Tag Archives: Angela Merkel

Viktor Orbán’s government: “The manifestation of God’s grace”

While the Catholic Church celebrates November 1, All Saints’ Day, Protestants this year are remembering October 31, when Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses challenging the Catholic Church to the door of Wittenberg’s All Saints’ Church five hundred years ago. Celebrations of the event abound, not just in Germany but everywhere that Protestantism has sprung up since.

Historical Hungary is the eastern bastion of Protestantism, so remembrances have taken place in Slovakia, Hungary, and the Transylvanian part of Romania. A committee was set up to stage a “national” celebratory gathering to commemorate the event in Budapest. As far as I could ascertain, only the Magyarországi Evangélikus Egyház (Hungarian Lutheran Church) and the Magyarországi Református Egyház (Hungarian Reformed Church) were involved. The Catholic prelates stayed away, unlike in Germany where both Lutheran and Catholic clergy participated in church services and celebrations and vowed to do more for the unity of Christianity, according to the Associated Press.

The event took place in the László Papp Budapest Sports Arena that can seat 12,500 people, but the organizers slightly overestimated the interest. Quite a few seats were empty. Mind you, attendance was not free. It cost 500 forints (about $1.50), though for that one also got a sandwich and an apple. Before Zoltán Balog and Viktor Orbán delivered their speeches, a Lutheran bishop gave an invocation and a Reformed bishop a full-fledged service, called “istentisztelet” (veneration of God) in Hungarian.

But let’s move on quickly to Viktor Orbán’s speech because, let’s face it, most of the people paid the 500 forints to hear him. As far as Orbán speeches go, it was short, but it raised quite a few eyebrows among those who find Orbán’s governing style increasingly intolerable. The sentence that created the greatest stir was the prime minister’s claim that it is no accident but an “expression of God’s mercy” that Hungary currently has a Christian government. Hungary Today, an English language internet news site that is financed through hidden channels by the Hungarian government, reported on the speech in the briefest possible manner, which might have something to do with the fact that there were some truly unacceptable statements in his text.

“Impetus for Renewal” / MTI / Photo: Zoltán Máthé

Orbán defined himself as a Calvinist prime minister and said he was asked by the church leaders to deliver a speech to this crowd solely because of his religion. But surely, at a “national” celebration of the Reformation the prime minister’s religion is irrelevant. He is there as the political leader of the country. Just as Angela Merkel was at the German celebration not as the daughter of a Lutheran minister but as the chancellor of Germany. Orbán continued the Calvinist theme by recalling that “exactly 99 years ago anti-Christian forces killed our pre-eminent Calvinist prime minister, István Tisza [1861-1918].” This statement is untrue. Tisza’s death had nothing to do with his Calvinism. His murderers didn’t kill him for his Christian religion but because they considered him responsible, rightly or wrongly, for four years of brutal war. But such minor details don’t bother Viktor Orbán.

That was just the warm-up. He claimed that “our lives and our work are determined by a higher force and power.” It was God’s decision to place the Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin just as it was God’s ordinance that he is the prime minister of Hungary today. One mustn’t see the existence of a Christian government leading Hungary today as the “caprice of fate” but as “the manifestation of God’s grace.” He doubled down on this theme by saying that “we consider it a privilege that in this renewal [of the country] Providence has used us, our churches, the government and the free community of Hungarian citizens in the whole Carpathian Basin as instruments [of His will].” He added that Hungary will be a country “where all forms of work, from street sweeping to governing the country, serve the glory of God.” What can one say?

The final thought of the speech is perhaps the hardest to interpret. Orbán was talking about the unification of the nation across borders, which is a very difficult undertaking. But “the Biblical force that five hundred years ago received an overwhelming impetus entrusts us with one more task,” which seems to be “the ultimate and great unification of the nation.” What this ultimate and great unification means exactly, it is difficult to say. It might be a spiritual union of Hungarian souls, but I still don’t know what do with “the recognition of truth which frees us,” which is supposedly necessary for the accomplishment of this task. I really wonder whether he himself knows what he is talking about.

Hungarian newspaper articles more or less came to the same conclusions I did, except that they didn’t even try to solve the puzzle of “the ultimate and great unification of the nation.” But György Gábor, a philosopher of religion who is always enlightening and often amusing, commented on Orbán’s “laughable ignorance” in matters of religion. Orbán described his government not only as Christian but also as “hitvalló,” literally “professor of faith.” The problem is that in Hungarian “hitvalló” means “confessor,” which originally meant someone venerated as a saint, Christian martyrs, people who were known for their moral perfection or who lived an ascetic life. Gábor added: “So, imagine now for a moment the pure and moral members of the government who are beyond reproach.” And, of course, there is the additional problem that “confessor” is a strictly Catholic title associated with sainthood.

