Category Archives: Hungary

Numerology and chugging along

This morning I had a delightful brunch with a group of friends, among them a Hungarian visitor to this country. In between serious conversations about democracy and checks and balances we joked about some of the idiosyncrasies of the actors on the Hungarian political stage. When I said that I still had no idea what I was going to write about today, they urged me to say something about György Matolcsy’s crazy ideas and Viktor Orbán’s childish dream. So, I’m obliging.

The sharp-eyed Jenő Veress of Népszava is one of my favorites. He is a man with a fantastic sense of humor who delights his readers practically every day with short op/eds, usually about some ridiculous aspect of Hungarian political life. A few days ago he noticed that the address of the Hungarian National Bank is no longer Szabadság tér 8-9. It is simply Szabadság tér 9. The change seems to be so important to Matolcsy that he ordered the employees of the bank to change their business cards. Moreover, according to the personnel of the bank, all rooms that earlier were marked with the number 8 are now labeled 7/1 or 7+1.

Well, I decided to look into the numerological meaning of the number 8, and I learned that it is associated with “money and power.” As one of the sites claims, “the 8 is the great Karmic equalizer, a force that you will reap what you’ve sown.” That sounds pretty ominous to me and perhaps also to Matolcsy. Another source’s interpretation sounds outright frightening: “If you often face obstacles, meet with accidents, and feel unlucky, you are ruled by No. 8 and Saturn. Numerology for 8 when exalted makes you a saint. When afflicted it makes you a proficient criminal.” Well, what do you think of that?

Of course it’s bonkers, but Matolcsy is apt to believe all sorts of nonsense. Do you remember his infamous “red spots”? In 2012 he came up with a story he allegedly heard from Japanese scientists. According to these learned men, 30% of all Japanese and Hungarian babies are born with a “small red dot on their bottoms,” so Japanese-Hungarian economic cooperation is even genetically determined. Soon enough we learned that these spots are not red, not small, and not round, as Matolcsy claimed. Instead they are blue, can be quite large, and are of irregular shape. They are common among East Asians, Southeast Asians, Polynesians, Native Americans, and East Africans. But not among Hungarians.

A year earlier he made the claim, referring to unnamed Persian and Byzantine sources, that Hungarians’ ancestors couldn’t be rivaled in gastronomy and brain surgery. Yes, brain surgery. So, the man is an odd bird with many crazy beliefs. Why not numerology?

Matolcsy also suffers from an excessive concern for his own safety. In the fall of 2015 he allocated 200 million forints for the creation of a security force whose sole job was guarding the VIP of the Hungarian National Bank. A few months later another 140 million forints was spent on a second force for the security of the deputy chairmen, including constant surveillance of their residences. The bank bought several hundred guns and 200,000 rounds of ammunition.

Matolcsy is not the only man who suffers from an excessive fear of ordinary Hungarians. Viktor Orbán is well known for his paranoia. Even when he was the leader of the opposition he hired several body guards, and rumor had it that on October 23, 2006, knowing darned well that there would be trouble on the streets of Budapest after his fiery speech against the government, he escaped as soon as possible in a borrowed armored car. Eagle-eyed observers are certain that he sometimes wears a bullet-proof vest, and I suspect that his VW mini-bus is armored. He seems to be so afraid that, even inside the parliament building, while walking the corridors between rooms, he is followed by four body guards. And let’s not forget that one of his first acts as prime minister in 2010 was the creation of TEK (Terrorelhárító Központ), which was a force of hundreds of highly-trained men whose sole job was the security of the great man.

Oh, yes, TEK. Dozens and dozens of members of TEK worked overtime yesterday at the opening of Viktor Orbán’s mini train line. At the moment the narrow-gauge train can take passengers from Orbán’s Pancho Aréna in Felcsút to the Arboretum that was created by Archduke Joseph of Habsburg, whose former estate now belongs to the Orbán family and their friends. The whole length of the line is only 5.7 km. Orbán would like to extend it to Bicske, from which another leg to Székesfehérvár would be a cinch. And from there passengers could go all the way to Vienna. From Felcsút to Vienna. What a thrilling prospect. And how economically promising.

Orbán's train

Only a select few could participate in the opening run of the train. As a gift to Felcsút, three children from each class of the Felcsút elementary school were chosen to join the illustrious crowd. Those who had not been invited but who came out of curiosity were not allowed near the great man. Nor were the members of the media, who could watch the prime minister only from afar. The sole thing they could report was that he gesticulated a lot.

Apparently, Orbán was somewhat agitated because he is angry at those who don’t understand the importance of this project. These nay-sayers are cynics who don’t appreciate his efforts at building a prosperous Hungary. The audience also learned why rebuilding this railroad was so important to Orbán. It turned out that the Orbán family lived at the very edge of Alcsút. The train, which still functioned in his childhood, went by right next to their house. He was especially fascinated by the inspection trolleys that periodically checked the lines. He still hopes that one day he will be able to drive one. The railroad had to be rebuilt, he said, because “the communists closed it.” A lame excuse for reliving his childhood memories.

The European Union obliged in fulfilling the Hungarian prime minister’s dream. Brussels contributed 600,000 million forints for the construction, although, according to the terms of the grant, if the annual number of passengers does not reach 10,000 the money will have to be repaid. I suspect it will not be terribly difficult for the Puskás Academy Foundation, the owner of the railroad, to come up with a number that will satisfy the European Union.

