Tag Archives: Anti-Terrorist Center

A fanciful government story on international terrorism and Jobbik

Yesterday a newly revived internet news site, zoom.hu, published a “sensational” news item. Information received from an unnamed person with close government ties revealed that Salah Abdeslam, the man behind the Paris terrorist attack of November 13, 2015, in addition to the three trips he made to Budapest between August 30 and September 17, 2015, visited Hungary a fourth time in the middle of January 2016, two months before his arrest in Brussels. During this visit Abdeslam allegedly conducted negotiations with members of a far-right Hungarist group called Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal (Hungarian National Front/MNA). I covered the October 2016 shooting incident connected to MNA that took a Hungarian police officer’s life. The head of the group, István Győrkös, wanting to prevent the policeman’s entry into his house, shot him dead. As you can well imagine, a story that connects “migrant terrorism” with a home-grown group that allegedly had ties to Jobbik is hot stuff, especially for pro-government media outlets.

In December 2015, when Belgian authorities discovered that Abdeslam had visited Hungary, it was clear to me that the Hungarian secret services knew nothing first-hand about his presence in Hungary. He came and left three times without anyone noticing it. Most of what the Hungarian police, the anti-terrorist organization, and the national security offices subsequently learned about his movements in Hungary came from Belgian and later French sources.

Abdeslam’s first trip on August 30 was uneventful. His two comrades arrived in Hungary and phoned him to come pick them up. He arrived with legal Belgian papers and brought two fake Belgian IDs for the new arrivals. They got into a car and headed west without any trouble. Practically nothing is known about his second trip. But the Hungarians unearthed quite a bit of information about his third trip, in September 2o15, for the simple reason that the three newly arrived terrorists, who later all died in the Bataclan terrorist attack, had to wait at least a week in Budapest for Abdeslam to pick them up.

In October 2016 Népszabadság reported that Hungarian authorities, working together with Belgian and French counterterrorist units and police forces, were seeking locals who had helped ten ISIS-trained terrorists hide in Hungary and who assisted them in reaching Belgium. The paper claimed that a number of people were actually arrested. Nothing was known about their number or their citizenship, and we learned nothing about them afterward. It may have been “fake news.”

Abdeslam’s name also came up a couple of days after he was arrested on March 18, 2016 in the Molenbeek area of Brussels. On March 23 the Austrian tabloid Kronen Zeitung published an article about a woman who claimed that she had seen Abdeslam with another Arabic-looking man in Café Harrer, a famous confectionary in Sopron. The Austrian woman reported this sighting to the Eisenstadt police station, but it seems that the Austrian police were not impressed. It is likely, however, that the Austrians did get in touch with the Hungarians, who also ignored the case.

The mysterious appearance of Abdeslam in Sopron is at the center of zoom.hu’s story. From the article an incredibly professional Hungarian national security service emerges, which was watching Abdeslam’s every move in close cooperation with its Austrian, German, Belgian, and French counterparts. The clever cops “didn’t even try to arrest Abdeslam, they only followed and watched him. They tried to find out the reason for his visit to Hungary. They documented all his meetings.”

Where Salah Abdeslam was allegedly spotted in Sopron

This excellent police work brought “staggering results.” Hungarian right-radicals had and perhaps still have contacts with international terrorists. An investigation is ongoing with the assistance of the other countries’ national security services. According to zoom.hu’s informant, while Abdeslam was talking with the leaders of Győrkös’s Hungarian National Front, “the Hungarian, Austrian, French, and Belgian authorities had time to organize and follow the French-Belgian terrorist’s every move.” But then, we must ask, why didn’t these national security services arrest him right there on the spot at the Café Harrer in Sopron? Gy. Attila Fekete, formerly of Népszabadság, who wrote the article, could find only one possible explanation for the delay. Perhaps they were hoping to find more associates by allowing Abdeslam to remain free. I must say that, given the danger a man like Abdeslam posed, such a strategy is pretty unimaginable.

But that’s not all. At the end of October 2016 the Hungarian police tried to enter István Győrkös’s house looking for weapons but, as the article points out, the police investigation into the Hungarian National Front had actually begun ten months before the fatal encounter between Győrkös and the police officer. How convenient. The article suggests that there is a direct relationship between Abdeslam’s fourth visit to Hungary on or around January 19 and the beginning of the investigation into Győrkös’s clandestine activities.