I think it might be instructive to read what Angela Merkel had to say on this day. She stressed the importance of tolerance toward the wide variety of beliefs. “Those who embrace plurality must exercise tolerance—that is the historical experience of our continent,” she said. “Tolerance is the basis for peaceful togetherness in Europe.” This is exactly what Viktor Orbán rejects. Instead, he asks for “assistance in the form of prayers from [his] Protestant and, naturally, Catholic brethren” for his work for a Christian and Hungarian Hungary.

November 1, 2017

The Three Seas Initiative and Donald Trump

On June 9 the White House Office of the Press Secretary announced the upcoming visit of President Trump to Poland at the invitation of Polish President Andrzej Duda in advance of the G20 Summit in Hamburg. At the end of the short statement we learned that, in addition to meeting with Duda and delivering a major speech, “he will attend the Three Seas Initiative Summit to demonstrate our strong ties to Central Europe.”

SouthFront: Analysis & Intelligence announced that “this visit deserves to be closely monitored for it will reveal more about the Trump Administration’s foreign policy agenda than his previous actions.” The opinion piece considered Trump’s presence at the Three Seas Initiative Summit especially meaningful since Poland’s current political elite is advancing the idea of Intermarium, a Polish-dominated confederation that would include the Baltic States, Ukraine, and possibly also the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia. It is supposed to serve “as a ‘cordon sanitaire’ against Russia and a counterweight to the power of Germany and the European Union.”

Before we embark on current opinions on the Three Seas Initiative, let’s look at its precedent–Intermarium, or in Polish Międzymorze, between the seas. It was a plan proposed by Józef Piłsudski, an important political figure and military leader of interwar Poland. He envisaged a confederation that, by its third iteration, would have included practically the whole of Central Europe, including Hungary. Nothing came of the plan because there were just too many conflicting national interests at work. In addition, other countries were suspicious of the whole project, which they viewed as an attempt to re-establish the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which in the seventeenth century included half of today’s Estonia, all of Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, the westernmost parts of Russia, and the larger part of Ukraine.

Józef Piłsudski’s Intermarium Plan and its different stages

A revival of the Intermarium project surfaced after the 2014 Ukrainian crisis when the present Euroatlantic arrangement couldn’t prevent the annexation of Crimea and the armed conflict in Donbas. Ukraine and its neighbors were looking for alternative models for regional cooperation. At that time the concept of a modern Intermarium began gaining adherents, among them Polish President Andrzej Duda, who “is attempting to recreate the Polish long-life plan of building a natural defensive alliance among like-minded neighbors in the face of the Russian threat, and with NATO military support.”

Duda looks upon the formation of the Three Seas Initiative (TSI) as his great diplomatic feat. On August 28, 2016 a two-day meeting took place in Dubrovnik, Croatia, which was attended by representatives of 12 countries, including Hungary’s president, János Áder. The Croatian president called the area between the Adriatic, the Baltic, and the Black Sea “the lifeblood of Europe.”

It is the second summit of this group that Donald Trump agreed to attend. Trump’s attendance, according to Wojciech Przybylski writing for Euobserver, will definitely put the spotlight on TSI. It is not impossible that Trump’s Polish visit is intended as “a slight against German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron.” In addition, some European leaders fear that the Polish ministry of foreign affairs can’t handle such a diplomatically sensitive visit. There is also the possibility that, after Trump’s visit, the Poles will be even more confrontational than before when dealing with the European Union, Przybylski concludes. Others, like the pro-Russian World Socialist Web Site, use stronger language. They are certain that “Trump’s meeting with the leaders of this alliance is a clear signal that the White House is reintroducing the Intermarium strategy which will exacerbate conflicts with Germany.”

Last December Vit Dostál, writing for visegradplus.org, called the Three Seas Initiative a “pipe-dream coming from Warsaw.” He may have been right because the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza cited at least one Czech diplomat who said that Prague will not attend the Three Seas event because it is far too close to the “concept of Piłsudski.” Sputnik Polska conducted an interview with Adam Wielomski, a Polish political science professor, who considers Trump’s visit to Poland and his presence at the TSI summit “support of Duda’s governing Law and Justice Party and the initiative to forge a Central and Eastern European union.”

The TSI project or, in Hungarian, “Három Tenger Kezdeményezés” was not widely covered in Hungary before the news of Trump’s attendance. MTI reported on the Dubrovnik summit, but no one was really interested in what was described as a round table discussion on energy. On the other hand, in November 2015, at a conference attended by politicians, both Jobbik’s Gábor Vona and LMP’s András Schiffer envisaged Hungary’s future in an East-Central European Union. I have not followed Schiffer’s foreign policy ideas, but Vona’s adherence to such a regional solution didn’t surprise me because a couple of months ago Matthew Kott of New Eastern Europe reported that Intermarium was hijacked by the far right in certain countries of the region.

