Tag Archives: Attila Markó

Hungarian spies are everywhere

As the minister of the prime minister’s office responsible for, among other things, Hungarian intelligence, János Lázár has very little sense of what should remain secret. I found the minutes of his speech at the meeting of the parliamentary committee on national security on June 23 shocking. He outlined several ongoing Hungarian intelligence projects, endangering not only the work of the Hungarian intelligence community but also the anonymity of its members.

So, what did we learn about Hungarian intelligence from Lázár? A lot. He began with Ukraine, a country that is in the cross hairs of the Hungarian government. It is here that the Orbán government is trying to stir up trouble. Lázár praised the work of the Hungarian military and civilian intelligence in Kiev both during and “after” the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Hungarian intelligence has also been busy in the Hungarian-inhabited parts of the Subcarpathian region of Ukraine. Reading this portion of Lázár’s speech, I gained the distinct impression that in this border region secret agents are busy feeding the Hungarian minority’s dissatisfaction. The Orbán government expects, perhaps even hopes for, a conflict between Ukrainians and Hungarians, which might give Hungary an opportunity to demand a “solution” to the problem. Only yesterday Magyar Közlöny (Official Gazette) reported that this year the Hungarian government has provided 116 million forints “for the training of civilian guards,” who are supposed to defend Hungarians against Ukrainian aggression. Lázár in his speech admitted that the Ukrainian government strenuously objects to the Hungarian government’s meddling in the country’s affairs. Indeed, the Orbán government treats Ukraine like a state from whose collapse Hungary might profit.

Hungarian intelligence is equally busy, according to Lázár, in Romania. What agents are trying to determine is the exact relationship between Romania and the United States because “we know that the U.S. is very much involved in Romanian domestic politics” but “we don’t yet quite understand the nature of this relationship.” I assume there are two aspects of U.S.-Romanian relations that worry the Orbán government: (1) the two countries’ coordinated anti-Russian policies and (2) a possible anti-Hungarian understanding between the two countries.

The third neighbor, Croatia, is also a country that is antagonistic toward Hungary. There the authorities try to discredit the country through attacks on Hungarian businessmen. What Lázár has in mind is the charge of bribery against Zsolt Hernádi, CEO of MOL, in connection with Ivo Sanader’s case, which ended in an eight-year prison sentence for the former prime minister. Since Croatia’s constitutional court only today overruled the verdict, Hernádi’s troubles are postponed, at least for a while.

As Lázár put it, “of the successor states of the former kingdom” present-day Hungary has unruffled relations only with Serbia and Slovakia. If we take this comment literally, then something must also be amiss in Austrian-Hungarian and Slovenian-Hungarian relations as well.

Lázár spent quite a bit of time on Hungary’s relations with the United States. “American-Hungarian relations, which have deteriorated significantly in the past few years and which at the moment cannot be said to be good,” make the work of the Hungarian intelligence community very difficult due to its former reliance on U.S. intelligence sources. Because the friction between the United States and Hungary developed as a result of Washington’s assessment of the domestic situation in Hungary, “the Information Office [the official name of the secret service] has to pay attention to accusations which through the western media are designed to discredit Hungary.”

spies

In plain English, Hungarian intelligence officers are following the activities of those people who in one way or the other pass information on to media outlets critical of the Orbán government. Lázár proudly announced that “several campaigns have taken place in the past few years against Hungary, which have been identified.” These foreign critics “unfortunately had their domestic allies, but the intelligence community could easily detect the channels through which incorrect and false information was transmitted.” Mind you, elsewhere in the speech Lázár called attention to the law that forbids intelligence officers from conducting any business at home.

The Hungarian intelligence service plays not only defense but offense as well. Lázár finished his coverage of the antagonistic media with this sentence: “It is no secret that the Information Office must take part in the work that will change the image of Hungary in the western world.” So, intelligence officers are being used to spread pro-Orbán propaganda abroad. The first fruits of this effort was athe German DGSAP report titled “Hungary in the Media, 2010-2014: Critical Reflections on Coverage in the Press and Media,” compiled with the active help of Klaus von Dohnanyi, the former socialist mayor of Berlin.