With this we arrive at cast-off Slovak weapons that had been legally deactivated but could easily be made usable again. Such weapons were used during the attack against Charlie Hebdo and in other terrorist attacks in France and Belgium. They also found their way to Hungary. For example, such weapons were found in the possession of the two older men who allegedly wanted to assassinate Viktor Orbán. Even Gy. Fekete calls their organization, Magyar Nemzeti Hadsereg (Hungarian National Army), a joke. At the time, in 2015, I even doubted that they wanted to kill Orbán. Their targets seemed to be Jews. In any case, the theory is that Abdeslam came to Hungary to negotiate the purchase of these deactivated but readily reusable weapons for his terrorist activities.

Of course, pro-government organs like Origo love the story. One of their journalists pointed out that Márton Gyöngyösi, an important Jobbik politician, was seen in the company of an MNA member and that Gábor Vona attended a public event in the company of Győrkös’s son. Moreover, the kind of weaponry used in the terrorist attacks, which was also in the possession of a Hungarian right-wing organization, is proof that there is a connection between international terrorism and Jobbik.

Pestisrácok.hu, however, seems to have more sense and suggests that the story someone dropped into Gy. Fekete’s lap may be nothing but a hoax.

One wonders what is behind this leaked material, which surely comes from government and/or national security sources. Gy. Fekete is a responsible journalist who must have gotten his information from a source that he considered to be credible. Is this part of Fidesz’s attempt to further discredit Jobbik by coupling its name with international terrorism? This is what the Origo article suggests. The story might get further embellished or it might be dropped, depending on its reception. For the time being there are skeptics even on the right of the political spectrum.

November 14, 2017

Far-right western politicians in Hungary: Jim Dowson and Nick Griffin

Do you remember what Viktor Orbán said in his “address to the nation” back in February? Instead of admitting migrants from the Middle East and Africa, “we will let in true refugees: Germans, Dutch, French, and Italians, terrified politicians and journalists who here in Hungary want to find the Europe they have lost in their homelands.” The fact is that a number of people–nationalists, opponents of liberal values, members of extreme far-right parties or movements–have been gathering in Hungary for some time. After all, Hungary is the only country in the European Union where “two extreme far-right parties, the governing Fidesz and Jobbik, the largest opposition party, make up most of the National Assembly,” as Carol Schaeffer pointed out in The Atlantic.

A few months ago one of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum called my attention to a lengthy investigative article by IRBF, a group that monitors far-right hate groups and social media pages. IRBF stands for International Report Bigotry & Fascism. The article was about “a new kid on the block in 2014,” the “Knights Templar International.” From the start, IRBF was suspicious that Jim Dowson, a notorious right-winger, former Orangeman, leader of the British National Party and Britain First, was behind this new formation. I have no space here to list Dowson’s “accomplishments” in the United Kingdom, but anyone who’s interested in his career should consult his entry in Wikipedia, which also details Dowson’s activities in Eastern Europe.

I assume that Dowson relocated to Hungary sometime at the end of 2013 where he was joined, at least on a part-time basis, by another British far-right politician, Nick Griffin, who was the chairman of the British National Party between 1999 and 2014. The two men came to know and join forces with Imre Téglásy, the leader of a small anti-abortion group in Hungary.

The ideology of KTI, in addition to the standard far-right views, includes a great admiration for Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian political scientist whose views are often described as “fascist.” In fact, both Dowson and Griffin attended a “conservative forum” in St. Petersburg about a year ago organized by Dugin and his followers.

The leaders of KTI are sworn enemies of Muslims, so Viktor Orbán’s anti-migrant policies might have been a precipitating factor in Dowson and Griffin moving to Hungary. Dowson is also a great supporter of Donald Trump. In the summer of 2016 he established the “Patriot News Agency” to help elect Trump president of the United States.

Shortly after settling in Hungary, Dowson became acquainted with László Toroczkai of Jobbik, who is the mayor of Ásotthalom on the Serbian-Hungarian border. Toroczkai organized a volunteer group whose members were helping the Hungarian police catch migrants. He was also the one whose town council adopted a local ordinance that forbade building a mosque or wearing a burka. The Hungarian Constitutional Court has since struck down this ridiculous ordinance. Dowson’s last sighting, according to the Daily Mirror, was on the Turkish-Bulgarian border with a vigilante paramilitary group.