The only serious Hungarian piece on the Three Seas Initiative and Donald Trump’s decision to attend its summit is by Attila Ara-Kovács, a foreign policy analyst, which appeared a couple of days ago. He is skeptical of the success of Duda’s project and Trump’s power to substantially influence the present geopolitical situation in Europe.

Donald Trump’s visit to Warsaw is fraught with danger. He knows absolutely nothing about the situation in Poland or, for that matter, about the whole complicated region. His visit will give a boost to the present Polish government, which is good neither for the Polish people nor for the people of the European Union.

June 29, 2017

Viktor Orbán turns up the volume

Viktor Orbán’s speeches have recurring themes: Hungary’s independence, a European Union of nation states, his opposition to the settlement of alien ethnic groups in Hungary, and his crusade against George Soros. His latest exhortation, delivered yesterday at the close of the national consultation “Stop Brussels,” was more of the same, just intensified. These themes were after all the underlying tenets of the government questionnaire with its spoon fed answers. Naturally, the national consultation was a roaring success: 90% of those who returned the questionnaire wholeheartedly supported the government.

Let’s stand up for Hungary

Viktor Orbán as Saint László

The speech began with a factual error. But what else is new? The Hungarian prime minister, who often portrays himself as a devout Christian, began the prepared section of his speech with this sentence: “Greetings to all on the birthday of Saint László, our king.” How handy, especially since the Orbán regime declared 2017 as the Saint László Memorial Year on the occasion of the 940th anniversary of his ascendance to the throne and the 825th anniversary of his canonization.

One doesn’t have to be a medieval historian to know that we almost never have accurate birth dates of early kings. Admittedly, it is on June 27 that Hungarian men named László celebrate their name day, but this doesn’t mean that King László I was actually born on that day. According to the large 12-volume Magyarország története published in the late 1980s, László was born somewhere in Poland around 1046. The new biographical dictionary is even more cautious; it places the date of his birth “sometime in the 40s.” Some less reliable internet sources, like the Hungarian Wikipedia, perpetuate the myth.

But, even though it is highly unlikely that László was born on June 27, the imagined occasion gave rise to some breathtaking comparisons. “Saint László strengthened the Hungarian state which protected us from external attacks and domestic cabals, secured our country’s independence by conducting realpolitik among great powers. Stop Brussels. He defended Hungarians from the destruction of nomadic peoples. Stop migrants. Following the guidance of St. Stephen, he strengthened the identity of the Hungarian state and the Hungarian nation. Stop Soros. Hungarians have been following this path and from this path we, today’s Hungarians, do not want to deviate.”

Viktor Orbán on German politics

After admitting that German-Hungarian relations are not in the best shape, Orbán recommended a suspension of all serious dialogue with Germany for at least three months because Hungary has no intention of getting involved in the German election campaign. But, he continued, “There are some people who want to drag us into it.” For example, “our good old friend and fan, Comrade Schulz, who, as a real Brusselite, found us difficult to take, or to be more precise, he became ill every time he heard about national independence and freedom. Now that he has returned to Germany and has been stumbling right and left, in fact, faces ignominious defeat, he wants to score points with German voters with bilious anti-Hungarian attacks. This is irresponsibility. A statesman doesn’t do such a thing, although it is possible that ambition doesn’t even figure in this case. We should keep cool; we should behave responsibly and not fall for the provocations of the German left. And at night we should say a quiet prayer for Angela Merkel’s victory. Yes, a personal sacrifice is sometimes necessary in the service of the nation.”

By way of background, Viktor Orbán is no fan of Angela Merkel. His media empire has portrayed the German chancellor in such an unfavorable light that, according to a recent poll, Hungarians have a lower opinion of Merkel than of Putin. One should also keep in mind that Martin Schulz over the years has taken a very strong stand against Hungary’s little Putin, and he swore that if elected chancellor he would not be as kind and forgiving as his opponent. Of course, Orbán would have been happiest if the German far right had managed to gain a significant following, but as things stand now, this is unlikely. However negatively Orbán views Angela Merkel, she is less of a threat than the social democratic Schulz would be.

George Soros and NGOs

In this speech Orbán manifested an intensified hatred of Soros and NGOs. He went so far as to accuse NGOs financed by foreigners of secretly organizing illegal immigration. They are “the Trojan horses of terrorism.” These “so-called NGOs are in fact parts of a mafia network.”

