Tag Archives: anti-government demonstrations

Viktor Orbán is playing with fire with those itchy Christian palms

It was only a couple of weeks ago that Zsolt Bayer reacted to a series of demonstrations with the following threatening words: “We will also be on the streets to protect what is important and sacred for us. And we will be very angry. So, for a while you can rant and rave, you can try to tear the parliament apart, the ministries, the Fidesz headquarters, the president’s office, you can attack the policemen, assault journalists—for a while. But then no longer. Then you will experience what it feels like to be persecuted and threatened. I’m telling you we are very angry. Is it clear?” LMP’s Bernadett Szél decided to file charges against Zsolt Bayer for “public incitement.”

Bayer is not the kind of guy who, once he has a “cause,” abandons it easily. He promptly answered his critics in an article published in Magyar Idők in which he recalled all the questionable actions of socialist politicians in 2002, as if they had anything to do with the issue at hand. Then, he continued, today’s demonstrators bellow “You will hang!” “To jail!” And they attack journalists. This is what can be called “incitement,” not his answer to all these provocations, which simply states “we will also go out to the streets.” Naturally, they will be peaceful as they always were in the past. His response to the “sniveling” Bernadett Szél is that they will not create a Hungarian Maidan. “I can promise you, and you can call this promise a threat.”

Zsolt Bayer was one of the organizers of those peace marches (békemenetek) which, according to Viktor Orbán, saved him when foreign powers tried to topple his government in 2012. In the past three years or so the organizers haven’t tried to stage a mega-demonstration because the last couple of times they tried, their efforts were flops. Therefore, I consider it highly unlikely that Bayer and his friends in CÖF, the government-sponsored NGO, will try to organize a large demonstration for their beloved leader, Viktor Orbán.

On the other hand, there are groups of people who are not so “peaceful” as the older recruits of the peace marches. These less than savory characters, some from the fan club of the Ferencváros football team, have a very bad reputation when it comes to exercising physical force on the streets of Budapest and elsewhere. They were the ones who attacked the building of the Hungarian public television station in September 2006. This was the first time that Fidesz used these football hooligans for political purposes, but they also showed up on other occasions, the most notorious being the time they prevented István Nyakó (MSZP) from submitting his application for a referendum on Sunday store closings.

Bayer is not the only one who is providing ideological ammunition to these groups. A relative newcomer is a certain János Somogyi, who describes himself as a “retired lawyer” and who is a regular commentator at Magyar Idők. His opinion pieces are viciously anti-American, anti-capitalist, and anti-globalist. He is a great supporter of Vladimir Putin and everything Russian. A few weeks ago he was still a supporter of Donald Trump, but who knows what will happen if Trump doesn’t fulfill his and Orbán’s expectations. His tone is aggressive and bears an uncanny resemblance to the articles published in the communist party’s official daily newspaper, Szabad Nép, before 1956. As far as he is concerned, the demonstrators are “pitiful characters.” Most of them are only misled, though others are “provocateurs in the pay of foreign powers.” They are a nuisance, and “many of us are running out of patience.” The demonstrations are getting to a point where retaliation can be expected. In order to describe his and others’ waning patience, he used the Hungarian equivalent of the word for a carnival strength tester, the high striker– “pofozógép,” punching machine. Actually, he uses the word “pofonosláda” (punching box), which I couldn’t find in the Magyar Értelmező Szótár. But what is important is the word “pofozó” or “pofonos”(punching, slapping) because, as we will see, János Somogyi’s inspiration for dredging up such a rarely used Hungarian word came from none other than Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary.

Three days before Somogyi’s article about the punching machine/box Viktor Orbán gave an interview to Kossuth Rádió’s Vasárnapi Újság. It was during this interview, while discussing the demonstrations, that Orbán talked about people’s hankering to strike out. The reporter, Katalin Nagy, told Orbán that some well-known provocateurs were planning to disturb the Easter procession around the Basilica. Although she is a “peaceful Calvinist,” hearing about such a barbarity was like a punch in the gut. How long must one endure all this, she asked. It was at that point that Orbán said that “many people’s palms are itching. Even the palms of those who otherwise are peaceful and upright Christians.” As I explained in an earlier post, an itchy palm for Orbán means a yen to hit someone or slap someone around.

