Category Archives: Uncategorized

Viktor Orbán’s favorite party failed to gain the Austrian presidency

On Tuesday Viktor Orbán, who seems to have an iron constitution, took the day off because, as his office announced, he was sick. Yesterday a humorous little piece appeared in Sztarklikk with the title: “That’s why Orbán fell ill.” Surely, the author said, Orbán needed to be revived with smelling salts after learning that Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), had narrowly lost the Austrian presidential election. Well, smelling salts might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Orbán’s disappointment had to be great because it is a well-known fact that Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of FPÖ, and Viktor Orbán greatly admire one another.

At the end of September when Viktor Orbán visited the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann (SPÖ), and his deputy, Reinhold Mitterlehner, in order to temper months of quarreling between the two countries, the Hungarian prime minister was also planning to meet Strache. Unfortunately, apparently to the great sorrow of Orbán, the planned meeting had to be cancelled in the last minute. The reason was straightforward enough. Strache is persona non grata in mainstream Austrian political circles, and when the Austrians found out about Orbán’s plans they expressed their strong disapproval. In fact, Deputy Chancellor Mitterlehner, whose party, the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), just like Fidesz, belongs to the EU’s European People’s Party, refused to meet with Orbán if he insisted on going through with his original plan. Reluctantly, Orbán cancelled the meeting.

Apparently Orbán is convinced that Strache is a man of the future. Strache’s threat to build a fence between Austria and Hungary to keep Hungarian workers out of his country didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm for the man. Strache might not like Hungarians working in Austria, but several times he expressed his admiration for Orbán, who is “one of the few honest politicians who don’t want to sell out or destroy Europe.” He added that Orbán is the only European politician who has any brains when it comes to the migrant issue.

The Hungarian government has had strained relations with Austrian politicians of the two governing parties, SPÖ and ÖVP. Even a cursory look at the political news of the last few months reveals repeated insults being exchanged between Werner Faymann and Péter Szijjártó. Although Faymann resigned as chancellor on May 9 of this year, most likely to the great relief of Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó, it looks as if his successor, Christian Kern, will be no better from the Hungarian point of view. In fact, I suspect that the new Austrian chancellor will be an even more severe critic of the Hungarian prime minister, whose views are practically identical to those of Heinz-Christian Strache.

A few days ago Kern announced that “it is an illusion to think that the refugee problem can be solved by European countries adopting authoritarian systems as the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has done.” Szijjártó, as is his wont, responded immediately and rashly. According to him, what is an illusion is any hope that with a change in the Austrian chancellorship insults from Austria will cease. Kern’s statement, he said, compared Hungary to Hitler’s Germany. “It is unacceptable for anyone to use expressions in connection with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that are in any way attached to the most monstrous and darkest dictatorship of the last century.” Not the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Magyar Idők, the government’s fervent supporter and often unofficial spokesman, followed the Austrian presidential race with great interest, keeping fingers crossed for Norbert Hofer. A day before the second round of the presidential election, Magyar Idők was pretty certain that Hofer would win. The paper also noted that The New York Times compared FPÖ to the Hungarian, Polish, and Slovak government parties. (I don’t know whether the author of the article considered this an insult or not.) An opinion piece that appeared on the morning of the presidential election ran under the headline: “The Freedom Party is the symbol of success while the left is that of failure.”

Heinz -Christian Strache and Norbert Hofer before the presidential elections / Photo APA / Hans Klaus

Heinz -Christian Strache and Norbert Hofer before the presidential election / Photo APA / Hans Klaus

After the election Mária Schmidt, a historian who has great influence over Viktor Orbán, bemoaned the fact that public discourse in Austria is now dominated by baby boomer leftist politicians of the pro-German tradition. She recalled that Orbán in his first term was the first foreign leader to receive Chancellor Wolfgang Schlüssel of Austria, who was at that time considered a pariah in the West because he included the Freedom Party of Jörg Haider in his coalition government back in 1999.

