Tag Archives: András Bencsik

Hatemongers in their own words

With three weeks to go until the Hungarian referendum on refugees, the government campaign has intensified. A host of politicians and government officials, from ordinary backbenchers to the president of the country, the president of the parliament, and all the cabinet ministers, have been mobilized to spread fear of the “migrants” at town meetings. Members of the pro-government media have also been enlisted to support the government’s efforts to achieve a valid, successful referendum, which allegedly would thwart the plans of the European Commission to foist masses of unwanted people of an alien culture on Hungary. And Viktor Orbán is ready to employ the basest instruments of coercion, including blackmail.

Let’s start with his speech at the opening session of parliament on September 12. After accusing the European Union of planning to relocate “migrants” to cities under socialist leadership, he warned local politicians that “it will be decided [by this referendum] whether there will be and, if yes, where the migrant settlements will be, so [local leaders] should watch out and make sure that large numbers of people go and vote.” He added that if the local politicians don’t like this message, they shouldn’t blame him because he is only relating the words of Martin Schulz. Of course, this is not at all what Schulz said when he visited Szeged in March, one of the few socialist strongholds in Hungary. He simply said in an interview with Stern after his return from Hungary that there are places in the country which, unlike the Hungarian government, do not reject migrants. He brought up Szeged as an example of a city where “any migrant would be safe to go.” But then came an op-ed piece in the right-wing Magyar Hírlap by Ottó Nagy, who charged that László Botka, the socialist mayor of Szeged, had made a secret pact with Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz, promising them that if and when he becomes prime minister he will accommodate migrants in Szeged.

Orbán emphasized that this nationwide referendum is also thousands of local referendums, meaning that the government will judge each city, town, and village according to the outcome of the referendum. If they don’t manage to turn out the (correct) vote, they will see what will happen to them. In plain English, he is blackmailing local leaders, who in turn will most likely blackmail the inhabitants, who already fear the migrants more than the devil himself. The word is spreading: if you don’t go and vote “no” or if there are too many spoiled ballots, your city, town, or village will have thousands of migrants who will rape your girls and blow up your churches.

Not surprisingly, local governments with left or liberal leaderships were outraged, especially because the story was immediately picked up by the pro-government media. Even Fidesz mayors found it too bizarre for words. Others, often Fidesz-supported independents, objected to the pressure coming from Fidesz to add their names to the government’s locally distributed campaign literature.

I’ve already written about the pressure being applied to the Roma population, who are told that if Hungary has to admit refugees they will be deprived of government assistance. In the first place, by now there is hardly any government assistance given to anyone. Most unemployed Roma do public work for a meager salary. So, that is an idle threat. But what is a serious matter is that their eligibility for public work is determined by the mayors, who can easily pressure the local Roma to make sure they vote the right way. Otherwise, no public work. As usual, the Orbán government found its man, Attila Lakatos, the Gypsy “vajda,” a kind of leader-judge within the community, who was willing to put out the call to his fellow Gypsies “to defend our children, families, work, and the country in which we live.” He is convinced that if the “immigrants come here we will have to worry about our daughters, wives, and children because they will be unsafe.” Soon enough a number of anti-government Roma mayors got together to reject the government’s hate campaign, but I’m afraid their voices will be drowned out in the din of government propaganda reaching the majority of the Roma population.

Among the journalists of the pro-government media Zsolt Bayer is the most popular. Every locality wants him to deliver one of his inspirational lectures. His first stop was in Kecskemét, the city where Mercedes-Benz has its plant. Ironically, he delivered his hate-filled speech in the auditorium of the Piarist high school. The place was filled to the brim with people who greeted him with extended applause. After delivering the government’s favorite conspiracy theories about the forces behind the recent migration, his parting words were: “Those who don’t go and vote or who vote “yes” are traitors who cannot be called Hungarian.”

hate

Bayer’s fellow extreme right-wing journalist, András Bencsik, editor-in-chief of Demokrata, a far-right weekly, is another important spokesman for the government. Bencsik’s paper is not a Jobbik publication, though you would never know it by reading the articles published there. Bencsik and his staff are steadfast supporters of the Orbán government and Fidesz. He, alongside Bayer, was one the chief organizers of the Peace Marches staged in defense of Viktor Orbán, whom foreign governments allegedly wanted to remove from power. The marches, which were supposed to be spontaneous affairs, turned out to be government-sponsored, government-organized demonstrations to which thousands of people were bused from all over the country. Viktor Orbán was extremely grateful. He later claimed that without the organizers he would have been unceremoniously ousted. Bayer, Bencsik, and a few others saved him. So, we are talking here about an important Fidesz and Viktor Orbán supporter.

Bencsik wrote an op-ed piece titled “Where shall we put them?” He begins by explaining that if the referendum is valid and successful, there is a good likelihood that regardless of how much the Brussels bureaucrats “resort to subterfuges, they cannot disregard the highest expression of popular sovereignty.” So then the migrants will not be coming to Hungary.

