Tag Archives: Ágnes Vadai

One can always count on a good friend (or an alter ego): Lőrinc Mészáros and Viktor Orbán

I have the feeling that as long as Hungary has the misfortune of having Viktor Orbán as its prime minister there will be no end to the scandalous affairs surrounding Lőrinc Mészáros, the pipefitter from the village of Felcsút whose brilliant business acumen is the marvel not just of Hungary but perhaps the whole world. Since 2010 he has become one of the wealthiest men in the country thanks to, as he himself admitted, God, hard work, and, last but not least, his friendship with Viktor Orbán. Every time one turns around the miracle pipefitter has made a new acquisition. By now he himself is confused about the businesses and properties he owns. Occasionally he has to be reminded by others that he is the owner of this or that property or business. It could be amusing if it weren’t so sad.

I don’t think you would find too many Hungarians who think that Mészáros’s businesses are actually his own. The information made public today only reinforces this skepticism. One of Mészáros’s companies paid a 3 billion forint debt of Cider Alma [Apple] Kft., a company in part owned by Viktor Orbán’s brother-in-law and nephew. No, this figure is not a mistake; we are talking about 3 billion forints or $10.3 million.

To understand this transaction, let’s go back a little in time to the establishment of a number of centers, representing the Hungarian National Trading House (MNKH), under the aegis of the newly reorganized ministry of foreign affairs and trade. An incredible amount of money was poured into these trading centers in far-flung places across the globe. They were supposed to promote Hungarian business abroad. Unfortunately, in the last two years the foreign ministry’s business venture has lost something like 6 billion forints without bringing in an appreciable amount of money as a result of international trade.

At the end of September 2016 444.hu found out that a certain Cider Alma Kft. owes MNKH 3.2 billion forints and that the trading house now has in its possession 5 million packages of 425 ml vacuum-packed corn and 1.5 million 720 ml packets of pitted sour cherries. 444.hu’s investigative team was a bit puzzled and at first couldn’t see the connection between the corn and sour cherries on the one hand and Cider Alma Kft. on the other. But then they found an item from 2015 which revealed that MNKH had lent 3.2 billion forints to Cider Alma to produce apple sauce (not, as its name would indicate, apple cider). A year went by and only 280 million forints were paid back. Obviously something went wrong and Cider Alma was broke. Or, using a slang expression, the whole thing went “alma,” in this sense meaning “went bust.” 444.hu couldn’t resist a good line: “Would you like to have some apple sauce? Call the foreign ministry.”

Close friends with lots of secrets

It didn’t take more than a couple of days for 444.hu to learn that “Orbán’s relatives are dropping from the spaces between the packets of corn and sour cherries.” It turned out that Gizella Lévai, sister-in-law of Viktor Orbán, and her partner, Imre Ökrös, are business partners in three different subsidiaries of Cider Alma Kft. The relationship between the owners of Cider Alma and the Orbán relatives is so close that Ökrös’s two companies, Érvölgye Konzerv Kft. and Kelet Konzerv Kft., became the guarantors of the loan MNKH extended to Cider Alma. There are other Orbán relatives in this particular business venture as well. Most notably, Ádám Szeghalmi, Gizella Lévai’s son, cousin of the Orbán children, is the CEO of Drogida Hungaro, also a subsidiary of Cider Alma.

Hír TV immediately went after the story and asked for details of the deal. Specifically, they launched an inquiry into the fate of that loan. Ordinary citizens are entitled to get such information because MNKH is a state company and therefore the sum in question is public money. Five months later, Hír TV learned that the debt had been sold to Hórusz Faktorház Zrt., which happens to be a business venture in which Lőrinc Mészáros is involved. Factoring is a financial transaction and a type of debtor finance in which a business sells its accounts receivable to a third party at a discount. It is hard to find out much about this factoring company, except the name of its CEO.

Factoring is a common tool of finance, so Jobbik’s spokesman, Ádám Mirkóczki, was uninformed when he said: “I have never heard of a case where one company pays another company’s debt.” Admittedly, this arrangement is atypical. Cider Alma, it seems, had no accounts receivable, only some inventory to sell. Perhaps Mészáros and his business partners thought that the corn and sour cherries could be sold for more than they paid to settle Cider Alma’s debt. Of course, it is also possible, perhaps even likely, that Hórusz Faktorház took over the debt knowing full well that the firm will never see a penny. It was simply an arrangement among relatives. Whether we will learn more about this case I very much doubt. I agree with Ágnes Vadai of Demokratikus Koalíció that Fidesz corruption cases are simply dropped by the prosecutor’s office and this is especially so when the prime minister’s relatives are involved.

The funniest piece on the case was written by Bálint Molnár in Kolozsvári Szalonna (Bacon à la Kolozsvár). It bears the title “Is it surprising that with such stupid relatives the prime minister is flat broke?” The reference is to Viktor Orbán’s latest financial statement in which he went a bit too far in trying to make himself an average Joe financially. He was already quite poor in 2015 according to that year’s financial statement, but by the end of 2016 he was outright poverty-stricken. He does have one and a half pieces of real estate. He is half owner of the family’s Budapest home and sole owner of the house in Felcsút, right next to the stadium. But he and his wife have only 743,000 forints ($2,551) in their checking account, and they owe 5,999,694 forints ($20,600). He still has four dependent children, and his monthly pay as prime minister is 1,558,333 forints ($5,350). Let me add that an average Hungarian family has over 2,500,000 forints ($8,580) in its checking account. Anikó Lévai must be a very frugal housewife. On the other hand, Mészáros is busily buying one piece of property after the other. According to the latest account he is building a football stadium in Osijek, Croatia, where he wants to establish Europe’s best football academy. Oh my, and what will happen to Felcsút?

