Tag Archives: András Lánczi

Situation report on the fight for Central European University

Yesterday Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, director of the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy at Central European University who as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, wrote a bitter letter on her Facebook page. She said that she and her husband left the United States in 2001 at considerable financial sacrifice in order for her to return to Hungary and join the faculty of CEU as an associate professor. It was a dream come true until April 4, 2017. As of that date, she finds herself part of an institution that “meddles in the internal affairs of Hungary and represents foreign interests.” What she finds most disappointing is that “colleagues, friends, and family don’t stand by her wholeheartedly.” They keep saying “the laws must be observed, and their glances indicate disapproval. Or, ‘I’m sorry; I don’t dare because I may be blacklisted.’”

Honest words, an honest description of what’s going on in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, but one must ask: Dear Diana, how is it possible that you haven’t noticed that something is very wrong with the party you dutifully voted for every four years? How is it that you as a proud Christian who gave birth to seven children and who, as you feel necessary to mention, “all attend parochial schools,” haven’t realized that this government’s alleged Christianity is hollow? Is it only now, when your own job is at stake, that you discover that something is wrong with the government you helped keep in power? Her statement ends with a whimper: “I am grateful for the support of those who dared to speak, dared to demonstrate, dared to share. Many of them are government-honoring [kormánytisztelő] Christian citizens, who for the first time said that this shouldn’t have been done.”

Fortunately most members of CEU’s administration, beginning with its president, Michael Ignatieff, are determined to fight and win. The contrast between the timid Hungarian academics and the international administration and faculty of CEU couldn’t be greater. Although President Ignatieff and Provost Liviu Matei have emphasized the support they have received from Hungarian colleagues and other Hungarian institutions of higher learning, the truth is that few have stood by CEU. Most of them have been quiet, but there was one “chancellor”—a newly appointed government watchdog over and above the university president and the senate—who outright welcomed the move of the government against CEU. The chancellor of the University of Debrecen pointed out that other Hungarian universities are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting foreign students because of CEU’s ability to grant American degrees. The administration of Corvinus University was not exactly supportive either. President András Lánczi, the man who got the job as president of the university at the express wish of Viktor Orbán, also stressed the need for “a level legal playing field” for all Hungarian universities. It is true that 250 students and members of Corvinus University’s faculty published a supporting statement, but András Lánczi immediately fired off an e-mail reminding them of the university’s “ethical code,” which obliges members of the university community to maintain the good name of the university in their communications with the world.

Meanwhile the government is doing its best to mislead and intimidate. Two days ago an incredible number of policemen surrounded the parliament building on the occasion of the second demonstration in support of CEU. What was most disturbing was that in front of the row of policemen were apparent civilian strongmen who, as a video shows, provoked some members of the crowd. As it turned out, they were plainclothes policemen. While the uniformed police stood by motionless, these characters were belligerent. Almost as if they wanted to create a reason to arrest a few of the demonstrators. After a while they were recalled by a man in civilian clothes standing behind the police lines.

Last night two organizers of the demonstrations, a Hungarian and a foreigner, received unexpected visits from the police. Government papers want the public to believe that the demonstrators were almost exclusively foreigners. Magyar Hírlap­ reported that the government, as a result of the protest against the treatment of CEU, will be able to uncover the whole Soros network, which engages in such activities as “destabilization efforts by CEU graduates in states along the migration route, for example in Macedonia and Albania.”

The “parrot commando” keeps repeating the same false accusations against CEU, which they persist in calling Soros University. Until recently, László Palkovics, who is in charge of higher education, was given the task of explaining how eminently rational the Hungarian government’s position on CEU is. He steadfastly refused to admit that the amendments’ real purpose was to drive CEU out of the country. On the other hand, his boss, Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, at last told the truth in a radio interview. “There is no need to beat around the bush. There is no need to hide. We ought to say straight out that we don’t want Central European University to function in its present form.” He added that if the United States and CEU want to continue in the present legal framework, “they have to invest.” That is, build a brand new campus in the United States.

The outcome envisaged by Balog is unlikely to materialize. President Michael Ignatieff is in the United States at present and, according to the latest news, has already conferred with Thomas A. Shannon, undersecretary of state for political affairs in the State Department, and Hoyt Brian Yee, deputy assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. (Ignatieff was certainly more successful at the State Department than Hungary’s foreign minister, who visited Washington about two weeks ago and couldn’t meet with anyone at the Foggy Bottom.) He also talked with Fiona Hill, a member of the White House’s National Security Council who advises the president on European and Russian affairs. Next, Ignatieff is off to Berlin and, I trust, to Brussels as well. Angela Merkel’s spokesman already articulated the German government’s position on the matter.

