Tag Archives: András Schiffer

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

Will the left have a presidential candidate? Not at all sure

We are witnessing a possibly important event in Hungarian politics. In May, János Áder’s tenure as president is coming to an end. We have known since December 20, 2016 that, after all, he will be renominated for the post. This news came as a surprise not only to the public but, apparently, even to János Áder himself.

Why was the announcement so unexpected? After all, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán should have been satisfied with the performance of his hand-picked president. Áder never made waves by sending clearly illegal acts of parliament straight to the Constitutional Court. If something truly outrageous arrived on his desk, he simply sent it back to parliament for reconsideration, an act that resulted in its being sent back to him in an unaltered form, after which he had no choice but to sign it. And yet it seemed that Orbán was dissatisfied with Áder. After Pál Schmidt, who wanted to be a loyal servant of the government and never questioned any of the laws put in front of him, I guess Áder was still far too independent.

In May 2016 a cameraman of HírTV caught a few words exchanged between György Rubovszky (KDNP), chairman of the parliamentary committee on legal matters, and Imre Vas (Fidesz), the committee’s deputy chairman. Rubovszky told his colleague that “there is no way Áder will be reelected because Viktor doesn’t permit it.” The Fidesz majority in parliament will vote for whomever the prime minister wants to be elected.

A few weeks ago the names of László Kövér and Zoltán Balog were floated as possible successors to Áder. Kövér’s name quickly disappeared from the short list. My guess is that Kövér said he didn’t want the job. And Orbán respects Kövér’s political and personal decisions. As far as Balog is concerned, we know that Orbán and Balog discussed the matter. My hunch is that Balog was ready to accept whatever job Orbán entrusted him with. At the last moment, however, the idea was dropped. The reason? Balog’s mega-ministry is under heavy criticism. The revolting teachers want him to resign because of the disastrous PISA results. Hungarian healthcare is in shambles. Removing Balog from his current position might have been interpreted as a retreat by Orbán, something the prime minister is loath to do.

As soon as it became known that Áder would most likely be reelected, Sándor Székely, one of the leaders of Solidarity who earlier had managed to get almost all of the democratic parties on the same platform on October 23, decided to look into the possibility of suggesting a respectable candidate all democrats could support. He, Balázs Gulyás (one of the organizers of the successful demonstration against the internet tax), and Peter Krasztev (a literary historian and former head of the Hungarian Cultural Institute in Bratislava) got together to find a suitable candidate. Of course, these three men had no illusions. Given the dominance of the government party in parliament, Áder will be reelected. Whoever agrees to the nomination is facing certain failure. However, they argued, if they manage to gain the support of all the parties on the left, this act will not only have symbolic value but might also expedite cooperation among the parties when it comes to the 2018 national election. Their choice was László Majtényi, a constitutional legal scholar who is currently the director of the Károly Eötvös Intézet, a legal think tank. The organizers got 39 well-known public figures to support Majtényi’s nomination. The list of supporters can be found here.

László Majtényi

Right-wing publications try to paint Majtényi as a representative of those liberals who are no longer relevant. He represents a world that no longer exists. Even Magyar Nemzet came out with an opinion piece that made fun of the whole idea by claiming that the democratic opposition might just as well have nominated Lagzi Lajcsi, a musician who was popular some years back. This is a truly unfair comparison. Majtényi was counselor to the Constitutional Court between 1990 and 1994; subsequently he was named Hungary’s first ombudsman in charge of data protection (1995-2001). In 2008 President László Sólyom and Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány jointly named him to head Országos Rádió és Televízió Testület (ORTT), responsible for the enforcement of Hungary’s media laws. Less than two years later, in October 2009, he resigned “because he was unable to prevent the decision of the organization” which allowed the two parties, Fidesz and MSZP, to divide between themselves two radio frequencies. He showed a great deal of independence and integrity in this case.

Majtényi agreed to be put forth as a candidate for president although his chances are nil. Moreover, in order to become an official candidate he will need 40 votes in parliament. Even if all 29 MSZP members and all 10 liberal independents vote for him, he is still short one vote. To be successful, at least one LMP member would have to side with the others. And that is a question mark. At the moment MSZP, Párbeszéd, Együtt, and the Liberals expressed their support. LMP and DK are still undecided. LMP’s problem is most likely the party’s reluctance to do anything with the other opposition parties. DK’s hesitancy is more complex. DK doesn’t consider the new constitution legitimate and therefore doesn’t consider the person of the president legitimate either. On the other hand, they consider Majtényi an excellent candidate. So, says DK’s spokesman, the leadership, which will meet again at the end of the month, will have to resolve this dilemma.