February 14, 2017

Fidesz omnipresence in small towns in Hungary

As if Buda-Cash, Hungária, and Quaestor weren’t enough, we have a new financial scandal, this time in Karcag, a small town half way between Szolnok and Debrecen. Right now it’s is hard to know how many billions of forints disappeared after Mrs. Sándor Dobrai, the co-owner of Kun-Mediátor, a travel agency, together with her daughters and grandchildren, packed up and left Hungary in a great hurry. The woman was a “highly esteemed” member of Karcag society, the mayor of the town said after the scandal broke. The town’s political leadership, with whom she had excellent relations, had no idea that for years she had been acting as a quasi-broker for perhaps as many as one thousand people in town, promising them a 20% annual return on their investments.

Here I will not dwell on the shady business of Marcsi, as she was known to the locals. I am more interested in those small towns where nothing can happen without the approval of Fidesz. Karcag is prototypical of the settlements I have in mind.

Karcag has been in Fidesz hands since 1990. In that year Sándor Fazekas, a 27-year-old lawyer and brand new member of the then still liberal Fidesz, became the mayor of the town. Fazekas must have done something right because he remained in his post until 2010. In 2006, when he last ran as a candidate for mayor, he received almost 80% of the votes. He also became a member of parliament that year.

Everything revolves around Fidesz in Karcag, where the party’s only apparent opposition these days is Jobbik, whose candidate, an elderly gentleman, received 22.69% of the votes. This is a fairly new development. Four years earlier Jobbik had no mayoral candidate, and MSZP’s man received 20% of the votes. Last year the parties of the democratic opposition didn’t even bother entering the race. The lone “independent” candidate received 9.83%.

When Fidesz won the national election in 2010, Fazekas became minister of agriculture even though, according to Zoltán Gőgös, MSZP’s agricultural expert, he “cannot distinguish the front from the back of a cow.” Indeed, his performance has been spotty at best, and his questionable dealings with Russia via Szilárd Kiss brought calls for his resignation.

In addition to Fazekas, there is another “distinguished” son of the town–Mihály Varga, minister of national economy. The anomaly in this group of high level Karcag politicians is Ágnes Vadai, formerly of MSZP and now deputy chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Vadai has not lived in Karcag since the age of 14, but she knows the situation in town well because her parents still live there. As she mentioned in one of her interviews, Karcag is so imbued with Fidesz ideology and a hatred of the “communists” that when she tried to buy red carnations at the flower shop she was told that they don’t stock the flower because it is part of MSZP’s logo. According to her, in Karcag everybody knows everything about everybody else, and therefore she finds it impossible to believe that the Fidesz city fathers knew nothing about the booming business of Mrs. Dobrai, especially since her relationship with town hall was close. Kun-Mediátor also owned a one-person television station that broadcast a two-hour program every evening, dealing mostly with local events. Fazekas as well as Varga appeared as guests on Mediátor TV several times in the past.

Karcag City Hall

Karcag City Hall

Of course, this proves nothing. It certainly doesn’t indicate that local Fidesz politicians were in any way involved in Mrs. Dobrai’s scheme. But then why does Mihály Varga feel compelled to write a Facebook note saying that “it is a well-known fact that during the 2002 and 2006 election campaign Ágnes Vadai received considerable help from the business group which also owns Kun-Mediátor”? Launching countercharges against political opponents is a typical Fidesz tactic, which I consider unfortunate because it calls, perhaps unwittingly, attention to their own possible culpability. The reaction from a commenter was that “in Karcag one cannot even go to the toilet without Fidesz’s permission,” and he accused the local Fidesz leadership of being involved in the illegal financial hoax. He mysteriously added: “ARE YOU PERHAPS AFRAID OF TALKING ABOUT ÉPKART?”

It was in 2011 that Tibor Szanyi called attention to a Karcag firm called Épkart Zrt., which was given preferential treatment when EU grants were handed out. The game was the same as that which the European Commission complained about the other day. The demands of the tender were such that only one company was eligible to apply and win it. Since then, Épkart has received numerous large jobs and the company has moved its headquarters from Karcag to Budapest. Last August the company even received an award from Sándor Fazekas for its excellent job in restoring the Grassalkovich Castle in Hatvan. Clearly, Fazekas, as the mayor of the small town for twenty years, and the owner of Épkart must be old acquaintances if not friends. Népszabadság learned a few days ago that Kun-Mediátor Kft., which also moved to Budapest, just happened to have the same address as Épkart Zrt. Moreover, it turned out that Épkart has been renting a building in Karcag to the two daughters of Mrs. Dobrai ever since 2013. Otherwise, Épkart denies any business dealings with Kun-Mediátor.