There were a couple of problems even on the trial run. One of the semaphores stopped working, and the train had to stop when two female DK activists lay on the tracks and the police had to drag them off.

Today the passengers didn’t have to pay the fairly steep price of a ticket–1,000 forints for adults (more than $3.50) and 600 forints ($2.20) for students–for a twenty-minute ride from nowhere to nowhere. Today’s visitors, among them many children, were not exactly thrilled to learn that no one knows when the trains depart or when they arrive. Moreover, for no discernible reason, half-way through the trip, in Alcsút, the train sat idle for 15 minutes. While waiting for the train at the stations (there are three of them), children are provided with no entertainment. But some clever children discovered that Orbán’s train looked almost identical to the Chuggington trains on a BBC’s children program or, what I’m more familiar with, PBS’s Choo-Choo train.

choo-choo train

PBS’s Choo-Choo Train

Chuggington

BBC’s Chuggington

There is not much to see along the route, but some people were happy to discover that one could get a pretty good look at the Pancho Aréna, which normally cannot be approached by sightseers.

Finally, let me report my sad discovery last night that Puskás Academy was just booted from the NB1 category of soccer clubs. It seems that money isn’t everything. All the money that pours into Orbán’s foundation can’t make up for a lack of talent. The same is true about governance. No matter how much the Orbán regime steals from the Hungarian people, they are unable to provide a better life for the country’s citizens. The talent for governance is missing.

May 1, 2016

Viktor Orbán: Moving in 2018 to the place of his dreams?

It is really amazing how easily unabashed lies flow from the lips of Hungary’s current political leaders. For example, last Thursday at the “government info” session János Lázár announced that the relocation of the prime minister’s office to the Castle District of Buda wasn’t Viktor Orbán’s idea at all. It was Ferenc Gyurcsány who in 2004 made plans to move his office right next to the Sándor Palace, which is currently occupied by President János Áder. A few hours later 444.hu published an article titled “For a moment we believed Lázár that it was Gyurcsány who forced Orbán to move to the Castle.” Well, he didn’t fool me because I have been following Hungarian political events ever since 1993. I knew about only one Gyurcsány plan to create a so-called government quarter near the Western Station where all the ministries, currently scattered in expensive downtown buildings, could have moved into modern office buildings. The idea had to be dropped for lack of funds.

Members of the Orbán government should have learned by now that it is dangerous to come out with such brazen lies because these days journalists can debunk them in no time. And what did they find in this case? That in 1999, during the first Orbán government, the decision was made to move the prime minister’s office to the Sándor Palace, a building then in ruins that between 1881 and 1945 had served as the prime minister’s residence and office. The next project would have been the reconstruction of the former Carmelite Cloister next door to be used for government offices. So, Orbán has been plotting for at least fifteen years to move himself and his huge staff to the Castle District.

The reconstruction and refurbishing of the Sándor Palace began in a great hurry in 1999, to be finished by March 15, 2002. Orbán was certain that he would win the elections, to be held between April 7 and April 21. After all, there were polls that showed Fidesz 10% ahead of the socialists. But he lost, and with his defeat his dream of moving into the lavishly refurbished Sándor Palace collapsed. The most he could do was to hold his last cabinet meeting in the palace. For more details of the story see my post “Viktor Orbán and the Sándor Palace.”

After the election, it was decided not to use the palace as an office for the prime minister. Instead, it was declared to be the office of the president. After Orbán’s return as prime minister, people wondered whether he would boot the president out in order to occupy the Sándor Palace himself, but it seems that he realized this would not be a wise move politically. He now seems to be satisfied with separate quarters inside the former Carmelite Cloister, which will be reconstructed as the prime minister’s office with all its 700 or more employees. The location of the building, right next to the Sándor Palace, can be seen on the photo below. In the background on the right is the former royal palace, which will also be completely reconstructed and refurbished. Orbán has expensive taste.

The old Carmelite Cloister, the Sándor Palace and the Royal Palace

The old Carmelite Cloister, the Sándor Palace, and the Royal Palace

It was in June 2014 that we first heard about the plans to move Orbán’s office to the Carmelite Cloister. Just for planning the project, the government set aside 1.4 billion forints. A few months later we learned that in 2016 8.2 billion forints and in 2017 5.8 billion forints will be set aside for the reconstruction of the building. This past February it was announced in Magyar Közlöny (Official Gazette) that, in addition, one billion forints will be spent on works of art, I assume for the prime minister’s quarters. Looking at one of the drawings of the plan, I have the feeling that this space will cut out from the interior with most likely a separate entrance for the exclusive use of the prime minister and his visitors. By February of this year newspapers were talking about a total cost of 20 billion forints, which is way over the original 14 billion anticipated in 2014.

One problem facing the architects is that the Carmelite Cloister is a historic building under special, very stringent protection. This particular building is situated in the Buda Castle District, which is one of the nine UNESCO heritage sites in Hungary. No major structural changes are allowed that alter the exterior of the buildings. And yet a few days ago it became clear that Viktor Orbán’s plans include a balcony facing the Danube. As you can see from the video of the interior of the Sándor Palace, it has a terrace with a terrific view of the city, which is always shown to visitors. I guess Orbán is not satisfied with anything less. What UNESCO thinks of the balcony idea we don’t know yet, but Gábor Fodor’s Magyar Liberális Párt is planning to inquire of UNESCO whether it has given its blessing to adding a balcony to the building.