As for the latest Soros bashing, after calling a future United States of Europe the “Kingdom of Brussels,” he claimed that “where a kingdom is being built there are always kingmakers in the background.” They are normally exceptionally wealthy, powerful men who because of their wealth are “endowed with a feeling of superiority.” In this particular case, there is such a man in the background who considers himself to be superior, who is determined, a successful financier. His name is György Soros. “Unfortunately for us he is Hungarian,” and as such he is smart. He wants to bring millions of migrants to Europe. One can forget about the “humanitarian blah blah” because Soros is “a speculator who runs an extensive mafia network that endangers the peace and future of Europe. Migration is good business for him.” In Orbán’s opinion, Soros is angry at Hungary and angry at him because “we stand in the way of his great plan and his business interests.”

In the past, although Soros and his ideas may have been irritants, the Hungarian government didn’t raise objections to him openly. But now Soros has gone too far by financing organizations that transport migrants and a mafia net of human traffickers and NGOs. “This is no longer ideology; this is politics; this is a question of national security. And when the question is about the security of Hungarians, Hungarian families, and Hungary there is no pardon, there are no phony explanations, liberal babble, or philanthropic blah blah. There is only the law, power, and defense. And today we have to defend ourselves with the weight of the law and the power of the state.”

This was the first time that Orbán addressed the issue of possible anti-Semitism in connection with his attacks against George Soros. Naturally, he rejected such accusations. His opposition to Soros has nothing to do with ethnic origins. His government several times declared its “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitism. Therefore, “this swampy terrain should be abandoned as soon as possible,” especially since those who accuse the Hungarian government of anti-Semitism “actually dispatch tens of thousands of migrants” and with them import anti-Semitism into Europe. Orbán’s migrant policies actually serve the interest of the Jewish communities in Europe “even if they don’t stand openly by their own elementary interests and remain silent when unfair attacks are launched against Hungarians who are defending them.” In brief, he is accusing the European Jewish community of being ungrateful for the protection the Orbán government offers them.

Gáspár Miklós Tamás (TGM) called the speech pseudo-paranoid because, as he put it, “no rational man can believe all the foolishness that Orbán piled on his audience.” Surely, he cannot possibly believe everything he says, but “there is the probability that it will arouse real paranoia in his followers and his opponents. And that is distressing.” Orbán is systematically poisoning the souls of millions of Hungarians with outright lies about George Soros’s role in the refugee crisis.

June 28, 2017

Emmanuel Macron meets the leaders of the Visegrád 4 countries

Viktor Orbán usually leaves these summits full of complaints about the Brussels bureaucrats’ total incompetence, which will lead to the ruin of Europe. Normally, he comes out of these meetings either condemning the results altogether or, if there is anything to praise, bragging about his key role in the negotiations. For reasons that are still unclear, Orbán’s reaction to this particular summit was surprisingly upbeat. He was especially satisfied with the unanimous support for the creation of a European army. “If one day there is a European army, then future history books will consider this summit the point of departure.”

There is nothing surprising about Orbán’s enthusiasm for a common army because he has talked about it often enough in the last year or so. On the other hand, it was unexpected that, although he admitted that there is no agreement on questions related to migration, “the emphasis was on cooperation” instead of “divergence,” which he considered to be a positive development. Orbán was remarkably congenial, although he was still unmovable on the issue of refugee quotas.

For the leaders of the Visegrád 4 countries, especially those of Poland and Hungary, the scheduled meeting with Emmanuel Macron this morning was of paramount importance. If all goes well, with the election of Macron as president of France there is a good possibility of a gradual transformation of the European Union or at least of the Eurozone into some kind of a federation-like construction. In addition, Macron has never hidden his objections to the kind of political system Jarosław Kaczyński is building in Poland and Viktor Orbán has pretty well already built in Hungary. Moreover, Macron believes, and it seems that he has Chancellor Angela Merkel’s backing, that the lack of solidarity the Visegrád countries display in the refugee crisis cannot be left unpunished. In addition, Macron has had some harsh words to say about the blatant disregard for European values in the Polish and Hungarian political systems. None of that boded well for the first person-to-person meeting of the five heads of states.

Having gone through several Hungarian, Polish, and English-language summaries of the meeting, I came to the conclusion that the prime ministers of the Visegrád 4 didn’t change Macron’s view that all member countries must respect the values and joint decisions of the EU and that, if they don’t, they must face political consequences. Nonetheless, the reports insisted that the meeting was friendly and successful. As Hungary’s Híradó, the official news distributed to all media organs, put it, “although the positions didn’t converge, the leaders called the meeting successful because they could share their own points of view with the president.” Well, that’s not much, especially if, as the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza noted, during the meeting “Emmanuel Macron … reiterated the claim that some countries regard the EU as a supermarket.”