I’m certain that most people in Budapest and the few larger cities in Hungary have absolutely no idea of what’s going on in towns the size of Karcag. Just recently I read an article by Tamás Bod, the sole representative of the united opposition on the town council of Gyula, a town 90 km away from Karcag, close to the Romanian-Hungarian border. The mayor of Gyula received 67% of the votes. Out of the 14 members of the council eight are Fidesz, two represent a local group but usually vote with Fidesz, one is a member of Jobbik, and then there’s Tamás Bod. Bod used to be a newspaperman and was considered to be an enemy by the local Fidesz leadership even before he decided to enter local politics. For example, he was forbidden access to Fidesz events even in those days.

After he entered the race he was called “the shame of Gyula” and a “failed journalist” who was now trying to make a living as a politician. (By the way, he gets 48,000 forints a month for serving on the council.) They had a policeman “interrogate” him about a fist fight he allegedly caused miles away and used it as a photo op. He got a seat on the council from the compensation list. He is allowed to speak at council meetings for five minutes only, while the Fidesz members answer with 15- to 20-minute speeches. The local paper refused to let him answer an article by the editor-in-chief which reminded Bod “of the 1950s.” When he asked for remedy from a member of the board of directors, a literary historian, he was told that board members can deal only with financial matters, which Bod found strange since all three members of the board have a literary background. He is totally helpless, and the only thing he can say under the circumstances is “I hope I disturb you.”

If you take a look at the local paper, the Gyulai Hírlap, you will see that Tamás Bod is really trying, but in this town very few people would ever join Bod’s demonstration against Fidesz corruption.

At least in Karcag no one disturbs the work of the council as Bod does in Gyula. Fidesz and Jobbik members decide all matters. In Karcag the few people who don’t agree with the policies of the Orbán government must either hide their anti-government sentiments or pretend that they are a faithful followers of the party. It will be very difficult to break the stranglehold of Fidesz rule in these smaller towns where Fidesz functionaries have been in power for a decade or more.

Hungarian mission in the fight against ISIS: Fidesz needed the help of the opposition

This morning the Hungarian parliament approved the country’s participation in the international effort against ISIS forces in northern Iraq and Syria. But before I break down today’s vote, I must go back a bit to set the stage.

In 2014 Viktor Orbán made some fleeting remarks about Hungary’s joining forces with other nations in fighting terrorism, a decision that requires a two-thirds majority vote in parliament. At that point, I’m sure, the Fidesz leadership never imagined that its candidate might be defeated in the Veszprém by-election. But the government had something else to worry about. Apparently at this juncture not all members of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation were ready to back the proposal, which the government deemed necessary for bettering U.S.-Hungarian relations.

With the Veszprém election in February Fidesz’s two-thirds majority evaporated. Even if the leaders of the two government parties managed to convince all of their parliamentary members to vote for the proposal, without support from the opposition it would have gone down in defeat. The numbers were simply not there. It was at this point that Viktor Orbán called together the opposition parties to convince them to support the government on this issue.

A few days later, in early March, the press department of the Demokratikus Koalicíó (DK) announced that their members in parliament (four in all) would most likely support the government and thus secure the necessary two-thirds majority. The party spokesman explained that although DK is deeply opposed to the present government, they consider “ISIS a threat to Europe and our western democratic world. To stand against such a threat is our basic human and moral obligation. We cannot watch idly the destruction and mass murders” committed by the ISIS rebels. DK also announced, however, that the party would not send a representative to discuss the details of the mission with Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó because “of their strenuous opposition to the political system of Orbán.” The only thing they insisted on was being well informed on the preparedness of the Hungarian military for the task.

The other opposition parties did meet with the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs and trade, but unlike DK they were less than sanguine about the mission, a force of 150 Hungarian men to defend army bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. LMP said that its five-member parliamentary delegation would vote against such a proposal. András Schiffer, the party’s co-chairman, explained that ever since 2010 LMP had never supported the military participation of Hungarian troops in foreign missions unless the country was compelled to do so by international treaties. Since Hungary’s NATO membership does not demand that the country take part in this particular mission, LMP would vote against the bill. In fact, Schiffer said that he, as the leader of the group, would insist on party discipline and hence a compulsory “nay” vote.

Erbil. This is where the Hungarians troops going

Erbil. This is where the Hungarians troops are going

Jobbik also strenuously objected. The only support the party could imagine giving to anti-ISIS forces was humanitarian aid. Márton Gyöngyösi, Jobbik’s foreign policy expert, wouldn’t even agree to supply weapons and ammunition to those fighting this terrorist group. I might add here that, already in August 2014, Hungary sent weapons to the Peshmerga forces. According to Gyöngyösi, “although Jobbik condemns the violence against Christians and non-extremist Muslims, the size and preparedness of the country are not sufficient for undertaking such a mission which, in addition, would increase the threat of terrorism against our homeland.” Moreover, the United States shouldn’t try to rely on its allies when “it is the United States that is responsible for the destabilization of Iraq and Syria.”

MSZP as usual sat on the fence. First they wanted to know whether the other parliamentary delegations would support the mission. They also wanted to ascertain before deciding whether the Fidesz and KDNP delegations’ vote would be unanimous. Their final word was that they would discuss the matter informally.