Jobbik, by the way, announced that it will come up with its own candidate for the presidency. Its MPs will vote for neither Áder nor Majtényi.

There is a possibility that the 40 votes may materialize because, after all, LMP really shouldn’t have any problem with Majtényi’s candidacy. But one never knows because the “evil spirit” of the party, András Schiffer, who allegedly no longer runs the party, just published a short note on his Facebook page in which he accuses Majtényi of inconsistency. The ill will Schiffer harbors against Majtényi goes back to András Schiffer’s negotiations with Fidesz to reach an agreement on the nomination of four new judges of the Constitutional Court. Since Fidesz no longer had a two-thirds majority, Orbán needed LMP’s help. Majtényi’s Károly Eötvös Institute advised against the deal because “it would legitimize an unacceptable political system.” If that was the case last year, asks Schiffer, how is it not the case in 2017? Doesn’t his running against Áder legitimize Orbán’s unacceptable regime? There is, I’m afraid, some truth to this. It is the same problem DK is facing at the moment. And yet if the opposition parties do not support Majtényi, they will appear to accept the status quo and become even more marginalized.

January 5, 2017

Is LMP in cahoots with Fidesz?

On October 17 Egon Rónay of ATV’s Start interviewed Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP. The occasion was the demonstration organized by Párbeszéd (Dialogue), Együtt (Together), and LMP (Politics Can Be Different) that had taken place the day before. Considering that by that time four of the left-liberal opposition parties had decided to celebrate October 23 together, the conversation soon turned to LMP’s steadfast refusal to cooperate with the others. What followed was a lengthy tirade by Szél against Ferenc Gyurcsány, whom she considers responsible for the very existence of Viktor Orbán as a politician. As she put it, as long as Ferenc Gyurcsány remains on the political scene Hungary will be stranded with Viktor Orbán.

Backbiting is unfortunately an everyday affair in Hungarian opposition circles, but Szél’s outburst was unusually acerbic and ill intentioned. A day later, on the same program, Zsolt Gréczy, DK’s spokesman, indicated that Együtt, led by Viktor Szigetvári and Péter Juhász, and LPM, led by Bernadett Szél and Ákos Hadházy, with their refusal to cooperate wittingly or unwittingly were assisting Viktor Orbán’s government.

LMP’s decision to collaborate with Fidesz on the issue of the constitutional court’s newly elected judges led to a really ugly scene between László Varju of DK and the whole LMP parliamentary delegation of five plus András Schiffer, the architect of the Fidesz-LMP deal. The LMP politicians crashed Varju’s press conference, which was held in the parliament. Soon enough the press conference turned into a screaming session in which Varju called the five LMP members of parliament “collaborators.” In turn, Schiffer said that AVH, the dreaded Hungarian secret police between 1945 and 1956, was “the spiritual predecessor” of the political leaders of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Moreover, he accused them of inciting anti-Catholic sentiments by criticizing Balázs Schanda, one of the new judges, who writes almost exclusively on legal questions concerning religion. The hapless Ákos Hadházy, co-chair of LMP, tried in vain to end the exchange of accusations. He eventually got involved in the cacophony himself.

In the middle of the battle. András Schiffer enjoys it immensely

In the middle of the battle. András Schiffer enjoys it immensely.

Today an article appeared in index.hu which might explain, at least in part, the ferocious LMP attack on Ferenc Gyurcsány. According to the news site, sometime in early November LMP commissioned a poll to ascertain the views of the Hungarian electorate on the current government as well as on leading opposition personalities. From the survey LMP learned that three-quarters of its own supporters reject any cooperation with Ferenc Gyurcsány. They consider him an obstacle to unity. I don’t know whether this finding surprised LMP’s leadership, but it really shouldn’t have. DK’s liberal ideas on economic matters and its acceptance of globalization are in stark contrast to LMP’s far-left socialist ideas.