Meeting with Thomas A. Shannon, undersecretary for political affairs

The European Parliament is also responding. Five of the eight political formations have condemned the Hungarian government’s attack on CEU. Even within the caucus of the European People’s Party (EPP), to which the 12-member Fidesz delegation belongs, a storm is brewing. It was the leader of the Fidesz group, József Szájer, who provoked the storm by writing an e-mail to the other members of the EPP caucus in which the Fidesz members contended that critics of the law have been “gravely mislead (sic) by the propaganda and private agenda of the American billionaire Soros” and are fighting with a “virtual reality.” They added that “as in the world of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, there are the equals and there are some more equals (sic) than others.” This e-mail apparently prompted an angry reaction. EPP’s leader, Manfred Weber, tweeted that “Freedom of thinking, research and speech are essential for our European identity. EPP group will defend this at any cost.” Frank Engel, a member of the EPP from Luxembourg, was less polite. He replied in an e-mail: “Forget the crap. We know what is happening, and why. Why don’t you leave both the EPP and the EU on your own terms? … You’re practically and factually out anyway. So go. Please go.”

Time and again the European People’s Party caucus has saved Viktor Orbán’s skin in Brussels. It has been reluctant to expel its Fidesz members, who really don’t belong in this group. The Fidesz delegation would feel much more at home in the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists of Europe, joining their Polish and euroskeptic British friends. But the EPP doesn’t want to lose 12 members from its caucus. Although it is the largest in the European Parliament, its lead is not overwhelming. Still, even without Fidesz it would remain the largest caucus, with 205 members. The Socialists and Democrats have 189 members. To shield a dictatorial regime for the sake of a few votes is too high a price to pay.

April 6, 2017

Sebastian L. von Gorka’s encounter with the Hungarian National Security Office

I’m sure that many of Hungarian Spectrum’s readers were expecting me to write about the Putin visit to Budapest, but only a few hours after Putin’s airplanes, all three of them, landed at the Ferenc Liszt International Airport I cannot say anything meaningful about the much heralded visit except that it cost the Hungarian taxpayers an immense amount of money. The cost of official visits must be borne by the host country.

It is hard to know precisely what benefits Vladimir Putin expects to reap from his Hungarian visits. As far as Viktor Orbán is concerned, however, they must boost his ego. It doesn’t happen too often that the Russian president pays an official visit to a member state of the European Union. In fact, it is extremely rare. In the last two years there were only two such visits: in February 2015 to Hungary and in May 2016 to Greece. The Greek visit, just like, I believe, Putin’s trip to Hungary today, had something to do with Putin’s eagerness to have the crippling economic sanctions against his country lifted. Perhaps he was hoping for a Greek veto as now he is hoping for Orbán’s assistance. Whether he succeeded this time around in convincing the Hungarian prime minister to veto the renewal of sanctions against Russia is not at all sure. Orbán usually talks a lot about the sanctions’ harmful effects on Hungary, but when the chips are down he votes with the rest of his colleagues in the European Council.

So, instead of the Putin visit, I am returning to the Sebastian Gorka story. There are details about Gorka’s life in Hungary that might shed additional light on the qualifications and trustworthiness of Donald Trump’s new deputy assistant.

Gorka himself has revealed very little about his life in Hungary, although he spent 16 years in the country, arriving in 1992 and leaving in 2008. In 2002, however, his name was all over the Hungarian media. There were strong suspicions that Gorka was a spy working for British counterintelligence. How did such rumors emerge?

It was in June 2002 that Magyar Nemzet, then affiliated with Fidesz, which had just lost the election, revealed that Péter Medgyessy, the new prime minister of the country, was a counterespionage officer in the 1980s during the Kádár regime. Fidesz naturally insisted on setting up a special parliamentary committee to investigate Medgyessy’s role as a counterintelligence officer. Fidesz recommended Sebastian Gorka as one of its experts on such matters. The other recommendation was Gábor Kiszely, a right-wing historian whose favorite subject was the history of freemasonry. For the job the participants needed security clearance. The National Security Office (Nemzetbiztonsági Hivatal/NH), however, was suspicious of both Gorka and Kiszely. It eventually refused to green light the two experts.