If I recall, DK’s offer was initially received with ridicule in the pro-government media. What can the government do with four extra votes? The group is too small to make a difference. But today, when the Fidesz-KDNP delegation is short two votes, four votes from opposition politicians make a big difference. And, in the end, DK members were not the only ones who supported the government.

This morning in parliament the bill passed by a vote of 137 to 57. So, 194 members of parliament were present out of 199. Viktor Orbán was absent because he had some urgent business in Zalaegerszeg. The Jobbik parliamentary delegation voted against the mission to a man. The MSZP vote was mixed. Two members, István Hiller and Ágnes Kunhalmi, most likely flouting party discipline, simply didn’t vote, thus expressing their disagreement with the final MSZP decision. Apparently a huge debate preceded the actual voting, where many argued that voting with Jobbik on this issue might not do much for MSZP’s image, but at the end the leadership decided “not to assist Viktor Orbán in his peacock dance.” They believe that Orbán’s sudden interest in the ISIS mission is only a cheap tool for improving U.S.-Hungarian relations, while the government continues to paper over other outstanding issues like the still pending corruption cases under U.S. scrutiny.

As expected, all five members of the LMP caucus voted against the bill. In addition, the sole parliamentary member of PM, Tímea Szabó, joined Jobbik, MSZP, and LMP and cast her vote against sending the mission to Iraq. That vote was also somewhat anticipated. After all, PM came into existence after their members deserted Schiffer’s LMP. Finally, Péter Kónya, an independent member but previously chairman of Solidarity, also was among the nays.

So, who were the people from the Hungarian democratic opposition who voted for the bill? All four members of DK–Ferenc Gyurcsány, Lajos Oláh, Ágnes Vadai, and László Varju; Zsuzsanna Szelényi and Szabolcs Szabó from Együtt; Gábor Fodor, founder of the Magyar Liberális Párt; and Zoltán Kész, the newly elected independent member of parliament representing Veszprém County’s #1 electoral district.

I’m fairly certain that the majority of Hungarians are against sending soldiers to Iraq, so it took a certain amount of courage on the part of the smaller democratic parties to vote with Fidesz. Yet they took the risk. Ágnes Vadai, in the name of DK, stressed the party’s commitment to “the trans-atlantic alliance, European values, and universal human rights.” Zsuzsanna Szelényi, on behalf of Együtt, said that “Hungary must be present in the world.” Fodor also emphasized the necessity of good relations between Hungary and the United States.

As for István Hiller and Ágnes Kunhalmi, I wasn’t surprised that they were the ones who just couldn’t vote against the mission. They are members of the so-called social-democratic platform of the party, which I consider the most progressive wing of MSZP. It will be worth keeping an eye on them to see whether they can help shape the future of MSZP and its relations with the other smaller democratic parties.

Reverberations after Lajos Simicska’s revelations about Viktor Orbán

Lajos Simicska’s revelations about Viktor Orbán’s alleged involvement in the state security apparatus in 1981-1982 have given rise to accusations and counterclaims. And all the larger papers have published timelines of the allegations that surfaced here and there about Viktor Orbán’s possible informer past.

The controversy began in 1991 when a dossier surfaced at the Military Security Office (Katonai Biztonsági Hivatal), which handled the leftover documents from the ministry of interior’s III/IV Military Counterintelligence Unit. At the time the Antall government asked János Kenedi, one of the top experts on the state security apparatus in Hungary, to investigate the contents of the folder. Kenedi came to the conclusion that Viktor Orbán had been a victim of intelligence gathering and was innocent of any wrongdoing.

There are others, however, who claim that there were documents indicating that the young Orbán wasn’t so innocent. Lukács Szabó, who was an MDF member of parliament between 1990 and 1994, claimed in 2002 that Prime Minister József Antall at one of the meetings of the parliamentary delegation indicated that the government had found “proof of wrongdoing in Orbán’s past.” Apparently, Antall repeated this statement to several MDF members of parliament. In addition, one of Antall’s undersecretaries in charge of the spy network confirmed the charge.

Then we have Péter Boross’s latest statement, which he gave to Pesti Srácok, described as a government financed internet site. Boross was an old friend of József Antall, who named him minister without portfolio in charge of the National Security Office and, a few months later, in December 1990, minister of the interior. Boross now claims that he “asked for all possible documents relating to Viktor Orbán, and from these documents it became clear that although he was approached by the officers of the ministry of interior he refused any cooperation with them.” Boross claims that he can prove Orbán’s innocence.

In 2005 an ad hoc parliamentary committee was formed to look into the financial affairs of the Orbán family. This was when Orbán bought a very expensive house in an elegant section of Buda, into which he poured an untold amount of money to make it suitable for the large family’s needs. About the same time he began building his weekend house in Felcsút. Orbán came well prepared, and I must say that I was somewhat taken aback by the incompetence of the co-chairmen of the committee. In any case Orbán, without being asked, released a number of documents relating to his alleged ties to the state security organizations. For a while these documents were available on the orbanvictor.hu website under the heading “Valóság” (Reality). In 2012, when Ágnes Vadai inquired about his possible ties to the state security apparatus, he republished some but not all of the documents that had been available earlier. One of the documents not released in 2012 was titled “Suggestions for the creation of social connection” and contained personal information about Viktor Orbán. According to the document, the “connection” began on October 20, 1981, shortly after Orbán began his military duties, and ended on August 20 when he “was discharged.” This would indicate that Lajos Simicska told the truth about Orbán’s reporting on his fellow soldiers during his time in the military.

