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Will the Schengen system survive?

Although the international media has only recently focused on the possible collapse of the so-called Schengen system, which basically eliminated internal borders for the 24 countries that comprise the Schengen zone, trouble has been brewing since early September. Several countries reintroduced, even if temporarily, border controls. And several European politicians, among them the Finnish president and the Slovak foreign minister, expressed their belief that the Schengen system could fall apart as a result of the pressures posed by the migrant crisis. More importantly, both Angela Merkel and the French foreign minister indicated that if there is no common solution to the refugee crisis, the Schengen agreement might have to be scrapped in its present form.

In mid-September published an article titled “The Dirty Dozen: 12 People Who Ruined Schengen,” in which Michael Binyon wrote: “It is not Chancellor Angela Merkel who has ruined Schengen — she still insists the measures are temporary. It is nationalists, dictators, criminals, and human traffickers outside Europe who are undermining this rare milestone of integration. Several prominent politicians also have to shoulder the blame, either through ignorance, insouciance, or malign intent.” Among the twelve, right after Bashar al-Assad, was Viktor Orbán.

Of course, the Hungarian government sees the situation differently. Viktor Orbán and his foreign minister claim that in fact it has been Hungary that has been valiantly defending the Schengen borders by following the Dublin agreement to the letter. Of course, this is not an accurate description of Hungary’s actions. Viktor Orbán refuses to support a common EU policy regarding the refugee crisis. At the same time, it is definitely in the interest of Hungary to preserve the Schengen zone, for both psychological and economic reasons.

Yet we hear demands from Western Europe for basic structural changes in the whole Schengen setup. What should we know about Schengen? First of all, it was 30 years ago, in 1985, that five countries–Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg–signed an agreement that established a border-free zone with a view to eventually achieving a borderless European Union. The current crisis and the terrorist attack on Paris threaten this Schengen system. Yesterday the European Commission announced that the Netherlands officially suggested having a discussion about setting up a kind of “mini-Schengen zone” comprising France, Germany, Austria, and the Benelux countries. So, basically, the members that joined the EU in 2004 would be left out of this new mini-Schengen.

Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó immediately expressed their dismay at the very idea. According to Szijjártó, it is offensive that “those countries want to create an inner circle for themselves” who have been criticizing Hungary all along when it is only Hungary that follows the rules of the Schengen agreement. The dissolution of the Schengen zone would cause huge economic damage to Central Europe and Hungary. And they talk about “European solidarity,” he added.

shengen zone

Viktor Orbán at a press conference after his meeting with Nikola Gruevski, Macedonia’s prime minister, also talked about the danger the Schengen zone is facing. He somewhat optimistically announced that “Dublin is dead, but Schengen is alive.” If the Schengen system collapses, “walls can be raised inside the territory of the Union,” which would be a calamity. Strange words coming from someone who built a fence between Slovenia and Hungary, two Schengen nations. Earlier in his usual Friday morning interview on Magyar Rádió Orbán was surprisingly reasonable when the reporter expressed her fear of the Schengen system’s immediate collapse and the “European leaders’ twaddle.” He expressed his trust that the problem will surely be solved. My hunch is that Orbán fears the collapse of the Schengen zone and will therefore display a more cooperative attitude. Mind you, as usual, he now wants to create “a new European Union,” which will never materialize.

Meanwhile, at France’s request, an emergency meeting of EU interior and justice ministers was convened. The French government presented a three-page list of demands, which The Guardian got hold of two days ago. The main points of the French proposals were endorsed by the ministers today. These are sensible precautionary measures which, to my surprise, were not on the books until now. The French called for stricter controls at the borders of the Schengen zone that will involve checking even EU citizens coming from outside of the zone. After all, the people who were responsible for the Paris terrorist attacks were EU citizens who could easily return from the Middle East without being checked against a “possible terrorist” list. The ministers endorsed the introduction of a “passenger name record” (PNR) of all people flying inside or outside of the European Union, which will be kept for a year. The French also demanded greater intelligence sharing across the EU. There should be a joint database of suspects with possible terrorist connections. At this point we know little of the details, but I assume in the next few days we will find out more about the introduction of new measures long overdue in Europe.