Viktor Orbán’s friend Zsolt Bayer is also disappointed, but he is optimistic that “a new healthy young Europe is coming” that will replace the 70-year-old dying Europe that is full of bedsores. This youthful new Europe will come “from the mountains of the Alps, the fields of Burgenland, from Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland.” For Bayer, the Freedom Party of Strache and Hofer is not the depository of far-right views but, on the contrary, the embodiment of “normalcy.” So it’s no wonder that Viktor Orbán and his fellow “normal” far-right friends were disappointed by the election results.

May 26, 2016

Hungary is proceeding with its anti-EU, anti-refugee referendum on compulsory quotas

The other day the Fidesz majority in parliament, along with Jobbik MPs, voted to approve a referendum on the “compulsory” quotas the European Union will allegedly impose on Hungary. Hungarians will have the opportunity to vote on this question: “Do you want the European Union, without the consent of Parliament, to order the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary?” Now that’s a loaded question, with obvious prompts to answer “no, no, never!” The parliamentary vote went strictly along party lines, with MPs representing MSZP, LMP, and DK opting to stay away. Only five independent members voted against the bill.

As has been discussed here many times, the overwhelming majority of eligible voters, if they bothered to vote at all, would vote “no” to the referendum question, even if it weren’t so loaded. I assume, therefore, that LMP and MSZP deemed it politically wise to have its members to stay away rather than vote against the measure. The absence of DK’s MPs is harder to explain since it normally is more resolute than MSZP in questions concerning Hungary’s adherence to EU decisions. According to some Facebook gossip DK MPs missed the vote, but Csaba Molnár, one of the deputy chairmen of the party and a member of the European Parliament, claims that their absence was a planned boycott.

After the bill was approved, the European Commission inquired into its exact meaning. The commission assumes, according to its communiqué, that the Hungarian referendum’s question pertains only to future decisions, not to decisions that were already accepted by the EU interior ministers last September. In fact, if we can believe Viktor Orbán and his minister of justice László Trócsányi, it looks as if Hungary will not contest the decision reached regarding the 1,294 refugees from Italy and Greece. However, we mustn’t forget that Hungary has challenged the decision at the European Court of Justice and that Viktor Orbán has declared time and again that he will not allow any refugees to settle in Hungary.

referendum2

DK, Együtt, and PM interpret the referendum as a calculated move by Orbán to withdraw Hungary “at any time” from the European Union. Therefore, said Zsuzsanna Szelényi of Együtt, this referendum is fraught with risks and dangers. DK claims the same. By holding this referendum, Viktor Orbán is asking for a mandate “to lead Hungary out of the Union.” Although I understand that this argument is a reasonable political ploy to keep people away from the voting booths, I can’t believe that Orbán is seriously thinking of taking the country out of the European Union. He must know better than anyone else in what dire financial straits the country would find itself after such a move. Moreover, a large majority of Hungarians, even after years of anti-EU propaganda, feel strongly about Hungary’s continued membership.

Fidesz for its part is trying to convince the electorate that “in the past twenty years there has not been such a weighty decision before the Hungarian people” as this referendum question. I guess this includes such momentous decisions as the adherence to NATO or joining the European Union. The spokesmen for the government and Fidesz keep calling attention to the dangers for Hungary that lurk in Brussels, dangers that can be averted only if the Hungarian government can demonstrate the resolve of the country’s citizens concerning the refugee issue.

By today all the democratic opposition parties decided to urge their voters and sympathizers to boycott the referendum. MSZP, after a long period of indecision, at last opted to join the others. The party’s leadership, however, said that the rationale for their opposition is different from that of DK. MSZP will urge its sympathizers to stay away, but they don’t consider such an act a boycott because they don’t consider a referendum on the question illegitimate per se. “We don’t want compulsory quotas either, but we will have a better program than this joke of a referendum.” Or, as József Tóbiás, party chairman, told Index, “we say ‘no’ to Fidesz’s pseudo-question and we say ‘yes’ to the real ones.” In brief, as usual, MSZP is sitting on the fence.