All the Hungarian articles quoted Orbán’s somewhat cryptic description of their meeting with the new French president as a “friendship with a manly beginning,” which in English doesn’t make much sense. However, the meaning of the word “férfias ~ férfiasan” (“masculine ~ in a masculine manner”) in Hungarian also means “firm, resolute, uncompromising.” That’s why one of the internet sites continued by saying that “yet by the end of the meeting they came to the conclusion that the basis of cooperation is the mutual respect they will accord each other.” To put all this into more easily understandable language, I suspect that the Visegrád 4, most likely led by Orbán, started off on a high horse but decided after a while to tone down their “uncompromising” attitude as long as Macron shows them respect.

From other sources it is clear that Macron was unyielding on certain topics. When someone from the French president’s entourage was asked about possible sanctions against those countries that refuse to play according to the rules, he asserted that “no subject was avoided, ignored” during the talks with the Central European leaders. Moreover, Angela Merkel, who usually avoids openly criticizing the countries of the East, said yesterday that “Germany and France are totally on the same page” on the issue.

Magyar Idők most likely doesn’t know yet what the official line will be on this particular issue, and therefore it decided to rely on the official Hungarian news agency’s brief report from Brussels. However, the paper’s anti-Macron rhetoric continues. Just today two antagonistic articles appeared about him, including one which gleefully announces that the raid of Havas’ headquarters by the French anti-corruption police might also involve a visit by Macron, at the time economy minister, to Las Vegas. To an article that didn’t have any more information than what MTI released, Pesti Srácok gave the following headline: “The Visegrád Four put Macron in his place.”

The day before the Macron-Visegrád 4 meeting Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies, published an opinion piece in The New York Times: “Central Europe’s Tough Choice: Macron or Orban?” He explains that many countries in Eastern Europe built their economic competitiveness on low wages and low taxes and therefore fear the policies Macron campaigned on, like harmonizing taxes across the union and penalizing countries for exporting cheap labor. If these plans materialize, they “could destroy Central Europe’s business model.” So, these countries now, says Krastev, must choose “between deeper integration on terms set by Germany and France or political marginalization—and the fears of a two-tiered European Union could become self-fulfilling prophecies.” The choice is given, but “the jury is out on which choice governments will make: Macron or Orbán, “Hungary’s hard-line nationalist minister.” Orbán told us several times that a two-tiered Europe is unacceptable to him. I expect that in the next years—unless he loses the election, which is unlikely—Orbán will work to somehow wiggle himself out of this hard if not impossible choice.

June 23, 2017

The anti-EU, anti-Soros campaigns continue with renewed vigor

As Der Spiegel reported yesterday afternoon, Chancellor Angela Merkel, when asked her opinion of the outcome of the meeting between the presidency of the European People’s Party and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, remarked that promises are one thing but she is waiting for “the actual results.” It seems that Viktor Orbán can no longer hoodwink European politicians. They have learned over the years that it is foolhardy to trust Orbán and his fellow Fidesz politicians.

Merkel’s comment came after the meeting about which we now know a little more. Today Der Spiegel reported that EC President Jean-Claude Juncker and Orbán, who were seated next to one another, engaged in an extended, vehement argument. At one point Jyrki Katainen, vice president for jobs, growth, investment, and competitiveness, apparently warned Orbán that the regional subsidies could be reduced in the future.

Der Spiegel opined that the EPP leadership is mistaken if they think that Orbán’s verbal agreement will be translated into deeds. This is also more or less what Rafał Trzaskowski, a Polish MP from the Civic Platform party who participated in the EPP meeting, suggested when he said that “the question is now whether he will follow what he says. Then, obviously, he can stay with us.” This comment, which I missed yesterday, further convinces me that Fidesz’s position in the EPP is not at all secure and the question of expulsion did come up during the meeting.

Admittedly, only one day has passed since the EPP meeting, but there is no sign of any let-up in anti-EU, anti-Soros propaganda in Hungary. On the contrary, it seems to me that Orbán’s answer to his “humiliation” is open defiance. Nobody really commented on the fact that Viktor Orbán was accompanied by Antal Rogán, his propaganda minister, during his stay in Brussels. Rogán sat silently next to him during his appearance before the European Parliament, and he could be seen at the brief encounter with journalists after the European Council meeting was over on Saturday afternoon.

Orbán’s forced grin may be a sign of discomfort

Rogán’s task is to explain to the Hungarian people what “really” happened in Brussels. He started his propaganda campaign this morning by giving an interview on Magyar Rádió’s “Vasárnapi Újság” in which he emphasized Hungary’s right to maintain positions different from those of the EU majority on certain issues. If necessary, the Hungarian government will take legal action to defend this right. Interestingly enough, he didn’t mention Central European University, the NGOs, or the “Stop Brussels” campaign. His concern was the migrant question. On this there can be no compromise, Rogán maintained. As for Fidesz’s relationship with the EPP, Rogán came up with an intriguing scenario. His claim is that George Soros has been working behind the scenes to have Fidesz expelled from the EPP. According to Rogán, Soros is also putting pressure on the European Union to force Hungary to dismantle the fence and the transit zones on the Serbian-Hungarian border, but this is not negotiable.

