian region of Crotia, adjacent to the Hungarian border. They were well looked after. A couple of years later, however, 16,000 Muslim Bosnian refugees reached Hungary, who apparently received a less hearty welcome. In a village along the Serbian border Péter Boross, who later became prime minister, announced in 1992, as minister of the interior, that “Hungary is full.” Why were the Bosniaks less welcome? The difference was the refugees’ religion and culture, as a 1994 study pointed out. The author lists all the difficulties Hungarian authorities encountered with the Muslim refugees. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that a year after the arrival of the Bosniaks, the Antall government amended the law on foreigners’ settling in Hungary to make it more stringent.

Refugees from Bosnia. These are the kinds of immigrants Hungary doesn't want

Refugees from Bosnia. These are the kinds of immigrants Hungary doesn’t want

A few years later Viktor Orbán made it quite clear that, although in theory he is in favor of immigration, that immigration should not come from non-Christian countries. The occasion was the refugee problem of Muslim Albanians expelled from Kosovo. Western politicians came to the rescue by offering to fly a certain number of these refugees to their own countries. At this point Orbán declared that “there will be no numerus clausus in Hungary.” All refugees who ask for admission to the country will be welcome. How they would get to Hungary he neglected to say. That’s why a commentator called this “generous” offer “perhaps the most cynical statement of the prime minister’s ten-month tenure.”

So, it is not really true, as most commentators suggest, that in fifteen years Orbán completely changed his opinion on immigration. No, he hasn’t changed a bit: he does not want to have Muslim riffraff in his Christian  country. He especially doesn’t want blacks from Africa in a pristine, white Hungary.

Apparently, despite all the propaganda to the contrary, the government is fully aware of the long-term effects of the current demographic trend. Attached to the 2016 budget is the latest government prediction that by 2034 the number of people living in Hungary will be less than 9 million. That is, if the balance between immigration and emigration is zero, something which, given the recent population movement, is unlikely.

This demographic trend will have serious consequences. First, there is the problem of a rapidly aging society. Fewer and fewer people must support a larger and larger number of pensioners. The number of children is rapidly decreasing. In 1990 there were 2.1 million children under the age of 14. By 2014 there are only 1.4 million. At the same time, the number of people over the age of 65 is growing. That will put an ever increasing pressure on the pension system, especially if the proposed referendum passes, which would allow men, just like women, to retire after 40 years of employment. Those who have only eight grades of education could theoretically retire with full benefits at the age of 54-56.

A decreasing and aging population also means a smaller domestic market, which puts a brake on economic growth. And, according to Mihályi, it limits job opportunities, especially for less educated people. Infrastructure, houses, apartments, tourist facilities, museums, football stadiums, restaurants and pubs will be underutilized. If the facilities and their offerings have fewer takers, prices must be raised. But there is a limit to raising prices. Enterprises can end up being unprofitable, and in this situation fewer people will start new businesses. These are some of the economic consequences of unfavorable demographics that people who keep talking about Hungary’s inability to take up immigrants don’t consider. They think the fewer the better. As Mihályi says, only children think that it is better to have fewer guests at a birthday party because then each of them will have a larger slice of the cake.

Given the huge differences in living standards between the east and west of the European Union, Orbán’s old dream of filling the country with West Europeans cannot materialize for a very long time, if ever. The prospect of ethnic Hungarians coming in great numbers is also unlikely. Romanian living standards are on the rise, and the Hungarians in Slovakia are quite satisfied. The Serbian situation is different. I just read that Serbian men and women in the city of Szabadka/Subotica, where the majority of the population is Hungarian-speaking, are madly learning Hungarian. They want to apply for Hungarian citizenship. Of course, not to settle there. One of the men who figures in the story is already in Berlin. So, Orbán cannot be that choosy.

What can we learn about U.S.-Hungarian relations from János Lázár?

A huge sigh of relief. Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad is not worth reporting on. Normally he tests out his latest vision for Hungary on this occasion, but this time there was nothing new in the speech. Although he shares the view of the Hungarian far-right that the current migration of masses of people from the Middle East and Africa resulted from the United States’ invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and its support of the Arab Spring and although his speech was full of ire against the migrants and those who are using Hungary as an entry point to the European Union, he refused to connect the present European situation to U.S. foreign policy after 9/11. It was a cautious speech and therefore rather dull.

Since I don’t have to waste time on the speech, I can return to yesterday’s topic, János Lázár’s outline of Hungary’s foreign intelligence, which deserves further scrutiny. In the first place, yesterday I couldn’t cover the very lengthy Q&A session, which is an integral part of the whole and without which the picture of the Orbán government’s thinking on foreign affairs is incomplete. Second, yesterday I simply summarized the main points of the testimony without analyzing them. And third, the questions posed by two members of the opposition are excellent examples of political incompetence and even subservience. They show how easy it is for Viktor Orbán to proceed unchecked.