Hungarian analysis of Ambassador Colleen Bell’s speech of October 28

As promised, I will focus today on the analysis of the speech delivered by U.S. Ambassador Colleen Bell two days ago, which contained some very harsh criticism of the Orbán government. But first I would like to return briefly to the question of why the official Hungarian news agency failed to report on the event. MTVA, under which MTI functions, explained that “there was no sign that the speech would deal with Hungarian domestic affairs or that the speech had any relevance to U.S.-Hungarian relations.” This explanation didn’t convince the Hungarian media, which pointed out that the U.S. Embassy’s invitation to members of the media gave the title of the speech: “A Current Look at Hungarian-U.S. Relations.” Moreover, as also noted, the text of the speech was available as early as 6:44 p.m. on the website of the U.S. Embassy, including its Hungarian version.

The first summary of the speech appeared in Népszabadság. This was followed two hours later by the opinions of a couple of experts: Attila Juhász of Political Capital and Roland Reiner of the Republican Intézet. Unfortunately, their comments didn’t offer any real insight. Attila Juhász was the more expansive of the two, but both men “were surprised” because they thought that U.S.-Hungarian relations had entered a more peaceful phase. As I pointed out yesterday, there were many signs contradicting this view. And these signs weren’t reserved for a privileged few; it was enough to read Hungarian news reports. Juhász said that in private conversations the ambassador “was very diplomatic and didn’t criticize the Hungarian government that much.” Thus, Juhász believes,”it had to be a recent decision in Washington to put Budapest under pressure again.” His colleague Reiner, despite his agreement with Juhász that Colleen Bell was only the messenger, added that “it is not impossible that until now Bell has been trying to find her bearing: she listened to the opinions of the government, the civilians, and the opposition and by now she has arrived at her own conclusion.” Reiner can’t make up with mind about Bell’s independence.

talking heads2

The next expert was Szabolcs Panyi of Index, who came up with a fanciful explanation for the relative silence on the part of the United States about the many sins of the Orbán government. I should add that Panyi had a co-author, András Dezső, who is best known for her investigative work. Being familiar with Panyi’s political ideas, I suspect that most of the article’s analysis was the work of Panyi. According to him, “Colleen Bell had been subject to severe political and media attacks prior to her confirmation and therefore she couldn’t afford to make mistakes. She wanted to learn about the country and about her new job so she could present herself as a strong political actor.” Again, this indicates that the timing of the speech was the ambassador’s decision.

Furthermore, in Panyi’s opinion, “André Goodfriend and to some extent Eleni Kounalakis left chaos in their wake.” Goodfriend in particular was guilty of fomenting bad relations between Hungary and the United States. So, Bell had to confront the shadows of her predecessors. Just when she started to find her way around, Eleni Kounalikis began making “strong political statements which were not in accord with or harmonized with Bell and her staff.” Our naive Panyi is also convinced that MTI’s failure to report on Bell’s speech was the result of the Orbán’s government total unpreparedness for a major address by the ambassador.

As for the timing of the speech, the article, I think correctly, points out that it had something to do with the refugee crisis subsiding, at least as far as Hungary is concerned. The political noise around the “migrants” was so loud that Colleen Bell’s speech, however strong, would have been drowned out amid the general hysteria.

The article also suspects that the Polish elections last Sunday, which the authors describe as “an earthquake,” had something to do with the timing of the speech. It was a “warning” to the politicians of Jarosław Kaczyński’s party, PiS, not to follow the anti-business practices of Viktor Orbán. I don’t believe this story either. Why should the United States go through Budapest to reach Warsaw? I might also point out that the results of the Polish election didn’t come as a bolt of lightning. For months polls had suggested that PiS had a very good chance of winning the elections. Moreover, I suspect that the arrangements for this major speech preceded the Polish elections.

HVG also tried to find an explanation for the timing and found it in the United States’ eagerness to assist Angela Merkel’s refugee policies by severely criticizing the Orbán government’s inhumane treatment of the asylum seekers. “Before Orbán becomes too popular [in Europe], the United States shows the dark side of [Orbán’s] policies.” Well, I think we can forget about this analysis as well.

