Tag Archives: Ákos Hadházy

“National Consultation” at closer quarters

At last someone got the bright idea that instead of just joking about the results of the Orbán government’s notorious “national consultations,” it would be time for the opposition to insist on transparency. In the last ten years five “national consultations” have taken place, including the one currently underway. In all cases, the citizenry had to rely on the government’s reports on the number of valid questionnaires it received. Of course, if the Orbán government had wanted to communicate the truth, it would have invited observers from other parties or would at least have gathered a group of independent witnesses. The mystery numbers announced after each of these consultations were the butt of jokes, but no opposition party ever entertained the idea of challenging the government’s most likely fraudulent figures or insisting on opening the warehouses where these questionnaires were kept.

This time, however, Bernadett Szél and Ákos Hadházy, co-chairs of LMP, decided to do more than poke fun at these ridiculous “national consultations.” The fact that it took them a whole month to get permission to see the premises says a lot about the government’s true intentions. These consultations are propaganda tools designed in such a way that the final result is determined by the will of the government.

The Szél-Hadházy team eventually ascertained that returned questionnaires travel to three government venues. From the central post office on Orczy tér they are moved to warehouses of the Nemzeti Infokommunikációs Szolgáltató Zrt. (NISZ), first to one in District VIII and then to one in Zugló. In the former the envelopes are x-rayed for explosives. In the latter the contents of envelopes are separated because in some cases the senders filled out an extra data sheet indicating that they are ready to receive government “information” in the future. Once all the questionnaires have been x-rayed and sorted, they are then sent to one of the offices of Kopint Datorg in District VIII, where the answers are “analyzed” with the help of special software.

Antal Rogán’s personal approval was required for the two members of parliament to be allowed inside of these facilities, though with serious restrictions. Their “appointment” was set for 5:30 p.m.–that is, after regular business hours. Altogether they were allowed to spend 1.5 hours including travel time, which was considerable given rush hour traffic and the distances between District VIII and Zugló. By the third stop, Hadházy was ten minutes late and was worried that he wouldn’t be allowed to enter. But the powers-that-be were lenient.

In all three places the LMP politicians were told that employees do not keep daily records of the number of questionnaires that arrive. In one of the warehouses the man in charge simply didn’t know what to do when he was asked how many questionnaires they had received thus far. First, he said that he wasn’t allowed to share that information, but “when we became somewhat agitated because of this information, he changed his story and said that there is no such record at all.” The story was the same at Kopint Datorg.

Hadházy was pretty certain that the government’s latest figure of 1.7 million was a fake. Based on the number of boxes he saw, he figured that the government had managed to get back about 900,000 questionnaires. There is a good possibility that Hadházy is more or less correct because, while the two LMP politicians were rushing from one venue to the next, the spokesman for Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation announced that they will ask the government to extend the deadline for the return of the questionnaires. The official deadline was yesterday.

Although the government is outraged and is ready to sue Hadházy, who according to them is lying, I have the feeling that Rogán’s propaganda ministry will have a difficult time proving that their own numbers are correct. It seems that the Szél-Hadházy team’s smart phone was busily recording some of their conversations with the officials on the spot. The staff of Hír TV’s “Célpont” (Target) published two of the conversations. Here is the important one. Note that the post office sends envelopes on to NISZ only once a week, on Mondays.

–These arrived on 20th. 250,000.
–How many arrived on the 13th?
–I don’t know that by heart but about 200,000.
–Less than 200,000?
–Less.
–And what about the 6th?
–About 180,000.
–Well then, how on earth do you get one million out of this?

So, by November 14, less than 400,000 questionnaires had arrived, but Csaba Dömötör, one of the undersecretaries of the propaganda ministry, on that very day claimed that one million questionnaires had already been received.

Although journalists were not allowed to accompany Szél and Hadházy, the government sent its own photo journalist to the scene, who took a photo of the two politicians in front of a whole wall of boxes. The caption read: “In the background boxes filled with 500 questionnaires each. Yet the chairman of LMP claimed that the whole consultation is a hoax because no records are kept.” Nice try, but Hadházy was specifically told that those boxes were empty, waiting to be filled.

Bernadett Szél, Ákos Hadházy, and the empty boxes

The exact number of questionnaires returned could easily be ascertained if an independent watch-dog group could find out how many envelopes were processed in the central Hungarian postal service. Since the postage on these returned envelopes is paid by the Hungarian government, the postal service must keep accurate records. Their reimbursement depends on careful record keeping. The problem is that there is no independent supervisory body, so the government can conjure up any figure it finds useful for purposes of propaganda. The higher the better.

The government currently claims that up to date the post office has received 1,754,128 envelopes. So far NISZ has managed to x-ray 599,500 (which would pretty closely match the figures NISZ reported to Szél and Hadházy) and Kopint-Datorg has processed 489,265. These numbers, it is critical to note, should not be cumulative: each response is first x-rayed and then processed. The government also claims that 155,330 people sent their answers back via the Internet. And so, if I understand the system correctly, as of November 20 754,830 responses have either reached NISZ or been submitted electronically. That means that 999,298 envelopes must still be sitting in the central post office on Orczy tér. The government claims, however, that as of Friday over 500,000 envelopes had been registered but were still at the post office. Well, I guess 999,298 is over 500,000.

In addition, I should note that there is something very suspicious about the high number of online responses because in the past very few people opted to fill out the questionnaire online.  It is possible that Fidesz activists took advantage of a software glitch, if it was a glitch and not intentional. People could fill out as many questionnaires as their hearts desired. Hír TV’s “Célpont” demonstrates how it can be done here.