Even before the parliamentary vote on the issue, Népszabadság summarized the common belief that there is no way that this referendum, due to the Orbán government’s own machinations with the law on referendums, will be valid because getting 50% of the electorate to turn out is well nigh impossible. The paper admits that such a successful referendum–about university tuition fees and co-pays–did take place in 2008, but at that time Fidesz, which was behind the referendum, campaigned for it as a vote against the by then very unpopular Gyurcsány government. They almost promised the people that as a consequence of a successful referendum, the Gyurcsány government would resign. Today there is no such compelling argument to rally the troops. Frightening people with tens of thousands of refugees who cannot be seen anywhere probably won’t have the same impact as promising them an immediate change of government and early elections.

A few days ago when a friend asked whether Hungarian citizens living in Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia will be able to vote on the quota question, I had to admit that I had no idea. Well, today I happened on an article on kitenkinto.hu, an internet site specializing in news from abroad. There I read that János Babity, the Hungarian consul-general in Sutobica/Szabadka in Serbia, told journalists that “ 185,000 Hungarian citizens have the right to decide with whom they want to live in the territory of Hungary.” Voting will be conducted in the same manner as at the 2014 national election. So, I’m afraid, the Hungarian government will have an immense pool of voters to mobilize outside the country. Moreover, election fraud here is practically guaranteed. Let’s not forget that over 98% of the Romanian-Hungarian vote went for Fidesz in 2014. Voting by absentee ballot is largely unsupervised.

Today Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said on the German WDR’s “Europa Forum” that “the European Union is not a smorgasbord from which everybody can pick and choose.” Member states “must eat what is on the table.” At the same time, the magnitude of the EU’s threat of what is in essence a fine of 250,000 euros for every refugee Hungary refuses to accept from its allotted quota started to sink in. Last Friday Orbán expressed his total disgust at the EU’s shameful treatment of the poorer countries. A couple of days ago Bence Uzson, one of the government spokesmen, talked about the price of resistance that Hungary would have to pay. He indicated that Hungary is trying to convince the other Visegrad 4 countries to join the battle against Brussels. Moreover, there is talk that Hungary, even without support from its neighbors, might be ready to veto the measure.

On a brighter note, Vesna Györkös Žnidar, the Slovenian minister of the interior, announced yesterday without much fanfare the arrival of the first 30 refugees from Greece. Slovenia will voluntarily take 587 refugees and establish “integration homes” for them. The refugees will take part in “integration programs for a whole year, during which they will have all the assistance necessary from the Slovenian government.” Slovenia has a population of 2.06 million. I guess the Slovenes are not worried about being overwhelmed by people of an alien culture. If Hungary were that generous, the country would give shelter to 3,000 refugees. But instead, it wants to take in not a single refugee. A real embarrassment.

May 12, 2016

Another year, another round of matriculation exams

I will never understand the fascination of the Hungarian media with the matriculation exams held about this time every year. However hard it may be to imagine, in just one week almost two hundred articles appeared about the ins and outs of the questions students had to answer in such subjects as Hungarian language and literature, history, English, math, and biology.

The matriculation tsunami began on May 2 with the Hungarian literature exam, which most teachers considered to be easy. A few hours later, after the test was over, we could read about student reactions to the test and which exam questions were the most popular. This year it looks as if an Áron Tamási short story topped the popularity list because, as one teacher remarked, “even if the student knows nothing about Áron Tamási, it will be a cinch to answer the questions.” On the other hand, the first hour of the test, a passage from Gyula Moravcsik’s book World of the Papyruses, was considered to be difficult. Moravcsik (1892-1972) was a professor of Greek philology and Byzantine history. Some people considered the choice odd.