Finally, Péter Balázs, Gordon Bajnai’s foreign minister, was interviewed by Olga Kálmán on Egyenes Beszéd. He expressed his belief that there is a very simple explanation for the timing of the speech: “they have had enough.” I have the feeling that indeed this is the best explanation anyone can come up with. However, the exact timing most likely was determined by the end of the refugee crisis in Hungary. They might have waited a few weeks more if the political turbulence around erecting the fence had lasted a bit longer.

I must say that I was disappointed in the ability of Hungarian analysts to assess the recent history of U.S.-Hungarian relations. The relationship between the two countries has been rocky for some time. Tensions only escalated with Orbán’s handling of the refugee crisis, until patience finally ran out in Washington.

Viktor Orbán’s solution to the refugee crisis didn’t find followers in Brussels

I’m afraid this is one of those posts that may be outdated/irrelevant as soon as I hit the “publish” button since it deals with an ongoing event–the “mini-summit” of the leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. It was President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission who invited the participants, but apparently the idea of a gathering of those who are directly affected by the refugee crisis came from Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is also suspected that this extraordinary meeting is taking place under the aegis of the European Commission because Juncker and Merkel, who see eye to eye on the refugee issue, would like to avoid a full-fledged summit under the presidency of Donald Tusk. As the former prime minister of Poland, Tusk seems to be sympathetic to the hard-line East European position spearheaded by Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. In fact, noted a “widening gap” developing between Juncker and Tusk. Or, as a European People’s Party MEP told a journalist from a Madrid online news site, “we have a Tusk problem.” Some of Tusk’s fellow EPP members think that he is “too floppy” and therefore the European Council under his presidency doesn’t work well. “We have a real problem in decision-making.” He was a great Polish prime minister, but “he is not an export product.”

Most commentators agree that today’s gathering is an attempt by Juncker and Merkel to put pressure on the states along the refugee route through the Balkans. In the last few days Juncker repeatedly called attention to the urgency of the situation given the inclement weather conditions and the incredible pressure put on Croatia and Slovenia because of Hungary’s closing of its borders toward Serbia and Croatia. As it stands now, the number of migrants who enter Hungary daily is around 20. Currently Hungary has 605 asylum seekers in a couple of refugee camps. On the other hand, Slovenia, which has a population of two million, receives over 10,000 asylum seekers a day. As the country’s prime minister pointed out, the influx of that many people into his small country is as if one million migrants arrived in Germany every day.

Hungary’s example of closing the borders seemed attractive to some of the other East European countries along the refugee route. The exception is Serbia, whose prime minister has repeatedly declared that Serbia will not build fences or walls. Serbia’s ardent desire to belong to the European Union one day most likely has something to do with the unusually cooperative attitude of its political leadership. Those who are already members of the European Union are a great deal less cooperative.

Juncker went to the meeting with the firm resolve to take immediate and effective steps toward launching a cooperative, joint venture that would regulate the currently totally chaotic situation. Juncker, unlike Viktor Orbán, is thinking “not about short-term popularity but about substance,” as he told the Funke Media Group. The inflow of refugees is a greater emergency than the recent Greek financial crisis. The European Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans called it an “existential crisis.” And he continued: “What was unimaginable before now becomes imaginable: the disintegration of the European project.” Timmermans didn’t name the countries who “lost track of what we share or the common destiny we should be building.” Instead, he noted, “we are looking especially at the differences between us.” He also called for a “return to values.”

Someone has a good sense of Europe. The organizers placed Orbán right next to Merkel

Someone has a good sense of humor. The organizers placed Orbán right next to Merkel.

According to reports, Juncker presented the prime ministers with a 16-point proposal that would require their immediate attention. First, the Commission wants the affected countries “to commit to refrain from facilitating the movement of refugees or migrants to the border of another country of the region without the agreement of that country.” The proposal also reconfirmed the principle that “a country may refuse entry to third-country nationals who, when presenting themselves at border crossing points, do not confirm a wish to apply for international protection.” The document includes a proposal to set up a new operation under the management of the EU’s border control agency Frontex at the Greek, Macedonian, and Albanian borders in order “to focus on existing checks but also the registration of refugees and migrants who have not yet registered in Greece.” There will be a discussion of the deployment “by Wednesday of 400 border guards and essential equipment through the activation by Slovenia of the Rapid Border Intervention Team mechanism.” In non-EU jargon this simply means that, under urgent migratory pressure, border guards on a European level could be used for the control and surveillance of internal borders.

