Category Archives: Hungary

Criticism and self-criticism of Hungarian teachers

I have written many times about the state of Hungarian education, which in the last 25 years has gone through multiple changes, not necessarily for the better. In the past I usually concentrated on the quality of education and teaching methods and bemoaned the fact that, as far I can see, life hasn’t changed very much in the last 60-70 years in the average Hungarian school. But now I would like to turn to the teachers, who are the focus of the latest drama in Hungarian education.

In 25 years there have been ten ministers of education, and policy has shifted back and forth. Sometimes policy favored modernization, at other times it looked back a hundred years for its models. The socialist-liberal administrations were the modernizers, and the policies they tried to introduce met with resistance from teachers and their union leaders. Although naturally we have no hard data on the political affiliations of elementary and high school teachers, I would guess that they are basically a conservative lot. Therefore, I assume that by and large teachers were quite happy with the results of the 2010 elections.

Since then, however, teachers who might have been supporters of Fidesz have learned what it’s like to be powerless vis-à-vis the state. After 1990 schools, just like in Canada or the United States, were maintained by local communities. School boards were established and parents became heavily involved in school affairs. Faculty, parents, students, and school boards decided jointly on who, among the applicants, would be the school’s principal. All that is gone. The schools were nationalized and all teachers became state employees. The state established a professional association that every teacher had to join. Its structure was determined in a law passed by the Hungarian Parliament. Most teachers didn’t even know they had become members of this association, Nemzeti Pedagógus Kar (NPK), because KLIK (Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ), the “employer” of all teachers, hid the application form on the back of a page that teachers had to sign to complete their employment contract. From its website it is difficult to ascertain how many teachers actually participated in electing the association’s officers.

The law that established NPK also stipulated that it must propose an ethical codex. And, indeed, the newly elected leadership came up with a 23-page document which includes the precept that one of the most important duties of a teacher is to practice his profession “in the interest of the nation.” For good measure, a teacher will conduct himself “on the basis of the unity of criticism and self-criticism.” The phrase “criticism and self-criticism” sounds ominous to those who lived through the Stalinist times of the Rákosi regime.

guzsba kotve

Source: Körké

KLIK came out with a 97-page handbook describing the new process of internal self-assessment. Here’s how it works. The principal, who was appointed by the minister in Budapest, will designate three or four teachers whose job, in addition to their regular teaching assignment, will be to assess the work of their fellow teachers. Each teacher must be assessed every two years. Since there are 140,000 teachers in Hungary, this means 70,000 evaluations per year by these self-assessment groups. The evaluations will, of course, be stored centrally. These groups will be called Belső Ellenőrzési Csoportok (BECS), not what naughty internet meme creators called them–Pedagógiai Önértékelési Csoportok, whose acronym is a four-letter word that cannot be uttered in polite company.

Members of these groups will have to conduct interviews and fill out long questionnaires, a relatively onerous task. But the real problem lies elsewhere. The creation of such groups may poison personal relationships within the teaching staff. It rarely happens, but in this case the leaders of the two trade unions agree. Such “self-assessments,” they argue, will be ruinous to the atmosphere in schools. And that’s not all. Parents will also have to fill out long questionnaires, assessing the teachers’ performance. If the teacher gives a child a bad grade, it’s not inconceivable that the parent will write a damning assessment of that teacher. In light of this possibility, a teacher might be afraid to give a bad grade to the child, fearing repercussions. Moreover, it can easily happen that as a result of some subjective criterion (Is she really teaching in the interest of the nation or is she a subversive liberal?) a teacher will be found unfit, which will mean that she will not be able to teach in any school. After all, the teacher is the employee of one central authority, the Hungarian state.

According to TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, the current Ethical Codex–part of which is the internal self-assessment scheme–is illegal. TASZ has already made suggestions to NPK on how to change the Codex. It is unclear at this point how much of the text will remain intact.

Meanwhile we just found out that on the latest PISA test, designed to measure the digital literacy of fifteen-year-olds, Hungarian students finished dead last among European countries. The results were not made public for a while because the officials of PISA didn’t want to believe the figures. Unfortunately, there was no mistake. Hungarian students obviously have little opportunity to use computers, either in school or at home. As a result, some of the students apparently didn’t even try to answer any of the questions. They just sat there doing nothing. Those who tried had difficulty finding the functions that would allow them to answer the questions. And some of them simply didn’t understand the text about a fictional Belgian village.

But even though Hungarian students have very poor to nonexistent computer skills, we can be happy. They have gym every day, and soon enough they will also have to sing. Every day. Undoubtedly Hungarian folk songs. I wonder how popular this latest brainstorm of the Ministry of Human Resources will be with today’s teenagers.

Richard Field: Experts discuss causes and consequences of the refugee crisis

This summary of a round table discussion appeared in the October 1 issue of Budapest Beacon. The participants are Daniel Kelemen of Rutgers University and Rafaela Dancygier and Kim Lane Scheppele, both of Princeton University. The discussion took place at Princeton on Tuesday, September 29.

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The end of the honeymoon?

Rafaela Dancygier, who studies ethnic diversity in advanced democracies, said she was puzzled by the fact that a vast majority of Germans supported the government’s decision to admit almost a million refugees so far this year and an additional 500,000 over the next four years.

Dancygier noted that this is the largest number of refugees to be taken in by Germany since the end of the Second World War, the major difference being that this time they are not ethnic German victims of ethnic cleansing, but people from the Middle-East and central Asia having no connection to Germany, culturally, linguistically or otherwise.