And that takes us back to a bunch of skinheads and football hooligans who already made a brief appearance at one of the demonstrations but were soon removed by police. Now, these people are organizing a counter-demonstration, scheduled for tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. in “downtown Budapest :)” (I keep wondering what this smiley really means.) The organizers got a lot of requests for such a demonstration because people are fed up with the pseudo-civilians, George Soros, CEU (which is a janissary school), and with the demonstrations in general, which in their opinion are a combination of a pre-Pride march and Woodstock. They don’t want see either an Arab Spring or a Ukrainian Maidan in Hungary. They don’t want an army under the EU flag to influence Hungary’s domestic affairs. “Let’s retake the streets, so Hungary and Budapest can again belong to Hungarians.” Retaking the streets of Budapest sounds pretty frightening to me. The last time I looked, 226 people had indicated that they would attend and 674 are interested.

Tamás Poszpischek, organizer of the demonstration to retake the streets of Budapest

Who will take responsibility for the itchy palms of these good Christians? The extremist organizers, already at the Sunday demonstration, got into a heated discussion with some of the protesters while abusing Soros and Jews in general. Five or six people posed no threat then, but what if several hundred gather tomorrow in “downtown Budapest” for a “medicinal walk”?

Mária M. Kovács, a history professor at CEU, wrote about the itchy palms of good Christians on her Facebook page: “If István Bethlen in 1928 had said that the palms of the Christians are itching, there would have been a national scandal. The parliamentary opposition would have screamed, newspapers would have carried the news on their front pages, and most likely there would have been fist fights at the universities. But István Bethlen didn’t say such a thing.” Yes, this is how far Viktor Orbán has moved to the right. With his coded anti-Semitic remarks that no one even notices, the prime minister himself is leading the troops toward a possible physical confrontation.

April 21, 2017

Viktor Orbán’s regime under fire at home and abroad

It is difficult nowadays to write a post about the Hungarian political scene since it is almost impossible to predict what may happen in the next few minutes on the streets of Budapest, which are again filled with demonstrators.

One thing I have been pondering today in view of the latest U.S.-Hungarian clash over the Central European University (CEU) is the Orbán regime’s total ignorance of the workings of the U.S. government. Throughout the presidential campaign, interest in the Clinton/Trump duel was just as intense in Hungary as anywhere else in Europe. Yet day after day it was apparent that a great many journalists as well as politically engaged citizens were unfamiliar with even the most basic principles of the U.S. electoral law. I found this depressing. But when politicians who are supposed to make decisions affecting U.S.-Hungarian relations are ignorant of how U.S. diplomacy functions, we are in real trouble. And unfortunately, this is increasingly the case.

In the last three years the whole Hungarian diplomatic corps was decimated, and their places were filled with party loyalists who had no diplomatic experience. But even those who in the past 20 years were in important diplomatic positions and who are considered to be Atlantists, i.e. working for better U.S.-Hungarian relations, can come up with mind-boggling idiocies. The latest example comes from Zsolt Németh, undersecretary of the foreign ministry between 1998 and 2002 and again between 2010 and 2014. Commenting on Hoyt Brian Yee’s message to the Hungarian government, he said that Yee’s report on the U.S. government’s support for CEU is “only an opinion and in any case we are talking only about a deputy assistant secretary. Moreover, as far as I know, he has held this position for the last few years, so we ought to wait for the answer of the present American administration as to whether we can sign an agreement that would make CEU’s continued work possible.” What dilettantism and what arrogance, said Zsolt Kerner of 24.hu. The Orbán government assumed (and of course hoped) that the American response still reflected the thinking of the Obama administration. But a few hours after Németh’s comment Mark C. Toner, spokesperson of the State Department, confirmed Yee’s message. The most important sentence of Toner’s lengthy answer to a journalistic question was: “We’re urging the Government of Hungary to suspend implementation of the law.” The message cannot be clearer. The simplistic view of the Orbán government that, for Hungary, “Democratic rule is bad, Republican rule is good” was once again proved wrong. How could Viktor Orbán have forgotten his bad luck with George W. Bush after 9/11 when his insensitivity or perhaps planned insult got him into deep trouble with the Republican administration for the rest of his term?