On the second day of tests students had to answer questions on Hungarian and world history. Less on world history and a lot more on Hungarian history. A few minutes after the test began, history teachers announced that the test was difficult, but three hours later students reported that it was actually very easy and some of them left the exam early. A frustrated student complained that he had memorized an incredible number of facts, which turned out to be a useless exercise because, to his great surprise, many of the questions were “of the thinking type.”

What is the point of these matriculation exams? First of all, there are two levels of exams: the regular one, which testifies to the student’s successful completion of studies at the high school level, and a higher-level test, which also serves as an entrance exam to university. Far in advance of the exams, students receive a fairly long list of topics from which the final questions are picked.

I often wonder whether this whole nerve-wrecking matriculation examination ritual is really necessary. What does it achieve? The month the students spend preparing for the exam seems to me, at least, to be a waste of time. Within years, if not months, most of them will remember very little if anything of their cramming.

The history exam, for instance, is made up of 12 multiple choice sections and three essays. However anxiety inducing it may be to anticipate the exam, in fact most of the time the answers to the multiple choice questions are obvious, either from the text or from the graphs accompanying them. And it seems, from reading the instructions to grading the essay questions, that expectations are low.

One of the chief demands of teachers in the last few months was a free choice of textbooks, from a reasonably long list of possibilities, as was the case before Rózsa Hoffmann and Viktor Orbán decided to limit the choice to two. Yet even in those days, all students had to take the very same exam all over the country. Then as now it was a central authority that decided on the guidelines for grading the answers. So, basically, the teachers have been constrained all along by the expectations of the ministry that handles the matriculation exams. It is what in this country we call teaching to the test. The performance of a teacher and a school is judged by the grades of the students taking the matriculation exams after Grade 12.

matrozbluz

I also have my doubts about the use of matriculation exams as predictors of the university careers of students. And that takes me back to the Hungarian literature test, which included a long passage about a topic that had absolutely nothing to do with literature and on which students were expected to spend an hour. It was considered to be difficult by the students as well as the teachers. The interesting thing is that this passage and the attendant questions are quite similar to what American high school students are faced with on the SAT exam, which most major colleges and universities require. Here are some practice questions that will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Although the SATs have come under a lot of pressure over the past years, many colleges and universities still consider them an important factor in making admissions decisions, as you can see from the top national universities’ average SAT scores. To answer questions after reading a long and fairly complicated passage the student needs to exhibit concentration, attention to detail, and the ability to reason logically. The questions test aptitudes, not the mastery of a subject. These aptitudes may not guarantee academic success, but they are a much better predictor of academic success than the ability to regurgitate facts that are forgotten in no time and/or might not be useful for anything in later life.

But I’m sure the tradition of matriculation exams will continue whether it makes sense or not. Girls will act as if they still lived in the nineteenth century and will put on their sailor blouses, blue skirts, and stockings. And boys will appear every day in blue pants and white shirts instead of wearing their most comfortable clothes for three nervous hours of hard work. But that’s the tradition from the days when very few people even finished gymnasium. Then it was a really big deal. It’s hard to imagine, but in 1950 only 16,000 students finished high school and only 4,000 graduated from university. Today over 112,000 students took their matriculation examinations. We could laud that obvious progress but for the fact that 112,000 is far fewer than the number of students who entered gymnasiums during the socialist-liberal period and took their matriculation exams in 2011, when it was over 140,000. Orbán doesn’t like gymnasiums. Interestingly, all of his own children have attended one. The youngest, Flóra, is just beginning grade nine–of course, in a gymnasium.

May 11, 2016

Two critical reports on Hungary from Washington

Two less than complimentary analyses of Hungary were just published in as many days. The first was Freedom House’s report “Nations in Transit 2016” and the second, the U.S. State Department’s “2015 Human Rights Reports.”