The European Union is also a target of Hungarian intelligence. In fact, Lázár instructed the Information Office to find out as much as possible about those groups who turn to Brussels for redress of the allegedly discriminatory practices of the Hungarian government. Lázár is very proud that they managed to learn who was responsible for some of the infringement procedures against Hungary. Thanks to Lázár, we now know that there are currently 65 infringement procedures in the works. Lázár finds the lobbying activities that take place in Brussels “shocking” because “they are conducted against Hungary and the work of the Hungarian legislature.” Unfortunately, the intelligence community has to take up this burden because, until recently, Hungary was unable to successfully represent its own interests in Brussels, unlike Slovakia, Romania or Poland.

The reason for Hungary’s poor performance in Brussels was the less than satisfactory work of Hungary’s Permanent Representation to the European Union, whose “most important task is to present and assert Hungarian interests and sectoral policies in the European Union.” Not long ago responsibility for this permanent mission in Brussels was moved from the foreign ministry to the office of the prime minister, under the supervision of János Lázár himself. Lázár commented on the move. “I will just mention, but I won’t give any details, that it was not by chance that the permanent representation and the information office are both under the same structural unit, the prime minister’s office.” Does this mean that the Hungarian permanent representation is filled with spies, or at least that there is cozy relation between the two bodies?

Two of the neighbors reacted sharply to Lázár’s revelations about Hungarian intelligence activities in their countries. The Hungarian ambassador to Ukraine was called into the Ukrainian foreign ministry where deputy foreign minister Natalia Halibarenko expressed her country’s worries about Hungary’s intentions. She said that conducting intelligence activities in her country without first informing the Ukrainian intelligence service was unacceptable. Nikolai Sungurovskii, the director of an important Ukrainian think tank, the Razumkov Center, expressed his opinion that Hungarian policies toward Ukraine pose a danger and that they may lead to a massive Hungarian separatist movement with possible Hungarian involvement. In fact, according to reports, the Hungarian government is prepared for a large Hungarian exodus from Ukraine.

Romanian-Hungarian relations have been rocky for a long time, but the presence of the former Romanian member of parliament, Attila Markó, in Hungary has exacerbated the situation. He is one of the many Romanian politicians who are being accused of corruption. I can’t pass judgment on his guilt or innocence, but I can say that Romanians have been taking corruption seriously lately and the number of arrests is very high. Markó escaped to Hungary, which irritates Bucharest to no end, especially since there is a European arrest warrant against him. The Romanian foreign minister asked Péter Szijjártó “to observe the European legislation in this field so that the procedure may be completed.” Hungary refused, and Romanian public opinion is up in arms. A Romanian politician who is not exactly a friend of Hungarians in the first place wrote an article on his blog in which he expressed his total amazement that Orbán has the temerity, after the Markó affair, to visit Romania this weekend. Indeed, Orbán is already in Transylvania. He posted the following picture of himself and his youngest daughter with this caption: “In Transylvania, at home.” I wonder what the Romanian reaction to this purposefully ambiguous caption will be.

Orban es Flora

Romanian-Hungarian relations: Ethnic strife and corruption

The first Orbán government, between 1998 and 2002, managed to alienate practically all of its neighbors, so the past five years can be viewed as something of an improvement. Budapest now proudly claims to have excellent relations with Slovakia and Serbia. Relations with Croatia are less rosy, and as far as Romania is concerned, the two countries’ relationship is outright disastrous. Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Victor Ponta of Romania have never officially met. I don’t know about Orbán, but Ponta said that he has no intention of meeting face to face with his Hungarian namesake.

There are several reasons for the strained relations between the two countries, chief among them the Orbán government’s constant interference in the affairs of the large Hungarian minority in Romania. There exists an ethnic Hungarian party in Romania, Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (RMDSZ) or Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România (Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania), which since 1996 has often been part of the government. RMDSZ is a right-of-center party whose leaders always had better relations with Fidesz than with the socialist-liberal governments. For many years the chairman of the party was Béla Markó, a poet of some renown. In 2011 he was followed by Hunor Kelemen, another writer. I don’t follow Hungarian ethnic politics in Romania, but my impression is that Kelemen has much closer ties with the current Hungarian government than his predecessor did. Moreover, while Markó used to be proud of his party’s achievements as far as the rights of the Hungarian minority were concerned, Kelemen is much more critical of Bucharest and often harshly criticizes Romanian minority policies. Only a few days ago he complained to the president of the Venice Commission, Gianni Buquicchio, about the grievances of the Hungarian minority. Kelemen reproached the Venice Commission for praising Romania’s minority policy without consulting with RMDSZ, the representative of that minority.