The building has a colorful history. A medieval church that stood there was destroyed by the Turkish occupiers, who built a mosque in its place. The mosque was also destroyed at the time of the liberation of Buda in 1686. The empty lot was given to the Carmelite sisters, who built a church and a cloister in the early eighteenth century. Emperor Joseph II with the Edict of Idle Institutions disbanded monastic orders that didn’t engage in teaching, nursing, or other practical work. As a result, the number of contemplative friars and nuns dropped from 65,000 to 27,000. Joseph expropriated the monasteries and took their money to pay ordinary priests more. The Carmelite sisters’ cloister was one of the victims of Joseph’s reforms. He visited Buda in 1786 and personally decided to transform the church into a theater and the cloister into a casino. It was in this building that Beethoven gave a concert on May 7, 1800. In addition, all the great Hungarian actors and actresses of the nineteenth century who later founded the National Theater played in Várszínház (Castle Theater).

During World War II the building was heavily damaged, and it was only in the 1970s that it was rebuilt and again became a functioning theater with its old name “Várszínház.” Between 2001 and 2014 the Nemzeti Táncszínház (National Dance Theater) rented the building, which they then had to vacate.

I wonder what the fate of this dream of Hungary’s megalomaniac prime minister will be. Will he ever move into the building with a commanding view of his capital, a capital he doesn’t really like? Or will something interfere with his plans, like in 2002 when his cherished dream came to naught? Despite their seeming self-confidence, György Matolcsy’s most likely illegal foundations with their corrupt practices have shaken this government more than the leading Fidesz politicians let on. I suspect Orbán often reflects on the fate of his palace in which he could hold only one cabinet meeting, which must have resembled a funeral after a lost election. He might consider it a bad omen that his new office, so close to the former Royal Palace, will again be ready in an election year. The original deadline for the completion of the building was March 15, 2016, safely tucked between two elections. But now it will be ready for occupancy only in 2018. I’ll bet it worries him.

April 30, 2016

Letting the fox guard the henhouse: Hungarian prosecutors undermine justice

The thread that connects today’s topics is the state of the Hungarian legal system. As it stands, Hungary has a thoroughly corrupt prosecutorial system and a judiciary that at times shows itself to be truly independent despite considerable pressure from the executive branch. All three topics I’m addressing today are in one way or the other connected to these two branches of the legal system.

Let me start with a surprising verdict handed down today by the Budapest Court of Justice. Altus Zrt., Ferenc Gyurcsány’s company, sued Viktor Orbán because in May 2015 Orbán claimed that Altus is a bogus company created for the sole purpose of generating revenue from the European Union to finance Gyurcsány’s party, the Demokratikus Koalíció. Altus is actually managed by Gyurcsány’s wife, Klára Dobrev, an economist and law professor who teaches banking and financial law. The firm received, in an open bid process, a large contract from the European Union to evaluate the use of subsidies by member states and to suggest solutions for their more effective use. Given the political atmosphere in Hungary, Altus, regardless of the quality of its associates, can’t get jobs in the country and must offer its consulting services abroad.

Altus decided to sue Viktor Orbán for slander. Today the Budapest Court of Justice declared that Viktor Orbán’s claim was false and ordered the prime minister to refrain in the future from similar libelous statements. He will have to pay Altus 270,000 forints for court costs. And finally, and this is the one that must hurt Orbán the most, he has to openly express his regret for ever having made such a statement. I don’t know who that brave judge was, but the verdict is simply breathtaking. No one remembers such a verdict against a sitting Hungarian prime minister. Of course, this decision is not final. I’m sure it will be appealed.

Viktor Orbán must be livid. Fidesz immediately released a statement which, in total disregard of the verdict of the court, declared that “even a blind man can see that Ferenc Gyurcsány is financed from Brussels.” Fidesz’s spokesman quickly segued into Péter Medgyessy’s business transaction with Alstom, the French company that provided cars for the new Budapest metro line, the M4. “On the left only the companies and the size of the bribes change, the essence remains. Both Gyurcsány and the other socialist prime minister [meaning Medgyessy] conducted business through their wives. We are looking forward to Gyurcsány’s answer about how much money he received from the bribe of Alstom because, after all, it was during his premiership that the Alstom contract was signed.” Well, it is time for Gyurcsány, who a few years back swore that he would sue anybody who falsely accuses him of anything, to start proceedings again, this time against Fidesz.

That takes us back to the Medgyessy case, which I already mentioned in a post. Since then ten articles dealing with Medgyessy’s involvement with Alstom have appeared in Magyar Idők. The government obviously finds the case extremely useful politically. But how did Magyar Idők get hold of the story in the first place? The articles that appeared in the government paper are based on detailed information, including individual bank transactions. It is unlikely that the source of the information is the Medgyessy couple’s bank. We mustn’t forget that in the last couple of years the Hungarian prosecutor’s office has been investigating Alstom’s possibly illegal activities in Hungary in connection with the metro cars. So it is highly probable that Magyar Idők, just like its predecessor Magyar Nemzet, received the documents directly from the prosecutor’s office, headed by Péter Polt, chief prosecutor of Hungary and an old friend and protector of the prime minister. And this is a crime.