Is the government correct in saying that Ákos Hadházy is a fool who mixed up the total number of returned questionnaires that reached the central post office with the ones that had gone through the proper “treatment” of x-raying, sorting, and analysis? I doubt it. It seems to me that it is the government that is playing fast and loose with the figures, most likely adding the number of responses processed to the number of envelopes that the government reported as having been x-rayed. Assuming that all envelopes are x-rayed, this number plus the online responses and the envelopes still at the post office is the total number of questionnaires received.

Of course, we have no idea how many envelopes the post office will send on to NISZ this coming Monday. Will it be the usual 200,000 or so, over 500,000, or close to a million? No independent body will ever know. We can only speculate. But I highly doubt it will bring the total to 1,754,128.

November 25, 2017

Viktor Orbán is losing his cool

Trump’s uncontrolled outbursts seem to be contagious. While in the past Viktor Orbán showed considerable restraint when giving interviews or answering opposition members of parliament, in the last couple of weeks he has given vent to his frustration and anger.

Friday, during his regular morning radio interview, he lashed out against the European Commission, repeating himself, calling the legal opinion released by the European Commission an object of derision, a document that one cannot discuss without laughing. If Hungary accepted this document, it would become the laughing stock of Europe. He went on and on. Then yesterday, he accused Ákos Hadházy (LMP), who has spent years fighting the endemic corruption of the Orbán regime, of corruption himself. Pressured by the European Commission and by Hadházy’s dogged pursuit of his government’s systemic corruption, Orbán no longer seems capable of exercising self-control.

I have been following Ákos Hadházy’s political career ever since he first appeared on the national scene. He reported on a local corruption case in Szekszárd, a small town, where he was a Fidesz member of the city council. Since then, Hadházy, now co-chair of LMP, has focused on uncovering corruption cases. Just the other day, he said in an interview that he had held more than 80 “corruption infos.” Once a week he stands in front of the cameras and reports on yet another horrendous case. Each of these cases involves millions if not billions of forints. Hadházy estimates that in the last seven years the “Fidesz clientele” stole about three trillion forints of the subsidies Hungary received from the European Union. In his assessment, all work performed is at least 30% overpriced.

Lately, Hadházy has been working on two cases, both involving healthcare. The first one was a program that was supposed to set up “mentor houses” for premature babies and their parents in Szeged, Kecskemét, and Gyula. A foundation was established for the purpose, called “I Arrived Early Foundation,” which received 1.2 billion forints from the European Union. Since it was such a large project, Hadházy asked for details. It turned out that less than half of the money was allocated to the program itself. The rest was designated for the maintenance of the foundation. Money was spent on most likely overpriced rentals, legal advice, laptops, telephones, several printers, and very high salaries for the “coordinators,” while the 40 mentors received only about 50,000 forints a month.

It turned out that two other very similar projects received about half the amount that “I Arrived Early Foundation” got, and they managed quite well. Mind you, they didn’t pay 50 million forints for “legal advice.” In fact, they got along just fine without it. While a methodology study cost the “I Arrived Early Foundation” 50 million, the other foundation managed to get one for 8 million.

Hadházy stirred up a hornet’s nest by investigating this particular foundation. János Lázár’s wife is one of the board members of the foundation, and Hadházy suspected that the unusually generous financial support given to the foundation was not entirely independent of Mrs. Lázár’s presence there. Soon after the “corruption info” in which Hadházy announced the foundation’s suspicious expenditures, he found himself in the crosshairs of Zoltán Balog’s ministry, which awarded the money to the foundation, and the Office of the Prime Minister, headed by János Lázár. Nándor Csepreghy, Lázár’s deputy, assisted by the government paper, Magyar Idők, led the attack. Magyar Idők published several articles accusing Hadházy of being a heartless man who compared these premature babies to newborn puppies. Hadházy, who is a vet in private life, did in fact compare the weights of some of these babies to newborn puppies, and he was quite accurate. A newborn puppy is about 500 grams, just like the smallest premature baby. Csepreghy, in defense of his boss, called Hadházy an “ignorant scoundrel.” Lázár at one point offered his wife’s retirement from the foundation, but as far as I know nothing of the sort happened. Naturally, the foundation explained away all of its expenses.

The second case was even more clear cut. The National Healthcare Services Center (Állami Egészségügyi Ellátó Központ/ÁEEK) issued a tender for several ventilators. General Electric and three Hungarian firms submitted bids. The Hungarian firms were actually just wholesalers, and their bids were a great deal higher than General Electric’s. The three Hungarian firms offered to sell the ventilators for a price between 1.7 and 1.9 billion forints as opposed to GE’s offer of 1 billion forints. ÁEEK tailored the tender in such a way that only one bidder could win the tender. Predictably, GE lost the bid, but the company decided not to take the decision lying down. The American firm turned to the Public Procurement Authority (Közbeszerzési Döntőbizottság), which ruled in GE’s favor. ÁEEK had to pay 50 million forints. Bence Rétvári, undersecretary in the ministry of human resources, subsequently denied that the procurement was rigged.

Ákos Hadházy addressing Viktor Orbán in Parliament / Source: ATV

The GE affair was the topic of Ákos Hadházy’s weekly corruption info. János Lázár seemed to agree with Hadházy that those who were involved in the case must be investigated. So, emboldened by Lázár’s reaction, Hadházy brought up the case in parliament yesterday when Viktor Orbán by house rules had to be present and was obliged to answer questions. Hadházy asked the prime minister who was right: János Lázár or Bence Rétvári. Orbán flew off the handle. He accused Hadházy of lobbying for GE. “A representative stands up in the Hungarian Parliament lobbying for a company. How much money did you receive for this? How dare you? How dare you lobby for a company in the Hungarian Parliament during an ongoing public procurement? Especially, on behalf of a foreign company. Now, I have been sitting here for many years, but I have not seen a case more corrupt than this, shame on you!” He also ordered an “investigation” of Hadházy right on the spot.

