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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 direkt36.hu 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.

Populism

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.

The Putin visit a day after

Yesterday, shortly after the Putin-Orbán press conference ended, I summarized the events of the day and gave a brief account of what the two politicians had to say about their meeting. My immediate impression was that the winner of this encounter was Vladimir Putin. He received an invitation to a member state of the European Union where he has been a pariah ever since June 2014 and was treated well.

After forming his government in 2010, Viktor Orbán made no secret of his desire to have not only good economic relations with Russia but also close political ties. No country in the western alliance ever objected to trade relations with Russia, but Orbán’s political friendship with Russia has been watched with growing suspicion, especially after the events in Ukraine. During the last year or so Viktor Orbán has been busy trying to appease the European Union while hoping to get added benefits from Russia.

To his domestic critics Orbán’s performance yesterday was embarrassingly subservient. Attila Ara-Kovács, the foreign policy adviser to the Demokratikus Koalíció, described Putin as “a landlord” who came to look around his estate while Orbán the bailiff stood by, awaiting the master’s orders.

Putin’s visit to the cemetery has been drawing very strong criticism. Hungary seems to be in such a subordinate position to Russia that the government is unable to make the Russians change the objectionable word “counterrevolution.”  What happened yesterday was the humiliation of the nation, critics say. Barring the Hungarian media from the cemetery was also troubling.  Did the Russians insist on this? And if so, how could the Hungarian prime minister agree to such an arrangement?

The most substantive criticism of Orbán’s performance yesterday was his complete silence on Russian aggression against Ukraine. Two days after he visited Kiev he stood motionless next to Putin, who was “just rewriting the Minsk Agreement,” as István Szent-Iványi, former ambassador to Slovenia, aptly put it on ATV this morning.  Orbán’s message to the world was clear: “Hungary needs Russia.” That’s all he cares about.

Throughout the press conference he steadfastly supported the Russian position. Today’s editorial in Népszabadság on the Orbán-Putin encounter was titled “Shame.” What did the editorial board of the paper find shameful? The list is quite long. The “strong man of Europe” and “the living statue of bravery” listened while Putin accused the Ukrainians of starting the war and while he called the separatists “aided by Russian regulars armed to the teeth” simple miners and tractor drivers. Orbán didn’t move a muscle when Putin called on the Ukrainian soldiers encircled by Russian and separatist forces in Debaltseve to surrender. He didn’t mention the inviolability of territorial integrity and the sovereignty of a neighboring country. He said nothing about the concerns of the European Union or about the victims of the fighting. In brief, he behaved shamefully. Orbán chose Russia. The die is cast, says Népszabadság. 

What did Viktor Orbán get in exchange? Not much. Gas, which he would have gotten without all this humiliation from Russia, and scorn from the West. Since yesterday we learned that Hungary is paying $260 for 1,000m³, which is apparently higher than the open market price. At least he avoided signing a long-term contract which, given recent price volatility, would have been a particularly bad deal.

Unfortunately, we know almost nothing about what the two men discussed for two solid hours. It couldn’t have been the continued supply of Russian gas to Hungary because that was a done deal before yesterday’s meeting. Viktor Orbán himself admitted today when he talked to a group of journalists that what the deal needed was only the final nod from “the Indian chief.” It also looks as if negotiations about a new pipeline from Turkey to Hungary through Macedonia and Serbia are already underway. Orbán and Putin were completely alone without any of their aides. What did these two men talk about for that long?

Smiles all around

Smiles all around

Fellow politicians are suspicious. Especially since the Hungarian prime minister cannot be relied upon for an accurate account. Here is a case in point. Grzegorz Schetyna, the Polish foreign minister, gave an interview to a Polish radio station yesterday from which we learned that the week before Orbán went on and on about the absolute necessity of meeting Putin in person because of the extremely unfavorable terms of the present gas agreement. Well, today we know that not a word of Orbán’s lament to Schetyna was true. The meeting had nothing to do with a new gas contract.

Finally, another first can be recorded in the history of the Orbán administration. A few days ago Viktor Orbán called together the leaders of the five parliamentary delegations: Fidesz, Christian Democratic People’s Party, MSZP, Jobbik, and LMP. The meeting, of course, didn’t signify any change in the government’s attitude to the opposition, but it looked good. Today’s big news was that Viktor Orbán invited about 15 journalists who cover foreign affairs for a “background talk.” Gábor Horváth, who is the foreign editor of Népszabadság, had the distinct impression that such gatherings had been held earlier but without journalists from opposition papers.  Orbán talked for an hour and was ready to answer questions for another forty-five minutes. The prime minister called Russia “one of the most difficult partners” and claimed that “we would be worse off if we did not work with them.”