Marianna Polt-Palásthy

Marianna Polt-Palásthy

One cannot overemphasize the importance of Polt to Orbán’s system. It is no exaggeration to say that without Polt, or someone as crooked and loyal as he is, Orbán’s mafia state would have collapsed a long time ago. He is the one who stands between Viktor Orbán and justice and ultimately jail. So, it’s no wonder that Polt receives special treatment. A few months ago we heard that TEK, Orbán’s private bodyguard, will also guard this precious man, who is not entitled to such protection by law. And a few days ago, thanks to the documents released by the Hungarian National Bank’s foundations, we learned that Polt’s wife, Marianna Polt-Palásthy, personnel director of the bank, is also the chair of the board of Pallas Athéné Domus Scientiae, a member of the board of Pallas Athéné Domus Mentis, and a member of the Kecskeméti Duális Oktatás Zrt. She was hired by György Matolcsy in 2013, originally with a salary of 2.3 million a month, but by now she makes five million. Matolcsy’s salary was just raised to five million. So, while the chairman of the bank was making only two million, the director of the personnel department made five million. I wonder why. (Oh, those wives….) We also mustn’t forget about the extra remuneration for her jobs on the foundations’ boards.

And one more story about the Hungarian prosecutor’s office. It has something to do with the Quaestor scandal about which I wrote a year ago. The Quaestor affair is often described as Hungary’s Madoff case, except that here it is likely that the Orbán government itself was involved. Several ministries invested in Csaba Tarsoly’s pyramid scheme, and to the very last minute before the company collapsed Tarsoly was hoping for, and expecting, a government bailout. In brief, a thorough investigation of Csaba Tarsoly’s fraud case is not to the advantage of the Orbán government. And that takes us to our next story.

The victim's of Tarsoly's pyramid game The sign reads: "Orbán get lost and take your cronies along"

The victims of Tarsoly’s pyramid game
The sign reads: “Orbán get lost and take your cronies along”

It is becoming an everyday occurrence that the prosecution’s cases are so poorly prepared that cases that seem very strong even to outsiders are lost time and again. One of the worst offenders is Budapest Chief Prosecutor Tibor Ibolya who, contrary to his family name, is anything but a “violet.” In fact, he has gotten into all sorts of trouble with the courts and judges for speaking in ways the judges found unacceptable. In the Quaestor case Ibolya’s office dumped thousands of documents, absolutely unsorted, into the lap of the judge, not even indicating which documents supported what charge. Among the documents the judges found music, private documents, and photos that had nothing to do with the case. The court sent the whole mess back, asking Ibolya’s office to put their case together in a proper manner because what the court received was useless. Thus far Ibolya refuses to oblige. But the court isn’t budging either. If there is no action by May 31, the whole case against Tarsoly will be dropped. The suspicion is that this is exactly what the prosecutor’s office, with the active encouragement of the Orbán government, wants.

And one final word. It is Péter Polt’s office that is supposed to investigate the legality of the establishment of the Hungarian National Bank’s foundations even as his wife is deeply involved in and profits from the whole illegal scheme.

April 29, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s latest attack against Hungarian education

There is trouble again in the field of public education. With the reverberations from the teachers’ strike not entirely quelled, the government has already managed to get the teachers wound up anew by introducing yet another set of school reforms. As if the Orbán government had lost its magic touch and is unable to gauge the mood of the country. Even if at the moment no strike is in the offing, neither the teachers nor the general public are satisfied with the government’s response to what they consider to be an educational crisis. To announce a total reorganization of the public school system at this junction can only lead to further tension. I find it intriguing that while the government has been hyperactive in the field of education, introducing one so-called reform after another, in healthcare, another trouble spot, the Orbán administration has done practically nothing. It is hard to say which strategy is better since both education and healthcare are in terrible shape. Viktor Orbán’s luck seems to be running out.

In order to understand what the government is contemplating, we have to take stock of the current Hungarian school system which, I must say, is pretty complicated. A Hungarian child begins his studies at the age of six in an eight-grade elementary school (general/általános iskola), from which he can move on to middle school (középiskola). There are three types of middle schools: “specialty middle schools” (szakközépiskola), gymnasiums, and trade schools (szakiskola).

Gymnasium courses of study are of varying length. Most common is a four-year program, entered after finishing eighth grade. But there are gymnasiums that can be entered after the fourth grade. And there are a few in which a student spends six years, leaving elementary school after the sixth grade.

Just to complicate things, there are also the specialty middle schools which, I understand, are as popular in Hungary as the gymnasiums (approximately 200,000 students in each, or 40% of all high school students). Until now at least diplomas from specialty middle schools allowed students to enter college or university. Their “matriculation” was the equivalent of those who finished gymnasium.

Only about 100,000 children, or 20% of all high school students, attend the third type of middle school, the trade school.

The new “reform” focuses on the specialty middle schools and trade schools. As usually happens in Orbán’s Hungary, we have no idea whom the government consulted before presenting its plans because those considered to be experts on education were horrified when they learned the details.