But there are other issues of more recent vintage. One is Viktor Orbán’s pro-Russian policy, which Romania, boxed in between a less than friendly Russia on the east and a pro-Russian Hungary on the west, disapproves of. Another matter that divides the two countries is that while Hungary has been pursuing a less than friendly foreign policy toward the United States and is a very unwilling participant in the trans-atlantic alliance, Romania wholeheartedly supports it. From the vantage point of Brussels and Washington, Romania is a country that is heading in the right direction while Hungary is not.

In the last few years there were relatively few meetings between the Romanian and Hungarian foreign ministers. The last time a Hungarian foreign minister visited Bucharest was in 2013. Last February Romanian foreign minister Titus Corlățean was in Budapest, but it was not an official visit. He came to meet the foreign ministers of the Visegrád Four.

But now Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu came to Budapest on official business. He and his Hungarian counterpart, Péter Szijjártó, were supposed to sign a memorandum on minorities: Hungarians in Romania and Romanians in Hungary. According to the 2011 census there are 1,227,623 Hungarians in Romania and 35,641 Romanians in Hungary. Although apparently both sides wanted to sign the memorandum, at the end the two foreign ministers couldn’t agree on any of the ethnic issues. During the meeting they did sign some agreements on roads to be built and the opening of border crossings, but the ethnic issues seemed to be insurmountable. According to vs.hu, an internet news site, Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister in charge of minority policies, put pressure on Szijjártó not to move an inch on certain issues.

Bogdan Aurescu and Péter Szijjártó / MTI-MTVA / Photo: Tibor Illyés

Bogdan Aurescu and Péter Szijjártó / MTI-MTVA / Photo: Tibor Illyés

One topic that came up in the conversation will add to the poisonous relations between the two countries. That is the case of Attila Markó, a Romanian-Hungarian politician, who is currently sought after by Interpol and who is hiding in Budapest. And that takes us to the Romanian Anticorruption Directorate (Direcţia Naţională Anticorupţie/DNA) and its fearless prosecutor, Laura Codruța Kövesi.

I first read about her in a fairly lengthy New York Times article. Although DNA was originally established by the Romanian government in 2003 to placate the European Union, apparently the Romanians never meant it to be a serious corruption-fighting agency. Once Kövesi took over, however, things changed radically. Since 2013 several very important Romanian politicians have been charged and found guilty, including former prime minister Adrian Năstase and Dan Voiculescu, a politician and businessman who received a 10-year jail term for money laundering.

DNA became interested in Attila Markó, a member of the Romanian parliament and earlier undersecretary in charge of minority affairs. Markó was a member of the committee responsible for the restitution for confiscated property during Romania’s communist period. According to the charge, Markó and seven other members of the committee overpaid the claimants to the tune of 85 million euros. Markó in an interview with András Stumpf of Mandiner expressed his distrust of the Romanian justice system. In addition, he claimed that “the Romanian state is using the fight against corruption to decapitate the Hungarian political elite. To date there were too few Hungarians among those arrested.” So, Markó wants to make an ethnic issue out of a possible corruption case.

Of course, I have no idea whether Markó is innocent or guilty, but his claim that DNA is after him because of his ethnicity doesn’t ring true. After all, all eight members of this particular committee have been charged, and surely not all of them are Hungarians. Moreover, Laura Kövesi (née Laura Lascu) has lived all her life in near proximity of Hungarians. She was born in the county seat of Kovászna/Kovasna County, a predominantly Hungarian town in the middle of the Szekler region of Transylvania. She attended law school in Cluj/Kolozsvár, which also has a fairly large Hungarian population. And finally, judging from the name by which she is known today, she is or was married to a Hungarian. So, all in all, I doubt that Markó’s accusation is well founded.

Markó’s name apparently came up during the negotiations between Bogdan Aurescu and Péter Szijjártó. The Romanian foreign minister asked his colleague to inform the appropriate authorities about the international warrant issued for the arrest of Attila Markó, but Szijjártó refused to get involved, claiming that the foreign ministry has no authority in such matters.

I’m certain that we will hear the name of Attila Markó in the coming months because I doubt that the Hungarian authorities will extradite Markó to Romania. The Orbán government, which already has the reputation of doing nothing to combat the rampant corruption in Hungary, will now be in the unenviable position of harboring an allegedly corrupt politician from Romania.