I for one wouldn’t take Orbán’s words about his difficult relations with Russia seriously. He seemed to be relaxed and happy on the same stage as Vladimir Putin. He looked as if he were basking in the limelight that he shared with the great man. Here was the president of a strong, important nation who didn’t pester him with checks and balances and democratic values.  Two weeks earlier he looked decidedly unhappy and annoyed when the chancellor of Germany somewhat undiplomatically announced that as far as she knows there is no such thing as illiberal democracy. Most likely he was humiliated and it showed. After he waved goodbye to Putin in front of the parliament building, Orbán and his close entourage looked extremely satisfied with their performance. It was a good day for Viktor Orbán. It started well and it ended well, as far as Viktor Orbán was concerned. Putin also seemed to be satisfied. Whether it was a good day for Hungary is another matter.

American rapprochement with Viktor Orbán’s Hungary?

While readers of Hungarian Spectrum continue to discuss the possible reasons for André Goodfriend’s departure, let me share one right-wing Hungarian reaction to the exit of the former chargé, István Lovas’s opinion piece in yesterday’s Magyar Hírlap titled “The Bell Change.”

One could devote a whole series of posts to István Lovas himself, from his brush with the law as a teenager to the open letter he wrote recently to Vladimir Putin in which he asked him to start a Hungarian-language “Russia Today” because the Russian propaganda television station is actually much better than BBC. Lovas lived in Canada, the United States, and Germany, where he worked for Radio Free Europe. He was considered to be a difficult man who caused a lot of turmoil in the Hungarian section of the organization.

For many years Lovas was a devoted Fidesz man. He already held important positions in the first Orbán government (1998-2002). For years he worked for Magyar Nemzet, most recently as its Brussels correspondent, but a few months ago Lovas, along with a number of other Orbán stalwarts, lost his job. Mind you, the European Parliament had had enough of Lovas even before he was sacked by Magyar Nemzet, especially after he presented a bucket of artificial blood to Sophie in ‘t Veld, the Dutch liberal MEP. The bucket of blood was supposed to symbolize the Palestinian children who were victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lovas, himself of Jewish descent, is a well-known anti-Semite.

After having lost his job at Magyar Nemzet and after Putin failed to respond to his plea for a Hungarian “Russia Today,” Lovas moved on. Gábor Széles, who owns Magyar Hírlap and EchoTV, offered him a job. Now he has a weekly political program called “Fault Lines” (Törésvonalak) on EchoTV, and he also writes opinion pieces for Széles’s newspaper.

So how does István Lovas see American-Hungarian relations in the wake of the arrival of Colleen Bell and the departure of André Goodfriend? To summarize his opinion in one sentence: from here on the United States and the Orbán government will be the best of friends.

According to Lovas, André Goodfriend was the darling of those lost liberals who have been wandering in the wilderness “ever since SZDSZ was thrown into the garbage heap of history.” They are still hoping that nothing will change. Originally they were certain that Goodfriend would run the embassy while the newly arrived ambassador would be its public face. Meanwhile, Goodfriend would continue visiting “left/neoliberal SZDSZ or MSZP politicians and intellectuals.”

These liberal hopes were dashed soon after Colleen Bell’s arrival. The new orientation was clear from day one. Bell went and laid a wreath at the statue of the unknown soldier on Heroes’ Square. She visited the Csángó Ball organized every year to celebrate a fairly mysterious group of Hungarians living in the Romanian region of Moldavia, speaking an old Hungarian dialect. These are important signs of the new American attitude toward things dear to the current government: fallen heroes and national minorities. Certainly, says Lovas, Goodfriend would never have been found in such places. Yet liberals don’t seem to have grasped the significance of all this. They think that more Hungarians will be banished from the United States and that Hungary will have to pay a high price for peace with the United States. Most likely, Orbán will have to compromise on Paks, on Russian-Hungarian relations in general, and/or will have to buy American helicopters.

But Lovas has bad news for them. There will be no more talk about corruption cases, and Hungary will pay no price whatsoever. Colleen Bell realized that Goodfriend’s methods had failed. Of course, Lovas is talking nonsense here. Even if Lovas is right about a change in U.S. policy, it was not Bell who decided on this new strategy but the United States government.