Hadházy doesn’t seem to be intimidated. He will sue Orbán for slander. Otherwise, he wrote a defiant note on his Facebook page in which he pointed out that Orbán, with his outburst, “kicked a three-meter self-goal” by calling attention to the fact that they want to steal billions from the “dying hospitals.” He said that Orbán’s claim of “an ongoing public procurement” is a lie since the Public Procurement Authority already closed the case. Otherwise, he is looking for the day when Orbán will have to apologize to him. Well, in his place I wouldn’t hold my breath.

October 10, 2017

Orbán’s trust in Flórián Farkas is unwavering: The price is 2.5 billion forints

I’m somewhat late in reporting on the latest developments surrounding the infamous Flórián Farkas, Viktor Orbán’s “strategic Roma ally.” Farkas is a Fidesz member of parliament, commissioner in charge of Roma affairs, and chairman of Lungo Drom. He is the man who delivers the Gypsy vote for Fidesz.

Over the years it became evident that, under Farkas’s watch, billions of EU money designed for a project called “Road to Employment” had disappeared. This left the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/National Roma Self-government) bankrupt.

In February 2015 Ákos Hadházy, then a new member of LMP who specialized in tracking down corruption cases, discovered a massive embezzlement of about 1.6 billion forints ($5.5 million), which the organization was supposed to spend on a work program for the unemployed Roma. The prosecutor’s office began investigating the case. Two years later they were still investigating. In the meantime Flórián Farkas disappeared from sight, I assume in order not to call attention to himself. He may also have also been working behind the scenes to save his skin. The prosecutors either had to abandon the case or bring charges against Farkas by June 24, 2017. Farkas, by the way, has the reputation of being a real survivor. He’s had some very close brushes with the law but has always managed to escape prosecution.

While the prosecutors were allegedly investigating the case, the ministry of human resources, which is responsible for Roma affairs, began an investigation of its own. It came to the conclusion that almost all the money ORÖ received had been “diverted.” The Gypsy organization was told that it would have to reimburse the ministry for the more than 1.6 billion forints it received. In the first eleven months ORÖ was to pay only five million forints per month, or 3% of the total obligation. Over the next 12 months, however, the balance of the diverted funds was to be paid back to the ministry. But where was ORÖ going to find that much money?

The Orbán government solved ORÖ’s “financial difficulties.” You may recall that at the end of 2016 the Orbán government found itself flush with cash. In a great hurry it disbursed about 300 billion forints among its favorite organizations and projects, including 1.3 billion forints to ORÖ in the form of “special assistance.” So, that problem was solved. The Orbán government on taxpayer money covered the funds Flórián Farkas and his accomplices had embezzled. In fact, the government had no choice. OLAF, EU’s anti-corruption office, had begun an investigation, and it was becoming obvious that this money would have to be paid back one way or the other. Since the original money was gone, the government had to dish out the missing funds.

The prosecutor’s office faced a deadline of June 24 of this year to determine what to do with Farkas. That dilemma was solved on May 29 when László Kövér and Flórián Farkas signed another “strategic alliance” between Fidesz and Lungo Drom. This time the signing ceremony was nothing like four years ago when the whole media reported on the official ceremony at which Viktor Orbán and Flórián Farkas signed the agreement. This time the ceremony was held not in the parliament building but in the modest Fidesz headquarters on Lendvay utca, and the organizers made sure that only the state television station’s journalist and cameraman were present. In the last minute the Fidesz organizers brought the event forward by two hours but neglected to inform all the other members of the media.

László Kövér and Flórián Farkas / Source: MTI

While the short ceremony was taking place, the prime minister, who happened to be in Hódmezővásárhely at the time, said that his trust in Farkas was unbroken and that Farkas would remain the number one leader of the Hungarian Roma as far as the Hungarian government is concerned. Indeed, ever since 2002 Lungo Drom has been a strong supporter of Fidesz. I’m sure that Orbán also appreciates that Farkas didn’t abandon him when in that year Fidesz lost the election. Farkas remained faithful to him through eight hard years in opposition.

After the signing Ildikó Lendvai, the former leader of the MSZP parliamentary delegation, wrote an amusing piece titled “The wolf is inside.” It was a take on a children’s game called “the lamb is in, the wolf is out” (Benn a bárány, kinn a farkas). “Farkas” in Hungarian means wolf. In the game children form a circle. One child, the lamb, is inside and another, the wolf, is outside. The goal is for the wolf to catch the lamb. Clearly, Farkas is safe now, inside the circle. No one will catch him for at least five more years.

Although there were rumors to the effect that Farkas’s position inside of Lungo Drom had been considerably weakened, he managed to continue in his position as chairman of the organization. In the middle of June it was reported that Farkas had resorted to trickery in order to remain in power. Instead of holding a formal meeting of the leaders, he organized a dinner party where his friends and supporters unanimously voted for his reelection. At the same time he set up a new Roma organization called “Roma Integrációért Országos Szövetség” (National Association for Roma Integration) which will be eligible to apply for EU funding. That really boggles the mind.

As for the debt of ORÖ, one would think that by now ORÖ had paid back everything it owed the ministry of human resources thanks to the government’s generosity. But in the last few months it came to light that the total amount of embezzled money was not 1.6 billion forints but 2.5 billion and therefore the “special assistance” of the Orbán government was insufficient to cover all the debts.

