Tag Archives: Attila Ágh

Jobbik’s Gábor Vona and his Hanukkah greetings

Today Ákos Hadházy, co-chair of LMP, managed to retain his position despite opposition from András Schiffer and the admittedly ineffectual smear campaign of the Fidesz-inspired media. Hadházy’s internal critics accused him of jeopardizing LMP’s firm policy of not cooperating with any other party when he talked about the necessity of dialogue among opposition forces.

I’m convinced that deep down Hadházy knows that the party’s current strategy is doomed to failure, but with a brave face he is trying to pretend otherwise. At the press conference after the party congress Bernadett Szél somewhat pointedly remarked that the party’s election strategy had already been decided earlier: LMP will be on its own at next year’s election because “there is no party in parliament that LMP could work with.” Hadházy took the easy way out by emphasizing that LMP doesn’t want to attract voters from the left but rather “hopes to convince voters of the government party that change is necessary.”

Now to the main topic of today’s post.

A few weeks ago the government launched a smear campaign against Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, which, as I indicated earlier, didn’t achieve its aim. In fact, the methods used to demonize Vona were so primitive and base that I got the distinct impression that the campaign actually resulted in some sympathy for Vona, even on the left.

Thus, new tactics were required, which Gábor Vona himself offered to Fidesz when he decided to write Hanukkah greetings to the various Jewish religious communities, including Slomó Köves’s Chabad-based Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation. Köves is a supporter of Orbán. Shortly after the formation of the second Orbán government he became chief rabbi of the Hungarian armed forces.

Vona’s Hanukkah greetings were obviously part of Jobbik’s new strategy, which includes shedding the party’s anti-Semitic past. The problem is that that past was laden with so many sins against Hungarian Jews that a quick turnaround couldn’t be accepted by Köves or any other Jewish religious leaders. Köves wrote a lengthy letter in which he listed some of Jobbik’s most outrageous anti-Semitic statements. After a few famous sayings from the Old Testament, such as “The tongue has the power of life and death,” Köves suggested that instead of sending Hanukkah greetings, Jobbik leaders should voice their new convictions, if they are genuine, at forums where previously “not light, but hatred, ignominy, and darkness reigned.”

Köves made his letter public, which in turn elicited a public response from Vona. Perhaps the most interesting part of the letter is Vona’s explanation of how he ended up on the wrong side. He “inherited” his anti-Semitism because he found himself in an environment in which “one side called Hungarians Nazis, while the other labeled Jews traitors.” Since then, he “has come to the realization that this doesn’t lead anywhere.”

Vona’s answer didn’t satisfy the Jewish community, which was justifiably offended by his occasional juxtaposition of Hungarians and Jews instead of Christian and Jewish Hungarians. At the same time, it also outraged the more radical members of Jobbik who, I’m convinced, have been getting ample support in their opposition to Vona’s leadership from Fidesz.

Origo has been closely following the reverberations within Jobbik after the Hanukkah affair. The first story of some import came from Vecsés, a town just outside the city limits of Budapest. Vecsés at one point was the center of the Army of Outlaws movement, whose leader is a friend of Gábor Vona. Otherwise, Jobbik claims that the party and this neo-Nazi group have nothing to do with one another. On the local level, however, there seems to be cooperation despite the denial. Or, at least this used to be the case. The only Jobbik member of the town council was, or perhaps still is, affiliated with the Army of Outlaws. This man, Imre Orbán, has a reputation for being a troublemaker and has distinguished himself as a fouled-mouthed anti-Semite. This time he placed a post on Vecsés’s Jobbik Facebook page in which he accused Gábor Vona of making a fool of Jobbik members by turning to the rabbi with his apologies. He added some four-letter words in his discussion of Hanukkah. This incident was taken seriously by the party and Vona promised to investigate.

The official “state news” Híradó reported a few days ago that the Jobbik leadership in Vámosmikola, a village of 1,600 inhabitants, also criticized the leadership because of the Hanukkah greetings and the subsequent exchange of letters. Jobbik cannot be strong in Vámosmikola since in the 2014 municipal elections it didn’t even have a candidate for mayor or the town council, but even the smallest protest is big news in the right-wing press.