Also in 2005 a retired colonel, Miklós Mózes, told Fejér Megyei Hírlap that “he had sat down a couple times for exploratory talks with [Orbán], but it soon became evident that he might be useful for several jobs but not for secret work with the state security organizations.” Mózes, however, said something else of interest. It happened that Orbán was called up for military service again a year after he finished law school. Orbán apparently “by mistake” was sent to Tata instead of Zalaegerszeg where, as Mózes reported, the KGB was interested in the young lawyer and asked Mózes to facilitate his transfer to Zalaegerszeg. It is not impossible that by that time the Russians had become interested in the new young politicians who might have important positions after the demise of the Kádár regime.

And now let’s move on to research conducted on informers by Csaba Ilkei, a historian whose sympathies lie with Jobbik. One of the documents that was not republished by Viktor Orbán in 2012 was a note in his own hand that is reproduced here.

Handwritten note

István Csáki was a major in the ministry of interior’s III/IV unit. “Temesvári” was the pseudonym of an informer who, according to Ilkei, was Zsolt Szeszák, at the time a student at ELTE’s Faculty of Arts but here only identified as “Fidesz insider.” “Győri Gábor” was also an agent who was presumably, as indicated by the arrow, in some way connected to László Kövér. What Ilkei wanted to know was how Orbán could know Csáki or the pseudonym of Szeszák.

And there are other gaps in the story. László Varga, the historian of the state security network, did not find Viktor Orbán’s dossier named “Viktória.” It disappeared.

And finally, why doesn’t Viktor Orbán say outright that he never, ever reported on anyone in his life? Yesterday Orbán was asked by Hír24 about the “informer case” and he even answered, which is an exception to the rule. This is what he said: “The facts speak for themselves. All information is available. I suggest that you study them. I find it sad that someone out of personal resentment would sink this low.” Magyar Narancs, commenting on this statement, noted that “although it is difficult to believe anything Lajos Simicska says, the question is lurking in the back of our minds: why can’t the prime minister’s office or the press secretary or he himself put together a simple sentence: “Viktor Orbán was not an informer and never reported on anyone.” Indeed, this is a legitimate question.

Evidence is presented in the Jobbik espionage case

Shortly after the news broke on May 14 that Péter Polt, the Hungarian chief prosecutor, had asked Martin Schulz, president of the European Union, to suspend the parliamentary immunity of Béla Kovács (Jobbik), Fidesz moved to convene the Hungarian parliamentary committee on national security. The committee is chaired by Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), whose plate is full of his own problems. Two weeks ago a picture from 1992 of the 18-year-old hooded Molnár was made public. Magyar Nemzet accused the socialist politician of being a skinhead in his youth. I guess it was just tit for tat: the opposition was outraged over Fidesz’s support of a Jobbik candidate for the post of deputy president of the House.

A couple of days ago I expressed doubts about the charge of espionage in the case of the Jobbik MEP. First of all, we know only too well the Fidesz practice of accusing their political opponents of some serious crime that years later turns out to be bogus. The acquittal comes far too late; the political damage is instantaneous. After the 2010 election wholesale accusations were launched against socialist politicians and now, four years later, most of the accused have been acquitted. Among those court cases one dealt with espionage, but because the case was considered to belong to the rather large realm of state secrets we still have no idea about the charges or the evidence. Early reactions from Ágnes Vadai (DK), who at that point was a member of the parliamentary committee, indicated that both bordered on the ludicrous.

Since I consider the national security office an arm of the Orbán government that is often used for political purposes, my first reaction was to be very skeptical of the charges leveled against Kovács. Until now, Viktor Orbán concentrated on the left (MSZP, DK, E14-PM) and ignored Jobbik. Now that everybody predicts a resounding success for the extremist Jobbik party at the polls on Sunday, it seems that Orbán decided to turn his attention to his adversaries on the right. After all, he has the magic two-thirds majority in parliament and doesn’t need Jobbik.

There is no question of Kovács’s pro-Russian sentiments. He spent the larger part of his life in that country, and he is an ardent supporter of Vladimir Putin and his vision of Russia and the world. In Brussels he is considered to be a “Russian lobbyist,” and I’m sure that he represented Russia more than Hungary in the EP. At least some of his speeches indicate that much. But espionage is something different from making propaganda at the behest of a country.

Viktor Orbán, never known to worry about linguistic niceties, is capitalizing on the situation. On Friday night on MTV he equated espionage against the European Union with treason. He claimed that “the Hungarian public is familiar with the treasonous activities of internationalists who don’t consider the nation important, but that a party that considers itself national (nemzeti) would want to send such people to Brussels where they are supposed to represent Hungarian interests is really unprecedented.”

Let’s analyze this sentence. First of all, he is accusing some (actually, probably most) left-wing politicians of being traitors, while suggesting that there might be more spies among the proposed representatives of Jobbik to the European Parliament. I’m sure that Viktor Orbán means every word he says in this sentence. He is convinced that everyone who disagrees with him and criticizes him is not only unpatriotic but also a traitor; if it depended on him, he would gladly jail all of them. Also, there are signs that Béla Kovács might be only the first target. Perhaps the grand prize would be Gábor Vona himself.  As it is, Lajos Pősze, a disillusioned former Jobbik member, claimed on HírTV that Vona is Moscow’s agent.