Although Ákos Hadházy still believes that Farkas is criminally liable and that the possibility exists of filing charges against him, I don’t think too many people would wager much money on such an eventuality.

July 10, 2017

Viktor Orbán’s answer to the Jobbik campaign against him and his regime

On April 1 thousands of stark black-and-white billboards appeared all over the country. On the left, on a white background, is a single short sentence: “You work.” On the right are photos of either Viktor Orbán and Lőrinc Mészáros or Antal Rogán and Árpád Habony with an equally short message: “They steal.” For good measure, the consequences of the political elite’s corruption–poor healthcare and education plus low wages–appear on an orange background. “Jobbik for the People” is in the lower left corner.

The Fidesz-KDNP leadership didn’t find the April’s Fool Day surprise very amusing. In fact, they were infuriated because they realized the incredible impact these posters make. Everybody understands their simple, damning sentences. The appearance of such bold anti-government posters signaled to Fidesz and the Orbán government that the opposition is becoming increasingly daring and most likely also increasingly effective. They are tapping into a general dissatisfaction with the government that has been expressed recently in large-scale demonstrations. Fidesz came to the conclusion that a new, radical solution must be found to the problem. The old methods of discrediting their opponents no longer work.

Fidesz propaganda over the past few months has been directed mostly against Jobbik. Only recently has the government’s propaganda minister also paid attention to László Botka, MSZP’s likely candidate for the premiership. Disparaging Gábor Vona, the Jobbik party chairman, has been continuous and vicious. Among its many charges, Fidesz claims that Vona is being supported by Viktor Orbán’s arch-enemy, Lajos Simicska. And so it was predictable that Fidesz’s first reaction to Jobbik’s billboard campaign would be to reiterate that Vona is a puppet of Simicska while the left is financed by George Soros. Szilárd Németh, one of the deputies of Viktor Orbán, called Jobbik the party of billionaires and accused Vona of selling the “soul of Jobbik” for this media campaign. Perhaps, Németh continued, Vona swore allegiance to Simicska, promising him special financial deals after Jobbik wins the election.

The Jobbik-Simicska connection has been the topic of political debate for some time. Both Simicska and Jobbik deny any financial arrangement between the billionaire and the party. On the other hand, Simicska and his son have both made pro-Jobbik statements, and Vona admitted that he and Simicska have met at least twice at public events. Moreover, all the recent Jobbik messages appeared on the billboards of two companies, Publimont Kft. and Mahir Cityposter Kft., both owned by Lajos Simicska. Fidesz argues that this is proof of Simicska’s hidden financing of Jobbik.

Of course, it is possible that Jobbik received a special deal from Simicska, but hidden campaign financing would be difficult to prove. Although Simicska’s two companies are among the strongest billboard providers, altogether about 100 companies are involved in this competitive business. A couple of years ago Demokratikus Koalíció’s billboards appeared on Simicska’s properties. When Ferenc Gyurcsány was questioned about the arrangement, he said that Simicska’s firm offered the best deal. Simply capitalism at work.

Fidesz also came to the conclusion that “the constitutional court, led by László Sólyom, developed such an extremely liberal practice regarding freedom of speech” that the government has no way of fighting Jobbik’s messaging in court. At least this is the conclusion Zoltán Lomnici, a right-wing constitutional lawyer, came to. Moreover, he added, even if a Hungarian court ruled in favor of the government, one of the NGOs financed by George Soros would take the case to Strasbourg.

So, as a stopgap measure, Fidesz came up with a billboard of its own showing George Soros and Lajos Simicska as the puppeteers and László Botka and Gábor Vona the puppets. In addition, the personal secretary of Lajos Kósa organized a team of Fidesz activists to systematically deface Jobbik’s billboards all over the country. Unfortunately, he said, they couldn’t be burned because that would have destroyed the billboard structures, so they had to be satisfied with painting them over. That method is actually quite widespread in Hungary. Activists of Momentum, for example, suggest changing the “Stop Brussels” billboards to “Stop Moscow.” But these methods weren’t radical enough to solve the Orbán government’s problem with the the kinds of posters Jobbik put up.

On April 27 Index noticed in the Official Gazette that Lajos Kósa, former leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, and János Halász, undersecretary for culture in the ministry of human resources, had submitted a proposal to re-regulate posters and billboards. If the provider of advertising surfaces sells spaces at a price lower than the “current market value,” such an action would be considered to be hidden and forbidden party financing. This regulation would be applicable at times outside of the three months officially designated as the “campaign period.” Owners of poster surfaces must turn in a price list to the State Account Office and will be obliged to make their prices available on their websites.

In addition, and much more worrisome, a government decree signed by Viktor Orbán stipulates that starting June 1, 2017, local government permission will be needed to place new advertising spots anywhere. The decree also introduces other new regulations. For example, the size of the billboards will have to be reduced from 12m2 to 9m2 and the frame size must be changed from 14m2 to 11m2. An additional burden on the companies. But that is the least of the problems. The appendix to the decree stipulates that in the future one will be able to advertise only on properties owned by the state or the municipality. As it stands now, 90% of the advertising surfaces are in private hands and only 10% belong to the municipalities. This decree turns the billboard market totally upside down and will institute a state monopoly over political advertising.

Jobbik doesn’t seem to be too frightened for the time being because they came out with a variation of their original billboards. The color scheme is the same. The billboard pictures Viktor Orbán and Lőrinc Mészáros. The text is: “They steal. We will take it back and use it to raise wages.”