A few prefatory words about Freedom House. It is an independent watchdog organization “dedicated to freedom and democracy around the world.” It was established in 1941 in New York City to battle the isolationist sentiment prevalent in the United States at the time. Freedom House was an “aggressive foe of McCarthyisim” and a “strong supporter of the movement for racial equality.” It was only in the 1970s that Freedom House turned its attention to the erosion of freedom in many parts of the developing world. With the end of the Cold War, it expanded its activities to the study of conditions in the post-Communist world. The annual “ Nations in Transit” report concentrates on former Soviet-controlled areas in Eurasia, 29 countries all told. Freedom House’s headquarters nowadays is in Washington, D.C.

I recommend reading the full report, written by Nate Schenkkan, because it covers several important aspects of Europe’s political and economic problems, in addition to evaluating human rights issues in the post-communist countries. Here I will deal only with Freedom House’s assessment of Hungary, the country that holds the dubious distinction of being responsible for “the decline of the average democracy score for Central and Eastern Europe by 12 percent from its peak in 2006.”

freedom house 2016

Freedom House divides the geographical area into three regions: the Balkans, Central Europe, and Eurasia. Countries considered to be Central European are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In addition to analyzing these regions as wholes, Freedom House looks at aspects of political life in individual countries: electoral process, civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, local democratic governance, judicial framework and independence, and corruption. The final overall “democracy score” is a combined “grade” on all these issues that are essential for the functioning of a democratic society. This “grade” is based on a scale of 1 to 7; the higher the number, the worse the “democracy score.” If we compare this year’s score to those of 2015 there are three countries in Central Europe whose score hasn’t changed: the Czech Republic, Latvia, and Romania. The scores of four countries have improved: Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, and Slovakia. Finally, there are three countries with worse records than a year ago: Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia.

Sorting the Central European countries from highest to lowest “democracy scores,” we get the following results: Estonia (1.93), Slovenia (2.00), Latvia (2.07), Czech Republic (2.21), Poland (2.32), Lithuania (2.32), Slovakia (2.61), Bulgaria (3.25), Hungary (3.29), and Romania (3.46). In brief, Hungary’s score is getting closer and closer to countries like Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. It is sinking to the level of the countries of the Balkans. Details can be found in a separate section on Hungary.

Hungarian media reactions to “Nations in Transit 2016” were predictable. Opposition sites took the report seriously and pointed out that it was the scores on corruption, freedom of the media, and national democratic governance that dragged the country down to the unenviable position in which it currently finds itself. What really shocked Hungarian journalists was that even Bulgaria received a slightly better score than their own country. If Viktor Orbán remains in power for a couple more years, which is likely, and if he tries just a bit harder, Hungary will become the country with the worst “democracy score” in Central Europe.

Magyar Idők ignored the report and simply published MTI’s story, according to which Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó called the report “nonsense.” How can “people hanging around in American offices thousands of miles away tell anything about the situation in any country?” Well, the multitude of footnotes indicates that most of the material was gathered from Hungarian sources, and it is likely that some of the anonymous authors also live in Hungary. Szijjártó is convinced that Freedom House came out with these figures only because the United States doesn’t like Hungary’s position on immigration. Moreover, it is bizarre that such critical remarks come from a country that erected not a simple fence like Hungary did but a massive wall to keep migrants out of the country. “We were elected by the citizens of this country and it is our duty to act in their best interest.” He added that they don’t care what Freedom House writes about them.

The U.S. State Department’s “2015 Human Rights Reports: Hungary” is just as critical of Hungarian conditions as Freedom House’s analysis. The report is a long, devastating description of the Hungarian situation last year. The Hungarian government’s handling of migrants and asylum seekers is severely criticized, but the report also points to prison overcrowding, lengthy pretrial detention, the politically determined process for recognizing churches, government corruption, media concentration that restricts editorial independence, government pressure and intimidation of civil society, violence against women, inhumane treatment of institutionalized persons, discrimination against Roma, verbal abuse and harassment against LGBTI people, and human trafficking.