She said that traditionally Germans have not been all that welcoming of refugees, but according to a public opinion poll taken the previous month a vast majority of Germans supported the country taking in refugees, especially those fleeing persecution or war, in the belief that it will contribute to an “easing of the labor shortage.”  However, Dancygier is concerned the “honeymoon” of positive public opinion will end as the large inflow puts upward pressure on rents and inundates towns and cities in eastern Germany where support for right-wing, anti-immigrant parties is high.

“Refugees are a gift” for a country like Germany whose population has been shrinking and which suffers labor shortages, according to Dancygier, who notes that “Germany has been trying to get more migrants, especially highly skilled, without much success.”  However, while Syrians tend to be better educated than refugees from Afghanistan or Eritrea, “almost none of them know German.”   For this reason, she believes integrating them into the German economy will be challenging, “even at the high-skilled end.”

Where to settle the migrants?

Another problem Germany faces is where to put the refugees.  “Putting them in areas where housing is available is going to create problems,” she said. “Putting them where they are welcome will result in rents going up” and the “end of the honeymoon phase.”

“Many Germans believe the refugees should be housed in the east where there is a surplus of housing. The problem is that there are few jobs available in the east.”  Moreover, she noted that support for Germany’s far-right, anti-immigrant party is very high in the east.

The Dublin system is broken

Kim Lane Scheppele, who is the director of the Program in Law and Public Affairs at Princeton University in addition to being a professor of Sociology and International Affairs, focused on the legal aspect of Europe’s refugee crisis.

“The EU has a legal framework for virtually everything that it is going to do,” noted Scheppele, adding that “asylum law, international protection law, and law for processing applications is all EU law rather than Member State law.” She pointed out that even though asylum law is one of those areas where EU law has taken precedence over Member State law, “there are huge differences in how Member States handle crises.”

“EU law itself is broken, most specifically around the question of who is responsible for processing asylum claims,” Scheppele said.

She explained that the Dublin system requires asylum seekers to apply for asylum in the first EU state they enter, to prevent the making of multiple applications, noting that “It didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t make sense now.”

The lack of a unified system for evaluating asylum applications meant the likelihood of an application for asylum or international protection being approved depends where one applied.  She noted that Germany traditionally approves over 60 percent of asylum applications.  By contrast, “front-line” countries such as Hungary (9 percent) or Greece (4 percent) rejected far more applications than they approved.

Poor countries can’t afford to care for refugees

EU front-line Member States also happen to be among its poorest members, noted Scheppele. Under Dublin, frontline states had an obligation to register migrants and process asylum claims, as well as provide shelter, food, housing, medical care, and opportunity for employment while applications were pending.

“This is no big deal in the case of 50 people,” said Scheppele.  But it was a very big deal if all of a sudden tens or even hundreds of thousands of refugees showed up on your doorstep.

According to the professor of sociology and comparative law, Greece is no longer considered a front-line EU state because the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice ruled it is no longer capable of discharging its responsibilities to asylum seekers after having instituted austerity programs.

The result, said Scheppele, was that tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war and overcrowded refugee camps “discovered Hungary.”

Refugee ping-pong

Being a government “run by lawyers” Hungary “will always do something in law before they do it in practice,” she said.  “Whether the laws are a good idea or not is a different question.

“Seeing that it was going to be a front-line state, Hungary decided that it was going to build a fence along its 100-mile border with Serbia.” The only conceivable purpose of the fence was “to force refugees to enter the EU via Romania or Croatia, both EU Member States.”

“EU law requires front-line countries to register and fingerprint asylum seekers.  It doesn’t require Member States to treat them badly. Considering that the Dublin system was broken to begin with, Hungary could just have easily let the migrants pass through.

“What the Hungarians were extremely worried about was that the Dublin system would be one day invoked and Hungary would be stuck with all these people.  All refugees entering the EU via Hungary could, under EU law, be returned to Hungary. “

Scheppele said Hungary responded by modifying regulations governing granting asylum claims.  “According to this law at the first proceeding all judges are allowed to ask is ‘how did you get to Hungary?’.  If the answer is via a state deemed safe by Hungary, then the asylum judge is limited to saying we’re sending you back because under our law you have to be processed.”

To the extent Hungary’s modified asylum law is not compatible with EU law or that of neighboring countries, she warned it could result in “refugee ping-pong” with Germany or Austria deporting refugees whose asylum requests have been rejected back to Hungary which, in turn, deports them back to Germany or Austria.

A need for unified standards

She said standards used to process applications are also subject to EU law, and every Member State is required to determine whether the individual has a well-founded fear of persecution in the case of asylum claims, or whether the person has reason to fear violence as in the case for applications for international protection.

Observing that if “Hungary is going to violate EU law or doing something unusual, it will never be the first,” she noted that just the previous week the European Commission took the unprecedented step of filing infringement actions against 19 Member States for failing to transpose, that is, codify into domestic legislation EU directives on asylum.

Noting that “Hungary is run by extremely clever lawyers” Scheppele said the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “correctly judged that Dublin was insane” and that “we will be in very good company if we develop our own idiosyncratic standards for granting asylum and protection until the EC makes everybody transpose the directives.”

“They can’t go after Hungary for having bizarre asylum law, they have to go after everyone,” she said, adding that “This is not going to be a speedy process” and “it is going to be a very long time before the Europeans pass the laws and begin implementing laws.”  The situation was further complicated by the fact that in Hungary’s case “several different standards are being deliberately confused.”