Viktor Orbán has been a great deal more successful in his dealings with the European Union. For years he has been hoodwinking the hapless “bureaucrats.” But the “Stop Brussels” campaign and the farcical questionnaire of the so-called National Consultation helped them see the light. At last the College under the chairmanship of First Vice-President Frans Timmermans decided “to take stock of the issues at hand, in an objective, facts-based and law-based manner” concerning “the compatibility of certain actions of the Hungarian authorities with EU law and with our shared values.” Timmermans outlined the issues the European Commission and Parliament considered troubling. Heading the list was the fate of Central European University, but right after that came the announcement that “the Commission … decided that it will prepare and make public its own response to the Hungarian Government’s ‘Stop Brussels’ consultation.”

The current European Commission

Moreover, Timmermans accused Hungary of not abiding by Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty, which reads: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.” The sins of the Orbán government are numerous: its attack on CEU and the NGOs, lack of transparency of funding, asylum questions, disregard of human dignity and freedom, and a lack of respect for human rights, tolerance, and solidarity. Of course, we have heard all this before, but what’s different this time is that Timmermans announced that they will complete the legal assessment of the Hungarian situation as soon as possible and “the College will consider next steps on any legal concerns by the end of the month.” In the European Union, where everything takes months if not years, the Hungarian issue seems to have priority. The EU’s criticisms didn’t go unnoticed in Poland. Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, in an interview with MTI, the Hungarian news agency, labeled Timmermans’ announcement “blackmail.” Péter Szijjártó called it a “pathetic accusation.”

I left to the end a development that I find extremely important. Viktor Orbán’s whole political system relies on a three-pronged parliamentary structure. Fidesz is the “center power” with two opposition groups on its flanks: Jobbik on the right and assorted smaller parties on the left, where the right and left have diametrically opposed ideologies. This was the situation in Hungary between the two world wars, which ensured the government party’s supremacy from 1920 to 1944. The genius of this arrangement is that these two poles, due to their ideological incompatibility, are unlikely to unite against the middle.

But in the CEU case Jobbik opted to join ranks with the left. In Hungary 25% of parliamentary members can demand a review of a law by the Constitutional Court, even if it has already been signed by the president. LMP decided to invoke this procedure to trigger a Court review of the new anti-CEU law. To reach the 25% threshold LMP needed to muster 50 votes. If only LMP (5), MSZP (28), and all the independents (11) were to vote for the initiative, they would come up short. But Jobbik decided to add its 24 votes. Demokratikus Koalíció (4), whose members sit with the independents, opted not to join the others because DK doesn’t consider the Fidesz-majority Constitutional Court a legitimate body. Thus, 64 members of parliament joined together in an action against Fidesz. Of course, the Jobbik spokesman emphasized that the decision was made only to save the rule of law in Hungary, and he kept repeating that this doesn’t mean an endorsement of George Soros or his university. But the fact remains that Jobbik decided to join the rest of the opposition. (At the time of the vote on the law on higher education they simply didn’t vote.) This Jobbik decision may have significant consequences.

As I write this, tens of thousands are demonstrating in Budapest, all over the city. The cause is no longer just CEU and the NGOs but democracy and a free Hungary.

April 12, 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 drags Ferenc Gyurcsány onto the podium

Yesterday the prime minister called a marathon meeting of the cabinet. The members of the government were closeted in all day, with only a short break for lunch. In preparation for this meeting, the executive board of Fidesz most likely worked out a plan to revive the reputation of the party and the government. The remedy seems to be massive new infrastructure investment on European Union money. The M4 highway construction project has been abandoned, but we are now being told that 600 billion forints will be spent in the next two and a half years on road construction other than M4. Whether a new package of promises will turn around the negative political trend of the last year is hard to tell. Perhaps voters who have abandoned Fidesz will eventually return to the fold, but “eventually” probably won’t be in time for Sunday’s Tapolca-Ajka-Sümeg election.

Viktor Orbán’s magic touch?

In the past a personal appearance by Viktor Orbán in an electoral district could work miracles. In 2002, when after the first round of voting Fidesz was languishing, the prime minister visited 22 electoral districts where MSZP was leading. He managed to reverse the results in 14 of them. The question is whether Viktor Orbán still has that magic touch. Perhaps not. First of all, he is so afraid of anti-government demonstrations that his schedule is kept secret until the last minute. His itineraries are also secret, and therefore supportive crowds can’t be organized, even if fans were eager to meet and cheer him. Moreover, the old fire seems to have gone out. The reporter for 168 Óra thought that “the prime minister was a shadow of his former self [whose] words were hollow, short of ideas, and spiritless.” He came to the conclusion that Orbán’s presence, instead of helping the Fidesz candidate, worked against him.