Lovas is certain that the change has already occurred. It is enough to look at the new website of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. There are no more programs on tolerance, on Holocaust events, “all those things that are kicks in the groin of the Hungarian people and their elected government.” A drastic change occurred in U.S.-Hungarian relations which even such liberal-socialist diplomats as Péter Balázs, foreign minister in the Bajnai government, László Kovács, foreign minister under Gyula Horn, or András Simonyi, ambassador to Washington (2002-2010), couldn’t explain away.

This change couldn’t have taken place if Goodfriend had stayed or if the Orbán government had conducted “the kind of servile atlantist policy recommended by Géza Jeszenszky,” foreign minister under József Antall and ambassador to Washington during the first Orbán government. Jeszenszky, who just resigned as ambassador to Norway, had a long interview in which he expressed his deep disappointment with Viktor Orbán and his foreign policy, especially with his attitude toward the United States.

According to Lovas, what happened recently is a victory for Orbán’s foreign policy, a feat that “could be achieved only by the courage and tenacity” of the Hungarian prime minister. The United States government tried to mend its ways by sending someone to Budapest who is not worried about such things as tolerance or the Holocaust. From here on the Budapest embassy will function just as American embassies do in other capitals. The U.S. Embassy in Vienna, for example, does not report “breaking news” about the Anschluss.

Lovas might exaggerate, but something is going on. When was the last time that Viktor Orbán called together the whips of all political parties for a discussion on Hungarian foreign policy? As far as I know, never. As Magyar Nemzet put it, “Viktor Orbán asked for the support of the political parties in reaching the nation’s foreign policy goals.” Among the topics was the objective of “strengthening the American-Hungarian alliance.” Péter Szijjártó, who was of course present, claimed that “political relations with the United States are improving” and that the Orbán government “will take further steps toward the restoration of earlier economic, political, and military cooperation.”

The meeting of the leaders of the parliamentary delegations  Source: MTI / Photo Gergely Botár

The meeting of the leaders of the parliamentary delegations convened by Viktor Orbán
Source: MTI / Photo Gergely Botár

I’m sure that we all want better relations between Hungary and the United States, but the question is at what price. The United States can’t close its eyes to Viktor Orbán’s blatant attacks on democracy, the media, human rights, and civil society. And then there is the timing of this alleged renewed love affair between Budapest and Washington. If true, and that’s a big if, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Hungarian democracy–yes, liberal democracy. Just when Viktor Orbán’s support is dropping precipitously and when it looks as if he may lose his precious two-thirds majority in spite of all the billions of forints he promised from taxpayer money to the city of Veszprém to buy votes. When a large part of the hitherto slavish right-wing media at last decided to return to more critical and balanced journalism.

No, this is not the time to court Viktor Orbán. It would be a grave mistake. It is, in fact, time to be tough because the great leader is in trouble. Trouble abroad, trouble at home. Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the European Commission, in a speech to the European Parliament said the following without mentioning Viktor Orbán’s name: “We cannot let our societies imperceptibly slip back; we cannot allow illiberal logics to take hold. There is no such thing as an illiberal democracy…. We are keeping a close eye on all issues arising in Member States relating to the rule of law, and I will not hesitate to use the [EU Rule of Framework established last March] if required by the situation in a particular Member State.”

Panhandling

In order to expand the reach of Hungarian Spectrum and to make the blog more accessible to its readers, I have been thinking about making some changes, which unfortunately will cost money, both a one-time fee to make the changeover seamless and a yearly fee.

What will we get in return? For starters, an individual domain name that will allow Hungarian Spectrum to be more easily recognized by Google Alerts. Although I’m pleased with the success of the blog, I think it is vital that it reach as many people as possible. With the appearance of the state-sponsored Hungary Today, Hungarian Spectrum was unceremoniously dropped from Google Alerts.

In addition, we will be able to have many features of WordPress.com that either we never had or that disappeared. For instance, if we change to the paid version, nested comments will once again be available. And I will be able to get technical help if something goes wrong which, as you know, has been happening a lot lately.

I’m going to put up a PayPal button. With this button you can either make a one-time donation or opt for a monthly subscription. (You can pay with any recognized credit card.) This blog, I should emphasize, will remain open to everybody. Subscribers won’t get anything special, not even a tote bag.

Enough panhandling. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Suffice it to say that if you think this blog is worth supporting, I’ll make the changes. And I’ll be very grateful.