The opposition is up in arms over this government crackdown on campaign advertising. In the parliamentary committee on justice, where the Kósa-Halász bill is being considered, there was quite a ruckus. The opposition is convinced, not without reason, that the bill was written specifically to target Jobbik and Lajos Simicska. The Fidesz opposition tried to limit discussion of the matter, and the chairman, György Rubovszky (KDNP), refused to allow Márta Demeter (independent) and Ákos Hadházy (LMP) to take part in the discussion. In turn, the opposition members called the government party cowardly and the procedure shameful. Rubovszky at this point ordered the opposition members to leave the room, which they refused to do. Hadházy suggested that Rubovszky call the Parliamentary Guard to remove them forcibly. The chairman wisely refrained from making an ass of himself.

The opposition has a powerful weapon against this bill. To pass, the measure needs a two-thirds majority which, as we know, Fidesz doesn’t have at the moment. If the opposition, the left as well as the right, hangs together, it can win this battle. If it succeeds, this would be the second time that Fidesz is unable to force its will on the opposition.

As for the heinous governmental decree, I assume that some of those Soros-supported NGOs will start legal proceedings against it.

May 2, 2017

Jobbik’s Gábor Vona and his Hanukkah greetings

Today Ákos Hadházy, co-chair of LMP, managed to retain his position despite opposition from András Schiffer and the admittedly ineffectual smear campaign of the Fidesz-inspired media. Hadházy’s internal critics accused him of jeopardizing LMP’s firm policy of not cooperating with any other party when he talked about the necessity of dialogue among opposition forces.

I’m convinced that deep down Hadházy knows that the party’s current strategy is doomed to failure, but with a brave face he is trying to pretend otherwise. At the press conference after the party congress Bernadett Szél somewhat pointedly remarked that the party’s election strategy had already been decided earlier: LMP will be on its own at next year’s election because “there is no party in parliament that LMP could work with.” Hadházy took the easy way out by emphasizing that LMP doesn’t want to attract voters from the left but rather “hopes to convince voters of the government party that change is necessary.”

Now to the main topic of today’s post.

A few weeks ago the government launched a smear campaign against Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, which, as I indicated earlier, didn’t achieve its aim. In fact, the methods used to demonize Vona were so primitive and base that I got the distinct impression that the campaign actually resulted in some sympathy for Vona, even on the left.

Thus, new tactics were required, which Gábor Vona himself offered to Fidesz when he decided to write Hanukkah greetings to the various Jewish religious communities, including Slomó Köves’s Chabad-based Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation. Köves is a supporter of Orbán. Shortly after the formation of the second Orbán government he became chief rabbi of the Hungarian armed forces.

Vona’s Hanukkah greetings were obviously part of Jobbik’s new strategy, which includes shedding the party’s anti-Semitic past. The problem is that that past was laden with so many sins against Hungarian Jews that a quick turnaround couldn’t be accepted by Köves or any other Jewish religious leaders. Köves wrote a lengthy letter in which he listed some of Jobbik’s most outrageous anti-Semitic statements. After a few famous sayings from the Old Testament, such as “The tongue has the power of life and death,” Köves suggested that instead of sending Hanukkah greetings, Jobbik leaders should voice their new convictions, if they are genuine, at forums where previously “not light, but hatred, ignominy, and darkness reigned.”

Köves made his letter public, which in turn elicited a public response from Vona. Perhaps the most interesting part of the letter is Vona’s explanation of how he ended up on the wrong side. He “inherited” his anti-Semitism because he found himself in an environment in which “one side called Hungarians Nazis, while the other labeled Jews traitors.” Since then, he “has come to the realization that this doesn’t lead anywhere.”

Vona’s answer didn’t satisfy the Jewish community, which was justifiably offended by his occasional juxtaposition of Hungarians and Jews instead of Christian and Jewish Hungarians. At the same time, it also outraged the more radical members of Jobbik who, I’m convinced, have been getting ample support in their opposition to Vona’s leadership from Fidesz.

Origo has been closely following the reverberations within Jobbik after the Hanukkah affair. The first story of some import came from Vecsés, a town just outside the city limits of Budapest. Vecsés at one point was the center of the Army of Outlaws movement, whose leader is a friend of Gábor Vona. Otherwise, Jobbik claims that the party and this neo-Nazi group have nothing to do with one another. On the local level, however, there seems to be cooperation despite the denial. Or, at least this used to be the case. The only Jobbik member of the town council was, or perhaps still is, affiliated with the Army of Outlaws. This man, Imre Orbán, has a reputation for being a troublemaker and has distinguished himself as a fouled-mouthed anti-Semite. This time he placed a post on Vecsés’s Jobbik Facebook page in which he accused Gábor Vona of making a fool of Jobbik members by turning to the rabbi with his apologies. He added some four-letter words in his discussion of Hanukkah. This incident was taken seriously by the party and Vona promised to investigate.

The official “state news” Híradó reported a few days ago that the Jobbik leadership in Vámosmikola, a village of 1,600 inhabitants, also criticized the leadership because of the Hanukkah greetings and the subsequent exchange of letters. Jobbik cannot be strong in Vámosmikola since in the 2014 municipal elections it didn’t even have a candidate for mayor or the town council, but even the smallest protest is big news in the right-wing press.

Pesti Srácok gleefully reported that a former member of the Magyar Gárda, once the paramilitary arm of Jobbik, since dismantled, demanded the vest that was part of their uniform from Vona, who proudly wore it at the opening of parliament in 2010. By trying to build bridges between Jews and the party, Vona “became unworthy” of this precious vest, claimed the former member of the Magyar Gárda.