The first town Viktor Orbán visited was Ajka, a socialist stronghold where the MSZP-DK candidate, Ferenc Pad, will most likely win. According to the reporter for Magyar Nemzet, only Pad’s posters are still intact. Even Orbán had to admit that Ajka is a “success story” where unemployment is only around 3%, even if the town is governed by a socialist mayor and the majority of council members are also socialists. Of course, the prime minister didn’t dwell on the party preferences of the inhabitants of Ajka. He simply said that his government also has a great deal to do with the relative well-being of the town. Surely, he concluded, people of Ajka cannot have adverse feelings about his government. Media descriptions of the public mood in the city contradict Orbán’s assessment.

From Ajka he moved on to Sümeg, where he promised the completion of the Sümeg Castle, built in the 13th century. Since this town, which lives off of tourism, is pretty solidly behind Fidesz, his stay there was short and to the point.

Anti-government demonstrations

However short his Sümeg visit, Orbán managed to be two hours late arriving in Tapolca. He still couldn’t avoid a small anti-government demonstration whose members had waited patiently for hours, keeping up their spirits by singing the anthem of the European Union and some protest songs from the 1970s. His speech was less than 10 minutes long and was addressed primarily to those activists whose job it is to rouse the less than enthusiastic Fidesz voters.

Orbán seemed to be bothered by the presence of the demonstrators and even mentioned them in his speech: “There are two kinds of people present. Those who are curious about how they can support the candidate of Fidesz-KDNP and those who came here to ruin our day. There is democracy and freedom, therefore it is their business; ours is that we should not allow that.”

Patiently waiting for Viktor Orbán in Tapolca / Photo: János Bődey

Patiently waiting for Viktor Orbán in Tapolca / Photo: János Bődey

Those cursed demonstrators! There may have been only a few dozen people, but the Fidesz leadership just couldn’t get over their gall. The current spokesman of Fidesz, Bence Tuzson, discovered that the organizer of the demonstration was Csaba Czeglédy, the former lawyer of Ferenc Gyurcsány, who was “a tax criminal of the socialists.”  The gathering wasn’t just an ordinary demonstration, according to Tuzson, but a “left-wing provocation,” and they “shouldn’t submit to such aggression.” He called on the left to recall their provocateurs.

Dragging Gyurcsány to the podium

This was not the first reference to Gyurcsány during today’s campaign trip. In Ajka, when Orbán was still in a jolly good mood and kept cracking jokes, he complained that lately he has been the only one “in the limelight” and therefore he has to bear the burden of every wrong decision. He feels so lonely that “soon, [he] will have to drag Gyurcsány to the podium,” he said jokingly, to the audience’s great satisfaction. And in a way, Orbán did drag the former prime minister onto the podium. First, a Nézőpont Intézet study prepared for Magyar Nemzet brought up the possibility that if Ferenc Pad, the MSZP-DK candidate, wins, he may decide to join the four DK members of parliament. That would hand Gyurcsány a parliamentary caucus, which would entitle his party to government funding and a great deal more flexibility in parliament debates.

By today this hypothesis became a perceived threat to the right. According to Gergely Gulyás, a win by Ferenc Pad may “result in the formation of a far-left parliamentary caucus,” which would have a serious effect on the work of the parliament. After all, this new caucus would be led by Ferenc Gyurcsány. Gulyás is not a stupid man. Far from it. He is one of the more intelligent Fidesz leaders, so I can only assume that Fidesz decided it was time for scare tactics. Calling DK a far-left party is, of course, a joke. Some commentators who find the socialist component in Hungarian political thinking practically nonexistent would call DK a neoliberal party, at least as far as its economic policies are concerned. Trying to frighten the electorate with the spectre of Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose party’s support in the population as a whole stands at 6%, seems like an act of desperation. The work of the Hungarian parliament, where Fidesz holds just shy of two-thirds of the seats, will never be disrupted in the event that Ferenc Gyurcsány becomes the leader of a DK caucus.