Even so, I don’t believe that LMP’s refusal to work with the other opposition parties on the left is the result of its supporters’ intense dislike of Gyurcsány and his ideas on the free market economy. Gyurcsány is only an excuse. LMP’s founder, András Schiffer, from the start made it clear that LMP alone would defeat the Orbán regime. I’m almost certain that even if Ferenc Gyurcsány gave up politics this very moment LMP still wouldn’t be willing to work hand in hand with the others.

Overall, the poll apparently found that 46% of those who side with the opposition think that Gyurcsány is an obstacle to the defeat of the Orbán government while 45% think that “the presence of Gyurcsány is necessary for the removal of Orbán from power.” That is a tie, says index.hu, but since LMP voters are so anti-Gyurcsány and therefore anti-DK, it is good politics to launch an attack against the party.

According to the survey, 45% of the electorate as a whole would like to see a change of government while 43% support the present Orbán government. Naturally, 94% of Fidesz voters are still loyal supporters of Viktor Orbán. The same level of fervor is manifest in those who today would vote for an opposition party. The situation is very different among the large group of Hungarians who haven’t found a party they would gladly vote for. Forty percent of them would like to see the Orbán government disappear, 26% would like it to stay, and 34% have no opinion. This untapped group of undecided voters should be the primary target of the opposition, but any effort to woo the undecided will be effective only if the opposition can create a unified force, speaking with one voice. Cacophony guarantees defeat.

LMP’s poll also measured the popularity of five politicians: Bernadett Szél (41%), László Botka (34%), Ágnes Vadai (32%), Ákos Hadházy (31%), and Ferenc Gyurcsány (26%). This finding is especially interesting because only opposition politicians are being compared. I found the relatively low rating of László Botka especially surprising considering that he was declared to be the most popular MSZP leader, the one who could lead his party to victory.

A few hours after the index.hu article appeared István Ikotity, an LMP member of parliament, denied the existence of the survey, adding: “In my opinion, LMP shouldn’t be preoccupied with the opposition. We shouldn’t pay attention to the recognition and support of certain opposition politicians. Our position in relation to DK has remained the same. Nothing has changed.” His denial was not very convincing, but I believe him when he says that LMP’s attitude toward DK and Ferenc Gyurcsány hasn’t changed at all.

Let’s assume for the moment that LMP did commission this survey and that its politicians, seeing the results, decided to tip the scale against Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose standing in opposition circles is a practical tie between his supporters and his opponents. In that case, I think one can argue that LMP is a collaborator of Fidesz, not just because it assisted in enlarging the constitutional court which opposition parties, including Jobbik, find illegitimate but also because it purposely sowed discord among the opposition parties which will only weaken the anti-Orbán forces. András Schiffer, the creator of LMP, decided to call his party “Lehet Más A Politika” (Politics Can Be Different). If LMP is indeed involved in such a dirty, indecent game, it should be the last party on earth to bear that name.

November 29, 2016

How not to pick constitutional judges: LMP’s choices II

My post on the election of the four new members of the Hungarian Constitutional Court ended on a pessimistic note. I was of the opinion that all four nominees are legally conservative and thus would strengthen the already overwhelmingly one-dimensional, pro-government character of the court. Since then I read András Schiffer’s lengthy self-justification of his role as the principal architect of the deal that allowed all the positions on the court to be filled. Unfortunately, the article gave me no reason to change my mind.

Schiffer is very proud of his achievement. As opposed to other opposition parties, he said, LMP brokered a deal that is a sensible compromise. In fact, he believes the democratic opposition came out ahead.

Schiffer suggests that with the four new judges the court will be less lopsided. He convinced himself that the selection of constitutional judges prior to 2011, when all parties participated in the selection, was nothing more than political pillage by which each party pitted its own candidate against all others. He broke with this tradition. His candidates, he said, are independent scholars not attached to any party who will judge each case on its merits. It’s hard to imagine that Schiffer actually believes his own propaganda.

Schiffer gave a glowing account of the four new judges. According to him, they are all internationally known scholars. This may be true of Balázs Schanda and Marcel Szabó, but on the basis of my research it is certainly not true of Marosi and I also have my doubts about Attila Horváth, whom I will introduce today.