In my opinion, the essence of the reform is to lower standards while trying to give the impression of higher value by changing the branding. The “specialty middle school” (szakközépiskola) will from here on be called “specialty gymnasium,” and “trade school” (szakiskola) will be named “specialty middle school.” All three kinds of schools, the government claims, will enable students to take their matriculation exam, which is a necessary prerequisite to entering college or university. But in reality, there are huge differences between the quality of education the students in the three types of schools will receive.

In these new specialty schools the time allotted to academic subjects will be grossly reduced. Formerly 22-23 hours a week were devoted to these subjects. According to plans, the study of a broad range of academic subjects will be reduced to 12-15 hours. Study of the “specialty” subjects will be increased to 12-15 hours a week. While the same number of hours will be devoted to literature, math, and history as before, students will be able to study only one of the natural sciences, depending on their “specialty.” Those whose specialty is healthcare will study only biology. If the specialty is engineering, the person will study only physics. Only those who are interested in mining, tourism, and surveying will study geography. Those who are interested in hotel management will learn only a foreign language. In brief, if parents enroll their child in one of these schools, the child’s whole career might be determined at the age of fourteen.

Teachers are horrified. In our complex, fast-changing world, to narrow the educational base to such an extent is a totally mistaken notion. Viktor Orbán imagines the Hungary of the future to be a mini-China where millions of blue-collar workers toil in large factories. But we all know that in the long run such an economic structure cannot be maintained, even in China. As people often say, Hungary can offer only intellectual capacity, which can be attained only through education. Yet Orbán is systematically lowering educational opportunities and cheapening educational offerings.

Critics of Orbán’s vision are worried about the educational opportunities of children herded into “specialty gymnasiums” or even worse “specialty middle schools” whose career opportunities will be greatly diminished. Children at the age of fourteen cannot make responsible decisions about their future careers. It is most likely the parents who make the decision, often without any knowledge of their children’s inclinations or true talents. I can speak from experience that even at the age of eighteen many people only think they know what they want to study. One of my favorite stories is of a freshman who complained about the faculty adviser to whom he was assigned. Who on earth came up with the idea of hooking him up with a psychologist? In fact, there was a very good reason for the decision because on his application he indicated that his “possible major” would be psychology. Half a year later he didn’t even remember what he put down. I also met a college student who was busily preparing to study medicine after graduation but halfway through discovered East European history. Today he is a university professor. That’s why I’m such a fan of the so-called liberal education, with little specialization at the B.A. or B.Sc. level. Specialization can come later.

globe

Shortly after this latest brainstorm of the government became public came the “revolt of the geographers.” The Magyar Földrajzi Társaság (Hungarian Association of Geographers) began collecting signatures against the decision. In their estimation, no geography will be taught in about 900 high schools if the government goes through with its plans. They were soon followed by chemists and physicists. In brief, the government is setting the stage for even more intense conflict with educators.

After word got out that very few high schools will teach geography, the joke began to circulate that the reason for this decision is that perhaps this way Hungarian students will be unable to find the country to which they want to emigrate on the map.

April 28, 2016

The neo-nazi kuruc.info discovered the Jewish Hungarian Spectrum

This morning I woke up to the news that Hungarian Spectrum was the subject of an article that appeared on the notorious neo-Nazi website kuruc.info. Actually, it is surprising that it took the editors that long to discover the site–or at least to deem it worthy of excoriation. After all, Hungarian Spectrum will celebrate its eighth birthday in June.

Over the years I have written about kuruc.info numerous times. In 2009 I told the story of the farcical “investigation” the Hungarian police conducted that naturally came up empty-handed. Everybody knows that kuruc.info is written and edited in Budapest, but the Hungarian national security team and the police act as if they were powerless because the site is on an American server. In fact, Viktor Orbán went so far as to blame the U.S. government for refusing to cooperate with the Hungarians’ honest efforts to eradicate this blight from the Hungarian-language landscape of the internet. I also indicated that Előd Novák, one of the most radical anti-Semites in Jobbik, is most likely behind kuruc.info.

This first piece was followed by another post titled “The hunters and the hunted: Kuruc.info’s list of anti-Hungarians,” which dealt with a blood bounty on everyone who participated in a demonstration against László Csatáry, a former police officer in charge of the Košice/Kassa Jewish ghetto in the summer of 1944. One of the participants whose name appeared on kuruc.info’s hate list filed a complaint after receiving harassing telephone calls, like one that said, “If I were you, I would take out life insurance.”

A year later a journalist from Index discovered a huge billboard advertising kuruc.info. He began investigating the case on his own. As a result, his e-mail address and telephone number ended up on the pages of kuruc.info. You can imagine what followed. His life became a living hell. Kuruc.info trolls phoned him non-stop, and his e-mail inbox was overflowing. This time around, even Tamás Deutsch (Fidesz EP MP), who happens to be Jewish, gave 72 hours to the prosecutors “to put an end to this Nazi website. No more evasion. No more on the one hand and on the other. Stand up on your hind legs and act.” Of course, nothing happened then or ever since. Clearly, it is not in the interest of Fidesz to put an end to kuruc.info.

So now Hungarian Spectrum is the target. Since many of you are unable to read kuruc.info in the original, I will try my best to share some of the highlights of this article, which is not an easy task given kuruc.info’s base style. I also decided to translate some of the sixty or so comments which, if possible, are even worse than the article itself.