And that was not the end of “dragging Gyurcsány to the podium.” KEHI (Kormányzati Ellenőrzési Hivatal/Government Control Office) announced that it is pressing charges against Magyar Fejlesztési Bank/Hungarian Development Bank, which in 2005 extended a 17 billion forint loan for the construction of the Győr ETO stadium and ETO Park. As 444.hu jokingly said in the title of its article on the subject: “KEHI presses charges because during the time of the Gyurcsány goverment the Gyurcsányist MFB gave a Gyurcsányist loan to the Gyurcsányist ETO Park.” Soon enough we will have another endless court case that is a crass political ploy without the slightest legal merit.

What evil forces lurk behind the Hungarian demonstrations?

On December 29, 2014 Antal Rogán, whip of the Fidesz caucus, announced a new program called the “National Defense Action Plan” which, he claimed, was needed because the country is under siege. Details were not revealed at the time, but I suspected that it was intended to take the wind out of anti-government sails. “Action plan”–it sounds so manly, Ildikó Lendvai sarcastically remarked in an opinion piece that appeared in Népszava on January 3. She found the whole thing ridiculous until she read an interview with Gergely Gulyás, chairman of a newly created parliamentary committee on legislative activities. In this interview Gulyás said that it was time to make the law on free assembly more restrictive. “I immediately stopped laughing,” Lendvai wrote. This new action plan–because this is not the first in the history of the Orbán regime–should really be called the “Government Defense Action Plan.” The goal is to put an end to anti-government demonstrations.

A sharp-eyed reader of Népszava also became suspicious even before the appearance of the Gulyás interview. What does the government have in mind when it talks about a “National Defense Action Plan”? “Is this perhaps the beginning of limiting our basic human and political rights?” He found the whole idea “frightening.”

Within a week after the Gulyás interview, Viktor Orbán must have realized that he went too far. With all the international attention on the demonstrations and anti-government sentiment, tightening the law on free assembly might be seen as overreach. László L. Simon, undersecretary in the prime minister’s office who lately has been close to Orbán, was given the task of discrediting Gulyás. On January 7 he announced that “the government is not contemplating any changes in the law on assembly.” Gulyás simply expressed his own private opinion. Oh, sure!

Although Viktor Orbán abandoned the idea of changing the law, he is still bent on “dealing” with the anti-government forces. The Fidesz brain trust came up with another idea–putting pressure on the organizers of the demonstrations. Last Friday Rogán was the guest of HírTV’s P8 where he wondered “who is financing these more and more expensive demonstrations and for what reason?” And, he continued, “if someone for political reasons or because of economic interest finances such events, he should reveal his identity in order for us to see who is behind these demonstrations.” In his opinion, the organizers are trying to convince the public that the demonstrations are the handiwork of civic groups alone, “but they are not.” Unmasking the forces behind these demonstrations “might be part of the ‘National Defense Action Plan.'”

Since the Orbán government and its supporting media equate the government with the nation and the country, Magyar Nemzet argued that any support of the demonstrations by the democratic opposition parties is more than suspect. If opposition parties stand behind the demonstrations–as they don’t at the moment–it is a mortal sin, bordering on treason, from their point of view.

The truth is that the organizers ask for donations from the participants on the spot, and each time they manage to collect a few million forints. They have also made their financial records public on Facebook.

The anti-Semitic caricature sent by a student which Tényi found so hilarious

The anti-Semitic caricature sent by a student, which István Tényi found so hilarious

Antal Rogán made only veiled references to taking the case of financing the demonstrations to court if necessary, but a young teacher of Hungarian literature, István Tényi, decided to act. He filed a complaint against the organizers of the recent mass demonstrations on suspicion of fraud.

Tényi has a lot of experience in filing charges. He was the one who filed a complaint against Ökotárs, also for fraud, in connection with the group’s handling of the Norwegian Civic Funds. While he was at it, he filed a complaint against HVG because of its cover story showing Fidesz politicians gathering around the NAV chairwoman, Ildikó Vida, as if around Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus.

What I found out about Tényi isn’t pretty. He was fired from his first job because he sent threatening e-mails to his students indicating that the school will meet the same fate as Baghdad under the massive American bombing. Currently he teaches at the Károly Than Ökoiskola. A writer of a micro-blog found a “disgusting” item–his adjective–on Tényi’s Facebook page. One of his students sent him an anti-Semitic caricature of Gyurcsány. The former prime minister was depicted with the body of a cockroach and a Star of David on his face. The message was “the Israeli Gyurcsány should be crushed” just like a cockroach. Tényi must have enjoyed the caricature because he was one of the five who “liked” it. The other four, I suspect, are his students.