But what if there is not a sufficient number of votes and the referendum is not valid? We will find ourselves in an interesting situation. According to the plans of the Union’s bureaucrats, in the first round Hungary will have to settle 13,000 people, but they have already put forward another proposal which doesn’t specify an upper limit. So, if the referendum is not valid and the judges in Strasbourg [where Hungary attacked the decision of the settlement of the 1,294 migrants] decide against us, then whether we like it or not, the migrants will be coming. Yearly at least 13,000.

How will they be divided among 3,000 Hungarian localities? These people cannot be locked up in camps because they are citizens of the Union. Clearly, they will be dispersed according to how the people in each locality voted. The towns where many people went to vote and the ratio of “nays” was high may not receive one single migrant or perhaps only a few. But where this question was not important enough for the inhabitants and they didn’t bother to answer the referendum question, in those places surely the people will not mind the arrival of happy Muslim families. There will be plenty of them.

In those towns the girls will not go out after dark. Or, if they do, they will have to be followed by three male members of the family with pitchforks in hand. Girls will not go to discos; they will not bicycle in shorts; they will not leave the house on New Year’s Eve. They will celebrate the new year in the cellar; they will not dare go to the swimming pool, but if they do, they will not wear a bathing suit. Young boys will not walk alone on the street because, after all, it is a different cultural milieu and one never knows.

All this is no joke but is taken from daily occurrences in Western Europe. There will be parts of towns where first at night, but later even during daytime it will not be advisable for a Hungarian to enter. And in time there will be explosions, assassinations, constant tension, jitteriness, and so on.

This is what’s at stake in the referendum that will take place in three weeks. Either Europe will be the victim of forcible change of epic proportions and a thousand-year-old civilization will irretrievably fade away or Europe will resist the pressure and defend itself.

This is a typical anti-refugee message of the Orbán government. It is one thing to read in general about the intensity of Hungarian government propaganda and an entirely different thing to be confronted with an example of the message the Orbán propagandists have been delivering for well over a year. Whipping up hatred day in and day out on state television and radio, even during the Olympic Games, the government has succeeded in gripping the population in a state of mass hysteria. And the effects of this indoctrination will not disappear after the referendum. They will linger for many years to come, reinforcing and amplifying an already lamentable Hungarian xenophobia.

September 18, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s education system “carries serious political risks”

If Zoltán Balog, minister in charge of education, thought that the teachers, who have had enough of Viktor Orbán’s educational experiments, would be appeased by promises to lift some of the administrative burdens that make the lives of both teachers and students a living hell, he was sorely mistaken. The government is now groping in the dark for some kind of solution. I have the feeling that they still haven’t realized that the government will have to offer substantial concessions to avoid a major confrontation.

The administration is promising to call together representatives of teachers and students to find a common solution to the problems. But how can they trust Balog and his undersecretary, Mrs. Czunyi, when the meeting is supposed to take place at the same time as the demonstration organized by the teachers’ unions? Or when the ministry instructed schools to hold parent-teacher conferences today, when demonstrations were scheduled in several cities? Surely, under these circumstances the good faith of the government can be seriously questioned. Or, adding to their sins, when Pesti Srácok, which 444.hu calls “the revolver newspaper of the Fidesz caucus,” suspects that it is György Soros and Ferenc Gyurcsány who are behind the “teachers’ revolt.” How? One of the organizers was once a member of a group that in 2012 received a grant from the Open Society Foundation. Gyurcsány is implicated, according Pesti Srácok, because one of the members of Oktatói Hálózat (Faculty Net) of university professors that supports the teachers is Zsuzsa Ferge, the “favorite sociologist” of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Incredible, isn’t it?

And if that weren’t enough, András Bencsik, editor of the far-right weekly Demokrata and one of the chief organizers of the Peace Marches that allegedly saved Viktor Orbán from being ousted by foreign powers, accused Piroska Galló, head of the Pedagógusok Szakszervezete (PSZ), of being the daughter of the notorious security chief of the Rákosi era, Gábor Péter (1906-1993). Bencsik didn’t bother to check the most basic facts before he spread this lie all over the Facebook. In reality, Ms Galló’s father was Ferenc Péter, a university professor, and not Gábor Péter, who together with his wife was serving a life sentence at the time of Galló’s birth.

While I was focusing on the brewing teachers’ revolt and the government’s attack on the judiciary, I neglected to talk about another rash announcement by János Lázár. For the sake of efficiency and economy he wants to eliminate thirteen and amalgamate another sixty ancillary institutions. These institutions are a mixed bag, but many of them are important independent organizations supporting the various ministries. The researchers of these institutes are supposed to give objective, honest, professional advice to the civil servants and politicians working in the ministries. If most of these institutions are placed under the direct supervision of the ministries, their independence will no longer be assured.

Let’s take the Oktatáskutató és Fejlesztő Intézet (Educational Research and Development Institute / OFI), which is one of the think tanks destined to be shut down. One wonders whether the decision has anything to do with a report OFI released last year, which can be read in its entirety here. In early January Undersecretary Czunyi talked only about reorganizing OFI. On January 5 she announced that great changes will take place in the ancillary institutions dealing with educational matters. For example, OFI’s role will be limited to the development of textbooks. A month later Lázár was already talking about the elimination of the entire institute.