Taking a larger view of the whole speech, including the Q&A period, one is struck by the almost total neglect of Russia, as Professor Charles Gáti in his comment to yesterday’s post rightly pointed out. By contrast, Lázár was preoccupied with the United States. Judging from his references to the U.S., relations between Hungary and the United States are much worse than one would suspect. After all, at the end of January the new U.S. ambassador, Colleen Bell, arrived in Hungary and at the same time a new Hungarian ambassador replaced the rather ineffectual György Szapáry in Washington. The Hungarian government expressed great hope that relations would improve as a result of these changes at the head of the missions.

Well, the differences of opinion between the two countries are not as visible as they were in the stormy autumn months during the tenure of André Goodfriend as chargé d’affaires. Colleen Bell has been smiling a lot. But judging from Lázár’s testimony, relations are frosty. In fact, Lázár used the occasion to send a message to the United States. The Americans must understand, he warned, that Hungary will not tolerate any interference in the country’s internal affairs. There are some countries where the U.S. ambassador acts like a conductor and legislators play the music accordingly. He was most likely thinking of Romania. Well, Hungary is not one of these countries. Lázár admits that this is not “a friendly message,” but this is how it is. He also pointed out that the extensive personnel changes at the foreign ministry were intended “to break personal connections going back thirty years, which worked very well when it came to foreign interests but less so when it involved Hungarian interests.” His message: “this world is coming to an end now.”

Hungarian suspicion of the United States was manifest in the discussion of the alleged harassment of the Hungarian minority in Romania. A careful reading of these passages indicates that the Orbán government suspects that the United States actually encourages the Romanian authorities to act against ethnic Hungarians and against the two main Hungarian denominations: the Catholic and Hungarian Reformed churches.

U.S.-Hungarian relations also came up when Lázár answered a question from Ádám Mirkóczki (Jobbik) about the United States’ intention to send heavy armaments to East-Central Europe and to establish military bases in the region. Mirkóczki wanted to know whether Hungarian intelligence looked into the effect of such an American move on Russian policy. Lázár adopted the well-known Hungarian position of sitting on the fence when it comes to the conflict between Russia and the West, but he added something significant. In a sarcastic tone, he pointed out that “the United States has not favored us with special attention concerning military cooperation with us…. The close cooperation between the United States and Poland and between Romania and the United States is well known. We didn’t get such serious offers or requests. However, we continually weigh the pros and cons of heavy armaments appearing in Central Europe and try to decide how much the presence of such armaments worsens or improves the situation.” When this answer was given, the Hungarian government was most likely already engaged in negotiations over a heavy armament shipment to Hungary.

The national security committee has seven members, three of whom are from opposition parties: the chairman, Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), Bernadett Szél (LMP), and Ádám Mirkóczky (Jobbik). I already summarized Mirkóczky’s question, which was one of the more intelligent ones. After all, Jobbik is a pro-Russian party, and his question had relevance to Jobbik’s views on Russian-U.S. relations.

Bernadett Szél and Zsolt Molnár

Bernadett Szél and Zsolt Molnár

Unfortunately, the performances of Szél and Molnár were less than sterling. Initially, Szél came up with three not very important questions, mostly on issues of domestic importance, that had nothing to do with the topics covered. Lázár’s lengthy answers took up an inordinate amount of time that would have been better spent on questions that actually had something to do with his prepared remarks. But then, as an afterthought, Szél asked a question that showed the affinity between LMP and Lázár when it comes to free trade. LMP is an anti-globalist party with strong anti-capitalist overtones. In addition, they are no friends of the United States. So they are dead set against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States. In addition, LMP styles itself as a green party, so it decries the use of chemicals in the production of food as well as any methods of handling food that may be harmful to “the Hungarian people.” She wanted to know “how can the Hungarian government, on the one hand, speak loudly about national sovereignty and, on the other, take part in a game that is obviously against the welfare of the Hungarian people.” From Lázár’s answer we learned that there are differences of opinion within Fidesz on the subject of TTIP and that Lázár’s opinion is actually very close to Szél’s.

Then came Chairman Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), who is suspected of being a bit too close to Fidesz. Molnár, like Szél, strayed from the topic at hand and kept talking about capital punishment. He wanted to have an assurance that the question is no longer on the table. But even here the two men found common ground. The Orbán government at the moment is fighting with the European Court of Human Rights over life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The court considers “actual life-imprisonment” inhumane. The Hungarian government thinks it is necessary. Molnár also likes the idea of locking up people for good. Molnár and Lázár also agreed that Hungary’s sending a small contingent to Kurdistan will increase the threat of terrorist attacks on the country. His tentative question on the usefulness of the fence to be built on the Serbian-Hungarian border was answered with the same propaganda one can read everywhere on billboards and was accepted at face value.

Is it any wonder that people hoping for a change in the country don’t trust the current leaders of the democratic opposition?