"They don't like kuruc.info--Everybody else do

“They don’t like kuruc.info–Everybody else does”

Hungarian Spectrum is not the lone target of the article. Kuruc.info’s editors also find Hungarian Free Press, a Canadian website, highly objectionable. What you have to understand is that, as far as the editors of kuruc.info are concerned, everything that is wrong in this world is the fault of the Jews. Also, in their eyes there are Jews and there are Hungarians. If you are Jewish, by definition you are anti-Hungarian. And, I guess, if you are perceived to be anti-Hungarian, you must be Jewish. It is in this light that one must understand the title of the article: “Hungarian Spectrum and Hungarian Free Press: Can One Be More Jewish about Hungarians?” Yes, I know it sounds strange, but it doesn’t make much sense in Hungarian either: “Hungarian Spectrum és Hungarian Press: lehet zsidóbbul a magyarokról?”

And here are the highlights. The article begins with a description of the state of the opposition media. On Klubrádió “a Jewish reporter talks to Jews, he interviews Jews, his expert is Jewish, the man who talks about Christianity is also Jewish.” However, “only a few of us know anything about those who dare to put the adjective ‘Hungarian’ in the name of their websites.” Clearly, they are also Jewish.

The author placed Hungarian Spectrum first because it is “a very influential” website. Then came a few words about the person responsible for the content of the blog: “if there is a disgusting Jewish reptile on the face of the earth it is the sole scribbler of the blog, Eva S. Balogh.” The writer claims that “this Zhidrakova even according to her own website has not much connection to Hungary.” Zhidrakova is supposed to be a Russified version of the Hungarian word for “Jew-Jewish.”

Hungarian Spectrum’s primary subject is “naturally” anti-Semitism. “It is only after that the usual topoi come: the extreme right, the right—which are, as far as she is concerned, the same. Both remind her of Szálasi.” Her main source of information is Klubrádió, which is “as much Hungarian as a pork chop is kosher.”

There is an English-language post every day, which is applauded by her many “pure-bred followers in the thoroughly filtered comments.” The pure-breds I guess refer to Jews. She put forth “an unusually long post last Sunday, which can only be described as ‘vomit.’” The author is referring to the post titled “József Mindszenty: An inveterate anti-Semite or a national hero?” “What conclusion did she come to about the non-Jewish leader of the Hungarian Catholic Church who was tortured by the AVO, sentenced to life, who spent many years in jail? You’re right. Balogh announced her verdict: The former prince primate was an inveterate anti-Semite.”

Magyar Narancs, in which Zoltán Paksy’s interview about Mindszenty’s anti-Semitism appeared, is also called a Jewish publication. And “the fact that [Paksy] is the author of a book called Arrow-Cross Movement in Hungary, 1932-1939, tells everything about this character.” “Quoting Paksy, she [the scribbler] comes to the conclusion that Mindszenty doesn’t deserve to have the memorial center built in Zalaegerszeg.”

“This is so nauseating that we should close this review of Hungarian Spectrum, but we would like to ask quite independently from what József Mindszenty did or did not write, on what basis did Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel, receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 when he, with his terror organization Irgun, blew up the King David Hotel in 1945 where 91 persons, mostly Brits, lost their lives?”

A quick response to this article. Quite independently from its anti-Semitic discourse, it ought to be clear to anyone who read my post on Mindszenty that kuruc.info distorts the whole drift of my piece. It is also a lie that comments are “thoroughly filtered.”  I have had to resort to the drastic measure of putting someone on the black list surprisingly few times. And yes, I tolerate neither anti-Semitic talk nor obscenity of the kind found on many Hungarian sites. I’m very proud of the high-level discourse that takes place on Hungarian Spectrum day after day.

Now let’s see some of the comments.

“One should hunt these people like MOSSAD hunted the Nazis.”

“The Führer said way back that every day that the Jewish press doesn’t wage a hate campaign against him he feels that he didn’t do his duty.”

“This is how things go in the West. Every Hungarian organization is eventually taken over by a Jew.”

“I call the attention of a few well-trained Hungarian hackers to these sites.”

“When the last Jew dies (megdöglik/used for the death of an animal) world peace will arrive.”

[To someone who dared disagree with the majority] “What’s up, you Jewish bastard? How do you dare to open your mouth, you inferior worm?”

April 27, 2016

The Orbán regime’s reaction to the scandal at the Hungarian National Bank

The Hungarian National Bank cagily released the documentation on its foundations’ grants and contracts Friday night after 5 p.m., but the timing didn’t help much. The outcry was immediate. And ever since, more and more revelations have been adding fuel to fire, from the grants given to relatives of György Matolcsy to the extra money that went to the wife of Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt. (In addition to her regular job as one of the department heads of the bank she also sits on the boards of several foundations.) The opposition, including Jobbik, is up in arms. All parties demand an investigation as well as the abolition of the six foundations which, by all accounts, were established illegally.

News travels fast, especially nowadays. The Financial Times carried the story of the resignation of the journalists at vs.hu on its front page. The New York Times and the Washington Post also covered the story.  Bloomberg had a complete rundown on Chairman Matolcsy’s machinations with the almost one billion U.S. dollars that was moved from the assets of the National Bank to private foundations. If something like this had happened in western Europe, it would undoubtedly have resulted in the resignation of the chairman of the central bank and perhaps even the whole government. In Hungary, however, nothing of the sort will happen. As Lajos Bokros, the former finance minister, put it when asked about the consequences, “I have no illusions. As long as we are saddled with the Orbán regime, nothing will change.”