Yesterday Magyar Idők called attention to a demonstration of disappointed Jobbik members that will take place in Debrecen, where the organizers are expecting Jobbik sympathizers from four counties. These people not only complain about Vona’s Hanukkah letter but also about Jobbik’s abandonment of its earlier radical political strategy. A closer reading of the article, however, reveals that most of these people are no longer members of the party. As the chief organizer, Erika Ulics, a lawyer, explains, 35-40 local leaders who will gather in Debrecen already left the party after Vona, in 2014, decided to scuttle the party’s former ideals. Ulics herself was expelled from the party, allegedly because she leaked inside information to Népszabadság.

Ulics, by the way, is a notorious neo-Nazi and an admirer of Ferenc Szálasi, who was executed for war crimes in 1946. In addition, she is a racist who suggested that all Gypsies should be forced to join the army and attack Romania. “If we win, Transylvania is ours. If we lose, Hungary is ours.” Those with strong stomachs should visit the news sites Cink and 4024 for more quotations from this vicious neo-Nazi and anti-Semite.

The government-sponsored sites are so eager to spread news of the imminent collapse of Jobbik that they are resorting to fiction. According to alfahir.hu, Jobbik’s official site 888.hu reported that the entire ten-man Jobbik group in Nemeshetés, population 320, resigned in protest over Vona’s new pro-Jewish policies. It turned out that Jobbik doesn’t have a local cell in the village. Since then, the article has been taken offline.

Yesterday afternoon Ulics’s demonstration did take place. It is hard to tell from the picture just how many people attended, but as far as I can judge, there were mighty few. It certainly didn’t shake Jobbik to its very foundations as, I’m sure, some Fidesz leaders hoped.

The sign, by the way, is an Albert Wass quotation: “The surest weapon against mendacity and falsehood is truthfulness. This is our weapon.” And one shouldn’t miss the doctored photo of Gábor Vona and Ágnes Heller walking hand in hand. It is unlikely that Heller received this distinction because these people are such admirers of her accomplishments as a philosopher.

All in all, I tend to agree with the political scientist Attila Ágh, who in a recent interview said that Vona’s new strategy, for the time being at least, hasn’t resulted in any spectacular growth in the party’s popularity. On the other hand, it hasn’t collapsed either. The opposition to Vona is small, and he still has the party leadership behind him. Most supporters have remained faithful to the party, but it is difficult to predict whether Vona’s new strategy can achieve its aim of attracting voters from the left and from the large group of the undecided.

January 15, 2017

Blueprint for character assassination: The case of Ákos Hadházy

In a piece I wrote for the Christmas issue of Népszava I described Ákos Hadházy as “a very sympathetic man who unfortunately has chosen the wrong party.” It now seems that his colleagues in LMP, with substantial help from Fidesz, are doing their best to end his career as co-chairman of his party.

Let’s start with Hadházy’s “friends” within LMP. On January 4 Magyar Idők reported that Antal Csárdi, LMP’s candidate for the mayoralty of Budapest in 2014, will challenge the newly elected Ákos Hadházy. Csárdi explained that he had been toying with the idea of running for the co-chairmanship right after the resignation of András Schiffer but decided against it, wanting to see in what direction Hadházy would take the party. Obviously, Csárdi doesn’t like Hadházy’s friendly relations with the other opposition parties and thinks that “the independence of the party should be more strongly emphasized.” A few days later, in an interview with András Stump, he was even more explicit. As a faithful “Schiffer man,” he stressed that the “independence of the party” is “the legacy of András Schiffer” and must not be abandoned. “When Ákos keeps talking about dialogue with the left-wing parties, when he doesn’t unequivocally exclude cooperation with them, he does harm to LMP.” The leading lights of LMP, including András Schiffer, obviously want to get rid of Hadházy.

Although Csárdi in his interview said that he doesn’t consider Hadházy’s anti-corruption work all that important, Fidesz thinks otherwise. Shortly after the holidays Origo came out with articles that tried to blacken Hadházy’s name. The first stab was a dud, but about two weeks later “investigative journalists” in the pay of the government tried again. I guess they needed time to gather all sorts of unsubstantiated stories about the “Hadházy clan,” as they call Hadházy and his family.

First, let me summarize the bare facts. Hadházy’s father, Árpád Hadházy, is also a veterinarian. He works as a toxicological specialist for the agribusiness Szekszárd Zrt. owned by Baron Georg (György) Twickel, son of the late Countess Mária Terézia Zichy. In addition, he is the county chairman of the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture.  He grows wine on 6.5 hectares, which he purchased over the years, some of which he planted himself.

Origo presumably stumbled on an article in the local online news site teol.hu, which reported that the Szekszárd chairman of Jobbik had accused the elder Hadházy of buying land through proxies. The initial Origo story was feeble. The story was not really about Hadházy but about his boss Georg Twickel, who apparently is known around Szekszárd as “the green baron.” He was the one who was accused of buying land at auctions, apparently using his employees as cover. The only connection Origo could come up with between Ákos Hadházy and Twickel was that Hadházy and his wife were “friends” with a certain Mrs. Gescheidt on Facebook, whose husband “was connected” to Twickel.

Four minutes after the publication of this article, Ákos Hadházy replied. He stated that he has “no connection with von Twickel, a dual Hungarian-German citizen,” who is his father’s employer. As far as he knows, Twickel and his mother had the right of first refusal on those lands that have now been auctioned off to others under the program “Land for Farmers,” and therefore Twickel has legitimate grievances. Otherwise, Hadházy reiterated that his father still has only 6.5 hectares. Well, one couldn’t do much with this story.