As I noted earlier, Horváth was Fidesz’s choice. He is, as index.hu pointed out, the only new judge who “is being accused of far-right sympathies.” We wouldn’t know that from Schiffer’s article. Schiffer was a student of Horváth in the early 1990s, and “on the basis of his lectures one would have had difficulty identifying his political views.” As you will see later, however, there are plenty of signs that Horváth leans far to the right. In Schiffer’s version, it was Gergely Gulyás, who represented Fidesz in the negotiations, who pointed out the necessity of having a legal historian on the court. Schiffer accepted his argument. There is no question, says Schiffer, that today Horváth is the “best known legal historian of the socialist period.” I’m sure this is the case because Horváth seems to be the obvious person to consult every time there is a controversial case involving the sins of the communists, be it the Hungarian Soviet Republic or the guilt of Béla Biszku.

Attila Horváth at one of his frequent lectures

Attila Horváth at one of his frequent lectures

One reason for Horváth’s reputation as a man of far-right views was his participation in the Civil Legal Committee, an organization created by Krisztina Morvai of Jobbik to investigate the “police terror” that allegedly took place in the wake of the disturbances in the fall of 2006. Morvai’s extremism defined the tone of the report the Civil Legal Committee published. Six lawyers were involved in writing the report, five of whom are well-known right-wingers, including another Jobbik member, Tamás Gaudi-Nagy. Attila Horváth was also a member of this committee, although his role was restricted to writing a chapter on “the history of the theory and practice of the right of assembly in Hungary until 1989.” But the very fact that he agreed to be part of this group says something about the man.

Since Horváth doesn’t seem to keep his curriculum vitae up to date, I don’t have a complete list of his publications. His early work focused on the reform period of the 1820s. The center of his attention was the modernization of Hungarian legal thinking and the ideas of István Széchenyi. It was only in the 1990s that he left the safety of the pre-1848 period and moved on to the much more politically charged topic of the legal system of the socialist system. Horváth doesn’t confine his activities to legal studies. He also writes short non-legal pieces, for example on the causes of the outbreak of the revolution in 1956.

Horváth usually has strong opinions on controversial issues. Here is one example. In the spring of 2015 a huge controversy broke out over the dictum, coming from the ministry of human resources, about a required name change in Szeged. The Ságvári Gymnasium, one of the best in the country, had to shed its name because Endre Ságvári was not only a communist, he also killed a gendarme on July 27, 1944–that is, after the German occupation of Hungary. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences, at the request of the Orbán government, recommended not naming any public place or institution after him because of his communist past. Given Horváth’s reputation as the legal expert on such matters, Magyar Hírlap asked his opinion on the issue. Horváth said: “Ságvári did nothing significant. Just because he is less of a negative character than, let’s say, Rákosi, it doesn’t mean that he is worthy of having an institution named after him.” In Horváth’s opinion, the resistance of other organizations was much more important than the communists’ struggle against the German invaders.

Horváth can often be seen side by side with total amateur “historians” whose “fame” is due entirely to their political connections. For example, Ildikó Kassai, whose good fortune is due to her friendship with János Lázár. In no time after 2010, her career soared. She became an adviser to Ferenc Papcsák (Fidesz) of Zugló,  and after 2014, one of the directors of the Holocaust Memorial Center, where she wreaked havoc. She kept organizing historical conferences, and she gave a lecture on the 1956 revolution that was full of stories I had difficulty believing. At the same conference Attila Horváth told equally dubious stories about the “pesti srácok.” It seems to me that Horváth, for ideological reasons, is ready to travel far from his real expertise, legal history.

November 24, 2016

The new constitutional court: LMP lends a helping hand to Fidesz

After 2010 one of Fidesz’s first tasks was to “pack” the Constitutional Court. The party’s two-thirds majority allowed Viktor Orbán to add four new hand-picked judges to the eleven-member court. It was an act that transformed the court into a reliable partner of the Orbán government. It also extended the judges’ tenure to twelve years. Last year Chief Justice Péter Paczolay retired, and this year the terms of three judges will expire. So four judges needed to be appointed to bring the court back to full strength.

The problem was that Fidesz no longer has a two-thirds parliamentary majority. No longer could it single-handedly nominate its most loyal supporters. The party had to make a deal with at least one other party.