Jim Dowson and László Toroczkai at the Serbian-Hungarian border

A few months after the appearance of IRBF’s article, in April 2016, Magyar Narancs also discovered KTI. Gergely Miklós Nagy wrote a long article about “the Russian-friendly British neo-fascists” who work hand-in-hand with Toroczkai and Jobbik. The author of the article didn’t mince words when he described the British leaders of KTI as “the British Isle’s toughest far-right, former holocaust deniers with multiple jail sentences, and Putinist characters behind whom most likely stands one of England’s paramilitary parties.” Magyar Narancs spotted the group in Hungary through an ad on Facebook promoting Hungarian real estate for white, Catholic, conservative Western European citizens who are worried about the growing “Islamic invasion.” KTI has almost 90,000 followers on Facebook.

As for Nick Griffin, his political career ended in 2014 when he lost his seat in the European Parliament and was expelled from the far-right British National Party, which he had chaired ever since 1999. Cambridge educated, he joined the National Front at the age of 14. Since then he has had several run-ins with the authorities on charges of inciting racial hatred. Griffin decided to move to Hungary, he told 444.hu in March of this year, because the political atmosphere is appealing in Hungary for the nationalist right.

His conversation with 444.hu took place after “Stop Operation Soros!,” a conference organized by the Identitárius Egyetemisták Szövetség (Association of Identitarian University Students), a Hungarian offshoot of the Identitarian movement that began as a conservative pan-European student movement. Nick Griffin was one of the speakers at the conference, attended by about 60 people, half of whom were journalists. As 444.hu put it, Griffin delivered the toughest and most obviously racist message. He talked about Gypsy crime and racist Jewish conspiracies, and he showed a great knowledge of all the Budapest spots that, according to him, are “citadels of left-wing gatherings.” The journalist’s conclusion was that there was practically no difference between the ideology of the far-right, extremist groups represented at the conference and that of Fidesz politicians.

A few days ago “Hope not Hate”, an advocacy group based in Great Britain that “campaigns to counter racism and fascism,” triumphantly reported that Jim Dowson had been expelled from Hungary. The group heard that Dowson “was stopped from reentering the country” because “the government has been concerned for some time about extremists from across Europe moving to their country.” The most intriguing part of this expulsion is that, according to the statement issued by the Ministry of Interior, the decision to expel Dawson was at the recommendation of the Anti-Terrorist Center (TEK). The reason? Dowson poses a threat to the national security of Hungary. Two days later came the news that Nick Griffin must also leave Hungary. Perhaps, after all, Viktor Orbán decided that it was becoming a bit embarrassing that alt-right groups from all over the world found Hungary a perfect place to settle.

June 6, 2017

Toward a police state: the government’s latest effort at limiting democratic freedoms

Today I’m dealing with two interconnected issues: (1) the anti-terrorist surveillance legislation, which was dealt a serious blow yesterday in Strasbourg and (2) the government’s proposal for a constitutional amendment that would introduce a new category of emergencies that could be declared in case of a “situation created by a terrorist threat” (terrorveszélyhelyzet).

You may recall Professor Kim Lane Scheppele’s article titled “The New Hungarian Secret Police,” which appeared on Paul Krugman’s blog in The New York Times on April 19, 2012. In this article Scheppele listed the duties of TEK (Anti-Terror Center), which in her opinion had become Viktor Orbán’s secret service.

TEK now has the legal power to secretly enter and search homes, engage in secret wiretapping, make audio and video recordings of people without their knowledge, secretly search mail and packages, and surreptitiously confiscate electronic data (for example, the content of computers and email). The searches never have to be disclosed to the person who is the target of the search – or to anyone else for that matter. In fact, as national security information, it may not be disclosed to anyone. There are no legal limits on how long this data can be kept.

She ended her article by stating that “it seems increasingly likely that the Hungarian government is heading toward the creation of a police state.”

It was not only Professor Scheppele who found the law governing the activities of TEK frightening but also two Hungarian lawyers–Máté Szabó and Beatrix Vissy–who work for a non-governmental watchdog organization, Eötvös Károly Közpolitikai Intézet. A few months after the publication of Kim Scheppele’s article they filed a constitutional complaint, arguing that these sweeping prerogatives infringed their right to privacy. The Hungarian Constitutional Court dismissed the majority of their arguments. At that point Szabó and Vissy turned to the Court of Human Rights, which yesterday sided with them. The decision stated that the law is so broad that it could be used against “virtually anyone,” trampling Hungarians’ right to privacy. Therefore, the court concluded that the law violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Hungary has three months to ask for the case to be revisited, but the Court doesn’t have to oblige. Considering that it was a unanimous decision, I don’t think there will ever be a second hearing of the case. This is an important case, with broad implications across Europe.