We know that the migrant question was discussed during the EPP meeting because politico.hu reported that Saturday’s meeting became tense “when Orbán said he will never accept Muslim migrants” into his country. The refugee crisis is Orbán’s most effective political weapon. Orbán contends that the refugees who came through the Balkans were not desperate people running away from war and the refugee camps in Turkey and elsewhere. Instead, someone for political reasons must have encouraged these men and women to migrate to Europe. Orbán first blamed Angela Merkel, who invited the refugees to Germany. Later he pointed the finger at George Soros, the perfect scapegoat for his political purposes. By accusing Soros of evil designs against Hungary and, in fact, against the whole of Europe, he can move against both the bothersome NGOs and Central European University. CEU may not interfere with his policies as some of the NGOs do, but an independent university over which he has no jurisdiction remains an irritant.

Bence Rétvári, undersecretary of the ministry of human resources, identified Soros as the source of all the problems Europe and Hungary are facing today. Soros’s meeting with Juncker especially bothers the members of the Orbán government. They envisage a whole Soros network that “applies pressure on the country.” Rétvári directed another attack on Central European University and its president, Michael Ignatieff, who after all “led the Canadian Liberal party and therefore behaves like a politician.” Despite all the protestation, he claims, CEU is not an independent university.

The brand new “Stop Brussels!” and anti-Soros ad, which runs on several television channels, can be seen here with English subtitles.

Zoltán Lomnici, Jr., an extreme right-winger and an active member of the government-sponsored CÖF, a pseudo-NGO, demanded on M1, the state television news station, that the 226 members of the European Parliament named in a document released by DC Leaks should be investigated because of the possibility that they serve foreign interests. Lomnici is referring to a publication prepared by the KumQuat Consult for Open Society European Policy Institute titled “Reliable allies in the European Parliament (2014-2019).” The list contains mostly Social Democratic, Green, and Liberal politicians. Lomnici pointed out that of the 17 MEPs who spoke during the plenary session on the Hungarian question 11 appeared on the Open Society’s list. Nézőpont Intézet, a pro-government think tank, devoted an opinion piece to the subject in which the author listed such important politicians as Martin Schulz, Olli Rehn, Gianni Pittella, Guy Verhofstadt, Sophie in’t Veld, and Ulrike Lunacek. Even Frank Engel, a Christian Democrat, is listed, which naturally explains why Engel would like to see Fidesz expelled from the EPP. Magyar Idők was pleased to report that Prime Minister Robert Fico is also contemplating steps to achieve “the transparency of civic organizations in Slovakia” and that the Polish government, just like Hungary, has problems with the Norwegian Fund.

The current Macedonian crisis is a godsend for the Orbán government’s Soros bashing. I should note here that Hungary, alongside Russia, is backing the Macedonian president, Gjorge Ivanov, who was a guest of the Orbán government about a month ago. On April 18 a Fidesz member of parliament addressed a question to Péter Szijjártó concerning the situation in Macedonia where, in his opinion, George Soros is behind the disturbances in Skopje. “The people of Macedonia have had enough of this and they began a ‘Let’s Stop Soros’ movement.” László Szabó, undersecretary in the foreign ministry, the man who will be the next Hungarian ambassador in Washington, replied. He claimed that Soros has been organizing anti-government demonstrations ever since May 2015. Since then, Péter Szijjártó released a statement about foreign interference in Macedonia’s internal affairs, which bore a suspicious resemblance to the statement published by the Russian ministry of foreign affairs.

In any case, the anti-Soros campaign is going on with renewed intensity as is the campaign to sign and return the “Stop Brussels!” national consultation questionnaires, to which both the European Commission and the presidency of the European People’s Party have strenuously objected. In fact, the government just launched a new campaign to urge people to return the questionnaires because they will play a vital role in the government’s defense of the country against the attacks by the European Union. At the same time, the government is trying to explain away the real meaning of the national consultation which, according to the latest interpretation, is simply a way of expressing the Hungarian government’s intentions to reform and improve the structure of the European Union. Somehow, I don’t think that Frans Timmermans and Joseph Daul will fall for this latest ruse of Viktor Orbán.