What prompted this decision? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the criticism that can be read on practically every page of the study. The researchers wanted to assess the results of the nationalization of schools and the creation of the Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ (KLIK), which is supposed to run 4,000 some schools across the country. The authors’ conclusion is devastating. Those who know the language should take a look at the whole report. Here I don’t want to go into the details, which are pretty similar to the complaints of the teachers and students, but I will call attention to one warning: “The passive-aggressive overcentralized system carries serious political risks.” The researchers of this ancillary institution seemed to have the well-being of the government in mind. They warned the ministry of the political dangers inherent in the system Viktor Orbán and Rózsa Hoffmann created in the last five or six years. What was the government’s answer? Let’s just close the whole institute.

The suspicion is of long standing: Rózsa Hoffmann and Piroska Galló in October 2011

The suspicion is of long standing: Rózsa Hoffmann and Piroska Galló in October 2011

As I said at the beginning, we don’t know how the government will handle this problem. Of course, a lot will depend on the strength of the movement, which local Fidesz authorities are trying to dampen. For example, where Fidesz is very strong, like in Debrecen, the teachers either don’t want or don’t dare to join their colleagues elsewhere.

Piroska Galló, the leader of PSZ who was severely criticized in Magyar Narancs for being far too malleable, is showing her radical side at the moment. PSZ prepared a list of 25 demands, which basically call for dismantling the entire edifice built in accord with Viktor Orbán’s educational vision. Right now she insists that the government accept the package in toto, a demand that most likely will have to be trimmed down. The question is by how much? Given Viktor Orbán’s personality, I suspect that his first reaction will be to reject most of these demands because he finds it very difficult to admit his mistakes. But if I were in his shoes, I would keep in mind what the researchers of OFI predicted already last year–that his educational system carries huge political risks. And after all, for him, staying in power is priority number one.

February 3, 2016

Foreign and domestic criticism of Viktor Orbán’s handling of the refugee crisis

While we are waiting for the outcome of the German and Austrian decisions to temporarily close their borders, let’s move on to two other topics. One is the diplomatic squabble between Austria and Hungary and the other is the pro-Fidesz demonstration against Magyar Narancs. The weekly publication appeared on Thursday with a portrait of Viktor Orbán with a mustache made out of the kind of wire used in the fence along the Serb-Hungarian border. The mustache bore a suspicious resemblance to the one Hitler made infamous. A day later Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann compared Orbán’s refugee policy to the Holocaust in an interview with Der Spiegel. On the very same day the Serbian Blic published a picture of the Hungarian prime minister without a mustache but with two words under his nose: “Orbán, this is shameful.” The paper called him “an evil neighbor [who] sends the police after the refugees, keeps them in dog crates, and feeds them as if they were pigs.”

Let’s start with the Austrian chancellor. It is no secret that Werner Faymann finds Viktor Orbán’s politics unacceptable. Ever since the outbreak of the European refugee crisis Faymann has delivered pointed messages to the Hungarian government. He was perhaps the only European politician who openly talked about limiting the financial contributions of the EU to those countries that are unwilling to cooperate in solving the current crisis. He also made clear that he consider the right of asylum a human right that cannot be taken away from the asylum seekers. The result was the cancellation of a meeting between Orbán and Faymann that was originally scheduled for last week. As it turned out, the two men talked on the telephone several times, but these conversations couldn’t have gone well because last Thursday János Lázár in his weekly press conference called Faymann’s behavior “more than flesh and blood can bear.”

And at that point the Hungarians had not yet read Faymann’s Spiegel interview that appeared on September 12, in which Faymann said: “Refugees stuck in trains, in the belief that they would go somewhere else entirely, bring back memories of the darkest period of our continent.” And he continued: “To divide human rights by religions, is intolerable.” In his opinion, Orbán is pursuing “a deliberate policy of determent.” Orbán’s Hungary as well as other East European countries should be financially penalized, “for example by cutting funds from the structural funds that benefit primarily eastern European member states.” In return, Szijjártó called Faymann a man who is running amuck. He called the chancellor a liar. The spokesman for the party demanded an apology, not just to Viktor Orbán but to the Hungarian nation. The Austrian ambassador to Hungary, for the second time, was called in to the ministry of foreign affairs and trade. The Hungarian ambassador to Austria also had to appear, not to one of the undersecretaries of the foreign ministry but to Chancellor Faymann himself. So, this is where Austro-Hungarian relations are at the moment.