Gorka naturally denied the truthfulness of the media reports. The undersecretary in charge of national security, however, assured the public that, as a precaution, Gorka hadn’t had any opportunity to get to top secret documents in the absence of such clearance. The expert delegated by the government party sailed through the vetting process, but the clearance of Gorka and Kiszely was nowhere. Gorka suspected that the security officials were simply dragging their heels in order to delay matters until the competence of the committee expired in August. To Origo he explained that he had never had anything to do with counterintelligence because he was only “a uniformed member of the British army’s anti-terrorist unit.” As we know from his Wikipedia entry, this was not the case because there we can learn that “at university, he joined the British Territorial Army reserves serving in the Intelligence Corps.” His only duty, he told Origo, was “to measure the possible dangers posed by terrorists,” such as members of the Irish Republican Army. Moreover, Gorka misleadingly renamed his unit “Territorial Army 22 Company” instead of “UK Territorial Army, Intelligence Corps (22),” the correct name, given by Népszabadság at the time and also given in Wikipedia, at least for today.

Now let’s see how László Bartus, currently editor-in-chief of Népszava, the oldest Hungarian-language paper in the United States, remembers Gorka from those days. Bartus was working as a journalist in Hungary at the time. He claims that it was discovered that Gorka had never attended any institution of higher education. This may have been the case in 2002, but it certainly wasn’t true in 2008 when he received his Ph.D. for a dissertation titled “Content and end-state-based alteration in the practice of political violence since the end of the cold war: The difference between the terrorism of the cold war and the terrorism of Al-Quaeda: The rise of the ‘transcendental terrorist.’” His dissertation adviser was András Lánczi, Viktor Orbán’s favorite political scientist, who became notorious after announcing that “What [the critics of the Orbán regime] call corruption in practical terms is the most important policy goal of Fidesz.” More about Lánczi can be found in my post “András Lánczi: What others call corruption is the raison d’être of Fidesz.” I may add that on the dissertation Gorka’s full name is given as Sebastian L. v. Gorka. So, the brief appearance of his name in Wikipedia as Sebastian Lukács von Gorka was not a mistake.

Kiszely and Gorka were barred from displaying their expertise in counterintelligence because, as some right-winger readers claimed in their comments, they were dual citizens. As for his citizenship, Hungarian newspapers claimed at the time that in addition to his British citizenship, he was also a citizen of the United States. Considering that he got married to an American woman in 1996, he could certainly have held U.S. citizenship by then. However, he hotly denied being a citizen of the country that he now wants to help make great.

Bartus sums up the Hungarian opinion of Gorka: “Then the unanimous opinion was that this man is a fortune hunter and a conman, who wriggles his way in everywhere, where he convinces everybody of his extraordinary expertise, when actually the only thing he is an expert on is extremist incitement. This picture of him among those who knew him in Budapest has not changed since.” Bartus is not surprised that Trump and Gorka found each other since “birds of a feather flock together.”

February 2, 2017

András Lánczi: What others call corruption is the raison d’être of Fidesz

Yesterday U.S. Ambassador Colleen Bell gave a speech at the Central European University about American perspectives on migration, security, and foreign policy. There was a lot of talk about the rule of law, democracy, equality, and human rights, and naturally about “the cancer of corruption.” The ambassador highlighted once again the obvious negative effects of corruption. “It hurts economic growth, it alienates and angers citizens. Business owners can’t compete when the rules favor a select few with strong ties to a government. Citizens feel betrayed when their taxes are being used to line the pockets of public servants, elected officials, and their family members, instead of providing the services and security that citizens pay for and require from the state.”

Of course, Colleen Bell’s description of the kind of corruption that exists in Hungary is correct, but I’m afraid that these repeated warnings will have no effect whatsoever on the systemic corruption of the Orbán government–for the simple reason that corruption is the raison d’être of the regime. This opinion doesn’t come from some ill-willed critic of Viktor Orbán’s political system but from the chief ideologist of the regime, András Lánczi, who was just chosen to be the next president of Corvinus University at Viktor Orbán’s request. An odd choice because Lánczi is allegedly a political philosopher and Corvinus is supposed to turn out economists.

Lánczi came late to philosophy. As a student he was a triple major in English, Hungarian, and history, and after graduation he taught high school in Budapest for years. In 1986, however, without any formal training in philosophy, he got a job as an editor of Világosság, a philosophical review which by self-definition was anti-religious. It was József Lukács, the editor-in-chief of Világosság, who invited him to join the staff. Lukács’s own “philosophical training” consisted of finishing the communist party’s Marxist “college” (pártfőiskola) in 1949.

