Category Archives: Hungary

Corruption in Roma organizations: The case of Flórián Farkas

If you were to ask László Bogdán, the maverick, controversial Roma mayor of Cserdi in Baranya County, he would tell you that the Roma organizations that allegedly represent Hungary’s Roma minority should all be abolished. In his opinion, these people are the worst enemies of the Hungarian Roma because they are politically and fiscally corrupt. A large chunk of the billions the European Union and the Hungarian government spent in the last twenty-five years on convergence programs for the Gypsy minority ended up in their pockets.

It’s all too easy to agree with Bogdán. There are just too many stories about local Gypsy leaders pressuring their fellow Roma to cast votes for the mayor they support or to vote for the party that bought their allegiance.

The current scandal is about the disappearance of well over a billion forints from EU funds for a program called “Bridge to Employment.” Implicated in the alleged corruption case is Flórián Farkas, who has been a faithful ally of Viktor Orbán ever since 1998.

It was Ákos Hadházy, the veterinarian from Szekszárd who uncovered the illegal grants of tobacco concessions by local Fidesz officials to friends and Fidesz supporters, who once again unearthed possible fraud. Hadházy nowadays is a member of LMP and spends his spare time digging into possible corruption cases in connection with EU subsidies. He found that the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/National Roma Self-Government), instead of creating jobs through the “Bridge to Employment” program, spent 31 million forints for office furniture, 26 million for improvements of its headquarters, 28 million to lease ten cars for six months, 19 million for a study about what kind of software the organization should buy, 21 million for seven computers, 31 million for another study on recruitment to the program, and nothing on job creation. The top members of ORÖ are outraged at Farkas’s alleged spending spree.

Farkas’s position in ORÖ is murky. Officially, he is no longer the president of the organization because, according to the new parliamentary rules, a member of parliament cannot have any other job. In December 2014, however, Viktor Orbán named Farkas government commissioner in charge of Roma affairs, and in that capacity he appointed himself head of the “Bridge to Employment” program. Moreover, he seems to have a stranglehold on ORÖ. His successor, István Hegedűs, indicated that he is in his position as long as Farkas wants him there.

As for those indignant ORÖ leaders who accuse Farkas of depriving the Hungarian Roma of millions if not billions of forints, they might be upset for their own selfish reasons. Hadházy discovered that one of the organizers of the project, Tamás Monostori, told the Roma leaders at a meeting last summer that “nobody has to be afraid of being left out. It’s no secret that there is an enormous amount of money that we haven’t been able to use.” Index found even more direct evidence that Farkas promised part of the money to the members of ORÖ. In 2013, at a general meeting of the organization, he told the members who were present that “we will try to secure this money or a little more for you.” A substantial portion of the EU subsidies would be used to give full-time jobs to the elected Roma politicians of ORÖ.

As time went by, it was discovered that the transactions Hadházy unearthed in early January represented only a fraction of the money spent by Farkas and his friends. They also purchased a building (initially, the purchase price was unknown) in the elegant Gellérthegy section of Buda, on which they spent an additional 21 million. Later Farkas and Co. unintentionally revealed in an answer to Hadházy’s letter that they paid around 300 million forints for the building itself. The anti-Farkas forces insisted on calling a meeting of the representatives of ORÖ. But apparently Farkas made sure that his friends boycotted the gathering, leaving the rebels without a quorum.

At this point the government and the prosecutors decided that perhaps they ought to move. What will follow remains unclear. János Lázár, who is responsible for the disbursement of EU subsidies, announced that he would launch an inquiry only when the whole project was completed. For me this means: let’s investigate only when all the money is stolen.

Hadházy pressed charges against the leadership of the “Bridge to Employment,” but the prosecutor’s office refused to follow up. The office might, however, investigate the charge of “budgetary fraud.”  NAV, the national tax and custom’s office, is also interested in the case. And Zoltán Balog called for an internal investigation. So, we will see what happens.

It was in 2011 that Flórián Farkas took over the chairmanship ORÖ, which previously was called Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (OCÖ/National Gypsy Self-Government). His predecessor was Orbán Kolompár, who had several encounters with the law and is now serving a sentence for embezzlement.

Flórián Farkas was born in 1957 and, unlike Kolompár, finished high school. For a while he worked in the building industry. Between 1975 and 1982 he ran into trouble with the law on three occasions and spent time in jail. He has been involved with Roma affairs since 1987 and in 1991 became secretary general of Lungo Drom (Long Road in the Romani language). In 2003 he was named president of OCÖ.

Flórián Farkas surrounded by Fidesz top brass

Flórián Farkas surrounded by Fidesz top brass

His fourth encounter with the law was in 1996 when the prosecutor’s office investigated him in connection with the foundations around Lungo Drom. As a result of this investigation, he was charged in 1998 with breach of fiduciary responsibilities. The Hungarian public never found out, however, whether Farkas was guilty of the charge or not. President Árpád Göncz gave him “procedural clemency,” and the documents pertaining to the case were sealed for thirty years. Apparently the reason for the clemency was the close relationship that existed between OCÖ and the socialist-liberal government of Gyula Horn.