The Princeton professor said economic migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are distinct determinations.  “Germany has decided that people whose primary residences are in ‘safe countries’ will be presumably turned down for asylum or international protection,” including refugees presently living in the former constituent states of Yugoslavia.

A sleight of hand

In Hungary’s case, the criteria was not residency but whether the refugee had passed through a safe country on his or her way to Hungary. “It will take years to sort this out,” warned Scheppele.  “Until then Hungary will claim to be copying Germany, which they aren’t.”

However, Scheppele noted that certain EU net donor states wish to condition fiscal transfers to net recipient states on the latter meeting their legal obligations.

“Everybody forgets that the EU is already a big transfer union.  Streams of funds cohesion, agriculture, regional programs redistribute money.  The EU is finally starting to wake up to the idea that this is leverage over the poorer states.” And there is “starting to be talk of EU sanctions, which should help bring some EU Member States into line.”

Causes and consequences

Rutgers University professor of political science R. Daniel Kelemen attributed the “incredible uptick this year” in migration to deteriorating conditions in the existing refugee camps in Turkey and elsewhere.

“Just in the past few weeks there may have been a rush to get to Europe because of the twin fact of Merkel’s announcement” that Germany would accept Syrian refugees, and the pending completion of the fence along the Hungarian-Serbian border, as well as an intensification of ISIS’s campaign, said the EU expert.

Crisis, failure, move forward

He said Europe’s refugee crisis was the product of “EU policy being one of a half-built union” and that “we’re seeing the peaking of the crisis that has been mounting for eight years or so.”

“At the core of the EU crisis is the fact that they launched a common currency without other policies, such as coordination of fiscal policies and central banks that you would ordinarily need to support monetary union,” said Kelemen, who likens the EU to a “half-built ship going out to sea—as soon as there is a stormy sea, it gets into trouble.”

He said the EU’s response “has been to add necessary elements “on the fly” and this applied to EU policy on refugees as well as the eurozone crisis and the Greek debt crisis.

“A fundamental unsustainable aspect of the EU is that it has tried to maintain the Schengen system of free internal movement and open internal borders.  But they’ve left control of external borders to national governments, and left them in charge of immigration and asylum policy,” said Kelemen. “Free movement internally is incompatible with national control over borders, asylum, and immigration when there is a crisis.”

Failing forward or backward?

Would the EU fail forward, in other words would it get more control over policing? Would they strengthen common controlled borders?  Would they harmonize common control of immigrant procedures and asylum policy?  Would they set up a system of allocating refugees across the EU?

Calling the Greek and eurozone crisis “interminable” Kelemen said the dual crises had “consumed all of the EU’s political capital” and “taken the wind out of the EU’s sails, be it on backsliding on democracy in Hungary, or the refugee crisis.”

On the subject of the “fundamental incompatibility of open internal borders, Schengen and national control of internal borders, immigration and asylum,” Kelemen said one of two things is going to happen:

“Either it’s going to fail back, and Schengen will die, which is what has happened temporarily with the suspension of Schengen” or it will “fail forward.”

He said the refugee crisis will result in the hardening of the EU’s external borders, but that the question was whether they should harden the borders of the 28 Member States or just Schengen, which is a subset of the EU but which includes Norway and Switzerland.

The Rutgers professor of political science said the European Commission tolerated Hungary building a fence along the border of Serbia, but it strongly objected to Hungary laying out razor wire along the border with Slovenia.  He anticipates the EU playing a larger role in the policing of external borders, as well as playing a larger rule in the resettlement of refugees.

“They could put a lot of stimulus money into Greece, where you could build cities for Syrians,” observed Kelemen. “There could be a permanent system for redistributing refugees, like in the US.”

Political consequences 

Kelemen said the EU had got itself on the “wrong side of two big issues” in terms of populist politics by demanding fiscal discipline on the part of Member States at a time of growing unemployment and poverty, while at the same time requiring them to provide refugees with the kinds of public services and benefits they cannot afford to give their own citizens.

Agreeing with Scheppele that “Dublin is dead” and “has to be replaced,” Kelemen anticipates “greater harmonization” and “more EU control over immigration, asylum and borders.”  However, this would come at a cost.

“They are going to throw a bone to the Right by getting more aggressive on policing the external borders, but will push for more guarantees for respecting basic criteria for humane treatment and processing of claims,” speculated the expert on comparative public policy.

Scheppele agreed that EU pressure to reduce social safety nets was incompatible with moral pressure to give away things to refugees.

“Hungary had to meet draconian conditions imposed on it by the IMF in 2009 just before the refugee crisis,” as a result of which it eliminated the entire social safety net.  “It is extremely difficult to give free housing and medical care to refugees,” said Scheppele.  “It can’t do it politically.  No country could.”

On the subject of the attempts by Orbán to exploit Europe’s refugee crisis for his own political and ideological ends, Scheppele noted that even as he was tearing Europe apart with one hand by unifying right-wing parties, he was promoting EU solidarity with the other through Hungary’s proposal that each Member State contribute part of their GDP towards building refugee camps in Turkey and Lebanon.

“The EU never knows what to do with Viktor Orbán. That is precisely how he will survive,” said Scheppele.

The Brexit threat

Scheppele agreed with Kelemen that it would be good if the EU could give money to the front-line states, calling it a “virtuous circle“ that would help solve the Greek crisis by infusing money into the beleaguered country.  However, she observed that the prospect of the United Kingdom exiting the EU would prevent this from happening.