On the same day, on January 12, István Simicskó, the recently appointed minister of defense, called for a “five-party” discussion on security measures that would involve the use of the army in the case of a “terror threat.” Currently there are three situations in which the government can take varying degrees of extraordinary measures: (1) “emergency conditions” (veszélyhelyzet); (2) “preventive defense conditions” (megelőző védelmi helyzet); and (3) a “full state of emergency” (rendkivüli állapot). The government is seeking a fourth emergency category, somewhere between “preventive defense conditions” and “full state of emergency.” It would be called a “state of terror threat” (terrorveszélyhelyzet). To introduce this new category the government needs a two-thirds majority since its enactment requires an amendment to the constitution.

Of the five parties that have their own delegations in parliament only four showed up: Fidesz, the Christian Democrats, Jobbik, and LMP. MSZP’s chairman, József Tóbiás, boycotted the meeting because the party considered the proposed law a government ruse that could expand Viktor Orbán’s already sweeping powers.

Origo published the details of the proposed new category yesterday afternoon. Here are the most important provisions that emerged from this first report.

In the case of a terror threat the army can be used if “the employment of police and the national security forces is insufficient.” The proposal doesn’t specify what “insufficient” means. But that is not the only term that is not explained. It is not at all clear what the government means by “danger of terror.” In Origo’s understanding “one or two unrelated terror threats” wouldn’t precipitate the declaration of a state of emergency, the highest level of extraordinary measures. That’s why the government wants to create a new category of “state of terror threat.”

Let’s stop here for a minute. If I understand it correctly, a single terror threat, which may turn out to come from a crackpot, might warrant the declaration of a state of terror threat. Moreover, terrorism, as defined by the Hungarian government, might not be what most of the world understands it to be. András Jámbor of kettosmerce.blog.hu recalled that in the last two years government politicians used the word “terrorism” to describe a range of activities, including nonviolent political protest. TEK talked about terrorism in connection with two pensioners who were alleged to be plotting to assassinate Viktor Orbán and two youngsters who turned out to be history buffs collecting World War II weapons. Politicians talked about terrorism at the Serb-Hungarian border when migrants threw rocks at Hungarian policemen. The word “terrorism” was used when some of the demonstrators against the internet tax threw old PCs at the headquarters of Fidesz. And it was considered to be terrorism when two activists who protested against the extension of the Paks Nuclear Plant climbed up to the balcony of Sándor Palota to remove the Hungarian and EU flags. In this light, what follows is even more frightening.

The arrow points to Hungary which is a happy island of low terror threat

The arrow points to Hungary, a happy island with a low terror threat

Here are the most important provisions of the proposed law: the government could limit and influence media content; it could limit the use of gasoline and other products; it could introduce measures contrary to international agreements at the borders; it could control the internet and the postal service; it could order curfews and forbid larger gatherings; it could decide on the expulsion of individuals. These were the points Origo included in its article. But perhaps the most important provision is that the government under a “state of terror threat” would govern by decree.

Here I would like to quote myself when I wrote about László Kövér’s idea from 2013 when the president of the parliament suggested “governance by decree.” This is what he had to say: “I would find it normal, quite independently from what kind of governments we will have in the next few years, if parliament would lay claim only to the creation of the most fundamental legal guarantees and would otherwise hand over its mandate to the government for the next four years.” When pressed, he explained that this would mean a kind of governing by decree. At that time I wrote:

I doubt that Kövér learned much about modern Germany while dabbling in history. Otherwise he might have been more cautious in advocating governance by decree. It was in March 1933 that an amendment to the Weimar Constitution took effect which gave power to Chancellor Adolf Hitler to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag. The act stated that this arrangement was to last four years unless renewed, which subsequently happened twice. This so-called Enabling Act (Ermächtigungesetz) gave Hitler plenary powers and made him the dictator of Germany…. The resemblance between the German Enabling Act and what Kövér proposed in this interview was first picked up by János Avar and seconded by György Bolgár on ATV’s UjságíróKlub last night. It has since been repeated by many bloggers. It is one of the most frightening suggestions I have heard in the longest time.