And then there is Magyar Narancs‘s mustache story that greatly upset the leaders of CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum). This is an organization that claims to be an independent body but that just happens to support the government. It is financed by taxpayer money. It was CÖF that began an anti-Bajnai-Gyurcsány-Mesterházy campaign before the election campaign could legally begin because it was a civic organization to which the election laws were not applicable. One of the leaders of CÖF is Zsolt Bayer, an anti-Semitic scribbler whose opinion pieces in Magyar Hírlap are disgraceful examples of the worst features of the Orbán regime. Another leader is András Bencsik, who just the other day wrote a post on Facebook in which he defended Petra László, the camerawoman who physically attacked a refugee and his son, as someone who was just helping the work of the police. These are the people who in the past organized huge demonstrations they called “peace marches.” The goal of the demonstrations was to bolster the sagging popularity of Viktor Orbán and show the world that, contrary to most political analysts, the Hungarian prime minister had tremendous support. Hundreds of buses delivered people to these demonstrations from all over the country. According to rumor, they were paid and fed for their trouble.

Well, it seems that CÖF, which even used SMS to gather supporters to demonstrate in front of the editorial offices of Magyar Narancs, couldn’t rally their usual 300,000 people. This time they had to be satisfied with about 3,000 noisy people who enthusiastically demonstrated against any refugee who would dare set foot on Hungarian soil. Zsolt Bayer, who was one of the speakers, demanded a European Union-wide referendum on the issue. He is convinced that out of the 508 million “natives,” 450 million are against allowing these refugees to settle among them. “The Hungarian prime minister represents their opinion and tells the truth on their behalf. He says that which, because of these people’s ‘opinion terror,’ nobody dares say.” I guess “these people” are the liberals Magyar Narancs represents. CÖF promised to organize a new “peace march.”

Today there were two other demonstrations. One was organized by Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció and the other by Együtt. First DK supporters listened to Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech, and an hour later the Együtt demonstration began, which DK supporters joined. Népszabadság‘s headline read: “Thousands for Hungary’s humanity.” The speeches by the party leaders were coordinated and focused on the inhumanity of Viktor Orbán and his administration. The demonstrations, though not huge, were impressive given the general anti-refugee sentiment in the country.

Együtt-DK joint demonstration, September 13, 2015

Együtt-DK joint demonstration, September 13, 2015

Who knows what next morning will bring. Who knows whether the introduction of a state of emergency will stop the flow of people across the border. I doubt that it will. And then the world will get to see Hungarian summary justice in action.

John McCain: “A nation that’s on the verge of ceding its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator”

Viktor Orbán must have had a rough couple of days. First came the bad news that Vladimir Putin had cancelled the Southern Stream project, and then yesterday John McCain, the Republican nominee for president in 2008 and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lashed out at him. In a speech delivered prior to the vote on Colleen Bell’s appointment to be the next U.S. ambassador to Hungary he gave a long list of objections to her appointment. The upshot was that McCain considers Hungary to be a strategically important country where a seasoned diplomat should head the mission instead of a political appointee.

Whoever collected information on Hungarian politics for McCain did a good job. Anyone who’s interested in knowing exactly what transpired can watch the video. The passage that caused outrage in Hungarian government circles came toward the end of McCain’s venting of his frustration:

We’re about to vote on a totally unqualified individual to be ambassador to a nation which is very important to our national security interest. Her qualifications are as a producer of the television soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful,” contributed $800,000 to Obama in the last election and bundled more than $2.1 million for President Obama’s reelection effort. I am not against political appointees. I understand how the game is played, but here we are, a nation that’s on the verge of ceding its sovereignty to a neofascist dictator getting in bed with Vladimir Putin and we’re going to send the producer of “The Bold and the Beautiful.”

Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary in charge of foreign communication, is usually the first to raise his voice. He announced that “Hungarian diplomacy will immediately get in touch with American senator John McCain,” but he added that from the text it is clear that McCain was not talking about the Hungarian prime minister but about Vladimir Putin. Kovács’s most likely intentional misreading of the text could not be maintained for long because several Hungarian newspapers and television stations got in touch with the communication director of Senator McCain, who affirmed that there was no mistake. The senator was indeed talking about Viktor Orbán.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade moved into action and called in M. André Goodfriend, the U.S. chargé d’affaires, to tell him, I assume, how wrong McCain was about Viktor Orbán. Considering that McCain is a Republican, I can’t quite see what Goodfriend as a representative of the Democratic Obama administration is supposed to do about McCain’s assessment of the Hungarian political situation.

And yesterday Péter Szijjártó announced that McCain must have based his opinion about the Hungarian prime minister on the antagonistic media because if he knew the real situation he would never call Orbán a neo-fascist dictator. The Hungarian response to any negative reaction to the Orbán government is always the same: The Hungarian citizens voted for this government three times this year and everybody should respect their decisions. Szijjártó also indicated that the Hungarian Embassy in Washington will get in touch with the staff of Senator McCain and will inquire about “the background of his statements” concerning the Hungarian prime minister.

Gergely Gulyás, a member of parliament and one of the deputy presidents of the assembly, was blunt. According to him, the “veteran senator for a short period of time lost his critical faculties.” Some pro-government journalists also used strong words. András Stump of Válasz called the 78-year-old senator “senile, ancient” (agg, vén) and not to be taken seriously. András Bencsik, editor-in-chief of the far-right Demokrata, called him an idiot. Another right-wing commentator again alluded to McCain as being incoherent during the session. But he did not stop there. He accused McCain of being far too friendly with Ukrainian Nazi politicians. And then he came to the crux of the matter: why is Hungary suddenly so important to the United States? Because of the United States’ interest in selling American shale gas to Europe. The Americans have become worried about Hungary being a middleman between Russia and Europe, which may result in their supplying all of Europe with Russian gas instead of their own. Otherwise, all the rest about democracy, about the illiberal state, about NGOs is of no interest to the United States. They are only excuses that mask the real intent.