The pro-government media’s reaction was again predictable. Pesti Srácok gave this headline to its article on the report: “Washington’s chief problem with Hungary: Migrants couldn’t move freely in the country.” Quite a misrepresentation of the document. Magyar Idők complained that “America again lectures us on human rights.” Tamás Deutsch, currently Fidesz EP MP and one of the original founders of the party, was more expansive. First of all, according to Deutsch, the report “is crawling with factual errors, many half-truths, and a pathological bias against Hungary.” But in Deutsch’s opinion all this is really beside the point. The important question is: “How does the honorable government of the United States of America have the temerity to grade the countries of the world like a screaming home room teacher with a distinct body odor because of his nylon gown who whirls a key ring around his forefinger?”

I suspect that Deutsch’s comments will not be the last on the subject. I expect, especially from Magyar Idők, massive anti-American rhetoric. The editors of Magyar Idők have been specializing in anti-American and anti-German opinion pieces, all the while expressing great admiration for Russia. I am waiting for a juicy editorial on the State Department’s “Human Rights Report.” After all, they haven’t had time to translate it yet.

April 14, 2016

Government conspiracy to prevent a referendum

Critics of the democratic opposition in Hungary often charge both journalists and politicians with abandoning stories about the corrupt Orbán government. A huge scandal surfaces and is on the front page of every newspaper, but a few days later the whole thing is forgotten. The dogged perseverance so necessary for both reporters and politicians seems to be missing from Hungarian political life, although in the few cases where it was at work the administration had to retreat.

The most spectacular success of that kind of investigative journalism was the resignation of President Pál Schmidt after it became known that his so-called doctoral dissertation was a Hungarian translation of a book originally written in French. HVG, the paper that received the original scoop, simply didn’t let the issue die. They kept at it. Although it took four months, eventually Schmidt was told to retire quietly. I’ll bet that Viktor Orbán has regretted that decision ever since. In fact, in the last couple of years he has smuggled Schmidt back into the government circle. Schmidt received government assignments in connection with Hungary’s bid for the 2024 Olympic games.

It seems that this same ability to stay with a project and see it through to completion is now being exhibited by MSZP’s István Nyakó, the man who was prevented from submitting his referendum question on Sunday retail store closings to the National Election Office (NVH). Of course, he needed the assistance of the media. Both HVG and Index have been giving ample coverage to the story. Today, after a month of back and forth, both NVH and the National Election Committee (NVB) finally decided to ask the police to investigate the skinheads’ role in the events that allowed Mrs. Erdősi, wife of Herceghalom’s mayor and a devoted admirer of Viktor Orbán, to turn in her question about the Sunday closings while the hired heavies prevented Nyakó from submitting his question. The very fact that the case has gotten this far is an unexpected success, which says a lot about the state of democracy in Hungary. Or, rather the lack thereof. A dictatorial regime like Viktor Orbán’s does not tolerate dissent and will do everything in its power to stifle it.

István Nyakó in front of the National Election Office / 24per7

István Nyakó in front of the National Election Office / 24per7

I devoted several posts to the topic of the seemingly hopeless task of submitting a referendum question on the Sunday closings issue. Sunday closings are very unpopular, and if such a referendum were actually held it is quite possible that the closings would be overwhelmingly rejected, which could be interpreted as a rejection of Viktor Orbán’s whole political system. Thus, a variety of tricks have been employed to prevent such an outcome. This cat and mouse game has now been going on for about a year. Thanks to Nyakó’s insistence and the media’s help, today we have some evidence that there was a joint effort between Fidesz and individuals allegedly representing independent agencies, like NVH and NVB and the National Data Protection and Freedom of Information Authority (NAIH), to prevent something that is against the wishes of the government. Such a concerted effort is less kindly called a “conspiracy,” which is a very serious crime.

The alleged crime took place on February 23. Within a few hours important information emerged, including the identity of Mrs. Erdősi and the connection between the skinheads of the Ferencváros (Fradi) Football Association, and Gábor Kubatov, president of Fradi, vice-chairman of Fidesz, and the maverick election campaign manager of the party. A few days later I followed up my initial post with more facts. Since then even more details have emerged. I’m pretty certain that by now we have a very good idea of how the ruse was conceived and executed. The only thing missing is definite proof, which can be obtained only if the police take the investigation seriously.