Pesti Srácok gleefully reported that a former member of the Magyar Gárda, once the paramilitary arm of Jobbik, since dismantled, demanded the vest that was part of their uniform from Vona, who proudly wore it at the opening of parliament in 2010. By trying to build bridges between Jews and the party, Vona “became unworthy” of this precious vest, claimed the former member of the Magyar Gárda.

Yesterday Magyar Idők called attention to a demonstration of disappointed Jobbik members that will take place in Debrecen, where the organizers are expecting Jobbik sympathizers from four counties. These people not only complain about Vona’s Hanukkah letter but also about Jobbik’s abandonment of its earlier radical political strategy. A closer reading of the article, however, reveals that most of these people are no longer members of the party. As the chief organizer, Erika Ulics, a lawyer, explains, 35-40 local leaders who will gather in Debrecen already left the party after Vona, in 2014, decided to scuttle the party’s former ideals. Ulics herself was expelled from the party, allegedly because she leaked inside information to Népszabadság.

Ulics, by the way, is a notorious neo-Nazi and an admirer of Ferenc Szálasi, who was executed for war crimes in 1946. In addition, she is a racist who suggested that all Gypsies should be forced to join the army and attack Romania. “If we win, Transylvania is ours. If we lose, Hungary is ours.” Those with strong stomachs should visit the news sites Cink and 4024 for more quotations from this vicious neo-Nazi and anti-Semite.

The government-sponsored sites are so eager to spread news of the imminent collapse of Jobbik that they are resorting to fiction. According to alfahir.hu, Jobbik’s official site 888.hu reported that the entire ten-man Jobbik group in Nemeshetés, population 320, resigned in protest over Vona’s new pro-Jewish policies. It turned out that Jobbik doesn’t have a local cell in the village. Since then, the article has been taken offline.

Yesterday afternoon Ulics’s demonstration did take place. It is hard to tell from the picture just how many people attended, but as far as I can judge, there were mighty few. It certainly didn’t shake Jobbik to its very foundations as, I’m sure, some Fidesz leaders hoped.

The sign, by the way, is an Albert Wass quotation: “The surest weapon against mendacity and falsehood is truthfulness. This is our weapon.” And one shouldn’t miss the doctored photo of Gábor Vona and Ágnes Heller walking hand in hand. It is unlikely that Heller received this distinction because these people are such admirers of her accomplishments as a philosopher.

All in all, I tend to agree with the political scientist Attila Ágh, who in a recent interview said that Vona’s new strategy, for the time being at least, hasn’t resulted in any spectacular growth in the party’s popularity. On the other hand, it hasn’t collapsed either. The opposition to Vona is small, and he still has the party leadership behind him. Most supporters have remained faithful to the party, but it is difficult to predict whether Vona’s new strategy can achieve its aim of attracting voters from the left and from the large group of the undecided.

January 15, 2017

Viktor Orbán’s system is already   in ruins

In the last few weeks several analyses have appeared predicting a change of government, perhaps even before 2018 when under normal circumstances the next regularly scheduled national election would be held. A year ago most commentators foresaw a very long period dominated by Viktor Orbán, who is after all only 51 years old. They pointed out the weakness of the opposition and the practically impenetrable edifice the regime managed to create. But things seem to be changing. There is a strong feeling among certain political observers that the Orbán government’s current problems can no longer be remedied by ad hoc measures aimed at turning public sentiment back toward Fidesz and its regime. Something fundamental went wrong. Observers suggest that there may be a direct connection between the Simicska-Orbán falling-out and signs of the impending collapse of the regime.

The most interesting analysis of the current political situation comes from Attila Ágh, a professor of political science, who is certain that “the fall of Orbán is nearing.” His approaching political demise would explain “the hasty and self-damaging decisions by his associates and advisers in which it is not difficult to discern the hysterical signs of an aging dictator’s last days.” A transition phase has begun. The question is how long this period will last. “What will happen before Orbán fails not only in people’s souls but also in politics?”

The Simicska-Orbán system

According to Ágh, the “Orbán regime already collapsed on April 7, 2014, a day after the victory achieved by the complicated system of subtle fraud, and since then we have been seeing only the regime’s last agony.” On that day Viktor Orbán and Lajos Simicska ended their quarter-century cooperation, which was the most important pillar of the whole Orbán system. Ágh is convinced that “the system was built by Simicska, in which the authoritarian world of the economy, the media, and politics fit snugly, with engineering precision.” Orbán, by throwing the engineer overboard, “smashed the system that had worked relatively well during the four years of the second Orbán government.” According to this interpretation, with which I sympathize, without Simicska the system cannot be maintained.