In addition, each prime minister must nominate an official within 24 hours to be in charge of information exchange and coordination. Each country must promise to increase its capacity to provide shelter to the asylum seekers. Weekly the European Commission will check whether the countries are fulfilling their promised obligations. Angela Merkel, before the meeting, told reporters that “we all are obliged to follow the Geneva refugee convention and that’s why we need to talk today about improving the situation of refugees.” Of course, this is a reminder to Viktor Orbán that he cannot block asylum seekers from entering the country and applying for asylum. Moreover, the 16-point proposal also emphasized the humane treatment of the refugees.

Finally, each country’s government must get in touch with “international financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Development Bank of the Council of Europe, which are ready to support these efforts financially.”

What will Viktor Orbán’s reaction be to these proposals? Unless Juncker and Merkel have something up their sleeves, more of the same. Orbán’s words prior to the meeting were not encouraging. Here is the exchange between the prime minister and reporters.

Orbán Viktor: Is there any question? [laughter] No? [laughter]

Press: Yes, why are you here?

Orbán: Why am I here? It’s a good question, because…

Press: You are not on the route…

Orbán: Exactly, Hungary is not on the route anymore, so we are just observer here. But if we can help on this working meeting our neighbours with any good experiences, I’m ready to do that. But we are just simply observers.

Press: What would you say?

Orbán: How to keep the international regulations we have. So the number one source of the crisis is that the members of the European Union, especially those who are member of Schengen treaty, are not able or are not ready to keep their words. So we still have international agreements, everybody should keep it. So I hope this afternoon we will put an end to the open border policy, which is totally against Schengen treaty, we will put an end to the invitation policy, which is against the international agreement of Schengen. And everybody will say, who are member of the Schengen treaty, that we are ready to keep our words in the future. That’s just an opinion from an observer, anyway. [laughter]

This is not a translation. The exchange was conducted in English.

As for his solution to the crisis: “I hope that this afternoon we can put an end to the policy of open borders and the policy of invitation [of the migrants to Germany].” He is ready to share Hungary’s “positive experiences” with the participants in the meeting. The “positive experience” is most likely the result of erecting miles and miles of fences. After all, “the fence is close to ideal.” While he was at it, Orbán lashed out at Merkel, whom he blamed for Hungary’s problem caused by the inordinate number of migrants stuck in the country. He added, however, that in the final analysis Hungary can be grateful to Merkel because the crisis situation that developed in Hungary prompted the government to build a fence which saved Hungary from the onslaught of migrants.

Orbán is normally much braver outside of conference rooms than inside, so let’s hope that he was/will be less belligerent. We don’t know details of the meeting yet, but it seems that “nobody listened to us,” meaning Viktor Orbán. That means in my interpretation that even those countries that threatened not to cooperate and possibly to follow Hungary’s example decided to play ball with the politicians in Brussels and Germany. If I’m correct, I wonder how Orbán will sell this defeat to his people.

The leader of the Hungarian Roma community under scrutiny

In the last few days several investigative articles have appeared about the growing scandal at the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ), the representative of the Hungarian Roma minority. Although Ákos Hadházy of LMP called attention to corruption in one of the programs under the supervision of ORÖ in early February, the prosecutors didn’t find sufficient cause to investigate. After a while, however, it was impossible to ignore the case because the evidence of wrongdoing was overwhelming. At last an investigation began in early May. NAV, the tax authority, appeared at the headquarters of ORÖ and began collecting documents and computers.

Back in February I wrote about the case and wondered whether the former head of ORÖ, Flórián Farkas, would be investigated this time and whether, if found guilty, he would finally be punished. Until now he has always managed to avoid prosecution. In that post I very briefly outlined Farkas’s run-ins with the law. Here I would like to concentrate on his shady political career.

Flórián Farkas has had assistance from both the left and the right. Currently, he is one of the signatories of the Fidesz-Lungo Drom Alliance; the other signatory is Viktor Orbán. But he also had excellent relations with MSZP during the 1994-1998 period when an MSZP-SZDSZ coalition was in power. It seems that both Gyula Horn of MSZP and Viktor Orbán of Fidesz overlooked Farkas’s misdeeds since, for some strange reason, both thought that he could deliver the Roma vote. Whether he did or not nobody knows.