Otherwise, Tényi is 32 years old and graduated from ELTE’s Faculty of Arts in 2006. He is a member of the presidium of Fidelitas in Terézváros (District VI) where he functions as a coordinator. His favorite film is Star Wars IV-VI and his “ideal” is Sándor Petőfi. His favorite drink is mineral water. Most important, he enjoys filing charges against people who don’t agree with his party and the Orbán government. This man, if one can believe the messages on his Facebook page, is quite popular among his students. Imagine the education they are getting from this man. And unfortunately, there are far too many István Tényis among the followers of Viktor Orbán.

The Hungarian government under domestic and foreign pressure

As I’m writing this post thousands are again demonstrating against the government. The crowd gathered in front of the parliament, which one of the organizers called “the puppet show,” and then is heading toward the Castle District, where Viktor Orbán is planning to move. The move will cost an incredible amount of money but, as one of the undersecretaries in the prime minister’s office said, the citizens of Hungary will be really happy once the prime minister moves to quarters befitting his position. Given the mood of these crowds, I very much doubt that that will be the case. The good citizens of Hungary who are out on the street actually wish Orbán not to the Castle District but straight to hell.

The demonstration was organized against corruption but, as usually happens at these mass demonstrations, the crowd went beyond the limited goal of the organizers and demanded the resignation of Viktor Orbán and his government. Fidesz politicians, it seems, have been caught flat-footed. They surely believed that these demonstrations would peter out. Winter is approaching and Christmas will soon be upon us. It was hoped that people would be busy shopping and preparing for family gatherings. But this time they were wrong. Suddenly something inexplicable happened: the totally lethargic Hungarian public was awakened. What happened? After all, the misuse of power and the network of corruption have been features of the Orbán regime ever since 2010 and yet the public was not aroused against its unrelenting abuse of power. Most people knew that Fidesz politicians are corrupt and that they stuff their pockets with money stolen from the public, but they felt powerless to do anything about it.

I see a number of reasons for this change in the Hungarian political atmosphere. I would start with the influence of the book Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist Mafia State, edited by Bálint Magyar, in which dozens of political scientists, economists, sociologists, and media experts published articles that presented for the first time a comprehensive picture of the institutionalized corruption which is the hallmark of the Fidesz regime. Fairly quickly the terms “mafia state” and “mafia government” became part of everyday vocabulary, and the government’s dealings came to be understood within the context of The Godfather. The sinister nature of the enterprise was slowly grasped.

A second reason for the optimism and activism was the success of the first two mass demonstrations against the “internet tax.” Viktor Orbán had to retreat. If he retreated once, more demonstrations might force him to reverse earlier decisions. The success of the first demonstrations gave impetus to the others.

Last but not least was the Hungarian government’s own stupidity when it decided to leak the news about American dissatisfaction with the National Tax Authority and the corrupt officials who tried extract kickbacks from at least one American company. Hungarians expected their politicians to be corrupt, but the news that high officials at the Hungarian Tax Authority were also on the take was too much for them. Moreover, they felt that they now have an ally, the United States of America.

According to most observers, U.S.-Hungarian relations are at their lowest point since the post-1956 period. U.S. policy toward Hungary seems to me at least to be finely calibrated. At the beginning we were told about the six unnamed people who were barred from entering the United States. A few days later we learned that the president of the Tax Authority was definitely on the list. A few more days and we were told that the president is not the only person on the list, there are a couple more. Another week went by and André Goodfriend, U.S. chargé d’affaires, indicated that there might be more Hungarians who would face the same fate as the six already on the list. Another few days and we learned from the American chargé that he had given the Hungarian government all the information necessary for investigating the cases. And it was not the “useless scrap of paper” Viktor Orbán pointed to. In plain language, we found out once again that the Hungarian government lies. And yesterday we learned from an interview with Goodfriend that the sin of Tax Office Chief Ildikó Vida goes beyond not investigating obvious corruption cases within her office; she herself was an active participant in the corruption scheme at her office. Of course, Vida is outraged, but she cannot do more than write an open letter to Goodfriend claiming innocence. As time goes by the Hungarian government is increasingly embroiled in a web of lies and Orbán’s regime comes to resemble ever more closely the government of a third-rate banana republic.