“Britain wants a smaller, slimmer EU. So long as the UK leaving the EU remains on the agenda, the EU is paralyzed from doing anything that would increase its competencies and solidarity. It’s just bad luck that a solution to these crises is blocked by Brexit [an abbreviation of “British exit”].”

Kelemen noted that the euro remains very popular, even in Greece, but he is concerned about so-called “differential integration” or “variable geometry” whereby certain Member States are allowed to opt out of certain conventions. If the UK stays it may “harden the divisions between those in the core and peripheral members.”

“Do people like Schengen enough and free movement that they’ll do whatever it takes even if it involves increased EU control over border protection?”

The moral health of Hungarian society

More and more thoughtful Hungarians are raising their voices, calling attention to a moral and social crisis in their country. The deplorable state of Hungarian society has been a phenomenon of long standing. It wasn’t Viktor Orbán who created a society that is oblivious to the fact that the country in which they live is heading toward a tipping point when the entire edifice might collapse, burying the country’s citizens beneath the ruins. Though it is Viktor Orbán who is speeding up the process.

While an overwhelming majority of the population can be mobilized against non-existent immigrants, most people pay not the slightest attention to the demographic crisis in their own country. They blithely accept the fact that far too many young, well-educated people are leaving the country because they see no future in their homeland.

Hungarian education is in serious crisis. The new centralized system created by the second Orbán government barely functions, and student performance is deteriorating. Segregation of schools has become a reality and, with it, social mobility has been further stifled. The autonomy of the universities is long gone. Healthcare is inadequate because, among other things, there are not enough doctors and nurses. Hungarian bureaucracy has always been cumbersome and expensive, but by now it is close to collapsing because political loyalty is more important to Fidesz and its leader than professional competence.

Corruption has been growing steadily, and I’m not talking only about financial corruption but about the corruption of the soul, the contempt for others, racism, a lack of solidarity, the widespread vulgarity, the churches’ total indifference to the sufferings of the asylum seekers, the cowardice of individuals who don’t speak up against blatantly illegal acts of the government.

Hungary, a country that was the model in the region, has become a laggard in economic growth. The rate of investment is very low, poverty is growing, too little money is being spent on education. Should I continue?

These problems can be summed up in a single word: Hungarian society is ill. László Lengyel, an economist and public commentator, went so far as to to say that “Hungary is dying.” Not so much in the material sense as in the sense of spiritual wellness. He was referring to the culture of callousness (szívtelenség) that is widespread among Hungarians.

Let me share a story that was widely reported in the media. It is hard to believe, but an old, sick man sat for four solid days on a bench on II. János Pál pápa tér surrounded by a swarm of wasps who were drawn to him by the sores on his legs. He was waiting there to die. No one paid the slightest attention to him, although a lot of passersby must have seen him. On that very square a few weeks earlier hundreds of asylum seekers had camped out, waiting for the trains to take them to Austria. The locals immediately reported them to the far-right Fidesz mayor of the district and demanded their removal. Yet a couple of weeks later no one cared one whit about that sick man. Their hatred of and callousness toward strangers seems to be stronger than their sense of solidarity, even with their own. Gusztáv Megyesi, the talented ÉS journalist, wrote a brilliant essay on this story in today’s Népszabadság.

Others express their amazement at the gullibility of the Hungarian people, which may well be linked to a school system that emphasizes rote learning instead of independent thinking. For a good five years Viktor Orbán’s foreign policy consisted of what he called the “Eastern Opening.” The West, he argued, was in decline but the illiberal states in the East are successful. Democracy is a cumbersome system of governance that doesn’t allow for a speedy reaction to a fast-changing world. But then comes the refugee crisis in which Orbán, knowing his people only too well, sees great opportunities to gain popular support, and he switches his line. The East is abandoned, and now all he talks about is defending European civilization from the East. Hungary, he now says, has been part of the West for 1,100 years. Earlier, he proudly announced that Hungarians are products of the East and that, in fact, he feels more at home in Kazakhstan than in Brussels. Yet an overwhelming number of Hungarians are ready to join him now in defense of the West just as they were willing to follow him to the East. The government’s manipulation machinery seems to work faultlessly because there is a large audience that all too easily succumbs to Viktor Orbán’s siren songs.


Orbán’s anti-immigration propaganda has only strengthened the lack of solidarity prevalent in Hungarian society. And solidarity is a significant component of what makes societies successful. Studies have shown that societies in which different social groups feel solidarity toward one another are more successful than those where such solidarity is either nonexistent or weak. But the Orbán government has effectively abandoned certain segments of society. For example, those who live in poverty. The government is interested only in people who are better off economically and has made it clear that with the low flat tax they will be even better off. As a Népszabadság journalist points out in an op/ed piece titled Keleti (Eastern), even Greece and Portugal have developed more robust social networks to look after society’s neediest than Hungary has. Viktor Orbán lacks empathy and thus solidarity with others. László Lengyel repeats the words of Viktor Orbán who in one of his speeches blamed Aljan Kurdi’s parents for the little boy’s death. It was irresponsible of his parents to start the journey at all. After all, he said, their lives were not in danger in Turkey. But if we applied that kind of thinking to other life situations, the end result would be a placid acceptance of the inevitable and the suppression of any desire for change. Wasn’t it irresponsible to fight against the Kádár regime in the 1980s? After all, the lives of those people were not in danger. Surely, there are times when one has to act even if his life is not in imminent danger. Every move entails unforeseen dangers, but without initiative life is empty.

Orbán created a country where no one wants to settle and many have already left or want to leave. It is a country where far too few people are interested in the world around them or seem to care that their freedom is being taken away from them bit by bit. When will they wake up, if at all?