In theory, the support of Jobbik would have sufficed, but an exclusive alliance with a party considered by many to be neo-Nazi would not play well internationally. And so, however reluctantly, Fidesz invited all the opposition parties to cut a deal. The party’s suggestion was that it would nominate two judges while MSZP and Jobbik would each be entitled to nominate one.

Negotiations began in December 2015, but soon enough the talks broke down because Jobbik insisted on nominating Krisztina Morvai, Jobbik’s far-right representative in the European parliament. MSZP, after some hesitation, also withdrew from the negotiations. I don’t know how much influence the statement issued by the Károly Eötvös Institute had on the party’s decision, but it recommended the offer be rejected. Its reasoning was that all eleven judges who will remain on the court were appointed by Fidesz. Therefore any deal at this junction would only legitimize an already illegitimate body.

It was at this point that LMP showed an interest in continued negotiations. András Schiffer was still the co-chair of the party, and he didn’t agree with the Eötvös Intézet’s position. At the same time the party refused to participate in any kind of deal that would involve the other parties in the selection of the judges. Szabolcs Dull of Index thought it improbable that Fidesz would agree to LMP’s proposal. But while all the other parties condemned Schiffer’s willingness to negotiate, by January 2016 Fidesz and LMP were seriously discussing candidates for the four positions. As usual, it was the Demokratikus Koalíció that was the most vocal opponent, but Viktor Szigetvári of Együtt also protested in an open letter to András Schiffer. MSZP by mid-January decided to follow their lead.

The negotiations between Fidesz and LMP, represented by András Schiffer, continued. Between January and April Schiffer came up with 17 possible candidates for the job. Not much information about the candidates leaked out, but from the few reports I found it looks as if Schiffer negotiated hard. For example, he said he would accept a Fidesz nominee–Attila Horváth, a legal historian–only if Fidesz gave up the idea of renominating Barnabás Lenkovics. As HVG put it, the two together “would have been too much” for LMP given their strongly right-wing leanings. LMP apparently also insisted on a female candidate–Ildikó Marosi, a judge on the Kúria, Hungary’s highest court. It looked at this point as if Fidesz would swallow the bitter pill that, with the exception of Attila Horváth, all the other names came from LMP’s Schiffer. The nominees would be Marcel Szabó, Ildikó Marosi, Attila Horváth, and Balázs Schanda.

Marcel Szabó, Balázs Schanda, Ildikó Marosi, and Attila Horváth at the swearing in ceremony

Marcel Szabó, Balázs Schanda, Ildikó Marosi, and Attila Horváth at the swearing-in ceremony

But then, a few days after the publication of HVG’s report, Viktor Orbán changed his mind. The deal seemed dead for six months when, out of the blue, on November 15, Gergely Gulyás called on András Schiffer, the retired chairman of LMP, to say that his party was ready to accept the three LMP-nominated judges. The Fidesz decision was completely unexpected. Members of the parliamentary judicial committee didn’t learn about the deal until the second half of the week.

Jobbik was stunned. They had participated in only two discussions in the spring and, as far as they knew, the deal was off. Now suddenly there were four judges who were elected by secret ballot this morning. The yes votes came exclusively from Fidesz-KDNP and LMP. Altogether 136 votes, three votes over the necessary 133. LMP delivered.

It is something of a mystery why Viktor Orbán changed his mind and accepted the deal in which, at least on the surface, LMP played the dominant role. Ákos Hadházy couldn’t give a good explanation for Fidesz’s reversal on the issue. Some commentators believe that the sudden acceptance of LMP’s assistance had something to do with Fidesz’s acrimonious relations with Jobbik of late. Fidesz wanted to show Gábor Vona that it doesn’t need Jobbik; it can turn elsewhere to achieve the two-thirds majority if it wants to. Also, the government had been battered by its loss on the constitutional amendments, with Jobbik pulling its support, and an important parliamentary victory was something Viktor Orbán badly needed.

The opposition parties are up in arms. They consider the politicians of LMP collaborators in the furtherance of Orbán’s political system. Because of the absolute secrecy in which the LMP-Fidesz negotiations were conducted, we know very little about the candidates. For the time being we don’t whether Ákos Hadházy’s optimism is justified. He hopes that “perhaps this way we can stop on the road from democracy to dictatorship.” Something I very much doubt.