András Jámbor also pointed out a few more provisions of the proposed constitutional change. “The government could close newspaper offices; it could take over the assets of NGOs; and it could forbid any association with foreigners.”

Jobbik wholeheartedly supports the proposal, and thus there is no question that it will easily pass. LMP was somewhat critical, but Schiffer’s greatest objection was that the declaration of a state of terror threat, as it stands now, depends only on the will of the government. Parliament has no say in the matter. But we could ask from András Schiffer: “What difference would parliament’s participation in the process make under the present circumstances?” He considers the terror threat a serious matter, but he wouldn’t support provisions that limit the movement of people, postal and internet traffic, freedom of assembly, or the entry of foreigners into the country.

MSZP, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, didn’t attend the meeting, but the socialist leadership can’t decide what the party objects to or what it wants. Initially, József Tóbiás, the party chairman, explained his refusal to attend by charging that the bill was nothing more than an attempt to expand the powers of Viktor Orbán. The next day, however, Zsolt Molnár declared that MSZP is ready to support a constitutional amendment. Tóbiás’s absence only indicated that one cannot put forth a proposal in the last minute. They are ready to continue to negotiate with the other four parties.

I couldn’t find any reactions from the two small parties, Együtt (Together) and PB (Dialogue). DK, however, announced today that it considers the proposal a dangerous power grab with possibly fatal consequences. “Only Viktor Orbán’s imagination would limit what the government could do under a ‘state of terror threat.’” Anyone who assists the government in this endeavor is helping to destroy the last pillars of democracy. That’s why DK finds MSZP’s decision to take part in this process unacceptable.

The greatly touted Hungarian terrorist story is a hoax

Last night Reuters reported from Budapest that the Hungarian anti-terrorist police had detained four people traveling toward Budapest with explosives in their car and later found “a bomb-making laboratory set up for a mass killing.” The source of the information was the director-general of TEK (Terrorelhárítási Központ), János Hajdu. In addition, Hajdu revealed that two other people had been arrested in a separate raid, in whose possession they found submachine guns, silencers, and ammunition. When asked whether the subjects were jihadist terrorists, he said “Let me reply to that in the next few days.” He also declined to disclose the suspects’ identities, nationalities or motives but indicated that the case had “an international dimension.” Reuters seemed to know that the “suspects had been formally placed under arrest.” In no time this Reuters report from Budapest was picked up in the major newspapers of the world. Fox News announced this development with a bright yellow sign behind the anchor reading “Alert!”

In Hungary, meanwhile, János Hajdu, the former bodyguard of Viktor Orbán, made the rounds at several television stations in addition to MTV’s M1 where he made his initial announcement. I watched him on ATV where he was a guest of Egyenes beszéd.

The news spread like wildfire. Since the initial announcement of TEK’s raids over the weekend hundreds of Hungarian media outlets painted lurid pictures of the possible dangers posed by these “bomb makers,” further disquieting an already jittery Hungarian public. Hajdu described a full-fledged laboratory in which the suspects were ready to manufacture bombs which they could either use themselves or make for others. There was talk of detonators, test tubes, disguised fire extinguishers filled with explosives capable of killing hundreds of people, and grenades of all sorts. He showed a picture of a contraption that was described as a starter mechanism for would-be assassins. The impression he tried to convey was that Hungary was in mortal danger. International terrorism had reached the country.

János Hajdu with his boss / Photo Népszava Péter Szalmás

János Hajdu with his boss / Photo Népszava / Péter Szalmás

There is only one problem with the story: not a word of it is true. There is no bomb factory, and there are no terrorist suspects. It is would be easy to conclude that members of TEK are staggeringly incompetent. The best example of their incompetence was the time they seized theater props arriving in Budapest for a film production, thinking they were real weapons. I wrote about that fiasco earlier. But this time it is almost certain that we cannot chalk up to incompetence what happened during this past weekend. Here we are dealing with the willful misleading not only of the public but even of the parliamentary committee on national security. The reason for the deceit? It is most likely a desire to help Viktor Orbán’s current propaganda campaign against the asylum seekers.

Currently the Hungarian government is in the midst of a ferocious anti-refugee campaign. Activists knock on doors gathering signatures to oppose the quota system that the European Union will most likely introduce to deal with the refugee crisis. It was only a few days ago that Viktor Orbán in an interview said that “of course, it’s not accepted, but the factual point is that all the terrorists are basically migrants… The question is when they migrated to the European Union.” The anti-refugee propaganda has been in full swing for months, and by now the great majority of Hungarians have been convinced that the world would come to an end if Hungary accepted even a single refugee. It looks as if it was TEK’s job to find a few terrorists in Hungary to heighten the fear that is already widespread.