In every regime, under all governments, Farkas managed not only to survive but to ascend the political hierarchy. According to an article that appeared recently in Népszabadság, he was already active in Roma organizations during the Kádár period, but it was only in the early 1990s that he established Lungo Drom, which eventually became the favorite Roma organization of the Antall government as opposed to the Roma Parliament, which József Antall considered to be too radical. By 1993, among the various Roma organizations, Lungo Drom received the most financial assistance from the government.

Although there had been questions even at that stage about the finances of Lungo Drom, it received the support of the Horn government after 1994. Over the next four years Farkas got into all sorts of scrapes, which an ambitious investigative journalist, Attila B. Hidvégi, tried to learn more about. When Hidvégi was working on a 1995 case involving Farkas, two associates of the Hungarian secret service visited him and told him to stop digging around. He gave up. Farkas obviously had important friends in high places. Another time, when it looked as if his case would end up in the courts, President Árpád Göncz got a phone call from the ministry of justice more or less instructing him to grant Farkas clemency, which meant that the case never went to trial. Moreover, documents pertaining to the affair were declared to be top secret for 30 years.

Before the 1998 election Farkas managed to convince Gyula Horn that he would be able to deliver the Gypsy vote at the forthcoming election. Horn was certainly courting Lungo Drom. He attended its congress in January 1998 where he delivered a speech, which he included in his book Azok a kilencvenes évek… (Those 1990s). In it Horn told his audience that the Roma community has to shape up and do its share in changing the situation of the Gypsy community. Some other Roma communities criticized the prime minister but, as Horn put it in 1999 when the book was written, “Flórián Farkas and I continued to work to realize the programs that had been started.” (p. 472)

Great was the surprise within MSZP when at the end of 2001 Fidesz and Lungo Drom signed an agreement to cooperate politically. This time Farkas misjudged the situation, which was not at all surprising because almost all the opinion polls predicted an overwhelming Fidesz victory. Fidesz lost but Viktor Orbán made sure that Farkas’s name was placed high enough on the party list that he would easily become a member of parliament, where he served for two terms as a member of the Fidesz caucus.

Since 2010 Farkas’s influence has grown considerably, especially after he signed a formal alliance with the government to craft the country’s Roma strategy.

Signing the alliance between the government and Lungo Drom, May 2011

Signing the alliance between the government and Lungo Drom, May 2011

A few days ago, Magyar Nemzet suggested that perhaps the greatest task Hungary has to undertake in the coming years is to find a solution to the problems of the Hungarian Roma community. The author of the article estimated that 20% of all Hungarian children under the age of five are Roma. If this new generation cannot be rescued from the kind of poverty and low educational attainment the Roma community currently experiences, the future of the Hungarian economy will be in serious jeopardy. The article accused the so-called Roma elite of betraying their own people. But in the final analysis, I believe, Hungarian politicians, past and present, are perhaps even more responsible for the prevailing situation. They were the ones who handed over billions and billions of forints coming from the European Union to corrupt Roma leaders.

The Roma politicians around Fidesz have their own enablers in the Orbán government. Index learned that Tamás Köpeczi-Bócz, an assistant undersecretary in the ministry of human resources, is a suspect in the case involving the financial manipulations of ORÖ. He is in charge of the coordination of EU funds, including a sizable amount of money for Roma affairs. Apparently, it is thanks to him that no investigation of the affairs of ORÖ took place until now because he informed the prosecutors that all expenses were absolutely legitimate. In brief, it seems he is part and parcel of the fraud that has been perpetrated for years.

Magyar Nemzet learned that Farkas has the exclusive right to choose Roma politicians to fill certain government positions. That’s why, claims the paper, Lívia Járóka, a former member of the EU Parliament, was dropped by Viktor Orbán. Indeed, take a look at her biography in Wikipedia. One has to wonder why she was shipped off to Brussels in the first place. And why, after two terms, did she disappear into nothingness? The Wikipedia article ends with this sentence: “As of September 2014 she is no longer listed on the European Parliament site as an MEP.” Can Hungary afford to dispense with a Roma politician of this caliber? Viktor Orbán obviously believes that it can.