November 22, 2016

Hot topics of the day: Budaházy and Ráhel Orbán

The Hungarian media was preoccupied with two topics today. The first was the reaction to the stiff sentences handed out in the case of György Budaházy and his co-conspirators, who were convicted of terrorist activities. The other was the recent discovery of mysterious “negotiations” undertaken by Ráhel Orbán, eldest child of the prime minister, and her husband, István Tiborcz, in Bahrain.

The day after the trial

As one could anticipate, the Hungarian extreme right is outraged. Jobbik’s official internet news site is full of stories of the “seventeen patriots” who were in the forefront of the “national resistance” against the traitorous Gyurcsány government. What Budaházy and his friends did in 2006-2007 was a historic act. László Toroczkai, an old friend of Budaházy who today is the Jobbik mayor of Ásotthalom at the Serbian-Hungarian border, is demanding that Fidesz take a stand on the issue.

But Fidesz refuses to make any comments on the case. The closest approximation to a comment was an opinion piece by Zsolt Bayer that appeared today in Magyar Hírlap. Bayer’s memories of terrorist acts committed by the Budaházy gang, I suspect, are purposely vague. He remembers “some kind of a video of some kind of an explosion,” but basically he can’t imagine that this gentle man could possibly commit such atrocities. He is just hoping that there is “real evidence.”

In connection with the case, Bayer poses a number of questions: “Were they really the ones who threw Molotov cocktails into the houses of politicians? Were they the ones who beat up Csintalan?” And don’t forget, “the body is missing that lay on the street in Olaszliszka* as well as the one that was lifted from the lake in Kaposvár**.” Finally, Bayer says, comes the most important question: if Budaházy received 13 years, then what about Ferenc Gyurcsány and Péter Gergényi, police chief of Budapest at the time of the 2006 disturbances? After all, they are “the two most notorious miscreants of the age.” This question must be asked because “without Gyurcsány, Gergényi (and Draskovics, Szilvásy, and Bajnai) there is no Budaházy.” In brief, the guilty ones are not Budaházy and his fellow terrorists but the governments of Gyurcsány and Bajnai. I take Bayer’s attitude toward the Budaházy case to be a reasonably close approximation to the views of the Fidesz leadership.

András Schiffer’s Facebook note “Budaházy 13 years, how many for shooting out eyes” drew appreciative comments from the right, including Fidesz sympathizers. Viktor Orbán has been trying for years to implicate Gyurcsány in the “police brutality” during the 2006 street disturbances. Up to now they have been unsuccessful. They couldn’t come up with anything to tie Gyurcsány to the police action at the time. The decision to deal with the situation was entirely in the hands of the police chief and his close associates. And even at that level, although the Orbán government brought charges against Gergényi, they couldn’t prove their case.

According to Jobbik and Fidesz supporters, what happened on the streets in 2006 was “police terror,” pure and simple. They therefore equate the “terrorism” of Gyurcsány with the terrorist acts of Budaházy and his companions. The other side, by contrast, remains convinced that the disturbances were an attempt to overthrow the legitimate government of the country and that Fidesz politicians were in touch with the leaders of the mob that was supposed spark a general revolt in the population. It just didn’t work out. András Schiffer, who is allegedly a democratic politician, sided with the extreme right and Fidesz on this issue. It is no wonder that the liberals and socialists are outraged.

The most eloquent condemnation of Schiffer came from Árpád W. Tóta in HVG, according to whom “András Schiffer took a deep breath and sank to the deep where Krisztina Morvai*** resides.” Schiffer should know the difference between an accident that happens during the dispersion of a crowd and premeditated criminal acts committed in a conspiratorial manner. Tóta admits that he never had a good opinion of Schiffer, but he never thought that Schiffer was wired into the same circuit as Krisztina Morvai. I can only agree with Tóta.

Ráhel Orbán and her husband in Bahrain

I must say that Ráhel Orbán, who by now is 27 years old, gets herself into a lot of trouble, unlike her brother Gáspár and younger sister Sára. One reason is that she appears to be interested in politics. Moreover, it seems that father and daughter work together on projects. As we know, Ráhel is interested in the entertainment and tourist industry. A few months ago there was a lot of talk about the government’s centralization of the industry under an umbrella organization in which Ráhel might play a prominent role. But, and this is yesterday’s scoop, it seems that Ráhel might also have been given an unofficial diplomatic assignment.