So, let’s see what actually happened. There were two raids, both in or close to Budapest. The first took place on Saturday. It seems that TEK had been following two Hungarian men who, from the details Hajdu gave to Olga Kálmán of ATV, are “extremists” and who illegally had in their possession submachine guns, home-made silencers, and ammunition. I suspect that they are the ordinary neo-Nazi types who are unfortunately rather common in Hungarian far-right circles. The second raid took place on the highway, where they arrested four men. These are the ones suspected of terrorism. This is the case that, according to Hajdu, has “an international dimension.”

What is the truth? A young fellow who lives in Budapest is a World War II history buff who collects wartime memorabilia. This past weekend, with his father and two of his friends from Slovakia, he headed to some wooded areas around Veszprém with a metal detector to look for items like shells and old grenades. They packed the things they had found into the trunk of the car and headed home. Great was their surprise when they were surrounded by members of the Hungarian anti-terrorist group. TEK units, with their uniforms, masks, and heavy weaponry, are quite a frightening sight. A search of his parents’ apartment followed, where TEK grabbed everything that looked suspicious to them, including, for example, the above mentioned fire extinguisher. Naturally, the three boys and the father were arrested.

The case was so weak, however, that even the prosecutors asked for temporary custody only for Roland S., who is most likely the boy with such an interest in war memorabilia. This afternoon, however, the court ruled that none of the four should be detained, and in the press release the court stated that “there is nothing in the documents that would indicate that the suspect whose interest in World War II is no more than a hobby has any connection with other organized criminal groups or terrorist organizations…. In fact, everything indicates the lack of any such connection. There is no proof of any extremist views or any foreign connection with the exception that his two companions with a similar interest are from Upper Hungary [Slovakia].”

This morning János Hajdu and other high officials of TEK, who were asked to appear before the parliamentary committee on national security to brief the lawmakers on the background of the terrorist threat, lied. HVG learned that Hajdu talked about the Roland S. case as being of great importance. When the committee members left the conference room, they–including the opposition members–announced that TEK had done an excellent job. Hajdu never said that Roland S. was a collector of war memorabilia or that the so-called international connection was nothing more than two friends from Slovakia.

Try to imagine what would happen to János Hajdu if he pulled this trick at a hearing of one of the committees of the U.S. Congress. He would be charged with contempt of Congress. This is exactly what happened to Rita Lavelle, an EPA official, in 1983 when she was indicted for lying to Congress. She was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison, five years probation thereafter, and a fine of $10,000.

But rest assured, nothing of the sort will happen in Hungary. I hope that the opposition will have the good sense to raise hell and that journalists will follow up on this disgraceful story.

Bálint Magyar’s post-communist mafia state: front men, transaction brokers, and gatekeepers

Yesterday we left off with a description of the kinds of oligarchs who play an important role in Viktor Orbán’s mafia state. Today we move on to the front men (stróman/Strohmann) and their function in the system. According to Bálint Magyar’s definition, they are people without formal position either in politics or in the economic sphere who “serve as bridges between legitimate and illegitimate realms.”

Magyar identifies two kinds of stróman, political and economic. The political front men are people who originally came from Fidesz itself and were put in important government and parliamentary positions–for instance, president of the parliament and president of the Hungarian Republic. Soon enough the leader extended the circle from which he could choose people for key positions. They were either relatives or close friends, or friends of friends. Such appointees can be found heading the prosecutor’s office and the National Office of Justice. Eventually, he drew from employees of companies owned by members of the political family–managers, accountants, lawyers–to fill posts in the ministries. These people are front men of the poligarchs, only instruments, not autonomous actors. In this mafia state the majority of government officials fall into the category of political front men.

An originally Fidesz-appointed stróman after a couple of years can be removed and replaced by another Fidesz-appointed individual, as we have observed recently. Magyar’s explanation is that some of the original appointees owed their allegiance to top poligarchs, for example, Lajos Simicska and his business partner, Zsolt Nyerges. Because of the internal power struggle that is currently going on between Simicska and Viktor Orbán, several of Simicska’s front men have been removed from important positions, like the Hungarian Development Bank and the Ministry of National Development. Perhaps the best example of such a personnel change occurred a few months ago in the Ministry of National Development which was considered to be the stronghold of the Simicska-Nyerges poligarchic duo. Here, after the election, Viktor Orbán replaced Mrs. László Németh, clearly a puppet of Simicska, with his own man, Miklós Seszták, a crooked lawyer. Seszták then fired 200 people from the staff of the ministry, which Magyar calls a bloodless decapitation.