Despite the many juicy stories surrounding this case, we shouldn’t get bogged down in details. The important thing to keep in mind is that the very establishment of these foundations was illegal. Bokros in a post on Facebook summarized the legal objections to Matolcsy’s “unorthodox” handling of the assets of the central bank. (1) All money that is accrued over the fiscal year by the bank must be put into the budget of the Hungarian state. Matolcsy, in office now for three years, has not been doing this. (2) The National Bank cannot establish foundations because by doing so it siphons public funds from the budget. (3) The Bank cannot utilize funds for public purposes because the utilization of public funds can be done only with the approval of parliament. (4) The Hungarian National Bank cannot get involved in the formulation of fiscal policy. Its only job is the formulation and execution of monetary policy. (5) The National Bank cannot attempt to transform public money into private funds because that is intentional theft and fraud.

Péter Róna, another economist and banking expert, in a conversation with György Bolgár on Klubrádió this afternoon added that the only assets Matolcsy could have used to buy works of art, musical instruments, or even to establish foundations were the bank’s private “income” from dues paid by banks and entrance fees to view the bank’s numismatic collection, which when Róna was a member of the board of directors a couple of years ago was no more than 4 billion forints a year. The foundations received 260 billion forints, more than 17 billion went for real estate, and an incredible amount of money was spent on artwork, including a picture by Titian for 4.5 billion forints.

From the general silence, it is apparent that members of the government and Fidesz-KDNP MPs find the whole scandal most unfortunate. When journalists asked questions of László Kövér and Viktor Orbán in the corridors of the parliament building, the politicians just kept going, eyes fixed on the floor. They refused to utter one word. Some of the lesser characters tried to act dumb. The excuse of one of the Fidesz deputy chairmen, Szilárd Németh, was that since he has only a simple cell phone, not like the journalists with their smart phones, he had heard nothing about the whole thing. I suspect that they were told to remain silent in the hope that eventually the whole scandal will just die down. However, I would like to remind Árpád Habony and Antal Rogán, head of the propaganda ministry, that this kind of strategy didn’t work in President Pál Schmitt’s plagiarism case.

Behind the stony silence I suspect fear because journalists of four independent organs were told yesterday that they will not be able to enter the parliament building for an unspecified duration. The four publications are Népszabadság, HVG, Index, and 24.hu. Letters notifying the editors-in-chief of the decision asked the editors to instruct their colleagues to obey the rules governing the presence of journalists in the parliamentary building “in order to maintain your publication’s parliamentary accreditation.”

In addition to the silence, the decision must have made somewhere high up, most likely in Fidesz, to leak a ten-year-old story according to which Péter Medgyessy, prime minister of Hungary (2002-2004), received 597,000 euros from the French company Alstom while he was serving as “traveling ambassador” for the country. After Medgyessy resigned, his successor Ferenc Gyurcsány named him to the post as a kind of consolation price. At the same time, however, Medgyessy returned to his old consulting business. Magyar Idők claims that the money Medgyessy received from Alstom was not compensation for his consulting services but a bribe in connection with Alstom’s bid for the metro cars for the new M4 metro line negotiated in and around 2006. Alstom was found guilty of paying more than $750 million in bribes to government officials around the world in December 2014. To make sure that the story sticks, a few hours later Magyar Idők also published a tabloid-like editorial.

Lajos Kósa, leader of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, announced that “no prime minister in the 25 years of our democracy was accused of such a crime. Péter Medgyessy must give an account of that sum.” The prime minister’s office immediately joined the chorus, and its spokesman promised an investigation into how “this money is connected to the governance of the left.” They will investigate not only the affairs of the former prime minister but also those of former Budapest mayor Gábor Demszky. As for Medgyessy, he admits that he received almost 600,000 euros from Alstom through a Danish and Austrian company but claims it was all on the up and up.

Of course, at this stage we have no idea what transpired, but I must admit that 600,000 euros for a consulting fee is pretty steep. I heard Csaba Molnár (DK) contemplate the possibility that the reason for Medgyessy’s rather sympathetic attitude toward the Orbán government of late might have something to do with Fidesz’s holding this information over his head. Of course, this is just speculation, but it was rather embarrassing when a few months ago Medgyessy claimed in a radio interview that the Orbán government’s corruption is no different from corruption during the socialist-liberal period. I guess this also included his own two years as prime minister.

I’m sure that the pro-government media, including state TV, will keep this issue alive while an investigation will immediately begin into the bribery charge against Medgyessy and perhaps even against Demszky. Meanwhile, of course, nothing will happen on the Matolcsy front.

April 26, 2016

The fifth anniversary of the Fundamental Law of 2011

Viktor Orbán never disappoints. Every time he opens his mouth he comes out with something that takes our breath away. Today’s speech at a “conference” organized for the fifth anniversary of Fidesz’s Fundamental Law was again full of outlandish statements.