What we know now is that the chairmen of both NVH and NVB hid an important piece of evidence: a seven-hour surveillance video from outside the building of NVH. Members of the election committee today claim that they would have immediately launched an investigation if they had had the opportunity to see the video, which shows the arrival of the skinheads and the distribution of copies of Mrs. Erdősi’s referendum question enclosed in plastic folders. Thus, Mrs. Erdősi and the skinheads worked together. They were one team. Initially, however, Ilona Pálffy of NVH and Sándor Patyi, chairman of NVB, convinced members of the committee that there was nothing interesting on the video. Only the lone MSZP representative on the committee insisted on looking at it, but he was voted down by the Fidesz-Jobbik majority. Moreover, Pálffy and Patyi also “forgot” to submit the video along with other documents when the Kúria wanted to take a second look at the case. So, from what we know now there is a good likelihood of Pálffy’s and Patyi’s involvement in the conspiracy.

There is also the possibility that one or more employees of the National Data Protection and Freedom of Information Authority (NAIH) are also involved. What does this office have to do with referendums? Anyone who wants to submit a referendum question has to start at NAIH in order to receive permission to collect the necessary 20-30 supporting signatures. MSZP members in the past received these permissions after a fairly lengthy waiting period. MSZP’s Zoltán Lukács, who submitted a referendum question earlier, asked for permission on January 27 and received the answer on February 18. Nyakó’s request was submitted on February 12, and he had to wait 10 days for an answer. Behold, Mrs. Erdősi’s application arrived on February 21, a Sunday, and a day later permission was granted. The deadline to submit a referendum question was February 23, Tuesday. Someone at NAIH clearly wanted to expedite matters to make sure that Mrs. Erdősi would be able to turn in her referendum question in time.

Now it is up to the police and the prosecutors to handle the case. Odds are, if recent history is any guide, that the case will never be solved.

March 31, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s latest attempt to introduce “martial law” under the pretext of terrorism

Let’s start with the Hungarian regime’s latest outrage. Viktor Orbán, under the pretext of the terrorist attacks in Brussels, is trying to push through his controversial amendments to the constitution that would create a new category of emergency called “state of terror threat” (terrorveszélyhelyzet).

I wrote twice about the proposed amendments, which were uniformly rejected by the opposition parties. Once right after István Simicskó, minister of defense, called for a “five-party” discussion on security measures that would involve amendments to the constitution. At that point only bits and pieces of information were available, but even from the little that was known it sounded truly frightening. The emergency measures would have been introduced for thirty days and could have been extended without limit. Moreover, only “a threat of terrorism” would have been necessary to declare such a state of emergency.

A few days later, when all the details of the proposed amendments became available, I wrote another piece in which I listed thirty restrictions, including eviction of people from their homes, prohibition of the entry of foreigners, limitation or prohibition of contact and communication with foreigners and foreign organizations, prohibition of demonstrations, control of the internet, etc. I could go on and on. All that without parliamentary approval. These draconian measures could be announced by the government without any parliamentary oversight. No opposition party could possibly have voted for these amendments, and I was happy to see that none of them did. Not even Jobbik. It was clear to everyone that the “state of terror threat” was not so much about terror as about domestic dissatisfaction with the government. The only thing that was needed to quell anti-government protest was a so-called “terror threat.”

The terrorist attacks in Brussels came in handy for Viktor Orbán’s diabolical plans. At the time of the explosions in the Belgian capital Hungary was already under a state of emergency #3. As soon as the news of the Brussels atrocities was received in Hungary, the terror alert was upgraded to state of emergency #2.