John McCain in Budapest, January 2014 Despite the compulsory smiles McCain was not too happy even then

John McCain in Budapest, January 2014
Despite the compulsory smiles, McCain was not too happy even then

Of course, this story our man concocted is total nonsense, but what is really worrisome is that the official advisers to the Hungarian government, the great “political scientists” of Századvég, also seem to think along the same lines. Yesterday I cited some foreign policy experts who actually know their subject but who have been dropped from the ministries or, if they work in independent research institutes, are never consulted. On the other hand, we know that Századvég has allegedly supplied the government in the past four and a half years with thousands and thousands of pages of advice on domestic and foreign policy strategy with which, it seems, the Orbán government is completely satisfied. What kind of advice is supplied to the Hungarian government is well demonstrated by an article by Gábor G. Fodor, the strategic director of Századvég, which was published on December 1 in Napi Gazdaság, the paper owned by Századvég.

Very briefly summarized, the United States’ interest in Hungary and the East-Central European region is dictated by one consideration only: getting rid of the Russian monopoly over the gas supply in the region. All the attacks on Hungary in the last few months have served this purpose. The U.S. has a master plan: (1) Ukraine must fall into the sphere of American influence; (2) the United States wants to stop the building of the Southern Stream; and (3) the Americans intend to prevent the Russian purchase of the MOL shares in the Croatian oil company INA. The goal is “a total change of monopoly of gas supply in the region.” Hungary is at the center of this master plan and surely this is why Hungary suddenly became such an important country for the United States. Hence the attacks against the Orbán government.

Can you imagine what kind of Hungarian foreign policy can be based on G. Fodor’s “analysis”? I shudder to think.

I am not at all sure that Hungarian diplomacy in its present state can successfully navigate through the perilous sea Hungary managed to get itself into thanks to the brilliant strategy of Viktor Orbán. Until recently the Orbán government was certain that a Republican administration would have closer and warmer relations with them, but after McCain’s outburst they must realize that even if the Republicans win the next election Hungary will remain a pariah in Washington, unless some miracle happens in Budapest. Like Viktor Orbán vanishes from Hungarian politics. And that at the moment does not look likely.

Viktor Orbán is not only illiterate when it comes to computers. What about diplomacy?

As you know, I was contemplating writing something about the internet tax, but I felt I had to deal with the further reverberations of Hungary’s shaky relations with the U.S. Now, it seems, the two topics have converged with M. André Goodfriend’s appearance at the demonstration last night.

So, let’s start with the demonstration itself. I considered the crowd very large, especially in comparison to similar gatherings when the issues were purely political. Abstract concepts don’t move crowds in Hungary. The reason might be the low level of political culture and sophistication, the lack of a sustained democratic past, and perhaps even the sinking living standards that force people to concentrate on sheer survival.

I watched the entire demonstration and was impressed with Balázs Gulyás, the organizer and speaker. Although he tried to keep the focus on a single issue, the internet tax, it was clear from the first moment that the demonstration was much more than that. It was a rejection of the kind of life Viktor Orbán and his minions are offering Hungarians, especially young people. I especially liked a phrase in Gulyás’s speech–“we only turned the clock back, not the century”–referring to going off Daylight Savings Time the night before. The demonstrators obviously knew full well that the internet tax is just a symptom of the many anti-modern moves that make the Orbán regime a retrograde construct that can only lead the country to disaster. We are already pretty close.

Another welcome feature of the demonstration was a healthy mix of the young, middle-aged, and old. Yes, I know that young people are not interested in politics, and I wish this weren’t the case, but one must face facts. Unfortunately, by and large this is the situation all over the world. But those young people who went out yesterday realize that this government does not serve their needs. They consider Viktor Orbán a man of the past, an old fuddy-dud who is computer illiterate. Someone who is never seen with a smart phone. Someone who “cannot send an e-mail.” The boys–as longstanding acquaintances call the Fidesz founders–are looking old and tired. Although Orbán is only 50, he is “not with it.” Something happened to these young revolutionaries of the 1980s over the last twenty years. Time has left them behind, and they want to foist their outdated ideas and outlook on life on the new generation.

Balázs Gulyás is telling the truth: not a computer in sight

Balázs Gulyás is telling the truth: not a computer in sight

On the other hand, the American chargé d’affaires, André Goodfriend, seemed to be very much with it as he stood in the crowd with a backpack. As he said in one of his many recent interviews, he spends a great deal of time on the streets of Budapest. A planned demonstration on the internet tax was certainly something he thought he ought to see in person. I’m also sure that he has the State Department’s backing for both his appearances at demonstrations and his presence on Twitter. There a so-called conversation developed between the American chargé and Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary for international communication. I find Kovács unsuited for the job he holds, but perhaps it is fitting that such a man represents the Orbán government abroad. He is a perfect embodiment of this aggressive, crude regime.