In any case, the parliamentary committee on national security was called together this morning. Both Béla Kovács and Gábor Vona were obliged to appear before the committee. It seems that everyone who was present, with the exception of Jobbik member Ádám Mirkóczki, is convinced on the basis of the evidence presented by the national security office that Béla Kovács committed espionage.

Gábor Vona, Ádám Mirkóczy, and Béla Kovács Source: Index / Photo; Szabolcs Barakonyi

Gábor Vona, Ádám Mirkóczki, and Béla Kovács after the hearing
Source: Index / Photo; Szabolcs Barakonyi

What did we learn about the proceedings? Not much, because the information will be classified for a number of years. We do know that the Hungarian national security office has been investigating Kovács ever since 2009 and that they have pictures and recordings of conversations. Chairman Zsolt Molnár (MSZP) found the evidence convincing but added, “there is espionage but no James Bond.” Apparently, what he means is that the case is not like espionage concerning military secrets but “an activity that can be more widely defined.” Bernadett Szél (LMP) was also impressed, but she added that “a person can commit espionage even if he is not a professional spy.” These two comments lead me to believe that we are faced here not so much with espionage as with “influence peddling.” On the other hand, Szilárd Németh (Fidesz), deputy chairman of the committee, was more explicit and more damaging. He indicated that “Kovács had connections to the Russian secret service and these connections were organized and conspiratorial.” Attila Mesterházy, who was not present, also seems to accept the story at face value. The liberal-socialist politicians all appear to have lined up. Interestingly enough, not one of them seems to remember similar Fidesz attacks on people on their side that turned out to be bogus. Yes, I understand that Jobbik is a despicable party, but that’s not a sufficient reason to call Kovács a spy if he is no more than a zealous promoter of Putin’s cause.

Ágnes Vadai (DK) used to be the chair of the committee when she was still a member of MSZP and thus has the necessary clearance to attend the sessions. Since she had to retire from the chairmanship due to her change of political allegiance, she asked admission to some of the more important meetings of the committee. Normally, she receives permission. But not this time. Her reaction was:  “We always suspected that Jobbik has reasons to be secretive but it seems that Fidesz does also.” She promised to ask the Ministry of Interior to supply her with documents connected to the case. I doubt that she will receive anything.

Gáspár Miklós Tamás, the political philosopher whose views I normally don’t share, wrote an opinion piece that pretty well echoes what I had to say about the case three days ago. He calls attention to a double standard. The liberal journalists view Fidesz’s attack on the left-liberal political side with healthy skepticism, but this time they seemed to have swallowed the espionage story hook, line, and sinker. Kovács is most likely an agent d’influence but no more than that. TGM–as everybody calls him–considers the “criminalization of political opponents the overture to dictatorship,” which should be rejected regardless of whether it is directed against the right or the left.

Interestingly, Jobbik’s pro-Russian bias finds many adherents in Hungary. Apparently, whereas in most of the Eastern European countries the public is anti-Russian, especially after the Ukrainian crisis, Hungarian public opinion is divided. And the right-wingers, including some of the Fidesz voters, consider Putin’s intervention in Ukraine at the behest of the ethnic Russians justified. This sympathy most likely has a lot to do with the existence of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.

How will Orbán achieve both of his goals–to ruin Jobbik with a Russian espionage case and at the same time defend Russia’s support of autonomy in Ukraine? He may well succeed. His track record when it comes to threading the needle is very good.

The opening session of the new Hungarian parliament

Today was the opening session of the new parliament. Before the session began the new MPs were treated in the “Red Room” to music by the so-called folk musician András Jánosi and his orchestra. Actually, András Jánosi’s genre is what used to be called Gypsy music; it seems to be experiencing a revival with the assistance of the Orbán government. In fact, Magyar Rádió established a separate channel devoted to Gypsy music and songs created in the manner of folk music (műdalok). The channel is named after a famous Gypsy band leader, Pista Dankó (1858-1903).

But why Gypsy music at the opening session of Parliament? According to Népszabadság, “they revived the tradition that the Gypsy band of János Bihari (1764-1827) played music for the arriving members of the Diet.” It’s too bad that historians are such sticklers for the truth, but this so-called tradition couldn’t have been exactly long-lived. Between 1811 and 1825 no Diet was convened at all; the “reform era” spanned the period between 1825 and 1848. Bihari, to repeat, died in 1827. So much for a great Hungarian tradition.

Outside the parliament building Tamás Gaudi-Nagy, a Jobbik member of the European parliament, organized a demonstration protesting the new law concerning agricultural lands. When a guest to the opening of parliament, István Pásztor, a Hungarian politician from the Voivodina, appeared, a scuffle ensued. The police stood by passively. Demonstrators, mostly women, surrounded Pásztor, calling him a traitor and a Bolshevik. Several women spat in his face. Why did Gaudi-Nagy’s group decide to attack Pásztor? According to ATV’s website, last year Gaudi-Nagy tried to “defend” the Hungarians in Serbia in the European Council, which Pásztor deemed “harmful” to the Hungarian minority. Whatever the reason, Jobbik distanced itself from Gaudi-Nagy, emphasizing that he is not a member of the party’s parliamentary caucus. Gaudi-Nagy, you may recall, is the man who a few months ago threw the flag of the European Union out of one of the bathroom windows of the parliament building.