444.hu discovered an article on the website of Bahrain’s National Oil & Gas Authority (NOGA) with accompanying photos showing the Minister of Energy Abdul Hussain bin Ali Mirza, Ahmed Ali Al Sharyan, the general-secretary of NOGA, Ms. Ráhel Orbán, mistakenly identified as the wife of the prime minister of Hungary, and Balázs Garamvölgyi, the Hungarian consul in Bahrain. István Tiborcz, also in the picture, was not identified in the caption. This visit took place in September 2015. According to the article

They discussed a number of global oil and gas market and energy issues (…) investment opportunities and expanding economic and trade ties between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Republic of Hungary. They discussed the benefit to the national economy in both friendly countries from improved cooperation.

Ms. Orban and her accompanying delegation expressed their deep appreciation to H.E. Dr. Mirza and thanked him for the warm reception and issues discussed, which were aimed at creating a sustainable business environment and helping build new trade and investment bridges between the two countries that will enhance the economic interests of both. They wished every success to the Kingdom for further development and prosperity.

The press department of the prime minister’s office had no information on Ráhel Orbán’s trip to Bahrain. A few hours later, however, Ráhel Orbán in her usual arrogant style released a statement saying that “between September 17 and 20, 2015 my husband and I paid a private visit to Barhrain [sic]. We paid for all expenses. All other claims are lies,” I guess even NOGA’s press release. Diplomacy is not her strength. Father and daughter express themselves forcefully. Of course, this answer is no answer at all. No one claimed that it was the Hungarian government that paid for their trip. The issue is her involvement in negotiations with Bahrain’s minister of energy.

bahrein1

Panic must have set in government circles after the revelations of 444.hu and word must have reached the politicians in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, because by now the objectionable text about negotiations has disappeared and has been replaced by the following:

Minister of Energy His Excellency Dr. Abdul Hussain bin Ali Mirza received in his office at the National Oil and Gas Authority (NOGA) on a courtesy visit, the daughter of Prime Minister of the Republic of Hungary Ms. Rahel Orban, accompanied by the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Hungary to the Kingdom of Bahrain Mr. Balazs Garamvolgyi, in the presence of Dr. Ahmed Ali Al Sharyan, the NOGA General Secretary.

H.E. Dr. Mirza welcomed the distinguished visitors in the Kingdom of Bahrain and gave a brief overview of the economy of Bahrain.

Ms. Orban and the accompanying guests expressed their deep appreciation for H.E. Dr. Mirza, and thanked him for the warm reception.

They wished every success to the Kingdom for further development and prosperity.

Journalists at Index had a lot of fun with Balázs Garamvölgyi, who gave “probably the best mini-interview of his life” because he conveniently forgot what he was doing in Bahrain. As he said, “it was last September and I really no longer remember.” But one thing HírTV managed to learn: Péter Szijjártó, the foreign minister, had no knowledge of any official trip undertaken by Ráhel and her husband to Bahrain.

István Tiborcz definitely needs a new suit and Ráhel a new dress

István Tiborcz definitely needs a new suit and Ráhel a new dress

The latest piece of news is that one month after Ráhel Orbán’s visit to Bahrain a delegation from MOL, an international oil and gas company headquartered in Budapest, paid a visit to Abdul Hussein bin Ali Mirza, minister and head of the National Oil and Gas Authority. Garamvölgyi, who seems to have miraculously recovered from amnesia, insists that the two visits had absolutely nothing to do with one another. Of course not. The author of the blog “Most és Itt” (Now and Here) told this story in the form of a fairy tale (“The little royal princess Ráhel in Bahrain”). Most adults no longer believe in fairy tales just as we don’t believe that the two events had nothing to do with one another. Let’s finish this story with the customary last line in Hungarian fairy tales: “Itt a vége, fuss el véle.” Here is the end, run with it.

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*Olaszliszka was the town where a group of Roma killed a man driving through town because they thought that a little girl had been killed by his car.

**A reference to the brutal murder of a little boy whose body was thrown into a lake near Kaposvár in 2012.

***Krisztina Morvai began her career as a liberal civil rights lawyer but eventually ended up as a fiercely anti-Semitic member of Jobbik. Currently she represents the party in the EU Parliament.

August 31, 2016