A much young Viktor Orbán and Lajos Simicska on their only picture together

A much younger Viktor Orbán and Lajos Simicska on their only picture together

Many political observers write off Simicska’s quarrel with Orbán as simple greed. According to this scenario, Orbán no longer wanted to cut Simicska into his business deals. Simicska was not going to get a piece of the action in building Paks II’s two new nuclear reactors and he was sore. I have never shared this view. I am convinced that Lajos Simicska’s anti-Russian sentiments are genuine. But Ágh takes another speculative step. He argues that Simicska “did not want to follow Orbán in further building the still half-finished dictatorship. Not only the billions of Közgép fell out with Orbán; the two men parted ways somewhere at the dividing line between managed democracy and hard-core autocracy.” Admittedly, a brave claim, but one that I don’t think is far-fetched.

In the rest of his article Ágh outlines possible ways the Orbán regime’s agony might end. He finds a palace revolution against “the dear leader” unlikely. Insiders are “timid and helpless” since they are no longer accustomed to independent thinking and action. The outcome that Ágh considers most likely is an implosion, “chaos as a result of an internecine war of the Fidesz overlords,” which may last for a long time because in an autocracy there is no real “second man.”

All in all, in Ágh’s opinion, Viktor Orbán “is writing his own obituary day after day.” The opposition should help him “shorten his sufferings” because this is best not only for the country but also for the prime minister. In this way “future historians can compile a shorter list of his sins in the chronicles of the twenty-first century.”

Oh, yes, talking about history. Another commentator, Péter Techet, also mulled over Orbán’s place in history books. He has been in power long enough that scholars will spend considerable time debating his historical role. Techet thinks that only four Hungarian politicians of the last century have been recognized outside of the country as important political figures: Miklós Horthy, Ferenc Szálasi, Mátyás Rákosi, and János Kádár. Although he doesn’t want to compare Orbán to either Szálasi or Rákosi, he asks: “What can Orbán be proud of? Nothing.” And then one by one Techet describes Viktor Orbán’s political failures.

Promises, promises

Although in the last few months the Fidesz leadership has been desperately trying “to buy” the love of wayward voters, my feeling is that the references to gigantic road construction projects, billions for every city in the next couple of years are empty rhetoric. I have the distinct impression that the country’s coffers are not exactly bulging. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, after reading about an interview with László L. Simon, the undersecretary in the prime minister’s office in charge of cultural matters, if the ambitious plan to create a “museum quarter” in Városliget, one of the few green spaces on the Pest side of the capital, is shelved. Apparently, Viktor Orbán doesn’t like the buildings world-famous architects designed. My hunch is that this is just an excuse to postpone or scrap the project.

The European Union may finally be playing hardball with Hungary. The fact that, from day one, the European Commission refused to give any money for the M4 highway project, considering it unnecessary, might portend closer scrutiny of Hungarian proposals. Just today Orbán promised 50 billion forints to the city of Eger, including a four-lane highway. He also told the people of Sümeg that there will be enough money to complete the reconstruction of the Sümeg Castle. None of these projects can materialize without major financial help from the European Union. And if, for one reason or other, the money flow from Brussels stops or slows considerably, Viktor Orbán’s efforts to regain the trust of Hungarian voters will most likely be in vain.

Leaving the sinking ship?

In his article Attila Ágh wrote about “rats leaving the sinking ship” as one of the possible scenarios in the final stages of the Orbán government’s agony. Is it possible that the CEO of the company in charge of the Paks II project is one of the first of these “rats”? It was in 2012 that Sándor Nagy was appointed to head the company that handled the Hungarian side of the project. But today, late in the afternoon, 444.hu reported that Nagy had left Hungary and since April 7 has been working in the London office of WANO (World Association of Nuclear Operators). His disappearance was sudden and unexplained. People familiar with the company and with Sándor Nagy’s role in it are baffled. Will we ever find out the reason? Unlikely. Unless one day we learn that the whole project has been abandoned.