April 30, 2017

President János Áder signed the anti-CEU law despite worldwide protests and massive demonstrations

President János Áder signed the changes to the higher education bill that the Hungarian parliament passed in 48 hours. His decision to do so didn’t come as a total surprise because Magyar Nemzet learned a couple of days ago that Áder found no legal reasons to reject the proposed law and either send it back to parliament for reconsideration or to the Constitutional Court for review. Still, I hoped that Áder would have the courage to make a symbolic gesture, thereby manifesting a modicum of independence, but he didn’t even dare to do that much. I suspect that the pressure on him coming from Viktor Orbán was considerable. Orbán is so obsessed with his crusade against the liberal, democratic worldview, to him symbolized by George Soros and, by extension, the university he founded, that he is throwing caution to the wind.

Those people who think that, with Áder’s signature, the case of Central European University is closed are, of course, wrong. This is just the beginning of something that may end very badly for Viktor Orbán. Yesterday 80,000 people went out to demonstrate. About half way through the demonstration it became obvious that the participants weren’t just fighting for the continued existence of a university or for the academic freedom of Hungarian universities in general. They were speaking out against the regime and what it represents.

This is a clash of two worlds: a nationalistic, xenophobic society hamstrung by an autocrat whose whims may lead the country into a diplomatic no man’s land as well as economic ruin and a free society governed by laws informed by the liberal principles of democracy. Orbán’s attack on Central European University, George Soros, and the civic organization is all about this struggle. For Orbán it is imperative to win this war. Even if his dream of transforming Europe into segmented little nation states led by far-right political groups does not materialize, as he hoped last year, he will at least stop the evil forces of liberalism at the borders of Hungary.

Orbán is confident in his own popularity and the strength of the regime he has managed to build in the last seven years. He thinks he is invincible. And why not? He sees the opposition as small, weak, and powerless. It seems that even the immense crowd on the streets of Budapest didn’t persuade him otherwise, despite the fact that the composition of this crowd was very different from earlier gatherings of mostly retirees.

Some people compare yesterday’s demonstration to the one organized against the internet tax in the fall of 2015, but the comparison doesn’t stand up. First of all, the participants in the 2015 demonstration were exclusively young internet users. Second, the demonstration was organized, in the final analysis, for grubby reasons. Third, it didn’t morph into a general political demonstration. Yesterday’s demonstration, by contrast, included young, middle-aged, and old people. They went out to show their support for ideals: free university, free thought, freedom in general, the European Union. And, finally, at one point, the gathering became a political demonstration against the regime. They sent both Orbán and the Russians straight to hell. The old 1956 slogan resurfaced: “Ruszkik haza!”

This is serious stuff that may end very badly for Viktor Orbán, but there is no way that he will abandon his holy war against the very notion of an open society. To him, this is a struggle for survival. Today’s Magyar Idők called the enemies of Viktor Orbán “the fifth column,” which obviously must be eliminated. János Somogyi, a retired lawyer and a frequent op-ed contributor, targeted the Helsinki Commission but in passing wove into his story the European Court of Human Rights and its Hungarian judge, András Sajó, who taught at Central European University before his appointment to the court. Somogyi described the situation at the moment this way: “War rages between the penniless [nincstelen] democratic forces, the will of the people, and the aggressive minority of immensely wealthy liberal imperialistic forces. Behind the Helsinki Commission there is the immensely wealthy liberal empire while the strength of the popular will is in the truth. In wartime, the rules of war must be applied because this is the only way to bring the truth to victory.” It is this war that Viktor Orbán is leading. It is a war in which enemies must be eliminated, according to the rules of war.

The world is looking at what’s going on in Hungary with growing concern, and in the past few months Germany has been translating its concern into action. Magyar Nemzet reported today that a meeting scheduled for May 5 between German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and his Hungarian counterpart, Péter Szijjártó, has been cancelled. In February Angela Merkel celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of Germany’s signing ties of friendship with Czechoslovakia and Hungary, but only with the prime ministers of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Viktor Orbán was not invited. According to Magyar Nemzet, Szijjártó at the end of last year and the beginning of this year tried four times to initiate talks with the former German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to no avail. It is also unlikely that Angela Merkel will visit Hungary this year as was originally planned.

Hungary’s relations with Germany are just as bad as they are with the United States, but at least Orbán never aspired to close relations with the United States–not, that is, until Donald Trump became president. But Germany is another matter. Orbán announced on several occasions that he considers Germany the most important pillar of Hungarian foreign policy.

German cooperation is not the only critical pillar of the Orbán regime that is in danger of collapsing. If they start to fall, so will Viktor Orbán.

April 10, 2017

Viktor Orbán’s next victims: The civic organizations

The Orbán government, at least on the surface, is not intimidated by the growing criticism of and demonstrations against its hurriedly accepted amendments to the law on higher education, which makes Central European University’s life in Hungary impossible. On the contrary, Zoltán Kovács, spokesman for the Hungarian government, attacked those who raised their voices in defense of the university. For example, when Ulrike Demmer, deputy spokesman of the German government, expressed her government’s concern over the amendments, Kovács fired back, saying that it looks as if George Soros can mislead even the German government with his lies. He also called it regrettable that a serious and responsible government such as the government of Germany would make such a statement.