Anyone who’s unfamiliar with Hungarian regulations might well think that under the circumstances such a move was justifiable. Those of us who know the rules, however, became suspicious that Orbán was not worried about an actual terrorist attack on Budapest but was simply raising the ante. A #2 state of emergency can currently be declared only if a “verifiable terror threat exists against the country.” And, as it turns out, the Hungarian security services have not received any such information. After many attempts, Olga Kálmán of ATV finally managed to get the truth out of György Bakondi, the government commissioner who is supposed to be an expert on emergency matters: Hungarian authorities haven’t received any verifiable terror threat. The security forces are simply wondering whether the arrest of Salah Abdeslam might trigger an attack on Budapest because Abdeslam traveled to Hungary twice to get some of his comrades out of the country back in September 2015. A rather far-fetched hypothesis.

A few hours after Bakondi’s admission about the lack of evidence of a verifiable terror threat, the security services managed to convince even the opposition members of the parliamentary commission on national security that raising the level of the state of emergency was justified. Bernadett Szél of LMP announced that the information received from the security services “was convincing.” Knowing this government, I suspect that the officers of the national security forces are just about as truthful as the other members of the government, including Viktor Orbán. Therefore, I for one don’t believe that Hungary received a credible threat, but I understand that members of the opposition are reluctant to stick their necks out.

Even before the meeting of the committee, Viktor Orbán announced that the #2 state of emergency will remain in force, and it might even be changed to #1 at the borders. Yesterday Sándor Pintér, minister of interior, said at a press conference that the #2 state of emergency would remain in effect “until it becomes clear exactly what happened in Brussels and what is expected in other countries of Europe.”

Since then Viktor Orbán decided that Hungary needs more than these terror alert levels. He instructed Pintér to return to the amendments to the constitution, which fell by the wayside “because of political quarrels.” He will try to push through this unacceptable change in the constitution, justifying it by appealing to the tragic events in Brussels.

Viktor Orbán today posed as an ardent supporter of a united Europe when he said: “The target of the explosions was not Belgium but Europe, and therefore we have to look upon this attack as if it was also against Hungary.” I wonder what he will say in a few days when the ministers of interior are told about plans for closer cooperation on security, which may involve setting up a European border guard whose members could be sent even to those member countries that do not want their assistance. This way the European borders could be better secured. I doubt that Orbán would be thrilled if that plan was approved by a “qualified majority.” As for Hungary’s preparedness for a terrorist attack he said little, but he did admit that “Hungary must obtain certain technological equipment that will make the country’s secret service equal to the best equipped ones. We will buy the latest technology, we will introduce training programs,” he promised.

MSZP came to the conclusion that Orbán’s announcement was an admission that Hungarian security forces are not up to snuff. A few hours later both Fidesz and the government condemned MSZP because, as far as they are concerned, “the opposition party in the last few months has stood by the migrants and has tried to hinder the government’s measures.” They have no right to say anything about the government’s lack of preparedness.

24.hu published a picture of the meeting Orbán held with those officials most closely involved with national security, saying that “it shows everything about Hungarian national security.”

The picture had been posted on Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page. On the picture one can see:

torzs

  • 0 computers
  • 0 smart phones
  • 2 nonfunctioning live streams
  • 9 notebooks with notations
  • 1 TV on which M1 can be seen
  • 1 monitor on which a building can be seen

A rather good description of what’s going on in Hungary. Hungary may have a fence, but it’s ill-prepared for a real terror threat. The government has been battling the refugees and inciting the people against them but has done practically nothing to develop a decent counter-terrorism task force.

Conclusion. Most likely there is no terror threat against Hungary at the moment, which is a blessing because these guys are totally incompetent. And constitutional amendments that infringe on human rights won’t help that situation.

March 23, 2016

Thank you

I want to thank everyone who contributed to support this forum. I appreciate it enormously.

The “beggar maid” post will now be relegated to its rightful chronological place, and the intrusive “Donate” button will be removed from the homepage. Anyone who hasn’t yet contributed but would like to can use the “Donate” tab at the top of the page, in the grey strip.

February 27, 2016