In 1998, when Fidesz won the election, Farkas moved over to Viktor Orbán’s camp. Just before the 2002 elections the Farkas-led Lungo Drom signed an “electoral alliance” with Fidesz. Obviously, Farkas, like everybody else, was certain of a Fidesz victory. The Roma leader was given a high enough position on the Fidesz list that he became a member of parliament. He then had eight rather lean years in opposition until, in 2010, the billions from the EU fell into his lap.

We’ll see whether he has a fifth encounter with the law. And whether he will be protected once again.

Viktor Orbán continues his fight at home and abroad

Although Prime Minister Viktor Orbán most likely harbors a deep-seated antipathy toward the United States, he and his party have borrowed liberally from U.S. politics. Perhaps most important, they copied American campaign practices. The much criticized “Kubatov lists,” named after Gábor Kubatov, the successful Fidesz campaign manager, are an adaptation of door-to-door campaigns aimed at mobilizing the party’s electoral base. It is this kind of American-style campaigning that has been a key ingredient in Fidesz’s remarkable performance in national and local elections. And Fidesz normally hires American spin doctors every time they are in political trouble. Like now.

Another U.S. borrowing, again adapted to Hungarian circumstances, is Viktor Orbán’s “assessment of year” (évértékelő). It is normally delivered in February, hosted by an association whose activities are pretty well limited to organizing this event. This is the seventeenth time that Viktor Orbán addresses a crowd of invited guests. Everybody who is anybody in Fidesz circles is present on these occasions. Orbán delivers these speeches whether in office or in opposition.

The excitement preceding this annual event has subsided considerably over the years, and the content of the speeches has become correspondingly shallow. In the past Orbán was often interrupted by enthusiastic applause, but this time, just as last year, the audience was less appreciative. Orbán is good at keeping interest alive by telling a few jokes, which were still appreciated, but aside from the jokes the audience reacted positively to only a few of his announcements. One was “placing Hungary on the political map of Europe.” The other time his audience was fired up was when he called for a tightening of the ranks of the political right by gathering everyone under one flag (egy a tábor, egy a zászló). This is a slogan Orbán often uses when he urges his followers to fight harder for the success of Fidesz and his dreams.

The speech gave an account of the fantastic successes achieved in the last five years. I will leave a critique of his often false and/or misleading economic data to others. Here I will concentrate on some of the political aspects of the speech.

I suspected that Gábor G. Fodor’s “analysis” of Viktor Orbán’s Machiavellian political philosophy–that “polgári Magyarország” is “simply a political product”–would be received with great dismay in the Fidesz leadership. But it looks as if G. Fodor caused an even deeper wound than I thought. Both Zoltán Balog, president of the host organization and minister of human resources, and Viktor Orbán spent a considerable amount of time trying to refute G. Fodor’s contention. Both men emphasized that the ideal of “polgári Magyarország” is a core value in Fidesz’s political philosophy. They believe in “polgári, national, and Christian governance.” Balog expressed his fear that these “too clever by half” analysts will mislead the true believers. Viktor Orbán picked up on the theme at the very beginning of his speech, expressing his opinion that these analysts will not be able to “confuse people” because “our flag flies high and everybody can see that our lodestar is the idea of “polgári Magyarország.” G. Fodor’s unthinking slip hurt deeply and is being taken seriously because many people believe, not without reason, that he is telling the truth.

"Hungary is becoming stronger!"

“Hungary is becoming stronger!”

It was expected that Orbán would talk about his  foreign policy strategy since it is widely believed that his moves in the last year or so have led the country into isolation. Some people argued that Orbán, especially after the debacle in Warsaw, would realize that he cannot straddle East and West and will have to choose. Well, as far as I can see, Orbán will continue his policies. He repeated his worn-out ideas about a world that had become so fundamentally different after 2008 that the old methods of economics, politics, and diplomacy no longer worked. The European leaders have no answers for these problems. Hungary, however, has its own solutions. He will lead Hungary into a secure position in an insecure world. He has developed a “new foreign policy doctrine.” In fact, Hungarians “already live in a future that others are only trying to reach.” I do hope that those who mistakenly thought that Viktor Orbán would abandon his destructive, dangerous foreign policy will realize that the double game between Russia and the West will continue unabated.

At the end of the speech he felt compelled to say something about the loss of the electoral district in Veszprém County, which shook even the most loyal commentators. The right-wing papers ran editorials in which they urged the party leadership to change course. They claimed that the behavior of the most important government and party leaders is repugnant to the electorate. The party has to do something about corruption and rein in the high living of people like János Lázár, Péter Szijjártó, and Antal Rogán. Moreover, there are just too many recent government decisions that irritate people. Something must be done.

The editorials in right-wing papers fell on deaf ears. No change in governance is necessary, the prime minister said. The only task is “to fight harder” because the party faithful has to prevent the socialists from unseating Fidesz. After all, the socialists were the ones who “stole the country blind.” He and his followers believed that after achieving such a great victory the second time around last year “peaceful times were coming,” but it was just a dream. The opposition will wage a continuous “negative campaign” for the next three years. One must “fight for the polgári Magyarország every day.” And instead of his customary “Hajrá Magyarország, hajrá magyarok!” (which means something like “to the finish Hungary, to the finish Hungarians”) this time he ended with “Good morning Hungary, good morning Hungarians!” This was a meant as a wake-up call. He is determined to convince his followers, former and present, that the fight will be worth it.