The economic front men act like proxies of the poligarchs, although oligarchs can also have their own front men if for one reason or other they want to hide their presence in an enterprise. Some of the money accumulated by these people eventually ends up in the poligarchs’ secret bank accounts.

What are the characteristics of the economic ventures of strómans? (1) With practically no capital or expertise they receive large state orders. (2) The increase or decrease of their economic activities depends not on economic but on political cycles. They often receive tenders when they are the sole bidders. (3) They act as gateways to the state. They collect the profits generated by large bona fide companies which themselves would be able to do the job but which are are forced to work as subcontractors. (4) Profits of these companies are much larger than of companies not politically connected. (5) The managements of these companies pay themselves inordinately large dividends. Normally, especially in the case of a new company, most of the profit is reinvested in the firm. But these companies don’t have to worry about business expansion. It is the subcontractor’s headache. (6) While successful companies without political connections often encounter aggressive takeover attempts by the government, the companies of strómans never have to worry about such an eventuality.

In sum, the basic goal of the mafia state is the elimination of autonomous positions in the political, economic and societal spheres and their transformation into a patron-client relationship. The men whose names appear in the regularly published list of the most influential Hungarians are all dependent on the good will of Viktor Orbán, be they politicians, entrepreneurs or university professors.

In addition to oligarchs and front men, there is another group of people Magyar calls transaction brokers who are mediators between the actors in illegitimate transactions. These people are often lawyers who are involved in writing grant applications, for example. They are the ones who have the personal network that can facilitate the transaction between, let’s say, the government bureaucracy in charge of monies coming from Brussels and the applicants. Transaction brokers, mostly law firms and institutes attached to ministries, by now have taken over some of the functions of ministries. They are the ones who actually write legislative proposals submitted by individual members of parliament.

There are two types of transaction brokers. One is the so-called gatekeeper who works from inside the administration and who defends and legitimizes illegitimate businesses. The other is the representative broker who by the size of his business could in fact be an oligarch but who is only an economic stróman.

Finally, Magyar spends some time on the nature of the family’s guard and the secret services. One of the very first decisions of Viktor Orbán after he became prime minister was to create a large force of personal bodyguards misleadingly named the Anti-Terror Center (TEK). In addition, there are private security firms often owned by Fidesz oligarchs that have the support of the police or TEK. Magyar even includes in this category the infamous soccer fans of Fradi, a club headed by government functionaries. These football fans can be mobilized if necessary as they were in the fall of 2006. Fidesz again called them out in 2013 when a few students surrounded the Fidesz headquarters. TEK itself has practically limitless powers. Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior under whom the police force functions, is a stróman of Viktor Orbán.

Viktor Orbán and his old body guard, János Hajdu From major to brigadier general overnight

Viktor Orbán and his old body guard, János Hajdu
From major to brigadier general overnight

Supervision of the secret services, since there are several of them, has always been close to Fidesz poligarchs’ hearts. Magyar recalls that in 1990 when Gábor Demszky became mayor of Budapest he resigned his seat in parliament. The chairmanship of the parliamentary committee overseeing the activities of the secret services thus became vacant. Fidesz insisted that the post should go to one of its own. László Kövér was chosen. Until 2005 Fidesz through this committee managed to keep the secret services under its influence. In 2006 the governing socialists closed the secret services’ avenues to Fidesz by firing a number of people known for their close ties to Kövér and others in Fidesz. These Fidesz loyalists who found themselves without a job established their own private concerns and continued their spying activities through old friends still employed by the government. As soon as Fidesz won the election, these people were immediately rehired. Earlier there was a minister whose sole job was the supervision of the activities of the secret services, but after 2010 Sándor Pintér took over this role. Thus both the police and the secret services report to him.

I still have covered only half of the introductory essay by Bálint Magyar. Time permitting, I will continue my summary sometime in the future. However, I think that today’s and yesterday’s posts give you an idea of how Orbán’s mafia state functions. Dismantling it will not be an easy task when the time comes.