Of course, there were also the usual opening speeches. Especially interesting was the speech of President János Áder, who drew on the writings and speeches of Ferenc Deák (1803-1876), known as the wise man of the nation because he was the architect of the Compromise of 1867. As is often the case, Áder used Deák as a springboard to make a political point. He quoted Deák saying that “we should not cast our glances at the past, but instead we must look forward to the future.” I don’t think one needs much imagination to grasp Áder’s intent. In my opinion, at least, he is telling all those people who are upset over the alleged falsification of history to leave the past alone and stop being pests.

Áder also invoked Ferenc Deák’s words about the necessity of differences of opinion in politics. “The truth gets extracted from differences of opinion,” Deák said. “I don’t mind, in fact I desire differences of opinion even in very important matters. I love all those citizens who oppose us. Let God grant us opponents and not enemies.” To hear these lofty words coming from the mouth of  János Áder was jarring. His party and the government he supports never listen to their political opponents, whom they treat as enemies.

Otherwise, according to Áder, no one can question the results of the election and the legitimacy of the electoral system. As for the new constitution, the election results also legitimized its legality.  Moreover, the results of the April 6 election in Áder’s view mean that “the Hungarian nation considers the long process of regime change final.” That is, the second Orbán government has brought to fruition what began in 1989-1990. Hungary has arrived at the pinnacle of democracy thanks to Viktor Orbán.

It seems, however, that some MPs openly and loudly disagreed with János Áder. When it came to the swearing-in ceremony, when the new members have to swear to the new constitution, the four Demokratikus Koalíció MPs, Ferenc Gyurcsány, Csaba Molnár, Lajos Oláh, and Ágnes Vadai, added the following two sentences: “I solemnly swear that I will do everything in my power for the reestablishment of the republic. I will try with all my strength to achieve the adoption of a new constitution confirmed by popular referendum.” Otherwise, Heti Válasz noted with some satisfaction that whoever was responsible for the parliamentary seating arrangement put the independent members of DK and Együtt2014-PM right behind the rather large Jobbik delegation.

Members of the Demokratikus Kolíció add their pledge to the official text of the swearing-in From left to right, Lajos Oláh, Csaba Molnár, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Ágnes Vadai / Stop.hu

Members of the Demokratikus Kolíció at the swearing-in ceremony
Lajos Oláh, Csaba Molnár, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Ágnes Vadai / Stop.hu

It was at this point that the new members had to vote for the deputies to the president of the House. The only interesting vote was for former skinhead Tamás Sneider (Jobbik). He received 150 yeas and 35 nays, while 5 MPs abstained. They were members of the LMP delegation. Fidesz, KDNP, and Jobbik have altogether 156 members, and therefore a number of MPs did not vote at all. Among them were Zoltán Balog, Zoltán Kovács, János Lázár, and Tibor Navracsics. On the other hand, Viktor Orbán voted for Sneider. As for the nays, they must have come from the democratic opposition parties: MSZP, DK, Együtt2014-PM, and the sole liberal member, Gábor Fodor. Péter Kiss (MSZP) and Ferenc Gyurcsány did not vote on Sneider.

In the secret ballot vote for president of the House, László Kövér received 171 yeas and 19 nays, with 3 abstentions. This is a first. In the past, votes for the president of the House were always unanimous. Fidesz and KDNP together have 133 members, and therefore 38 yea votes had to come from somewhere else. DK announced ahead of time that they, all four of them, will say no to Kövér’s nomination. If I calculate correctly, six people simply refrained from voting. Népszabadság announced the 19 nays as “Nineteen people dared to say no!”  Unfortunately it does seem to take a certain amount of courage to vote against Kövér and even greater courage to announce it publicly. He’s not the kind of guy who understands fair play and the democratic rules of politics.

Feminism in Hungary

The Central Statistical Office made a surprising announcement today. As a result of car production, a good harvest, and an uptick in the construction industry the Hungarian GDP grew by 1.7% in the third quarter of the year. On the basis of this data the government predicts continuous, sustained growth; a few others expressed fear that the upsurge signals only a short-term improvement. Since I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on this unexpected news, I’ll turn to a totally different topic–feminism.

Let’s start with the fallout from the domestic violence case against József Balogh, a Fidesz member of parliament. Once his immunity from prosecution was lifted at the urging of the prosecutors, he admitted that it wasn’t the poor blind komondor who was responsible for his partner’s broken cheekbones. Consequently, Balogh was ousted from the Fidesz caucus and also lost his membership in the party. However, he didn’t lose his right to remain a member of parliament as an independent.

Demokratikus Koalíció’s female members, Ágnes Vadai and Erika Szűcs, were not satisfied and protested in parliament. The result? László Kövér, president of the House, fined the two the maximum 130,000 forints or $587. The two women are outraged. For anti-Semitic remarks Kövér fined a Jobbik member only 50,000 forints in the first instance and 60,000 in the second. Moreover, the drunk István Pálffy, who disturbed the work of parliament more than they did, wasn’t fined at all. As far as I know, only opposition members were ever fined by Kövér.