Commentators think that Flórián Farkas has never been closer to being indicted, especially since there are signs that the Orbán government might stop shielding him. János Lázár announced that if Farkas cannot clear his name, the prime minister will withdraw confidence in him. Népszabadság noted that Lungo Drom is no longer mentioned as an ally on Fidesz’s website. But who will come after  him? Offhand, I don’t see any serious, reliable candidate for the job.

The end of an Orbán family business?

In November 2014 I wrote a post,”How do European Union funds end up in the hands of the Orbán family?” It was about the new member of the Orbán clan, István Tiborcz, the husband of Viktor Orbán’s eldest daughter, Ráhel. Tiborcz and Ráhel had known each other for at least six or seven years before they married in September 2013. The young man in 2008 was a fledgling businessman, half owner of a small business dealing with electrical supplies. In 2010, however, one of Közgép’s divisions purchased the majority of shares in Tiborcz’s business. From this point on the business, named Elios Innovatív Zrt., changed directions and became the leading installer of LED-technology street lighting. One after the other, Fidesz-led municipalities made sure that the to-be son-in-law’s company received lighting contracts. By 2012 Elios was thriving. What surprised me at the time was Közgép’s withdrawal from the company just when Elios was doing so well. I wrote: “what baffles me is the role of Simicska’s Közgép. I find it more than a little odd that Simicska’s Közgép shows up to support the fledgling business of István Tiborcz, already known to be Ráhel’s boyfriend, only to withdraw from the firm after its spectacular growth. Közgép is not, as far as I know, active in venture capital or private equity.” Now, a few months later, I am no longer baffled. Közgép/Fidesz, because it is difficult to know where one began and the other ended before the Simicska-Orbán fallout, in fact did play the role of venture capitalist. It financed the “promising” company of István Tiborcz, the future son-in-law of the boss. Moreover, it was a surefire investment given Elios’s business profile. Especially since, as it turned out, the government allocated almost 9 billion forints of mostly EU money to upgrade ordinary street lighting to LED technology. And orders from Fidesz-led municipalities could be counted on.

Looking back now on the beginnings of Tiborcz’s business career, I’m almost certain that Tiborcz’s transition from owning a business that sold electrical supplies to owning one that installed street lighting was inspired by Viktor Orbán himself, who by 2010 knew very well that there would be plenty of EU money for more efficient street lighting fixtures. It was to the advantage of the municipalities to embark on such a project because 85% of the cost was covered by EU and Hungarian government money. And given the family connection, business success for Elios was guaranteed.

István Tibor and his father in law, Viktor Orbán having some  homebrew

István Tibor and his father in law, Viktor Orbán, having some homebrew

My suspicion was further aroused when I read lately that János Lázár, then mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, was the first head of any Hungarian city to come up with the idea of LED-technology street lighting. That was in the fall of 2009, before the 2010 elections. At the time such technology was still in its experimental phase, even in the most developed parts of the world. The city fathers approved the idea and soon enough Hódmezővásárhely chose István Tiborcz’s brand new company to do the job. It was this job that established Elios as the expert in LED street lighting technology.

In fact, Elios was too successful, Tiborcz too greedy, or the municipal leaders too servile. Far too many contracts landed in Tiborcz’s lap, and questions kept popping up about his business success, which smacked of corruption and nepotism. Yet, although months went by and negative articles multiplied, Viktor Orbán didn’t seem to be bothered about the unfavorable press. In fact, Nándor Csepreghy, assistant undersecretary for communication involving European Union projects, outright lied to György Bolgár of KlubRádió when the reporter asked him about the inordinate number of projects in which Tiborcz’s firm was involved. He claimed that there were hundreds and hundreds of such municipal orders and that Elios won only a couple of dozen of them. Soon enough it became known that so far only 33 cities have received grants from the EU and the government for street lighting to the tune of 5.7 billion forints and surprise, surprise, István Tiborcz’s firm won 71% of these contracts–that is, close to 4.1 billion forints. Very often Elios was the sole firm that qualified because the demands of the Fidesz-led municipalities were tailor-made to fit the son-in-law’s firm. Details of this highly irregular affair can be found in an article published by in March of this year.