Ákos Hadházy

After two weeks of silence, the onslaught, such as it was, began. First, on TV2’s news, called “Tények.” That’s a real laugh since “tények” means “facts” in Hungarian, and ever since Andy Vajna purchased TV2 Tények has become notorious for distorting the facts. TV2’s shot across the bow missed its target by a mile. The most it could come up with was two young employees of Twickel who were allegedly used as proxies for Twickel’s purchases. As an attack on Hadházy, it was totally beside the point.

Ripost then came out with an article that dwelt on Hadházy’s “darned expensive hobby.” He has a pilot’s license and “flies here and there with a private plane, which is harmful to the environment.” This is how he provokes his party. Moreover, the only way Hadházy has enough money for his hobby is from his family’s shady business practices. This accusation was completely unfounded. In fact, those who watched “Private Sphere” on ATV could see Hadházy pulling out a rickety-looking little plane built in 1965 which new cost about 50 million. It isn’t even his; it is owned by a club. Hadházy only rents it for about 20,000 forints an hour here and there.

By yesterday Origo discovered that the real culprit of the Hadházy story is Ákos’s mother. “At the end of 2015 she wanted to acquire 150 hectares of land,” which it seems she never got, but it still cost her 30 million forints to bid for the property. Moreover, Mrs. Hadházy’s lawyer was also the lawyer of “the right-hand man of Georg Albert Freiherr von Twickel, Tolna County’s green baron.” And, as if it mattered at all, the article pointed out that this “right-hand man” bought 223 hectares for almost 617 million forints. Of course, none of this has anything to do with either Mrs. Árpád Hadházy or her son. The journalists of Origo were also extremely sloppy in trying to piece together a bunch of lies about the Hadházy family. For example, they misunderstood Ákos’s comments about the right of first refusal of Twickel and his mother and attributed it to Ákos Hadházy and his mother. Since the LMP politician considers the whole program of “Land to the Farmers” a sham, they said, he has completely discredited himself because he and his family think of themselves as victims of the program.

This article also tried to prove that the Hadházys had lied about the size of their landholdings. Instead of 6.5 hectares, they actually own 14 hectares. Origo also found 6 hectares of forest in the possession of Mrs. Árpád Hadházy. Thus, Origo concluded, just in 2015 and 2016 the Hadházy family spent 50 million forints on land purchases, “and if Mrs. Árpád Hadházy had managed to buy 150 hectares they would have had to borrow 270 million.” But, of course, she didn’t.

That was not enough. Magyar Idők found a neighbor whom Ákos Hadházy allegedly wanted to turn out from his apartment by forcing him to pay half a million forints for work done on the roof. Of course, the poor man had no money to pay, at which point the heartless and ruthless Hadházy couple simply turned off the water supply to the old man’s apartment.

At this point Hadházy explained a few things on his Facebook page.  “Unfortunately neither Origo nor TV2 could show me where my father’s 50 hectares are.” His mother did inherit 4.5 hectares of land in Hódmezővásárhely 20 years ago but left it in the possession of of his grandmother. The forest turned out to be a black locust (akác) grove which indeed his parents bought last year and which he didn’t know about. And, he added with a smiley face, “they caught me.” As for the neighbor, the roof had to be fixed and the owner of a small apartment in the building refused to pay his share. Hadházy offered him a contract for support for life in lieu of the price of his share of the cost, which he didn’t accept. As for the water, the Hadházy’s bathroom was being modernized and the plumber closed off a pipe which, as it turned out, supplied the old man’s apartment. As a result of this mistake it was also discovered that Hadházy’s neighbor had been paying nothing for water for the last ten years since the pipe was connected to the Hadházy’s water supply. At this point, Hadházy paid for the work to restore water to the neighbor’s apartment. As it stands, the Hadházys are still paying for the man’s water.

I know this has been a long story, but it tells a lot about the methods of the Fidesz government media. Hadházy is getting under Fidesz’s skin. He is dogged and refuses to give up on his corruption cases, which are getting closer and closer to the top. Therefore, somehow he must be shown to be corrupt himself. That seems to be a tall order.

January 12, 2017

How not to pick a constitutional judge: LMP’s choices I

Parties of the democratic opposition are up in arms. They are outraged at the assistance LMP extended to Fidesz to score an important parliamentary victory, the approval of four new judges for the Constitutional Court.

MSZP in the last minute tried to delay the inevitable by instructing its representative on the nominating committee to resign ahead of the vote. With his resignation the committee, which according to house rules must have at least nine members, no longer had a quorum. The MSZP tactic might have been clever, but the socialists didn’t count on Fidesz’s total disregard for rules and regulations. The majority party could have opted to get another member to replace MSZP’s representative and, let’s say a week later, finalize the nominations. No, they simply went ahead. This time not even Gergely Gulyás, Fidesz’s legal magician, could give a half-believable explanation for the vote’s alleged legality. Because of the decision to go ahead with the nominations despite the lack of a quorum, the opposition parties consider the entire procedure by which these four people were appointed illegitimate.

The Károly Eötvös Intézet, the liberal legal think tank, hasn’t changed its opinion in the last year. Just as in January, the legal scholars working there consider LMP’s decision the worst possible move. Their position is that the Constitutional Court ever since its enlargement with four Fidesz-appointed judges has not been an independent court but an arm of Fidesz’s political will. It no longer fulfills its function. As it stands, there are seven judges who will always vote in favor of the government while four on occasion will express a contrary opinion. The four new judges, considered to be “conservative,” will make the situation even worse. And no judge will have to retire from the court before 2023.