Here are a couple of tweets, starting with

Goodfriend:

            “Interesting to see the nature of crowds in Budapest. Internet tax march seemed large & orderly w/good police support.” Then later: “Seeing the news reports of vandalism during the march as well, which I condemn. Not as orderly as it seemed where I stood.”

Kovács:

            “Checkin’ the mood, André?! @a demonstration organized by MSZP and liberals’?! As Chargé d’Affaires? Interesting, Eh?”

Goodfriend:

            “Absolutely. I’ve also checked the mood at the Peace Marches, and at numerous other events organized in Hungary.”

Kovács:

            “Are you sure that’s the wisest thing in this histerically stirred-up atmosphere while you vindicate to be a key actor? Eh?!”

Goodfriend:

            “There’s always a choice between hiding away, & getting out to see what’s happening. I try to hear the full range of perspectives.”

Kovács:

            “Sure ‘hearing’ and influencing does make a large difference.”

Goodfriend:

            “When I want to influence, I speak. Otherwise, I’m listening. Sometimes there’s not enough listening.”

Kovács:

            “That we’ve learned through the past couple of days. Sometimes there’s too much ‘demonstration.'”

Goodfriend:

            “So, now is the time to draw lessons from the discussion, and follow words with constructive, meaningful deeds.”

Kovács:

            “Surely, giving an ultimatum by demonstrators to a govt is no ground for constructivity. Good luck with friends like that…”

Goodfriend:

            “Some people see ‘ultimatum’ others see a proposition awaiting response as part of dialog. Constructive part may be the response.”

An extraordinary exchange in which Zoltán Kovács showed his true colors and the baseness of his discourse.

Meanwhile the likes of Kovács, András Bencsik, and other organizers of the Peace Marches were ready to call their 100,000 followers to defend their leader because the United States may prepare a coup against Orbán just as it did in Ukraine, they claimed. Apparently they were told to cool it because it might be taken as a sign of weakness of the all-powerful prime minister. Just as they were told to scrap a planned demonstration on behalf of the poor Russians suffering under the yoke of sanctions.

But the volume was turned up by members of the government. László Kövér last night on HírTV talked about a verbal cold war and warned the West that further criticism of Hungary might change the positive picture Hungarians have of the United States and Western Europe. He also tried to explain away Hungary’s isolation by saying that Hungary has so few friends because this is the “nature of politics.” And naturally he did not forget about the NGOs that serve foreign interests.

At the same time there are a few voices warning the government that its relations with the United States have reached a dangerous juncture. Péter Boross, prime minister for a few months in 1993-1994, came out with this observation: “The European Union and the European Parliament are terrains where the government and the prime minister can defend their actions. But the United States is different. The United States is a great power and I would not suggest getting into an argument with her. That can be dangerous for Hungary.”

Others share Boross’s view. An opinion piece in HVG was entitled “The country that came into the cold.” In another, which appeared in privatbanker.hu, a journalist is convinced that “the ice is cracking under our feet” and that Hungary’s relations with the West are shattered at their very foundations. Even in the pro-Fidesz Válasz an editorial warned that it is not a smart thing to irritate the lion. The writer found it outlandish that Tamás Deutsch, one of the veteran politicians of Fidesz and a member of the European Parliament, called André Goodfriend a fifth-rate CIA agent. The author also found Kovács’s tweets to the chargé unfortunate. Such a communication style might be acceptable in Syria and Iran, he said, but these countries do not claim to be allies and friends of the United States.

More about this topic tomorrow.

Attack on the United States and friendship with “tolerant” Russia

Don’t think that the Hungarian government’s attack on the incoming American ambassador is independent of the Hungarian-Russian deal on the Paks power plant. Oh no, both have a great deal to do with the Hungarian government’s continuing war of independence. The newest ally in this fight is the “tolerant” and democratic Russia under Vladimir Putin. At least this is what András Bencsik, one of the organizers of the Peace Marches that demonstrated against the European Union, thinks.

If you think that I’m joking, you are wrong. Serious efforts are being made by Fidesz-Jobbik supporters  to recreate the old Soviet/Russian friendship from which twenty-three years ago Hungarians were happy to escape. The Fidesz-Jobbik label is not a mistake on my part. I consider Zsolt Bayer, András Bencsik, Gábor Széles and others involved in the Peace March movement outright anti-Semite neo-Nazis. And yes, they are supporters of the present government. The two are not mutually exclusive alternatives.

It all started with the letter addressed to Colleen Bell, the U.S. ambassador designate, who was accused by Gergely Gulyás, an influential member of Fidesz and an MP, of representing the interests of the Hungarian opposition. She was told in no uncertain terms that the Hungarian people will not stand for the tutelage of a foreign power. There is even talk of dragging the new ambassador before a parliamentary committee investigating American illegal spying on Hungarian politicians, including perhaps Viktor Orbán.