Orbán’s crack police force in action at the Serb-Hungarian border

It was on September 16 that the Hungarian police, with the active help of members of TEK, the so-called anti-terrorist force created by Viktor Orbán to serve as his and his regime’s bodyguards, brutally attacked a group of refugees. The asylum seekers had been led to believe that the Hungarian authorities had decided after all to open one of the gates on the freshly closed border between Serbia and Hungary. Given the large number of reporters and cameramen on the scene, many videos and descriptions of the “battle” exist. Although nowadays an event that took place more than two weeks ago no longer holds much interest, this story doesn’t want to die.

One reason for the survival of the story in the media is that it was not only asylum seekers who were beaten by members of TEK but also journalists and cameramen who were on the spot. Altogether eight reporters were beaten by the Hungarian special forces, three of whom were also arrested and held at police headquarters in nearby Szeged. These people made sure that their story would be told and retold. Hardly a day has passed without a report in the Hungarian media on the incident.

One of the witnesses (and victims) was Warren Richardson, an Australian freelance photographer, who summed up TEK’s role in the event as “a dress rehearsal.” As he put it, “the TEK boys wanted to find out how successfully they can handle an antagonistic crowd.”

This interpretation assumes premeditation. Descriptions of events to date strongly suggest that TEK did indeed receive instructions from above to create a situation that would necessitate aggressive police action. TEK is subordinated to Interior Minister Sándor Pintér, a former high-ranking police officer of questionable reputation who has a permanent place in every Orbán government, which suggests a special relationship between him and the prime minister. Given the nature of governance under Viktor Orbán, if instructions to attack came from above, it had to be from the prime minister himself.

But why would Viktor Orbán want to provoke such an incident, which has been injurious to his government’s reputation? The standard explanation is his desire to prove to Hungarians, already suspicious of the motives of the migrants, that these people are indeed a dangerous and violent lot who ought to be feared. It is true that a few hours earlier some young men threw rocks at the policemen guarding the border and broke through the fence, but the riot police handled the situation easily with teargas and water cannons. No one could dispute the right of the Hungarian police to defend themselves against bodily harm, and if a few hours later the “TEK boys” hadn’t decided to attack peaceful asylum seekers, nobody would have complained.

The government normally justifies TEK’s attack on the crowd by describing it as an answer to the rowdies in the crowd who were throwing rocks at the police. But that gives a false account  of the events. The rock throwing took place at around 2:30 in the afternoon, and the TEK attack occurred after 5:30. Moreover, the two incidents took place at a considerable distance from each other.

Why did the asylum seekers think they could legally cross into Hungary? The police phalanx retreated about 30-35 meters from the fence and opened the gate to allow a sick little girl and her family to cross into Hungary. At this point the crowd, thinking that the Hungarian authorities had officially opened the gate and that they were allowed to proceed, began chanting: “Thank you, thank you, Hungary!” It was at that point that members of TEK, who had arrived on the scene shortly before, began their attack.

Yesterday published a description of the events at the border by two reporters, the aforementioned Australian Warren Richardson and Tímea Beck, the photo reporter for the Slovak Dennik N internet news site. Richardson was badly beaten by a TEK man, who, according to him, smiled as he kicked Richardson four or five times in the head. Finally, he was arrested and taken to police headquarters. Although he was kept there for twelve hours, eventually the authorities let him go without fingerprinting him or even making a report. He knew his rights, which frustrated his interrogators, who for a good twelve hours madly tried to come up with some piece of legislation that would fit Richardson’s “crime.” Eventually they simply gave up.

Tímea Beck from Slovakia is certain that “the members of TEK received orders from above.” She also describes the situation as entirely peaceful. Most of the people who were attacked by TEK were women and children. When the TEK force arrived everybody started running, including Beck who received the first blow on her back and later two more on her shoulder. At this point she thought that if she speaks Hungarian and explains that she is a journalist perhaps she could make headway with the TEK people, but she was told “to shut up because [she] has no right to speak.” One of the TEK people handcuffed her, threw her on the ground, and took her along with Warren Richardson and the Polish reporter Jacek Tacik to police headquarters in Szeged, where they accused her of illegally crossing the border. Tacik, as the picture below shows, suffered a fairly serious head injury. He was originally accused of attacking a policeman, but eventually all charges were dropped.

Jacek Tacik, the Polish journalist who wasn't beaten

Jacek Tacik, the Polish journalist who, according to the government, wasn’t beaten

These three journalists were not the only ones who were hurt. According to the latest count, eight journalists were beaten by members of TEK during the encounter, including the entire camera crew of the Serbian public television station. They also claimed that the Hungarians purposely broke their equipment. The police denied that they manhandled any journalists, which might be correct, strictly speaking, if we assume that the assault came from TEK and not the regular police.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) immediately denounced the attack on and arrest of journalists by the Hungarian authorities. So did the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which found the manhandling of journalists who are reporting on an event of worldwide interest unacceptable. Nina Orgnianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, announced that “the Hungarian government must make a clear and unequivocal statement that it will not tolerate such behavior.” I’m afraid she can wait for that statement.

At the moment the Hungarian government is in desperate search of a bona fide terrorist among the refugees. They arrested a few suspects, but apparently proving their guilt has been difficult. I don’t know whether they have given up on the idea or whether they have decided to continue their investigation. Finding a terrorist would be a real coup for Orbán’s propaganda machine.

Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó at the United Nations

Viktor Orbán didn’t skip his Friday morning radio interview despite the fact that it was only a few hours earlier that he stepped off the airplane that brought him back from a trip to New York and Washington. A large part of the interview was a rehash of his well-known opposition to the immigration of people from an alien culture, but the careful listener could detect an admission of failure in convincing the world about the correctness of his position. It turned out that the only European country that supported Orbán’s proposal for worldwide compulsory quotas for the asylum seekers was Malta. It had been clear since the Brussels summit that this idea was dead in the water, and Orbán’s promoting it in New York was a waste of time.

We do know that Viktor Orbán met Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, president of Egypt, who is one of the favorite politicians of the Hungarian prime minister. During el-Sisi’s state visit to Budapest during the summer Orbán praised him as the savior of Egypt and compared him to Admiral Miklós Horthy, also a military man, who saved his country in a time of peril. According to a government press release, Orbán will make an official state visit to Cairo soon. Otherwise, we know that he met Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Annette Lantos, widow of the late Congressman Tom Lantos. The meeting with Lauder was scheduled on the very day that in Hungary the two officials responsible for the sale of the Sukoró property on which Lauder and other businessmen were planning to erect a casino and hotel complex received tough jail sentences in a rigged trial. I wonder whether Lauder was aware of the verdict at the time of the conversation.

We know more about Péter Szijjártó’s schedule. He had an opportunity to talk to Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and Jeffrey D. Feltman, under-secretary-general for political affairs. Otherwise he had meetings with assorted foreign ministers of marginally important countries: Gilbert Saboya of Andorra, Taieb Beccouche of Tunisia, Erlan Abdyldaev of Kyrgysztan, and Charles Koffi Diby of the Ivory Coast. In addition, he met with Peter M. Boehm, associate deputy minister of foreign affairs of Canada, who was misidentified by the Hungarian foreign ministry as the foreign minister of the country.

Szijjártó’s conversation with Deputy-Secretary-General Jan Eliasson was, it seems, mostly a comparison of the immigrants currently arriving in Europe and the Hungarians who illegally crossed into Austria and to a lesser extent Yugoslavia. I assume that the comparison was made by Eliasson and was then hotly debated by Péter Szijjártó. As Népszabadság‘s sarcastically commented, “Hungarian immigrants are different from any other immigrants.”

Péter Szijjártó with Deputy-General Secretary Jan Eliasson / MTI/UN/Eskinder Debebe

Péter Szijjártó with Deputy-General Secretary Jan Eliasson / MTI/UN Photo: Eskinder Debebe

Viktor Orbán delivered a short speech at a meeting organized specifically for a discussion of the refugee crisis where, in addition to his suggestion for world quotas, he warned the world against anti-Muslim sentiment. One can only marvel at this man’s brazenness. He has the gall to stand up and utter such words when ever since January he has done nothing but incite his people against the Muslim “invaders” who in his opinion as of this morning “more closely resemble members of an army than asylum seekers.” But he knows no shame.

Péter Szijjártó also delivered a speech in English at the open discussion of the United Nation’s Security Council. The message of his speech was that without Russia no international problems can be solved. He stated that the transatlantic community–the European Union and the United States–must rethink their relations to Russia. The Syrian civil war cannot be solved without Moscow’s participation. In order to further emphasize Hungary’s excellent relations with Russia, Szijjártó began his speech in Russian as a gesture to the Russians who are chairing the Security Council this month. Here we are in the middle of a serious conflict between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama over Putin’s involvement in Syria, and Hungary, a member of NATO, openly sides with Russia.

In earlier posts I talked about the uncivilized manner in which Szijjártó talks to other politicians. The language being used by this young, inexperienced man is unheard of in diplomacy. But he does it at the command of the prime minister. You may recall that as early as 2010 Viktor Orbán told Hungarian diplomats who gathered for “instructions” from the prime minister in Budapest that they will have to counter every time there is any criticism of Hungary. This year he made himself even clearer. The stronger the criticism the harsher the response of Hungarian diplomats must be.

In light of Orbán’s stated policy of lashing out with harsh rebukes at critics of Hungary, the following exchange in today’s interview was, for those of us who have developed a warped sense of humor in order to survive this regime, amusing. The reporter asked Orbán whether his suggestion of worldwide quotas was intended to force the developed countries to reveal their true feelings about accepting refugees. Orbán piously answered: “This would be an impolite formulation, we are not supposed to speak like that at international meetings, we choose a different approach.” But since he was no longer at an international meeting, he immediately launched into a tirade against the prime minister of Croatia.

After giving a false picture of the excellent relationship between Croatia and Hungary during their 800-year common destiny, he admitted that “‘what is happening today” is injurious to both. Until now he hasn’t said anything to the Croatian prime minister, but now he must say something that might not be diplomatic or polite. He has to be forthright because “our own people will pay the price” for what the Croatian prime minister is doing. “We cannot look upon the words of the Croatian prime minister as the voice of the Croatian people. The Croatian prime minister and his party are part of the Socialist Internationale. The parties of the Socialist Internationale support immigration … Their leaders follow the instructions of the Socialist Internationale…. Therefore, I ask Hungarians to keep in mind when they hear the Croatian prime minister that they aren’t hearing the voice of the Croatian people but the emissary of the Socialist Internationale whose job it is to attack Hungary.”

By now neighboring countries’ politicians have been insulted by Szijjártó, and today Orbán joined the fray by hurling insults at the Croatian prime minister. Where will all this lead? Unfortunately, the Hungarian people will pay dearly for Orbán’s irresponsible foreign policy. Even if Orbán disappeared today, it would take years to undo the damage both at home and abroad.