In addition to its legislation against CEU, the Orbán government decided to proceed with its long-planned move against those civic organizations that receive financial assistance from abroad. I began collecting information on this issue sometime in February when I spotted a statement by László Trócsányi, minister of justice. He accused the NGOs of being political actors without any legitimacy as opposed to parliament, which is elected by the people. Soon enough Viktor Orbán himself attacked them. By late March the situation seemed grave enough for a group of scholars from the United States and Great Britain to sign a statement, “No to NGO crackdown in Hungary.” What was remarkable about this statement was that a fair number of the signatories came from decidedly conservative organizations and think tanks, like the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Atlantic Council, and the Adam Smith Institute. Their concern didn’t impress Viktor Orbán, who in Warsaw at the summit of the Visegrád Four countries accused the NGOs of being in the “migrant business,” which would require new regulations to ensure the “transparency” of their finances.

One didn’t have to wait long for follow-up action. On April 2, 444.hu obtained a copy of a proposal that would regulate all NGOs that receive foreign financial support. The reason given was long-winded and confused. Basically, the government was afraid that foreign interest groups might be able to influence Hungarian civic organizations to perform tasks that don’t serve the interests of the community but only the selfish interests of these foreign groups. Foreign-funded NGOs thus “endanger the political and economic interests … sovereignty and national security of Hungary.” For good measure, the proposed bill cited the danger of money laundering, financing extremist groups, and lending a helping hand to terrorists. The complete text of the draft can be read here.

HVG, with the help of its legal experts, took a quick look at the draft and decided that the bill in its present form doesn’t make the affected NGOs’ existence impossible. It is just nasty and humiliating. One of the humiliating items is that every time associates of these NGOs make a statement, give an interview, or provide informational material they must identify themselves as representing “an organization supported from abroad.” The experts decided that this is not as bad as the original idea, which apparently would have called the associates of these organizations “foreign agents.”

Spokesmen for these organizations were not as optimistic as HVG’s legal experts. According to Amnesty International, this new law can have the same devastating effect as the Russian law had after its introduction. Áron Demeter, Amnesty International’s human rights expert, considers the proposed bill a serious violation of the right of association and freedom of expression. Márta Pardavi of the Helsinki Commission regards the notion of “foreign subsidy” far too vague. It looks as if even EU grants are considered to be foreign subsidies and would thus be viewed as “foreign interference” that endangers Hungary’s national security. Or, there is a fund that was created from the budgets of the foreign ministers of the Visegrád Four countries. Is this also considered to be “foreign money”? She noted that churches and sports clubs are exempt from any such restrictions. Political think tanks and media outlets that also receive sizable amounts of money from abroad are exempt as well, although, as Pardavi rightly points out, they have a more direct influence on politics than, for example, the Helsinki Commission.

As it stands now, any civic organization that receives more than 7.2 million forints (about $25,000) a year from outside of Hungary must describe itself as an “organization supported from abroad.” Each time an organization receives any money from abroad, it must report the transaction to the courts within 15 days. The details of each organization’s finances will be listed on a new website called Civil Információs Portál. If an organization misses this deadline it can be fined and, in certain cases, can be taken off the list, which means that it will be shut down for at least five years.

Gergely Gulyás, one of the deputy leaders of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, invited all those parties that have individual caucuses for a discussion of the bill. At the meeting, held this afternoon, it became clear that none of the opposition parties wants anything to do with the bill, which will be submitted to parliament this week. Even Jobbik said “no” to the proposal. As Gulyás Gergely said after the meeting, “George Soros’s hands even reached as far as Jobbik.” As the Fidesz statement insisted, “every Hungarian must know who George Soros’s men are; what kind of money and what kinds of interests are behind these organizations supported from abroad.” The bill will be voted into law before the week is out.

But, as 444.hu pointed out, by attacking the NGOs the Orbán government is treading on dangerous ground because Hungary in 1999, during the first Orbán government, signed the Charter for European Security of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. In the charter we find the following: “We pledge ourselves to enhance the ability of NGOs to make their full contribution to the further development of civil society and respect for human rights and fundamental freedom.” 444.hu predicts that this piece of legislation, if passed, will prompt even greater protest in Europe and the United States than the Hungarian government’s action against CEU.

Given Hungarian political developments in the last seven years, I assume it doesn’t come as a great surprise that one of the key findings of Freedom House’s “Nations in Transit 2017” is that, with regard to democracy, “Hungary now has the lowest ranking in the Central European region,” behind Bulgaria and Romania. The trajectory of Hungary’s fall from grace is shown below.

April 5, 2017