But that was not all. The fine had to be sanctioned by the members of parliament. Fidesz members were united. Even the 20 women in the Fidesz caucus voted for Kövér’s very stiff fine. If you recall, a year ago when another Fidesz member of parliament, István Varga, made an outrageous remark about the link between the number of babies in the family and domestic violence, Antal Rogán and Gabriella Selmeczi expressed their strong opposition to the ideas expressed by Varga. Then the women members of the Fidesz caucus still showed solidarity with the female victims of domestic violence. By now this solidarity has vanished: they now follow the lead of the party which, it seems to me, feels somewhat threatened by the women’s issue. The party, especially lately, has acquired the unsavory reputation of being anti-woman. One must also add that József Balogh voted for the stiff fine of the two women!

The accusation leveled against Fidesz is not exactly groundless. Here are a few examples from pro-government sources. A journalist who writes extensively in right-leaning publications finds the worlds of Ágnes Vadai and József Balogh on a par. He is sick and tired of all that talk about women being the victims of domestic violence when a study by a Hungarian female criminologist shows that 40% of the victims are actually male. Moreover, women are the ones, more than men, who physically punish their children, and they are especially harsh on their male offspring. He also accuses the female activists of rendering “the lives of abused women, children and men more difficult.” Men who are being systematically humiliated in this hysterical campaign will “feel a kind of solidarity with those who beat women.” They will think that they are innocent and they were only slandered. He ends his piece by saying that “the whole country would have been better off if Vadai and other amazons of the Demokratikus Koalíció had stayed in the kitchen.”

Let me add here that in the U.S., according to most studies, women account for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, men for approximately 15%. I doubt that Hungarian men are meeker and more defenseless than their American counterparts, and therefore the 40% figure the Hungarian female criminologist came up sounds unlikely. Admittedly, it is possible that the number of cases of abuse against males is higher than reported due to men’s reluctance to admit being beaten up by a woman.

Or here is an article in Magyar Nemzet about a women’s congress that was organized by the Magyar Női Érdekérvényesítő Szövetség (Hungarian Women’s Interest Group). The author is a woman, Ágnes Győr, yet she is absolutely gleeful that fewer people showed up at the conference than expected and therefore, according to her, the organizers had to ask people to sit closer together in order for the crowd to look bigger. She pointed out that the audience came from the same circle of people, intimating the heavily liberal nature of the gathering. Therefore, she “forgets” to mention participants who didn’t come from this “charmed circle.” Actually, all parties were represented. For instance, Ildikó Gáll, neé Pelcz, Fidesz EP member, was also there.

Although she mentions the name of Danuta Hübner, who sent a video message to the conference, she was reluctant to reveal that Hübner is a member of the European People’s Party’s caucus in Strasbourg, the same caucus to which Fidesz belongs. She emphasizes, on the other hand, that Hübner is the “prime minister of the Polish female shadow government.” Let’s make her look ridiculous, I guess.

On the other hand, she did have a few good words to say about the guest of honor, Eve Ensler, the American playwright and activist, author of The Vagina Monologues. Lately Ensler created “One Billion Rising,” a global protest campaign to end violence and promote justice and gender equality for women. Hungary joined the One Billion Rising movement, but as the reporter of Magyar Nemzet put it, “here because the organizers were locals, the verve and vitality disappeared, only the trite messages of liberals remained.”

Naturally, an Internet site called Nőkorszak (Age of Women) had a different take on the gathering. They claim that the congress opened to an audience of 1,000.

Photo: www.facebook.com/IttVagyunkNokongresszus

Photo: www.facebook.com/IttVagyunkNokongresszus

A reporter from 444.hu admitted that he had never seen so many women, and only women, in one place. He also noted that it must be terrible to be a woman in Hungary, “especially if she has some ambitions.” He admitted that he wouldn’t want to be a woman in Hungary.

Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), Együtt14, Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM), and Lehet Más a Politika (LMP) would like to see more women in parliament, and therefore they suggested setting up quotas. They believe that without such quotas nothing will change, because the current male-dominated parties will never of their own volition put up a sufficient number of female candidates to have a more gender-balanced parliament. Most likely they are right. The number of women in parliament has actually decreased in the last 23 years. Naturally, Fidesz is dead set against the idea. Although MSZP, which by the way was represented by a man, was less forthcoming on the issue, one got the distinct impression that the socialists are against the idea of strict quotas.

On the other hand E14-PM, which received the right to name candidates in 35 electoral districts, picked 10 women candidates. They announced their resolve to establish a 30% quota for women. DK came out with 106 names, out of which I found 13 women. LMP currently has 4 women members out of the seven-member delegation. As for Fidesz-KDNP, I would be surprised if in the next parliament the party would have more female representatives than it does this year.

Hungarian women, even those who are active supporters of women’s rights, can sometimes seem almost apologetic about their views. Márta Mészáros, a Hungarian scriptwriter and film director who was one of the principal speakers at the congress, told her audience that on the way to the congress the taxi driver, when he heard where she was heading, asked her whether the participants will all be feminists. To which she proudly answered: “I don’t know, but I’m not a feminist. I only fight for the equality of women.” I guess she never bothered to look up the meaning of the word feminism. Any dictionary could tell her that it means “belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”