Given the fanfare that surrounded the passage of this new constitution, the celebration today was decidedly subdued–wisely so, considering the checkered history of the document. In five years the new constitution–thrown together in a great hurry, mostly by József Szájer, a Fidesz EP member, and Gergely Gulyás, the rising star of the party–has been altered five times, and its sixth amendment is currently awaiting approval. I wrote several articles about the constitution at the time of its birth in April 2011, but I just discovered that the posts from the second half of that month have simply disappeared from the archives of Hungarian Spectrum. You may recall, even without reminders, that the date the new law was enacted had a symbolic meaning. In that year April 25 was Easter Monday, and for a while government officials talked about the new Fundamental Law as the Easter Constitution. The date, of course, symbolized the resurrection of Hungary.

The constitution was passed by the super majority of Fidesz-KDNP. None of the opposition parties voted for it and now, five years later, all of them swear that with the disappearance of this whole gang (bagázs) this contrivance (tákolmány) will end up in the garbage heap. Együtt’s Viktor Szigetvári called it “the constitution of the cold civil war” and predicted that the downfall of Orbán will also mean the disappearance of his regime’s constitution and institutions. József Tóbiás, chairman of the socialist party (MSZP), reminded his audience in parliament that there is no reason for the government to celebrate. The conference organized by the government was “no celebration but rather a repass after a funeral” because “in the last five years we have had no constitution.”

Although László Kövér (president of the House), József Szájer (EP MP), Pál Schmitt (former president), László Trócsányi (minister of justice), and Tamás Sulyok (acting chief justice of the Fidesz-controlled constitutional court) all delivered speeches, I will concentrate on Viktor Orbán’s speech, which in some respects was truly extraordinary.

Let me start with his claim that the “Islamization of Hungary is forbidden by the Fundamental Law.” It was this claim that captured the imagination of the Hungarian media. According to the summary of the state-controlled news agency, MTI, “the Hungarian government cannot support such movements of people that would be contrary to the pledges stated in the ‘National Avowal’ [preamble] of the Fundamental Law.” In this preamble there is only one sentence that might be relevant. It states: “We recognize the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood.” I’ll bet no one imagined five years ago that Viktor Orbán would use this sentence about the role of Christianity and nationhood as a constitutional weapon against accepting a few hundred or thousand Muslim refugees. Moreover, the sentence following this one states: “We value the various religious traditions of our country.” And Hungary already has 4,000-5,000 individuals who are the members of the Islamic community. Would a few thousand more alter the overall religious composition of the country? Of course not. But the presumably relevant sentence from the preamble will be useful in the propaganda campaign Orbán immediately began for “a strong showing (izmos) at the referendum” to demonstrate to the world the Hungarian nation’s strong resistance to compulsory quotas.

Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo Béla Nagy

Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo Béla Nagy

Orbán never misses an opportunity to condemn the European Union one way or the other. This time he extolled the virtues of the Visegrád Four. These countries are characterized by vitality, vigor, and an intellectual renaissance. By contrast, the European Union “doesn’t know where it is coming from; it has no vision, and it is myopic.”

Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság considered the following question by Orbán–“Why does the European Union use its power against its own members?”–a watershed. In her opinion, Orbán has never gone that far in his fight with Brussels. Whether this attack is worse than the hundreds of others I simply don’t know.

Today we learned a few new details about the birth of the new constitution. Although earlier Orbán had steadfastly denied any plan to create a new constitution before the 2010 election, it is now clear that he was adamant about it, although he was met with serious opposition within the party. As he put it, “there were strong siren voices that argued against such a move because they feared that [a new Fidesz constitution] would adversely influence Hungary’s [EU] presidency” in the first half of 2011. Today he expressed his thanks to those who stood by him. In fact, he said, the timing was perfect. It would have been a mistake to retreat.

Perhaps the most intriguing comment in Orbán’s speech was about former president Pál Schmitt, who after months of agony was eventually persuaded to resign on April 2, 2012. It turned out that his doctoral dissertation was a translation of parts of an English-language book. I wrote a number of articles on the case during March and April of 2012. To recap the scandal, HVG received a note from someone who discovered the plagiarism and came out with the story. Orbán hoped that the scandal would die a quiet death, but it didn’t. Even he couldn’t manage to quell the outrage it prompted. Reluctantly, he told Schmitt that he had to leave his post. I’m certain that by now Orbán deeply regrets his decision. In the last year and a half he has been calling on Schmitt to fill all sorts of positions in matters concerning sports. Schmitt is a former Olympic fencing champion.

Orbán is now rewriting the history of Schmitt’s resignation. In his version, Schmitt, just like all those who made the decision to go ahead with the enactment of the new constitution, knew full well the consequences of such a decision. As far as his government is concerned, I guess, this means an attack by the international legal community against certain provisions of the constitution. In Schmitt’s case, his very signature on the law regarding the constitution cost him his position as president of Hungary. “Outside and foreign forces will never forgive him for it. This is very important to know, because it places an obligation on us. If they will never forgive him, then we must never forget [him].” So, according to this version, it seems Hungary’s enemies invented the story of Schmitt’s plagiarism and decided to oust him. Instead of a cheat he is actually a martyr in the cause of the nation. The obligation, of course, means that Schmitt, instead of quietly retiring from politics, will return as some “useful” member of the Orbán team.

This latest stunt of Orbán really boggles the mind. Who can believe such a cockeyed story? One would like to say nobody, but Orbán is a skilled storyteller. Perhaps someday one of the National Bank’s foundations can produce a sequel to the Grimm Brothers’ Household Tales–Orbán’s National Tales.

April 25, 2016