Viktor Orbán’s new “propaganda ministry”

The Hungarian media is full of speculations about Viktor Orbán’s decision to shake up the Prime Minister’s Office, which is a monster of a ministry with as many as 740 employees at last count. The modest office Viktor Orbán inherited has grown enormously in the last five years or so. The number of its employees, believe it or not, has increased eightfold, and that is not the end of it.

In addition to the Prime Minister’s Office (Miniszterelnökség), a new ministry was just created, ostensibly for “political coordination.” It is apparent, however, that this new ministry, under the direction of Antal Rogán who until now was the head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, will be a “propaganda ministry.” Not only anti-government media outlets and opposition politicians call it that; even János Lázár does. And he ought to know. Having a propaganda ministry, even if it’s called something else, brings to mind such unsavory examples as Nazi Germany’s Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, the Soviet Union’s Department for Agitation and Propaganda, China’s Central Propaganda Department, and Fascist Italy’s Ministry of Popular Culture. Orbán is continuing his march toward a one-party state inside the European Union. Quite a feat.

I don’t like to speculate about the reasons for personnel changes because we know very little about the complex political and personal relationships in high Fidesz and government circles. But, given the strictly hierarchical structure of Fidesz and the Orbán government, we can safely assume that the most coveted positions are those closest to Viktor Orbán since all important decisions are made by the prime minister. Although stories circulated about Rogán’s desire to be a member of the government one day, I think we can safely say that it was Viktor Orbán who decided that the work of András Giró-Szász, undersecretary in charge of communication in the Prime Minister’s Office, was not effective enough. Here I’m not relying on rumor but am simply quoting János Lázár again, who today made the off-the-cuff, cutting remark that “here is now the opportunity for a new team in the ministry of propaganda and information to show that they can do an even better job than András [Giró-Szász] did.”

I’m somewhat baffled why Viktor Orbán thinks the government’s current propaganda is not satisfactory and he needs another ministry to take over. The latest opinion polls indicate that Fidesz’s popularity, as a result of the government’s anti-refugee propaganda, has bounced back. The hate campaign worked. Whatever we might think of the method, it was successful politically. The propaganda machine has been working faultlessly ever since April of this year. So why set up an entirely new ministry now?

I suspect that Antal Rogán has something to do with the current anti-immigration campaign. We know from Antal Rogán himself that the first time the possibility of his move into the prime minister’s office in some capacity was discussed was in late April. It was about the same time that the Orbán government decided to send out questionnaires inquiring, with leading questions, into the population’s views on immigration. It was in June that the huge billboards in Hungarian told the migrants how to behave and how not to behave in the country. All this leads me to believe that there is a good likelihood that it was Rogán who came up with the step-by-step game plan for the anti-migrant campaign. Hence Orbán’s decision to entrust communication/ propaganda to him. Success builds on success.

The Hungarian media is portraying Orbán’s decision to move Rogán over to the Prime Minister’s office as a typical Machiavellian move on the part of Orbán. The prime minister thinks, they argue, that János Lázár has far too much power and lately has become something of a media star with his lengthy Thursday press conferences. Journalists point out that Orbán makes sure that no one person acquires too much power, which might eventually threaten his position. Hence, he is playing Rogán off against Lázár. In addition, there are stories going around that the two men dislike each other, which Lázár denied a couple of days ago.

Quite independently of whether there’s personal animosity between the two men or not, the fact is that the original plan to have Rogán in the Prime Minister’s Office as a kind of chief-of-staff tasked with “political coordination” wouldn’t have worked. As Lázár pointed out, there must be one and only person who takes responsibility for the work done in the office. In fact, Lázár threatened to resign if Rogán joined his ministry. Since Orbán didn’t want to lose Lázár, he was ready for a compromise. Headlines in certain papers saying that “Orbán wouldn’t mind if Lázár quit” were, in my opinion, figments of journalistic imagination. Lázár is too important a man in the administration. If he quit today, the whole government would be in disarray, perhaps for months. Orbán was in a quandary. He needed Lázár but he also wanted Rogán’s alleged skill as a propagandist. Hence a new ministry for Rogán.

The last press conference given together by János Lázár and András Giró-Szász

The last press conference given jointly by János Lázár and András Giró-Szász

This new ministry will be in charge of all communication. Rogán will be the boss of all the communication workers, whether in the government or in Fidesz. And there are many, including Giró-Szász’s team of twenty men and women in the Prime Minister’s Office, who will be subordinated from here on to Antal Rogán’s ministry.

In this shakeup, although Lázár eventually decided to stay, Giró-Szász resigned, despite the offers he received from Rogán and Lázár. He had the luxury of picking up his hat and leaving since he is a very rich man. His salary in the Prime Minister’s Office is chump change. The reason for this decision? He obviously didn’t want to work for Rogán, whether for personal, structural, or, perhaps the main determinant, political (even a smidgen of ethical?) reasons.

It is very hard to know what goes on behind the scenes in the Orbán empire because those who are close to the boss are very tight-mouthed. They know that what counts above all is personal loyalty, which means agreement with Orbán on all issues. They know that the prime minister’s political longevity trumps every other consideration. We can now wait with morbid curiosity to see how Rogán’s ministry ensures that Orbán remains in power for twenty years.