Although Viktor Orbán acted as if he were oblivious to the growing scandal surrounding his son-in-law’s business dealings, by now we learned that the decision to escape from a very sticky situation was made sometime earlier. They decided “to sell” István Tiborcz’s 50% stake in Elios. On May 28 Napi Gazdaság, the new servile government newspaper, reported that exactly one month earlier, on April 28, István Tiborcz sold all of his businesses that had anything to do with public procurement. The family could no longer stand the constant attacks by the opposition and the antagonistic media.

On April 30, two days after the sale of Elios, HVG reported a “sensational piece of news.” János Lázár himself rejected the city of Jászberény’s proposal because its wording was suspiciously designed to match Elios’s qualifications. Well, in light of our current knowledge that by that time István Tiborcz was no longer a co-owner of Elios, Lázár’s bravery, hailed by HVG, is less admirable than it seemed at the time.

Who is the new part-owner of Elios? His name is Attila Paár, another Fidesz oligarch who has been involved in many large projects, such as the renovation of the Várkert Bazár and the National Civil Service University. On April 23, 2015 he established, together with two partners, a business called WHB Befektetési Kft (WHB Investment), which  five days later purchased Tiborcz’s share of Elios.

Before Tiborcz’s share of Elios was sold, Tiborcz and his partner took out 470 million forints in dividends from the company’s profits, which left the company with only 6.29 million forints on its balance sheet. The deal has all the earmarks of a fictitious transaction.

Today’s Hungary and the Weimar Republic

It was only a few weeks ago that I complained about the difficulties I have been encountering with the Hungarian adjective “polgári” (bourgeois), and as a result a lively discussion on the subject developed among the readers of Hungarian Spectrum. Shortly thereafter Ferenc Kőszeg, one of the very few Hungarians who as a member of the democratic opposition of the 1980s fought against the one-party system, wrote an opinion piece titled “A polgár szó jelentéséhez” (To the meaning of the word ‘polgár’). The article was prompted by Sándor Révész’s article in Népszabadság, “A polgári hazugság” (The bourgeois lie). We should recall that in 1995 the party leadership decided to add “Magyar Polgári Párt” to the original name “Fidesz,” and thus the official name of the party became Fidesz Magyar Polgári Párt.

Kőszeg claims that the origins of the adjective “polgári” can be found in the vocabulary of German communists during the Weimar Republic. They were the ones who labelled parties other than themselves and the left-wing social democrats (who formed their own party in 1917) “bürgerliche Parteien.” The term meant that these parties “behind their liberal, conservative or christian democratic disguises” wanted to maintain a bourgeois class rule. By calling itself a “polgári párt,” Fidesz expropriated a communist term to distinguish itself from the socialists and liberals. Kőszeg rightly remarks in the article that “besides German and Hungarian, this expression makes no sense in any other foreign language.”

As so often happens, I read something one day and the next day in another book on an entirely different topic I discover a common thread. This is what happened when I picked up a book of essays by András Nyerges published recently. Nyerges is a fountain of knowledge about Hungarian intellectual history in the Horthy era. He combed all the important newspapers and came up with a wealth of material on the political attitudes of important intellectuals. Some politically quite embarrassing for later greats of Hungarian literature.

This particular book of essays has the intriguing title “Makó szomszédja Jeruzsálem” (Makó is the neighbor of Jerusalem). There is a very old saying in Hungarian that something is as far as “Makó from Jerusalem,” meaning very far. So, Nyerges’s title indicates that, despite the common belief that two entities are so remote from one another that they cannot be compared, there are sometimes many similarities that make them less distant than most of us believe. In one of the essays that inspired the title for the book, Nyerges writes about the Weimar Republic in the early 1930s, just before Hitler’s rise to power. He finds striking similarities between the politics of the German national socialists and the politics of Fidesz. This essay, it should be noted, was written in 2009–that is, before the national election that gave practically unlimited power to Viktor Orbán’s party.

Nyerges briefly discusses the birth of the labels “bürgerliche Demokratie” and “bürgerliche Parteien,” but he doesn’t linger over this point. His main focus is the Weimar Republic’s bad reputation as the harbinger of Hitler’s rise to power. Most Hungarian intellectuals called him an alarmist when he drew parallels between the Weimar Republic and the Hungarian political scene in 2009. Here, in this essay, Nyerges brings up examples of the behavior of the German national socialists in the Reichstag from 1931-1932 and compares it to the Fidesz strategy in 2008 and 2009.