That leads me to the problem of vetting nominees. It has happened in the past, when all parties participated in the nominating process, that the socialist-liberal nominee turned out to be much more conservative than anticipated. One reason for these “mistakes” is the lack of a body of legal work on the basis of which the candidate’s legal philosophy could be judged. A good example of this was the choice of Mihály Bihari by MSZP and SZDSZ. Although he had a law degree, he had worked as a political scientist. There was no reliable way to assess his legal views. A somewhat similar situation occurred when Fidesz nominated István Stumpf, again a political scientist, to the court in 2010. Judging by his past, he should have been an absolutely safe choice from Viktor Orbán’s point of view. After all, Stumpf served as Orbán’s chief of staff between 1998 and 2002. But he turned out to be much less reliable than expected. The same problem exists with people who have been practicing judges and have no published work on the basis of which one could assess their legal thinking. Among the new appointees Ildikó Marosi falls into this category. She has been working as a judge, dealing with administrative and labor cases.

Although all opposition parties are highly critical of LMP’s role in this affair, the Demokratikus Koalíció is the most outspoken in its condemnation of the party. Csaba Molnár, one of the deputy chairmen of DK, tore into Ákos Hadházy on ATV’s “Szabad szemmel” (Open eyes). It quickly became apparent that Hadházy had not the foggiest idea about the legal views of the nominees his predecessor, András Schiffer, had picked.

molnar-hadhazy2

Csaba Molnár and Ákos Hadházy on ATV’s “Szabad szemmel”

A lot of people, including me, hoped that under the leadership of Hadházy LMP would be more willing to cooperate with the other opposition parties. I remember vividly when he announced that any kind of a deal or coalition with Fidesz is absolutely out of the question as long as he is the co-chairman of LMP. Hadházy normally makes a very good impression on people. He comes across as a modest, earnest, idealistic man who isn’t quite at home in the world of politics. Unfortunately, he is also naïve. He doesn’t seem to understand how differences in legal philosophy shape how judges interpret the constitution. When Molnár tried to explain to him that at least three of the nominees come from the conservative legal camp, which would further strengthen the pro-Fidesz majority, Hadházy naively shot back: “And conservative people cannot be honest?”

In any case, poor Hadházy was demolished under the weight of the facts DK gathered on the legal and political past of the nominees. Hadházy could only mumble: “Well, I didn’t know that, I will have to check on this.” This was Hadházy’s answer to Molnár’s claim that Bálint Schanda’s views on abortion are so extreme that, if it depended on him, he would forbid pharmacists to fill valid prescriptions signed by a physician for the morning-after pill.

The fact is that Schanda writes almost exclusively on legal questions concerning religion. The list of his publications is a mile long, and some of them are available online. If it depended on Schanda, stores would be closed on Sundays because believers (Christians) should have the opportunity to follow the Scripture, which forbids any kind of work on the Sabbath. This is part of the freedom of religion in his opinion.

He can be critical of the government, but his criticism comes from his religious convictions and his special interest in the defense of the family. For example, he didn’t like the idea of keeping children in school all day long, which he considers to be a “left-wing notion” popular in Western Europe. That’s why he was surprised to learn that the conservative Fidesz government had decided to introduce such schools. He finds the idea of the state’s taking over the “nurturing” of children from the family unacceptable. Church schools, however, are different because the parents expressly grant the church the task of educating their children.

Schanda also liked the idea of “family electoral law.” That is, that parents, depending on the number of children they had, could have multiple votes. Admittedly, he doesn’t want Hungary to rush into being the first country in the world to introduce such a law, but “this question cannot be a taboo; it would be foolish simply to discard it without seriously considering it.” In the article he practically suggests starting preparatory work for such a piece of legislation to be introduced later. Perhaps if Ákos Hadházy took the time to read a couple of Shanda’s articles he would better understand the impact of legal philosophy on people’s daily lives.

Finally, Csaba Molnár brought up an article by Schanda that he published in Magyar Kurir, which is the official newspaper of the Conference of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops. The short article’s title was “Pope Francis and zero tolerance.” It was about the vexing question of pedophilia. Schanda explains that there is nothing new in Pope Francis’s announcement because the church has had strict laws concerned pedophilia since 2001. Zero tolerance in this case simply means that a priest accused of this particular crime is immediately suspended, which he approves of. He cautions, however, about exaggerating the problem “because according to American studies pedophilia among Catholic priests in comparison to lay teachers is infinitesimal.”

The only study on pedophilia among Catholic priests I found was from 2004. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice published a comprehensive study in which it was claimed that 4% of Catholic priests in the U.S. had sexually victimized minors in the past half century. This seems to be somewhat lower than school teachers during the same time frame. Well, “somewhat lower” is not “infinitesimally” less. Moreover, it is very possible that victims of priests are less willing to confront church authorities than victims of teachers are to go to civil authorities. But this is a small point and not an important one. What, on the other hand, I found disingenuous was his claim that “in the former socialist countries the proportion of such acts in comparison to western countries is much lower.” At this point I had to laugh. What makes Polish, Hungarian or Slovak priests less prone to committing such crimes? Their countries’ socialist past? Or, perhaps something else, like a lower rate of reporting and a higher rate of covering up cases. Schanda even tries to cast doubt on the seriousness of the very few stories that emerged in the last few years in Hungary by saying that the media used these cases to incite anti-church sentiment in the population. Moreover, he claims that these cases were exploited by political parties. Obviously, the socialist-liberal parties.

In the summer of 2011 I devoted four posts to the four Fidesz-picked judges, asking “how qualified will the new judges in the Hungarian Constitutional Court be?” I’m planning to do the same this time.

November 23, 2016