The good old days: George W. Bush in Budapest, June 22, 2006

The good old days: George W. Bush in Budapest, June 22, 2006

While the State Department is using the corruption cases as a club, Senator John McCain is pursuing his own individual crusade. The senator, who is no friend of Putin, has been keeping an eye on Viktor Orbán’s illiberal state and found it to be troubling. What we saw two days ago was his frustration that Hungary will again have a political appointee as an ambassador. As he emphasized over and over, Hungary is a very important country that deserves a professional diplomat. His outburst about Orbán as a “neo-fascist dictator” was a bit strong, although Orbán’s system does have features in common with some of the fascist regimes of the past. But the Hungarian charge that McCain is ignorant of the Hungarian political situation is entirely baseless. Once he calmed down, he put it into writing what he finds objectionable about Orbán’s illiberal state. At the time of the release of his statement on Hungary he wrote a brief tweet saying, “Deeply concerned by PM Orban eroding democracy, rule of law, civil society & free press in Hungary.”

Below I republish Senator McCain’s statement on Hungary because I find it important and because it proves that, regardless of what the Hungarian government says, McCain (undoubtedly with the help of his staff) knows what he is talking about.

Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban came to power in 2010, antidemocratic constitutional changes have been enacted, the independence of Hungary’s courts have been restricted, nongovernmental organizations raided and civil society prosecuted, the freedom of the press curtailed, and much more. These actions threaten the principles of institutional independence and checks and balances that are the hallmark of democratic governance and have left me deeply concerned about the erosion of democratic norms in Hungary.

These concerns are shared by many. A ruling by the Venice Commission in 2013 found that Prime Minister Orban’s constitutional changes threaten democracy and rule of law in Hungary, stating that the amendments ‘contradict principles of the Fundamental Law and European standards,’ and ‘leads to a risk that it may negatively affect all three pillars of the Council of Europe: the separation of powers as an essential tenet of democracy, the protection of human rights and the rule of law.’

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned Hungary’s media laws, saying that they create a climate of fear and media self-censorship, even after critical changes were made to account for previous complaints from the European Commission. ‘The changes to the Hungarian media law only add to the existing concerns over the curbing of critical or differing views in the country,’ said Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE’s representative on Freedom of the Media.

The European Central Bank has repeatedly warned that Prime Minister Orban’s government is encroaching on the independence of its central bank, calling for him to respect the independence of monetary policymakers and condemning attempts by the government to threaten central bankers with dismissal if they oppose government policy.

And just last month, six Hungarians were banned from entering the United States over alleged corruption. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend reportedly called the ban a warning to reverse policies that threaten democratic values, citing ‘negative disappointing trends’ in Hungary and a ‘weakening of rule of law, attacks on civil society, [and] a lack of transparency.’

Democracy without respect for rule of law, separation of powers, and the protection of economic, civil, and religious liberties is not only inadequate, it is dangerous. It brings with it the erosion of liberty, the abuse of power, ethnic divisions, and economic restrictions – all of which we have witnessed in Hungary since Prime Minister Orban took power. Prime Minister Orban has justified his actions by calling for a new state model based on ‘illiberal democracy,’ but his vision defies the core values of the European Union and NATO. These alliances are founded not only on the principle of democracy, but also rule of law and the protection of individual liberty and fundamental freedoms. All members must remain committed to these values.

Meanwhile both Hungarian and foreign newspapers are full of stories about the demonstrations and about McCain’s characterization of Orbán as a “neo-fascist dictator.” As the Hungarian prime minister continues to come under attack, both from within and from without, it’s unclear how he will fight back and how effective his counterattack will be. If the proposed Sunday store closings are any indication of the government’s new game plan, the counterattack will be a colossal failure.

Introducing two young civic leaders: Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss

At this moment another demonstration is taking place in Budapest. Again thousands are out on the streets. This time they’re demonstrating against the Orbán government’s effort to steal the private pension savings of those 60,000 people who four years ago when the government decided to “nationalize” the accumulated savings of 3 million people opted to leave their savings in private funds despite all sorts of threats.  As it turned out, their decision was wise. These funds did well over the years and by now the average investor has 3.5 million forints in his account. According to estimates, if the government manages to get hold of the savings in these pension funds, it will reap another 200 billion forints. Admittedly, this is a great deal less than the 3 trillion that was brazenly expropriated in 2010, but it looks as if the Hungarian budget is in desperate need of new sources of revenue.