Nyerges is dealing with two periods that resemble each other insofar as both followed a worldwide economic crisis. In the early 1930s the German chancellor, Heinrich Brünning, rightly or wrongly introduced an austerity program that made his government exceedingly unpopular. Hitler’s national socialists took advantage of the situation and introduced new, unorthodox parliamentary politics, including marching out of the parliament if the vote went against them. When they were asked to submit amendments, they refused to cooperate in any way and instead demanded the dissolution of parliament. Hitler denied that the world economic crisis had anything to do with the economic plight of Germany. It was, he maintained, due solely to “the incompetent political leaders who don’t care about the interests of the people.” At one point Hermann Göring announced in parliament that “Brünning is a traitor because he formed a coalition with the socialists.” Hitler in 1932 declared that “not only people of Jewish ancestry cannot be considered German but also those who are not national socialists.” Reading these lines, one is reminded of Fidesz’s policies while in opposition.


Nyerges quotes a letter of Hitler to Brünning in which he wrote: “when we legally take over the reins of government, then we will decide what is legal.” This is exactly what has happened in Hungary since 2010. The Hungarian parliament in which until recently Fidesz had a two-thirds majority rewrote all the laws they found not to their liking.

There are many other similarities between the two populist parties. The German national socialists had their men placed in important positions, including the judiciary. They claimed that half of the judges were either party members or sympathizers. When in October 1931 some incriminating documents were discovered from which the public learned that “in the event of Brünning’s fall, the SS troops would have been activated,” the prosecutor’s office delayed investigation. Meanwhile, Hitler talked about “socialist provocation” when it was clear that the authors of the documents were members of the party who received high positions after the takeover in 1933. Sounds all too familiar.

Although Nyerges is right in calling attention to the similar strategies and behavior of Hitler’s national socialists and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz, most people would counter that the Hungarian situation is very different from the circumstances that existed in the Weimar Republic. Of course, this is true, but at the same time we can’t forget that Viktor Orbán managed to achieve almost total political control without the aid of any external catalyst. He had no Reichstag fire.

The Hungarian people are just lucky that Viktor Orbán turned out to be a less successful prime minister than he was a scheming, unscrupulous opposition leader. It is possible that his “reign” will be over soon and that the “shaman,” as Lajos Kósa called Orbán at one point in 2006 after the second lost election, will disappear forever except in history books as an example of a misguided and undemocratic politician who did not serve his country well.

Thanks to all of you

I think we can safely say that we are up and running with a more professional looking platform than before. I hope you have noticed some of the changes introduced by our very own computer guru, known to you as “Some1.” Without her, none the improvements would have been possible.

Let me list some of the changes you may or may not have noticed.

There are no longer two search buttons, just the most efficient one, Google Search. Over the last eight years Hungarian Spectrum has reflected the timeline of Hungarian politics. Searching through this material will help readers better understand current topics.

Now, on the sidebar, we can all see the number of people who follow HS via Facebook and Twitter. The number of posts over the years–currently more than 2,600–is displayed as well.

Also on the sidebar is the “Like HSPECTRUM” button. In a comment we asked satisfied readers to click on “Like.” So far only eight people have done so, while over 16,000 people have “liked” Hungary Today, a government financed internet news site. It’s time to ask again, this time in a more prominent place. Without measurable reader enthusiasm HS has no chance of being one of those blogs that make it to Google Alert.

A much more obvious change is the way Hungarian Spectrum now displays the posts that appear daily. On the opening page only the first 100 words of each article appear. To read the whole post one has to click on the “Read the rest” button. I am very pleased with this new feature because it allows people, especially newcomers to the site, to browse a range of topics. I’m also happy about the automatic visibility of comments at the end of each article. You no longer have to find the ” Comments” button, which tends to get lost among the tags. And talking about tags. “Some1” created a sitemap for us which should help with Hungarian Spectrum‘s visibility on the Internet. We also added several new pages, some to comply with legal requirements, including “Contact,” “Privacy Policy,” and “Terms and Conditions.”

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the cause. I truly appreciate your generosity and your vote of confidence. And we should all thank “Some1,” who has spent countless hours on this project.