It was only after the regime change that Lánczi’s scholarly career was launched. Attila Ágh, a political scientist today close to MSZP, invited him to teach at the institution now known as Corvinus. His first published works, translations of a couple of books of Leo Strauss, appeared in 1994. A blog writer who is highly critical of Lánczi described him as someone “who before the regime change had carried on about the necessity of communist-Christian dialogue but then quickly switched to the worldview of [the anti-Semitic] István Csurka’s dramas. This is how he became the leader of the half-educated Hungarian elite’s conservative section who now can lay the moral foundations of Viktor Orbán’s new order.” The blog writer compares him to Martin Heidegger, who all his post-war life tried to explain the inexplicable, why he offered his services to Hitler. Heidegger, however, can be understood without Hitler, but “Lánczi doesn’t even exist without Orbán.” After reading some of his “philosophical conversations” that have appeared of late, I have to agree with the blogger.

Lánczi gave a long interview to Magyar Idők, the slavishly pro-government paper, in December, during which he explained that the “alleged corruption” is not corruption in the ordinary meaning of the word.

Was the communist nationalization after 1948 corruption or the privatization of regime change after 1989? What [the critics of the Orbán regime] call corruption in practical terms is the most important policy goal of Fidesz. What do I mean? The government puts forth such goals as the creation of a domestic entrepreneurial class, or the building of the pillars of a strong Hungary in agriculture and industry…. [The critics] call that corruption…. Corruption has thirteen or fourteen different definitions, but among them there is no such thing as corruption when we do something in the interest of the nation. One can call it corruption, but whoever makes that claim is deceiving himself…. That’s why it is a mistake to use the expression “mafia state.” What comes to mind when one hears the word “mafia”? The physical annihilation of one’s enemies. Who got killed here, I ask.

Lánczi is right that the wholesale nationalization of most private property after 1948 cannot be called corruption. It was expropriation, confiscation, stealing. And yes, it was an important part of the regime’s very existence, which strove to bring about blissful communism. We can also go back in time and recall the Horthy regime’s resolve from its inception to curb the “Jewish predominance in industry, commerce, and the so-called free professions.” This resolve was eventually translated into the seizure of all Jewish property. Surely, it was part of the ideology of the regime. Did this make it right or acceptable? Of course not.

András Lánczi / Source: HVG / Photo: Ákos Stiller

András Lánczi / Source: HVG / Photo: Ákos Stiller

Of late Lánczi has been giving one interview after the other. One such outrageous discussion took place in Gábor G. Fodor’s 888.hu. By the way, G. Fodor was Lánczi’s favorite student, with whom he even published a book in 2009. Lánczi outlined his belief that “we,” I guess Viktor Orbán and his followers, are working on “the moral foundations of a new order.” Their “morality” is not, however, what we normally think of. In his radically relativistic opinion, “everybody possesses morality. The only question is what he considers to be such.” Thus in Lánczi’s world, calling corruption part of the moral foundation of Orbán’s system is entirely reasonable and defensible.

Lánczi also has interesting ideas about public and private money. Critics of György Matolcsy are upset about the chairman of the Hungarian National Bank funneling huge sums of public money into private foundations, but Lánczi asks: “What is the money of György Soros? Where does a speculator’s money come from? Let’s say that through shorting one fleeces the British treasury. In that case, one creates private out of public money. Isn’t it so?” Or later on. “I’m no great Soros expert, but it is worth taking a look at his biography. He was a totally average fellow for some time until one day he appeared out of nowhere like a meteor. At that point something must have happened. Somebody for some reason put him in this position. He received such means that he managed to achieve fame and fortune.” What a primitive conspiracy theory, and what ignorance of the financial world. And this man is the chief ideologist of Orbán. We shouldn’t be surprised that the prime minister himself is so muddle-minded.

As one commentator remarked, Lánczi’s explanation of corruption means that “Fidesz steals not only our money but also our right to become outraged.” Indeed, in Lánczi’s world anything goes.

May 18, 2016

It’s not corruption. It’s national interest

“Political thinkers” are a dangerous lot at times. There was Gábor G. Fodor, the modern-day Macchiavelli of the Századvég Institute, who almost a year ago described Viktor Orbán’s political career as nothing more than a series of manipulative moves devised to improve his standing in the polls. No grand ideas, only mendacious slogans that his stupid followers believe. Here, in politico-speak, is what G. Fodor said: “There are many among the right-wing intelligentsia who have the mistaken notion that the concept of ‘polgári Magyarország’ [a democratic Hungary based on middle-class values] was a political reality, but it was no more than a political product.”