Although it is too early to write anything meaningful about this latest demonstration, it offers an opportunity to say something about the recent demonstrations in general and to acquaint readers with two of their organizers. First, rumor has it that, appearances notwithstanding, the Fidesz leadership is worried about the long-term effects of the demonstrations on Fidesz’s support and image. Apparently, next week the party’s top brass will get together to discuss the situation.

Early on, Fidesz politicians thought that if they retreated on the question of an internet tax the demonstrations would disappear. They were also happy to hear that the organizers of some of the demonstrations don’t want anything to do with politics. Yet there are signs of grave trouble because dissatisfaction with the government is widespread. “Today we don’t really know whom we should appease.”

Here I would like to introduce the organizers of the Facebook group “We will not be silent!” To focus on this group is especially timely because I just learned that one of the speakers of the November 17 gathering in front of the parliament building, Balázs Nemes, who was asked to speak at today’s demonstration, refused to participate because not only a civic group but a political party, Együtt, is involved. And this group doesn’t want to cooperate with any existing parties. In their eyes, the parties are all the same. This group was the one that immediately rejected “the advances of Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK.”

Some of the more seasoned politicians of the democratic parties, for example, Gábor Kuncze, reacted to Balázs Nemes’s November 17 speech rather heatedly on television. He objected to the speaker’s condemnation of the entire period between 1989 and 2014. ATV decided to have Kuncze meet Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss, another organizer of the group. On Sunday the three appeared on Antónia Mészáros’s “Szabad szemmel” program. It was a very informative twenty minutes. My conclusion was that it is unlikely that these particular young people will be the catalysts of regime change in Hungary.

My problem with them was not that they are inexperienced and somewhat ignorant of the political events of the last twenty-five years, but that they didn’t grasp Kuncze’s simple, logical explanation of why their ideas were fallacious. Although the conversation was about 20 minutes long, here I will concentrate on two points that Kuncze made. The first was his description of the difference between the first twenty and the last five years. The second was his emphasis on the necessity of parties and politicians.

The position of Nemes and Kiss was that the earlier governments did something so terribly wrong that it inevitably led to Fidesz’s illiberal governance. Kuncze’s position, on the other hand, was–which he tried to explain at least two different ways to no avail–that yes, past governments didn’t do a good job and the electorate punished them for their bad governance. They lost the election. The problem is not the two-thirds majority but what Fidesz did with it in parliament. In 1994 the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition had more than a two-thirds majority, but the Horn-Kuncze government did not change the constitution or the electoral law, did not appoint party hacks to the constitutional court, and did not build an illiberal state. When the people of Hungary voted for Fidesz, they did not anticipate what was coming. After all, Fidesz did not have a party program. In fact, Viktor Orbán said not a word about his plans. So, the present government’s governing style is not the necessary and inevitable result of the bad governance of earlier governments.

I kept watching the faces of these two young people, and it seemed that they didn’t understand what Kuncze was getting at. Nemes muttered something about a “qualitative” difference between the earlier governments and the one today, but he didn’t grasp the essential difference between them. As for Petra Kiss, she, in my opinion, is even more hostile to everything that happened before 2010. She is also more naive about what one can achieve without parties and politicians. As Kuncze pointed out, if they want to remain involved then sooner or later either they will have to make peace with the present democratic opposition or they themselves will have to create parties. Kiss dreamily announced that for the time being they don’t want to do anything concrete. They just want young people to remain engaged. This is a fine idea, but surely it is not enough if these people are serious about sending the Orbán government packing. She also stressed that “there should be many, many parties,” as if she were totally ignorant of the current electoral law that precludes the existence of many small parties against the Fidesz monolith. All in all, I doubt that these two new stars of the November 17th demonstration will be ready by either 2016 or 2018 for serious roles in a new political constellation.

As for cooperation among the various groups, the prospects are not auspicious. The organizers of the demonstration against the internet tax refused to cooperate with the “We will not be silent!” group. Balázs Nemes was invited by the organizers of today’s demonstration but refused to participate. Meanwhile, their Facebook page is full of criticism of their position. Most of the comments talk about the necessity of cooperation between civic movements and parties. Some accuse the organizers of “not hearing the voice of the masses.” Or, “in my opinion this party neutrality is going in the wrong direction.” Critical comments don’t seem to make a dent on this group’s leaders.

I still think that these demonstrations are important and I’m also sure that some of these Young Turks will have political roles in the future, but I don’t think that Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss will be among them.