Of course, we all know that Gergely Gulyás would never dare to make such a frontal attack on the United States on his own. There is no question in my mind that a vicious anti-American propaganda is under way which might be connected to the forthcoming election as well as the possible domestic opposition to the Russian-Hungarian deal on Paks. In any case, the innocent victim of the political and diplomatic game will be Colleen Bell, who has not the foggiest idea what is waiting for her. I suspect she will soon be sorry that she ever had ambassadorial ambitions.

As soon as Gulyás set the tone, everybody on the right felt free to join the offensive. Even our “moderate” János Martonyi decided to line up and move Hungary’s attack against the United States abroad. He gave an interview to the Budapest correspondent of The Wall Street Journal in which he “urged the incoming U.S. ambassador to Budapest to stay independent in her judgment after Colleen Bradley Bell voiced concerns about the state of checks and balances in Hungary and independence of some of the country’s institutions.”

Naturally, Martonyi is more diplomatic than the far-right-wing Fidesz supporters like András Bencsik who feel just as comfortable in Jobbik’s Hungarian Guard as in Fidesz (and earlier, in the case of Bencsik, in communist circles). Bencsik is a man of action. This morning he wrote a short piece on Facebook in which he announced his plans to organize another Peace March, not surprisingly a week before the election, on March 29. Of course, one goal is to fire up the core Fidesz electorate. But it will be a demonstration against the United States “which takes up the role of the Soviet Union. It doesn’t send ambassadors but arrogant regional governors, instructors, commissars to the subjugated country whose job is to relay tidbits of the ideas of the enslaved people to the heart of the empire. Their job is to force these primitive people to lead a prescribed life: ‘checks and balances and marijuana.'” The last refers to President Obama’s views on the legalization of marijuana. “In comparison Russia is the home of tolerance.”

Bencsik in this Facebook note interprets “checks and balances” as some kind of geopolitical balance that was, for example, practiced by the princes of Transylvania who maneuvered  between the Ottoman and the Habsburg Empires. With closer relations with Russia, Bencsik argues, Hungary can have a larger role to play in foreign affairs and will thus receive greater independence. Of course, not everybody will be happy with this new Russian-Hungarian friendship, just as Izsák Schulhof mourned the departure of the Turks from Buda. What? Who is this Schulhof? Bencsik, an anti-Semite, naturally found his anti-Hungarian Jew who allegedly mourned the departure of the escaping Turks from Buda in 1686. As usual, the story is not accurate. A friend of mine sent me a link to a letter of a historian of the Budapest Historical Museum which sets the story straight. It seems that these anti-Semites manage to find some usually untrue story to depict Jews as historically against the Hungarian nation. The implication of Bencsik’s reference to Schulhof is that only Jews complain about the foreign policy of Viktor Orbán which otherwise gives greater leeway for diplomatic maneuvering and therefore is beneficial to Hungary.

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Some Hungarian weeklies had fantastic covers depicting this new love affair between Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin. András Bencsik’s Magyar Demokrata, on the other hand, decided to feature the new “museum quarter” in the heart of Budapest.

Heti Válasz opted for word play on “pax vobiscum” from the Catholic mass,  meaning “peace be with you,” while Figyelő talked about “atomic power.” HVG reminded its readers of the “Eastern bloc.” I especially like Magyar Narancs’s “The country is on Putin’s hook.” The pictures appeared on 444.hu.

A new name has surfaced in connection with the Roma serial murder case

A startling piece of news appeared yesterday in Népszabadság. A young man with close ties to Fidesz might have been involved in one way or another in the murders of several Roma families which occurred between July 21, 2008 and August 3, 2009. After three years of police investigation and 186 days in court, the case was closed on August 6, 2013, when three men received life imprisonment without parole and a fourth thirteen years without the possibility of early release. No one else was ever charged.

It would take far too long to catalog all the mistakes the police and the medical authorities made during the investigation that resulted in less than complete discovery. It is very possible that in addition to the four sentenced in August others might have been involved. We don’t even know all the pertinent information about the men who were convicted. For instance, one of the culprits had apparently worked for the Katonai Biztonsági Hivatal (Office of Military Security), but the details of his employment were never completely unearthed.

The authorities never managed to discover the source of all the weapons used in these murders. Some were stolen from the collection of a hunter by three of the accused. It was known that there was another person involved in the theft, but the police investigation failed to identify him. In addition to the stolen weapons there were other guns in the three men’s possession whose origin remained a mystery. The investigators knew that the Kiss brothers, István and Árpád, tried to purchase guns in Budapest. It was in connection with this part of the investigation that the name of Omar Ádám Sayfo surfaced.

A document recently found its way to the newsroom of Népszabadság which indicates that Sayfo was, even if not a potential suspect himself, a source of information about one of the men, István Kiss. In his testimony Sayfo told investigators that he had known Kiss for at least ten years and that they had been good friends. Sayfo knew about Kiss’s extremist political views, yet he found him surprisingly open-minded, a man who regretted the swastikas tattooed on his hand and leg. Nonetheless, Kiss was a member of an organization called Véres kard (Bloody Sword), which is a Hungarist organization, i.e. its members are followers of Ferenc Szálasi.