A few days ago another “political thinker,” András Lánczi, uttered a few revealing sentences about Fidesz and corruption.

I’m always surprised when I read the biographies of certain high-placed Hungarians whose road to their present position has taken interesting turns. Here is Lánczi, for example, who majored in English and history and taught high school for five years. Then for five years he was the editor of a philosophical journal called Világosság (Light). With this background he was invited to teach in the newly established political science department of Corvinus University. While teaching full time he received the Soviet-style degree of “kandidátus” in two years (1993), which was then converted into a Ph.D. in 2002. At that point his career took off. Today he is described as a “conservative” philosopher, political scientist, director of the Political Science Institute at Corvinus, chairman of the Századvég Foundation, chairman of the board of the pro-government Nézőpont Institute Foundation, and adviser to the XXI Century Institute, another Fidesz creation. His son Tamás, also a political scientist, is a fervent Fidesz supporter who lately has even been involved in the business activities of Arthur Finkelstein and Árpád Habony.

András Lánczi agreed to give an interview to Magyar Idők which, presumably because of the holiday season, did not make a big splash despite its, to me shocking, message. I guess other interviews, like those of László Kövér, János Lázár, and Ákos, were juicier and thus received greater coverage. Lánczi’s interview elicited only a handful of comments, although what he is talking about is of the utmost importance. Among other things, corruption. Or rather, the lack thereof.

The interview is quite long and most of it is a defense of Századvég, which has been attacked as a money laundering arm of Fidesz. As things stand now, there is a valid court order that obliges the government to make public the studies that Századvég prepared under government contract. Naturally, Lánczi insists that the billions and billions of forints the government has been paying to the think tank have been earned honestly. As for the Századvég Foundation’s possible involvement in the bribery charges filed by Bunge, the American firm that produces Vénusz cooking oil, he denied any such involvement. Századvég is a respectable institution whose roots go back to the late 1980s when László Kövér, Viktor Orbán, and István Stumpf launched a periodical and later a foundation under that name.

There is nothing new in these denials, and naturally for the time being we will know the veracity of neither the allegations nor their denial. When the conversation turned to corruption, however, this rather dull interview became charged. Given the importance of the following passages, a verbatim translation is in order.

Magyar Idők: Talking about the elections. It is already clear that the opposition’s main point of attack will be the alleged corruption. How can it handle that?

András Lánczi: Was the communist nationalization after 1948 or the privatization of the regime change after 1989 corruption? What is called corruption is in effect Fidesz’s most important political aim. What I mean is that the government set such goals as the formation of a class of domestic entrepreneurs, the pillars of a strong Hungary both in agriculture and in industry. … That is what people call corruption, which is a political point of view. The word “corruption” becomes something mythical.

Magyar Idők: Is this some kind of broadening of the term?

András Lánczi: Yes, just like the word “left-liberal” in the usage of the radical right opposition. There are thirteen or fourteen sociological meanings of corruption, but among them we cannot find one that says that if we do this or that in the national interest it is corruption. One can call it that, but that is deception. One doesn’t like to assist one’s adversaries, especially not one’s enemies, so I will not tell them that they are in the wrong. That’s why the expression “mafia state” is a mistake. What does one think when one hears the word “mafia”? The physical destruction of one’s adversaries. Who was killed here, I would like to know?

Lánczi’s very first sentence is shocking enough. Does he truly believe that the brutal nationalization by the Stalinist Rákosi regime was in the national interest and therefore justifiable? Well, we might not call it corruption, but surely we can call it robbery plain and simple. The Hungarian Nazis might have thought that the dispossession of Jewish Hungarians was in the national interest, but did this belief make it right? As for the privatizations of the 1989-1990 period, they cannot in any shape or form be compared to what happened either in 1944 or in 1948. Yes, some people with government connections received state properties for very little money, but some of these properties turned out to be worthless. I remember seeing a very fancy government publication describing some of the left-over properties the government was desperate to get rid of. They were run-down, hopelessly antiquated small factories whose worth converged on zero.

thief

Well, if Lánczi insists, we can call what is going on in Hungary today “robbery” if he thinks that it is a more appropriate term than “corruption.” If I were Lánczi and his boss, I would prefer “corruption.” After all, corruption is considered to be a white-collar crime as opposed to “robbery,” which is normally committed by common thieves.

In fact, however, what we are talking about here is more than “corruption,” even more than common “thievery.” It is a political-economic strategy that the opposition will have to attack head on because it has led to a regime that has practically nothing to do with the third republic established on October 23, 1989.