Viktor Orbán punishes his adversaries

It is dangerous to cross Viktor Orbán. Sooner or later he will get you, if necessary with the help of crooked judges. Here I will tell the story of three people whom Viktor Orbán has been hard at work trying to ruin. One of his foes was acquired only a few months ago when his old friend, Lajos Simicska, turned against him. The other two are Ferenc Gyurcsány and Ibolya Dávid, who have been on Orbán’s black list since at least 2005. These two did something that in Orbán’s book was unforgivable: they were responsible for his failure to win the 2006 national election.

Ibolya Dávid, leader of the Magyar Demokrata Fórum, became an enemy because of her refusal to run on the same ticket as Fidesz in 2006. She thus deprived Viktor Orbán of those extra votes that were necessary to form a Fidesz government under his premiership.

Gyurcsány’s “crime” was even greater. Orbán noticed early on that Gyurcsány was a talented politician who might be his political opponent one day. And indeed, in 2004 Gyurcsány became prime minister, which was bad enough. But when in the 2006 television debate Gyurcsány decisively beat him, Orbán’s dislike of the man turned into hatred. Orbán was humiliated, and never again was he willing to debate anyone at any time. I’m convinced that from this point on he began assiduously planning the ruination of Gyurcsány, which he has partially managed to achieve by his unrelenting character assassination of the former prime minister, from which he hasn’t been able to recover.

Orbán’s original plan most likely included sending Gyurcsány to jail, and it must have been a great source of frustration that he failed, at least thus far. But if he couldn’t incarcerate Gyurcsány, he could settle for second-best: jailing two officials of the government office that handled the sale of state properties, among them the one that involved a group of foreign businessmen who planned to build a huge casino and wellness complex at Lake Velence, the so-called Sukoro project. Today, in the culmination of a trial that resembled the show trials of the Stalinist period, the two officials were handed very stiff sentences. Miklós Tátrai, the CEO of the company, received four years, and Zsolt Császy, one of the department heads, received three and a half years. They will appeal the verdict.

Tonight, in an interview with ATV, Tátrai revealed that his lawyer had received an informal offer from one of the prosecutors: if Tátrai implicates Ferenc Gyurcsány, he will be acquitted. Since Gyurcsány in no way tried to influence their decision, he naturally refused even to contemplate the offer.

This was obviously a very important case for the Orbán government, and it was one of the first cases sent to a court outside of Budapest, in Szolnok. And the Budapest Appellate Court won’t rule on the case. The next round will be in Szeged. The case may end up in Strasbourg.

Ibolya Dávid, chairman of the right-of-center Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF), agreed to a coalition with Fidesz in 1998 and thus received the post of minister of justice in the first Orbán government. I might add that Fidesz, a macho party, makes no effort whatsoever to put women in leading positions either in the party or in the government. Dávid’s experience with Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz leadership between 1998 and 2006 must have been so negative that in 2006 MDF decided to brave the election on its own, despite the considerable pressure on them to support Viktor Orbán. To the great surprise of political commentators, Dávid’s moderate conservative party received  5.04% of the votes and could form a caucus with 11 members. If the MDF leadership had agreed to a joint ticket, Orbán could have formed a government with 107 members. The socialists (MSZP) and liberals (SZDSZ) won 103 seats.

From that point on, Orbán was out to get Ibolya Dávid and MDF. By 2010 he succeeded. MDF managed to get only 2.67% of the votes, and by now MDF is gone. The party was undermined from the inside. Fidesz offered all sorts of enticements, including financial rewards, to people in the MDF leadership who were ready to be secret agents of Fidesz and turn against Dávid. Unfortunately for Fidesz, as a side issue of another piece of Fidesz “dirty business,” which involved spying on the National Security Office, it came to light that Fidesz wanted to pay off a young MDF politician to run against Ibolya Dávid and thus split the party. This was in 2008. The court case has been dragging on ever since. Although Ibolya Dávid and Károly Herényi, the leader of the MDF caucus, were the victims, during the course of the trial they became the culprits. I wrote several articles on UD Zrt., the company Fidesz used to spy on the government, and how Fidesz turned the tables on the MDF leaders. After innumerable court appearances, today the judge decided to “reprimand” Dávid and Herényi, whatever that means. Surely, not even this kangaroo court could find them guilty. So they came up with something called “megróvás” (admonition/reprimand). Both the prosecution and the defense will appeal.

They are supposed to be removed altogether

They are supposed to be removed altogether

And finally, we have the case of Lajos Simicska. In the last few months we have been witnessing Viktor Orbán’s efforts to ruin Simicska financially. Again, I wrote several posts on the subject. The latest is that István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest, decided to break a long-term contract with one of Simicska’s firms–Mahir Cityposter. In 2006 Simicska’s firm acquired the right to provide the city with 761 large, cylindrical advertising surfaces. The contract was good for 25 years. According to the terms of the contract, Mahir was supposed to pay the city 15% of its profits or at least 45 million forints per year. Now, nine years later, the city fathers came to the conclusion that the deal was tilted in Cityposter’s favor and that if the city itself took over these advertising surfaces it would make between 73 and 125 million forints. Surely, this sudden discovery was inspired by Viktor Orbán’s anti-Simicska campaign.

I should point out that Simicska acquired these large cylinders back in 1994. Simicska, who at that point handled Fidesz’s finances, saw the importance of owning advertising surfaces in cities all over the country to give Fidesz advertisement opportunities at a lower price than that offered to the opposition parties. But that was a long time ago. The situation after the Simicska-Orbán falling out is entirely different.

In brief, don’t cross Viktor Orbán. He is a vindictive man who can now use even the Hungarian judicial system to ruin his adversaries. It is a sad day for Hungarian jurisprudence.