During Sayfo’s interrogation the investigators inquired about his views on firearms. He answered that, like all men, he is interested in them. At the time of his questioning he was thinking about signing up for a course for future hunters. Later Sayfo also testified in court and, when asked whether István Kiss had ever talked to him about acquiring weapons, he answered in the negative.

A parliamentary subcommittee comprised of three politicians, Károly Tóth (MSZP), József Gulyás (SZDSZ, today Együtt14-MP), and Ervin Demeter (Fidesz, former minister in charge of national security in the first Orbán government), had access to the testimony of “O.S.,” but they allegedly paid no attention to the man. Népszava asked Ervin Demeter about Omar Sayfo, since Demeter was a contributor to Magyar Demokrata when Sayfo was one of the paper’s editors. Demeter claims not to have known him. Magyar Demokrata, by the way, is full of anti-Semitic articles, many of them written by Omar Sayfo. The paper’s editor-in-chief is András Bencsik, one of the organizers of the Peace Marches.

Sayfo wore many hats in those days. In addition to being an editor of Magyar Demokrata, he was a Ph.D. candidate at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, specializing in Arabic literature, culture, and politics. He was also active in Fidelitas, the youth organization of Fidesz. And he often showed up as a “political scientist” on Hír TV. Lately one can see him more often on the truly extremist Echo TV. Not long ago he welcomed Iran’s nuclear capability as a means of “keeping Israel in line.”

The delegation of Fidelitas in Passau, 2009 Omar Sayfo is the first on the left

The delegation of Fidelitas in Passau.
Omar Sayfo is the first on the left

Népszabadság found that in 2009, about the time the investigation of the Roma serial murder case uncovered Sayfo’s connection to István Kiss, he was a member of a Fidelitas delegation to Passau to attend the yearly regional congress of Bavarian parties. After Fidesz won the election, he became a civil servant for a while. He was attached to the foreign economics unit of the Ministry of National Economy in 2011. His stay there was short. Within a year the ministry no longer needed his services. The cause of his dismissal, if it was a dismissal, is not known.

One should spend time analyzing Sayfo’s articles in order to paint a richer portrait of the man, but Népszabadság came up with one rather telling quotation. “Those who belong to the dregs of society (literally “mass of lumpen proletarians,” coming from the German Lumpen meaning rags) with free beer and frankfurters in their stomach will take revenge on the government of law and order at election time. No government has dared to touch this issue. In the  last twenty years the democratic institutions have become in part the dictatorship of the parasitic masses in which the lumpen, criminal strata of society will punish not only the decision makers but also the majority of society that would like to live in a country of law and order. One must put an end to this in the interest of both parties.” Perhaps it would have been wise to investigate Sayfo’s background and his close friendship with István Kiss, after all.

I think that an article from 2010 that appeared in 168 Óra and to which “Mutt” called attention on Facebook might have some relevance here. It is a description of a speech by László Kövér, currently the president of the Hungarian parliament, delivered in Jászszentandrás on January 27, 2010. Here is what Kövér had to say. “Of course, in a democracy everybody has voting rights…. In a democracy unfortunately or not, depending on one’s inclination, this is the case. … Of course, everybody should have the right to vote, but they should be able to sell their vote to the state.” According to him, the state could purchase votes for the amount of the prevailing minimum wage. Everybody would do well: the dregs would get money and “we would get rid of those who vote differently.” Crazy yes, but Kövér’s and Sayfo’s ideas are practically identical.

But what about the exclusion of these lumpen elements? Surely, depriving certain people of voting rights is out of the question. Kövér’s idea is outright bizarre, but what about buying these people’s votes in a different way? Viktor Orbán tried to deter them from voting by introducing a system of registration. When that caused alarm both inside and outside of the country, he abandoned the idea. But purchasing votes is not far from the Fidesz leaders’ mind. Sure, they cannot do it officially, but as the Baja by-election demonstrated, it can be done unofficially and with the desired result.

It is unlikely that the investigation into the Roma serial murders will be reopened. For one thing, I don’t think the current government would be interested in the prospect of finding more people with Fidesz ties too close to the case. Because, as is clear from the career of Omar Sayfo, it is almost impossible to say where Fidesz ends and Jobbik begins.

P.S. After the release of the article, Omar Sayfo sued Népszabadság for false statement of facts, misrepresentation of facts, and violation of reputation. On the 7th of April 2016, the final judgment of the Budapest-Capital Regional Court ruled that Népszabadság violated Omar Sayfo’s reputation by a series of false claims, including connecting him to the acquisition of weapons by the secondary defendant. According to the ruling, Népszabadság had to remove the harmful articles and pay a compensation to Omar Sayfo. The decision of the Court was based on a review of the classified national security report Népszabadság claimed to use as a source of its article. Furthermore, Népszabadság was not able to present its case to the Court, that any articles written by Omar Sayfo could be regarded as anti-Semitic.